Duflinkë the Dubious Shuttlecock – Part 2

Chapter Fourteen

Graduation and Beyond

He had been assured by the doctor that there would be no permanent damage to his joints except perhaps some scar tissue and stiffness, but this only motivated him to fully recover and make the most of his time while temporarily handicapped. He worked his upper body with his crutches and chose the time to return to university to complete his degree, which he did with zeal. He attended philosophy colloquiums and lectures by visiting professors on a wide range of subjects, always there with his crutches neatly tucked by his chair wearing his weathered tweed jacket with patches on the elbows. He wore his Birkenstocks whenever he could and again immersed himself in his philosophy studies, hoping to finally tie up this loose end, graduate with his degree, and then get back to backpacking around the world.

He knew more options awaited him with a university degree in hand, particularly overseas where his heart still lay.

Images of his time overseas coloured everything he did, even the badminton court. He couldn’t play but he could coach, which is what he did. He helped the varsity team in any way he could. He wasn’t the head coach, but he helped Philip the head coach with training some of the keen young players who had recently started at the school. Coaching was a good experience for Duflinkë because it gave him pause to hand off his knowledge of the game to youngsters, yet at the same time being able to enjoy a different perspective. Being a coach one was asked to be clinical and objective, unlike that of a player, so it gave him the distance from the court he needed to see the game in a new way. Without a doubt it stirred a new hunger within him to return to the court, no matter how long it would take his arthritis to dissipate. He spent a year and a half using his crutches. When the swelling and pain finally subsided, he was afraid at first his illness would hamper his movement, but he was surprised to see it didn’t.

He only had some residual pain in his left big toe.

He wrote a lot in his journals that year, culminating in a mountain biking trip from Kingston to Montreal and back in the early months of the summer. His philosophy professor had given him an extension for him to complete his undergraduate thesis, but Duflinkë was having difficulty trying to figure out how to express his ideas about symbolic logic – the topic of his thesis. A bike trip along the St Lawrence River struck him as a good way to work through what he wanted to say so he notified his landlady that he would be gone for the month but be back by the end of the month. Cycling was easier than walking for him, so a good bike ride seemed like a good way of regaining his fitness. He brought with him a tent and a pencil and journal and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and cycled 500 miles from Kingston to Montreal and then back again. He pitched his tent in farmer’s fields and wrote out his thoughts, finally taking form. Soon he saw the parallel between the logic he was trying to explain and the symmetrical nature of his cycling so that he was able to harness the cycling as a metaphor for his ideas.

He succeeded, handing in a 150-page thesis to a surprised professor, who it might be said was more impressed by the effort than the contents of the paper.

This experience opened up a new path for Duflinkë that relied on his old, established skills of training and discipline: writing. More than just journal writing now, what had transpired during his mountain bike tour of the mighty St Lawrence River and how he was able to intertwine the biking narrative with his philosophy gave him an immense sense of pride and accomplishment, just as badminton had. He was sad though of finally leaving university behind for the world at large. He knew he wanted to return to an expat’s life but didn’t know what he would do, until Kang got in touch with him.

Kang wrote to his mother’s address in Toronto explaining that there was a coaching job available in Taiwan. They preferred a native English speaker that the club had had trouble filling. He asked if Duflinkë was interested in the position. He wrote back to him saying he would love to teach badminton in Taiwan. Within weeks he had arranged a flight to Taipei. He arrived just with one bag of his essentials and the clothes on his back. He bought whites and new badminton shoes and a new racquet because it was all significantly cheaper in Taiwan than in Canada. He upgraded to the latest Yonex Carbonex 8 – the most advanced racquet on the market.

And with it he soon found a broader range for his well-honed strokes.

Kang had flown to Taipei and met him at the courts. He seemed proud to have Duflinkë as the English-speaking badminton coach for his Taiwanese friends. His fellow coach, Mr. Thaddeus Wong, didn’t speak much English so it was hard at first to communicate his thoughts about coaching. But Duflinkë liked the vibe in Taipei, with its intense traffic of wall-to-wall motorbikes and scooters, and bars that never closed. There were many Americans there in the city studying Mandarin at the numerous universities. It was said that those studying Chinese were American spies honing their skills before infiltrating the mainland. But he soon discovered that these expat language students were a lively bunch just as much enthralled with the old Chinese culture that had been destroyed by the Chinese Communist Party. (The Nationalists had fled to Taiwan from mainland China in 1949, bringing with them all the gold and the loot from the museums). It was plain to see that Taiwan had the highest number of temples per capita in the world as none of them had been torn down, unlike the communist takeover on the mainland. Taiwan, being a rogue breakaway province of China, was actually considered by many scholars to be the real China. Even its official name said it: The Republic of China.

And Taiwan was still technically at war with the People’s Republic of China but that didn’t stop Taiwan from becoming an economic powerhouse.

And in this state of long-term conflict, badminton had become a war by proxy between the two Chinese entities. But because the Taiwanese were so isolated on the world stage, they required English as a bridge to the international arena for both badminton and business. Duflinkë’s role was a significant one. And he was given much respect by the Taiwanese. He soon learned that the vast majority of badminton players playing at his club did speak English to a certain degree because English was taught in the school system. It was just Thaddeus Wong who had never really bothered to learn to speak it due to his age. He was in his fifties.

Still a very good coach but he was lacking in what the team needed when they travelled overseas to play in tournaments.

Thaddeus Wong had assigned one of his players, Bartholomew, to help Duflinkë get set up at a house he owned on a mountainside near the city. He would be able to live rent-free, but he would need to buy a motorcycle to be able to go back and forth from there to the badminton courts. The house was a basic concrete structure that had been built on the roof of a five-story apartment complex. Run down yet full of tenants, the penthouse served him well with its basic, ascetic layout and facilities. It had a functional kitchen and a working shower albeit not too clean. But it served to highlight that he was no longer in Canada anymore and that he had indeed begun a new adventure.

He asked Bartholomew about finding a motorcycle to buy.

“Motorcycle or scooter for you?” he asked. It was true 95 percent of the traffic was scooter traffic. But Duflinkë was significantly bigger than most and felt a motorcycle was a better fit for what he wanted.

“Motorcycle. Not too big. Not too expensive.” Bartholomew stroked his chin in thought as they descended the dank, cement stairwell that led to Bartholomew’s own scooter Duflinkë had been doubled on.

“Maybe I have. Let me tell you tomorrow at practice.”

The thought of finding a public bus to take him to the courts and back was too daunting – and depressing – for Duflinkë.

“Could we look into it today?” Bart took his phone and made a call, speaking in short rapid bursts in Mandarin.

“Okay, okay. We go.” He doubled Duflinkë down the main street that ran down the valley into the city to a place not unlike the concrete apartment they were just at. He called his friend, and he came down to the street. Parked in a long line in front of the apartment were hundreds of scooters and a few motorbikes. The young man looked at Duflinkë and nodded so he nodded back. He went to an old black Yamaha 150cc motorcycle that was covered in street dust.

“Here. This one is for sale,” said Bartholomew. Duflinkë sat on it thinking it might be too small for him but was surprised to see that it fit him quite well.


“Does it run?”


“Does the motorcycle work okay?” Bart’s friend shewed him off the motorbike so he could kick the starter a few times until the engine roared into life. A blue cloud of exhaust belched forth from the exhaust pipe.

“Old but okay.” The guy revved the Yamaha for a minute and then let Duflinkë sit on the bike again. As soon as he felt the revs of the engine tickle his person, he fell in love with the bike. Without asking he backed it up, pointed it down the street and opened the throttle, bolting forward. The wind blew his hair off his forehead and he frantically tried to pull the front brake but there was no lever. Fortunately, he was able to use the foot brake and come to a slow stop.

“Wow,” was all he could say.

He bought the motorcycle from the guy with the understanding that it would take two weeks for the payment to come to him through Bartholomew, since Duflinkë had to wait for his first paycheque. This was agreeable.

Duflinkë had his motorcycle.

By having his own independent means of transportation in Taiwan it opened up endless potential to explore the mountains all around him when he was done coaching for the day. He was not worried about coaching because he knew his craft well and could set up all the keen players up with challenging drills that would strengthen their fundamentals and polish their finishing. So he took every opportunity to ride down roads where he had no idea where they led. Hour after hour he explored the city, soon gaining an idea of its layout and most importantly where the pubs were. The first Friday night after his coaching was done until Monday he went for a ride and ended up at a very packed bar near the universities in the downtown core. As soon as he entered the bar he felt right at home.

It was filled with foreigners.

And women.

He drank and met people and had a great time as only he could but the thing that had a lasting impression was of a guy his age at the bar speaking Mandarin to the female bartender. He had never seen that before – a white guy speaking perfect Chinese. It stirred something in him and made him remember what his uncle had said when he had visited him in Hong Kong a few years earlier: “If you ever decide to learn Mandarin, doors will open for you the likes of which you cannot fathom.”

In the weeks that followed Duflinkë looked into language courses to take at the university. He found one that suited his schedule and so his Mandarin studies began. His coaching continued to go well so it freed him up to spend lots of his non-motorcycle riding time studying his ‘pinyin’ so he could master the four unique tones that Mandarin had that English didn’t. He drew and stuck papers with each phonetic sound on the walls in his living room so he could further immerse himself in the mastery of the sounds and tones of the language so that he wouldn’t embarrass himself when he tried to speak Chinese to native speakers. It was slow at first but then it picked up speed the more he spoke it to store clerks and even his badminton players on court. Little phrases at first would always result in surprise and laughter promptly followed by an outward demonstration of respect. The Taiwanese loved it when a European learned their language.

For them it was the ultimate compliment to their culture.

If truth be told he didn’t think he would return to Canada for a long time so this investment in time and energy would pay off by opening those doors his uncle had mentioned. And being the way he was, enjoying discipline and getting ahead through dedication and hard work, he excelled at his studies. He still read his novels at night and hadn’t bothered to turn on the television I his abode. He used all his time to coach badminton, ride his motorcycle and learn Chinese. Each day he explored new streets and new markets where he would say to himself: “I’ve never seen that before” time and time again.

It was an outward reminder of how far he was from his childhood.

But it wasn’t all about him. He enjoyed the coaching, but he was also aware of a swelling of interest in beating some of the players he was coaching. The competitive instinct inside him was soon reawakened. He found himself studying the games of those players he thought he could beat, particularly the players he didn’t like from their overt swagger and condescending manner. To these Duflinkë was merely a coach. Day after day, week after week, he coached with an eye to return playing. He helped players do their drills that polished his own coordination and strokes at the same time, but he could still not let loose and play fully. He felt bound by his contract to only coach for fear of upsetting Mr. Thaddeus Wong who was clearly old school and wasn’t crazy about having a foreigner as a fellow coach. So, as he was exploring on his motorcycle one night, he passed by a gymnasium where a long line of badminton courts were jam-packed with players. One thing he loved about Taiwan was that even the recreational players played with feather shuttlecocks. In Canada, where feathered birdies were very expensive, few played with feather birdies. Most played with crappy plastic birds. But here in Taiwan was where they were made and could be bought for pennies per birdie compared to over two dollars per birdie in the west.

So when Duflinkë walked into the massive gymnasium full of maybe a dozen badminton courts, he was overwhelmed by the crisp sound of the feather shuttlecock being struck cleanly by a population obsessed with the sport.

He stood against the wall, his face half-covered by the grime of vehicle exhaust from riding in the traffic, and let the magic of it all sink in. Never had he seen so many excellent players all playing on some Tuesday night with feather birdies on so many well-made courts as if it were some cathedral to the sport. Many players waited patiently for games to end so they could play on the court. They were all waiting to play.

And as he was watching, a player approached him.


“No, Canadian.”

“Oh, oh. You play badminton?” He smiled and showed crooked teeth.

“I used to play a lot in Canada, yes.”

“You want to play?” He offered his back-up racquet to Duflinkë. They both looked at his shoes – old badminton shoes that still had enough gum in the tread to be safe on the court.


“No, no. It’s okay. No problem.”

“Well, I’m wearing jeans.”

“No problem. No problem.”

A smile crossed Duflinkë’s face as he stared at the young man.

“Okay. Just a little bit.”

He took the racquet from him and removed the sweater he was wearing and went out on the court where there was half a court free.

“Just a little bit, okay?”

“Okay. Okay.” The young man retrieved two fresh shuttlecocks and they struck up a rally. Duflinkë was careful to strike the birdie cleanly and deep, using his best form. His knees and ankles and toes didn’t hurt him nor did his shoulder. In no time he had worked up a sweat as the majority of onlookers watched a tall white man rally in jeans. And it was this attention that made him get a little carried away. At a shallow clear he couldn’t help himself but smash it hard at his fellow player, but his opponent’s reflexes were so quick he returned it, causing Duflinkë to slip as he lunged for the short return. He was able to dump the birdie over the net, which was then lifted to the back of the court that in effect had ignited a half-court match between the two. Duflinkë’s competitive spirit, enlivened by the sweat and attention, rose up to the occasion so he let loose with one of his slice drop shots that was unreturnable.

There was an audible hush among the Taiwanese watching.

With his height and the crisp way in which he was able to arc his wrist downwards at the birdie, his technique and height enabled him to engineer a steeper downward angle of the bird that struck the floor of the court sooner that a shorter person. It was an advantage he had here in Taiwan where the average height for men was five-and-a-half feet. Duflinkë was six-foot two inches tall.

His new friend raised his racquet pointing at the birdie on the floor and said: “Good. Good.” And resumed the rally, none of the intensity lost.

There they played against each other at a speed a few levels faster than all the other courts, capturing the attention of all the players who had finished for the night and of those keeners who still had some more playing to do. They wanted to see how such a big player moved up and back on the court without stumbling. But because Duflinkë had spent so many countless hours drilling in Canada, his footwork didn’t let him down. He moved with the gentleness of a feather to the net and then to the back of the court, letting his thick leg kick out displaying his impressive scissor kick.

He was showing off, but he was allowed to show off, being the first time he had really played competitively since spending over a year on crutches.

The doors of the courts were wide open and let the oppressive tropical heat into the courts, so he was drenched with sweat after a quick after no time. But that was all it took to garner several invitations from other players to return to play during their nightly practice during the week. They played Tuesday and Friday nights.

His energy was high as he motorcycled away from the courts, the wind cooling him down in his t-shirt and jeans. He loved how he had felt on the court but honestly didn’t expect to return to play. But he was to be proven wrong by this. Duflinkë returned three nights later wearing proper whites and proper shoes. He even brought his own Carbonex 8.

Chapter Fifteen

The Circuit

Duflinkë thought it was important to keep his own personal training separate from his coaching because of the feeling he had from Thaddeus Wong. He didn’t want to complicate his situation with his coaching job, which was his bread and butter. In fact, now that he was back playing, he doubled his efforts to become a better coach. And no one was a better coach than Raphi, so Duflinkë called him in Toronto. He brought him up to speed on his new job.

“It’s good. Good place to be to learn how to coach,” said Raphi.

“Well, that’s the thing. I’m just starting out so I’m learning how to be a good coach. I do the drills that you taught me and the warm up and warm down and the post-practice match and whatnot, so I’m hoping my technique is good. Basically, I’m trying my best to recall what you did.”

“Okay, I see.” Raphi took a breath. “Coaching is basic. It is the job of the coach to identify the weaknesses of each player and assign a drill to improve that weakness,” he said.

“Okay. Sure, I can see that.”

“You know the drills because you have done them all your life so just use common sense for selecting the right drill.”


“It’s the ability to see the weakness of a player that’s the hard part. Say the player has many weak points in his game, where do you start?”

“With the basics.”

“Yes, the basics. Four corners. Practicing the main shots: the drop shot, the clear and the smash. Net play should be part of it but always remember that speed on the court and good footwork will always beat a good player with a good stroke. It’s just the nature of the game. A good badminton player must first of all be able to cover the court.”

“Yep, otherwise they get humiliated.” Painful images of past matches flashed before him, but were quickly repressed. Duflinkë’s badminton past was chalk full of bad matches.

“But the skill of seeing a player’s weakness is a good thing to possess as a player too. You see that?”

“Sort of.”

“Are you playing at all?”

He told him he was but at another club.

“Use that new skill of finding a weakness in a player in your games and see how it makes things easier.”

“I will.”

“By the way, how are your knees?”

“My joints are better now. All gone. Except for some scar tissue in my big toe.”

“That was tough for you. Long time on those crutches. Your arms are now big, eh?” They laughed into their telephones and soon hung up after some more pleasantries. But now Duflinkë had a template from which he could launch an effective coaching career for himself. And Raphi had unlocked the mystery of the connection between coaching and playing. It had eluded him but now he saw that one job could serve the other, and with his motorcycling and adventures on the side, he could continue to train his brain to see outside of the box and to push the envelope.

And most importantly, develop his creativity and imagination.

Duflinkë started to run more drills with the top players, trying at the same time to teach them the English words for things in the game and in general words that were part of the culture of badminton. This was what allowed him to move up in their eyes and to gain more respect by his Taiwanese team. This in turn made him take extra care to run clean drills with top birdie placement in all the drills he ran. Soon it was clear to the players that running drills with Duflinkë was demanding and concise, but also the fastest way to improve their game.

This reciprocal dynamic enabled him to evolve himself both as a badminton coach and a player.

At first, he hadn’t been invited to attend the tournaments throughout Taiwan because there was no need for the players to speak English, but this soon ended because the players asked for Duflinkë to attend the tournaments with them, especially that they now knew he could speak a little Mandarin. He could speak a few words but at least these words were very well enunciated. And the more time he spent with his team, the more he was able to listen to them speak and better mimic what he heard. It was through mimicking their sounds speaking that Duflinkë’s Mandarin improved dramatically.

In no time he could pass as a Chinese speaker.

The first badminton tournament in the Taiwan circuit he went to was in Kaohsiung. There were many on the team but only a few selected players went to the tournaments. They were expensive to enter, and the competition was tough, but they had one top player that was doing better and better at each tournament. And this player was Bartholomew. Everything he did was all about badminton. If tattoos had been hip in Taiwan at the time, he would have inked Yonex into his arm. He followed all the top players coming from China and Indonesia and Singapore and was always reading the results from the tournaments from around the world. He subscribed to the magazine International Badminton and received a copy once a month. He would bring it to the club sometimes and Duflinkë would peruse through it, becoming interested in the world number one from China: Lin Dan. At 26 he had been the world champion for three years.

The guy was like a rock star.

Bartholomew brought International Badminton with him to the Kaohsiung Open. Flipping through it Duflinkë saw articles and advertisements of the prize money of two of Asia’s biggest tournaments: the Hong Kong Open and the Japan Open. He had never realized how much the prize money was in Asia. In Canada the champion was given a trophy. Only recently had monetary awards been given, but the prize money in Canada was paltry in comparison.

The prize money for the men’s singles champion in Hong Kong was half a million dollars and the Japan Open boasted of almost a million.

As he watched his players in the Kaohsiung tournament, he found the noise of the onlookers distracting compared to the respectful silence in the west. Loud applause was common after almost every point, even when a layer hit an unforced error. The fervor and passion for the game was contagious. Badminton fans as well as the family and friends of the players were just as enthusiastic as the players.

He watched all the matches of each of his players and offered an analysis of each of their matches, trying his best to explain his thoughts in both English and Mandarin. Bartholomew was usually there to help translate some of his ideas, but for Duflinkë it didn’t take long for him to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of hours he had spent watching matches. Sure he had spent many thousands of hours watching matches as a junior, but as a coach it was different. So when the Saturday night dinner came around he knew he needed a break. It would all be in Mandarin – the speeches and whatnot – so he chose instead to explore the nightlife of Taiwan’s biggest port.

