While I have dabbled in different sports while in school, I would have to say the one that I'm most comfortable with, a direct result of having played it the longest, is table tennis, or Ping-pong, a term of Chinese origin but has since found its way into the English lexicon.
Back then, we had a table comparable to the size of a Ping-pong table in the veranda of the very first house that I grew up in. Everyday after school, I would be playing Ping-pong with kids from the neighborhood, uncoached. Left to our own devices, we would be just striking the ball all over the table, and outside as well, with wooden bats. Before long, we seemed to develop some kind of basic skills in serving, returning, and even smashing, when we were in Grade Four.
Then I was good enough to be in the elementary school's team, and upgraded myself to playing with rubber-surfaced bats (the popular Butterfly make as I recall). I had by then also learned some spin moves, but not the top spin though.
Those days in school, there was a burly guard wearing a turban who combed the school ground looking for outsiders whose actions were deemed disruptive to the school proceeding such as horse-playing in the hallway. I was in the morning session (because of insufficient classrooms, a school is normally divided into the morning and afternoon sessions with a different set of teachers) and often had to go back to school for the practice session in the afternoon. The Ping-pong table being in the Hall, flanked by classrooms on both sides, the players had no choice but to practice in the Hall. It was OK when our coach was there with us, a sign of official business. Sometimes, the coach would step way, and whether because he suffered from memory lapses, the guard would charge in, sending us running helter skelter for cover.
I continued my Ping-pong playing days in the Middle school (again representing the school) and High school (playing for the class at intramural level only for there were several nationally ranked players in NJC, the high school I attended in Singapore).
In university, I split time between table tennis and basketball, the court being just outside my 4th floor dorm window (I was in the 3rd Residential College in University of Malaya as a freshman). Usually I would play table tennis from 4.30pm to 5.30pm, then I would dash to the basketball court. I participated in the inter-floor Ping Pong tournament in 3rd College, ending up as runners-up, thanks to the rule that State and National players were not eligible to take part, for which there were 1 and 2, respectively.
I remember playing with Sung Poh Wah, the then #1 player in the country, but lost. It could have been a worse loss if not for the fact that he played with his left hand. He was a rightie and I, a leftie. In other words, his worse got the better of my better. But at least I got to play with the #1 guy in the country.
From my sophomore year onwards, I became an NHO (non-hostelite organization, meaning no more in the university housing). My Ping-pong playing days then came to a halt, and I was full-time on basketball since my house-mate and most of my course-mates played it.
When I started work at Muar, Johor, my first assignment, I reverted back to Ping-pong since there was a table at the executive covered car park, which became vacant when my boss left for the day. So we would unfold the table, and start banging away. I was the office champ, and represented the district Department at the State level sports meets. It was the same when I transferred to the headquarters at KL, playing after work and at the inter-state department meets.
When I first arrived at US as a working professional (I was here previously as a grad student) more than four years ago, I did not touch the Ping-pong bat until this year, for fifteen minutes, sparring with Tom to test out the newly acquired table for the Clearwater Chinese School. I was rusty, hitting the ball every other way but on the table. And hardly perspired.
Then Wify's friend, Linda, told us that she has just added a new Ping-pong table in her newly renovated house, the expanded space having created an exercise room big enough for that facility. So yesterday, we went over to her house, expecting to have a full workout (I have not exercised in a long while, save for the sporadic evening walks with Wify).
I put on my white sports shoes, complete with long white socks (Wify said I looked good in them), and seemed to appear overly eager when I arrived. While wify disappeared into the Music room with Linda, I checked out the workout room, a gleaming Ping-pong table under the cover of a transparent sheet. Yes, bats, both panholder and handshake, with rubber surface, and some white balls on the floor (I accidentally stepped on one and you know the result). The space seemed tight, but big enough for the game (also less space to run around to pick up balls, which may actually take up half of the playing time at our level. But the alternate body bending, stopping, and straightening took a toll on the body nonetheless).
I started playing with Linda, trading shots, mine often off the mark, an obvious sign of a long layoff. But with time, my form gradually returned. And I was able to smash a couple of times too. Then it was Aaron's turn, Aaron being Linda's younger son. He only started playing when the table first arrived at the house. So I gave him a few pointers.
Then Victor, Linda's hubby, continued the family rotation with me. All in all, I had a forty minutes workout, enjoying both the game, in between pantings, and the perspiration, the amount of which must have equaled the total amount prior to yesterday since I arrived in Tampa. I might have exaggerated that a bit, but I truly felt lighter.
The last session was between Linda and Wify. I must admit Wify's ability at Ping-pong caught me by surprise, which I ascribed to her grounding in badminton, her first game. She hardly let out any sweat, a testimony to her better-conditioned body achieved through constant moving around tending to the house and weekly aerobics, which she started several months back.
It was such a long lapse that I have almost forgotten about the sense of wellbeing after a rigorous exercise, the body toxins having exited along with the sweats, and the heart, aerobically exercised. It was such a good feeling that Wify and I are talking about making it a regular thing, say biweekly. Let's see how that pans out.
Image courtesy of the Google people at the occasion of the 29th Olympics held in China last month, a dragon returing a shot, symbolic of the Chinese prowess in Ping-pong.