Saturday, May 11, 2002

Madam Ming's Nephew

I think I'm in love.

I went shopping for antiques and other little treasures and the Rickshaw driver told me he knew of a great place. It was here in Malang. Malang is a good-sized city. The population is over a million. He took off through the crowded streets and ended up in the old city in China town. There not far from the Chinese temple was a wonderful old Chinese house with palm trees in the front. The only trees on the street filled with shops and businesses. I rang the bell. A serving woman opened the door a tiny crack and asked me my name. Martin. She told me that her mistress did not do business, but to wait. She closed the door and was gone. After she had been gone too long for my taste, I decided to leave. From the rickshaw I saw the door open again, so quickly returned to the door. Madam Ming would see me. Madam Ming was a tiny Chinese woman with graying hair. She extended her hand, but I told her I had been in the markets all day and my hands were not fit to shake. Quickly she withdrew her hand. She told me that she did not sell any antiques, but would be happy to show some to me. The house defies description. Teak ceilings and panels throughout. Seven bedrooms in the main part of the house and gardens and courts going off in every direction. The kitchens were grand and the informal dining room sat 12. In the many teak cabinets in the room were beautiful serving dishes and sets of china from Europe and the middle east. She told me that they had to eat in 2 shifts, there had been so many children in the family. Madam Ming was the 7th generation of her family to live in the house. She took me to the altar and showed me the ancestral tablets with the names of those to whom she prayed every day. She took me outside to see her gardens with Orchids, kemuning, gardenias, jasmine, ferns and begonias. We then returned to the family parlor and the one of the serving women brought us iced water and we visited about Madam Ming's family. She showed me pictures of her siblings at a reunion in Holland. She showed me the oil paintings of her ancestors. We looked at the teak paneled doors and the exquisite wood work. This had been done, she told me by Chinese craftsmen. Everywhere were antiques with numbers, as if for auction, on them. Madam Ming spoke perfect English, as well as Dutch, Chinese, Indonesian and Javanese. She expressed her sadness at seeing the Indonesian people leave their beautiful clothing to become hidden in the dark Moslem coverings. And then I realized that I must go. It was getting late.

Madam Ming reached and took my dirty hand and shook it warmly. Her fingers were gnarled with arthritis and she told me she hoped I would come again and visit with her. She asked me to guess her age. I guessed 75. No, 90, she beamed.

I decided to go again the next afternoon and take Auntie Ming (she had told me when I left and took her picture, that I must call her Auntie Ming) some sweet breads. The serving woman opened the door and asked no questions but told me to come right in. Auntie Ming was saying her prayers. Within moments, she had finished and we sat across from each other drinking iced water. The busy street outside was impossible to remember in this quiet beautiful setting. And then a side door opened. I, having come from Church, was wearing suit and tie. And there in the doorway stood Widodo, the seller of antiques from Taman Agung. He seemed shocked to see me, who the day before had been in his expensive shop dressed in shorts and a damp T-shirt. After a moments confusion, he asked who I was. "Oh, this is my friend Martin. What do you want?" He had come to take some of her furniture to his house. "Yes, yes." She said, and he closed the door. "That's my nephew, Widodo. He's selling my things."
I think I like the other Widodo who drives a minibus.


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