Chinese Lanterns and Coincidences in Malaysia

I arrive in Kuala Lumpur ready to walk as long as it takes to find a view to sketch.
My steps lead first to Chinatown, to the great green gate of Jalan Petaling – the well-known main road of the neighborhood called Petaling Street. Where two men stand roasting chestnuts, sifting them through hot coals in a round silver vat, I turn left, ready to keep walking.
But it’s then that I see them – zig-zagging rows of red Chinese lanterns, strung above my head from one lamppost to another, glowing like hollowed-out pumpkins.
They alternate in shape between spherical and oblong, in perfect contrast to the neat square windows of the building behind them, and I’m suddenly reminded of the first time I saw such lanterns.
Ever since I visited Macau three years ago, these lanterns have never failed to fascinate me. I find them incredibly evocative – a symbol, perhaps, that I have truly arrived Elsewhere. I wonder if such symbols exist for everyone, something that represents just how far we’ve traveled from home, no matter where home may be for each of us.
Here in Kuala Lumpur, I have to sketch these lanterns, that much I know – but from where? Finally I spot a shop, a small ice cream stand with just two red plastic tables out front and two yellow umbrellas overhead.
Soon after I begin, a woman with a British accent but of Middle Eastern origin, hijab scarf covering her head, stands over my shoulder and studies the sketch I did in Singapore. I tell her about my plan to spend six weeks sketching around Asia.
“That’s wonderful,” she says. “You should do a book.”
It’s the kind of moment where the universe seems to affirm the very thing you’ve set out to do.

I smile, thank her, and say, “I am.” For once, inspiration didn’t take long to find. 


Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for and the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, as well as Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don is the author of "The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George" and of "Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Writing." He has also edited eleven anthologies, including A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and An Innocent Abroad. E-mail him at [email protected].


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