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Being a Bengals fan abroad: A Virginia gentleman in Mao Tse-tung’s court

One of Cincy Jungle’s newest contributors explains life as a Bengals fan in China.

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Chinese and American fans
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

What does it mean to be a Cincinnati Bengals’ fan in China?

For one thing, it means a lot of late nights and early mornings. China is exactly 12 hours ahead of Cincinnati, so the nice, comfortable 1 p.m. kickoff time in Ohio means a bleary-eyed 1 a.m. start time here. Thank goodness the Bengals don’t play a lot of 4 p.m. games.

And that is just for starters. Have you ever wondered why sports bars like Buffalo Wild Wings and Hooters are among the fastest growing restaurants in America? Because people like nothing better than to come together to watch a good football game with friends, and with plenty of beer.

Neither one of those things is going to happen for those of us who are Americans and fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in here in China. Not that Chinese people are not friendly – because, for the most part, they really are.

It is rather that most Chinese people know absolutely nothing about American football. They are crazy about football. It’s just that the football they are crazy about is actually the sport that most Americans call soccer.

So, if you can’t find any native Chinese willing to stay up into the wee hours of the night to watch a sport they know nothing about, what about other Americans? Unfortunately, there are just not many Americans in China. And certainly not where I am.

I currently teach English and American culture in a small city called Liaocheng, China – small by Chinese standards, that is. Liaocheng boasts a population of more than 700,000. And, of those 700,000, you would be lucky to find six Americans. And, if you are really lucky, maybe one of them will like football. But not many are crazy enough to want to stay up until 4 a.m. to watch a game.

And what is a good football game without a cold beer? Good luck finding a cold beer in China. The Chinese people believe that cold drinks are bad for your digestive system, so they drink everything warm or hot. Of course, you can always buy a six-pack of beer at the local supermarket and stick it in your refrigerator. And then you can sit there all by yourself watching football at 1 a.m. and drinking beer. Would that make me pathetic?

But at least I can watch the game, thanks to NFL Game Pass from Usually. The internet in China is just about as unreliable as finding a taxi to take you less than 10 miles from your current location. Nearly everyone in China has access to wifi, and nearly everyone who has wifi complains about it.

The wifi here is slow, and it comes with a caveat. The Chinese government is at war with Google, so forget about having access to everyone’s favorite search engine. Unless you want to spend a little extra money to buy a monthly subscription to a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

For less than the cost of two beers at your favorite Dave & Buster’s, you can get a VPN that will trick your Chinese wifi into thinking that you are not in China. Among the choices are Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and, of course, the United States. Los Angeles is my favorite, and seems to work the best.

Of course, when you are having problems with your wife, the VPN won’t connect. And the VPN has this nice little feature that makes certain that, if the VPN does not connect, your internet does not work. All of this is very technical, but that is my understanding of how it all goes down.

The one good thing about watching football at 1 a.m. is that not many people are trying to use wifi at that time of the morning. Which means, for the most part, you get a decent signal and the chances are pretty fair that you might be able to finish your game without too many interruptions.

Of course, that also means I am not going to get much sleep on Monday morning. And, with class at 8 a.m., that can spell disaster. At that time of the morning, I am usually busy trying to keep my students awake. It looks like now, for the next couple of months at least, someone is going to have to work on keeping the teacher awake.

But, somehow, I really believe this is all worth it. When the Bengals win their first playoff game since they defeated the then Houston Oilers by a score of 41-14 in the AFC Wild Card Game on January 6, 1991, I have some Chinese neighbors who are going to be awakened by the awful carryings-on in the apartment below or beside them.

And then, when those same Bengals take the AFC Championship Game against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, all hell is going to break loose in this not-so-tiny hamlet of Liaocheng. And I don’t even want to think about a Super Bowl championship.

OK. I am lying. I do want to think about a Super Bowl championship, and I have been thinking about a Super Bowl championship since Cincinnati made its very first playoff appearance after winning the AFC Central Division Championship in 1970. I wonder if I can find a Super Bowl party around these parts? Probably not. Can you call it a party when you are the only one there?

And I will be sitting right here, (probably) all by my lonesome, in Liaocheng, China, with an ice-cold beer in my hand, fresh from my refrigerator, eating peanuts and staring into my 18” monitor on my laptop at 1 a.m. on Monday morning (Sunday afternoon Eastern time) when it all begins. Wish me luck.

Go Bengals!