Outside the club he was blown away by the city’s polluted air: smoke stacks belching out thick black smoke from its stacks. He could see the rings of dirt around the glasses of scooter and motorcycle riders on the streets as he made his way to the downtown area with the pubs. Not having the same cluster of big universities as Taipei, he didn’t expect there to be as many expatriates out at the bars, but he was wrong. Wherever he went in Taiwan he would find a bar where Europeans congregated.

Like they were some sort of international church.

He had eaten all day at the club with its catered sandwiches and noodle soup so when he arrived at the bar, he was only thirsty. He needed to get his mind off of anything to do with badminton. As usual he sat at an open table on the patio and opened his journal to write down his thoughts but just as he was to begin writing a girl approached him.

“You’re writing at a bar on a Saturday night?”

“Early Saturday night, yes.” He smiled at her. Her black hair fell over her brown eyes, her teeth white and contrasting against her hair.

“I try to set aside my Saturday nights to explore the culture here in Taiwan,” she said. Mischief in her eyes. Unmistakable.

“Yes, me too. And plenty to explore as I see it.” She smiled and sat down.

“I’m Rita.”


“Do you ride a scooter?”

“Motorcycle, yes. A 150. Yamaha.”

“Safer than a scooter.”

“Yes, it is actually. The turning radius in those scooters is too sharp. Very dangerous. Doesn’t have the right feng shui for a rider.”

“You think so do you?” They shared a pint of beer, the sun hovering over the palm trees that lined the street below.

“You live here?”

“I live in Taipei.”

“Like most people.”

“A bit polluted here, isn’t it? I mean those smokestacks are harsh.”

“You’re right but I live just outside of the city where the air is good.”


“I do. A good one. I love it. Riding here is an adventure in itself. The lack of driving laws here boggles my mind. Really. One takes their life in their hands every time they ride the roads in this country.”

“Just makes one a better rider.” Deadpan.

“And safer.”

Duflinkë learned that she was a photographer and that she was preparing to go to Cambodia to follow the national elections there. It was an assignment.”

“When is the election?”

“The summer. End of July.” The thought of going to Cambodia interested him. And with the badminton season ending in another month, he did have six weeks off over the summer. He hadn’t yet figured out what he would do with this time off.

“So what will you do there?”

“I’ve got a job volunteering with the United Nations to oversee the voting.”

“So what does that mean?”

“It means I stand around all day at a voting station and make sure no one votes twice or intimidates voters. Basically.”

“And you’ll take pictures?”

“Yes. And I have a friend there who is the editor of the Phnom Penh Post.”

“I’m guessing that is the English newspaper?”

“Yes.” She smiled at him and they discussed Cambodia for the next hour or so. He learned she was from Virginia and she was educated. But she had a passion to travel and take photographs. The sun set and the beers were consumed until she invited him back to her place and doubled him on the back on her scooter. He did his utmost to maintain balance after consuming many pints. And Rita did too. Her small apartment was full of photos hanging off the walls, some black and white and some colour. They were mainly close ups of undernourished children or old women in worn out work clothes. He could see that she had traveled all over and had the proof on her walls. It was a living record of her life – one lived that was inclusive of all peoples where the humanity shared among all was celebrated in all its forms.

When she removed her shoes and slipped on a pair of worked-in Birkenstocks. That was when he knew she was cool. Only a kindred soul would carve out a life like this and still have the sack to wear Birkenstocks.

In the morning Rita gave him a lift to his hotel where he showered and dressed in his best to show respect to the finalists. He had asked all his team to be there as was the etiquette of any competitor who had participated in the tournament. Bartholomew was in the men’s final and was eager to hear his advice on is opponent.

“Play to his backhand. He doesn’t have an overhead clear on his backhand side. Try flat, quick clears down his backhand side. You’ll see he can only drop it at the net or lob it back. If he does that, go crosscourt.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought. His backhand.”

“Don’t forget to run him around a little bit. You have good speed so try to tire him out during the first game. If he smashes the hell out of it keep dropping it to the net and play it safe. Use your spins.” Bartholomew had developed an excellent ability to spin the feather shuttlecocks so tightly to the tape of the net that many were impossible for the opponent to return without popping it up. He had worked on it every practice not as a weakness but to strengthen his strength.

“Most important though: be confident. I’m telling you that you can beat him. Forget his ranking. You have more talent. You have better strokes. And better footwork than him. Play to his weaknesses and take the title. You deserve it.”

Bartholomew was a good player and had talent but had started competitive badminton late, which always showed for some reason in a player. There was a stiffness that one could see in these players that would always be there. Perhaps it was born out of fear from clever shots, or it was a fundamental lack of insight into tapping into the intuition of knowing what your opponent is going to hit. For moments Bart looked smooth but time and again he moved around the court in a jilted manner, shuffling his feet but lacking the firmness and flow needed to beat a top player. And when the match was over and Bartholomew had lost, he didn’t show any emotion coming runner-up. His grace in defeat trumped his lack of killer instinct.

And without a killer instinct, one could never become a champion.

Back in Taipei he continued his language studies and finished out his coaching duties until his summer break arrived. He had kept in touch with Rita and decided he had to fly to Cambodia to meet up with her for a week or so and explore the country and witness a landmark election. Little did he know what lay in his path ahead.

Chapter Sixteen

Timely Diversion

When he landed at the airport it felt as if he had landed in a jungle during the Vietnam War. Palm trees and leveled dirt around the landing strip was half covered with parched grassland. Cracks in the concrete were haphazardly covered with tar, loose and half melted in the summer heat. The plane was small and barely half full, Duflinkë being the only westerner onboard. Inside the airport the lounge was empty with the exception of military guards that stood at attention at the customs desk. The paint on the walls was chipped and there were water stains on the off-white ceiling tiles above him.

Being from Canada he had seen old French colonial architecture before but nothing like what he saw in Cambodia. Phnom Penh was full of yellow French colonial buildings, from the post office to the courthouse and the government buildings to the mansions and schools that lined the neighbourhoods along the Mekong River. The yellow façade was everywhere. Roads were lined with well-spaced mature palm trees that bespoke of a past long forgotten to modern memory. Fences lined the boundaries of the homes that made up the main parts of the city. Shacks were crowded around the perimeter with only dirt paths that interconnected them all. Litter was scattered around the edges but there was no sign of the heavy pollution that plagued the cities in Taiwan because there was no industry to speak of in Cambodia.

That night he arranged to meet Rita, who had arrived a few days earlier, at a bar on the river.

He walked into The Foreign Correspondence Club of Cambodia and climbed the old wooden stairs and felt the presence of hundreds of international journalists who had also climbed those stairs in the countless decades since the French took control of Indochina. He spotted her immediately, with her long raven hair and feet sticking out from under the table wearing her trademark Birkenstocks.

“You made it,” she said and gave him a warm kiss.

“Pretty groovy vibe here wouldn’t you say?” She laughed.

“It is pretty groovy, yes.” He sat in front of her, and they both looked out to the calm waters of the Mekong River that flowed past them from the balcony and the palm trees.

“They call this the ‘Paris of Asia’.”

“They do, eh? It’s very French. I mean the buildings and whatnot. Major urban planning those French had.”

“The French had the same outlay for all their colonial possessions, just like the Spanish did. If you visit enough of these cities in the Far East, you begin to see how the park and the post office, and the homes and the school is all laid out in some colonial grid.”


“Yes. Unfortunately, the Khmer Rouge had wiped out a whole generation of thinkers and intellectuals during the socialist purges of in the 1970s, and destroyed all the elaborate French buildings as an act against capitalism.”

“A shame.”

“But they kept the ones they needed, which are here in the capital.” They smiled at each other and clinked their glasses together and drank and laughed until long after the sun had set and others came to party on the second-floor patio. Western rock’n roll blasted from the speakers that made it all seem surreal to Duflinkë, but he was more focused on Rita. They returned to her friend the editor’s house and closed the door to her room and came up with an exercise regimen to meet their needs.

In the morning, he met the editor of the newspaper: Rhys. He was a smart, thin guy from Britain, with an extra long chin beard that looked scraggly and out of place on his long head. Rhys, Rita and Duflinkë drank coffee on his balcony overlooking a leafy street.

“The election is very important because the whole world is watching,” said Rhys, stroking his chin beard. “They don’t know if Hun Sen is really going to have a democratic election. That’s why there are so many UN observers here. I’d do it myself but I have to be at the newspaper.”

“Do you think they need observers?” asked Duflinkë.

“I think they can always use an extra set of eyes. Just go down to the old Russian Market and look for the UN sign where they have just put up a table. It’s a makeshift UN information centre. That’s where you can sign up.”

He had seen a number of motorcycles along the roads.

“Can I rent a motorcycle here?”

“Sure. Can you ride one?”

“Yes. I have a motorcycle in Taiwan.”

“It’s different here but your skills will still work here.” He gave Duflinkë directions to the nearest rental that was also at the Russian market near the river.

“I hear you are a badminton coach?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Good sport badminton. I played it for years in England. Tough as hell.”

“A very underrated sport in many ways.”

“Do you still play competitively?” Rita looked up from the newspaper, as if she was also interested in his reply.

“No, not really. I had some injuries. But I’ve been playing recently.”

“I hope you will excuse me for saying this, but it seems like a shame to see all that training and talent go to waste, especially since you’re living in Asia. It’s plain to see you’re in excellent physical shape.”

“Thank you.” He grinned and looked at Rita. She grinned too from behind her sunglasses.

“I reckon you would be exposed to lots of tournament play.” Duflinkë’s hangover kicked in heavily at the thought of explaining everything to this man he had just met.

“Injuries and burn out, I guess. Not sure I have what it takes to beat the top seeds.”

“Yeah, but to just play in a world-class tourney in Asia would be pretty cool, no?”

“I suppose.”

“You said your shoulder is better, didn’t you?” Rita was now standing beside the editor.

“The shoulder is yes, better. It’s just-“


“It’s a lot of work you know. A lot of sacrifice. I don’t want to play competitively. I did that for years. Lots of wear and tear on the body. My coach, who was a world champion from Thailand, can hardly move and can hardly see and he’s only in his fifties. It’s not natural jumping around a court pressing knees and cartilage to maximum pressure and striking a tiny flying thing in the air using a sharp eye, using extreme movement of wrist and shoulder. Serious wear and tear on the body, man. Last time we played he missed the birdie completely a couple of times. It’s a young man’s sport. And it doesn’t lend itself to longevity.”

“What, then, is the prime of a badminton player?”


“And you are?”


An awkward silence fell on his shoulders, and he suddenly wanted to leave, which he promptly did. He set out for the Russian market where he found the desk set up by officials for the UN and signed up to be an observer, but in the back of his mind he doubted very much he would be bothered to show up. He was now looking at exploring as much of Cambodia as he could on a rented dirt bike. So, when he found the motorcycle rental and found the Honda CR250, he could see it was a perfect bike for his size. And he knew he would rather ride and explore Cambodia than stand around and gawk at voters voting. He gave the man his passport as collateral, and he bought a map and compass from the market and rode off down the river where he passed more French colonial homes and little neighbourhoods built beside the Mekong. Most of the homes were full of squatters and surrounded by thatched huts on stilts. Filth and garbage were scattered around the ground. But he kept riding until the road became dirt and the trees thicker, and the potholes bigger. His motorcycle was able to handle the bumps and divots along the road and he soon grew into the groove of the bike, riding the potholes like he would skiing over and around moguls on a ski slope. He rode and rode, his stomach full of joy – pure joy – at what he was experiencing: total and complete freedom. For some reason he thought of his friends working in an office back in Toronto while he was cruising under the palm trees along the mighty Mekong River.

He returned to Phnom Penh wired with the thrill of motorcycling in Cambodia. His cheeks flushed, Duflinkë chose to put out of his mind the news of the death of travelers only a few years ago who had been kidnapped and chopped up into pieces by rogue nationalists who didn’t want foreigners in the country. For Duflinkë, this fell outside the realm of understanding, and he didn’t much care for the political realities of where he was. What he was after was to ride as far as he could without bothering anyone. The discussion of him returning to compete at tournaments had shaken him unexpectedly because it had tweaked his deep feelings of guilt of having not utilized all his coaching and training to become the best he could be on the court. He hated to admit it, but he felt awful for not honouring all the time and energy Raphi had spent coaching him from his time as a 12-year-old all the way up to his reckless university years. He had somehow disgraced what was noble in what his coach had done and wasn’t man enough to face the truth.

Yet despite this what he wanted above all else was time away from the demands of the badminton court. What he wanted to do was to apply all the philosophy he had learned at university to his life to see it materialize and to evolve. He was keenly aware that many top athletes grow into half men because of the sacrifices they need to make for the sake of becoming the best in their sport. They forgo enriching life experiences for an early night and early rise for training and tournament prep, missing out on golden opportunities and their youth. He only had to see Clark and McKee as two good examples of one-dimensional men who had chosen badminton over world travel and adventure.

He didn’t want to be another McKee.

He didn’t want to end up a man-boy.

But he did like the idea of choosing this other way of life and possibly make a play to enter one of the international opens that were close to him in Taiwan.

But that decision was put aside for a later date because the roads and paths of Cambodia required all his attention. Avoiding oxen and people walking with baskets on their heads asked much of his motorcycling skills, but it wasn’t until he rode to Sihanoukville on the southern coast that his skills were really called into action. It was the day before the election, so he wanted to make the most out of the day rather than spend it at a café waiting for the vote to take place, so he navigated his route to the coast for a dip in the ocean. He learned that outside of the city there were no gas stations, only tables set up by rickety wooden huts at the side of the road that sold gasoline from discarded plastic Coke bottles. He grew to know when his tank needed fuel and kept his eyes open to find one of the unmarked tables at the side of the dirt road. On that map the distance did not look that far but still after three-and-a-half hours of riding he was still far from Sihanoukville. Another hour and then another hour went by, and he began to worry. Then dusk hit and he encountered a half hour of the sky turning dark from insects flying around. Without goggles or sunglasses, he took an insect wing in the eye that stung so badly that he pulled over at the side of the road to regroup.

Riding at 60kmh with one eye shut on such uneven roads was unwise.

When he returned riding and the darkness fell and the insects disappeared, he spotted lights of what could only be Phnom Penh in the distance.

“Strange,” he said to himself, but then it dawned on him what had happened: at the three-hour mark he had crossed the road to fill up on gasoline and had then forgotten to turn around! He had ridden halfway and then ridden all the way back to Phnom Penh! Classic!

But he didn’t mind because the day had been full of thrills and new vistas and images he would never forget. What did worry him was his eye. Throughout dinner with Rita, he kept rubbing it.

“What’s wrong with your eye?”

He explained what had happened but didn’t bother her with the detail that he had lost his way to the coast by his dumb error.

“It’s really red.” Rita took out her camera. She had been busy taking photographs all over Phnom Penh for her assignment and getting the latest news about the dictator Hun Sen. “Do you mind if I take your photo?”

“Now why would you want to do that?” Duflinkë quickly took a long swig from his cold bottle of San Miguel beer.

She smiled and focused her SLR on his face. He tried his best to relax. Then it was done. She had taken a close-up of his face showing the injured eye and the disheveled hair and sun-burned cheeks.

“You are restless, aren’t you?”

“I just want to make the most of my time here. I know I will never return here, just as it is highly unlikely that I will ever return to Thailand or mainland China or Australia ever again. It’s just the way it is.” She smiled and drank from her beer. There was a glimmer of love in her eye.

“I get it. But you’re particularly serious about it all.”

“How so?”

“Your compass and map and your journal writing.”

“I just don’t want to miss it all, you know?” Something in his eyes made her stop this line of questioning. Instead, she clenched his hand in hers and gave him a gentle kiss. For Duflinkë that moment was one of the sweetest of his life. She understood him: the complexities and the inner conflicts. A tear welled up in his battered and bloodshot eye. She blushed as a gentle breeze rustled through the lazy palm trees beside the river. In that moment he felt he had truly left his past behind. Now everything in front of him was his.

Chapter Seventeen

Not Letting Go

The next day, watching voters vote in the city was a complete waste of time. Looking around he could tell that most of the UN observers were adult goody-goodies who had been in the student council in high school and who were busy getting their credentials in order to qualify for a cushy teaching position or a job with an NGO. They were staid and unimaginative and sported a crisp, upright posture who were averse to laughing from the gut. Instead, they filled their day with fake smiles and lots of nodding and a high-pitched phony laugh they used to assuage those who had grown bored with their company.

Duflinkë did not fit in.

And he soon asked himself why he was spending his valuable time watching innocent citizens cast votes in a cardboard box with ten bystanders standing around watching. He hardly even paid attention to the voting. He was more interested in watching the people go by on their scooters and mopeds and carrying their groceries from the store down the street. Rita had been assigned to a different voting station so there was no one there to really talk to, so during lunchtime he told them he was going down the street to buy a meal and that he would be back, but he never returned. Instead, he walked to the Russian market and rented the same Honda CR250 he had had yesterday and this time he gathered his belongings and rode south along the Mekong River towards the border with Vietnam, just to get out of the city and see the country. He passed old huts and grounded fishing vessels with broken wooden beams and ripped fishing nets on the water’s edge with thick jungle intruding everywhere. Along the road he rode, following the river like a never-ending snake that twisted and turned deeper into the heart of darkness.

He returned to Phnom Penh and had dinner with Rita and the editor Rhys at a rugged, rustic bar with a pool table and walls covered in Apocalypse Now graffiti. The Bar was called The Heart of Darkness.

He told them about what he had done during the afternoon after the observing became too boring for him.

“If you like that road you should ride west and then up to Siem Reap where you can check out Angkor Wat.” Duflinkë shook his head.

“I don’t really like doing tourist things. Being surrounded by mobs of tourists seems to defeat the purpose of being in a country like Cambodia, don’t you think?”

“It’s worth it,” replied Rhys. “And besides, as you can see, there are hardly any tourists that come to Cambodia. That’s sort of what this election is all about.”

They both looked at him closely, seeing that Duflinkë simply didn’t care about the election.

“I have a free day or two before I have to leave,” said Rita.

“I have the weekend off,” added Rhys. It was Friday night.

“Is it expensive to rent a motorcycle from that place in the Russian market?” Rita had the mischief in her eye again.

“No, very cheap. The price of a few beers.”

“Well then, I suggest we go to Kep,” Rhys suggested. “It’s lined with old French mansions that were systematically blown up and dismantled by the communists in the seventies. But it’s a beautiful stretch of destroyed history.”

A few more of the editor’s friends showed up at the bar and decided to join them on their journey. One guy was a backpacker from Holland who had some joints on him. They stepped outside and smoked one and then started to talk about drugs.

“How did you get this?”

“The guy at my hostel told me about this guy who has loads of drugs.”

“Really.” The weed made his imagination leap to the outer bounds of sanity. “Can you get a hold of this guy tonight? Maybe we should get some for the ride?” The Dutchman nodded in understanding and went to call his guy at the hostel. It was arranged for them to go meet the dealer.

At night in Phnom Penh was dead quiet. There were no people out on the roads. Everyone was asleep because like Xi’an in China, there was so little electricity to so many houses that people went to sleep when the sun set. The Dutchman’s dealer showed up with bloodshot eyes and a smile.

“What do you want?”

“We will take one of everything you have.” The words were unplanned. And they had come from a restless well of wonton recklessness.

“What do you have?” The Dutchman didn’t even flinch.

“Weed, hash, coke, mushrooms, speed and heroin.”

Duflinkë did have some grounding when he declared he had never believed in the drug cocaine. And he said heroin was too dangerous but that they would take some of the others he had on him.

They left with enough drugs to feed the riders of the trip. Duflinkë held the hash and the speed.

