6 Weeks Down, 4 to Go!

I know this post is quite overdue, so please excuse me as I jump around to all the events that happened over the past two and a half/three weeks.

First, I want to start with China. A few weeks ago, my team spent a few days up near Suwon (Northern South Korea) for a scrimmage against another team from the league, GS (where Khat Bell from Texas plays), and headed off for a 7 day training camp in Shanghai.IMG_1473

This came at a seemingly perfect time, because a bit of chaos had begun to ensue between South and North Korea. I had heard whispers of it between teammates, but didn’t really get the vibe that anyone seemed too worried about things, until the leader of North Korea declared a state of “quasi-war” (and we were heading to another country that is an ally of North, not South Korea) …SO, before I got worried myself and so I could explain to my family that everything was indeed, alright here, I decided to do some research of my own.

(A brief history lesson for everyone :)) Basically, since the Korean War, nothing was ever truly solved between the North and South. An armed border was built between the two countries separating them from each other. Supposedly this is the most heavily armed border in the world, but between each side is a shared, demilitarized zone. A few weeks or months ago, a few South Korean soldiers were shot in this zone, which did not go over well with SK. They started blaring propaganda messages over loud speakers across the DMZ (demilitarized zone) in response, and NK was not happy with that either, but they did not take ownership for the incident with the SK soldiers. In response to this propaganda, NK fired at SK’s loud speakers, prompting an immediate retaliation at North Korea. The leader of North Korea, who the girls call Kim for short, responded by giving SK 48 hours to turn off the propaganda or they would consider it an act of war. Shortly after that Kim announced that the North had entered a state of war with the South.

What I had learned from the girls/what my translator explained to me is that the North has threatened “war” on the South more than a handful of times, and nothing has ever materialized from it. The South is much more economically stable and prepared for war if anything should ever arise (and the US is on their side) and the North has sometimes even received food and aid from the South, because they are not as stable (I’m no history buff but this is my understanding).

So, off we went to China, and the situation did in fact blow over and was resolved. Yet, the North and South do obviously remain separate and the armed border is still fully intact.IMG_1487

We flew into the Shanghai airport, parts of which I could immediately tell were not as new as that of Seoul’s. China is obviously a much older country, and a lot of Shanghai has been recently rebuilt, but I can’t help but saying I felt a little taken back in time, as I have gotten used to living in a brand new facilities. We stayed in a “resort” of sorts about an hour outside the city. It was a hotel on a huge piece of land, with fully equipped sports complexes, weightroom, pools, volleyball courts, dorms, cafeteria, etc. Many people go there for vacation in the summer, and I assume there must have been some sort of amusement park or something nearby as well. The hotel/surroundings were pretty much how you would imagine rural China…Very green, koi ponds and peaceful gardens everywhere! Haha really! But we also were more out in the country.

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That one time when it pours acid rain before you have to walk to practice

We got off to the races pretty quickly when we got there. We had four matches scheduled over the course of the week, with two separate teams. The Chinese teams were SO tall, really scrappy, awesome blockers, and great servers. Apparently the Chinese league is all-around stronger than the Korean league…So, we had a few tough matches. It was really hard to score, and beat them unless we played near perfect volleyball. And then of course, as the week goes on everyone gets more tired, so that is always an added challenge. But, it is always fun to play teams that are better than you because it forces you to play your best and try new things to adjust when you aren’t scoring.

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We had a day off in the middle of the week and we drove into downtown Shanghai as a team. There were so many people, and sooo much smog. It was hard to believe, it felt like a really thick cloud of fog was over us. We got dropped off in the center of the city for a few hours at a mall, and were free to explore. I was pretty wiped but I did manage to find some fun Chinese snacks to bring back to the hotel.

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Many of the girls brought their own food with them, and I was encouraged to do the same. I think they all just love their Korean food so much! It’s funny to me, and I’d never thought I would say this because there are so many more Chinese restaurants in the US, than Korean BBQ joints… But I’d pick Korean any day of the week. I’m not even close to being sick of the food yet. Although I do crave some of my fav candy every once in a while, sour patch kids are not very easy to come by in Korea.

