It was over a week into my business trip to the Philippines and I had convinced some of my hosts to show me how table tennis is played on the other side of the world. I consider myself to be a decent player, I've played off and on most of my life and still have a table in my living room (ahhh bachelorhood), but this was the other side of the world, who knows what to expect? We convened in a well-lit basement of an otherwise-empty building. It was eerily quiet. The players were Ed, Mitch, Liz and myself. I had no idea what to expect of their abilities, but I was comforted by the presence of a girl. At least I can hit it hard at her, girls are such sissies.
Teams were arbitrarily chosen and Mitch and I were ready to compete in the showdown of the century. I felt good about having Mitch on my team when I saw him unzip his deluxe leather carrying case and remove his paddle. He is either totally serious about his game, I thought, or has terribly misplaced spending priorities. During warm ups two things became immediately evident: Liz was going to be no pushover, and these guys used a lot of crazy spin that left me looking like I was doing some sort of grotesque fan-dance.
The fact that we were playing doubles got me fired up. Doubles games back home are always the most fun because they generally include people diving on the floor or teammates colliding and going down in a heap. Of course this is all accentuated by a half-dozen beers. The one problem is that we have an odd house-rule back home where the server is allowed to play the return of serve. Why we play this rule, I have no idea, but I couldn't get it out of my head. This meant that Mitch, who I probably have 50 lbs. on, had to run through braindead Gage every time I would serve because I refused to get out of the way. Not good for team morale.
Eventually, the games began. I still felt mildly confident. I may not have all the angles, but I've got pace. Then, I started trying to return serves from Ed. Holy Christmas. The spin he was putting on his serves had me completely dumbfounded. I tried to decipher his technique and break it down logically, but it was beyond me. It was like some sort of martial art. I have no proof of this, but I swear there were kicks involved. Before I knew it, I was spraying forehands all over the room and sweating like the hulking American that I am. The first game ended just that quickly and we were down 0-1.
Before game two, I pulled Mitch aside for a little motivational talk. I finished by telling him "We're playing this one for the Western Hemisphere!" Inexplicably, that failed to inspire results and we lost game two as well. Just as I was planning drinking myself to sleep and start blaming the whole debacle on jet-lag, Mitch and I started to click. We were hitting the angles, getting some cheap ones and generally playing some pretty solid pong. Before I knew it we had rattled off three games in a row to take the lead 3-2. At this point, I considered going George Costanza on them, declaring "I'm out!" and leaving right then. Gotta go out on top. But, we were on a hot streak and they probably wouldn't get the joke, so I stayed.
The night wore on and on, much later than I had planned. The lead went back and forth and the most of the games were rather close affairs. In time, I realized that Mitch and Ed were the real glue men on their respective teams and Liz and I were, well, the girls. I can handle that. The night finally ended with Liz and Ed claiming victory 11 games to 10. I'll take it. I can tell myself that I came to Asia and held my own. Now, excuse me while I go Google "ping pong karate serves".