Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not UFOs

I want to recount the experience of something mysterious and unexpected that happened on Sunday night. Andrea and I had gone for a picnic dinner (can you have a "picnic" after dark?) out on one of the arms of the main harbour here in Tainan. We literally ate our dinner sitting out in the middle of the waters looking back at the shore from afar, particularly nice at night with the city lights reflected in the water. A curious, probably hungry, rat joined us at the end of one of the small arms that deviates from the main seawall of the harbour. We ate our leftover vegetarian pizza which was very good, and some fresh salad bits that I had prepared and put together. We talked for quite a while before leaving. It was a warm humid night, not cold at all.

We walked back to our motor scooter, parked up from the beach in the car park. walking the hundred metres or so from where the beach began to the carpark, we remarked on the huge number of derelict bicycles that seemed to be strewn with abandon about the place, lying in bushes and upside down with rusting frames and wheels. We got to our scooter and took off down the road. After a minute we noticed what we took at first to be three planes flying close together in the sky. However, this impression began to break down as we watched them. There was something definitely un-plane-like about them. They actually seemed to be hovering in mid-air somewhere quite close together. Then we noticed a few more of these lights closer to the horizon and seemingly more distant. By this time I had already mentioned UFOs at least twice and if I had been a less skeptical sort I might have turned the bike towards home to collect our essentials together before hiding out in the remote mountains where we would be safe from the imminent alien invasion.

We continued to scoot, if that is a legitimate verb, roughly in the direction that the lights seemed to be coming from and we could by this time see a trail of them beginning somewhere near the beach in front of us and extending behind us up into the sky. We continued until we arrived at a point on the road which brought us as close as we could get to the source of the lights which we had now identified as lanterns with a flame of some sort burning inside. We left our scooter and clambered up on to the seawall where we hoped we could discover by observation the source of the lanterns. From our position on top of the seawall standing with a few other random onlookers we could make out a group of people down on the beach helping the lanterns, one by one, to get airborne. We could see now that the lanterns were surprisingly big, perhaps a metre tall with significant girth, seeming almost as big as the people coaxing them gently upwards. I reflected, perhaps cynically, on how the things that people send up into the air to float wherever the wind might take them end up as garbage somewhere (think of those huge celebrations where people release thousands of balloons simultaneously and it looks so inspiring as they fill the sky and float off until they drop down into the sea and choke a fish). However, that cynical note did not remove all the magic from the moment and we stood there watching the mysterious event and the long trail of lights floating into the distant night sky until the mosquitoes forced us away.

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