Former writer passionate in promoting Ping-PongChoi Jin-gu never imagined he would actually fall in love with a sport that he used to mock ― table tennis.
But the 47-year-old, who runs a table tennis club with his wife in Janghanpyeong, eastern Seoul, said he came to love the game. Now he earns money from it and wants to elevate the game to a national sport.
Mr. Choi was seated in an umpire chair on a recent weekend while watching an open-air table tennis match in the middle of Jongno, central Seoul. The game was held on the sidewalk in front of Jongno Tower while curious passers-by stopped to watch, forming a crowd of a hundred. To the rear of Mr. Choi was a placard that read, “Free Ping-Pong tournament. Anyone can enjoy the Square Ping-Pong League.”
Every weekend in Jongno, Mr. Choi turns into an umpire, a sports anchor and the only organizer of the street game people consider amusing to watch as it takes place amidst office buildings.
With a very professional sports anchor-like voice, he spoke into a microphone encouraging one of the players, who was losing by 1: 9. “O.K., so the next time you make a point, you earn eight points,” he said. Some from the audience booed while some cheered.
“I try to give many people a chance to win so they feel happy when they are playing,” he said after umpiring a series of games. “My message is that anyone can have fun when they play Ping-Pong.”
Once a freelance scriptwriter for entertainment TV shows, he said he felt his health was deteriorating, as he stayed up all night working or drinking “all for show biz.”
His wife had been running the club, but he refused to play a “sissy sport.” He enrolled at a health club instead to lose weight without much luck.
“But when I started Ping-Pong, I lost 16 kilograms (35 pounds) in less than one year,” he said. “I now weigh 62 kilograms.”
Finding the sport attractive, he started helping his wife. Six years later, they started a franchise together, and then he wanted others to know the value of the sport. He received permission from the Jongno Tower owners to hold free table tennis games and received sponsorships from local sports equipment shops.
“I am thinking of holding our first beach Ping-Pong tournament this summer,” he said. “We will show that Ping-Pong can be just as fun and sexy as beach volleyball.”
by Lee Min-a