By Ted Lerner
WPA Press Officer
Photos Courtesy Jin/my147.com & Alison Chang
(Guilin, China)–Visitors to China, especially those traveling here for events, conferences, trade shows, and other gatherings are often left in awe at the over-the-top hospitality that their Chinese hosts generously put on offer. This is especially true prior to the event beginning as attendees can find themselves being treated to lavish meals, cultural performances, sometimes copious amounts of fire-starting alcohol, long winded and important sounding speeches by dignitaries, and plenty of good natured back slapping and glad handing.
I have been to China perhaps one dozen times over the last five years to cover pool tournaments. The size of the welcome is not always the same prior to the beginning of a tournament, as it depends on who is promoting the event. One thing you can be sure of in China, however, is that the organizers will want to make an impression. The word “small” doesn’t seem to translate well when it comes to hospitality in the world’s most populous nation.
I had an inkling something big was in the works when I arrived at the quiet and clean Guilin airport yesterday. As I walked past the disinterested customs guys, I was met by a friendly English speaking university student volunteer holding a large placard with my name on it.(It was by far the biggest sign amongst the few people waiting for arriving passengers.)
Cindy, as she called herself, escorted me to a brand new, large black Mercedes, where a smart looking chauffer in a crisp black suit took my bag. I stretched my tired legs out, which didn’t even get close to the front seats, and we headed off for the 30 minute ride to the hotel.
As we entered Guilin proper, I noticed the tarpaulin banners attached to every single light post advertising the “2014 Women’s World 9-ball Championship,” accompanied by a photo featuring the three big stars of Chinese women’s pool; the 2007 champion Pan Xiaoting in the front, flanked by the 2010 champion Fu Xiao Fang, and the current champion Han Yu.
The lobby of the 5-star Guilin Grand Bravo Hotel was bustling with activity but what caught my attention was the slick videos playing over and over on the television near the entrance. One video featured nine sexy Chinese girls, each wearing tight shorts and colored shirts identical to the color of the pool balls- with matching numbers of course- dancing provocatively around the various sites of Guilin. In another video, images of a ballet dancer were intertwined with those of Fu Xiao Fang, dressed in an elegant black outfit. As Fu hit a jump shot in super slow motion, the ballet dancer then leaped in slow motion. As Fu performed a masse shot, the ballet dancer pirouetted in a similar fashion as the spinning ball.
Women’s pool in China is not just a sporting contest. It is also a fashion show, a marketing vehicle, a chance to doll-up the local girls to help promote your brand to a Chinese public which simply adores glamorous women.
“They are very sexy and beautiful, and they are also very good,” said one of the heads of the Guoao Phoenix Group, the real estate and development company that put the up the funds for this year’s Women’s World 9-ball Championship, when asked why the company decided to sponsor women’s pool.
He also explained that 9-ball is not really that popular in China, the main game here being Chinese 8-ball, which is basically American 8-ball played on pool tables with snooker pockets and nappy cloth.
“But we want to promote 9-ball because it is an international game,” he said. The fact that the event is a chance to feature nicely dressed women from 25 countries is certainly a big plus.
The Guoao Group is building a $5 billion dollar resort project in Guilin which will feature ten PGA standard golf courses, hotels, luxury shopping and restaurants. The company got involved in the Women’s World 9-ball Championship only this year after the event finished a five year run in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang. Guilin is one of China’s most famous tourist enclaves and the premiere ladies pool tournament will serve as a vehicle to promote Guilin, mostly to a domestic audience.
The Women’s World 9-ball is the biggest sporting event ever held in the city. Guoao Group was clearly aware of the significance, for what they had in store last night at the Guilin Exhibition Center defied all rational description, especially to an outsider more used to pool having to struggle to get a mention even in the crime blotter.
The massive trade hall was packed with nearly 5000 people, one-fifth of the town’s population, eagerly awaiting the night’s festivities. The stage was adorned with five massive LED screens and giant speakers, and as the lights went down, it was clear this would be no ordinary opening ceremony.
The night began with a performance by a group of female dancers dressed in the outfits of the Zhuang people, the main tribe of some 28 ethnic minorities from the Guilin area. Then the players were introduced and emerged onto the stage one by one. The looks on some of the foreign players faces as they stood in front of this sea of people ranged from awe struck to positively dumb founded. Only in China could a pool player receive such a royal welcome.
After the city mayor and some other dignitaries gave their obligatory speeches, the culture and entertainment kicked into high gear for the next 90 minutes. The dance troupe, sometimes with male dancers, performed several times, always wearing different colorful traditional local outfits, all accompanied by music and stunning visuals on the LED screens. In between the dances, the crowd was treated to a female acrobat flying high above the stage, and several well-known young singers. The highlight for the locals was the performance by one of China’s most famous singers, Sun Nan, whose three songs had the audience roaring.
The dance troupe closed out the show with another traditional number and as the lights came on, the crowd, clearly buzzing, headed for the exits. I had the feeling that I had just seen one of those famous traveling shows of Chinese acrobats and entertainers. And all this to kick off a pool tournament.
“That was like the Oscars,” said a smiling Allison Fisher, expressing the feelings of every single foreign player on hand. “We don’t get that every day.”
*The 2014 Women’s World 9-ball will be held in Guilin, China from October 13-18, and is sanctioned by the World Pool & Billiard Association(WPA), the world governing body of pool. 64 women players from across the globe will compete for the biggest prize in Women’s Pool.
The World Pool-Billiard Association(WPA) will be on hand in Guilin throughout the week bringing you all the drama from the 2014 Women’s World 9-ball Championship. WPA Press Officer Ted Lerner will be reporting from the Guilin National Olympic City with daily articles containing insight and analysis, as well as photos. He will also be manning the WPA Facebook page and Twitter feed and responding to fans queries and comments.
Please visit the WPA Facebook page for the 2014 Women’s World 9-ball Championship here; http://www.facebook.com/pages/2013-WPA-Womens-World-9-ball-Championship/360470447416060?ref=hl
Follow the WPA on Twitter: @poolwpa
Visit the official website of the WPA at www.wpapool.com