China’s domination in table tennis is well documented—the top nine players in the world are Chinese, and the country nearly always takes the gold medal. But the LA Times’ Bill Plaschke wanted to see the sport in its natural habitat: in the park. Ping-pong tables dot Beijing the way basketball blacktops abound in US parks and playgrounds, and they are constantly full. Plaschke stepped up to the net—and got schooled.
He suffered crushing losses to a 13-year-old boy, a 47-year-old housewife, and assorted bystanders. Crowds gathered, laughing at the foreigner, keeping score and watching him retrieve countless errant balls. But in the process, he saw the peace the Chinese find in the game. “We don't play to win,” said one 60-year-old Mongolian. “We play to learn about each other.” Ping-Pong is the language of the Chinese, Plaschke reflects, and now he understands it, and them, better.