A Sport Served In Every Town

Table tennis (ping pong) is the kind of sport which to the untrained eye is a fun hobby. Factor in China’s fierce reputation for the majority of Olympic gold medals and see the true competition.

“Hey, Dongguan DK Sport made a table tennis robot.”

“Why on earth would they do that?”

“So you can have a training partner without people.”

In my head, I pictured R2D2 or Robocop with a racket. The reality was a stumpy looking machine that fired ping pong balls at you. It was more “toaster” than “Terminator.” The box displayed a huge blurb about practicing backhand, forehand, attacking the ball, blocking the ball and so on. The racket in my hand quaked. I was useless, but this is where my journey began.

Locally you can chop, slice, and smash your way through numerous shops in order to obtain equipment for the game. Or, like me, just hit the average stationery shop and what do you know, there lies your simple table tennis starter set. Nip down to Houjie’s new Liaoxia Park or round the back of Qifeng Park and off you go.

Ping pong, as the game is often referred to, is quite accessible. Almost every village square, park and gardens provide an outdoor concrete table or two (or more). Every township has a sports center or hall open to the public. Within these halls and courts, there are always a few flip-up sports tables.The most impressive can be found in Liaobu, in an arena fit for super league basketball. Join the local table tennis association and that’s where you’ll play.

My level of skill is so terrible that I’ve even been defeated by toddlers in table tennis. With practice, I have raised my game somewhat. I can now keep the ball on the table. The game can be enjoyed in pairs, or singles. Team games are possible through rotation. It makes looping the ball or counter-hitting that little bit more enjoyable. Sharing is caring after all!

Within these halls and courts, there are always a few flip-up sports tables. The most impressive can be found in Liaobu, in an arena fit for super league basketball.

This exercise improves wrist and arm dexterity. It is a tidy little workout. At the inaugural Summer Paralympics in Rome, during 1960, ping pong had its international outlet. A whole 38 years passed before it made the Olympics. Right now, in Hengli Sports Park, I’ve seen the most disruptive of class students focus on this sport. It can really focus the mind. A winner always wants to win. Their mind channels every crosscourt and prevents a dead ball. And with a thwack, off goes the ball, keeping their game alive. They’re away from the computer game—and in the zone. Total immersion.

Racket sports seem to make those involved happy—and with very few injuries. There is zero contact involved, unless you’re like me and slip easily. Reaction times improve, so the chances of injury decrease. That 40mm ball weighs 2.7g but it seems to fly faster than a speeding bullet. Decathlon and other sporting goods shops sell tables that measure about 1.52m by 2.74m. The height is under a meter off the ground. It feels short, when you are tall. At Hengli’s impressive Gusitu Sports Center, a wide-open door gives the sound of ping pong balls being jettisoned back and forth.

Dongguan held the Asia-Europe All Stars Challenge in 2016. That’s a long way since the sport first appeared in Victorian England. Dongguan Humen Table Tennis Association is not far from the new home of the China Open in Shenzhen. Guangdong has a team that regularly sends players from their teams to such an event. I’m not saying you’ll make it as a professional—but to really appreciate the levels that are possible, it isn’t a bad idea to watch a Super League game or two. You might learn something from Lin Gaoyuan or Li Yijie.

The aim of the game is simple math. Hit a ball, use a few angles and try to outscore the opponent. Qiaotou Ping Pong Association recently held the first primary school level Eurasia Cup in March. Indeed, throughout the city, the link between bat and ball is being pushed toward the youth. They are given the opportunity to learn the difference between a penhold (Chinese or traditional), a shakehand and a Seemiller. For more casual leisurely practice, you can rock up at a reputable hotel, such as Pullman Dongguan Forum, and play table tennis on a well-earned break.