In Zhengzhou, the ping pong tables are made of concrete. The nets are made of rusted metal. I was late to the game. The afternoon Tui Na massage had put me in a blissed-out state of mind and I was more than comfortable in my dorm room bed. But Niko and Eric were messaging on WeChat (the end all, be all of Chinese communications apps) and ready for a game. I told them I’d be down in a minute. After all, we had just bought an electric herb pot and chrysanthemum buds. Some ju hua tea would help with yesterday’s smog, which was drying out all of our sinuses.
I eventually made it down to the ping pong tables. There were around six of them, all packed together in the corner of the athletics area. Besides ping pong, the school’s campus had basketball courts, a quarter mile track, a soccer field, some jungle gym looking structures, a net for badminton, and even croquet. It was Saturday afternoon and busy, the whole area filled with neighborhood locals.
Niko was playing a Chinese guy who said that he came with a friend to watch basketball at the courts. He was eager to give up the paddle and watch us play. The concrete tables are cool because you can slam the ball and the concrete will absorb a lot of the bounce. The only problem is there’s no net-balls – you know, when the ball hits the net and rolls over to the other side. Instead, you just get denied with a metallic rattle as the ball comes flying back at you.
There were a few rockstars out there. One older guy showed up with his own net and set up a game. He played like a fencer, snapping his wrist and spinning the ball. He’d lose a point and laugh. There were also little kids playing each other and little kids playing their parents. Some college guys played doubles. As Niko said, ping pong heaven.
One part of me thinks this is the calm before the storm of clinic shifts, hospital rounds, and obligations, but I’m pretty sure that’s just stressed-out San Francisco slowly leaving my system. Yes, we learn about schedules and departments on Monday. Yes, I’ve heard from other foreign students that they may work 6-7 days a week depending on the doctor. Then I look out my window and see grandparents practicing taiji in the park. I remember the smiling faces of back alley noodle cooks, the tattoo artist with beautiful black and white sketches of Buddha and Guan Yu, and – could I forget? – the blue sky we thought we’d never see.
No, things are looking good in Henan. We’re off to a great start.