Playing ping pong in China
September 21, 2012 8:07 AM   Subscribe

"Finding my way in Beijing was tougher than I'd ever imagined. But sharpening my skills at a local youth academy for ping-pong—a game at which I'd dominated friends back home for years—seemed like an opportunity not to suck. So what if it meant beating up on little kids at the school and old men in the park? This would be my key to assimilation. Nice plan—but then I stared down the pre-teen pong machines and got my first real taste of China's national pastime."
posted by Chrysostom (28 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
It took me a while to realize you weren't blogging, and that you're actually quoting from the tagline of the article. Might be nice to know that – maybe some quotation marks or even some italics or something would help a lot.

Anyway, interesting article. Thanks.
posted by koeselitz at 8:14 AM on September 21, 2012

Mod note: Added quotes around the pullquote. Always good to make it clear you're not just suddenly using mefi as a personal blog.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:20 AM on September 21, 2012

Every time the summer Olympics come around, I am reminded that ping pong and table tennis, despite sharing equipment and rules are not even remotely the same thing.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:33 AM on September 21, 2012

Fair enough, sorry about that.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2012

I spent a year in China, teaching, and lived in the foreign teachers' and students' building. There was a courtyard, and a ping pong table. I played against Chinese students and teachers, I played against people from North Korea, South Korea, Cambodia, Mongolia, Kazakstan, Thailand, and Japan. I'm not all that good, but you'd think the law of averages would catch up. It did not. I lost every game I played, for an entire year.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:48 AM on September 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

Good article. I feel kinda bad for him, though...because he's probably now exponentially better than when he left the US and before that, he was so good no one would play with him. Who is he going to compete with now? He'll have to find some Chinese ex-pats.
posted by Kokopuff at 8:52 AM on September 21, 2012

Let me refer y'all to this phrase in the article:

the lady in charge of the tournament hands me a blue jersey with the league's acronym: DSBHQYX. (It stands for desheng binhe qiuyou xiehui, or "Victory Riverside Ball Friends Society.")

That's right - Victory Riverside Ball Friends Society. A society of ball friends who hang out at the riverside and pursue victory. Not a society of childish philistines who guffaw anytime someone says the word "Ball".

I propose a MeFi table tennis society, called "The Blue Ball Friends" - and any member who even sniggers at our name will be given a limetime ban, because we are training hard to achieve the benefits of victory, not joking around.

In fact, we should call ourselves "The Blue Ball Friends with Benefits Hard On Victory Club".
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:54 AM on September 21, 2012 [33 favorites]

Club... or paddle?
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:56 AM on September 21, 2012

"The Blue Ball Friends with Benefits Hard On Paddle-Spankers".
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:01 AM on September 21, 2012

We got a table when I was about 10.... I grew up playing quite a bit and I was good....real good. I had a serve that no one could return and I trounced everyone! Kids, adults, no one could beat me. For a very overweight, awkward teen.... ping pong was my place to rule. I played in the rec rooms in college, again, no one could touch me. My husband and I got married in 93 and went on a carnival cruise in 94, one of those 4 day things but we were thrilled! The first thing I noticed and signed up for was the on deck ping pong tournament....AWESOME!! I was going to win a prize and show my new husband my ping pong prowess! I showed up in my tournament winning outfit.., ready to kick some old lady, shuffleboard playing ass and it was me and 30 Asian people, all with a look of steal in their eyes. I was starting to get a little nervous, this wasn't what I was expecting. These folks were serious! The tournament began and I lasted about 3 minutes. I just got spanked. The worst part was that I had talked it up so much and my husband had a field day...he STILL rags me about my ping pong "career". Married for 19 years and anytime ping pong comes up, on tv or in casual conversation....I get that side eyed look and he bursts out laughing. I've never played again.. Sigh.
posted by pearlybob at 9:02 AM on September 21, 2012 [13 favorites]