The next morning they all met and filled up their tanks and rode west along the well-paved road towards the south coast where the French built their luxury summer houses. It was only about an hour to Kep. When they arrived Duflinkë felt the heaviness of history in the air where the palm trees were healthy and in straight lines that outlined houses missing roofs and second floors. Even from the blasted foundations and remnant patios one could see the absolute extravagance the French had created when they built their summer homes. As an angry mob of communists who had just taken control of the country, Duflinkë could see it was the perfect target to destroy the symbol of colonial imperialism and the hallmark of exploited wealth. But for Duflinkë it was a desecration against the beauty of the architecture and the assault on Kep’s beauty. The marble slates that still outlined back patios had bullet chips in them from angry soldiers of the Khmer Rouge. It had been a complete and purposeful desecration.

There was no one in town. Even the bombed mansions couldn’t house even the most ambitious squatters.

So, they took a break at the end of the road at the point on the sea and rolled up a joint. There were six of them. He and Rita and the editor Rhys as well as the Dutchman, Francois who was working on his PhD from Rice University in Texas, and Pillar, an American ex-soldier who had taken a medical discharge from the army after suffering second-degree burn to 80 percent of his body. He lived off his monthly pension from the US army and lived full-time in Cambodia.

It was Pillar who enjoyed most of the doobie. But for Duflinkë, riding stoned along the road was the ultimate combination of ingredients that made a deep thirst come alive. The warm, tropical air caressed his face and arms, his eyes were squinting from behind his cheap sunglasses and the hum of the engine filled his guts with overflowing joy. The six of them rode towards Kampot to the west. They passed through another ghost town that had once been a gambling mecca for the French but had shared the same fate as Kep Beach. Desolate and abandoned, Rita asked for the weed and proceeded to get on her knees and construct a joint on the road! No was around for miles so the six of them just smoked it there in the middle of the road. 

They decided to spend the night at an old hotel just outside of Kampot. They partied with the hash and weed and beer, but he and the Dutchman kept the mushrooms and speed out of view. Each of them were flushed from their riding and dehydrated from the heat but they all laughed on the hotel patio beside a small river. Their laughter could be heard across the water. But then after they had left the café patio, they all decided to speed down the dusty streets of Kampot, chasing each other like a cat-and-mouse.

Crazy dangerous and under the influence, they raced up and down the dirt roads that had no night lighting, their laughter heard when their engines would quiet when they downshifted. Highly illegal but it was done in a corner of sleepy southeast Asia in the early nineties.

The next morning everyone except for the Dutchman had to return to Phnom Penh. It was Sunday and the editor had the be at work the next day and the guy from Rice had a flight to leave that night, but for Duflinkë returning to Phnom Penh seemed like the last thing he wanted to do. He had until Thursday to explore, and he wasn’t about to sacrifice that opportunity for more riding just to join the group, so he said he was going to continue heading west to Sihanoukville. So Duflinkë and the Dutchman – who was now known as the Flying Dutchman – had broken out the speed and snorted a large part of the baggie that morning before they all filled up their tanks and went on their separate ways. He and the Dutchmen watched them ride off east back to the capital. Duflinkë was sad to see Rita go but he and the Flying Dutchman had a full tank of gas and lots of drugs as they set out for the Cambodian beaches in the Gulf of Thailand.

He had read that bikers like the Hell’s Angels used speed the most of any other drug when they ride, and he could see why immediately. One’s reflexes become taut and one’s eye is sharpened to every divot and curve in the road, regardless of whether it’s paved or dirt or mud. They rode through puddles and dodged oxen and their carts as they rode west. Duflinkë had been riding wearing his Birkenstocks, a rather dangerous proposition in a country like Cambodia where a cut or abrasion could muster trouble through infection, but he was confident with his skills on the bike and didn’t have any issues. However, the Dutchman, perhaps foolishly, had also chosen to wear his flip-flop sandals. They were indeed not Birkenstocks. They were cheap and plastic with no foundation for his foot to rest on. Duflinkë became concerned when the Dutchman hit a puddle and gouged his big toe, half ripping off the big toenail.

Following the strict protocols of riding etiquette, the Dutchman didn’t want to ruin the moment, so he chose not to say anything until they had arrived in the ocean village at dusk.

“That looks painful.” Duflinkë motioned to his riding partner’s big toe.

“Nothing the beer won’t numb,” he said, casual like iron bolts.

“You might want to wrap that puppy up to prevent infection.”


They stayed at the only hostel in town – a large old house with large rooms. They ditched their bags and took the mushrooms and went out to the only bar in town.

The town was dark and dead quiet. Only the sound of the sea could be heard when they reached the small three-tabled bar at the end of the street. There was no one inside except the bartender. Above the bar was a university plaque that looked familiar. He focused in on it and recognized it. It said: ‘Queen’s University Engineers.’ He asked the bartender about the crest.

“Canadian engineers come here for the landmines.”

“Landmines?” Duflinkë was still wondering about the chances of finding his university coat-of-arms in such a remote corner of the world.

“The Khmer Rouge. Landmines all over Cambodia.”

“Yes, we saw them on the way here – those little red signs,” replied the Flying Dutchman. Yes, they had passed many little red plastic signs that had skull and crossbones on them. He had assumed they were showing where there was a poison spill of toxic waste.

“They are so close to the road those signs.” Duflinkë was a tad alarmed.

The bartender nodded.

“Don’t go off the road.” They laughed.

There was a dart board in the corner, so they asked the bar for darts and played. They talked and tried their best to play well but the mushrooms had kicked in their play was all over the place. They played and drank in a little corner of the world without any rules or regulations or security cameras. Indeed, they were at the end of the road, in the heart of darkness where so few ever set foot. For the first time in his life Duflinkë experienced the absolute thrill of exploring the world on his own terms.

They soon lost interest in darts, so they studied the map and planned their next move. Going around the lake in the middle of the country to Siem Reap was the most logical place to ride to for Duflinkë. He was loving the motorcycling and scenery as he thought of all his friends working at jobs in an office they hated. Such an opportunity cost for them.

When they left the bar he noticed the Flying Dutchman limping, so he shouldn’t have been surprised when the next morning he saw his toe was swollen and pussy. And it looked very painful with the bog toenail barely hanging onto the under-flesh of the toe. Over some of the best coffee he had ever tasted and a hash doobie, the Dutchman had to concede that he needed to care for his big toe or else be faced with something dire.

“You wouldn’t want to lose an appendage,” said Duflinkë deadpan.

“I think I will ride carefully back to Phnom Penh because there is what I think is a decent hospital there, with antibiotics and ointments that they might not have going north into the nether regions of the country.

“Well, it’s a bummer to lose you as my wingman.” Duflinkë thought for a moment that he should at least offer to ride back with him but that wasn’t the type of guy he was, and he knew he would never give up the opportunity to ride right around the circumference of Cambodia – around the lake Tonlé Sap – on a dirt bike.

“Agreed.” He suggested they finish off the speed so he might have an easier ride back into the city. And that’s what they did. They exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch, but he never heard from or saw the Flying Dutchman again. He only exists in the photographs he had taken during their ride from Phnom Penh.

Duflinkë was dripping sweat in the oppressive morning heat, and he hadn’t even started riding yet. The speed they consumed had been substantial. He didn’t know what constituted too much of the drug, but they had been both determined to use up the entire baggie before they departed from each other. His heart pounded and his eyes were wide open, side-protected by the cheap sunglasses he had purchased to protect his eyes from insects. Duflinkë rode mile after mile under the drooping branches and beside glistening streams, now obsessed with perfecting his riding technique. He was so in-the-moment he felt like he could burst. His obsession with exploring the world and with true freedom and his own unique life philosophy had brought him to this moment. In this frenzied moment in time, he was infinitely gratified. There was something to pure joy murmuring in his solar plexus. Long in the past seemed his obsession with winning badminton tournaments. His fervor to succeed now had a new outlet that fed his soul in all the same ways as the game had. Riding a dirt bike in a remote countryside in Cambodia high on speed seemed to balance a lingering imbalance of not being fulfilled with achievement. He thrived on the knowledge that that drought was being fed and a long-held thirst was being quenched. As extreme as it was to him now, it made some sort of sense: this balancing out with extreme behaviours after a life of competitive badminton, as any athlete has to do after they have ended their sport. This all-or-nothing lopsidedness had contributed to his awkwardness in his post-badminton life, but now, as if subconsciously, he was evening it all out and moving from a half man to full man once again.

When Duflinkë arrived in Siem Reap, at the site of Angkor Wat, it was dark but he went out to the local café and found some strangers to talk to and drink with. And so it had become with Duflinkë: his classroom had morphed from a badminton court to a philosophy lecture room to now the ruleless cafés of Asia. That night he met a half-French daughter of an archaeologist at the café. After some banter and niceties, she brought him home to her lair. She engineered a perfect warm down from the day’s exploits. She gave him a tour of the vast temple for more than three days, still unable to see it all. She told him that the front of the temple had once been covered in brilliant gold leaf and that the stone buildings that lined the central walkway to the great temple had once been libraries once full with titles from all over the known world. Duflinkë’s imagination fostered itself further and further, seeing new worlds and creating new images in his mind, now an expanding labyrinth of colour and texture. When the time came for him to leave, he was sad to leave the archaeologist’s daughter behind but a new season beckoned and he had to catch his departure flight back to Taipei.

Chapter Eighteen

In Balance

After returning to Taiwan and getting back into coaching, riding his motorcycle and playing at his club across town, Duflinkë felt refreshed and energized. His legs felt powerful and his eyes sharp. His past two-year battle with arthritis had fully healed except perhaps his left big toe, and his shoulder ceased to bother him so that he found himself one day going out for a run. It was from an over-abundance of energy. There was a trail along where he lived that was void of scooters and cars, so he ran along it as it snaked beside a small stream that smelled of sewage at certain spots. His runs were a sweaty affair because of the September heat, so he would often go running in the rain, especially during the rainy season. It kept him cool but it did lead to raw blisters when his shoes quickly became drenched. He kept up with his Mandarin and had reached a level of proficiency so that he spoke it at the stores and to strangers, always grateful at the respect he was shown by the Taiwanese. He discovered a restaurant that was a big buffet full of vegetarian dishes and unlimited rice that charged according to weight of the dish. They simply weighed the food. So, he had found the perfect place to eat well without the need to memorize difficult words for Taiwanese food.

The women who ran the restaurant would laugh every time he presented his over-flowing plate on the scales. But it was kind laughter. And he laughed with them.

His legs grew and his lungs become strong as he played more and more. He took great satisfaction with coaching Bartholomew into the new season of tournaments but chose to keep his training to himself. He had an eye on entering some of the tournaments his own players didn’t compete in during weekends he had free, even if he had to take a Friday afternoon off. He knew that only in tournament conditions could he ever truly learn the game as it was played here in Asia. And that was what he found: a different game. Players had tremendous speed in Asia, both covering the court and with their racquet. They were not afraid to play quick flat cross-courts to a backhand, just as a player from the west would be inclined to lob the birdie deep to the back court. So quick were their hands and reflexes he lost many matches from his sluggish racquet head. But he didn’t despair because it was an aspect of his game he had never really chosen to polish. Raphi had been an excellent flat speed player because he was the best in the world at doubles – a game that demanded excellence in the ability to return smashes from every corner of the court. And world-class reflexes. But a singles player had more reason to focus on finesse over speed because he could easily be caught out by a well-placed cross-court to an open wing.

But therein lay its deadliness.

When his opponent chose to serve short, which many of the Taiwanese single’s players did, they would simply play at the net ready to pounce on any net shot that was more than an inch above the tape. He paid for it time and time again, match after match until he put his coaching cap on and identified his flat speed game as his primary weakness. And so he worked on it with the top double’s pair on his team, drilling them with back-and-forth flats going from side-to-side. He learned the fastest way to move from side to side on the court when faced with a feathered shuttlecock moving at over 300km per hour. There was no time for the feet to move; only the chest.

And catching the birdie early.

That was what made a great double’s player: when they could strike the birdie just a shade earlier than the other team.

Jackson, the guy who had insisted he play in his jeans the previous season, became his match partner. Their games were diametrically opposed so they were both caught out often from unexpected shots. Duflinkë remembered how imperative it was to keep hold of his own game and to use his weapons even in a game dominated by speed and reflex. He made a point of never dumping his return from a flat to the net so he would be able to beat him at his own game. The amount of work his wrist did during these exchanges exhausted him. But his wrist strengthened as did his reflexes. Subsequently his game blossomed, opening up a whole new dimension of speed and flat placement to an already capable and deep toolbox of deep and short shots with a deadly slice drop shot, particularly cross-court due to his height. Before he knew it, he was back to his structured life full of betterment of fitness and evolution of his badminton game.

And it right around this time he met the top seed in the country who was ranked in the top twenty in the world: David Chen.

Chen was a nasty piece, not just because he had a fast game with plenty of guile, but because he had the hate needed to win. All the best champions in the world could regard their foe with hatred during the game, never afraid not to hit the most brutal shot to devastate and dishearten their opponent. Kindness could never be found in their game. But once the match was over, they could shake hands and be a gentleman. This was what all racquet sports was about at the top level.

And only the best had this killer instinct.

And David Chen had this instinct. He found that out in November when he faced him in the third round of a tournament in Chungli, just on the industrial outskirts of Taipei. His movement was awkward. He moved as if his shoes were too small. His legs were like tree trunks and his stature was small, but he leapt in the air to most every shot, getting that split second jump on almost every short shot Duflinkë hit. He found his deep clear effective as he lost his crisp attacking skills at the back of the court, but he had a knack for imposing his game on his opponent’s, soon rendering Duflinkë’s weapons ineffective. His short stature enabled him to strike the shuttlecock near head level during an exchange of flats, which put Duflinkë at a significant disadvantage due to his height. When he struck the shuttlecock, it was in the no-man’s zone: that area of the body where it was difficult to strike the birdie cleanly, usually at shoulder height. One had to move their body first before they could hit the birdie cleanly and with muster. And trying to hit it soon was equally difficult when the birdie was traveling faster than he had ever experienced at net level.

The match became an exercise in dismantling his game. And David Chen was merciless. No remorse. He humiliated Duflinkë in front of a crowd as if he took a personal pleasure doing it.

Earnestly Duflinkë preferred to eat alone so after the match when he went to the nearest outdoor kiosk to eat tofu soup and drink beer, he was a little taken aback when David Chen approached him with a bowl of noodles and sat across the table from him, planting a cold beer on the table.

“It’s okay?”

“Yes. Okay,” he said, picking up his sweating bottle of Tsing Tao beer.

“Did you know that beer – Tsing Tao – was made by Germans in China when they had a German colony there?” He was impressed with his English.

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“Germany lost their colony after the World War One and left the Chinese their brewery. And now today Tsing Tao is one of China’s biggest beer makers.”

He raised his Tsing Tao and they clinked bottles.

“Good game today. You were too fast for me,” said Duflinkë.

“Yes. Yes, maybe. But you have good strokes. You hit it very deep. Good weapon.”

“Thank you. I had a good coach.”


“Have you heard of Raphi Kanchanaraphi? Double’s player.”

“Yes, from Siam. Top player in the world from 1963 to 66. I know him. That was when Siam was the best in the badminton world. Better than China.”

“His friend was champion singles too, that’s right.”

“Very famous here in the Far East. Siam is not a big badminton country like China, but it ruled the sport for three years. Golden years.”

“That’s what he said.”

“He took a job in the west?”

“Toronto in Canada.”

“I know Toronto,” said Chen.

“He coached me for more than ten years. He just retired not long ago. He’s well into retirement age. Still plays some but his eyes are going. And his knees.”

“Lots of stress on the body. One of the biggest things for badminton players. Injuries. Too much training. Too much physical training is what I want to say. Not enough mental training. The machine soon wears out. The mind lets the physical body down. Too much running around. Not enough smart shots.”

“I agree with you. The best players in the world are the smart ones.”

“Like you. You play smart. You have some master shots that no one can return. And you use them not enough. You let me play my game against you today.”

“That may be true.”

“You lost the second game because you became mentally lazy. It was like you switched off and on. Believed you couldn’t win. When you focused you could see the right shot but sometimes you just return it without thinking, like a machine.” Duflinkë looked at him right in the eye.

“I need to guard against that.”

“Use your best shots more. Overuse them. Cannot hurt. You barely hit that cross-court slice. I cannot return it. Your tall height. All the ones you hit I didn’t return one. You know that?” He drank his beer and looked at Duflinkë seriously.

“No, actually, I didn’t. And I do that: not wanting to overuse my best shots. I’ve always done that.”

David Chen laughed.

“Unleash the beast is what you say in the West. Get mean out there. Breathe fire like a dragon.” He slammed his fist against the flimsy table. Other diners looked at this curious couple. “You are mister Nice Guy out there. Too polite. Never going to win that way. Never! You are… just candy for the sharks, we say here in Taiwan.”

He couldn’t argue with him. Chen was dead right.

“You play the Taiwan Open this year?”

“I coach a team that will be there. But I haven’t decided if I will or not.”

“Do. I will be there. You train and remember what I said. You show up mean with your best shots and be a player of the mind. Not a robot. You have good badminton intelligence. So let it out.”

David Chen drained his beer and left him there. Duflinkë ordered another beer and ruminated what his adversary had said to him. His words had complimented what he had always thought about being a top player, which made him start to wonder if he could perform decently in the international Taiwan Open in January. If he could beat Chen, he would be inside the top 20 in the world. As he motorcycled home he found himself stopping in at a bar to practice his Chinese. He spent the entire night and morning drinking in the all-night bars in what was called The Combat Zone in Taipei. He tried to speak Mandarin to those who he met about his badminton experiences that day, but no one could understand a thing he said.


Chapter Nineteen

Rekindled Fire

That night he had a dream. He dreamt that he was at a tournament with Raphi and he was getting advice from him before going on the court to play singles. He told him to always hit the shuttlecock to his opponent’s backhand, so when Duflinkë stepped onto the court and played the match, every single shot he hit was to his opponent’s backhand. His opponent soon moved over to the left side of the court and expected each shot to be hit there, which he did, unable to disobey his coach Raphi. He never looked at his coach who witnessed the debacle with his hands covering his eyes. So determined to do as he asked, Duflinkë couldn’t hit any shot to his opponent’s forehand. He felt a desperation as if he hit each shot to the backhand to prove a point. When the birdie struck the floor and he had lost his match, Duflinkë screamed out loud.

That was when he woke up. The dream bothered him for a while. It showed the shortcomings of following orders, and not thinking – and creating – for yourself while smashing the bird around on court. Something deep within Duflinkë stirred. Something robust; something strong; something that deserved to be given attention – something he felt he now had to prove. His legs were sore from his match with David Chen when he walked to the kitchen and made himself some coffee. He knew he had the imagination and guile now so why was he so hesitant to assert himself on the court? It troubled him – this timidity.

Duflinkë still spent time at the bars on the weeknights despite his hard work as a coach and player now that the new season had commenced. He tried practicing his Mandarin but most of all always tried to make the most of his time. It was at one of the bars where he met Mick, a Brit who shared his penchant for beer and drugs. That was when Duflinkë had the chance to share his experiences with another expat about his time in Cambodia. He told him about his experience riding his dirt bike on speed. Mick didn’t seem that interested in the fact he was riding around in Cambodia; he was more interested in the drug: speed.

“You know you can get speed here at the pharmacies without a prescription.” Mick’s deep voice made him think twice about the truth of that statement. Something in the back of Duflinkë’s mind told him it was a door he shouldn’t open.

“I don’t want to develop a speed habit man. It was the milieu that made it special, you know? Cambodia was hard core.” Mick waved his hand. Duflinkë thought it had something to do with the way he said the word ‘milieu.’

“There are lot of things you can get if you only know what to ask for.” Mick drank deeply from his pint.”

“Like what?”

