At a Queens Badminton Club, Hoping a Malaysian’s Olympic Whoosh Brings Gold

The sounds came in rapid-fire succession:

Whack! Whoosh! Whack! And eventually, a scream or slap of a high-five.

Inside the jam-packed the CP Badminton Club in College Point, Queens, on Saturday, 28 players spread across seven courts lunged, dived, stabbed and slammed at shuttlecocks, sending them back and forth in spirited doubles matches.

About a dozen people sat in a waiting gallery, regripping rackets, gulping down bottled water or stretching their legs before rotating back into play.

And in a corner, four men huddled around an iPad, speaking in a blend of Cantonese and Hokkien, watching one of the first badminton matches of the Olympics.

The men, all Malaysian immigrants, expressed casual interest in the contest, as Jing Yi Tee, a female Malaysian player, battled Yeon-Ju Bae, from South Korea. Ms. Bae won.

But they were fervently excited about the prospects of another Malaysian: Lee Chong Wei, one of the world’s best players and a top contender for a gold medal in London.

“I really hope he wins,” said Leon Liond, 60, who lives in Corona, Queens, taking a break from watching on the iPad. “I hope he gets the gold medal for Malaysia.”

The badminton club’s manager, Dennis Ng, 39, also originally from Malaysia, put it in more stark terms while standing in the club pro shop.

Mr. Chong Wei, he said, “is the only hope we have right now” for Olympic glory.

If that sentiment sounds melodramatic, consider that Malaysia, a badminton-crazed nation of more than 28 million, has never won a gold medal in any Olympic competition.

Malaysian competitors, in fact, have won only four medals in Olympic history: two bronze and two silver, all in badminton, a sport traditionally dominated by China, South Korea, Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, Denmark.

Mr. Chong Wei is the country’s most recent medal winner, claiming silver in Beijing in 2008. That performance earned him the designation “national hero” from the country’s deputy prime minister.

And the stakes are higher this year: a gold mine owner who owns a badminton club in Kuala Lumpur has said he will give a 27.5-pound gold bar worth more than $600,000 to any Malaysian badminton player who brings home a gold medal, and a furniture store in the country and a sports organization are both offering rewards of 1 million ringgit (about $315,000) to any Malaysian gold medalist, regardless of sport.

Mr. Chong Wei is playing his first match on Monday.

“When he is on the court, people will get around a big TV and watch,” said Jimmy Tan, 50, who was standing near the entrance to the badminton club’s pro shop with his 10-year-old son. “We’re pretty excited.”

Mr. Ng, who began playing badminton as a child in Malaysia, opened this badminton club about three years ago, believing there was a lack of sites in the city for the sport.

Several clubs – including the New York City Badminton Club, which has locations in Manhattan and Queens, and the Brooklyn Bensonhurst Badminton Club – host games in high school gyms. But the lighting in those gyms, Mr. Ng said, can make it difficult to track a flying shuttlecock, and the hardwood floors are not a traditional badminton surface.

Also, he said, he had discovered a subculture of badminton players in the city, and they wanted to be able to play every day.

“We love the sport,” he said.

So in the summer of 2008, he found a warehouse to rent in College Point. Then he imported what he said were tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of floor mats, nets and overhead lights. Several corporate sponsors helped him with the initial financing, he said.

Today, Mr. Ng, who left his job in information technology  to run the club full time, estimates he has more than 400 active members, about one-fourth of whom are Malaysian.

But, he said, his membership roll is eclectic. On Saturday, there were players from Burma, China, Jamaica and, yes, New York on the courts.

Malaysians, however, are an inevitably large part of the club, he said, since badminton is essentially the country’s national sport.

“You hardly find anyone in Malaysia who doesn’t play badminton,” he said.

And their zeal for the game was on full display on Saturday, as they took to the court, doing their best imitation of their Olympic idol, Mr. Chong Wei.

The only thing that seemed to dampen their spirits was discussing the chief obstacle Mr. Chong Wei faces in his quest for gold: Lin Dan, the Chinese player who currently sits atop the world rankings, and who defeated Mr. Chong Wei in the 2008 Olympic final.

The two are widely expected to meet again in the gold medal match on Sunday. And if that happens, said James Chong, sitting courtside between matches, there’s only one outcome that will satisfy.

“If Lin Dan wins, I’ll only watch the match once,” he said gravely, holding up his index finger.

Then he smiled.

“But if Lee Chong Wei wins,” he said, “I’ll watch and watch and watch.”

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Seeking a Stamp Without a Statement

Dear Diary:

The Chelsea post office on 23rd and 10th is so full of dysfunction, I couldn’t possibly write down every quip I overhear there.

But one woman’s recent outburst caught me completely off-guard. She went to the window and asked one of the station’s trademark surly tellers what kind of stamps they had.

“Well, we have Black History Month stamps, Disney stamps, Georgia O’Keeffe flowers — ”

“No,” the lady said. “Don’t you have any gender-neutral stamps?”

Gender neutral?

Everyone in the line started to chime in.

“Come on, lady, stop conversating!” an older woman said.

“Gender neutral? What does that mean? Like, a rock?” the teller asked the customer.

“No, a rock is too male,” a hip young man with a shaggy ’80s mullet said. “A neutered cat? A flower?”

“Too vaginal,” I said.

The lady literally spent 10 minutes at the window, debating about which stamps were the most “gender neutral.”

Finally, in a huff, she asked for a book of flags.

“You sure about those flags?” the mullet guy joked.

And the lady stomped off.


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