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When I was in China, our family lived in an enclosed neighborhood. A “小区“, there were green spaces in the walled community, with the buildings scattered around a big circular loop. In the neighborhood, there were two playgrounds, one on each end of the loop. The one close to the gate was bigger, there were four or 5 slides in total as part of the main equipment, a swing set on the end, and seesaws and rocking chairs that were across from the slides. A common game we kids made up was called “cat and mouse”, which was essentially a modified version of tag. There was one cat, and the rest of the children were “mice”, the slides were our base or “mice home”, and the seesaws were where you could get food. The point of the game was for the mice to try to run and get the food and bring it back to the base, without getting tagged by the cat in the process.

In the summertime, I would almost always play the game with a bunch of other kids from our neighborhood during the evenings. On nice days, there were sure to be 10 to 15 kids in total, but If you’d asked me what their names were, I would only maybe know 2 or 3, and that’s it. Still, I considered them all my closest friends. Because back then, it didn’t matter if I was playing with kids that I’d never met before or kids that were different from me, all it mattered was who was the cat and running away from them fast enough. There weren’t so many rules either or really anything attached to winning or losing, if you got caught, you became the cat and you caught someone else in order to turn back into mice again.

A lot of times, I wish I could go back to playing that game again. Because back then, everything seemed so much simpler.

This week, we taught about sports. I told the students about me playing tennis in high school, playing matches, and trying to win state championships with my teammates. I didn’t go into many details and only told about the fun parts, leaving out all of the not-so-fun moments. Tennis is the sport I’ve played the most in my life, the sport I’ve kept with the longest. And during high school, tennis was very competitive. Even within our own team, there were challenging matches being played, and you had to worry about your spot being replaced. During our matches, sometimes there were cheating and bad calls because some wanted to win that badly. There were a lot of girls that were going to play tennis in college, and that placed so much pressure on the matches as well, because they determined your rankings. I’ve played matches with all my teammates, cheered them on. I knew their secrets from our nights of playing truth and dare in the hotel rooms, I knew their goals and dreams. Yet despite all that, I could only say two of them were my close friends.

Over the course of the week, the middle school students also told us about their favorite sports. Basketball and ping pong and badminton. “We play between classes,” “its very fun,”, “we run on the playground,” they tell me. I nod and smile. Their words and descriptions bring me back to my childhood, my memories of games played on that playground in Wuhan, of being chased by the cat, of fun.