Maureen Koh
Mon, May 26, 2008
Everyone's telling me to be strong but...

SHE had started planning for an addition to the family. She had even blogged about her wish to have a baby recently.

But former national table-tennis champion Zhang Xueling's hopes were dashed when her husband was killed in a car crash in Shanghai, China, late Wednesday night.

When contacted over the phone in her Shanghai home last night, she was initially reluctant to talk.

But when asked about her blog, Madam Zhang, sobbing into the phone, said: 'Yes, we were planning for a baby... but now he's gone. What else can I say?'

The Beijing-born Zhang, who became a Singapore citizen in 2001, quit the table-tennis scene in March last year.


In a shock move, the 2005 South-east Asia Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games singles champion chose to return to Shanghai to join her husband, Mr Zheng Qi, the former assistant coach of the Singapore men's table-tennis team.

At the peak of her career, she swept four golds in each of the two tournaments - making her Singapore's top performer.

Madam Zhang, who had just turned 25 two weeks ago, said she was visiting relatives in Beijing when she received the news of the crash.

Lianhe Wanbao reported that the accident happened at about 11pm on Wednesday.

It is believed that Mr Zheng was driving two team members home after their training session.

Madam Zhang, who sounded calm at first, said: 'I was not in Shanghai when (the accident) happened, so the details are all too vague.

'All I've been told is that the other two passengers are fine, only he's gone.'

Then she broke down: 'It's fated. Everyone's telling me to be strong. I know I have to be, but we were planning for a baby and now...'

Madam Zhang was also upset that she had not paid more attention to her restlessness of late.

It seemed that she had been feeling unsettled early last month - something that nagged at her for a couple of weeks.

In a posting on her blog on 3 Apr, she quoted the lines from a Chinese song: 'Because I dreamt that you had left, I woke up in a sea of tears.'

She also wrote: 'The lyrics describes aptly the terrible feelings I've been experiencing recently.

'I don't know how others do it but when I don't feel good, I just start thinking of many things.'

A distraught Madam Zhang said: 'I can't tell you much... Honestly, my mind is a blank now and I can't remember... but yes, it's true, I was feeling out of sorts.

'So, maybe it was like a woman's sixth sense. Still, what's the point of dwelling on that now?'

But Madam Zhang's restlessness had eased considerably after some time for a cheery note.

In another post two weeks later on 14 Apr, she wrote: 'After some reflection, (I) feel that one should not be too pessimistic. We must be more optimistic.'

It was also in that post that she first revealed the couple's plans for a little one.

Madam Zhang wrote: 'And I have highlighted the following in passionate red... Put in extra effort on cross-stitching, put in extra effort in learning to play the piano...

'I must put in even more effort on making babies. I also hope that my husband will put in more effort to train a better team for a better performance.'

In another entry on 6 May, she wrote in English: 'Once there was a true love at my hand, but I didn't cherish it.

'I didn't realise it until it was gone. There is nothing more miserable than it... If I have to add a deadline to the love, I hope it will be ten thousand years.'

The couple had first met in 2001, but started dating only at the end of 2002.

When they married in September 2006, she had ruled out having children in the near future as she wanted to focus on table tennis.

At one time, the couple had even seriously considered settling down in her adopted country.

She said in an interview two months ago: 'We wanted to buy a flat and settle down in Singapore. Unfortunately, things didn't go according to plan.'

Madam Zhang said: 'That's life, right? Things don't always pan out the way you planned.'

Former compatriot Li Jiawei, who is competing in the Japan Open, said the Singapore team learned of the news yesterday afternoon.

Ms Li told The New Paper over the phone: 'I was so shocked. I tried calling Xueling, but was not able to reach her at first.

'But we are now communicating via SMS. I believe she's holding up okay.

'She's devastated, of course, but knows she must keep strong for both sets of parents.'

Low-key, then she starts winning

AT 14, Zhang Xueling moved from Beijing to Singapore.

She did not get much attention from the media, who preferred seeking out her more accomplished team-mates Jing Junhong and Li Jiawei.

But in 2004, she garnered attention with a fine run in the Athens Olympics. She also delivered the winning point for Singapore at the 2002 Commonwealth Games against New Zealand, after Jing and Li had both lost their games in the team event.

She also won four medals each in the 2005 South-east Asia Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games, in which she is the reigning singles champion.


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