Madeleine Chapman attends the Chinese Easter Tournament every year and firmly believes it is the greatest sporting event on the calendar.
Growing up, I would spend my Easter weekends hunting for and eating too many chocolate eggs. For the past six years I have spent my Easter weekends playing sport with and against hundreds of Chinese people. Whenever people hear that I am going to a “Chinese Easter Tournament”, they will immediately follow up with “What’s a Chinese tournament?” probably while imagining Mulan-themed challenges. Occasionally there will be a half-joking “Why is there no white Tournament?” which doesn’t need a response, but did make me pause for maybe a milli-second the first time someone asked.
I am one eighth Chinese – you can’t tell – and so once a year, I’m able to become fully immersed in the community and culture through the Annual Sports Tournament, more commonly known as Easter Tournament. According to the official rules:
The object of the New Zealand Chinese Association (Inc) Annual Sports Tournament is to promote friendship, goodwill, mutual understanding and to enjoy healthy competition among Chinese.
Easter Tournament 2016 was hosted by Auckland and held at Trust Arena this past weekend. There were twelve Samoans competing for Wellington, including myself, whose only Chinese blood comes from the same one man, our great grandfather Simi. Simi being his traditional Samoan name he adopted after emigrating from China to set up shop – literally and figuratively – on the island a century ago. While there is no minimum “Chineseness” required, the phrase “you mark the white girl” or “I’ll take the half-cast one” is as easy to interpret as “I’ll guard the one with the face tattoo.”
Put simply, being a pale islander with bleached blonde hair, I don’t look like I belong anywhere near a Chinese gathering. And yet, after a childhood overflowing with competitive sports, Easter Tournament is now the only sports event I sign up for. It’s not about defending your “Chineseness” or feeling obliged to compete – it’s just a bloody great time.
From the outside, it sounds super exclusive. A tournament that only allows one nationality to participate. The first year I showed up to play Easter basketball, in 2010, I felt like I was at a friend’s family reunion. Everyone seemed to know each other so well and most were actually related in some way. I needn’t have worried. It took all of half a game to be adopted into the Wellington Chinese family and I don’t think I could ever leave.
This year I didn’t stay together with the Wellington contingent – because I could stay home for free, and I’m glad I did. My cousins confidently stayed with the contingent for the first time, under the false assumption that Samoans can handle their liquor better than the Chinese. They were drunk under the table every single night.
Yes, while Easter Tournament is a fiercely competitive sporting event, it’s also the booziest weekend on the calendar. I didn’t drink all weekend simply because I can’t dribble a ball without ten hours of sleep the night before. Everyone takes their sports extremely seriously. But they also eat junk food all weekend (fast food joints are the only places open half the time) and play most games hungover. It’s a weird combination.
There’s something about the fact that the tournament is organised almost entirely by young people that makes it even more impressive. I go to the movies by myself because I can’t be bothered organising one friend to go with – and yet every year a group of twenty-somethings will put together a four day sports and cultural event, complete with social events every night and travel/accommodation for three of the four contingents. It’s rare to see such organisation, co-ordination, cultural pride, and genuine enthusiasm in such a large number of young people anywhere else in New Zealand.
While Easter Tournament is all about bringing together the New Zealand Chinese community (which it does, and beautifully) it is not without its controversies. This year there was a phantom touch in the touch rugby final between Auckland and Wellington that nearly caused a riot, the schedule was not regarded favourably by the non-hosting contingents, and Wellington were once again scorned for being too rowdy all the time.
People go to Easter Tournament for a number of different reasons. Most go to win, end of story. Many go to catch up with family and friends from around the country and to find a partner. People joke about finding a husband or wife but the number of relationships that begin at Easter Tournament is why it will probably continue on strongly for generations to come.
If I’m honest, a big reason I go every year is for the food. Instead of the usual fries and hot dogs, Easter Tournament – and any Chinese event – is catered by the parents and grandparents of the community. Jook, dim sims, pork buns. It’s the closest I can get to experiencing classic home-made-with-love Chinese food. I didn’t know what jook was a few years ago and now if I were on death row, I would request it for my last meal.
There’s something about Easter Tournament that cannot be replicated anywhere else. I have tried to eat jook at Chinese restaurants throughout the year but it always feels weird, like eating a candy cane in June. Because when I go to a Chinese restaurant by myself (don’t hate), I’m a pale islander eating Chinese food in Mount Albert. But when I eat jook while still dripping sweat from a basketball game, it’s just another fabulous part of the great Chinese experience that is Easter Tournament.
With the steep rise of the Auckland housing market in recent years, many New Zealanders were searching for a scapegoat, someone to blame for the unaffordable house prices. And they found one in the Chinese community. With some dodgy tweets from Phil Twyford the latest in a history of discrimination and assumptions, one could understand if the NZ Chinese community chose to exercise equal disregard for people like myself (read: only a little Chinese) when putting together an annual celebration of their culture and community.
But the opposite is true. Easter Tournament is both an exclusive cultural celebration and a hugely inclusive environment for those who wish to embrace the smaller pieces of their ethnic make-up.
I have never once put “Chinese” as my nationality when filling out an official form. In fact, I’ve never even considered it. But for one weekend every year, I am full-blooded Chinese and you better believe it.
P.s. If you’re from Wellington and are a keen basketball/touch/netball/soccer player with even a drop of Chinese blood in you, come play for Wellington next year. And if you’re from Auckland and the same, forget I said anything.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.