By Sun Qi
As the new season of the Chinese Volleyball League (CVL) is set to kick off on October 28, training and preparation at the BAW Women’s Volleyball Club has entered the home stretch. Kiattipong Radchatagriengkai, head coach of the club, expects his team to make history in the new season.
The former head coach of the Thai women’s volleyball team, Kiattipong is now coaching BAW. In comparison, his wife Feng Kun, a former captain of the Chinese women’s volleyball team, is more familiar to Chinese people, though Kiattipong is a well known figure in the international volleyball scene. He projects a gentle demeanor when speaking
Thai, and his soft and gentle voice makes it hard for people to imagine the words are coming from a man nearly 2 meters tall.
Kiattipong’s Beijing Complex
Feng, 36, captained the Chinese women’s volleyball team to victories at the 2003 Women’s Volleyball World Cup and 2004 Athens Olympics, and was regarded as the world’s best setter at that time.
Kiattipong, a household name in Thailand, started coaching the Thai women’s volleyball team in 1997. Though he left the post temporarily during his tenure, his team rose up as a volleyball powerhouse under his guidance. The Thai women’s volleyball team has made rapid progress and is now a challenger to China, Japan and Korea, Asia’s three traditional volleyball powers.
It took time for Kiattipong to fall in love with Beijing, but Feng played a key part in the city winning him over. Through their love for volleyball, their relationship has gradually evolved from one of friendship to one of love. Through meeting Feng and falling in love with her, Kiattipong’s affection for Beijing has grown.
Talking about his Beijing complex, Kiattipong said,“I often flew to Beijing to see her [Feng]. Sometimes, I would fly to Beijing just to spend a little time with her, and fly back to Thailand the next day. I don’t remember how many times I have traveled from Thailand to Beijing.”
In 2003, the Thai women’s volleyball team won the Asian Volleyball Championship. Three days after the victory, Kiattipong took an evening flight to Beijing. Just over a year later, he married Feng, a native of Beijing. Then, as recommended by Lang Ping (the legendary Chinese volleyball coach) and others, the newly-married Kiattipong was selected by BAW as head coach after a six-month process of searching for the right candidate. The two parties signed a three-year contract.
The couple married at the end of 2014. At a party held to thank their relatives and friends, Kiattipong played the guitar and sang the song The Moon Represents My Heart in Chinese. He likes to show off his Chinese skills at the training ground when coaching the players, though it often leads to funny incidents due to his relative lack of Chinese proficiency. During one training session, Kiattipong suddenly told his players to “get some rest and have some beers”. The team members were all surprised. “What? Beers?” Kiattipong realized he had mixed up the Chinese words for beer and water. “Oh, no! I mean, have some water,” he said. His response brought great laughter out of the team.
One of Kiattipong’s favorite places in Beijing is the Lotus Market. He likes walking through the local hutongs (narrow lanes) and enjoying the scenery from the bars that surround Houhai Lake. When he visits these places, he usually takes along his Thai friends such as his assistant coaches and interpreters.
“Since Feng and I got married, this city has become my home, and I have a job here,” Kiattipong said. “My job is to build and improve the BAW team.”
He speaks English, Chinese and Thai to communicate with the Chinese players, instructors, medical staff, club leaders and the team’s three foreign players every day. The coach adds that apart from Thai, English is his best language, but his Chinese is improving all the time.
The BAW players call Kiattipong “brother-in-law”, which Kiattipong said he likes very much.
“I know they call me this because of her [Feng],” he said. “It’s great. It sounds just like we are family, and our team is supposed to be a big family.”
On January 20, 2016, the Chinese women’s national volleyball team assembled for international competition, and BAW’s top players Zeng Chunlei and Liu Xiaotong were selected. Before they left to join the national team, Kiattipong held a sending off party for them.
“They told me they wanted to have Thai food before they left,” Kiattipong recalled. “I said no problem. They also wanted me to play the guitar and sing songs for them. I said no problem.”
Although BAW underachieved during the CVL’s 2015 season, the team is steadily improving itself according to their coach’s plans.
“You will see our team’s progress,” Kiattipong said. “I have a deal with Beijing. Over the course of the next two years, I will build a high-level team. I feel very confident about it.”
The Power of Cooking
Even with his wife’s company, Kiattipong said he still feels homesick sometimes. When he misses his hometown, he cooks to make himself feel better.
“I like cooking Thai food when I think of my home,” he said. “From purchasing ingredients to cooking, the whole process feels just like I’m in Thailand. When everything is done, it feels great watching my wife and friends enjoy the food I have prepared.”
Feng is a big fan of her husband’s cooking.
“He likes cooking yellow, red and green curry dishes with Thai flavors,” Feng said. “The chicken wings, shrimp and beef he prepares are all really delicious.”
Kiattipong likes grocery shopping at local Beijing vegetable markets.
“At first, my mom took him to the supermarket for shopping, but ever since he went to a vegetable market, he has hardly been to the supermarket,” Feng said with a smile. “You know what traditional markets in Beijing are like, with vegetables, meat and fruits all scattered everywhere. The moment he enters the market, he loves such a down-to-earth place where ordinary people shop.”
Kiattipong is a well-known figure in Thailand. After the Thai women’s volleyball team won the Asian Volleyball Championship in 2013, he was frequently stopped on the street of Bangkok by people asking for a photo or autograph. He was always happy to meet such adoring fans, though it often resulted in him encountering frequent delays while walking down the street. In Beijing, however, few people know him.
“It’s very comfortable,” Kiattipong said. “Hardly anyone knows me here. I feel pretty free. I can go to the movies, go shopping or do whatever else I want. It’s very relaxing and comfortable.”