Abstract: I recount my adventures in Hungary in the hope that you, the reader, may experience the country through the eyes(?) of an Asian (this is important) tourist.

Apologies for the monthlong silence from which I have finally emerged. So many things have happened since I last posted and I scarce have had time to scribble down into my orange blogging notebook. I hope that I can accurately recall and reconstruct the events from the scanty markings on the pages. As I write this on the plane home from Austria (see future post), I am on the receiving end of a rather delightful knee in the back. On the other hand, congratulations HSC-ers! I will exercise my obvious right earned from my zero contribution to your life in order to say that I am proud of you. Now fly! Be free! Don’t let your dreams be memes!

The reason for my visit in the first place, was that our most glorious leader Louise, the president of the Oxford Table Tennis Club (OUTTC) had organised a training camp for the OUTTC squad in Hungary. I was fortunate enough to secure college funding from Teddy Hall in the form of a “Masterclass Award” to cover the training and travel costs as well as the accomodation costs during the camp. Almost all of us assumed the camp was in Budapest, before finding out on the day before that we were actually to be located in Eger, around two hours drive from Budapest.

The camp itself was an interesting experience, resulting in the words “weak” and “rusty” being branded in pain and shame on my legs and hands respectively. Multiball in particular (a brutish, medieval torture method consisting of a coach pegging ping pong balls at you) had me gasping at the very threshold of death. The footwork drills and stamina training had me similarly ruined and begging for the sweet embrace and comforting release of unconsciousness. Essentially, I was slapped repeatedly with the harsh reminder of just how far I had fallen from my youthful athletic glory days. Nonetheless, I had the opportunity to train and play matches with some incredible people. The two games I enjoyed the most were with Tima, former Hungarian Junior number 2 and current national men’s squad member, and the camp director, William Maybanks, former UK Junior number 2. I lost these matches 3-1 and 4-2 respectively, but still relished the experience immensely with one exception. I bungled the most freelo stock forehand loop at 8-8 in the fourth set against Tima and was left to rue my stupidity when I eventually lost that game 11-9 along with the match. On the third day, I swapped national training shirts with Tima and am now the proud owner of a rather ugly yet comfortable green team Hungary shirt.

I unequivocally condemn the Hungarian toilet. Against all common sense, the deep end is close to the front with a rather shallow basin near the back. The result? Unhappy splash when standing and an uncomfortable proximity between skin and toxic waste when sitting. Believe me, after any member of our room (of whom I am the chief sinner) relieved themselves, the bathroom would be rendered out of order… that Hungarian food produced some legitimately harmful content. Speaking of room members, Nabil could not stop playing a depressing Chinese song by Han Hong called “Tian Liang Le” on loop, resulting in insanity for all. I also unequivocally condemn the racist prejudice against the Gypsy people, a very real sentiment in Hungary, the realisation of which came as a bit of a shock after an almost innocent conversation with a local.

Hungary has a cute bottle cap colour scheme for distinguishing different kinds of water. Unfortunately, we did not know that the blue cap meant sparkling water, resulting in the mass purchase of the unpleasant liquid by our team. It was only when one of us opened a bottle at the exit of the store that we realised our error. The store staff were kind enough to allow us to swap all our unopened bottles with pink cap ordinary water. I had venison for the first time, which came in a thick stew. And by thick, I mean it was basically only meat and viscous sauce. It tasted wonderful, as did a burger I ordered a few days later curiously named the “Sugar Daddy”.

We stayed in a block of apartments that redeemed themselves from the awful toilets with the most amazing hot chocolate in the morning delivered daily to our door. The accomodation buildings were framed by a castle, which we visited. Of course, there was a multiball scene depicted on one of the torture chamber walls within the dungeon. The view of the town afforded from the castle walls was simply beautiful, as was the snow, the first time I had seen falling snow in a town or city. I also bought a long wooden sword from a tourist shop outside of the castle for 900 Florints (approximately 5 AUD) which went on an adventure of its own. I will return to this in the next post. The shop keeper indicated that the sword was called Excalibur, a terribly vanilla name. I would much rather Joyeuse or Anglachel (though it wasn’t black).

Perhaps the most entertaining Eger episode occurred during dinner in a cafe. A large, mainly Asian group of squad members were sitting quietly when a local noticed us and got up from the table next to us with a beaming grin. “Oh look! Asians!” he bellowed. He must have never seen such mythical creatures from the Far East before. With an expression of almost pure distilled awe, he walked nearer and patted some Asian shoulders, attempting to communicate with us quaint aliens. “Drinks! Drinks for Asians!” He then shouted us all a round of Hungarian shots and shook hands with us all (are they called hands if they belong to an Asian?) before walking off with a delighted smile. Our Caucasian fellow squad members, Callum and Doug, benefitted from association alone with the legendary Asian species. Who says hanging out with us ain’t awesome?

After a week or so, having formed friendly ties with the Hungarians and forged strong team bonds within the squad, most of us left for home. Nabil, Leon, and I, however, headed for Budapest to enjoy a few more days of adventure. TBC.