Nice post. It does a nice job of capturing that "just the same, only different" quality of being good at something at home but being humbled when you take your game somewhere else. I experienced something similar when I spent 6 months as an exchange student in England. At the time I was a snooker junkie at home in the US, and really was consumed with the game (which is hard to do in the US because snooker tables are uncommon enough that sometimes it's hard to even find one in your area, or if there is one, it's in terrible shape because it often gets no love from its owner...) My experience was not quite as humbling (or audacious) as the man in the FPP's, but I did get schooled, routinely, and never felt competitive when I played. I didn't exactly suck, but I definitely wasn't anything special, either. So I feel for the author of the article. "It was a learning experience" salves the wound but doesn't solve the problem.
posted by mosk at 9:12 AM on September 21, 2012

mosk, I have found the only way to win at snooker is to feed my opponent lots and lots of beer, while ensuring I have no more than two. That at least makes it competitive.
posted by wierdo at 9:24 AM on September 21, 2012

Good article. I feel kinda bad for him, though...because he's probably now exponentially better than when he left the US and before that, he was so good no one would play with him.

The kind of guy who buys a craptastic supermarket paddle probably isn't setting the table on fire though.
posted by madajb at 9:29 AM on September 21, 2012

Revenge is a dish best served with sidespin.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:30 AM on September 21, 2012

I was a pretty good darts player. I started working at a bar and naturally joined their team. The league named divisions of play after metals and precious stones. So Diamond, Ruby, Platinum and so on. Imagine my surprise when I learned that our team was in the Lead (as in 'lead sinker') division. The lowest.

Imagine my further surprise when I learned that I belonged there. Bar darts is a serious business. Just to get in the league is a big deal. As well it guarantees you two nights a week where you have a big crowd.

And compared to the serious players, I sucked. One season and out. ::sigh::
posted by Splunge at 10:33 AM on September 21, 2012

I grew up playing this "Simple' game, and even won several tournaments at the multinational company where I worked. Then we started developing offshore production facilities where I became the first employee trashed in Singapore. Then came a beating in Korea, followed by Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, and China. I came closest to winning in Tiawan, when I was able to score 4 points, only because we emptied several bottles of johnny Walker the night before and my opponent was close to death. I can still beat my children, grandchildren and their friends with either hand, and I always give them sage advice. "Never underestimate an Asian."
posted by crushedhope at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2012

That is like when I tried to take on my old boss, who lives in Slough and works out of what I guess is a very high tech garden shed, at darts. I was pretty good at the time. Played a couple hours a few nights a week. Had just moved up to B league after my team has taken second place in C league. Had very nice tungsten darts. A vast assortment of shafts and flights. I could beat anyone who just wandered into the bar, and took most of my league games.

We got into a kind of good natured shit talking on our calls and he promised to bring his darts next time he flew over. I brough him to a legit dart bar with three boards cordoned off. He pulled what looked like a white envelope out, he had 3 brass bar darts and a random assortment of flights, none matching. I got out my custom dart case, set up my $150 tungsten darts with brand new matching flights.

It was sort of embarrassing, all I can say is that I was better than any of our American co-workers. They got exasperated pretty quickly. Then we played probably 10 games of 301 and he beat me by a wide margin every time. Then taught me a game he uses to train back home where you can only score on doubles, and beat me at that.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:34 AM on September 21, 2012

My grandparents hosted a series of Chinese college students in LA for a number of years as they went to local universities. As I was growing up I'd spend a chunk of every summer there too. Their house had a ping-pong table in the basement and a badminton court in their backyard long before they started hosting students, and I had thought I was pretty good at both. I never won a game all summer. On a good day I'd score a point or two before getting crushed.

The next year before I came down I convinced my grandfather to put a basketball hoop at one end of the badminton court. Revenge was sweet.
posted by Blue Meanie at 11:24 AM on September 21, 2012 [10 favorites]

the lady in charge of the tournament hands me a blue jersey with the league's acronym: DSBHQYX. (It stands for desheng binhe qiuyou xiehui, or "Victory Riverside Ball Friends Society.")

Creating acronyms from the first letter of every syllable in Pinyin seems to be a rather inefficient way to make them.

Though the possibilities are endless. If you thought the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act) was a good one...
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 12:16 PM on September 21, 2012

I like the author's attitude - "and I tell them as much as I can before they stop listening and start curiously stroking my arm hair."

