If you still think that the Chinese have a patent on table tennis, what you read next will crush your essential values. It was 7 pm on a recent Thursday when some foreigners entered a local table tennis training hall in Shanghai's Jing'an district and dazzled onlookers with their light-speed moves. This is in fact a regular sight at Shanghai Hurricane, a table tennis club created in 2016 by three expats. It is the 168th table tennis club registered in Shanghai, but the very first dedicated to help foreign players train and compete in professional and amateur tournaments here.
A foreign man plays ping-pong. Photos: CFP and Lu Ting/GT
Ping-pong enthusiasts play at table tennis club Shanghai Hurricane.
Besides professional tournaments, Shanghai Hurricane also provides a home-base for average or beginner-level English-speaking table tennis players. It currently has 76 official members but continues to grow as word gets around.
The Global Times recently caught up with some foreign table tennis lovers to ask what draws them to a sport that has traditionally been dominated by the Chinese, their impressions of the sport and who their favorite players are.
I am a fan of tennis back in Spain. I picked up table tennis while studying Chinese language in Beijing two years ago. In Beijing, people always play table tennis and invited me to play with them. It is quite challenging to play against Chinese. I lose almost all the time. In Spain, few people play table tennis; there may be clubs in larger cities but no clubs in smaller cities. So I think it is quite understandable that Chinese always win. There is a large population playing the game. I think Chinese are the best of the best.
I have been playing table tennis for over 10 years now. I started playing table tennis after I was influenced by some friends. I had a lot of fun playing and I kept playing in my free time. In Germany, table tennis is really developed. We have some big players like Timo Boll. It feels really cool to play table tennis in China, because there are a variety of players with different styles. You can play against someone who is not better than you but still you have no chance against, simply because he has such unique style. My favorite Chinese player is Xu Xin. I like his style. he is very creative. My favorite foreign player is Boll. He has been the best player in Germany for 10 years. I think it is deserved that China is dominating this game. The Chinese work really hard. But Japanese players are also doing great. I think the next few years will be more exciting.
James (left) and Wang Liqin
James, the UK
I have been playing table tennis for over 20 years. I won a small table tennis competition in England when I was 11 and have been playing ever since. I now live in Qingdao of East China's Shandong Province, but travel all around China for work. Before I came to China, I always used to watch videos of three-time World Champion Wang Liqin. In 2006 I was very lucky to have the chance to play a short game with Wang Liqin at an event in Shanghai. I asked him how long he trains for each day and was impressed by his answer: that he trains almost eight hours per day. My favorite table tennis player is Ma Lin; I love his style and in particular his passion for the game. I think China's domination is good in a sense, but I also hope they will have more competition in the future, like they used to do with legendary Swedish players Jorgen Persson and in particular Jan-Ove Waldner ("Lao Wa" in Chinese). After playing table tennis with Wang Liqin and also coming in second for a competition sponsored by a Chinese company several years ago, it's now hard for me to leave.
I started playing table tennis in grade five and have been playing on my school team since then. I thought I played quite well until I came to China. Table tennis is a national game in China, which provides a good environment to train and practice. It may sound cliché, but my favorite table tennis player is Ma Long. I know many other people like him as well. I think it is good for China to dominate in this game. For a country that puts so much emphasis on table tennis, it is normal for it to sweep all the medals.
Dylan, the US
I was born in upstate New York, and then moved to Guangzhou of South China's Guangdong Province for elementary school. Next, I moved to Shanghai for my middle and high school years. I started playing table tennis in middle school, and started taking it more seriously in high school. I played on the NYU Table Tennis Team and co-captained and managed the team. A lot of foreigners expect Chinese players to just naturally be good. I think this is a kind of stereotype. Whenever I go to a tennis club, usually I see all Chinese people. When a foreigner comes in they are intimidated at first. They assume all Chinese are pros. Even in New York, which has a large Asian population, the stereotype exists. Whenever we play and after we finish they ask, "Oh did you train in one of those famous sports schools in China?" They think all Chinese train in sports school and that nobody here has a good education because we focus on table tennis all the time. But obviously that's not true.
As for China's domination in this sport, I think it's good and bad. It's good in a sense that, because China is the best they really have a goal to work for. Whenever a foreign player beats a Chinese player it is considered a huge deal. Everyone goes crazy. But at the same time it kind of gets boring. Because at the end of most foreign tournaments, it's almost always two Chinese players, even in the Olympics. There used to be three players for each country but now they cut it down to two because China dominates too much. In a sense that's kind of unfair to China. If China has the talent, why shouldn't they be able to play. Then it kind of becomes unfair to the rest of the world. So I can see both sides of it.