I LOVE stories. Stories are the very essence of understanding the human condition. Stories pull at our emotions, awaken our senses and make us feel human. Stories romanticise our memories, making us feel we have a fulfilling life.
A good story can be the stuff of legends. It all depends on how the storyteller brings it alive, creates a captivating setting, heightens tension and depicts memorable characters with a big meaningful lesson that will last through the ages at the story’s end.
Here’s a little story I have. Recently, I signed up for my secondary school’s alumni ping-pong tournament for fun.
I’m not a good player and so did not have a proper ping-pong bat (enthusiasts call it a paddle or blade but hey, I’m calling it a bat like I always have). So, I asked around about getting one and a friend told me of this specialist ping-pong shop in Pertama Complex, Kuala Lumpur.
I got excited. I haven’t been to Pertama Complex for decades. And, I haven’t been to a shop dedicated to all things ping-pong.
So, I went to Pertama. When I stepped into the mall it was as if time had stood still. I felt like I was in a time warp and I was in secondary school clothes all over again hanging out in Pertama. Nothing seemed to have changed. The same jeans were being sold, the same sports stuff were being hawked and the same coffeeshop menus were on display.
I started walking slowly, looking for the ping-pong shop, passing numerous shops and up and down stairs deep into the belly of Pertama.
I couldn’t find the shop. I picked up my pace, turned a few more corners, doubled back as I hit dead ends, walked up and down more stairs. Still I couldn’t find it.
I was about to give up when I made a left turn into a dimly-lit corridor of sign-less shops. Left and right were plain doors that had names like “Trading This” and “Wholesale That”. I sensed the companies behind these doors must be very old ones, unchanged since they started business. I felt like I was walking into a faded 1970s photograph.
I looked left and stopped dead in my tracks. I saw windows with the most amazing pictures of all things ping-pong. There wasn’t any sign. Just a door. It had to be the ping-pong shop. I took a deep breath and opened the door slowly.
The door creaked as I stepped into a majestic world of ping-pong. Under a “mystical” dim light, bats, blades and paddles of all shapes, sizes and colours were hanging from the walls and old wooden cabinets. All kinds of ping-pong accessories were displayed in glass cabinets filled with other seemingly magical ornaments. I felt like I was in a ping-pong version of Ollivander’s Wand Shop in Harry Potter. As I walked further in, three curious heads looked up from behind piles of ping-pong paraphernalia on an old counter. They appeared to be working on mysterious things.
An old uncle stepped out and walked slowly to me with a slight world-weary limp.
“Ah, son. You are looking for something?” he said.
“I am looking for a ping-pong paddle,” I replied. (I didn’t want to use a novice term like ‘bat’). “I am a beginner. I use a pen-hold grip.”
He smiled. “Let me see,” he said. I pretended to hold an invisible ping-pong bat.
He looked at my hand, touched my thumb and third finger slightly and announced: “Chinese. Not Japanese”.
He looked into my questioning eyes and said: “You must use Chinese pen-hold. That is best for you”.
He went up a little wooden stepladder and reached up to the top of a stack of ping-pong blades (blades are bats without rubbers attached I found out). He felt a few blades and then with a knowing look, settled for one, pulling it out of the stack.
He then walked towards me and said: “Son, this blade fits you.”
He showed me a beautiful blade made of cork and the smoothest wood you can find.
I bowed slightly as I took the blade. It was like a ping-pong wizard was bestowing a ping-pong blessing on me that would accompany me in my ping-pong battles for ages to come.
“That needs to be matched with the right rubber that suits your style so you have the ultimate weapon,” he said.
“Uncle, I’m an attacking….,” I said but he stopped me. “You … are a defensive player. You cannot attack. Focus on allowing the other player to make mistakes,” he continued.
I felt so small at that moment.
“Here, son. This one. Feel it,” he said. I felt a Japanese-made rubber that felt heavenly, deep and strong enough to neutralise any attacking spin. He took the rubber and bat, and skilfully cut the rubber into the right shape with his bare hands, and glued it masterfully onto the bat. It was beautiful to watch. He handed the finished bat to me carefully.
“This will keep you in good stead for a long time. Keep it well. And it will serve you loyally,” he concluded.
I bowed and walked backwards, head down, out of the shop.
As I entered the dim light of the corridor, I looked at the bat and felt a strong sense of pride in my new possession. And, what an experience that was.
Ok. I have to admit it. In my penchant for romanticising my memories, I may have over-dramatised what happened.
Here’s what actually happened.
I went to Pertama, ran up some stairs, turned into the corridor, found the shop. It’s windows were filled with worn-out posters.
The shop was a mess. There were three people. One watching TV, one playing with her phone. An old uncle looked at me. I asked, “You got bat for beginner? Pen-hold”.
He said, “Chinese? Japanese?”
I shrugged. He showed me both, “Whatever also ok.”
I chose Chinese.
He then said “Rubber how?” I shrugged.
He pointed to a stack of rubbers and said: “Just choose lor. Anyone also can.”
I chose one randomly. He took the rubber and cut it into a shape with a huge rusted blade rather fast and scarily, and glued it onto the bat, wiping excess glue with a dirty towel.
I walked out of the shop and realised I had just spent RM300.
I like my first version of the story better. It’s more romantic. And, at least it would feel like the RM300 was worth it. Now, that’s a lesson that will last through the ages.
**The writer works in the production of TV, film and music content and gets panicky trying to figure out his next tweet