I called Norm tonight. As an international referee1, he’s a fixture in the Ottawa table tennis community, and runs one of the recreational venues in the city. I’ve been trying to get in shape for a big project that’ll have me running around a bunch of camera gear, and since I’ve given up on finding decent Tai Chi instruction for now, it made sense that I go back to the only cardio exercise that didn’t bore me out of my mind.
I haven’t been to this club — or played any kind of table tennis, for that matter — in about five years. I missed it as much as I miss makeouts, and it’s probably been about just as long. The only people who were still there were Norm and his wife, Virsanna, as well as two hoary old ladies who must be in their 80s but still manage to keep up with the rest of us, their teal sweatpants adorably pulled up past their bellies.
With a firm handshake, Norm asked what was new, and all I could muster was a same old. I couldn’t figure out how I would explain the last five years to him. I went through therapy, got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, started learning guitar and how to sing, had my first exhibition, quit my Tai Chi studio, fell in love, started a video production business…how was I going to sum all this up in the time it took to set up the tables?
Although I’m a completely different person now, at the same time it feels like I’ve come full circle. There was this brief period around 2004 when I started playing with this group. I was living on the 16th floor on Island Park, just starting my career, between relationships, and simply happy. Now it feels like I’m back there again, living aimlessly, with no need for hope cause I’ve come to accept that life is what it is.
And of course the first thing Virsanna said on seeing me is that I got thinner and I need to eat more, as is the habit of Chinese mothers. Also, “You’re married now, right?”, which is something older Asian women tend to assume about me, much to my bemusement.
Two hours of playing felt like 15 minutes, leaving me feeling reaffirmed and ravenously hungry, so I asked them if they wanted to grab a bite to eat to catch up. We headed out to a nearby Chinese restaurant for siu yeh.
I was never close to them, but Chinese parents are rarely close to their kids anyway, and we picked up where we left off. When I started building my relationship with my dad after the divorce, I hadn’t talked to him for a few years, but we continued in the same manner the first time I saw him.
It was great to observe them. Mom speaks Chinese cause she’s familiar with it and wants to encourage you to keep it, dad speaks English to show that he’s capable and adapted to the Canadian way of life. As for me, I stick with English simply out of habit, breaking into Chinese when an expression is much nicer and can’t be translated. They choose the tea, make orders from the menu, pack the leftovers in the box for me. They even bicker like my parents every now and then. For the first time, it felt like I had some family in Ottawa.
- Basically a level 7 umpire, which is the highest level, meaning he officiates the top matches like the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. [↩]