We rode the horses past a small dam. The water here had a milky white sheen to it under the sunlight, so it looked very magical. Once we reached the cement road at the top of the dam, I saw a woman handing out gunpowder and guns.
“Since guns are dangerous, they’re managed by the local government. You can pick one up during practice,” Jiang Bai said to us before motioning for us to dismount. We filled out the necessary paperwork, gave them our fingerprints, and then each received a gun.
This matchlock gun was very short, which was quite different from what we were expecting. Once we all had guns in hand, the woman came up, wrapped a headscarf around each of us, put three matchlock cords(1) into our headscarves, and spoke to us in Tibetan.
The words were very simple, so we could all understand them. She essentially told us that there was a lighter at the practice ground further ahead, which we could use to light these matchlock cords. Once the ropes were lit, we could use them to light the gunpowder.
Then she gave each of us a strange thing to hang around our necks.
Fatty knew as soon as he smelled it that it was gunpowder wrapped in small paper tubes. All the paper tubes were tied to a rope that hung around our necks. This meant that during the competition, I’d have to hold the paper tubes in my mouth because I knew my hands wouldn’t be able to catch the rope—or the gunpowder tubes—while on a galloping horse.
As we got back on the horses and rode on, I realized how multi-faceted Fatty was. He explained that while holding the gun in one hand, you’d have to break off one of the small paper tubes hanging from the rope around your neck, stuff it into the gun’s barrel with the other hand, and then immediately light it with the matchlock cord.
This whole operation could only be done by taking both hands off the reins, which meant that you could only rely on your two feet to steer the horse.
“Why is there a fork on the end of this thing?” Fatty asked while looking down at his gun. Our matchlock guns were different from any of the guns I had used before, and these even had two forks on the end.
“This is a characteristic of a Tibetan gun. These forks can be used as bayonets or as a gun rest when you put your gun down,” I told him. “Fatty, what kind of competition is this?”
“You’ll know when you see it,” Fatty said.
At this time, we began to hear the sound of guns being fired in front of us. Jiang Bai became so excited that he sped his horse up and rushed to the front. The three of us immediately followed behind him.
After leaving the dam, we rode the horses to a dirt road on the opposite side. We followed this road down to the small river in the valley, which we crossed over before moving on.
Thirty minutes later, we rode up a hill. After coming down the other side of it, we saw a wide area in front of us, where many people were riding past on horseback. I immediately saw what a mounted shooting competition entailed.
The rider steered the galloping horse with both feet while firing the gun with both hands. The whole process was very quick—he would put the paper tube into the gun’s barrel, quickly light it with the matchlock cord, and then fire. As soon as the flash of light appeared in the air, he’d immediately put the second gunpowder tube into the barrel and light it again.
As the horse continued galloping, the rider kept firing his gun. After running some distance, he eventually stopped and someone would tell him how many rounds he had fired and how fast.
“In the actual competition, will there be a group of people riding together?” I was practically speechless as I watched the whole thing. “And the goal is to see who’s faster and who fires off more rounds than anyone else, right?”
Jiang Bai looked back at us and said, “Everyone rides alone now. It used to be a group event where everyone would ride together, but it’s still dangerous even if the gun isn’t loaded.” At this time, someone came over and lit the matchlock cord for us.
As soon as the cord was lit, I started to feel uneasy at the thought of having it hanging right by my head when I had gunpowder hanging around my neck and was planning on holding the gunpowder tube in my mouth later.
“Ready to try it?” Jiang Bai encouraged us.
“I think we’re going to die.”
“Don’t be afraid,” Jiang Bai said with a smile. “Try it at a slow pace first. Don’t worry, the horse will go slow.”
Fatty liked guns, so he immediately put the gunpowder directly into the barrel, pointed it directly at the sky, and fired off a shot.
The horse remained completely indifferent, as if it were used to this kind of thing.
Fatty immediately became excited and let out an exuberant shout. Holding the gunpowder tube in his mouth, he rode his horse forward and rushed onto the practice field in front of us.
I glanced at Poker-Face. He was wearing the competition’s designated outfit, which was kind of hilarious but also full of local spirit.
My headscarf looked very simple while his looked like the one worn by the village chief’s son. That woman was clearly very biased.
“What do you think?”
“I’ve done this before,” he said to me.
I was a little surprised, but then again, this was Poker-Face we were talking about so there was nothing new there. “Should we try it?” I asked him.
He nodded and looked at the gun in his hand. As I began trying to stuff the gunpowder into my own gun, I saw Poker-Face’s horse suddenly rush forward. During those six or seven steps his horse took, his hands moved in a blur and he fired off four shots in rapid succession.
The action was completed in one go, those four shots fired so fast that everyone on the sidelines all turned to look at us.
He also seemed to be surprised at how fast he was and looked at the gun suspiciously.
“Wuke Jiabo?” I heard an old man watching from the sidelines suddenly cry out as he looked at Poker-Face in surprise.
<Chapter 3><Table of Contents><Chapter 5>
(1) Matchlock cords can also be called “slow match”, “match cord”, “matchlock rope”, etc. They’re a slow-burning cord or twine fuse used by early gunpowder musketeers, artillerymen, and soldiers to ignite matchlock muskets, cannons, shells, and petards. Matchlock cords were most suitable for use around black-powder weapons because a slow match could be roughly handled without going out, and only presented a small glowing tip instead of a large flame that risked igniting nearby gunpowder. It was usually chemically treated to make it burn slowly and consistently for an extended period of time. Info here.
Hands up, how many knew Poker-Face would totally dominate? lol. Poor suckers don’t stand a chance.
Pic added 12/3/2022 (fan translation courtesy of me).
3 thoughts on “Chapter 4 Traveling Notes”
OMG poor Wuxie, it seems he doesn’t stand a chance. And why I wasn’t surprised at Poker face “I’ve done it before” and of course being great at it as he always is!
These rain village stories always make me happy 😁
Thank you for the chapter!!!
When they talk about the prize of the race, I couldn’t help just imagine Xiao Ge standing among two thousand sheep. (With a live broadcast)
I see Xilaimian having a loooooot of mutton dishes for the next couple of years.
Go Xiao-Ge Go!!! Show em how it’s done!😆