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Happy life of Chinese table tennis coach Liang Fei in Yemen

11-24-2010 14:56 BJT Special Report:Guangzhou Asian Games |

If you are walking in the training gymnasium of Yemen’s national table tennis team, you will often hear the words “Jiao Lian (meaning coach)” in excellent Chinese. It is not easy for these Yemen ping-pong players to pronounce these two Chinese words, but they indeed quite like to call their Chinese head coach Liang Fei by this title.

Liang Fei, who often wears a pair of black-frame glasses and a smile on his face, comes from the Henan Sports Team of China. He is the head coach of Yemen’s national table tennis team. While talking about the good performance of the team, Liang became serious and said confidently, “I came to Yemen in 2002, when Yemen’s national table tennis team barely made it into the top-eight of the Arab Championship. But now, the team is in the top-three every time, and sometimes, even wins the championship.”

Liang never thought he would stay in Yemen for eight years

Before the coaches who would be sent to foreign countries departed from China, the General Administration of Sport arranged 50 English language training classes for them. But, when Liang arrived in Yemen, one of the most undeveloped countries in the world located in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, he found that English was actually not a frequently-used language there.

“When I got here, I was indeed not used to the local environment. For example, the first problem was the language barrier. Usually, people in supermarkets, banks and government departments all speak Arabic. If my language problem was not solved, I could do nothing,” said Liang, whilst shaking his head.

Therefore, Liang, over 40 years old, started to learn Arabic from scratch by himself. Some older members of the team who could fairly speak English voluntarily became Liang’s “daily life assistants.” When the training day was over, they would get in the coach’s car, took him to the market for daily necessities, and taught him how to talk with the local people.

When the training first started, the only communication that Liang could use was his limited English and gestures. After some time, Liang invented a “unique language,” which combined English, Arabic and Chinese that only he and his team members could understand. During the training, even the reporter who is fluent with all the three languages could not fully understand his lecturing. But his team members understood quite well and quickly adjusted their techniques according to his instructions.

The sports system in Yemen is different from China. Liang is in charge of all three national teams (adults, youths and minors), and sometimes he has to travel to different places for training sessions. The member selection mechanism is also troublesome due to Yemen’s unique system. If Liang finds a promising player outside the capital city and wants to list them in the national team, he will have to handle a lot of complicated problems such as procedures, boarding and schooling, and therefore the national teams often cannot recruit enough reserve members. Furthermore, Yemen’s athletes usually only have a half day’s training and the rest of the day is used for school work. Expect for a prolonged graduation, Yemen does not have any preferential policies for athletes. Therefore, when mid-term or final exams are approaching, his members have to ask for leave and the training will have to be suspended.

“The athletes’ training times, intensity and environment in Yemen cannot match the conditions in China. Yemen is not a rich country, and sometimes, some athletes will pass out during intensive training due to their weak physical conditions caused by malnutrition. Therefore, coaches often keep some chocolate in their pockets to help their team members recover,” Liang said, “my job is to establish an effective training mode to improve the players’ skills under these limited conditions.” For a long period, Liang just kept observing, recording and analyzing.

Now, Liang speaks Arabic well enough to bargain with local vendors, and Yemen’s national table tennis team has also made great progress from being at the lower level of the rankings to the top-three among the Arab countries. In the World Junior Table Tennis Tournament held in 2008, Yemen won the bronze medal in both the men’s singles and team competitions.

“When I first got here, I thought that I would work in Yemen for only one or two years, but up to now, I’ve been here for eight years.”

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