Traveling and Wishing
Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – The first stop on our weekend jaunt was to the Indonesian-Malaysian border town of Serikan. I had been told about this shopping bazaar with its cut-rate prices since I arrived a few years back and most people made it seem they were giving away merchandise. It has been touted as the “Mall of America” of Borneo.
Lining on either side of a blocked off questionable road, for about 50 meters, were shacks painted “black mildew” white with plastic rolled up in front of them in case of rain. Most of these independent entrepreneurs had a four-meter square space crammed full of ladies clothes sewn by a contingent of female orangutans. The colors were vibrant; almost “glow in the dark” chromaticity.
Other shops sold toys that would not be allowed into the states for safety reasons. Huge aluminum woks that would fry rice for any Fire Department dinner for at least a year were made of recycled cans. Shoes that would match the dresses if a person was color blind – okay, totally blind – were jumbled together on tables. Hopefully you could find the perfect shoe, although finding the mate may be a problem. It seems every rejected product from every corner of the world ended up here at the jungles edge.
After visiting a few other non-descript towns, we had reservations at the “Palm Beach Resort” in Sematan. The name should have been my warning. We were told we would be staying in a chalet on the beach, fitted to sleep four. Two separate bedrooms with a common living area plus all the amenities, I thought. The price at check-in was equivalent to about $118, astronomical for here, but it did include breakfast and dinner.
The “chalet” had a downstairs area with one queen size bed next to a single all open. Stairs led up to a “loft” that was also open. Walking in, you had fantastic views of everyone doing everything with no privacy. The bathroom had a hand held shower that dripped water. There was no mosquito netting for the abundant zinging little critters, thrown in for free.
Dinner was what one would get at any cheap all-you-can-eat buffet, while entertainment consisted of a Superman movie shown on the side wall of a building. Half of the infinity pool was ankle deep, half of the remaining half was chest deep while the other half dropped off into three meters of water without warning. Not a good idea when I was carrying around my one-year-old son Dzul and slid down into the abyss.
I left dinner with Dzul and carried him to a lawn chair overlooking the South China Sea. He fell asleep on my chest as I gazed up at the constellations, so vivid in this part of the world. I quickly spotted the three stars comprising the belt of my old friend, Orion. A pang of homesickness stabbed because every time I left home during cold winter nights I always searched for my beacon. I have done this since I was in college but here in Borneo clouds often cover the night sky.
I searched for the Southern Cross. A few moments later spotted a strange red object in the sky. I shook my head a few times trying to figure out what planet it might be. Mars I thought – because it is red – but it was huge! Then I realized I was watching a UFO in its full glory.
I stared at it for awhile more then heard chattering from my right. I was about to go ask if they knew what it was. I thought they were over there having a small cookout. Then I knew.
My UFO is called a kongming lantern sent aloft on the 15th day of Chinese New Year. A rice paper tear-shaped bag held a votive candle supported by thin strings connected to a platform. As the air is heated the density becomes less and the kongming rises.
A small family was releasing them one by one over the South China Sea. Each carried a wish. Against a bright star-lit sky, it was a magical spectacle. The insanity of the day melted away.
A small child was given one to send aloft. I secretly and telepathically sent a wish with it. The little girl released the lantern but it came frightening close to sea and waves. Then it mustered courage and floated skyward to Orion.
I am not going to tell you my wish, just to say it had something to with my son Dzul, still fast asleep on my chest, heart to heart, beating together.
…Life is good. . . . .