Paper 1 Analysis

Travel Tales

Unseen Text: Indonesia’s Wild Spin on Ping Pong

Text Type: Travel writing – Magazine article – Online article

Guiding Question: Comment on the way this article attempts to entertain the reader while also revealing the strangeness of the author’s experience.

This is an excellent text to analyse as it’s crammed full of content and ideas. One challenge of this paper is choosing what exactly to write about and focusing your answer on a well-selected range of ideas and devices. As well, this text is wide open to interpretation: some may find it entertaining and humorous, while others may see the depiction of Indonesian ‘strangeness’ as racial stereotyping. The sample response below tries to balance both readings of the text – but you don’t have to sit on the fence. After reading this, as an exercise in analysis and evaluation, write a second commentary which takes one side or the other. Remember, this response is but one of many equally valid ways of analysing and evaluating the text.

Sample Response:

The text is a typical piece of travel writing based on an experience in Indonesia.  It is written from an outside perspective and is aimed at a Western audience who enjoy reading about exotic places or experiencing adventure travel.  It can be argued that the text largely succeeds in entertaining the reader with an amusing and dramatic account of a simplistic game of ping-pong; however, there is a tragic undertone as the ‘devastating’ reality of frequent earthquakes is revealed gradually.  In addition, we may question whether the author is perhaps too quick to dismiss cultural differences as strange behaviour; however, as the text is a personal account and aimed at entertaining an outside audience, it is fair to submit that his feelings towards what is ‘other’ are essential to the purpose.  His struggle to understand their customs is central to the passage and he communicates this in a humorous way with which the reader can identify.

Initially, the writer creates entertainment through the headline ‘Travel Tales’, using alliteration to create a light-hearted tone and emphasising that this will be a short and amusing story.  Moreover, the headline implies that this may be one in a series of travel anecdotes.  Furthermore, there is a pun employed in ‘Wild spin’ which is intended to create humour, as it could refer to both ping-pong technique and ‘spin’ as in a biased interpretation of events.  This indicates that Indonesia’s version of the game is out of the ordinary and bizarre. The adjective ‘wild’ connotes both excitement and a lack of civility, thereby appealing to the Western reader’s curiosity at best or – at worst – to their prejudices.

The opening paragraph puts the reader straight into the action, building tension and excitement despite the rural setting.  An extended metaphor of war is used to describe the match.  For example, ‘attacks’, ‘barrage’, ‘ammunition’ and ‘ricochet’ all fit into the semantic field of battle and therefore add drama and intensity to an otherwise simplistic game.  Later, the writer continues to create a feeling of anticipation through single, isolated verbs: ‘Crouch. Uncoil. Slam’.  This magnifies each movement, with the use of present tense adding to the immediacy of the situation, as if the reader is also there and experiencing the tension.

The notion of ‘strangeness’ is somewhat central to this passage, which focuses on the author’s inability to understand the local customs.  While curiosity of ‘the Other’ is a typical feature of travel writing, arguably the repetition of ‘weird’ and ‘weirder’ creates an ‘us and them’ divide.  Moreover, the writer also employs non-standard English to communicate this strangeness, such as ‘four seero’, making it clear that the people are different and have limited English.  However, any suggestions of mockery here are undone by the fact that the article largely makes fun of the writer himself, as his ping-pong inadequacies in this context are revealed.  There is also some admiration evident in the description of the paddle as a ‘wooden sculpture’, implying a respect for beauty and crafting despite struggling with functionality.  

The writer’s portrayal of his general incompetence in the situation and his inability to comprehend the preference for a ‘dented’ ball are entertaining aspects of this piece.  He uses questioning throughout to convey his utter bemusement and heighten the comedy for the reader.  However, interspersed throughout the text are references to the terrible natural events that shape the lives of the local people.  The decision to refer to the ‘devastating’ and ‘ever-present’ earthquakes subtly, disguised in the more obvious focus on the game of ping-pong, is effective for two reasons.  Firstly, the use of humour makes the reference to such natural disasters more unexpected and therefore jarring.  The text is thus not solely intended for entertainment purposes, but rather uses entertainment to depict a more serious reality.  Secondly, the structure of the text reflects the local elder’s statement that ‘Earthquakes are a part of life’.  It is fitting that life goes on around these catastrophes, with the sport providing the teens with much needed relief and enjoyment.  The simile ‘even my attacker… looks like a baby on his back’ conjures an image of innocence and happiness, appealing to the reader’s empathy.  Furthermore, by the end of the article, the barrier of ‘strangeness’ has arguably been broken down by the emotional connection made through the game.  This is seen in the final line ‘to the teens, to me, nothing at this moment could be better than an unexpected bounce that brings joy’, demonstrating a shared elation in the comedic value of the moment which overrides cultural differences.  

In conclusion, through its stylistic choices, this text does entertain its intended reader, with the strangeness of the experience intertwined with this purpose.  However, in the end, strangeness succumbs to basic human connection over spectacular failure, forging a link between the intended outside audience and the people of Indonesia.

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