“Like Lorazepam.” Duflinkë didn’t know what that was.

“Um, what-“

“It’s an anti-anxiety drug. Calms your mind. Takes away your fear.”

“So, then it’s good to take when you want to practice speaking Chinese?”

“Yeah, but who wants to speak Chinese?”

Duflinkë should have known better than to act on this information since everything in his life was going well: the coaching and the playing and even his relationship with Rita, who planned to take the train to Taipei to visit with him in a few weeks. But that wasn’t who Duflinkë was. He didn’t play it safe, ever. If there was a door to be opened then by God he would, just as his philosopher friends had written about. Nietzsche and the boys.

Grab the iron while it’s hot.

The problem was that he often burnt his hand when he grabbed it. He had an issue with determining how hot the iron was when he picked it up.

So, the next morning before coaching began he went to a pharmacy near where he lived and asked the pharmacist for lorazepam. The pharmacist didn’t react. He simply retrieved the bottle and stated the price. Duflinkë paid it and left for the courts. Being Duflinkë, he was simply unable not to try one. He popped one in his mouth with an ice coffee from the corner store, very doubtful of its effectiveness. But he was surprised.

Very surprised.

A flushed calm beset him on the court, his cheeks rosy and his voice bolder. He tried new drills and played a little harder that day, speaking in Mandarin to many of his players. Emboldened with the drug in his system, he shed the immature shy person that censored the meaty thoughts he harboured within himself, letting loose his true feelings with words never used before. Players were intrigued with his new boldness, thinking he was now taking his coaching more seriously. For that afternoon he cared about his players, as if before he had been too nonchalant – and timid. And flippant.

Duflinkë popped another pill with his dinner and went to the seedy part of town where he found a local bar with mainly Taiwanese. He was able to talk for hours with the bartender in his broken Mandarin, thinking in his own mind how well he was doing. And he was. For the first time he was communicating with someone who knew hardly any English. The bartender taught him some words he had never heard of in his studies, including slang. The lorazepam also made hearing more acute so that he was able to mimic better what he heard. The experience intrigued him and didn’t prevent him from popping more pills the following day and throughout the week, soon using them to his advantage coaching. When he played on court, he was amazed at what manifest itself. He leapt into the back corners using his scissor kick to great effect, hitting the stuffing out of the feather birdie, slicing it downwards and hitting the lines. For most of the games he played against Jackson, he was unbeatable.

It was as if he had moved up a gear.

The Taiwanese badminton scene was a very small circle when it comes to the top players, especially if you are a tall foreigner, so word of his newfound bold play on the court soon spread. His fellow coach didn’t mind the change because his players were getting better as a result, and now they had someone to watch when it came to how he struck the shuttlecock and how he moved. All the thousands of hours of drills and shot polishing were now being used with mustard.

His player Bartholomew followed him around as if he was Duflinkë’s groupie, soon discovering his other badminton spot across town. Bartholomew was a talker and knew many within the badminton family so Duflinkë wasn’t surprised when he found David Chen showing up at the courts wanting to train. He wasn’t much for small talk, so all his talking happened on court.

The training was brutal. Duflinkë legs hardened into iron and the body fat from all the beer he drank disintegrated in weeks. He knew what David Chen was doing and he knew why he was doing it. The Taiwanese Open was only a few weeks away and he was the defending champion but there was a whole new crop of young players nipping at his heels. It was a big deal for him to win. It meant money and prestige and fame and ‘gaining face’ – a valuable thing in the Far East. He provoked Duflinkë with his guile, making him stretch for shots he would otherwise not go for. He tried to make him angry to bring out the fire-breathing dragon, which happened from time to time. And it was in these moments that his true brilliance on the court came out. Those who watched were thunderstruck by the power and wrath that could manifest itself in the tall foreigner, worthy of the hours they had to wait for it to emerge. David Chen weathered these storms and seemed to reapply himself to enduring these gales to better his own game. After they had played, they seldom talked about the monster having come out. It was an understanding that they both had. David Chen was careful not to be his coach or mentor because they were first and foremost competitors, but there was that aspect to their friendship.

And a growing mutual respect.

Then David Chen asked Duflinkë to come to his badminton club to play some of his fellow players. It was a small club with only six courts. And it was old. The Taipei Badminton Club had pedigree. There were old plaques on the wall and a trophy case protected by a wall of glass. And it was all in Chinese. It was like the clubs in Canada except Chinese. Members were wealthy and the badminton was what gave them prestige, like top tennis players who played out their home clubs in the States. Duflinkë took a lorazepam just before he played expecting to warm up with David Chen but he was paired with some young players in their early twenties. He could tell immediately that they were good – their strokes full of wrist and finesse and their accuracy within inches of the lines, but he could see plainly each one lacked imagination. He let them run him around, giving them a false sense of confidence and even letting them lead in each game but then, when a short birdie came his way, unleashed the dragon. He could hear the reaction from those watching, which had the inevitable effect of making him raise his game. Soon his toolbox was overfull of shots he could play, each one a winner and slightly humiliating to his opponent.

He was very careful to show respect in every way despite letting his inner dragon out. He complimented them on their skills and made a big deal about shaking their hands after the match. If he had done otherwise, he would embarrass David Chen. And it would be bad form, a no-no in the Republic of China. Two of the young players he played asked him to remain after the matches to teach them how to hit his slice drop shot/smash that had devastated them. He worked them into a frustrated sweat forcing them to hit the shot, returning the birdie tight to the net where they were to dump a tight birdie return, and then repeat. Duflinkë was ruthless in the depth of his lobs, making the youngsters flushed with emotion – frustrated being so far back of the court at the baseline. One of them didn’t make any progress but the younger one did get the hang of it. He figured out the secret to hitting it: striking it early.

Afterwards, wearing his sweats despite the heat and being drenched in sweat, they talked in the plush badminton lounge.

“Are you ranked in Canada?”

He told them that he had been a highly ranked junior but then had given up competitive badminton for a few years during university. He didn’t mention the injuries or the arthritis.

“Why don’t you play here?”

“I am starting to play more here. In fact, I have decided to play in the Open in a few weeks.”

“So you will play David?”

“If I make it that far in the draw.”

David Chen remained tight-lipped, but he could see that he was proud to have brought a foreign player into the club who had taken the time to coach some of the younger players, and had behaved with exceptional decorum on court. Duflinkë was aware of how important this was, and the paramount need for etiquette.

It was, after all, a gentleman’s game.

Riding home on his motorbike after his experience at the private club Duflinkë was elated and decided to take the long way home and explore the mountains on his motorcycle, letting the winds from his bike cool him off. He had no idea – no one had any idea – of the magnitude of the earthquake that struck at first. Initially he thought he had a flat tire because his tires felt wobbly and loose for five seconds or so. But then as he slowed to check his tires, he saw small rocks flying off the mountainside. The sharp crack of rock splitting against concrete caught his attention just as a small piece whizzed by his head. He heard it pass by his ear.

He wasn’t wearing a helmet because it diminished the qualia of his riding.

There had been small earthquakes before during his two years in Taiwan but nothing this big. He went home and because he didn’t have a telephone or television he went to the courts the next morning. The streets were empty, so he wasn’t surprised the courts were all locked up. One of his players also showed up.

“No electricity,” he said. “No badminton today.”

Faced with a free day he knew he wouldn’t spend it alone in his house so he decided to return to his house, pack a bag and ride out to Keelung where there was a huge beach, but when Duflinkë arrived the beach had disappeared. Massive tidal waves crashed onto the road that had separated the town from the sandy beach. No beach could be seen. But it was a fantastic sight. The roar of the water striking land, the waves as big as he had ever seen, awesome in their naked power. He stood there watching in the mist transfixed. It was a reminder of just how far away he was from Canada. Exploring Taiwan in the aftermath of a big earthquake was cool. He rode his motorcycle for miles and miles without seeing a stop light or being pulled over by the traffic police. Leaving the tidal waves on the coast he rode home taking a different, deeper route through the mountains, dodging massive boulders that had landed on the road. He hadn’t realized the authorities had closed the road because he hadn’t turned on the television or listened to the radio. And as darkness came, the debris on the road was very dangerous. His headlight was weak and there were no lights in the mountains, and it was an overcast night and a new moon so the only thing that gave him any light to see rocks on the road was the slight glint of his high beams. Many times his front wheels skidded off the side of a rock causing him to manoeuvre his handlebars to save spilling off his motorbike.

But instead of terror he felt only inner glee.

Duflinkë let out a yell he knew no one could here. He could not help but celebrate his predicament. It was anything but easy in a world that had become so predictable and unchallenging. When he was riding he felt the now familiar rubbery sloppiness of his tires against the pavement, not realizing that he was riding through over 1500 aftershocks. Sometimes youth carried with it blinders, so that he who is seeing cannot immediately see the precarious dangers that surrounds him. This was the case here in the mountains on his ride home in the wake of the earthquake that killed over 3000 people on that day of the 21st of September, 1999.

Chapter Twenty

The Open

Duflinkë knew he was in form and ready for the Taiwan Open. He had cleared it with his fellow coach Thaddeus Wong for him to play. The coach had reacted with surprise, but he had no reason to prohibit Duflinkë from entering as a competitor. The problem was that since it was an international invitational he had to be there early to qualify for the tournament. What he had in his favour was confidence and fitness.

And most importantly self-belief. David Chen had given him that.

Several world-class players were expected this year, many coming from mainland China. But the world’s number one Lin Dan from China was not expected. He played only in certain tournaments, such as the Hong Kong Open and the All-England Championships, which he had won three years in a row.

In an effort not to be encumbered by pressure, he brought with him lots of lorazepam. He was determined to leave the crippling effects of shyness and self-created pressure behind him and experience his first international tournament as a recreational exercise where nothing was expected from him. He was truly an unknown and underdog, and he liked it that way. He thrived as the underdog, and this made him very dangerous to the top seeds.

The tournament was hosted at the Taipei Badminton Club where he had been invited by David Chen. Many of the first-round matches and the qualifying rounds were played at other clubs throughout the city but this didn’t bother Duflinkë because he had grown used to playing on these courts – courts under massive roofs with open doors and oppressive heat. He stood out as one of the only foreigners in the single’s draw though there were a few Danes and a Scot in the draw.

Rita had called and said she wanted to watch him play at the tournament, so she had changed the weekend of her visit to be timed with the Open. He couldn’t say no to a strong mind like hers and expected her presence to further boost his inner dragon to come out to show off. She would miss the qualifying rounds, which he won and was placed unseeded in the bottom half of the draw opposite David Chen who was top seed. Further adding to his plan not to be bogged down by pressure, he simply didn’t know who the players were that were in the draw. This posed a problem. However, since he had evolved in his badminton and now played with mental acuity rather than blunt physical force, he had come to learn that one’s personality was interwoven with how they played their game, so he spent his off-court time watching players and trying to understand who they were. He would always watch the player he was to play next so he wouldn’t waste his time watching a player he wasn’t ever going to play.

Because some of the early rounds were away from the main club not many people noticed Duflinkë climb through the draw, winning his matches over more experienced international players. He beat the eighth seed in his second round that excited some of the players on his team, but the victory hadn’t forced him to let out his inner dragon. It was a game of mechanics and he had simply been the better shot-maker. He conserved his energy by running him around forcing his opponent to cough up shallow clears so he could smash them down the line. He was in the zone on Friday but wondered how much he would have to play on Saturday, the day when he might have up to three matches to play.

Saturday morning, he was very aware of the pain he felt in his left big toe. People often overlook the importance of the big toe in the kinesiology of an athlete. Without a decent big toe, a badminton player was severely hampered because it was the push-off point of every shot. And being his left big toe was worse than his right big toe because his right foot was high in the air balancing his mass against returning to the centre position in the court. He stretched and took an aspirin along with his lorazepam and tried not to think about anything other than the match in front of him. Rita was careful not to bother him too much on the Friday night, agreeing to meet him for dinner on Saturday night because he didn’t expect to be playing the final on Sunday. Meeting her and having a good night out full of beer and whatnot gave him an inner fire and something to look forward to, feeding his sense of adventure.

Duflinkë he won his first match on Saturday morning, overcoming his opponent without much crisis. But it was his quarter-final match against a tall, thin Chinese player that he expected to lose. He had the tools and the quickness to dismantle Duflinkë. But when he watched him play, he noticed a weakness in his toolbox. He had hanging drop shot that floated over the net. Most times this is an effective shot because it drops so closely to the net, but the danger is that the drop lands a little far away from the net. It can be used as fodder to attack.

And that’s what Duflinkë did.

Each time the tall Chinese player hit his drop shot he met it early with an outstretch racquet face, choosing to either spin it tight at the net that curled towards the net and virtually impossible to return deep, (usually resulting in a pop up at the net where he could put it away), or he would flick it flat and deep down his backhand or forehand side, that was extremely difficult to return except by popping it in the air. And usually shallow. With this simple administration to his weakness, Duflinkë was able to win a good five or six points, enough to tip the balance in his favour and win the match.

This was when the spectators began to take notice of the tall Canadian with the muscular legs.

For his semi-final against the number two seed, Duflinkë didn’t believe he could win. The number two seed was from Indonesia and one of the top ten single’s players in the world who could leap in the air at the drop of a hat. So fit and tightly wound was this player that Duflinkë couldn’t discern any weakness at all. He watched him off the court too and saw a man-child who clung to his racquets and his entourage as if he was still in high school. His mother was at his side throughout. It looked like he didn’t even shave. This man-boy was clearly dedicated to the sport and had climbed up the ladder to the top tiers but had not become a champion.

Duflinkë wondered how he could use his boyish immaturity against him.

He had a few hours before his night match, the last of the day when most of those attending the tournament were either out of action or done for the day. Duflinkë felt the butterflies welling up in his stomach so he was not afraid to pop a pill before the match, hoping that his calm mind would be able to unlock the secret to winning the match. He went into the game with an open mind and his game plan was to play anything against the little man to discover a weakness. But Duflinkë didn’t find any weakness. His short game and his speed game were top notch as was his power and accuracy. He mixed it up and threw everything at the Indonesian, but his opponent seemed to have an answer to every shot. He lost the first game easily and when he switched sides to begin the second game, he caught sight of David Chen. He held up his fist the same way he did when he first brought up his ‘mister nice guy’ comment. Duflinkë nodded back. A feeling of adrenalin came over him and a new excitement to play. And as he was toweling off, Duflinkë found Rita in the crowd looking bashful at witnessing his loss.

It was all he needed to let out his inner dragon.

Duflinkë unleashed his power game. Nothing short wasn’t punished. His net shots curled over the net with a spin that was at times unreturnable. Some of his shots surprised him as there was an element of luck when he hit the lines. He strung together seven straight points that made the young Indonesian pout, his body English evident of a child sulking. Sometimes badminton was like that: players hitting the lines in a flurry of expertise that a wise player of experience can only ride out, knowing it cannot last. Some of the good players take their time between points to take away the momentum from their opponent, but this Indonesian didn’t employ such tactics. He let Duflinkë smash his way to a third game, biding his time to turn it on in the final game. But it was the combination of the crowd’s applause and knowing Rita was witnessing his best form that made Duflinkë carry on his punishing shot selection, keeping his opponent on the defensive. And always behind in the rally. He used his quick, flat clear to his backhand side very effectively that harvested nearly a half-dozen quick points that put him in the lead. The young man from Jakarta could not recover.

Duflinkë won the third game 15-12.

For Duflinkë, as he sat on the chair beside the court after shaking hands, he new it was the culmination of his training with David Chen and his belief in using his mind as his primary weapon that had won him the match. He had mixed it up and used his weapons when they worked, no longer afraid to overuse them. It was time to celebrate his achievement. His chances in the final against David Chen for him were far away in his mind. For now, he wanted to quench his thirst with his woman, play host and show her around town. He couldn’t stop with just drinking a few beers. He drank all night. When they were sitting on a balcony of one of his favourite restaurants, he gave Rita permission to publish the photos she had taken of him on the court from his semi-final with an article to go with it. She said she would submit it to the local newspaper. She said she would ask for it to be translated into Mandarin for the Taipei Chinese-language newspaper. Duflinkë didn’t care. He took her to his favourite watering hole after dinner and spoke Mandarin every chance he could trying to impress her. He did impress her. Rita never made it back to her room at the hostel that night, instead staying over with Duflinkë at his place in the mountains, playing their own version of horizontal badminton into the wee hours.

Duflinkë knew they would be talking about him at the club for the final, and they were expecting him to repeat his brilliance on the court, which is perhaps why he let off steam Saturday night with Rita. But when it came to waking up and getting to the club in the morning, he was late and disheveled. Halfway there he even doubted whether he was going to show up at all. His thirst was raging and so it was difficult for him to swallow his lorazepam en route. Images of the night before clouded his vision as he dodged the traffic to get to the club, his motorcycle coming dangerously close to other cars, his reflexes dulled from the vast amount of booze he had consumed the previous night.

The crowd sitting in the chairs surrounding centre court was bigger and louder than he expected. He didn’t have the proper time to warm up or to get his mind around what he was to do to beat the top seed David Chen.

The match began and he was behind from the start. David Chen was methodical in his approach, careful not to feed the birdie to his forehand at the back of the court and open himself to his killer slice, nor did he try to end the rally too soon, instead being patient and moving him from side to side and up and back in a clinical display of badminton excellence. Mentally there was no glimmer of hope nor any opportunity for his inner dragon to find energy-generating oxygen. It was all a brutal romp that ended without much for the crowd could to cheer. The hometown man won. The foreigner has been conquered. It had been a fluke all along they thought. Duflinkë sensed the disappointment in the crowd after the match. It was too painful for him to remain at the club and wait for his trophy and cheque, so he was able to find Bartholomew and go to the bar and have a few beers to recover from the pounding.

He didn’t say much but Bartholomew was amazed at who his coach really was.

“You know as a runner-up here you qualify for the Hong Kong Open next month.”

“Is that so?” Duflinkë took a big gulp from his bottle of beer, and promptly motioned for another round.

“And you will have an international ranking now.”

“That’s cool.” Another swig.

“You were tired today but the way you played yesterday shows that you can do well in Hong Kong.”

“What’s so special about the Hong Kong Open?” He was still sweating, his forehead drying leaving streaks of dried salt.

“Lin Dan plays there every year. He’s the best in the world right now,” he implored. “And has been for three years.”

“Oh, I think that’s all a bit out of my league.” The second round of beers arrived. Bartholomew still had almost a full beer.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not good enough to play at the Hong Kong Open.”

Duflinkë nodded, his humanity now coming back into his soul, calming him.

“You are sad now, but in a few days when you recover you will see it is a great opportunity.” His friend looked at him, his eyes wide open, his face showing complete awe at what he had witnessed at the Taipei Badminton Club. It snapped Duflinkë out of his funk, now getting his mojo back and ready to accept his trophy. The doubles and mixed doubles matches were almost over, and it was time to return for the trophy presentation. It was then that the stink of playing the overachiever returned. It brought him back to his under-16 year when he won all the tournaments and almost won the national championships – the goodie-goodie who wanted it all too damn much. He knew too well that too much badminton made him claustrophobic. So there he was receiving the medal for runner-up surrounded by applause and all he felt was a thirst for a change. Instantly restless, he had an urge to do extreme things to get as far away as he could from being that person who was stuck in a system of binary rigidity where his imagination was imprisoned and his spirit suffocated. The urge to break free had returned and its impact on Duflinkë soon became clear for those around him to see.

