|May 15, 2014
SKC fitness instructor Paul Phillips goes to China
By Lailani Upham
Paul lifts a small student from a Mongolian school, who eagerly wants in the photograph. This is the last village the group visited that had only 320 students. This is one of the trips where the team was treated with a huge display of cultural dance, music, Kung Fu demonstrations and more. (Courtesy photo)
CHINA — Paul Phillips, Salish Kootenai College fitness instructor and Native Games specialist, was one of six sports professionals who were selected for a three-week exchange to share their sports experience and culture in China. The trip was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
The journey began March 30 and concluded on April 19.
The team received travel funding through a grant by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center of the University of Montana through the Sports United Division of the U.S. Dept. of State.
The U.S. Department of State has involved thousands of people from more than 100 countries in sports exchanges. The Mansfield Center officials say it is an honor to be first on the list to receive the Sports United grant in the state by proposing this exchange between Montana and China.
Participants were: Molly Blair, program coordinator, UM New Directions Wellness Center; LeAnn Dolly-Powell, Project UNIFY director, Special Olympics Montana; Arthur Miller, UM Department of Health and Human Performance professor; Glenn Moffatt, Paxson Elementary School health instructor; Jason Shearer, Greater Missoula Family YMCA associate executive director; and Phillips.
Phillips says one the lasting impressions he left China with was the kindness of the people. “They treated us so well - like stars,” he said.
Paul Phillips shows off muscles with a Paralympic team members at one of the villages the group paid a visit to. Paralympics are the second-largest sports competition in the world, after the Olympics Summer Games will include about 1,100 athletes from 170 nations. The athletes with spinal cord injuries; amputated limbs; blindness or other visual impairments; cerebral palsy; mental handicaps; and various other disabilities, including multiple sclerosis and dwarfism compete for world titles. (Courtesy photo)
He added that you couldn’t know a people until you interact and get to know them from their world. He said the media painted a complete opposite of the knowledge he gained from the Chinese people in the short month of being there.
The group was the first official Montana exchange program to arrive since former Montana Sentor Max Baucus became ambassador; and according to Phillips he greeted them upon their arrival in Beijing.
It was also the first time the schools, colleges, and centers they visited in China were introduced to Native games.
After the 12 –hour flight from Seattle, the plane rides did not stop once they got there. With 3 more plane rides, the group averaged two places a day, and played two to three games a week; with total visits of eight towns/cities and three different provinces, Phillips said.
The Mansfield Center sports project uses soccer, Native American games and other team games as a means to support underserved populations in China, including ethnic minorities and youth with disabilities.
The U.S. Department of State’s Sports United Division uses sports diplomacy to add dialogue and cultural understanding between people around the world. The idea to use sports as a platform exposes foreign participants to American culture while providing an opportunity to form links with U.S. sports professionals and peers.
The games Phillips introduced were double ball and shinny. He said he met a guy in Beijing who approached him and said he held a very high respect for the Native culture and in his presentations he oftentimes used quotes from Native peoples.
He said many of the traditional greetings the group received were honored in a “very fancy” way with song, dance and drink of rice wine before entering the premises.
A village school fitness instructor displays some kung Fu moves on Phillips. “I thought the Kung Fu term was just a movie term - but it is used there,” Phillips added. (Courtesy photo)
He said the ambiance was a “happy atmosphere” and even the cities had a small town feel. “I felt safe everywhere I went.”
Parks were everywhere; there, you could find people dancing, doing chi, playing badminton or rollerblading, he explained.
The group worked a lot with nearly 62 ethnic-minorities and associations supporting youth with disabilities in the Miao regions of the province of Guizhou in the south and Mongoi groups in the province of Jilin to the north. Phillips said the stereotype of the Chinese people being short was blown for him when he went up to the Northern region where the average height was 6’2” or higher and several women towered over him.
The other characteristic that stood out for him was the respect and joy of the children. He said the group gave out tons of autographs, which they felt was weird and received hug after hug from the grateful young ones.
Although Phillips noticed a similarity in Native and Chinese culture in the color and beauty of the outfits and their games; he noticed the school structure and work structure was much different.
“Besides P.E. the students are required to do calisthenics twice a day,” he said. He described 300 to 4,000 students deliberately organized and filed out to a field without total chaos to stretch and get their focus on track.
“It’s incomprehensible to us what they do.”
He also was impressed with the support of the government to keep their culture alive and going he said.
What he wasn’t impressed with was the food beliefs. “They don’t waste anything – they eat everything; with the chicken they ate the whole thing – head and feet.”
Horse head violin all handmade is played beautifully at ceremonies and parties. Phillips said he learned that in this village the horse is a huge part of their culture include the horse their traditional games. Throughout China's long and storied past, no animal has affected its history as greatly as the horse. Ever since its domestication in northeastern China around 5,000 years ago, the horse has been an integral figure in the creation and survival of the Middle Kingdom. (Courtesy photo)
“It wasn’t easy being respectful,” he added. “We ate donkey; and I won’t eat that again,” Phillips explained.
It was the norm to go to a restaurant and find tanks of frogs, turtles and a variety of fish. When asked if he ate frogs or turtles while in China, his reply was an abrupt, “No.”
Phillips said another contrasting aspect he encountered in the schools compared to American schools is the emphasis of world peace.
According to the UM Mansfield Center, sports diplomacy has emerged as an integral part of efforts to build relations between the U.S. and other nations. The diplomacy uses the universal passion for sports as a way to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences to bring people together.
The Center’s belief is that participation in sports teaches leadership; teamwork and communication skills that help young people succeed in all areas of their lives.
Mansfield Center Associate Director Deena Mansour noted, “The Sports United grant is one of many State Department grants run by the Mansfield Center to benefit our community, including the American Youth Leadership Program sending Montana high school students and teachers to Cambodia, and the Professional Fellows Program supporting an exchange of professionals in economic empowerment. These programs help further the Mansfield Center’s mandate to engage people from across our state in global connections.”
Nearly 2,000 stand in formation at Mongolian school in a courtyard to do their second set of calisthenics for the day. (Courtesy photo)
Phillips said through his trip he was honored to share his culture and knowledge of traditional games with the Chinese, however he felt he gained so much in the little contact he received by grasping who they are face-to-face.
To build a caring relationship with a people it starts with every day people getting to know each other not merely government officials says Phillips.
Through his experience in the exchange program, Phillips has imprinted in his mind a face and soul to a people that he will never forget.