Flying from Tokyo to get to Zhuhzai, China where the tournament was held, required travelling through Hong Kong. From Hong Kong, you have to take a ferry to get to Zhuhai on the mainland. This is about a 1 hour to 90 minute ride. This takes you through Hong Kong harbour. (Scenes from the HK harbour at night 1,2,3, 4,5,6 )Hong Kong has to be the most expensive place on earth to live, or at least close. a 600 sq. ft. apartment for 3-4,000 US dollars a month is pretty steep. You can see by the room service chart that $100.00 for a continental breakfast is a bit pricey. (Terry had to go through Hong Kong twice.) Cindy Leung, International Referee for the Pro Tour Finals treated a fabulous dinner one night. Hong Kong is also a fashion center.
Zhuhai is a showpiece city for mainland China. It has
wide tree lined streets and is touted as a tourist and vacation spot. This
reputation is deserved. Travel to Zhuhai is restricted for citizens of
the mainland. It requires a special permit to enter this "economic zone".
Unlike most cities in this very populous country, Zhuhai is not crowded.
The tourist and business industries are its prime source of revenue. The
Zhuhai Hotel which was host to players and officials, would be considered
a 4 to 5 star hotel anywhere in the world. The people are very friendly
and accomodations first rate. The
sign in the lobby gave an instant feeling of acceptance.
The hotel was laid out in a garden style and covered several acres. Beautiful terracing and garden waterway and sculpturing added to the ambiance. The complex was so large that "you are here" maps were placed at frequent intervals. The hall was about 15 minutes away by bus. The shuttles ran every 30 minutes. Zhuhai also had some of the best shopping found so far in all of these trips.
The playing site was perfect for table tennis. Wood floors, good lighting, plenty of space and room for about 5000 spectators. The final two days were sell out crowds. Even the preliminaries had 1-2000 in attendance for each session. For such a small city, this was quite remakable. The crowds were very knowledgeable. They were treated to the highest overall level of table tennis I have yet experianced. This includes World Championships, Olympics and all of the previous Pro Tours. The roster of players read like a who's who of table tennis. Consider the fact that Waldner and Liu Guliang (the current World and Olympic Champions) both went down in the first round!
As far as the level of the rest of the tournament, they were not missed. Feng Zhe from Shanghai provided incredible excitement for the Chinese fans, who roared at every point. The place would explode when there was a particularly good rally, and, there were a lot of those! The umpiring core was good, although it lacked the full international flavour of most Pro Tour events. Terry got to do numerous feature matches all the way through the semis. I was pencilled in to do the finals, but since no Chinese man made it, the honor went to a domestic official. Virtually all of the last two days of the event was broadcast live on two channels. One was in Mandarin the other in Cantonese. After umpiring the semis, I went out to catch the shuttle back to the hotel and was swamped by autograph seekers.
After signing hundreds of autographs (including one woman's baby!) and posing for dozens of pictures, I had to break away to catch the very last bus as it was leaving. Inside the stadium, the players were beseached by autograph seekers as well, but it was a much more controlled situation. The result postings were easy to find and read. With only 3 Chinese getting to the final 16 of the men and none reaching the finals, Chinese fans were quite shocked. Hakansson again defeated Ding Song early. Kong Linghui fell in the second round as did Yan Sen and Wang Liqin. Ma Lin, after beating Samsonov in the quarters, bowed out to Kim Taek Soo. Feng Zhe, after an incredible run that saw him beat Wakdner, Lupelesku, and Yoo Nam Kyu, finally succumbed to Zoran Primorac. Primorac went on to an easy win in the finals. Kong Linghui and Liu Guliang again won the Men's Doubles and this time Li Ju took the Women's Singles. Ryu Ji Hye and her partner again also claimed the Women's Doubles in another all Korean final.
Looking at Ryu Ji Hye, (here preparing for the finals) one has to ask, can she be the first super model of table tennis? This is perhaps something our sport needs.
I made many new freinds on this extended trip. I only hope a US official has the opportunnity to once again go to China and participate. The experiance was incredible, and I hope it can be me.