Micronesian Games gold medalist Budhi Gurung has bid Saipan goodbye after relocating to neighboring Guam earlier this month.
The 67-year-old from Kathmandu, Nepal left his second home with a great deal of sadness though, as Gurung never really wanted to move to the southern end of the Marianas chain.
“I arrived in Guam last Dec. 1 to work in the Sheraton Hotel. I must say that I had to leave Saipan with a heavy heart after 24 years. Being jobless for the past 28 months, spending about $15,000 received from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. No source of income except spending and the biggest problem is the CNMI hotel occupancy is lower than 30% and I knew that I would not get a job except assurance all the time, so I decided to look for a job in Guam,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Gurung joined the then Saipan Table Tennis Association—the precursor of the Marianas Amateur Table Tennis Association—way back in 1998 and became a champion in 2000 in a tournament sponsored by Coca-Cola.
He was then selected to represent the CNMI in the table tennis competitions of the 2005 South Pacific Mini Games and the 2010 Micronesian Games both held in Koror, Palau.
“Under the leadership of MATTA president Steve Lim we got a bronze and gold medal. After that the CNMI team was unable to participate in the Micronesian Games in Pohnpei (2014) and Yap (2018) due to funding and internal problems.”
Gurung’s hope is that there will be a revival in the sport of ping-pong in the CNMI and that table tennis players will regain lost glory in regional competitions like the Pacific Games, Mini Games, and Micronesian Games.
“Even in 2023, the CNMI would not be able to participate though they have a strong young team now and I do hope that they might get a gold medal if they joined. Someone should really help CNMI table tennis to participate as they are practicing every Tuesday and Friday at TransAmerica Hardware regularly.”
He also wishes more women players to pick up table tennis.
“We must encourage women players to play ping-pong because like the Guam table tennis association, the CNMI currently has no women’s team. Only Palau, Pohnpei, and Marshall Islands have.”
Hopefully, Gurung said he might be able to facilitate a CNMI-Guam friendly table tennis tournament once again as he will now be active in Guam’s ping-pong association.
“I want to bring Guam table tennis players to compete against CNMI table tennis players in the near future because CNMI team members cannot travel to Guam due to their CW-1 work permit.”
As for his own plans in the sport, Gurung is looking forward to taking part in the World Veteran Table Tennis Championship in 2024.
Gurung first fell in love with table tennis when he was 15 years old. Through sheer persistence and practice he then became a champion when he was 18 while working for a company in India.
There was a long lull after that championship due to marriage, having children, and returning to his native Nepal.
He started to play the sport again to keep himself fit and practiced thrice a week. In 1995, he played in the masters category of the All Nepal Table Tennis Championship and took home a bronze medal.
As well as ping-pong, Gurung also played cricket, soccer, badminton, tennis, volleyball, and basketball in his youth.
He arrived on Saipan in 1997 to work as a team leader at Hyatt Regency Saipan. He worked at the Garapan landmark for six years before moving to Sablan Topline in 2003 as laundry supervisor after Hyatt Regency outsourced its laundry services.
He left Sablan Topline in 2016 to join Imperial Pacific Resort as laundry manager then moved to Pacific Islands Club Saipan where he worked as housekeeping supervisor from 2017 to 2020. He was laid off two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As he embarks on a new journey 215 kilometers south of Saipan, Gurung could only look back to what many perceive as the golden age of table tennis in the Northern Marianas.
“CNMI table tennis players used to be a strong team in 2006 during the Micronesian Games hosted by the CNMI and took a lot of medals and was the No. 1 among seven teams, but a lot of good CNMI table tennis players already left to U.S. and now, I am the last person to leave Saipan.”