Darkness still covered Beijing as I woke up at 6 a.m. on a Monday and walked half an hour through minus 10-degree weather and moderately polluted air. My journey may have been perilous, but I was determined, because across the Pacific Ocean, kickoff for Super Bowl XLIX, the biggest American football game of the year, was about to start. I'd watched this game every year of my life, and there was no way I was going to stop now, even if I didn't have huge ties to the Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots.
My bar of choice was Plan B in Shuangjing, and I felt curious--how many people were going to get up on a workday to watch this game?
A lot, apparently. When I walked in, the bar was full of patrons who were already on their second plates of the American breakfast buffet the bar offered, complete with free coffee, Tiger beer and Bloody Marys. Not a bad reward for dragging myself out of bed before dawn, right?
I expected to spend my time standing in a corner, but a table with an extra seat immediately waved me over.
"We're all friends here," said one of the guys, who introduced himself as Theo, an English teacher.
While I got my first plate of food, the table filled me in: Before I got there, the satellite system had gone down for a few minutes all over Beijing, and they weren't sure if they'd be able to catch the game at all.
"It was even more packed before," said Theo, "but when we didn't have a feed, a lot of people left."
Theo and his friends hadn't left because they'd taken off work to come to this game, and their patience was rewarded: The feed came back right before kickoff and remained uninterrupted for the duration of the game.
Though the Super Bowl feed included the game and English commentary, the feed didn't include the American commercials, which aired during the game. During commercials, I found most of the bar on their phones, checking social media to talk to their friends in the United States and Canada, many of whom were providing a running commentary on the commercials (and later, on the halftime show, which was ridiculous as always--some things never change).
During the commercials, I was able to catch up with Vancouverite Trevor Metz, owner of Plan B, who was cheering enthusiastically for the Seahawks. He told me that this was the first Super Bowl party the bar had hosted in its two-and-a-half-year-long run.
Because of Metz's ties with Canada, many of Plan B's patrons are Canadian, and I was surprised to find so many had showed up to watch an American sport.
I did find Americans in the bar, though (the bar seemed to be evenly split.) One, named Maggie, was easily identifiable--she was the only one in the bar wearing a football jersey (it was for the Washington Redskins, but football's football.) She got straight to the point.
"Who do you think I'm cheering for?" she asked, after she told me she was from Virginia. "The Patriots are obviously going to win this."
Maggie found herself in the minority, as many of the Canadian patrons who were supporting a side were going for the Seattle Seahawks. I guessed this was because of geographical distance, and I was right. Her friend, Degan, was from Seattle and was visibly upset when his team lost (24-28) after a close game.
"Do you know the first train out of Beijing?" he asked, waving his hands in the air. "I owe so many people money!"
One of them was Maggie, who looked triumphant as he handed over a fistful of bills. In general, though, I found there was less rivalry between fans of both teams, which may have been because we found unity in being so far away from home.
Metz informed me that he probably won't host another Super Bowl party, because he's moving to Viet Nam in June, which, though disappointing, means that my experience was truly one of a kind. I didn't expect to find such a connection to my country through a football game, but the truth is that, for five hours in dimly lit Plan B, I felt like I was celebrating in a bar back in the United States. I'm glad that Super Bowl Sunday still works its magic all the way over in Beijing.
The author is an American living in China