Masters of paddles

Erin Hale

Institute members tell Erin Hale about how they have maintained their passion for table tennis through the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs’ Table Tennis Interest Group, and why its rapid-fire nature requires both mental and physical endurance

While training as a chartered accountant in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, Joseph Wan FCPA and a friend from Hong Kong joined a table tennis league to keep up their favourite sport far from home. Although he was a young student, Wan had already clocked in competitive experience from his school years. “I got really addicted to the game as a student and played every day – before and after lessons at school. Though I was very passionate, I did not have the opportunity like today’s youngsters who have formal coaches to teach them. I just played with many good players and tried to learn from them,” remembers Wan, a retiree, of his time as a Hong Kong student.

When he arrived in the U.K. with a classmate, he recalls: “We joined the club and played at the fourth division out of six, but together the two of us we were able to elevate the club’s team to the top of the league – its premier division – in only two years. Normally, it would take them four years to get there. We won every single match when we played in those lower divisions, so it was a quantum leap to the premier division.”

Joseph Wan FCPA, who is retired, joined the Table Tennis Interest Group in 2019.

After completing his training, Wan faced new responsibilities as he moved back and forth between the U.K. and Hong Kong. After returning to Hong Kong for good several years ago, Wan decided to pick up his former passion by joining the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs’ Table Tennis Interest Group (TTIG) in 2019. “Since I joined the TTIG, I have had the opportunity of representing the Institute at competitions. I always play to the best of my ability,” he says.

Wan isn’t solely focused on winning or losing, but rather knowing how to play against different competitors. “What I enjoy most in table tennis is really the focus required to learn about your opponent’s playing style very quickly in order to win points, because every time you play somebody new you don’t know his or her style,” Wan says. “You really need to quickly observe from the start of the match what their strengths and weaknesses are in order to score points.”

“Since I joined the TTIG, I have had the opportunity of representing the Institute at competitions. I always play to the best of my ability.”

Chan Ka Yan CPA, Manager at PwC, joined the TTIG in 2020.

An alluring hobby  

For Wan and many members of the TTIG, the game has been a lifelong hobby that has drawn them in because of its unique physical and mental challenges. For others, it is an emerging interest and one that quickly takes hold through regular practice sessions.

Chan Ka Yan CPA only joined the interest group in June 2020, but she has already become a committed player. “When I was little, I just played [table tennis] for leisure. After working from day to night for some years, I wanted to develop my interest, which is why I started playing again since last year. Now I’m more passionate about table tennis and improve by attending regular private lessons,” says Chan, Manager at PwC.

“Whenever I get more points from the same player [after competing several times], I know I have improved and feel a great sense of achievement. The most challenging point is squeezing in time from work to practice. Sometimes I feel very tired after a long day of work, but if you’re passionate about something, nothing is impossible.”

Besides joining Institute’s regular weekly sessions, Chan competed in an open table tennis tournament in May and made it to the quarter-finals. For her it was a proud moment, having only been playing seriously for less than two years and with all the stress of a full-time job. “Though I have missed the golden time to train, I wish to gain more experience now and do my every best to strive for better results,” she says.

Going forward, Chan says a major goal will be working on her footwork with her coach, a skill that she says will allow her to move more efficiently during matches.

“Sometimes I feel very tired after a long day of work, but if you’re passionate about something, nothing is impossible.”

Chan Yuen Lam CPA, Assistant Manager at KPMG, joined the TTIG in 2013.

A dynamic challenge 

Chan Yuen Lam CPA has played table tennis for as long as she can remember. She was introduced to the sport at the age five and kept on playing, even through university, and joined the TTIG in 2013. She says the game has been a great way to keep her reflexes sharp while providing a fresh challenge from each game to the next.

“It’s a very quick and dynamic two-player game. Sometimes you play well, but other times it’s impossible to hit the ball, for example, if it touches the net and suddenly changes direction. The outcome depends on how responsive you are to that sudden change,” says Chan, Assistant Manager at KPMG.

But the uncertainty and fast pace of each table tennis game adds to the thrill. “Sometimes you think you are going to lose if the opponent is at a good position to attack or hit you, but then suddenly he or she might hit the ball out or hit the net. You never know where the ball is going,” she says.