The article has a number of nice details I can appreciate as daughter of a Chinese ping-pong enthusiast, like the reverse snobbery of the cheap paddle owner, and description of that stomping technique (that has long been banned in formal games.) My dad does say at that gym he goes to play ping pong, he sees youngsters mostly playing basketball. I wonder how big that demographic shift is.
posted by of strange foe at 12:26 PM on September 21, 2012

I had this experience with basketball, I used to play my brother's 2 on 1 despite them both being older and a lot taller. I was bigger and faster than everyone in my middle school, I was literally the best at every aspect of the game. Until I joined an AAU club team... Played with some future pros and division one players my own age.

It was not a confidence builder. They were not playing the same game as me.
posted by French Fry at 12:57 PM on September 21, 2012

Well, just so there's the other side of the story:

I once went to a party thrown by a lady who is a major triathlete. The guests there were all athletes, and one lady was a tennis instructor. She was taking on all comers at the ping pong table.

I stepped forward, urged on by my drunken friends. She brightened, seeing my Chinese heritage and the 'pen' grip I used on the paddle.

I got slaughtered.

She seemed disappointed.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:38 PM on September 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

There is certainly reverse snobbery. I played competitive pool for years with a Players Sneeky Pete, maybe the cheapest pool cue you can buy. Then I lost it and haven't even bothered to buy a new cue yet, it is sort of amusing beating other league players who usually have a break cue, a jump cue and a $1000 playing cue, with a barely straight bar cue. And of course when I loses can blame it on the cue being warped.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:08 PM on September 21, 2012

Best I can relate is the time when I got the chance to play a women's college basketball player in a couple of games of horse. I was pretty good back then.

She went first. Walked to about 26 feet and hit nothing but net. I ended up getting H-O-R-S-E on five straight shots. I went first the next game, but she'd rattled me so thoroughly I missed my first shot. The second game was over as fast as the first.

A couple of days later I got the chance to play 21 against her. OK, now we're talking. There's no way she can take me inside! Wait, there's apparently a LOT of ways she could score on me in the paint. At least I scored three points this time.

Women may not play above the rim, but you bet your a** they're good.
posted by azpenguin at 6:30 PM on September 21, 2012

I used to play competitive table tennis in a small suburb in Australia, and we trained with a Taiwanese coach who never seemed very happy with us. I thought i was good, i went from never winning to beating all comers in 3 to 4 years.

Then I moved to Sydney and signed up at the nearest table tennis place, in Ashfield ... which is an Asian enclave. I was the only white person there. My first game was against the head coach to check my game. I was expecting to be beaten... and I was 11 to 0. Then I played his 9 year old daughter. I was thinking I'd go easy on her until I barely returned her first two serves. She beat me easily, 11 to 3 with her father barking orders at her when she made a mistake.

I never won a game in my time there and stopped going after a year as I felt I was wasting their time... that and they did all the announcements in Mandarin ... small things like "we are moving to new facilities"
posted by Admira at 6:33 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I saw this a week or so ago on my Twitter feed. My first thought was 'bah, he'll get creamed, absolutely slaughtered. (After all, Chinese dominance in table tennis is such that every Western Olympic table tennis team is composed of ethnic Chinese. I kid you not.) But it's a cool article, and good on him for taking it in stride.

For what it's worth, I'm Chinese, and I absolutely suck at table tennis. You can beat me, easy peasy. ;)
posted by undue influence at 8:52 AM on September 22, 2012

azpenguin, the same thing happened to me, essentially. At that university, I taught 12 hours of class, only four days a week, and there were roughly twenty full size outdoor basketball courts on the campus. Outside of class hours, that's usually where I was, playing pick up with anyone around. One day, two of my students and I are shooting around, but we don't have enough for a game. A couple guys and a girl come up, and ask if we want to play three on three. I figure, well, at least it's a game, and I end up guarding the girl since my students are still (even as university students) too shy to guard a girl.

They stomped us. It wasn't even close. It turns out one of the guys was the captain of the university's mens team, and the girl was the captain of the women's team. It was, in a way, refreshing. There was none of the attempts at being a gentleman in a mixed gender game. She was better than me in every facet of the game, and I couldn't keep up at all. They were pretty nice about it, though. After the game. All of the niceness came after the game.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:30 PM on September 30, 2012

For people interested in this topic, check out the premier of this season's Amazing Race.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2012

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