Chapter Twenty-one

A Move Beyond

A large photo and article appeared on the third page of the Taipei Times the following Monday that described Duflinkë’s shock win over one of the local favourites and then proceeded to explain how he was dismantled in the final against national hero David Chen. It was half-written by Duflinkë himself, or at least transcribed by Rita while drinking beer, and then translated for the Asia newspaper. Because he was a foreigner living in Taiwan, many newspapers chose to run it. With a rather flattering photo of Duflinkë mid-scissor kick, he subsequently became a known name in local sports. But he hardly paid any attention to it. Instead, he returned to the bars and the life of alcohol and drugs, trying to keep his day job afloat without dropping the ball. He would show up smelling of booze and trying to hide it under his badminton sweats. He spent less and less time doing the drills rather than having his young upstarts do the drills for him, choosing to sit and watch and point out the odd thing to help improve their games. His enthusiasm that had been there before the Open disintegrated, leaving him feeling like an imposter. He immersed himself again into the world of novels, transporting himself into the realms of the impossible and making him yearn for greener pastures afar. Gone was his easy-going demeanour. Instead, he became cantankerous and dangerous to the wrong person, impatient with anyone with a shielded view of the world or shallow understanding of life. He spent more and more time alone, writing in his journals drinking at bars away from the hip bar-goers of downtown Taipei.

His impact from his performance at the Open did qualify him for a spot in the draw at the Hong Kong Open so he decided to go, not caring if he lost in the first round or not. This attitude made him dangerous both to others and to himself. Self-destruction was there for anyone to see but there wasn’t anyone who he was close to. By design. Perhaps he was aware on some subconscious level he was pouting from his loss in the finals of the Open, but he didn’t dare face that truth.

And this was why he was such a danger.

He worked off of this bitter energy, putting himself into more and more dangerous situations, such as going to bars that were in the seedy areas of town. During his birthday that fell on a Friday, once he was done with his coaching, he left it all behind and went to the all-night bars, not stopping his consumption until the following afternoon when, instead of returning to his house in the mountains, he left on his motorcycle for his favourite lagoon in the mountains where he spent hours soaking and climbing the rocks in bare feet. And the following weekend he did the same thing except when Saturday afternoon came, he rode his motorcycle to the east coast where he was determined to go swimming in the South China Sea. His knapsack was full of beer. Impatient and reckless, he ran into the back of a car that was turning right without signalling. He was so drunk that the next thing he remembered was waking up in a medical clinic with a bandaged knee.

And he woke up a day later, on Sunday afternoon.

The bang on his knee was bad enough he had to sit out of playing for two weeks, but to Duflinkë it didn’t matter. He embraced the break from the grind and the non-stop drills. He was so entwined with the badminton court matrix that he felt overwhelmed. He was burnt out to the point of feeling sick to his stomach. How could he still be playing badminton after all these years? He craved to get farther away from it yet was dependent on it for his income, so he came up with a new solution. He went to his favourite pharmacy and bought some Ritalin – medical speed. He would pop a pill in the mornings on the weekends and ride his motorcycle all day and night, only stopping when he found a church or café. He put on countless miles for these weeks leading up to the Hong Kong Open, where he planned on losing in the first round and then exploring what the nightlife in Hong Kong had to offer. He felt like a phony, and his heart was black. How others could not see this was a mystery. But then something happened to him in his muddled state of mind. He was injured by a very drunk martial artist resulting in a broken orbital socket in his right eye.

He had heard of the guy. Pierre was the sparring partner for the movie star Jean-Claude van Damme in Belgium except he really had been the European MMA champion. He was now teaching martial arts in Taipei where he had set up his own gym, a rare thing to do for a foreigner. This fighter was drunk, and Duflinkë was told to stay away from him by the bartender but he didn’t listen. Duflinkë stepped out of the bar and invited Pierre and his buddy around the corner to smoke a joint because the guy looked interesting, with his arm tattoos and huge neck. Just as Duflinkë lit up the doobie, the fighter from Belgium arrived so Duflinkë said: “Oh the Belgique is here.” He didn’t know he was half Turkish and extremely sensitive about his genes. He squared his shoulders and kicked Duflinkë in the groin. Keeling over, the fighter then grabbed Duflinkë’s head and slammed it against his upward moving knee. Duflinkë went from clutching his bag to clutching his eye, just as Pierre the fighter picked up a metal patio chair beside him and was about to strike him over the head with it. That was when Duflinkë’s friend stopped him. Blood was everywhere. Duflinkë walked to his motorcycle and rode home. He thought he would nurse a shiner for a week or so but the next day when he went to work and the players saw his eye, they told him he had to go to the hospital, which he did. X-rays showed he had fractured the orbital socket in three places.

Duflinkë was bummed out about it but otherwise took it in stride. What he was most upset about was that the Hong Kong Open was just days away so his injury meant he would have to withdraw. But he had already paid for his ticket and was psyched to see the world number one play. He knew in the back of his mind that he had opened the door to his recent misfortune. It was to be expected when he chose to swim with the sharks. He resigned himself to some time off from his coaching and life in Taipei. He called his uncle to tell him he would be in town over the weekend. He started to look at his four days in Hong Kong as a vacation.

There was no treatment for a busted-up orbital socket, just as there isn’t any treatment for broken ribs. He would just have to let it heal. He iced it when he could, but otherwise he just regarded it as a black eye and went on with his life.

He was happy to see his uncle. After their visit years ago, his uncle Norman had come to an understanding of who his nephew was. There was mutual respect and they both looked at each other as the family representative in the Far East. They had to stick together because they were the only family they had around. Duflinkë had withdrawn from the tournament and didn’t bother to go to check in or watch tournament play, at least for the first rounds. He instead explored the streets of Hong Kong and Kowloon. He met his uncle at the Irish Pub Murphy’s in Kowloon on the Friday night.

“Good shiner. You get that from a badminton birdie?”

“You mean a badminton shuttlecock?” Duflinkë took a swig and sighed. “No, but I’ve endured quite a number of close calls on the court over the years, especially a smash in the eye close to the net. But nine times out of ten, I deserve the scare from a crappy shot.”

His uncle Norman laughed. His uncle had been a professor in Australia and now Hong Kong but always proudly displayed his tattooed arms. It wasn’t the fact that he had tattoos that made Duflinkë uncomfortable. It was the fact the on his forearm was an inked naked woman with large naked breasts.

And he had recently had it re-outlined so her boobs were even more obvious. Man, he thought, that take some cahones.

Duflinkë told him about the incident with his eye.

“Ungrateful twat,” was what he said. “You invite him out to get high and he decks you. Poor form. Very poor form.” They sat for a few moments in one of the booths in a rowdy Irish Pub full of displaced Irishmen.

“The bartender warned me to stay away from him.”

“Always listen to your bartender.” His uncle Norman was very serious.

There were a few other things about his uncle that seemed new. His teeth were suddenly perfect and there was a thin red line just above the upper part of each eyebrow.

“Freshen up your ink?”

“Yes, and got a new one. My thirteenth.” He pulled down his t-shirt and showed Duflinkë a small red Canadian maple leaf on his chest. “And finally got the teeth done.” There was no mention of his facelift.

They both drank pints of Guinness and both showed an urgent Irish thirst.

“I would’ve liked to see you play this weekend. Your mother told me about your success a few months ago. She said your badminton coach was very proud of you.” Raphi. He hadn’t spoken to him in too long. Guilt mixed with the alcohol, which caused him to drink faster. His uncle tried to keep up but soon fell behind a pint, then two.

“You know your father and I went into business together when you were really young. Did he ever tell you about that?” Duflinkë vaguely remembered they had done something as partners when he was in grade one or two. He nodded weakly at his uncle.

“It was a disaster. But I like your father. He’s a smart guy. But very stubborn. Not afraid to have a drink either. Don’t listen to what the family says, I like the guy.” It was something Duflinkë had never really thought about.

Duflinkë asked about his cousin David.

“I don’t speak to him much.”

“Where is he living these days?”

“Not sure. Somewhere on the west coast in BC. Truth is I see you way more than I see my own son.”

His uncle went up to the bar to buy two more pints of Guinness. When he returned, Duflinkë decided to tell him all about what he had been doing in Taiwan the last few years.

“Wow. Did you plan to return to competitive playing when you came over here?”

“No, not really. I mean I’ve always harboured the dream of being ranked in the world, like winning the All-England Championships, but to do that requires too much sacrifice. I just don’t think I have it in me.”

“From what I hear you have a natural talent. And to let a talent like that go to waste is a pretty serious sin.”

“So just because someone is born with a gift, they have to follow that gift and give up their life to fully realize it? ‘Cause if that’s what you’re saying, I’m not buying it. You’re then a slave – or prisoner – to what you’re born with. You have no free will.”

His uncle Norman spoke in a serious tone.

“It’s a terrible sin not to harness that gift to some degree because of what it gives to others. It can inspire others to become better players. Or to become better people.”

“That’s a lot of sacrifice.”

“Those with a gift can be selective with what they do with it. Because it’s a gift, and because of the nature of what a gift is, they don’t have to give up as much as other who don’t have that gift. Less time. More time doing the things you want to do. If you want to ride your motorcycle or party then you have time for that. From what I know about your badminton you have a gift Ernest. Your coach recognized that and that’s why he spent so much time with you instructing you, guiding you, just as much as maybe your father did. He did it because he recognized your talent. Don’t you think you owe it to him?”

“No. It was his choice that he invested so much time. I tried. I was a junior champion but it just became too much of a sacrifice. I hated being the guy who always won. It’s empty, man. After winning you drive home and it’s hollow. In your guts. Empty. There were parties and girls and a whole world of fun I missed during high school. And then during university there were novels and films and adventure and travel and you know, all of it – and there was no way I was going to miss out on that. To spend all your time on a game seems pretty silly to me.”

“But it’s more than just a game. Especially here. Let’s have dinner tomorrow night. I’ll buy you a steak to put some meat only our bones – and we’ll see what you think after watching some matches at the badminton centre.”

He agreed to meet his uncle at a restaurant on Hong Kong Island near Long Kwai Fung at 8pm the next evening. But first he had a whole night to party in Wan Chai where the bars never close.

Chapter Twenty-two

A Rock and Roll Star

Duflinkë spent the night talking to people from all over the world, pacing himself to get through the night and drinking water when necessary. He was well-trained from the Taipei nightlife. It was a skill that was to serve him well this weekend. He did make it back to his hotel near the badminton centre only to sleep a few hours and shower, choosing to wake up and delve into his mini-bar. The small bottles of Jameson’s Irish whiskey proved essential in his plan of attack for the day. He had brunch in the lounge and then studied the draw to find when Lin Dan played. Assuming he would win his fourth round and quarter-final matches, he promised himself he would not miss his semi-final match just before dinnertime.

He felt rough. His head hurt and his eye hurt and his felt loose and his mind was in a haze. He had been hitting it pretty hard recently and he felt it. The hot sun beat down on his skin when he stepped out of the hotel, his eyes puffy. Even with sunglasses on, he squinted. He sweated alcohol as he walked along the sidewalks past the cars that sped only a few feet away in the labyrinth of roads on Hong Kong Island. Honking and fumes and the curving streets frustrated him as he negotiated his way to the badminton centre until he realized that his headache would likely go away if he were to nip into the British Pub called Mad Dogs and Englishmen on the corner for a pint or two. When he stepped inside, there was a crowd of noisy Brits watching their Premiere League Soccer on the big-screen TV.

He ordered a pint and settled into the crowd, no one really taking notice. He ordered another one and then another one just as the others did. Soon he was looking at his watch and calculating how much time he had still before Lin Dan’s semi-final. He absently watched the soccer, taking more delight in the air-conditioning and being in a pub that was so clean and civilized. There were no British Pubs in Taiwan he knew about. They were mainly mom-and-pop affairs. And outside kiosks in back alleys.

But the afternoon could not last. And as he fed his gullet to quench his thirst, he became thirstier. The big pub meal he ate didn’t help either. But soon the booze created a fuzzy feeling all around his face and numbed his limbs. He sauntered down the streets to the badminton centre near the horse track by the tunnel to Aberdeen. He timed it perfectly. He found his seat in a theatre-like arena where there was one centre court. The court was like a stage – the green court sharp and crisp, with the lines in bright white, the umpire chair high up beside the court at the net. The seats rose up at a steep angle so that there were seats high above near the walls of the arena. And the seats were wooden and worn down from years of use.

It felt like a rock concert, and he was waiting for the band to appear.

He found a seat halfway up from the near court where he immediately saw Lin Dan. Small but without an ounce of body fat, his face was marked from acne and wear and tear. The warm-up ended right at 5pm. From the very first rally, Duflinkë was transformed. He had never seen such quickness. Lin Dan leapt into the corners after the birdie, swiping the feather shuttlecock with such body English that his opponent wouldn’t discern where it might land. There was so much deception in his perfect strokes. Purposeful deception. He would align his body to fake a shot down the line and then slice it cross-court, leaving his opponent flatfooted. He could angle his racquet face and strike the birdie the same but with a completely different result. To predict where his shot was going to hit was an exercise in futility. And then when he went into the net and carved his net shots they raced over the tape, sneaking above the tape and tickling it on the way over.

Every shot had English. Brilliant.

But it was the reactions from the crowd that had the biggest impact on Duflinkë. After every rally they stood up and clapped and yelled with approval, each person showing their utmost respect for the brilliance they were witnessing. Even when Lin Dan’s opponent made an unforced error, they would clap. It was a raucous scrum. And the way Lin Dan strutted around the court! Like a matador! He was a rock star! He played to the crowd, the louder they became, the more outrageous his shots became. The audacity of this man was a sight to behold! Duflinkë felt it in his gut – how he used the energy of the crowd to try to reach new limits, showing that there were no obvious return shots to this game. He would try a smash from a cross-court clear that took him deep in his forehand corner and still have the moxie to attack the return at the net. Like a kamikaze!

The guy from China was fearless!

Duflinkë could tell the times Lin Dan was pleased with his play from the sweaty grin he could see at the edge of his mouth as he looked down at the court catching his breath between rallies.

This guy had talent and he was oozing it all over the place, toying with his opponent and toying with the crowd. And they loved it! It felt at times like an NHL playoff hockey game during overtime.  Emotionally Duflinkë was affected by what he saw, the court perfectly lit by floodlights with cloth covering the bulbs. During the rallies the crowd became absolutely quiet because they could hear the crisp sound of the feathers when the birdie was struck cleanly, and the dull note of a mishit stroke that foretold disaster.

It was a game for the ear for these folks – these dedicated badminton fans.

Lin Dan was so good that the rallies were rather short. His competitor simply wasn’t in his class. He had an answer for even the best shots by his opponents. This guy he played from Japan in the semis simply didn’t have the guile. Every stroke he hit, Lin Dan could read and because of this had a split-second jump in the amount of time he had to hit his return. And the mastery in his wrist! He could almost curve the racquet face to carom the birdie off his strings to exactly where he wanted. He never went for the lines, rather just inside the lines that proved to be smarter because he seldom hit the birdie out of bounds. This inevitably forced a short pop-up from his relentless attack that was always finished off ruthlessly. And a flourish! The guy was having fun man! Duflinkë could see him loving it. He fed off the applause. And he was showing off his skills! What he was witnessing was mastership of the sport. It was art. Poetry in motion. Even if the birdie was a foot short from the back of the court, the champ would pounce on it. And his smashes had angle to them that he had never seen before. He was a short man, perhaps five-foot seven, but because he jumped to the birdie, he gain several feet. He compensated by angling his racquet face and adjusting his grip to strike the birdie with a more pronounced downward angle thus creating a steeper descent. His smashes would invariably hit the floor before his opponent could get their racquet to it.

This rock star showman strutted around the court, taking his time between serves, methodically etching himself closer to the victory, but Duflinkë didn’t want it to end. He had only imagined in his mind that the game of badminton could be played like this. But every time he had tried to imagine it, he fell short of achieving a crystal-clear image in his head. Now that had changed. There in front of him was proof that this game could reach heights that those in the west would never be able to fathom.

When the match ended, he saw the world number one shake his opponent’s hand with two hands and a bow, showing tremendous respect. The crowd stood and clapped at this master class showing. They revered this ambassador for the sport they called their own despite the fact badminton had been invented in Badminton England in the 19th-century. They had seen its potential and embraced it, taking it to new limits and pushing new boundaries. Of all the champions of the past, including Indonesia’s Liem Swie King, Duflinkë wondered if Lin Dan was the best of them all. How could the game get better than what he just saw?

His Chinese teammates came out onto the court and shook his hand, each wearing the Chinese national colours and each bowing and shaking the number one’s hand. This showing of respect filled Duflinkë’s heart with emotion, almost bringing a tear to his eye. He was on his feet too, clapping and shaking his head in awe.


He relived the match in his mind as he made his way over to the restaurant downtown, meeting his uncle Norman at 8pm.

“I thought you might be late.”


“Perhaps getting a tad carried away at the pubs. It’s been known to happen.”

“Lots of great pubs here to partake in.”

“Hong Kong does have its share of great pubs, yes. If I had lived here when I was your age, I think I may have never earned my PhD.” Seldom – if ever – had Duflinkë ever heard his uncle laugh so truly from the gut. It was welcome indeed.

“Well, you were right. Watching the world’s best really blew me over today.”

“The Hong Kong Open is the big tourney here.”

“It was like a rock concert – the solo court under the lights and the seating like a Roman coliseum.” His uncle didn’t seem that interested, so he went on. “So yes, what you said about having a gift. I’ve been thinking about it. Yes, a gift. And yes, selective work with that gift. But with the knowledge of having the gift, the world number one has taken it to create new moves, new heights, new moments of genius for all to see. The crowd cheered like it was a football game. They were insane!”

“It’s big here. It’s their hockey.”

“But it reaffirmed what I always thought this game could be. The way he hit his shots was a show of deception and guile like I never thought possible. And it looked like he was having fun! I mean I think I saw him grin between some of the points. It was electric.” There was a sparkle in his uncle’s eyes. He sipped the red wine he had ordered as they waited for the steaks to appear. His uncle Norman was the only family Duflinkë had at the moment.

“You think you could do that?”

“Oh, I don’t- Well, put it this way. If I were to ever do what he did and selectively utilize my gift then yes: I could show some guile. And yes: I could use my weapons with purpose, but I could never jump like that. He was like a spider leaping to the bird every chance it went above his head. The physical ability that requires is almost non-human.”

“Yet it happened. Today. A few hours ago. And he’s an inspiration to millions of people here in Greater China. He’s like a religious figure. He’s probably inspired millions of youngsters all over China.” Duflinkë found himself nodding.

“I wouldn’t have agreed with you last night if you said that but yes, I think I witnessed some Messiah-like technique today. He was a lion. And a rock star.”

“Pete bloody Townshend.” They laughed. The steak arrived and they both devoured it, even the carrots.

“So, I had a call this week from your mother. I’m afraid it’s not very good news.” Duflinkë hadn’t spoken to his suicide-prone mother in over a year.

“Did she-“

“No. No, it’s your badminton coach from the Granite Club. He passed away.” An electric shock went through his gut starting at the solar plexus that for a moment paralyzed him. An infinite ripple of guilt went through him that he couldn’t stop. Why had he never called him and shared his recent success in Taiwan? It was the least he could’ve done for the one man who had shaped him into the man he was.

“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. I know you and him were close.”

“As you said yesterday, he was like a father figure to me.”

“From what your mother told me, he was a world champion.” That was when the tears came. He sobbed. It was so sudden that he just let it out, quietly. With dignity. He finally took a few breaths to compose himself.

“I wish I had called him after my tournament in Taiwan.”

“He knew about it. When your mother went to the funeral, she was told by his son that he had cut out the article that had appeared in the Taipei Times after your tournament, the one with your photo.” Someone must have brought it to his attention. He knew Raphi would’ve figured out that his dismantling in the final had been the result of his excessive partying, which had always been the root cause of his failure in badminton and the biggest regret in Raphi’s life. He could never fix it. No one could.

Except Duflinkë himself.

