Some 60 table tennis players contested on Saturday in a Panda Cup tournament launched to welcome two giant pandas who will soon arrive in the Low Lands.
Ping Pang fans in various ages from public institutions, enterprises, research institutes, embassies and international organizations took part in the event organized by the Chinese Embassy in the Netherlands.
The five hours of contest saw two Chinese PhD candidates, Chang Jin from TU Delft and Zhang Yu from Wageningen University grab men's and women's first prizes respectively. The 56-year-old Chinese Ambassador Wu Ken congratulated himself with the second prize after losing narrowly to Chang Jin.
Before awarding the prizes, professionals invited as special guests including Chinese-born table tennis player Li Jiao who is now coach of the Dutch national men's team, also Chinese-born Dong Li who was once in the Chinese national team and Rajko Gommers, twice Dutch champion, staged spectacular shows of hits, blocks, chops and smashes.
Wu Wen and Xing Ya, the two giant pandas now living at Sichuan Wolong National Nature Reserve awaiting their journey to the Netherlands, also made their "debut". In a video clip, these two black-and-white woolly balls rolled among bamboo leaves and slowly stood upright as if they wish to greet visitors, totally unaware of the applause and exclamation they would collect from hundreds of remote admirers gathered in a Dutch sport hall.
"They are the mascot of today's Panda Cup. We made this video especially for this tournament," said the Chinese ambassador. "In order to welcome their arrival, we launched this tournament under the logo -- play national sport to welcome national treasure. I think there is no better combination."
The Chinese diplomat also noted that 2017 marked the 45th anniversary of the Sino-Dutch diplomatic relations at ambassadorial level. "We have made significant progress. People-to-people friendship has become deeper, mutually benefiting cooperation has been developing in all fields and yielded fruitful results. The Panda Cup table tennis tournament is the starter of a series of celebrations this year."
"When Wu Wen and Xing Ya join us, I will visit them regularly at Ouwehands Zoo [the new home for the two giant pandas in Rhenen, a town in central Netherlands] to find out how we three ambassadors can work together to push forward the Sino-Dutch relations, " Wu added.
It is half joking the Chinese ambassador called giant panda his pal diplomat. Among the total of some 2,000 giant pandas living in the world, most of them stay in protected reserve inside China. China had only agreed to carry out joint research on pandas with 12 countries, among them six in Europe: Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Belgium. The Netherlands will be the seventh European country to welcome this global icon of animal protection efforts.
Dr. Andre Haspels, director general of political Affairs at the Dutch Ministry of foreign affairs, hailed the level of skills of all players which made these events of people-to-people contact even more "impressive". "We are all looking forward to seeing the two giant pandas real and life. We will use these opportunities to bring our bilateral relations to a new level," he said.
President of the Dutch Association of Table Tennis Jan Simons also considered the Panda Cup Ping Pong tournament a good people-to-people event and a wonderful warming-up for the arrival of two giant pandas.
"Table tennis is a popular sport here though the level of our professionals are not to be compared with in China. We have over 30,000 clubs. More than 1 million Dutch people play it regularly. And we have good relations with Chinese players. It is nice to have this event to promote sport and exchange," he told Xinhua.
Marcel Boekhoorn, owner of Ouwehands Zoo, happened to be the special guest who awarded the men's second prize winner -- the Chinese ambassador. Fan of both giant panda and table tennis, the zoo owner proudly told Xinhua that he was twice table tennis champion in his native province.
Boekhoorn signed in October 2015 an agreement with the China Wildlife Association about the arrival of Xing Yu and Wu Wen. With Chinese workers, his zoo has built a large indoor accommodation and an outdoor area for the protected animals.
The "Pandasia" consists of two parts connected to each other by a bridge. A cold store for bamboo, a breeding room and work place for research team are also taken into account. There is even space for family expansion -- a nursery is prepared for the future offspring.
"Last week we had a Chinese experts team inspecting our Pandasia. They said it is the most beautiful panda house in the world," said Boekhoorn. " We are ready. I am sure that Xing Yu and Wu Wen will love their new home."