Paddling On, He Found a New Career

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Paddling On, He Found a New Career

Gu Ja-deok refused to let old age turn him into a coach potato. As he hit his 70s and started pondering what to do with the remaining years of his life, the idea of sitting at home for the rest of his golden years did not strike his fancy.

"I'm healthy, of sound mind and body," said Mr. Gu, a wiry gentleman with sinewy, deceptive-looking muscles. In 1999, he turned the basement of a four-story building near Sinchon into Sinchon Kyobo Table Tennis.

The facility has three rooms - an office, a living room-sized practice room and a smaller beginner's room. The main practice room snugly holds three blue Champion Super 3000 tables.

Grabbing a paddle in his right hand, and holding a plastic ball in his left, Mr. Gu bends forward slightly and sends a serve across the table. He ends in perfect position - right arm raised in a salute. It's hard to now imagine him inactive.

Mr. Gu retired - from the Korea Oil Strategy Co. - in the early 1970s. The company had several table tennis tables and Mr. Gu used to play with coworkers, even entering company competition now and then and winning.

After retiring, Mr. Gu tried several odd jobs, and even volunteered at a hospital for almost 10 years. The jobs were not fulfilling, and Mr. Gu kept thinking back to his takgu, or table tennis, days and how much fun he had had.

"As I got older, I also started thinking about my generation," he said, pointing to two elderly couples. "You can play table tennis leisurely and still get exercise. It's great for people my age."

On a nearby table, Lim Yae-seon is playing with a quiet concentration. Two months ago, she and her husband, Kim Myeong-hoe, began driving 30 minutes to play at Sinchon. A diabetic, Ms. Lim had a blood sugar level of 230, which has fallen to 140 since she began playing table tennis. "My doctors are amazed," Ms. Lim said. "I feel fabulous."

As another player walks down the stairs, voices call out, "Where have you been? We haven't seen you in a while."

Mr. Gu spends most of his time presiding over this community he helped create. Old and young play side by side. Retirees and children play during the day. Office workers visit during breaks throughout the workday. The busiest hours are from 7 to 10 p.m., when professionals, college students from nearby Ehwa Womans University and Yonsei University and married couples visit for a game at a nominal fee.

At 11 p.m., Mr. Gu begins to lock up. As he does, he says he often thinks how great retirement is.

For more information, call 3273-3350.

by Joe Yong-hee

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