“You mentioned the All-England Championships yesterday. Is that like Wimbledon for badminton?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“To win it is your ultimate achievement?”

“No, not really. The biggie is the BWF World Championships. To win that one is my full piece.”


“Badminton World Federation.”

“When is it played?”

“At the end of the badminton season, in April. Three months from now. This year it’s in Beijing at the Beijing International Badminton Club – the mecca of the sport.”

“So why don’t you give it a try?”

“Lots of reasons. I would need a sponsor because I don’t have the cash to do it. That’s the first thing. And the second if that I’m not good enough. I know that after seeing Big Lin Dan today. Sort of depressing. And third, I would be pressured to play on behalf of Chinese Taipei, and it would be disrespectful to China for me to carry their flag.”

“Play for Canada then.”

“It is one of the nine member nations of the Badminton World Federation so I could that. Just need to make a phone call.”

“Work with me here.”


“What if you gave it a go? Trained for it, hard, like you did for the Taiwanese tournament you almost won. You proved you can swing against these guys. And you’re not getting any younger. Your injuries alone will soon catch up with you.”

“Yeah, my big toe is showing signs of severe – and progressive – arthritis.”

“Why can’t you do it for your coach? What’s his name?”

Raphi.” When he said his name something began to tingle in his guts. The idea struck Duflinkë as something that could possibly alleviate the tremendous guilt he was feeling for not keeping in touch with him over the last few years.

“Still, I can’t afford it. The airfare.”

“You need a sponsor.”

“And the entry fee.”

“Well, how much are we talking about?” He did some quick calculations.

“For hotel and the cost of the plane and the time off work and all the variables, maybe four grand.” He drank his red wine. “If I had a sponsor – like Yonex – and a decent ranking, they would pay for it.”

“But as you said to me, you’re a badminton rebel. You’re like me. You channel your rebellious anger to positive things. Me economics. You badminton and traveling. It’s in the Duflinkë genes. Your father is bi-polar and an alcoholic and physically and emotionally abusive to you and your brother, and your mother has tried to kill herself three times that I know of.” He looked closely at his uncle, aware that he knew his worst secret. “I’ve followed your badminton career throughout your life and then watched you become an accomplished motorcyclist just like me. My son hates motorbikes.”

“That’s a shame.”

“It is a shame. If you don’t take this opportunity, then you’ll have more and more injuries like your eye and knee and grow farther and farther away from being an expert at badminton. And if you don’t make at least one sincere go of it you will always wonder about it. You have the pedigree. You competed in the Pan-American Games when you were 11 years old. You have the experience. It’s just a question of getting your head into the right space. Trust me when I say to you that it’s all in the genes.”


“So you are not the right type of player to get a Yonex sponsorship, let alone sustain it. You just wouldn’t dance to their tune. You’re too much your own individual. That’s been your problem from day one with the sport. But that doesn’t have to be a negative. You have the talent. Put in the training and give the All-England’s a go, or this BWF event in China, and I will fund it.”

The idea sounded crazy but somehow, he thought it might work. His professor uncle had the money, and he knew he didn’t have a lot of time left to have a try at it.


“No um. Your coach just died, and I don’t want you to feel any of this sadness or regret for the remainder of your life. It can destroy a person like you and me. Trust me. Take my offer. And make the family proud. And your coach. Do it for him. Raphi. And do it for you. You owe it to yourself to at least try. You can train hard for the next three months and play your best. Use what you learned today to give it your best shot. You were once a top junior. There’s no reason why you can’t be a top senior.” The swirling in Duflinkë’s stomach created a new will, a will that had iron and urgency as its underpinning.

Chapter Twenty-three

Renewed Fervor

Everything changed when Duflinkë arrived home. Instead of looking at an unending sacrifice of time for years on end, he only looked at the next three months. He could work within this timeframe to create his most arduous and creative training schedule to get his best game in order. He could do three months. But he could not do three years. He would bypass the rote drills and the standard practices for something completely different. He would train his mind to become as arrogant and confident as the great Lin Dan. If he could adopt the same attitude, then he might have a chance to beat some of the top players and make his mark.

He knew he had the physical mechanics; it was his mental game he had to polish.

The first thing that needed to be done was to get into the best shape of his life. He bought a mountain bike and ditched his motorcycle, instead cycling to and from his coaching and playing locations in Taipei. The hour-and-a-half ride twice a day brought his cardio and metabolism to new levels, and this in turn sharpened quickness and even reflexes. And psychologically he began getting ready for the big event, reading about the players and the tournament and what was required of him in Beijing. Bartholomew became his devoted number two and helped him with training: drills and more drills until there were blisters on top of blisters. They discussed what he needed to work on, and they focused on his quick game. Lin Dan would topple his game of finesse in a flash if Duflinkë couldn’t keep up with his forceful flat game both down the line and crosscourt. He changed his diet and took protein supplements as well as took lorazepam before practice so when he played his end-of-practice games he could let his inner fire out.

He even found his inner strut.

Like a matador, he developed his own body English and court walk-around with his head down and brow furrowed but not afraid to lift his head and gaze across the net as if his opponent was the bull. It just came out without any warning.

The crowd of onlookers in the badminton lounge quieted when he strutted.

He sought physical fitness through enhanced chemistry. And the lorazepam was directly responsible for his on-court personality to find oxygen and take flight. It had likely been ruminating just below the surface for years but had never been let out of the dungeon. And with this outward, demonstrative expression, he could better free his mind through enlightened, arrogant reasoning and work through each rally to conclude with the best way forward, like a chess player reviewing his match after each move. There was always a better shot to play. The drug suppressed his inhibitions and allowed his personality to breathe, which directly influenced his badminton game. What he did between rallies was manifesting what he was thinking and how he was processing the game. It gave him more muscle to work out the best solutions and the best strategies to overcome his opponents.

His ruthlessness came out too.

If his strutting, in the tradition of Lin Dan in Hong Kong, had remained hidden under a veneer of politeness, then Duflinkë’s dormant talent would have remained suffocated too, which would have inhibited his full range of skills. He would never have reached his potential. And this was what he felt in his gut as he witnessed his metamorphosis. This upward swing brought with it confidence and hope that were bitter weapons. He could harness the momentum into fortifying his self-belief and newfound arrogance to believe he could be the best in the world, at least for a fleeting moment, like a shooting star. He knew he didn’t have the dedication that could last three or five years to do what it takes to be top in the world consistently, but he knew he could do it for three months. He couldn’t change his stripes, but he could regard it as an adventure and as an interesting piece of empirical data. This way he can buy into it with all his heart.

He was focused on bringing out his inner rock star, so it was a worthy cause.

Perhaps it was due to the lorazepam, but his style of play graduated from mechanical and sometimes violent and clumsy, to something like grace. His shots had more wrist, and his feet had more finesse as his scissor kick became more efficient with the height and angle of his kick, and his quick landings gained him a fraction of a second. He bought new badminton shoes choosing the full gummy soles that gripped better and gave him more control around the court, but these shoes had less support and padding. The sacrifice was the pain he began to feel in his left big toe. The scar tissue from his Reiter’s Syndrome still caused him discomfort and swelling in his knees as well. He was careful not to damage it further that could cause permanent damage. But if that was the cost of playing with beauty rather than playing ugly to win, then that was a price he was willing to pay. Besides, if he won he would thank Raphi and put his name back in the news – and give his coach the praise he was due. His training took all his time. He had no time for the bars or anything that took time away from his focus. Raphi deserved every ounce of his energy.

Another thing he had witnessed at the Hong Kong Open was how the top players weren’t afraid to change up their grip depending on the sequence of shots they were engaging in. For net play for example they would curl their fingers around the grip more to get more spin from the feathered shuttlecock. He tried it and it worked. As long as he could manage the sweat on his grip, he could manipulate his grip for better shot-making. He had never seen Raphi do that but the players of the new generation weren’t afraid to buck convention.

The courts during practice would become so noisy with the squeaking of rubber from player’s shoes that those waiting for a court were mildly deafened by the intensity, and perhaps inspired by the creativity players were showing on the courts. It all started with a first cause. And people at the practices were seeing the hyper evolution of an inspired athlete putting in what it took to elevate his play to among the very few. They showed their respect by watching him play, which Duflinkë loved because he too loved witnessing moments of genius on the court.

If Lin Dan could do it then he could show some ass too, if only for a brief moment in his life.

It’s as if Duflinkë had been given a glance into what badminton could be at full tilt and full creativity. He was simply reacting to what he now could bring to the table, showing off what he had in the tank – perhaps what was hidden in the tank for too many years. He was a rebel badminton player who thrived on the idea of blowing their minds at the Badminton World Federation Championships on the mainland in April.

With about a month to go before the World Championships in Beijing, he received a letter from Raphi’s son Bat. The letter was brief:

Dear Ernest,

I write this letter to you in grief at the passing of my father Raphi. In his notes he had asked specifically that I send this photo to you upon his death, as well as this article he found of you recently in the Thai daily newspaper.

He was following your progress in international play in Asia with great enthusiasm and right up to the end believed you have what it takes to be among the top players in the world. It is and always was your mind that needed to be trained more than your body as a naturally gifted player.

I remember you from this photo. It was when you won the Granite Club tournament and brought such pride to my father as his student.


Bat Kanchanaraphi

He knew the recent article and photo because he had in fact written it with Rita, but when he looked at the photo his upper lip began to quiver. He looked so fresh-faced and young in the photo. He recalled the photo being taken when he was holding the club trophy, and he had his arm around Raphi. Then he cried. He sobbed for a moment, the tears obscuring his vision as his eyes remained on Raphi. At that moment he remembered thinking he had all the time in the world to become better and to chase his dreams of living a life a little different from those around him. Only now could Duflinkë see he was blinded by youthful optimism. He remembered the love he was feeling for Raphi and his indebtedness to a man who had devoted so much time to make him a better player and a better person. And he had thrown it all away for the party lifestyle. And for the unprofitable exercise of studying philosophy. But now he was following his calling and was blossoming into a young man who had the potential of becoming full. But perhaps now, maybe, finally, he was paying his coach back through sacrifice and single-mindedness, and by bringing Raphi’s legacy to life.

Duflinkë put the photo in his wallet and looked at it every day just before he started training. He used it to spur him on so he could reap his rewards on the world stage in Beijing.

Chapter Twenty-four


Beijing had changed a lot in the five years since he had been there. The hand of modernity was in the act of destroying the old hutongs and revered ancient Chinese traditions and culture that had made it a premiere cultural force in the ancient world for centuries. It’s temples and tea culture and martial arts and gardens were still there to be seen but everywhere were now surrounded by skyscrapers that rose from the ground at sharp angles and in impossible density. Only in a few rare spots around the edges were still the old China where citizens wore the blue Mao jackets and footwear and drank jasmine tea out of over-sized, banged-up metal mugs.

Because Duflinkë wasn’t playing for Chinese Taipei, he traveled independently from his team as coach. He was representing Canada at the world championships and was thus traveling apart from the Taiwanese players. There were a select few who had qualified for the end-of-year world championships. David Chen was representing Taiwan as first singles, but Bartholomew had not qualified and instead chose to travel with Duflinkë to be his second during the tournament. Bartholomew said it was just so he could practice his English.

He didn’t have an official sponsor nor was he funded by the Canadian national team. There was a chance he might be able to claim expenses with the national team after the tournament assuming he would qualify and do well, so he would keep the receipts. The hotel he was taken to where all the players were staying was the Beijing International Hotel – a modern curved affair that had massive, empty hallways. It reminded him of his past stay in Beijing where the hallways were quiet tunnels interspersed with hot water stations for tea. Doors seldom opened. Back then in 1989 only the brave went forth down the halls to exit the great edifice.

Like the new hotel, the Beijing International Badminton Club was like a cathedral to badminton. Everything in its architecture served to extenuate the inherent beauty of the sport of badminton – to highlight the grace and finesse in the game and to reward those pioneers in the sport who brought China glory who were remembered in the badminton chronicle that was a vibrant source of interest among the population of mainland China. The courts were state-of-the-art green coloured, sticky-floored affairs where there was enough cushion to prevent severe wear and tear of the chronic grinding of the cartilage in the knee and ankles.

Many people in the West see the Chinese people as teetotallers, but in reality they enjoyed drinking their rice wine and beer and cigarette smoking, so Duflinkë was not surprised to see those spectators watching the matches drinking. Much more emphasis was put into making the spectators happy compared to the west, who kept them constrained by the upper-class etiquette that gave birth to badminton tournaments more than a hundred years ago. But the Chinese had figured it out: by providing libations for the crowd while watching the matches, it in turn enhanced the drama and suspense of the games so that they became even bigger fans of the sport. And tournament directors learned that they could make money from selling booze and tickets.

And the badminton players could benefit from bigger prizes.

There were only two days of qualifying rounds and Duflinkë had been seeded second in the round robin due to his runner-up showing at the Taiwan Open. His first match was an intense experience. His nerves were taut, and his mind was unsettled, and his opponent was a veteran who had a mind sharper than most. His opponent looked like a champion from a past era who harboured sore joints because there was an awkward body English that manifest itself when he went into his forehand side at the net, as if he was nursing a decaying bone of some sort. This veteran kept pushing low birdies to his backhand, the oldest trick on the book. It is one of the best-proven strategies of badminton. And it worked. He lost almost five points to missing quick flat shots deep on his backhand side through laziness and being too casual. Duflinkë was one of the few foreigners on the courts, many of the Danes and Brits and Scots having already qualified for the main draw from good international results. Duflinkë responded by pressing flats back at the veteran so that soon the fast birdies crossing at his chest level hit that no-man’s zone where a players didn’t know whether to lower his body and hit an over-the-shoulder return or to make it an underhand return, or to move aside to hit it sideways.

The deadly and effective no-man’s zone.

Duflinkë was tweaked to move it up a notch and use his ruthless smash down the line, intermixed with his cross-court slice, to demolish the old man in the second game to take the match.

His next match was the opposite from his first match. It was against a young Chinese player who could hardly harness his speed and flayed fast birdies all over the court. He played like a young man who has never been laid. Rather quickly he realized if he could just put in the running and return everything to this over-hyped young man under all the pressure in front of his hometown crowd, he would win. And that’s exactly what transpired. He let the youngster choke, committing over nine unforced errors in the first game, which negatively affected his concentration during the second game.

Duflinkë didn’t have to play the final of the qualifying round because one of the players in the main draw had to withdraw due to injury.

Duflinkë was in the main draw.

The night before the World Championships started, he found Rita knocking on his hotel door.

“Fancy you didn’t expect me, did you?” Her face was radiant in the well-lit, over-sized hallway.

“Well then, that’s simply amazing that you’re here.”

“I reckon we could do a repeat of your previous.”

“Another article?”

“Or two, depending on how well you do. Why not? I’m being paid to take photos of the tall foreigner who plays badminton for Canada but who lives and trains and works in the Republic of China.” She entered his room and sat down beside the large window overlooking the sprawling high-rises. She said she wanted to get the article done today for the deadline tomorrow for the local papers.

“Right now?” She nodded.

“But let’s go to the club. It will be better for the piece than in here.” He grabbed his Yonex track suit and left with her.

There were many courts at the Beijing International Badminton Club, but the organizers had created an Elizabethan atmosphere by closing those courts that surrounded the centre courts with the best lighting and steep seating. The layout was a spectacular arena where gladiators struck a feathered shuttlecock at each other reaching speeds of over 330km per hour.

She raised her mobile phone in the air and pressed a button.

“I already have photos from your last match over the promising junior from China.”

“Did you watch it?”

“Yes. You were amazing. You never missed a shot. You sort of just ran him around like you were almost toying with him. So he just sort of ran out of steam. You let him defeat himself.”

Duflinkë spoke into her microphone, speaking to the ‘on assignment’ journalist Rita Miller. She was now a freelance sportswriter. She knew most of his story, but she was after his thoughts about his last match. He answered her casually, only speaking truths, careful not to exaggerate or say anything disrespectful. In fact, he made sure he spoke highly of each of his opponents, praising their strengths like a surgeon with a scalpel. He knew badminton fans here in China were the most passionate and knowledgeable on the planet. He just hoped Rita would use finesse when writing her piece.

“I’ll type it in tonight and try to get it in the papers for the next day. I met the guy here from Xinghua News Agency who I had seen before covering other stuff over the years. I’ll ask him to publish a translated copy of what I email to him tonight. I want to keep it simple. And I’ll need to get some good photos of you not playing, like one right now.” She removed a camera from her purse and took a shot, Duflinkë not prepared but his facial surprised captured. It was a photograph that Rita would use to profile his life in the article that was published.

When the article was published in the Beijing paper, there was a big reaction. His first opponent had been well-respected hero of the Chinese people before the age of Lin Dan and for this foreign upstart to so easily defeat him in the qualifying rounds had ruffled the feathers of some of the old guard. The photograph did not show a modest or shy look on Duflinkë’s face but rather one of cockiness and confidence that further served to conjure up emotions of the Chinese who devoured the article en masse.

Almost the entire population of mainland China was following the World Badminton Championships, so the article gained some traction and created even more interest in the tall foreigner who spoke their language and lived in the renegade province they call Taiwan.

When the announcer said Duflinkë’s name upon taking the court for his first-round match, he noticed the loud cheers intermixed with loud boos. He was playing a Malaysian player who was ranked inside the top 20 in the world. There were 48 players in the draw and Duflinkë had this hack to play first. Harsh. Very harsh. He had seen him play before in Taiwan and he regarded him as a fluke player and a hack. His form was far from graceful and yet this man had somehow won tournaments all over southeast Asia. He was a player who had mastered the art of winning ugly. There was something about this man he was playing that he did not like. He lacked grace. Duflinkë knew players like this man could beat quality players. It happened all the time in the sport, much to the chagrin of diehard fans. The hack could frustrate a player of talent so much with short serves and flat flicks against the body that the player of talent couldn’t muster his best foot forward to beat the guy.

A hack was always dangerous for a player of finesse.

The hack had the guile to stickhandle him all over the court so he played the Raphi strategy, which simply slowed the game down. This was done by Duflinkë dumping the bird at the net almost every shot whereby he would lift the return net shot high and deep into the corners where the hack just couldn’t find the right footing and mishit the birdie. He had seen this happen before and it tended to prove its worth when applied to those who sought hardship on others through incomplete shots and shoddy footwork.

Duflinkë was happy to get the win. But it was a painful match. Grueling. But Raphi’s voice had saved him from an unjust defeat at the hands of a fluke player with no natural talent.

His next match was against David Chen, one of the big names at the tournament. Duflinkë wasn’t upset that his team sided with David Chen since he was playing on behalf of Canada, but there was some loud cheering from certain people that left no doubt in his mind that they preferred their countryman. Going into the match he was sure David Chen had memorized his game and knew of his weaknesses but David Chen hadn’t seen his game over the last three months, nor the work he had done to his speed game and movement. He didn’t know how many hours a day he had ridden his mountain bike on top of his hours of badminton training, but it had all made a difference in his lungs and limbs. David Chen might be overconfident from what he thought he knew about him. Duflinkë could surprise him by muscling him to the ground through brutal force. He could use his height and newfound strength to overcome David Chen at his own game and smother him in incessant oppressive flat shots across his body. But David Chen was a smart player and adjusted his game upon seeing the embodiment of his potential from his dedication to training. He adjusted and wrought havoc by serving high and deep, and keeping Duflinkë at the back of the court, effectively neutralizing any offensive weapons he could muster from the back of the court, specifically his deadly sliced drop/smash.

And then he remembered the switched grip. And the Lin Dan body English head and body fakes.

