Backstreet Boys touring China but we missed them

It’s been about three weeks since we came to China and we’re back at our starting point – Beijing – and it is a completely different experience than the initial visit.

The pollution still lingers over the city, but the visibility is better than what I gave it credit for, for at least today. The nightlife is bustling and the restaurants are all too familiar to ours at home, but like I said, it’s been two weeks and a lot has happened.

We found the volleyball! Jusst not indoors quite yet.
We found the volleyball! Just not indoors quite yet.

Nanjing is the third largest city in China and is considered a Tier 2 city by China Youthology, a company that focuses on market research about the young population in China. Tier 1 is Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Tier 2 are all the capital cities of each province in China, of which there are 23. All lower Tiers are cities that do not fall under the above-mentioned categories. The drop off of modern cities is dramatic.

We took the subway station to our stop, Zhujiang Road, near the middle of the city and exited to a crowd of bustling people, motor scooters, bicycles, buses, and cars. We traversed the small and crowded sidewalks toward the closest café with Wi-Fi and after we thought we had determined the location of our hotel — Jin’s Inn — we were on our way again.

Unfortunately, the thing with Chinese streets is that the street signs are not always clearly visible or labeled and unfortunately the thing with being in a new city in a new county is … you have no idea where you are or where you’re going.

After a few frustrating minutes of confusion Robbin and I decided to use a driver to get to our location – not a taxi, but a driver. I’m not sure if other countries have this as frequently as China does, but often, ordinary cars, with seemingly ordinary citizens, will park along the street offering driving services.

Robbin and I were already weary from carrying our luggage throughout the subway and accepted the ride. The driver took us to Jin’s Inn and overcharged us by 15RMB. In retrospect I don’t really blame him. It’s everyone for themselves here in the “Wild, Wild, East.”

Yup. That's the setter going for a smoke break during practice — China.
Yup. That’s the setter going for a smoke break during practice — China.


Volleyball plays a large role in Robbin’s life and mine. We actually went to the same high school and although we are four years apart academically the first time we met was during a high school girls’ volleyball practice – then we wouldn’t meet again until university.

We both coach for the Maryland Juniors Volleyball Club in Jessup, MD. Robbin plays on the UMBC varsity women’s volleyball team and I was previously the captain and president for the UMBC men’s club volleyball team.

As a college athlete and an ex-college athlete trying to stay in shape, we knew exercise and working out was essential during our trip. Actually part of our funding requires Robbin to do so. She was awarded the Gilman Scholarship, which requires her to give back to the community after her return. Her community service is to prove to athletes at UMBC that it’s feasible to study abroad during the summer and still keep up with mandatory workouts. So workout we did.

Unlike the U.S., China has no gyms. The average Chinese person would rather smoke a cigarette than lift a dumbbell. The only gyms are located in universities and since our semester did not start until July 1st we needed to improvise. We decided to use the stairwell of Jin’s Inn for our exercises.

Backstreets are back all right!
Backstreets are back all right!

Before we began working out we saw a huge crowd outside the sports coliseum directly in front of our hotel. I went downstairs to inquire about the unusually large mass of people and as it turns out the Backstreet Boys were touring in China! And directly in front of our hotel at that! What were the chances that one of America’s most famous boy bands would not only be in China, but directly in front of us?

Meet wang, our first Chinese street stall experience. Baltimore should get some of these.
Meet wang, our first Chinese street stall experience. Baltimore should get some of these.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Backsteet Boys, but we did eat our first street meal while staying at Jin’s. We met Wang, the 27-year old street food vendor. He had a single cart on wheels with two cupboards in the middle for his ingredients and an area for a flame. On top of the cart was an area for a pot fit above the flame; a tin pan covered wontons.

Our first street food experience made us feel very welcome in this city of eight million people. We would soon find out this kind of treatment is hard to come by in a country with 1.3 billion people.

Our time at Jin’s Inn was short, but well lived. We began playing volleyball at the university where we will be studying, Nanjing Normal University. We visited the most famous lakes in Nanjing, Xuanwemen (pronounced shwen-woo-men). We’ve gotten to know the city and even met a UMBC alumnus who lives in Nanjing as a local.

The move out of Jin’s was an endeavor in itself, but those are stories for another time.