"I'm no celebrity and I'm still young," explains the normally low-key Yang Ching-shun. An illustrated book about Yang, published at the insistence of his agent three years ago, flew off bookstore shelves, hinting at the huge popularity of the "Son of Pool." (Chuang Kung-ju)
Cold-blooded Killer, Assassin, Taishan Kid, Tiangong Missile, Patriot Missile, Son of Pool... the clash of Taiwan's pool-hall heroes has fans sitting on the edge of their seats.
Nine ball, the most exciting type of pool game, became popular in Taiwan in the 1980s. Nine ball gradually began replacing eight ball and snooker as Taiwan's favorite pool-hall games after Taiwan TV station Star Sports began broadcasting professional pool competitions and nine ball in 1997. When pool was listed as an official event in the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, Taiwan's team performed exceptionally well as fans cheered them on with ever-increasing enthusiasm.
If one person was to be chosen to represent players in Taiwan today, "Son of Pool" Yang Ching-shun, who snatched the gold in international competitions ten years straight and was the defending champ for two Asian Games, would have to be top pick.
Yang, who is from Kaohsiung City--the center of pool in Taiwan--has played pool for 18 years since he began playing in grade school. Television has made his face and laser-focused eyes the most recognized of any player in Taiwan.
In private, Yang is a shy and nostalgic southern Taiwanese. He has been encouraged by his mother, who has always supported him in the pursuit of his sport, and pool master Chao Fong-pang, but fame has not changed him.
The media likes to package heroes. Yang, a hero in the eyes of many young people, admits that he doesn't want the responsibility, but from dropping out of school to his achievements of today, this sport, originally viewed with disdain by the public, has suddenly come into the spotlight. The record of his struggles is destined to be written into Taiwan's sports history.
The once and lonely lion...
People from ten to 40 years old have elected to spend this weekend night knocking balls around at Chiusheng Pool Hall in Taipei City's Hsimenting. They enjoy the crisp sound of balls rolling across cloth and clicking into each other. Weekend nights are busiest and of half the 40 tables in this pool hall are being used. When not shooting the ball, the fag-dragging players are shooting the bull.
Yang drops coins into a vending machine, then pops the tab on the resultant canned coffee and tosses it back. He generally spends time with his fans, but today, he seems to have retreated into his own little world. He picks up a ball and rolls it across the table. The moment it stops, he begins potting the balls in order from one to nine.
Losses take the wind out of his sails, he explains. When that happens, the King of Nine Ball holes up in a secluded corner to lick his wounds like some injured animal until he's ready to come back out again.
Earlier this evening in the last competition of the year, held in a film studio with a corrugated roof in Sanchung, Taiwan's top-ranking pool players went at it tooth and nail. Yang won his first game with ease--a good sign for him, as he prefers to stay in front. But bad positioning in the second game and his opponent snatched the next five games and the lead. Yang fought hard to bring the score to seven apiece, but in the end still lost.
He realizes that his focus was off. "I was sitting there waiting my turn, but my mind just kept wandering," explains Yang as he practices. Three days of competition doesn't give players much time to adjust. A loss on the second day caused Yang more anguish and for the same reason. "I let a good opportunity slip through my fingers!"
He continues, "This wasn't the most important contest of the year." Competitions are held in Taiwan and abroad throughout the year. He can't always be at the top of his game. Even so, disappointment and self-blame are visible in his eyes. Having just come north the day before, after signing a few autographs he exchanges his competition shirt and vest for a Versace pullover and jeans and hurries off with his girlfriend to catch a late train back to Kaohsiung.