Just the slightest movement of his shoulder or head in the opposite direction of his back-of-the-court shots selection created a slip-second delay in David Chen’s reactions, which gave Duflinkë the edge in getting back into the match. David Chen had shot out to the lead leading 7-2 when it occurred to Duflinkë to use his guile to greater effect, the head fake being the most brutal in his arsenal. He also played it tight to the net where if returned by David Chen at the net, he further curled it again so that the birdie would tickle the top of the tape and spill over almost against the net as it fell for the winner. His net-play was almost unreturnable. And he applied what David Chen had told him about not being afraid to use and reuse and overuse his weapons to great effect. So, he just kept hitting the turn-gripped unreturnable net shots that moved him to a first game victory followed by a slow slog through the second game. It was a robust back-and-forth, but Duflinkë’s powerful smash proved too fast for the man from Taiwan. He limped over the finish line through a flurry of smashes that were simply too good for anyone to return, hitting the lines at an angle that only a player of his height could hit.

They shook hands at the net and Duflinkë made a point of shaking his hands with both hands and bowing to the hero of Taiwan, in an overt display of respect. He hoped Rita was there for the photograph.

And she was. Rita took a classic photo of the victorious foreigner bowing in respect to the accomplished Chinese Taipei legend David Chen. It was a photograph that many regarded as a changing of the guard within the national rankings of Taiwan. And it was this photo that made it into the Beijing English Daily on the front page of the sports section. Duflinkë and Rita later settled into his hotel room with room service where he recorded yet another article, carefully outlining all the accomplishments of David Chen over the years and gently paying respects to a legend in the sport. Duflinkë had even more readership after this second translated article both in the Asian newspapers and now in the European newspapers.

Chapter Twenty-five

World Record

Early the next morning he played his third-round match against a player from Indonesia he called Hanahan (Duflinkë couldn’t pronounce his Indonesian surname). He was quick but had not yet fully made the leap from physical player to mental player and was thus dismantled by Duflinkë in two short games. Reporters from the Chinese newspaper had now picked up on his movement through the bottom half of the draw and followed him from the court to his time outside where he looked for a kiosk where he could eat. Knowing Mandarin, he learned from the reporters’ chitchat that they had been awed by the power of his smash. Duflinkë did have a good smash, but he had always sought accuracy rather than raw power. When he had finished eating his stinky tofu, he decided he would make a point of showing them all his power smash.

He returned quickly to the courts so he could watch Lin Dan play against a fellow Chinese player who was over six-feet tall and towered over the compact Chinaman. But the brilliance of the world’s best decimated the man with the height. There was a bitter feeling to the defeat, as if internal team politics existed. But for Duflinkë it reaffirmed the ‘win-at-any-cost’ technique Lin Dan had. It reminded him never to let his guard down, and that the world championship was brutal throughout. There was never any time for leniency.

His fourth-round match was a unique affair. Coming to the end of the day Thursday, Duflinkë had no idea how to approach his match against the large Dane Pers Larsen. His play was beautiful – way more beautiful than his own. And in the hierarchy of technique, Pers Larsen was a much better artist on the court. In fact, his finesse was something that could make a fan gawk in awe. Though most would never admit it, it was the man’s beauty on the court that transfixed the fans who religiously watched the Dane Larsen. When Duflinkë watched him, he could only stomach half the match before he had to excuse himself to take a walk. He was simply too beautiful for him to watch knowing he would soon face him as a competitor.

When they finally played as one of the final matches on Thursday night, many Chinese and Asian reporters covered the match, curious to see what tall white man would come out on top. There was growing interest in the Canadian qualifier Duflinkë from Taiwan who was defeating well-established names in the circuit, but none could forecast who would win between the upstart and the top-ten-ranked Dane. The game was beautiful as soon as the first deep high serve was struck by Duflinkë. They had both been coached by artists and taught that the only good badminton is beautiful badminton: strokes with finesse that made contact with the feather shuttlecock which in turn made an unmistakably crisp sound. The shots were so well executed that the fans witnessed a match that had virtually no damaged feathers to the shuttlecock – the birdie lasting well into the first game. (Normally a poorly struck birdie would be damaged, the feathers breaking off. Duflinkë’s match against the hack from Malaysia had broken-off feathers scattered all around the court, many needing to be pushed off the court with the racquet).  Neither of them subscribed to winning by being ugly that seemed to be gaining traction in the sporting world. Instead, they respectfully struck the feathered shuttlecock to all four corners of the court, putting on a masterclass of why Nordic Europeans still maintained a say in the sport of badminton. (It was true that China had become the best country in the world at badminton but at the same time the top European countries of the world such as England, Scotland and Denmark were still giving them a game and a half and the fans a show). The first game was beautiful, each clear struck deep, each slice drop executed well, the cross-court return skimming over the net but returned well, the next return lobbed back again to the base line, the rallies long and the movement clean. The sounds of the gummed shoes illustrating clean footwork, the long reach of both players resulting in sharp angles, each player nodding in respect to the other when beaten by an unreturnable shot.

The first game was close but as he neared the end of the first game, Duflinkë realized that everything he had learned from the fast flat game of the Asians he could use to devastating effect on his Danish opponent. The Dane had a very powerful smash so instead of his usual return to the net, he would strike the birdie flat back at the body. And that was precisely what he did. His wrists and his play in his wrist rotation caused great grief for the Danish Viking and rendered his smash a non-threatening because Duflinkë simply refused to lob to birdie above his shoulders r at the net. He kept it flat and fast and beat him at this game he had learned in the Far-East. This caused Larsen to pop up a few shallow lobs, which Duflinkë smashed with such ferocity that there was a new sound of the birdie he had not previously heard. When he shook Pers Larsen’s hand there was a moment when he wondered if he had broken the artist’s etiquette of playing ugly, the flat shots lacking the beauty of the deep clear and soft dropshot, but just as quickly the thought was squashed by the nod of respect and the look in the eye of the Dane – a beautiful display of their coordinated movements, the sport of competitive badminton elevated to a new level, a victory for all involved.

When he walked out of the Beijing International Badminton Club and was surrounded by Chinese sports reporters who were interested in the wonder story of Ernest Duflinkë from Canada, he had a taste of fame that scared him. Fame had never been part of it. And the sudden entitlement of reporters seeking a word scared him down in a place within him that spelled danger. That was what caused him to suggest to Rita he stay with her. He couldn’t face the new fame. But before he could escape the reporters, in Mandarin one of the reporters told him his smash had been recorded at 334kph – a new world record. Duflinkë was stunned in his solar plexus. And a distasteful fear manifest in his guts. He escaped the scrum and hurried to the restaurant to meet Rita.

“Do you know where I’m staying?” she asked. Rita was wearing makeup and was dressed up for the dinner.

“Yes,” he replied, knowing it was a rhetorical question. Duflinkë could see she was playful, a glimmer of affection in her eye.

“My company, being as thrifty as they are, put me up in the spare dorms at the University of Beijing: a fair ways from here.” Duflinkë smiled at her, enjoying her beauty.

“Leave it to you to stay in a dorm at China’s best university.”

“You want to stay with me?” Somehow, she knew. He nodded.

“Okay. But it’s going to cost you.” A mischievous grin evident at he corners of her mouth. Memories of Cambodia returned to him, relieving him from the pressures of the tournament.


“Some words for another one.”

“I can spend that.” He ate like a man who was half-starved.

“And why don’t we turn up the heat a little bit and write a background piece for the Chinese papers. You won again against the top Dane so the badminton fans are hungry to know more about you. You might lose on Friday so why not write something that is designed to make a splash?” He thought of Raphi. This was his chance. And that was what led to the worldwide article that shed light on his life struggles, his past injuries, his family life and his path to potential glory at the world championships. But most of all, the article paid homage to his coach and past world champion Raphi Kanchanaraphi, a national hero from Thailand that many fans still remembered from the fifties.

And it was also the article that made it known that Duflinkë’s smash had been recorded at 334kph, a new world record.

Chapter Twenty-six


The University of Beijing is one of the world’s top universities. And it’s old. Very old. The rooms were small and just enough to sleep in – ascetic like Confucius and just the way Duflinkë liked. The river running through the campus and the many historical buildings made it a special campus that he relished in his morning walk with Rita, the mature trees all planted to create a feng shui that elevated him somehow. In the hours before his quarter-final match on Friday, he and Rita walked along the water and across the bridges to the various old halls that make up this Chinese Ivy League university. When Rita and Duflinkë walked together there wasn’t the gawking that they had when they were unprotected on the busy streets of the capital. Instead, within the campus students and teachers gave them a respect and left them to their privacy in an act of utter politeness that humbled him. It created something in his guts so powerful and pure he felt he was about to explode. The heartbeat of this old school of ancient China still beat here in the University of Beijing. Hand in hand with Rita, he let it stoke the fire of his inner dragon that had found a voice here under the trees amidst the ancient buildings. Just down the street was Tsing Hua University, where many graduates from the engineering program become members of the ruling standing committee. Rita told him that those who ruled the world’s most populous country all drank together at the same university. But for Duflinkë, there was something about the pedigree and history of the school solidified something within his legs that seemed to foster great strength. Perhaps he was too distracted by his impending match to realize that it might be love.

His match was against the former champion from Korea named Seung. He was an established player who was very well respected but in the tunnel vision that Duflinkë had, he didn’t see a big threat from the Korean champion. He had excellent net play, but he lacked a defense against an aggressive, deep serve to the baseline. If he could strike the bird high and deep, he had a chance of suffocating the Korean at the back of the court.

And that’s precisely what transpired.

The old champion had come to the conclusion that Duflinkë didn’t have a tight net game, so he kept serving short. Losing no time to react, Duflinkë switched to the hyperbole grip with the über spin and intermingled his returns with a quick, head-fake deep flat shot to the back of the court, many times catching his opponent out. He pushed it deep to both wings that kept his opponent in an unsure state of where he would have to stretch. And by using his head fakes, he was able to keep the battered old badminton warrior at bay. When one has played that many thousands of hours on the badminton court, one develops a slight flat footedness that one can never rid themselves of. It has something to do with the slamming of the foot against the hard floor with little to no support in the gummy badminton shoes that top players need to wear for grip and speed. Duflinkë had seen it before, but his Korean opponent had not yet recognized his age on the badminton court.

The battle on court was intense, the spectators consisting mainly of Korean reporters witnessing the changing of the guard with this new Canadian upstart with the scissor kick, who had a very effective slice drop shot – an impossible shot that appeared to be struck from just behind his head. And they were catatonic at the fact he didn’t have a backhand. Every shot the Korean tried to hit to Duflinkë’s backhand was met with a flash of sideways movement and an open racquet face that struck the birdie as a bent forehand quick and fast down the line, or even crosscourt that surprised the veteran. When it went to a third and deciding game, the reporters were wiping their foreheads with perspiration.

Then something changed with Duflinkë. During the changeover he glanced at Rita. She looked embarrassed, not because the match was tied but because she was unable to hide her love for him. He knew it instinctually, as if there was a built-in, a priori radar in man that was able to sense love. The gravity of the moment hit him like never before. He let the love he felt for her take root and blossom in him, giving him a lightness in his guts he had not ever experienced. The court was chilly just like in Canada and very unlike Taiwan, but he felt warm all over, able to achieve the impossible on court. His looked at his opponent and the inner dragon came alive.

During the rallies in the third game, the court was quiet. The unique floor surface absorbed his gummy shoes as well as the sound of thumping and banging feet. His gripped his racquet differently – cleaner – and was able to translate that into a minutely quicker recovery time from striking his shots, which gave him a valuable split second more to consult with his hyper-evolved imagination that he had been feeding since he left high school. He trusted his skills and trusted in his instincts to keep the rally going, letting the Korean mastermind wear out from the wear and tear of his new, renewed game. He played an intensely physical game that could not last for the top players with those fallen arches in their long-battered feet. In his relentless assertive shot selection and placement and sheer power and finesse, Duflinkë realized that it was a war of attrition for the top seeds and champions throughout the history of this sport, leaving a wake of injured and maimed athletes who had dedicated their lives to the brilliance of what badminton could be. So it was with tremendous respect that when Duflinkë shook Cheung’s hand after he had beaten him 18-15 in a tie break, he bowed in respect and reverence for his unequalled dedication to the sport.

The TV cameras were able to capture the bow of the foreigner to the Korean legend for all of Korea and China to see. All of Korea witness this act of solemn respect to their national hero.

It made Duflinkë ever more of a celebrity.

The Korean spoke to him in good English after the match as they walked to the side of the court: “You have a choice of shots I have never seen before. You can change your form mid-air, which is impossible for an old man like me to respond quick enough.” He nodded at Duflinkë, the cameras recording the moment, many not sure if the legend was scolding the Canadian. “You have mastered both the west and the east way of playing. I commend you for your play. And believe you have a good chance of making the final.”

“Thank you, sir.” Upon hearing the word ‘sir,’ the Korean gave him a half-bow, an act of respect from the old master to the rookie.

Once toweled off, a Chinese reporter asked him a question in English:

“You have just beaten a legend in the game. How did you do it and how do you feel now going into your semi-final against the world number four?” Duflinkë answered him in Mandarin.

“I played against Yeung with great respect for his past accomplishments and for what he brought to the modern game. Without the Korean champion the sport would not be where it is today, with the top talent taking from Yeung his short game and emphasis on follow-through and spin on the birdie at the net. But his expertise has inspired a whole new generation of badminton players.”

The reporters were in shock when they head Duflinkë say this in Mandarin. The floodgates opened and the questions came thick and fast.

“What do you think your chances are against the Indonesian Champ?”

“Well, he comes from a country of great badminton players, like Liem Swie King and Rudy Hartono – two heroes of my youth when I was growing up in Toronto. In Canada.”

“But now you live and coach in Taiwan.”

“Yes. I like it there very much. The people are very, very friendly.” He was happy to have included the double employment of the word ‘very.’

“Are you enjoying your stay in Beijing?” The question struck him. He chose his words very carefully.

“I love Beijing. I love the history and revered culture here and the vibe of the Forbidden City and the Great Hall of the People. I particularly like the beautiful University of Beijing. There is so much here. And the food is amazing!”

General laughter from the Chinese press corps.

There was a question posed to him in Mandarin that came at him too fast to understand, but he deciphered that it was about the badminton facilities. This too he answered in Mandarin. He blamed it on the lorazepam.

“The facilities are world-class, and the organizers are very friendly, and the tournament couldn’t be staged in a better place, as far as I can see.”

He didn’t expect the clapping.

“Good luck tomorrow, sir,” was the last thing he heard as he stepped into a taxi and was driven to Rita’s room at the University of Beijing. Quiet and contemplative, it brought him back to the intellectual calm of his early days of university in Canada. It gave him reason to reflect on how far he had traveled. Tomorrow he was playing the Indonesian number one in the semi-final of the World Badminton Championships and there he was standing beside Rita wearing her Birkenstocks freshly showered beside a large pond where there were old men fishing. He looked and he could see goldfish. He basked in Rita’s warmth, her support, and her beautiful scent when she hugged him. The hug immediately took away the pressure he was beginning to feel.

“You were so respectful to that guy today. I don’t know how you knew to do that but wow, did you hear the hush through the crowd? They were amazed at your grace.”

“Raphi, I guess. My coach. He taught me about respect and the importance of etiquette.”

“Well, I’ve never seen that in any sport. But I didn’t know the Korean was such a respected athlete.”

“He’s like the Wayne Gretzsky of South Korea.”

“Oh, okay. That puts it into perspective.”

“I just have to keep my mind off the seriousness of it all, so will you walk with me in the morning? Maybe take me down the river a bit? My match isn’t until the afternoon. And I think it will be my last.” She nodded in understanding. And that look of love was in her eyes again. It made it all okay. He felt safe from the swirling waters all around him.

Chapter Twenty-seven

Creative Spontaneity

Duflinkë took comfort in getting good press but was otherwise divorced from what he was creating in the private sector. He was just doing his best to get to the final and have his chance against Lin Dan. And that’s precisely what had transpired: Lin Dan had won all his matches as top seed and made it down the draw to the semi-finals where he played Morten Frost: past All-England Champion and classic player. He was Denmark’s all-time great player. Personally, Duflinkë feared he had too much respect for Morten Frost to ever beat him – to get his inner dragon to breathe fire and win. He thanked his lucky stars he didn’t have to play the Great Dane. That was Lin Dan’s job. Instead, his thoughts focused on usurping his semi-final opponent and get his chance to play against the world’s best in the final.

Duflinkë was brought up to speed on the furore he had created in the press from his exceptional play by his uncle Norman, who he called before his match. Duflinkë desperately needed a wise voice and a calm tone to bring him his mojo before his semi-final. He knew his uncle only taught in the afternoon on Friday’s so he timed his telephone call just before his class.

“I have read all the press,” he said. “I’m guessing you haven’t?”

“No way man.”

“Good. Keep it that way. But it’s good. The Chinese can be pretty harsh with foreigners beating their stars but they’re giving you good write ups because of the respect you show to you opponents. They’re quite happy with your behaviour. Not all players from the west treat Asian players with that amount of respect.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“And they’re eager to attribute your form to your coach Raphi.” Mention of Raphi brought back everything he needed to centre himself. His coach’s words were there for him now. He just needed to close his eyes and hear them.

“Thanks uncle.” He glanced at his watch. “I need to get going my uncle. But thanks for the input. Cut out those articles for me. I can read them after I’m done.”

“Will do my nephew. And good luck, son.” Upon hearing the word, he was convinced his uncle had let it slip by mistake, perhaps longing to reconnect with his own son. But it did highlight how close he had become with his favourite uncle.

He popped a lorazepam on the way to the club.

The articles in the paper and online had caused interest in this student of the famous Thai world champion, so Duflinkë wasn’t surprised at the crowd there to watch him play his semi-final match. He knew that at this level he needed every advantage he could have to defeat his opponents, so he chose to believe that the Indonesian across from him was a bit psyched out by the fawning of the new kid on the block. He chose to use that to his advantage. The little Duflinkë knew about his opponent did freak him out a little. This young man with the toned legs and short hair came from the elite badminton clubs of Jakarta that had the pedigree of Rudy Hartono and the champ Liem Swie King, two moguls in the sport who had adorned his walls as a child. In fact, it was Liem Swie King’s poster that he had purposely chose to perfect his scissor kick.

Nothing was cooler than that scissor kick.

Now he was doing it in front of their Indonesian disciple. It thrilled Duflinkë to no end to think that the two legends might be there in the crowd watching the semi-final. It was unlikely, but he chose to believe it so that his inner strut might make an appearance. And that was what happened in the match: Duflinkë played as if Liem Swie King was watching him from the stands beside the court. He didn’t look; he only had to believe he was there. And it worked. Nothing the young man from Indonesia could do would take him out of his groove. Duflinkë had never played better than against the man with the short hair. After only a few rallies in the first game the strut came out in the Indonesian, but it backfired because Duflinkë couldn’t contain his own strut. He let his strut breathe. And it came to life. He toyed with him, hitting his slice drop/smash to both sides of the court, mercilessly bouncing the young man from side to side, and back to front, relishing the thought that Liem Swie King was watching. During the strut he discovered he flung his hair back, like a hippie Viking, not caring how it looked. It caused a stir in the crowd after he had taken the first game 15-9, the rumbling of spectators discussing the new arrogance of this humble, respectful student of the Thai legend Raphi Kanchanaraphi. It became more overt in the second game, his sauntering around the court taking longer between points than before, the crowd now loving this new arrogance. They loved his strut! Duflinkë took his time scooping up the shuttlecock on his racquet to serve, instead circling the birdie as it lay motionless on court. Some in the crowd loved to see this new sass from the big Canuck.

They were witnessing this man with the bum big toe become a rock star in their capital city.

