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The Love Match
By Pat Helwig

Ping pong anyone? This was a common question asked in my Chicago, Illinois home during the long winter months in the 1940’s. As soon as the first snow fell dad would set up the ping pong table in the basement. Playing this game was our entertainment. It provided fun loving competition among family and friends as well as an opportunity to practice my skills. As a grade school tournament team player with our local Chicago -land playground we met strong competition from other grade schools. Our highly coveted awards included the colored medals of gold, silver, and bronze fashioned after the Olympian way of recognition. In following the Olympian way it was exciting to witness Olympic ping pong matches on T.V. in the late 1980’s. By then my game skills were focused on bowling, my first love, after family. With the knowledge of skill levels required for winning at ping pong and the chance meeting of a master skilled player from China brings on “The Love Match” soon to be arranged.

It was mid afternoon, Labor Day in 2011as freeway travel took me to a local meeting place where a group of foreign students were waiting for their host families. This might be my supreme challenge of the year – hosting two 45 year old male teachers from Inner Mongolia, China. Would they be similar to the characters in one of my favorite movies The Lost City in Shangri-la?

My arrival as the first hosting person brought applause from the group of 35 elementary and high school teachers. All my concerns were put to rest when my two gents came forward to greet me. They were clean shaven, dressed in western attire – blue jeans, plaid shirt, and tennis shoes. A gentle bow, and a handshake followed by a good old American welcome hug brought on more applause, cheers, and lots of picture taking. My gents were the highly respected elders of this group here in the U.S.A. for the first time to attended a six week teachers seminar at a local university.

With my hosting duties in motion we were on the freeway homeward bound. When the front door of my home opened the aroma of a beef pot roast greeted us. My gents were very grateful to learn that I cook. They were tired, hungry, and thoroughly enjoyed their first American home cooked meal complete with oven roasted beef, potatoes, fresh veggies, hot rolls, salad, and chocolate cake. They spoke good English and chose the American names of Arnold and Harry which took care of my zero skills with speaking Chinese. They are family men, each married with one teenage child which made the settling into my home routine a comfortable adjustment.

Arnold is a senior high school Chinese and English teacher. He loves to cook and takes charge of his kitchen at home. His wife is a working mother and enjoys her freedom from kitchen duty. After sampling Arnold’s cooking he had the freedom of my kitchen in preparing dinner several times a week. The gents enjoyed the new flavors in my American cooking but appreciated the chance to take care of their craving for Chinese home cooking.

Harry teaches Chinese and English to the Middle School age group. He also loves to cook so took charge of all the KP duties including washing dishes.

Arnold and Harry were anxious to experience the American way. They had their lists of things to do but sports were not included. At home their teaching schedules also include boarding school duties so they have little time for personal sports activity. However, Harry remarked that the teachers and students play a game called Ping Pang every chance they get. A description of this game made me realize we know it as ping pong! The tables are always set up ready to use with a sign up list to challenge Arnold to a game. The students regard him as a master of the game since he is undefeated. Arnold confessed he loves this game! A phone call to the local Senior Center confirmed they have ping pong. We will get to play!

Arnold explained that ping pang players need to be smart and have good nerves. Also that height and strength are not necessary. Many world class champions are under 5 ft. in height. Game equipment, special shoes, and wearing apparel are available in different colors, shapes, sizes, material, weights, and coatings. There are ping pang camps for the serious players.

Joining the conversation with Arnold and his passion for ping pang brought attention to my confession for the love of my game - bowling! Harry and Arnold have never bowled. There are no bowling centers in their city. They had seen information about the game in Beijing, China but considered it too expensive to play. With the assurance of affordable prices here, they agreed to bowl a game with me. It was decided. We will go bowling and then play ping pong. We will be sharing the experience of the games we love. Harry suggested we call it “The Love Match “.

It began with a visit to the bowling center pro shop where owner Dale took the time and patience to do a show and tell for Arnold and Harry. The shoe rental was a bit difficult to explain. Why leave only one shoe with the control desk? Then find a ball to fit the fingers securely. The pink balls were the best choice. Our lane was ready to use. Two other lanes were in use near by so my gents watched the bowlers for a short time. After giving them a few basic pointers they were ready. Harry was a natural – scored 150 his first game. Arnold had trouble keeping the ball on the lane. Determined to better his score with a second game he switched bowling balls to a green color. He pointed out another bowler who was scoring well with a green ball. He did score slightly over 100 his second game. Both gents enjoyed bowling and understand my love for the game. It has been written “When you bowl, you release your inner feelings.”

The Senior Center was a short drive from home. Four ping pong tables with equipment were set up and ready. The regular players were expecting my gents and extended a very warm welcome. Arnold gave a brief history of his ping pang with a demonstration of different strokes a player may use. Everyone was anxious to play him so we rotated him around to different tables after each game. My previous playing skills were not worth mentioning. Like a novice bowler I had trouble keeping the ball on the table. He is truly a master of the game he loves.

The six week stay of my new friends Arnold and Harry from Inner Mongolia, China passed by too quickly. They enjoyed their American experiences taking home many happy stories and countless pictures to share with their families and friends. The heart felt hugs and echoing words of “thanks” and “we will never forget your kindness” help to fill the large void.

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