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Krystalle Teh

Catching a Moment

GREECE | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [336] | Scholarship Entry

The length of the caldera stretches ahead of us, its grey, wrinkled body creasing blue in the surrounding Aegean Sea. The sun is almost setting. Once, the island breathed fire; now a wizened man with a towering chef’s hat calls out to me from Grandma’s Restaurant, “The Chinese are my brothers!” He spreads out his arms and smiles with his teeth but not eyes.

We laugh uncomfortably and leave the menu on its stand - written in Greek and perfectly accurate Mandarin Chinese, no less. No English translation. We pass by another restaurant where a waiter dressed sharply in a white summer shirt greets us eagerly, “Ni hao!”

We could’ve been Korean or Thai, I tell my friend Misato.

“But you are indeed Chinese!” she points out. The waiter puts his arm around Misato's shoulders when he learns that we're from Singapore instead.

She’s right, of course. My identification card states – ‘Race: Chinese’. Misato is half-Japanese, half-Singaporean Chinese; she carries upon her shoulders the skin of an entirely different culture, stretched out thin and vast.

Along the caldera’s edge, we follow the trail of dusty cubic houses, like white crumbs leading towards the winking sun. Soon, the groups of tourists sunning themselves al fresco in the village centre begin to ebb near the shadowy outskirts of Thira. We pass by a group of boys playing basketball against the settling blue-grey dusk; overhear the conversations from houses squatting too close to us on narrow lanes. We search for a quiet spot to watch the sunset alone, somewhere that we can claim.

Misato wanders off with her camera, and I catch up with her on a secluded cliff. A group of wine-wielding, middle-aged Americans gather at our spot. It's Fourth of July today - Independence Day, I remind them, eager to inquire about the fireworks and parades.
“Yeah, it is,” the one with the digital camera replies. He turns to Misato to ask for their group portrait against Santorini’s famed sunset – now is not the time for a distant place in another time. We sit and watch the July sun light up the elements with its last red flourish.

They leave soon after the sun sets. We catch a glimpse of the moon and decide to wait in the crisp summer darkness, partly fenced off as someone else’s private property.

As the moon slowly rises over our heads and glows a bright, fiery red, Misato fumbles with her camera, trying to capture the moment. But the battery goes flat. Now we have nothing to claim it with, nothing to lay claim to.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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