This is a piece I entered into a competition in 2018. It didn’t get chosen but I had a lot of fun writing it, so here it is…
I urged the little grey pony into a canter. Left hand gripping my Mongolian bow, right hand on the reins, ready. My hand flew back to my quiver. Arrow. Nock. Draw. Loose. Hit. The next target came up quickly. Arrow. Nock. Draw. Loose. The pony had tripped… Miss. I cursed as I had lost my chance at a medal. Here came the final target. Hit.
It was the first ever International Horseback Archery Competition between China, Hong Kong and Korea, set in Qinghai, greater Tibet. I was fairly new to the sport and had barely made it onto the Hong Kong team. Surrounded by pros and masters of martial arts, I felt sorely out of my depth. One competitor, Master Kim, could floor a man twice his size using just his thumb!
When we first arrived, we spent two days on a whirlwind tour of Qinghai. After receiving blessings from the Living Buddha, we walked around the Ta’er Monastery. We were intrigued by the Yellow Hat Sect monks and the intricate murals. At Qinghai Lake, we got caught in a freezing downpour, and warmed ourselves up with cat stew. Finally, we arrived at our competition ground. It was a stretch of dusty road, surrounded by lush grassy hills, devoid of people.
The competition began and the idyllic pastoral scene became a pandemonium of life and colour. Folk music, flags, and drumming filled the air. Thousands of people materialised, covering the hills. All of them were there to support their local competitors, eager to watch three days of mounted and foot archery. One local girl took a particular shine to me and became my guide, staying by my side for the entire competition.
Now it was time for the foot archery. I squinted up at the target. It was 50 metres away and halfway up a hill, a hard shot. I stood there, waiting for my opponent to turn up. Suddenly someone was pushed through the crowd towards me. He spun back, furious and started a heated argument with two men. My guide leaned over to explain that no man wanted to compete against me because I was a girl. If he lost, he would be ridiculed by the village.
I was stunned. As the youngest, smallest and most inexperienced of the team, I had spent the week in awe of my competitors. To find out the opposition was terrified of me, was invigorating. I met the gaze of my guide, and smiled as a steely determination set in. I would show them what a girl could do.
Eventually they reached a decision. The original man grabbed a bow and marched towards me, glowering. This was it. Deep breath. Arrow. Nock. Draw. Loose…