25 November 2010

House of Pong

There is at least one Lithuanian family who places ping pong far above basketball and they happen to own a hotel in the town of Joniškis, where we stopped for a night before driving across the border to Latvia. We're really not sure how much business the place gets, probably reliant upon local weddings that bring guests in from out of town.
The receptionist, who quickly shooed away the nine year old boy who was playing computer games at the check-in desk and initially greeted us, walked us through the dark lobby of the third floor to show us our room. We could make out a very small ping pong table and knew that display cases lined the walls, but once she left, we went back, found some light switches and discovered a veritable museum of Lithuanian table tennis.
There were stuffed dolls made in the image of famous table tennis players I had never heard of and signed portraits of Olympic pongers from around the world. Old magazines, newspaper clippings and artifacts like these proved this was the work of someone with an interest that spanned years or who had a very high buyer rating on Ebay.
A security camera must have tipped our hostess off to our exploration, because not soon after we began to snap pictures, she came back up the stairs with a big smile on her face. "You play?" we asked and gestured. "My family. A lot." She replied with a bashful pride that hinted she may be downplaying her own accomplishments. In fact, we were pretty sure this was her on the right. The signature on our receipt when we checked out verified it. Her name matched the portrait and the surrounding plaques and trophies.
Sure enough, on the morning we checked out, the man on the left showed up as well. It seemed like he came in only to greet the young couple who were "interested in my museum" as he put it. He was very insistent upon us using the table and looking at it some more and it was difficult to communicate that we were actually about to hit the road. He explained that "all the medals" were his and his grandsons and when I said "wow, that's a lot," he replied, "No. There are only a little up there. I have drawers more of them."
He was a player, but is now just a trainer and a coach, he said. A lot of the 'exhibit' was dedicated to high school pongers and the hallways had children's drawings depicting matches. When I googled the couple's last name "Franckaitiene," I found only that they organized the 9th Annual Baltic Veteran Table Tennis Championships. However, if Lithuania winds up taking the ping pong world by storm, I believe we will all have the Franckaitienes to thank.

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