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Our last night in China, the Shanghai staff and some of the players came to share a meal with us.  English was the common language so I got to talk to a few of the Chinese girls at dinner, and even made a new friend!  Apparently, it is rude to decline drinks in China, so many of the Chinese girls were ripping shots of pineappley liquor with our younger coaches and staff, while the head coaches were chain smoking cigs at dinner.  In China, often it is acceptable to smoke inside but they don’t allow people to smoke outside buildings, yuck.  It was fun to experience some of their food with them, and get to know them a little bit better.  I was lucky our team doesn’t drink around our coaching staff because things were getting a little weeeird at dinner haha.

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At the end of a long week I was thankful to get back and have a few days off. I was only one of a few girls who came back to the complex, as many went to see their families. I felt like I still dragged through last week, after getting back from China, so I am grateful to finally feel a little fresher this week. I think the novelty of being back in the gym actually playing volleyball every day has definitely worn off, but that isn’t to say I don’t love it. This experience has been so much more motivating and competitive than my other ones, and I really enjoy always having something new to work or build on.

Something I really struggled with in France was balance. I got so lost in the idea of just getting through practice, making it to match day or the next off day, instead of being there, in the moment. I would go days, going through the motions so to speak, and I think my performance, or ability to get better suffered. I also had a very different experience with the coaching staff, whereas here, they are always working on getting better. When I began this season, I told myself I wasn’t going to just practice to get through practice, I was going to show up EVERY day, and practice with a purpose. It has definitely paid off. I feel like I’m playing some of the best volleyball I have in years.

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I’ve spent a lot of my free time reading and exploring podcasts and books about presence and growth. I’ve found this to be way more productive then just plopping myself in front of Netflix for 6 hours. I think it is SO important and has really benefitted me here, especially bouncing back from what I felt was a slow week, last week. I highly recommend The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte if you’re looking for some WAKE UP AND DO IT TODAY inspiration. We really only have the exact moment we are in right now. What happened last practice, or the last point, really doesn’t matter in the long run, compared to making the most of the opportunities are immediately before you right now. This definitely applies to regular life too, but the volleyball analogies obviously are the perfect comparison. Anyway’s there is your food for thought for today.

I’m coming to learn more and more things about Korean culture. The ladies take their skin care very seriously. I even bought a new face cream at duty free… Felt like such a local 🙂 Last week some of the girls went to a nearby city for tattooed makeup, and minor plastic surgery procedures are very common here. I’m still getting used to all the bowing, especially when I roll out of bed and don’t want to talk to anyone quite yet. We scrimmaged a high school team, and they all came over to me and bowed together, it made me feel so respected, and I can see why it is such an important part of their culture, but definitely is still a little foreign to me.

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I’m hanging in Gimcheon again this weekend, after two matches with another team, KGC (Hayley Spelman from Stanford is their foreigner) this week. I got to go up to Seoul with the American girls last weekend, which was awesome, but always a little too much fun, so I decided to lay low this weekend. Last night was SUCH a battle with KGC…I’m so excited to get this season started because it’s going to be so fun to get after it every game.

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Myeongdong fashion district

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I literally woke up one day last week and it was fall here. Clearer skies, no more humidity and nights cool enough to sleep with the windows open. It’s still decently warm but it’s great knowing the temps are cooling down from the jungle humidity and 90+ degree days. Let the 4 week countdown to season begin!  Over halfway in this preseason marathon, and I found out I’m going to be wearing a new number for the first time in 9 years, and it’s about time.  Til next time! XO

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Those three characters on the back of my jersey (above the big #20) means Cikra in Korean!
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One thought on “6 Weeks Down, 4 to Go!

  1. martha towns says:

    Wow, Leslie; this is fabulous and the pictures are wonderful. Who is Moji? An emoji character maybe?
    Sounds like you are putting your free time to better use than looking at computer screen. I try to be in the moment but have decided that focus is and probably always has been, one of my many weakness.
    Life in North Korea is hard and tragic; there is very little food and everything is regimented. I think it must be hard for the NK’s to know what life is like in the south of their country.
    I’ll send you a longer email before we leave Thursday.
    Big hugs, G’Ma.

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