There are more than 1.3 billion people in China. The number who consider themselves fans of American football is much, much smaller. (AP)

This story first aired on February 11, 2012.

It was already halftime by the time I got up and out of my apartment, rode my bike across Kunming’s Monday morning rush hour traffic and finally found O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, which to my knowledge was the only public establishment in the city that was screening the Super Bowl live.

The mood seemed pretty mellow among the 30 or so ex-pats, milling around, a few with plates of fried eggs or glasses of Guiness. I sat next to a friendly older fellow who said he was from the same small town in Nebraska where New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead played Division II college ball.

“I don’t really care who wins, I just want to see a good game,” he said.

It was bizarre seeing Chinese characters on the telecast of an American football game. And the Mandarin-speaking announcers sounded comical, especially when they got excited. I wondered how knowledgeable they were, or what they were saying. Probably something like, “look how big that guy is!” or “what a hit!” Unlike the NBA, which is regularly televised and well-known throughout China, very few Chinese have any knowledge or interest in měishì zúqiú, or American football. On the screen “Giants vs. Patriots” read: jùrén vs. àiguózhě, which literally means “Huge People vs. Love Country Elders.”

One outspoken Patriots fan was trash-talking (in a good-natured, if profane, way), which may have turned our little crowd against the Pats. I noticed that several guys who early in the game had said they didn’t care who won, by the fourth quarter were loudly cheering for the Giants.

After the game ended, as we filed out of the dark pub into the bright Kunming sunshine, I had kind of a surreal feeling – as if it had all been just a dream, as if I had walked out of a morning matinee and back into the light of reality. The water delivery guy trudged by, schlepping two huge bottles on his back; stir-fry cooks wearing tall white paper hats relaxed outside their little eateries, having a smoke and a rest before the lunch crunch; an old woman swept the street with a bamboo broom.

Randy Hoover teaches world geography at Dover-Sherborn Middle School, in Dover, MA. This year he is on sabbatical in Kunming, China, teaching English at Yunnan Foreign Language High School.