21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
Politics & Living
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories

The International Writers Magazine Asia:

Slingshot showdowns in Southeast Asia
Alexander Hanke

You meet a lot of other travelers and backpackers while on the move. Some are outgoing, adventurous and independent all in one. Others are understandably not as confident in a country where you might not know more than the standard greeting phrases.  A fair amount of people get stuck in a loop of comfort and uncomplicated communication with other westerners.

Especially in a country such as Vietnam, with intensely persuasive and relatively convenient alternatives to transport and destinations. Hurdling tourists like cattle in open ticket buses to a handful of quite specific unchallenging destinations from north to south. It was strangely here that I had my first slingshot showdown.

With a little boy who didn't understand a word of English and me, who didn't know any more than hello on Vietnamese. There were a few different showdowns, some in Laos and a few in China including one highly competitive in Tibet. I had a simple, wooden slingshot, clearly visible, dangling from my backpack. Sometimes kids walking by simply snatched it at sight and the challenge was on. Other times it came in handy when boredom sat in and soon a crowd of youngsters and adults alike gathered to try to outshoot me. I developed my style, picking up on others technique and taking gestured pointers along my travels. On the hikes, when I got tired, I simply took it out to practice to some soothing tunes of Bo Diddley. A gunslinger, and there I was, on tiger leaping in China trying to imitate one. I can sense a sluggish smirk on the faces of readers but watch it! You have no idea of my improvements since then… And behind this playful facade there lays something much more profound.

It was such a simple joy just searching for round pebbles that would perfect a shot and hit whatever target it happened to be. How fun it was loosing to little kids giggling at my lack of aim. I didn't just interact, I hung out with people, on equal terms. Not as some civilized westerners taking pitiful glances at people "worse off" than them. A lot of people I encountered on my travels had this approach to the people they met. What a disgusting showcase of megalomania executed with strange pride and a delusional sense of righteousness.

You can picture the same people at home giving money to homeless people to pay of whatever guilt their lifestyles had been building up.

Perhaps they would do more good by offering themselves as target practise to the very people "worse off"? Slingshots are present in all of southeast Asia. From advanced ones with wrist bracers at the weekend market in Bangkok to the very basic ones I used and bought at the night market in Luang Prabang. Those could be found at any other market anywhere else though. It was not that easy to get a hold of slingshots in China so keep that in mind if you're heading that way. Something that might be worth doing if you sense some truth in these writings. Since it was there that I had some of my most rewarding showdowns.

In Shangri La, or Zongdian, call it what you may, at the famous temple, I was riding a rented bicycle and the weather turned on me and rain started pouring down. Just as I had made my way around the back of the marvelous Temple I went down to a gate where I took cover with several Tibetans. I remembered my slingshot, took it out and just showed it to them offering them to shoot. They politely said no, so I thought I might take aim and completely missed target. That was basically all to it. They immediately and impatiently lined up (not literally a line, it's China, mind you) to try to outshoot this weird but strangely amusing Westerner. Sure it was probably partly to earn bragging rights to friends but it soon turned into something, not just a competition. Some were better than others and I was by all means not even close to the best, but from there on I was treated to everything they could possibly offer me. From cigarettes to warm yak tea from their thermos, which was greatly appreciated even though the taste wasn't of sunshine it did all right in the chilling rain. They even had beer and chewing gum.

They didn't know any English but used gestures of digging in the ground and pointed on the wall I was standing next to and then to themselves. I did similar gestures suggesting that they built the wall and they all nodded and laughed while the slingshot made its way around to all of us. It was merely a pastime while we were all taking cover from the rain. It felt as if I wasn't just a random westerner intruding or treading upon their culture. True I was probably a bit weird at first but soon it felt like I could have been just anyone who happened to be going by. We shared some wonderful smiles and even a few loud laughters while trying to outshoot each other and trying to explain different things through gestures. I think the slingshot has the psychological effect of bringing the guard down on people and your own guard for those matters. It becomes so easy to go on making all the more silly handmovements and gestures using your entire body to try to advance the "conversation".

I can't help to wonder what they all said about their day at the dinner table when they came home. It must have been something. It would indeed have been something to tell my family if it happened back home and I think it would be a worthy topic anywhere in the world.

It has struck me when thinking about events such as these that traveling is not just about seeing and taking in the views. True, it is said to be believing but there is so much more to it. You hear intellectualls such as Chomsky talking about war and conflicts for hours on end but still finishing every speech with the fact that there is progress and hope in the world. Such things can be hard to believe even after seeing. The most wonderful structures such as the Temple in Shangri La or the wonders of nature just like Tiger Leaping might not be convincing enough. But to meet people and through interaction discover the most astounding warmth and generousness and also some sort of common ground is something enormously rewarding. But it takes experiencing to believe it and don't just trust faith on this one. The language barrier is in no doubt real but it isn't that hard to crack through and with a slingshot in hand and playfulness in mind you can easily reduce it to rubbles.

© Alexander Hanke October 2008



© Hackwriters 1999-2009 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility - no liability accepted by or affiliates.