"gooney bird" had tired old wings and flight fatigue, but it had
upholstered seats. The general did not like bucket seats—he traveled slowly but
in comfort. Not that the general was a softy. Why, just some months before our
visit, Herwald Lawrence had tacked on the Club's bulletin board a clipping from
The New York Times
that quoted the general: "The Korean conflict has shown
us that our soldiers are too soft. From now on, we're going to toughen them up.
We don't want an army of checker players and Ping-Pong players at the front
So when Hugo and
I were lucky enough to hitch a ride to Hong Kong on the general's DC-3, I made
Hugo stow his racket in his shirt (he never trusted it with the baggage), and I
put as many seats as possible between us and the general. In 1953, before it
was remodeled, a landing at Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport was a delicate matter.
The approach was made, during daylight only, by banking steeply between two
picturesque but unresilient knolls and, once committed, the pilot either landed
then—or not at all. I was grateful, therefore, when we touched down and taxied
toward the terminal. Grateful, that is, until I saw what awaited us. To the
general, Hugo and I were merely two unidentified civilians hitching a ride, but
to the Hong Kong Table Tennis Association, apprised of our arrival by my cable
from Tokyo, we were VIPs. I was U.S. champion, and table tennis was then, and
still is, the No. 1 sport in the Far East. To greet us, the Association had
brought down 300 school kids in assembly dress, and there they were just behind
the guardrail of the terminal. At their head, two young girls struggled to
support a mammoth bouquet of flowers and off to the side a 30-piece brass band
watched its leader's poised baton. The "gooney bird" parked and, as the
general and his party and Hugo and I walked toward the guardrail gate, half a
dozen photographers began their routine and the two little girls broke through
and placed their load of blooms in Hugo's arms. The band erupted into the
At that moment I
heard the vigorous voice of the general snap a question to his aide:
"Lieutenant, find out who those men are and what they're doing
Hugo heard it,
too. He pushed aside a dozen long stems of gladioli and poked that face
through. "We're here to play table tennis, sir," he offered.
players?" the general asked incredulously.
sir, there's a diff—"
against the Hong Kong team the inimitable Batzlinger made his international
table-tennis debut. For his very first match Hugo was unexpectedly pitted
against a ringer from Taiwan, Chen Pao-Po, the Asian champion. Normally, a shot
at the Asian champion would have sparked Hugo to ecstasy, but Chen Pao-Po was
Asian women's champion. Miss Chen happened to be in Hong Kong getting the slits
of her sheaths lengthened for the fall season, and the Association had asked
her to play. Hugo was irate.
nerve," he said. "Imagine having me play a girl. Do they think I'm a
easy, Hugo," I said, scanning a crowd of 5,000 Oriental table-tennis
connoisseurs in the drafty, uncovered arena. "Look at that crowd. Chen's
good for the gate."