From Lester Holt, Weekend TODAY
I'm not sure how to say "I've got next" in Mandarin, but the street ball players I encountered at a city park here in Beijing this weekend got my message. The next thing I knew I was taking on all-comers, hoping to show a few ball handling moves from the States they may not be wise to. Turns out they've seen it all. They even had trash talking down to perfection, though admittedly they could have just as easily been talking about the weather. You know. That language thing again.
The game, by the way, is not basketball, but ping pong. Yes, that's what they call it, not table tennis like they do over at the Olympic venue. Ping pong is a national pastime here, and city parks are filled with tables in much the way you would find blacktop basketball courts in city parks across America. It's pick-up ball, Beijing style.
|Petra Cahill / msnbc.com|
|Li Chang Jiang, 56, reaches for a shot during a ping pong match in Chaoyang Park, Beijing on Aug. 12.|
I fancy myself an above average ping pong player, and more then held my own against a 12-year-old kid, a middle age housewife and a guy who looked to be pushing 60. There is no generational divide in this sport. Everyone here plays. All of them politely insisted they were playing me as tough as they possibly could and that they thought I was "very good." I suspected they were being excessively polite. I was right. Once I got out of the way, the regulars took to the table and attacked the ball at lightning speeds. No way I could stand toe to toe with any of them if they chose to play their "A" game against me. But I appreciate their efforts to make me look good while the camera was rolling.
I plan to show a little of my ping pong adventure next weekend on TODAY. In the meantime, I plan another outing without the camera in tow, where I hope they'll play me a little tougher and teach me some Beijing moves I can unleash on my more modest opponents back in New York.