MY EXPERIENCES: Ping Pong Lesson

From my research trip in late 2006…

Sometimes people ask how I got a job writing about traveling. To be honest, I sorta cheated. While in Vietnam I recognized I had the opportunity to get some freebie clips — Vietnam News here craved any native-speakers to write about whatever, and accepted anything — so I basically followed Lonely Planet’s lead and tried to write up things to cure the boredom of expat life in that English-language publication. And they published them. Articles included the so-called ‘Monkey Island’ in Nha Trang, Turtle Lake roundabout in Saigon, how Goldie Hawn films were getting banned while ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (originally rated X) played in government theaters, and how to take a ping pong lesson with former champion in a small, out-of-the-way sport center a local had told me about. When I got back to the US, I banked my interview with LP on that ‘travel experience’ and got in.

I went back to the sport center today. The former champ was gone, but I asked whether or not tourists, bored with dated museums or fruit shakes in overpriced travelers cafes, couldn’t have a lesson and learn the real way to backhand a ping pong ball? Ie, Are there any other champions about? Le, a local pal from the days of ‘96, helped me with Vietnamese in a 30-minute talk with the bald director, wearing a hilltribe-style shirt. Watching was Ms Lung, who of course won a championship backin 1983, and would be happy to show us how to play. Ms Lung then took us down to the tables — nine years ago they were surrounded by giant Coca-Cola banners, now the walls were bare but for a mural of Ho Chi Minh lifting weights. She’s taught five years olds to play for 25 years (and she only looks like she’s 40). She held my arm and led it through backhand after backhand, explaining ‘don’t tighten your first — your hand should relax. Keep the paddle right in front of your stomach.’ The motion is a lot like throwing a frisbee. She lied and said I did great, as a eight-year-old at the next table practiced furied shots, as sweat stained the back of his shirt.

Let me know if you want a lesson. It’s about $5 for an hour’s worth.