I arrived in Taipei a couple of years after Nixon's Ping Pong Diplomacy Initiative, which eventually led to America's recognition of the People's Republic of China and the dissolution of diplomatic relations with the Republic of China in Taiwan. Some of us have pretty strong opinions about that, but I'll not go into them here.
No, my topic today is about the game itself. As a kid growing up in Ohio, I knew what ping pong was, of course. It was a game where you fastened a net to your parents' dinette table and then used paddles to gently lob a little ball back and forth over the net. Though there was a way to keep score, we just tried to see how many taps we could make before the ball missed the table.
Well, at USTDC I learned how the game was really played and it had nothing to do with lobbing the ball gently back and forth. No, this was the US Navy version of Smash-Mouth Ping Pong. Apparently sailors have a fair amount of free time at sea, and it's not like they can go into town and do some window shopping or anything, so many of them dedicate their lives to beating whoever stands across the ping pong table into submission.
We had a table at TDC and would sometimes spend our lunch hours playing the game. I can't say that I ever got to be as skilled as most of those guys, but I did get good enough to beat most of those I played in the years after I left Taipei.
Just across the parking lot from TDC was a fairly primitive Chinese military building with an open air recreation room. We could sometimes see the Chinese troops playing ping pong over there. By the way, this was the same facility from which the troops used to march out to raise and lower their flag, as I discussed in my Flag Raising post.
One day, one of the best players (Navy guy, of course) from TDC told us that he was going to go over and challenge them to some games. He usually wiped the floor with the rest of us and I guess he figured he'd just expand his area of conquest.
We later asked him how it went and he said that he played some games and did pretty well. But he noticed that there was one guy who just leaned back against the wall and watched him play. After our guy had beaten some of their guys, this observer stepped up to the table and picked up a paddle. To make a long story short, that was pretty much the end of our guy's dominance of the Chinese military in the ping pong department.
I believe he told us that he was going to keep going back there to play, but I'm pretty sure he never did. I can't say that I blamed him.