(Photo credit, Gary Byron Photography): Murals of President and Mrs. Nixon’s landmark voyage of peace to the People’s Republic of China are on display at South Coast Plaza.
I had always assumed that ping-pong was a relatively easy game –the activity that one plays at a party, more or less. Usually reserved as the place my mom puts the chips and dip when we entertain my friends, our ping-pong table does not receive much use. Boy, did I have a lot to learn… Outside of North America, table tennis is a worldwide phenomenon, even largely regarded to be the national sport of the People’s Republic of China.
In my three years with the Nixon Foundation, I have been privileged and honored to have been involved in planning and setting up Foundation events. In August 2009, Foundation VP Sandy Quinn and Marketing Director Anthony Curtis took me to one of their working lunches with Werner Escher, Director of International Marketing at South Coast Plaza. The conversation’s light banter drifted around many subjects, though the purpose of the lunch was to discuss and plan Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Rematch, to be held at South Coast Plaza in October. I presented Werner with a few press items from our enormously successful Ping-Pong Diplomacy event last summer to use for reference.
(Photo credit, Gary Byron Photography): Chinese dancers perform traditional dances in which they used fans emblazoned with the American flag.
I arrived at South Coast Plaza the early morning of October 17. What I would witness and be a part of that day would change my opinion of ping-pong and only strengthen my respect for the South Coast Plaza management and, of course, our team at the Foundation.
In a representation of the cooperation and trust between the U.S. and China, ten murals chronicling President and Mrs. Nixon’s historic 1972 trip to the People’s Republic served as a dramatic bridge in the Bloomingdales wing of the complex. I spoke to a gentleman, a spectator, who told me about his admiration for President Nixon, brought about as a result of the President’s landmark foreign policy initiatives, most significantly the normalization in Sino-American relations; Sandy Quinn began his remarks by echoing that sentiment.
The day began with traditional Chinese dances in which the decorative fans the dancers quickly snapped shut were emblazoned with an American flag pattern. It was truly a significant, remarkable, and poignant display, one that symbolized well the bond between our two nations.
(Photo credit: Gary Byron Photography): Spectators watch as table tennis champions compete.
But perhaps that bond would not have been established were it not for the U.S. Table Tennis team. At the start of his administration, President Nixon began sending subtle overtures to China, seeking better relations between the two nations. As it so happened, the U.S. Table Tennis team was competing in Japan in April 1971, during which they received invitations to compete against the Chinese Table Tennis team in Communist China, an extremely rare outreach to Americans by the Chinese government. The President’s messages had been received and China reciprocated via ping-pong, thus the term “Ping Pong Diplomacy” was coined. With both sides having indicated a willingness to cooperate, the Nixon administration was able to further its diplomatic efforts.
The four table tennis champions introduced at South Coast Plaza had all competed in the Olympics, representing the United States and China. As they began warming up, I was genuinely shocked by their methods of play: their stances, their positions around the table, the way they held their paddles. I never knew that so much went into it! The play-by-play commentator, ping-pong champ Adam Bobrow, whose humorous personality and upbeat attitude was on display throughout the day (just check out this video as a sample of Adam’s persona), would routinely explain procedures and different techniques the athletes were using.
Nixon Foundation Vice President Sandy Quinn (left) and Director of Marketing Anthony Curtis (right) greet Werner Escher (middle), Director of Marketing at South Coast Plaza.
Shoppers began appearing at the sidelines, and more stopped to watch two and three levels above the arena. All were mesmerized by the captivating back-and-forth. Over 2,000 spectators came to watch the Olympians, collegiate athletes, and youth challengers. A few were even lucky enough to “challenge the champs;” young and old took the paddles and tried their luck. Of the thirty or so who participated, one gentleman even defeated a champion!
Youth champions compete in front of large crowds.
Visitors both young and old alike challenged the ping pong champions as a part of the “challenge the champ” feature in the program.
The experience shared between the players, and the continued goodwill between America and China is proof of President Nixon’s vision of bringing East and West together. Hundreds of shoppers wandered between the murals, studying famous images of the trip that started it all, “the week that changed the world.”
Shoppers read the murals of President and Mrs. Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.
I invite you to visit the Bloomingdale’s wing of South Coast Plaza to view the murals of the President and First Lady’s historic trip on display through the first week of November.