(ISSN: 1527-5467)
the magazine of Literature & Literature-in-translation.


JUL 2002















The plastic duck lantern


It was not the lantern from the Mid-Autumn Fair of years past. It was a plastic duck lantern that powered by a battery and generated a loud, "quack Chinese"  music of unusual tone. But it did bring me a broad smile and reminiscence of yersteryears.

The last traditional Mid-Autumn Fair lantern I owned was bought in New York. I decided to buy it after getting mad at the whole city of New York. New York City was not as glamorous as I had imagined.

I have anticipated a wonderful two days of relaxation and a shopping spree at the famous Bloomingdale department store in downtown Manhattan. But after checking in the Hilton Hotel in Queens and saw that the money I paid was a lot bigger than the room I got, and paying $50 for a cab to Bloomingdale, I found out that this place did not accept any credit cards except their own.
The banks were still  open and I thought it would be quick to get some cash advance from my Visa and Master cards, but I was informed that my driver's license accompanied with my pictured work ID were not edequate in New York City.

They wanted my passport which was left back in my hotel room.
My Citicorp traveler's  checks were not accepted. With only a small amount of money left on my American Express travelers' checks, I went to Chinatown to eat dinner.  Again, they did not accept any credit cards here unless you have a passport or local driver's license. I spent most of my Amex travelers 'checks' money on my meal which was barely palatable.

It was September and there were lots of mooncakes on display at the Chinese shops. But what caught my eyes were red lanterns in various shape and sizes.

Memories of my childhood came rushing back and I could not help but be overwhelmed with a joyous excitement like a child I once was. The child who couldn't wait for the night fall to light up the candle inside the lantern. Be it a star, a fish, a butterfly, or a dragon. So, I bought one lantern, a small butterfly to bring back to Ohio.
For many years I kept it hanging high above the hallway. I looked at it from time to time, especially when the mooncakes started to appear in the local Chinese grocery shops. It made my mind wander a bit to a place far away known as Tra Vinh, my birthplace in the Mekong Delta, and the images of my neighborhood, my friends, and family filled my heart warmly, no matter how brief.

Then recently I moved and in the frenzy of things I left it behind.
I missed my lantern a lot. It helped me relive my sweet, innocent childhood whenever I felt dragged down by the complexity of my adult life or the wickedness of those around me.

I have another one now, sent to me by a dear friend from far away. It's not what I expected, but what I sorely need: a smile and a word of encouragement from within. The plastic "quacky" lantern is sitting on the left front corner of my desk, very colorful and very endearing. Yes, I am now full of happy thoughts and ready to fly...
Fly back to the land where the moon shines brightly above the gentle Long Binh river just beyond the weeping willows. And back to the place where the lanterns were made of bamboo sticks and shiny, transparent red paper that forever etched in that tiny little corner of my heart.



the magazine of Literature & Literature-in-translation.

Volume 4, Number 2 July 2002



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