The young man from Indonesia tried to up his game, which doesn’t always work. In this instance, it didn’t work. The Indonesian missed the lines and in a string of unforced errors. Duflinkë soon found himself with a 12-4 lead. The strut disappeared, being replaced by precision striking as if a dart player throwing triple twenties. Shot after shot, drop shots and smashes, flat clears and cross-court slices, the young man had no answer. And then the match was over, the quietness of the last point suddenly erupting into rapturous applause. Shaking hands, Duflinkë did not bow or show respect, instead expecting the young man to show him respect but it did not come. The applause still echoed, the fans telling him he conquered the Indonesian upstart, relieving the fans of their fear the young man might usurp their hero Lin Dan in the final. Instead, they were to witness the Canadian face their beloved world number one.

Duflinkë had remembered the words of David Chen and had not allowed Mr. Nice Guy to emerge. His swagger had finally emerged, and the fans loved it. It was unmistakable: the uproar of applause when he let his dragon out.

After his performance against the Indonesian, he felt confident enough to return to the hotel and endure the reporters, who were scrambling to get something from this foreign sensation who could both play badminton at the top levels and speak their language.

“Did you know the Indonesian’s game before you went out there today Mr. Duflinkë, or did you just figure it out when you started to play?” The question caught him off guard, but he was impelled to answer.

“It is true that I prefer not to over-study the players I play for fear of suffocating my creative spontaneity, which I believe defines the greatness of a player.” The Chinese reporters were silent at this point, so he switched to Mandarin. “I believe in creative spontaneity over an over-planned strategy defined beforehand.” This caused many nods and a murmur among the writers present. “So I trust my instincts for immediate analysis of my opponent and let my on-court play answer in place of a overthought gameplan.”

There was a flurry of questions from the reporters in Mandarin, none of which he understood, so he spoke thus: “I am a firm believer in the brilliance of Lin Dan and see how personality is reflected in his game. Only when a player can use their own power of personality can they begin to harness all they have to become the best badminton players they can.” His Mandarin was just barely good enough to say this in well pronounced words, but it caused an uproar among the newspaper writers who wondered if the Canadian was being sincere. There was some uneasiness by some of the diehards because they wondered if it was a slight against their number one man.

“Mr. Duflinkë, why do you speak Mandarin?”

“Because China is one of the oldest and most respected countries in the world with a coveted history that pales in comparison with mine from Canada. I always wanted to study the language that respectfully best houses the sport of badminton.” The uneasiness disappeared after hearing these words of Mandarin from this student of sinology.

“Do you like living in Taipei?”

“I do. Great place to live. Chinese culture is rich with history, and the food is the best. Thank you.” Just then Rita appeared and took a photo of him, followed quickly by a hug in front of all the cameras. He could hear the shuttering of the cameras. It added a romantic element into it all for the unsung hero and underdog who was now in the finals of the world badminton championships.

He might have sounded a bit like a propaganda officer near the end there, but he felt it was for the best. He wanted to celebrate the moment in history right now.

Duflinkë was exhausted. The pills he had brought over with him from the pharmacies of Taiwan were still on the bedside of Rita’s room at the university, but there was no panic on his part at all. In fact, he had trained his mind as much as he could in order for him to witness his outward inner dragon swaggering on the court whenever the moment arose. He no longer needed the lorazepam. When he had showered and dressed, he had a dozen messages of reporters and others who wanted to speak with him, but the only name that interested him was from Jamie McKee. Duflinkë called him immediately.

“Thank you for calling me, Ernest. I want to say something to you that I know from my times overseas playing the international tournaments.”


“I know your game. You have strong fundamentals, but you also have a killer weapon: your crosscourt slice. Against Lin Dan you must hit your best weapon all the time. Only by employing the one thing that might put him on his back foot do you have any chance whatsoever.”


“And whatever you do, don’t get frustrated. He is likely the best player the world has ever seen so try to have fun out there.” Duflinkë was a tad startled. Did he say have fun? This was coming from a man who never seemed to be having fun on the court.

“Did you say have fun?” He laughed nervously, hoping he hadn’t offended Canada’s top seed and national icon.

“I’ve seen your game rise exponentially over the years. I watched as Raphi coached and instructed you year after year. I’ve seen that glimmer in your eye. That’s when you loosen up and strike the bird crisply and with a hint of fun. Of mischief. Use your mischief man! Hear me? You gotta have fun out there. You can be unstoppable if you get the mischief out, you get it?” Duflinkë nodded into the phone.

“Yeah, I get it. Yep.”

“You gotta want it bad against this guy.” Duflinkë again nodded into the phone.

“I’m just afraid I’m going to be smothered by this guy ‘cause I can’t get anything over him because he jumps at everything. I mean the guy is like a Mexican jumping bean, y’know.” He couldn’t be sure whether he heard laughter on the other end of the phone.

“He doesn’t have any weaknesses so he’ll just wear you down, rally after rally. Trust me. Every time you have a chance, hit that head-fake slice of yours. He won’t like it at all. That will cause him to pause just a little bit when you hit any overhead.”


“Resort to the basics at this level. And don’t be afraid to try to piss him off. Get into his head. Do some of those Raphi fakes at the net, or one of his cross-courts. If you get him just once you will injure his manhood, you hear me? And injuring that man’s manhood might be the beginning of the end for him. He’s all about ego. Tamper with his ego and you might have a chance.”

Duflinkë thought about it after he hung up. He knew exactly what Jamie McKee was trying to say. 

He and Rita had a big meal and then went to sleep in the giant king size bed in the hotel room. He had a deep sleep but dreamt of badminton. A flurry of shots went through his mind’s eye. Every single type of shot until finally his mind froze on one shot: the flat clear. With some heavy body English. His eyes opened wide. It was the middle of the night. Rita was asleep and when he closed his eyes again, he had a grin on his face.

Chapter Twenty-eight


The next morning Duflinkë was met at breakfast by the entire Taiwanese team. Bartholomew led them in tracking him down and giving him pointers on how to beat the world number one.

“I know he has a great backhand but if you a hit a flat clear to his backhand side you might be delighted in part of his armoury without a killer return,” said David Chen, in a mixture of English and Mandarin.

“Okay.” It was what made him recall his dream from last night.

“It’s a safe zone for you to hit.”

“But he will slice it over.”

“All the more reason to use some of that head-fakery of yours and outsmart him back at the net. He’s vulnerable there. Trust me. It might be his only weak point.”

He sipped his coffee and thought ahead to his match.

“Keep your shots flat to his backhand,” said Bartholomew. That was precisely what he was going to do.

“And Ernest, you use your drop shot. It’s your best shot. Your strength is how you move people from the front to the back. Do that with Lin Dan. He’s smaller than you. Wear him out.” Bartholomew had had lots of coffee.

Duflinkë doubted he could damage him from the up-and-back strategy, but Bartholomew did give him an insight as to how he could mix it up for the win. It was the number one badminton player in the world; he needed some sort of strategy despite his creative spontaneity on-court philosophy.

He didn’t know what the commotion was all about outside until he stepped out and saw the crowds lined up around the edge of the street. Hundreds had lined up to catch a glimpse of this foreign marvel who could speak their language and who had enough respect to bow to past champions. Who was this man? And what was his fate?

Rita was the one with the last word.

“Go beat him,” she said, and she squeezed his hand.

One more match, he thought. This one was for Raphi.

He chose not to look around and take in his surroundings, instead keeping his eyes within a zone that protected his attention from being distracted. He stroked his way through the warm-up, very much aware that he was hitting the birdie with the world’s best player and legend, but he kept his cool and remembered the thousands of times he had warmed up in the past. Duflinkë told himself that he had learned the way badminton had been played in Asia but had also mastered the power game in the west, so he had both burners at full in the face of a smaller man who was more like a spindly, twisting spider who could strike any birdie from anywhere on the court in an organized and well coordinated flurry.

The stands were full and the spotlight was crisp on centre court.

“It’s just another badminton match,” he said to himself as his name was announced before the match started, Lin Dan already sporting some technique in his swagger.

Immediately Duflinkë could feel the rote replies Lin Dan hit in the first few rallies. These first half-dozen throw-away rallies sought to establish flash points or weak spots from injuries or sore muscles that might change the tide of strategy, but Duflinkë couldn’t see anything amiss, instead looking for the first time at a fortress of badminton excellence whereby no corner was deemed weak. For a split second fear passed through his chest that he might be toyed with by the world’s best, but that was when his own swagger took root and sought a voice in the way he walked between every rally he won. He couldn’t help it. The swagger was there and done with the same flourish as Lin Dan had done three months earlier in Hong Kong. The roar from the crowd just fed his swagger from the very beginning so that it was tough for Lin Dan to let his inner dragon loose.

Lin Dan’s game plan was to slam it back at his body, trying to take advantage of his massive chest area that contributed to the large no-man’s land area pressed at the hands of quick bird play and flat smashes. Luckily Duflinkë had already experienced this before in a match in Taiwan, so he knew the only way to stop the onslaught was to step side to side, chucking the shuttlecock high in the cross-court corner to refresh the rally and begin a new attack.

He exchanged smashes with Lin Dan but it came up a draw. He then switched to some curving drop shots that were returned with just enough curved spin over the tape to become an unreturnable shot, but with the Raphi angled crosscourt drop he could get some back. It was high level play. But still, every channel he tried was shut down by this master shot-maker. For a moment he felt the dread of claustrophobia but shook his head and strutted around and looked at the crowd before he served. He raised his hands spontaneously and heard them cheer him on, much to Lin Dan’s surprise. Just before he served, he bowed his head to Lin Dan in a subtle apology for playing up the crowd in his hometown. A minor faux pas of etiquette only noticed by the few hardcore fans and players who were watching.

Duflinkë detected the most subtle nod he had ever seen on a badminton court, the sweat already dripping into his eyes.

Lin Dan was soaking wet too midway through the first game. But his subtle nod back to him was enough to quell the inner tidal wave that was welling up inside him. And what he saw before him awed him into submission. The quickness and absolute expertise of movement and smooth stroking humbled him in temporary paralysis from the awe he experienced. Watching it from the stands was one thing but to experience it directly on the other side of the court was another thing. Three, four points Duflinkë lost as he was overwhelmed by his opponent’s sheer expertise, a danger that might not stop unless he changed tactics. Duflinkë returned the favour and threw some of his best cross-court slices into the mix, taking the time to hear the collective exclamations of delight in the arena as the shots struck the floor. The strut inevitably manifest, Duflinkë proud as a peacock when the slice hit home, tinkering briefly with distant images of a Jamie McKee or a Roscoe Clarke. It was about time he should show the world what magic he had in his arsenal. And it felt good to hear the clicking of the cameras that would shoot his image to the four corners of the world. He had the fastest smash in the world. It was time to unleash the biggie in all its glory.

This was his moment. And he was going to show he was the best in the world right now.

For five minutes of play, Duflinkë smashed everything. Lin Dan served short, so he returned a spinning net shot that forced a shallow lob only to be smothered by his gut strings into the court kissing the line. Again, the sounds from the crowd spurred him on, the adrenaline almost overwhelming. There was a moment when Lin Dan gestured to the fans the smash was simply unreturnable, something Duflinkë preyed on. They traded points all the way up to 12-all when suddenly Lin Dan made two quick points from quick short serves at the net that startled Duflinkë. Elementary trick, he thought. And serving for the game Duflinkë pushed it too far and smashed the birdie just outside the sideline on the backhand side.

Game one Lin Dan.

When they switched sides Duflinkë was dripping sweat onto the court, the spectators yelling words of encouragement to both players, Lin Dan the favourite by far. But Duflinkë had enough support in the words he could decipher that it gave him some wind in his sails. He toweled off the sweat that would not stop, his physical body a finely tuned instrument of his will. In this moment of solace he heard a familiar voice.

“Go get him Ernest. You got this cowboy.” It was his uncle Norman. He was there! His uncle was watching him play for the first time! Any lingering despair vanished as he began the second game.

When he won serve after striking a crosscourt slice winner, he served it short several times rustling up some cheap points. But these were not cheap points. These were the points he knew he could win from the net after being taught by the world’s best net player: Raphi Kanchanaraphi. The thought of Raphi brought an extra twang to his game. There was no tomorrow. There was no next tournament. There was no long game here. This was it. This was the final bouquet where it all had to answer. This was for the man who had given him inspiration and guidance throughout his troubled life of abuse and extremes. So Duflinkë kept it short and continued to win points with his flat shots to deep court and his abrupt net shots that devasted the short-legged man from China, suddenly bringing the end of the second game to a close. Courtside was quiet. There was a swoosh that had come over the journalists that had been so loud before. But it was Rita and Bartholomew he heard cheer for him when he took the other side of the court for the third and final game. Duflinkë was soaking wet, his socks drenched with sweat, his shoes waterlogged. His grip on his racquet was wet and slippery and his cheeks were flushed but he felt Raphi’s presence courtside and could almost hear his advice to him between the last two games.

“Use your mind Ernest. You are smart. Beat him here,” he said, pointing at his head. Raphi always had a way of hammering home his points.

Lin Dan resorted to his old ways and attacked his short game and flat speed game, thinking a westerner couldn’t possibly be fast enough to spar with him, but he did just that, using his wrist strength to strike over-the-top backhand cross-court flat to the deep forehand where a few times he had let pass him by. These shots silenced the champ and decreased exaggerated gait. Swagger momentarily kept at bay, it was his turn to let it fly, his shots pinpointing corners as if by rote, his mind several shots ahead, planning his replies. He didn’t take any time between rallies, instead quickly serving and trying to force an error from the Chinese number one.

But so few ever came.

This man’s badminton IQ was off the charts. He had likely grown up with a badminton court in his backyard, born and bred to play. His mind was so far forward when he played it was as if he could read his stroke several strokes earlier, so he was just waiting to pounce on his shallow reply. Incredible forethought by Lin Dan, an element of defeat began to creep in that spelled disaster. And this truth soon created some fear in precisely what stroke he should hit.

Without the element of surprise, Duflinkë had no game.

Lin Dan’s game had evolved. Duflinkë’s head fakes were now read far in advance, shaming him for all his grandiosity and strutting. Lin Dan had figured out how to beat him fair and square. Rally after rally he came up short but then it occurred to him that he could perhaps get a few short points at the net where he could spin a few over. So, again he served short, surprising the world number one. Rather quickly his lead was cut from 13-7 to 13-12. The entire country held their breath as the Canadian fought back from defeat and then it happened – the event that the entire Chinese population would talk about for years. Lin Dan dumped the birdie back at the net to the line so quickly that Duflinkë chose to let it bounce on the floor, hoping it was out. The lineman called it out, but Duflinkë called it in. The umpire then insisted the birdie had landed outside the line but Duflinkë insisted the birdie was in. In defiance to the umpire, Duflinkë hit the birdie back to Lin Dan for him to serve. Lin Dan nodded at his sportsmanship but was not allowed to serve it, the umpire insisting the serve was Duflinkë’s. In a rare showing that defied the umpire, Duflinkë again hit the birdie to Lin Dan for him to serve at 13-12.

One could hear a pin drop in the arena.

The umpire interceded again and insisted Lin Dan not serve the birdie, so he was forced to return the birdie to Duflinkë but instead of serving to tie it at 12-12 Duflinkë took an exaggerated swing and served the birdie way out, in effect forfeiting the point to his opponent. Now serving at 12-all, Lin Dan had three more points to get to win the world championships.

The last few points happened quickly, the rallies ended by Lin Dan’s jump smash.

It was a three-gamer but the third game Lin Dan had unlocked his weapons and stunned him into submission.

Duflinkë was sure to shake his hand with much respect and make a particularly bold bow to the man who was regarded as the best of his generation. They all had a moment of celebration for the man’s excellence and brilliance and genius on the court. They had witnessed a masterclass and badminton fans all over Asia and the world were inspired by his greatness. Duflinkë had witnessed it. He didn’t feel sad or angry at the loss. Instead, he felt lucky to have experienced such beauty and connoisseurship on the court. He had not only witnessed his greatness; he had experienced it. What Duflinkë hadn’t expected was for the great Lin Dan to bow to him in a gesture of great respect for the rogue Canadian who had qualified for the tournament and made it all the way to the final, and more than anything for his unmistakable showing of sportsmanship by insisting the birdie had been in. It was a rarity to see in the cut-throat top echelons of top-flight badminton.

It would take many years for Duflinkë to recognize that it had been him who had given the world champ his best match in any world championship final.


Chapter Twenty-nine

The Hug that went Around the World

Bartholomew and David Chen approached him as he was toweling off and shook his hand, making a big presentation of it that he had been victorious on some level here in Beijing. Rita hugged him like she was a groupie and he was a rock star, that somehow was befitting for the moment, and the cameras went crazy. Lin Dan toweled off without anyone around him and there was Duflinkë who was surrounded by the Chinese Taipei team and the raven-haired beauty who had once rolled a joint on the road in Cambodia.

Duflinkë’s uncle shook his hand at the side of centre court, his face flushed with pride.

“Well done son,” he said. “Well done.” A tear fell onto his cheek, which he wiped away. They hugged for the first and only time, Rita trying to suppress her own tears at the scene.

Duflinkë stepped outside the club and past hundreds of screaming fans and felt overwhelmed in this surreal moment of his new life. Would anything be the same after this?

“Mr. Duflinkë, would you like to say anything to your millions of new fans out there?” Reporters raised their microphones and waited for his reply.

“I would like to say that it all begins with a dream. Never give up even if you step away from it. Honour those who took the time to teach you what they know, like my coach Raphi Kanchanaraphi, the world champion from Thailand from 1963 to 66. He is with me today, not here but with me. It is his sacrifice to train me that led me to this final today against undoubtedly the world’s best Lin Dan, of whom China should be immensely proud.”

His Mandarin was understood by all the reporters present. Their clapping meant everything to him after everything he had given over the years.

Something in him didn’t want to step into the taxi in front of him and disappear into the next phase of his life but he did, somewhat reluctantly because he knew the moment would never come again. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind that this was it. There would be no more fanfare and heights of physical performance. Fatigue and exhaustion were catching up with him but he tried to realize that the praise was real. And the pain he had endured to reach the finals of the world championships had been real too.

When he saw people playing badminton in a large plaza on his way to the airport, he asked the taxi driver to stop and let him out. Closer, Duflinkë saw some children playing badminton around a tattered net so he took one of his Yonex Carbonex 8 racquets and walked down towards them. Rita followed him with her camera.

“Duflinkë sir?” Several of the kids crowded around the tall Canadian and repeated the words: “Mr. Duflinkë sir?” in Mandarin. He shook hands with many who recognized him after the tournament. He then gave his racquet to one of the young boys who had crowded around him and hugged him. Just at that moment Rita captured it with her camera. The boy’s reaction brought tears to his eyes. It was an image that would circulate around the world as the ultimate gesture of world peace throughout Asia for many years to come, a moment in history where the west and the east finally connected on the level of sport.

He and Rita and several of his team from Taiwan joined him for a grand dinner at a swank restaurant but it didn’t take Duflinkë long to get rip-roaring drunk. They all celebrated the unlikely outcome and savoured this moment in history. Even his uncle Norman joined the festivities, not afraid of rolling up his sleeves and showing off his naked woman. Bartholomew couldn’t help himself but stare at her inked boobs for most of the night.

Articles were published about the finals immediately. The Chinese newspapers celebrating the victory of Lin Dan over the foreigner who did not act like a normal Gwailo. They were loud in their praise for the rare sportsmanship shown by the Canadian with the strange surname, using the event to promote fair play and good etiquette in their favourite sport. For many years to come this final would be discussed by the pundits both in Asia and in Europe. But it was the article by Rita Miller the following Monday morning that ran around the world. In it the full story of Duflinkë was told, from his humble upbringing to his battle with arthritis and his broken bones and bad big toe, to his coaching by the world champion doubles player from Thailand who had disappeared from the world stage for near 30 years. Until now.