Thursday, May 12, 2011

The worst pool tables in the world?

Open air pool tables used to be a common sight in China when I first visited here (yikes - 17 years ago!), but this is a phenomenon that has been rapidly fading out - at least in the major cities - over the last 5 or 10 years.

Naturally, such tables, exposed constantly to the elements, offer a unique set of challenges to the player. 

In areas prone to heavy rain, plastic sheeting may be thrown over them during particularly heavy downpours - but otherwise, covers are a rarity. A damp flannel - of the kind used for every domestic clean-up operation in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and other small businesses here: one flannel to wipe them all - may sometimes be employed to clean some of the dust and dead insects off the baize; but that's about all these tables would ever receive in the way of maintenance. Warped by extremes of heat and cold, dry and damp, faded by exposure to the sun, ingrained with the accumulated grime and grit of months or years spent beside busy main roads, sagging, creaking, slowly but inexorably collapsing.... Well, you don't know local idiosyncrasies until you've tried to play on a roadside table in China!  (I have particularly fond memories of playing on one such table with a gang of young locals - not a word of each other's language between us, only the universal communion of the game - in a small town square on Mulanshan during that first visit of mine in 1994. Having painstakingly worked out the massive drifts and irregular cushion bounce, I managed to pull off a spectacular win against the would-be hotshot of the group, coming back from four or five balls down, and seeing off the black with a flamboyant double into the middle bag. Ah, those were the days!)

So, I get a little nostalgic for these tables. And I haven't spotted one in Beijing for some years now. But the other day, I happened upon four of them together, ranged alongside Shuangqing Lu, a little north of Wudaokou - no doubt once a bustling focal point of the modest local nightlife, but now forlorn and abandoned beside a HUGE building site. As you can see, they are quite literally falling apart: cloth, legs, and pockets bandaged with swathes of duct tape; and they have great ridges of sand and masonry fragments accumulated under the lee of the cushions.


I would have given anything for one quick game, though...

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