Chan says she also enjoys the social element of the sport, such as playing with co-workers on her company team as well as at the TTIG’s practice sessions. On past business trips, she has also found table tennis to be a great icebreaker with new acquaintances, especially when there may be a language barrier. “On overseas business trips, I have met a lot of colleagues from different countries, but not all of them could speak English very well. So after work, I would invite them to play table tennis. It’s not difficult to find a table tennis facility in some bars, restaurants or hotels,” she says.

”Sometimes you play well, but other times it’s impossible to hit the ball, for example, if it touches the net and suddenly changes direction.”

Wong Wai Yee CPA, in 2007 having won the women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles at the Institute’s table tennis tournament. She rejoined the TTIG in 2019.

Returning to the team 

The social side of table tennis has also been a major draw for Wong Wai Yee CPA, who has recently been able to return to the game. Like many of her fellow CPAs, Wong also began playing as a student in Hong Kong and always made time to practice and compete, even as a busy working adult. She swept the Institute’s very first table tennis tournament in 2007 by winning the women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles games.

But then, 12 years ago, she suffered a brain haemorrhage, forcing her to quickly reassess her priorities as she juggled recovery from brain surgery with family and career responsibilities. Despite her love for table tennis, she put it on hold until 2019, when she rejoined the TTIG as part of her rehabilitation.

As part of that journey, Wong says table tennis has helped her to get exercise without overstraining herself and also return to a more active social life after putting other priorities first for many years. “It was a good decision. I decided to reach out to my professional peers after closing myself off for so many years. I’m healthier and happier now, and table tennis has been a positive contribution to my health,” Wong says. “While I played quite intensively before, now I try to see how much I can catch up with my peers’ intensity, without the cost of physical and mental pain. I get social benefits, health benefits and the sport also helps me to reduce my stress.”

While Wong has a table tennis machine that allows her to practice at home, she has also enjoyed meeting her teammates, who have offered her advice on how to improve or where to get a massage when the game leaves her feeling sore. “I don’t rely on winning to make me feel happy. I would rather enjoy whatever I commit to and take part in, and enjoy the process instead of only focusing on the result. I get a second chance to live again now, so I want to enjoy my life – enjoyment is more important than winning to me, personally,” she says.

“I’m healthier and happier now, and table tennis has been a positive contribution to my health.”

Kelvin Lam CPA joined the TTIG in 2013.

Low impact exercise  

Kelvin Lam CPA also returned to playing table tennis after a lengthy gap and some health problems stemming from a sedentary lifestyle. “I started playing table tennis in primary school and continued to play in secondary school. I joined the school team and played in interschool competitions, but after I graduated from high school I stopped playing. I only recently started to play again,” says Lam, who joined the TTIG in 2013. “Some time ago, I started experiencing some back pain due to a lack of exercise – I wanted to strengthen my muscles, which is why I started playing again.”

Lam also participates in many of the TTIG’s practice sessions. Though new players are always welcome, he encourages anyone starting from scratch to consider hiring a coach to teach them the correct moves in the beginning.

“There are lots of moves to learn in table tennis, and a coach can help you to learn moves such as like serving, receiving, looping and smashing. It’s not an easy sport if you want to play well, but a coach can help you improve quicker,” he says.

Lam adds that an instructor could also help players trying to improve their game. “After you reach a certain level, it’s not easy to break through and reach the next stage. I think that any athlete will encounter that,” he says.

“It’s not an easy sport if you want to play well, but a coach can help you improve quicker.”

Joining the team 

Aside from providing an outlet for passionate table tennis players to play and improve, the interest group is also a way for CPAs of all ages to make new friends and socialize outside of work. Practice sessions are booked by the Institute and take place either on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon.

“I practice weekly with the TTIG,” says Wan. “On top of that I have also joined another table tennis interest group with a mixed group of people from different walks of life and different professions. I try to play table tennis two to three times every week and get to know new people and new friends through these interest groups.”

Chan Yuen Lam says players shouldn’t feel intimidated about joining the interest group, even if they are new to the game or returning after a hiatus. “Just bring your paddle. It’s not something hard to learn, and with constant practice, you’ll be able to master the moves as well. Everyone knows we are all at a different stage of mastering table tennis, so it’s all very friendly,” she adds. “Most CPAs in Hong Kong have quite a stressful life, so I think table tennis is a convenient way for us to take a couple of hours out of every week to do some sports and relax. I would strongly recommend members, especially female members, to join our table tennis team.”

The Institute’s Table Tennis Interest Group is open to all members interested in the sport. For more information on all 15 of the sports and recreational interest groups, please visit the Institute’s website.

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