Flying into Kuala Lumpur from Cambodia, I got straight onto a bus at the airport to go north to Butterworth and then a ferry over to the island of Penang.
Here I was due to attend a Chinese wedding with one of my good University friends, famous local street artist, Tom Powell. This will also hopefully be a good chance to get into the schools with some of the tennis kit.
As part of the Mini Tennis World Tour I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to be welcomed into local communities on many an occasion. Delivering sport has really allowed me to delve deep into community life that so many travellers may not get the opportunity to truly experience. I have very kindly been welcomed into many families homes and lives through 2017, having attended Christian, Indian and Buddhist weddings - and now a Chinese wedding all as part of this year-long trip.
Tom’s wedding was a festival of friends and family and a coming together of cultures as our Yorkshire man marries into the Chinese family of Pei Shern Kang’s. It was so nice to see some familiar faces from homes as we celebrated into the night.
The next few days I get to explore the surrounding area with a couple of friends John and James showing me a secret spot, a short hike out of town, with a river and plenty of waterfalls. not a bad place to live - I wouldn’t get this in London.
Very keen to get into a local primary school and deliver some more tennis, I visit a school round the corner from the hostel I was staying in, which came recommended to me as a local school in need of sports equipment (plus one of the staffs children is a pupil - a little local bias). On arrival I speak to some of the teachers who explain that it is in their holidays and the children are not back till next week. Alas - I was always going to run into scheduling issues when it came to different countries’ holidays. I therefore - rather upsettingly and ceremoniously - decided to leave my guitar case full of tennis kit.
Choosing Penang, Malaysia as the equipment’s final destination seemed fitting, knowing that my newly wed friend Tom would be able to drop it off when the school is back and ensure the children get to play with one of the local tennis coaches.
The end of an era. The net’s final stop (below).
Coming towards the end of the epic year adventure, I said my goodbyes to Tom, John and James, as it was time to enter into my 28th country of the year, and last visit of 2017, Sri Lanka.
[If you have read some of the earlier blogs you would knwo that the MTWT has already visited Sri Lanka through Andy Higham’s visit and blog takeover. This is a chance to visit the country and see the good work that is going on.]
We were unable to visit our ambassador and tennis coach Sudavsham in Kandy, but we did manage to catch up with one of the local coaches in Galle where we watched one of the junior classes come to the grass/dust courts for their lesson
As with many other countries this year, I have got to experience some incredible local traditions. And in this instance I get to sample local life through the art of stilt fishing with a local family. The motor skills for this activity are unique, which my tennis training hadn’t quite prepared me for. The art of balancing above the crashing waves on a stick whilst casting a line and catching fish is a tough one. Once I got my balance (not spinning round and falling in the water!) I get the hang of it.
I come back to the mainland empty handed, with the family catching one or two each - pros. What a great way to live. Food directly from the sea to mouth. You see how much family time means to these people - it’s everything to them and what makes them happy.
Rather emotionally I head back to the capital Colombo, realising this is my last country visit for a while. Although with the understanding that this project was only just starting.
I had proven that it was possible to travel round the world with a mini tennis net and that tennis can be played by anyone, anywhere. Visiting over 100 communities and teaching over 1,000 children.
Now comes the tough part - the delivery of all the donated Zsig Sports equipment to those hundreds of communities to allow over 10,000 children access to the sport. Enriching lives through tennis.