As a keen table tennis player back in the UK, I was very excited to join the local table tennis club on my first voyage out to China! They are the masters of the sport and I thought it would be a great way to make new friends and improve my game over my 6 month stay.
I remember it was my first week in China, it was winter and cold in the north east province of Shandong. I spoke NO Chinese and walking into Yantai Table Tennis Club; (a converted underground car park) was a little bit daunting.
It just happened to be the annual city championships and as the first ‘laowai’ or foreigner to have set foot in the club in its 40 year history suddenly the attention of the bustling crowd turned away from the City final and onto me, the local TV station and media stopped recording the match and interviewed me until they had used up all the questions in English that they knew.
I played at the club for the full duration of my stay in Yantai, and as a reasonable county player in the UK was often humbled (and had to stop myself from crying) after being beaten by the local cadet champion named ‘vegetable’, an 11 year old Chinese girl (now my nemesis) that could barely see over the table.
The friends I made at the club took me for a meal on every single night I played and I miss them all. My advice for anyone who has a sport or hobby in the UK is to find it in China, and you will be welcomed warmly.