Pingpong Around London, Anytime and at No Cost

Dozens of pingpong tables, located in surprising locations, are ready for play.

ByJENNA BARNES
July 26, 2010, 6:56 AM

LONDON, July 26, 2010 -- Ding dong, London: Pingpong has arrived.

Britain's capital city has been decked out with 100 pingpong tables and anyone is free to play. The month-long event, Ping! London, aims to connect people to each other and to the city through a little friendly competition, creative director Colette Hiller said.

She said she brought table tennis to London because she believes the sport crosses age barriers and social divides, giving the players, whether novice or pro, a "shared purpose."

Take a look at any of the tables and it seems she is right. Parents play with their little ones at the Museum of Natural History in Kensington. A French boy and a Korean girl argue about a score while they await their trains at St. Pancras International station. And a Chinese table tennis coach gives a spontaneous lesson to Tate Modern museum employees along the River Thames.

"It's brilliant," said Shu Huang, the coach, who has been playing pingpong for 30 years. "It's the best way to develop table tennis."

And with planned social events such as "Singles for Singles," Ping! may foster the development of even more than the sport's popularity.

The tables, fit with paddles and balls, are located in touristy areas, such as Covent Garden, and many lesser known spots, such as seemingly random pubs.

"I wanted to do it mostly in surprising places," Hiller said, adding that her favorite Ping! spot is the departure terminal at Heathrow airport.

"It turns a waiting area into an entertainment area," she said.

Ping! was spearheaded by Sing London, an organization that placed pianos and songbooks throughout London last year.

Surprisingly, Hiller said, the musical equipment was returned in tact.

She expects the same result after this year's event, but Ping! is prepared for the worst: There are 4,000 paddles and 60,000 balls for the 100 tables.

The extra equipment is impressive, said Thom Harvey, who played table tennis in his dorm at the University of Manchester. He stumbled upon a table after a visit to the Tate Modern and said it was refreshing to be able to start a game without having to worry about missing paddles or balls.

The notion that the tables are ready and waiting for players was a Ping! priority, Hiller said.

Coming to America?

A New York native who came to London with the original Broadway cast of "Annie," Hiller said she wants to bring events such as Ping! to U.S. cities, where she believes there is an even greater sense of "public spirit."

But Ping! will start with a three-year tour of the United Kingdom before returning to London in 2012 for the summer Olympics.

"It creates miles of smiles," Hiller said.

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