The scent of incense and sounds of chanting and chimes fill the air. We on’t now what will happen next but we watch to see. The air was still a moment ago but since the prayers started it has become windy. My cousin tells me that the wind comes because it is the souls of those passed coming back for the ceremony. Flags that were still a few moments ago wave as the wind gusts the table. The souls have come to join us for the annual King Hoo Ping ceremony at my uncle’s old house in Semarang’s China Town.
After attending church with one of my cousins this morning, we have been invited to come to the King Hoo Ping ceremony from midday. Naturally, we agree enthusiastically. It turns out this is an important ceremony for my family and their friends. My uncle was raised by a Chinese family and my cousins grew up in the heart of Semarang’s China Town area, spending their days playing in the many temples that abound here. They uphold the Confucian tradition of King Hoo Ping to honour the deceased every year.
The tables are set with an abundance of food. There are bowls of rice, birds, vegetables, fruits, beers and all manner of foods I don’t recognise. People stand and sit around the tables talking and watching the ceremony. I realise we are actually just partying in the street of the kampung with a big tent over our heads for shade from Semarang’s searing heat. Everyone is festive.
My uncle arrives just after we do. This is the first time I’ve seen him among people other than the family. I see how well respected he is. And how many laughter lines he has around his eyes. Every time I look he is smiling with someone. He asks me to take photos of him praying at the head of the table. He is one of three sponsors of this ceremony, which is a great honour. To be a sponsor you must receive approval from the spirits; it is not something just anyone can do. My cousins tell me that about a decade ago someone tried to move this ceremony to another nearby location. My uncle was a sponsor and said “okay but you must first ask the souls for permission”. The people didn’t ask the souls and moved the ceremony anyway. That year during the King Hoo Ping ceremony the winds came and blew the tent and tables away. So now the ceremony is back outside my uncle’s house where the souls seem to be happy.
As I stand there watching the incense rise from the sticks standing in the food offerings something strange happens. Someone special to me appears beside me and touches my shoulder. I know she is here just as she was with me on Kumano Kodo back in Japan. On that occasion her message was that I should not walk the Camino de Santiago di Compastella. A decision that led me to the wonderful experiences I had in Hungary.
On this occasion her presence is again linked with an important travel-related decision I have made. See, last night I decided to end my nomadic life after Turkey. I have enjoyed the experience but am ready to have a new more balanced way of living. One in which I am not just wandering aimlessly but in which I have a home from which I take specific adventures. A life in which Paul and I travel together to see new places and have new experiences, both at home and abroad. I had booked flights to Cambodia in November but have decided not to board that flight. Instead, I will be home with Paul from mid-October to late-December when we head to Europe for the winter. I need structure in my life so from 1 September I have increased my workload to 3 days a week and committed to attend my office on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays when I actually am in Brisbane. That still leaves me the luxury of a four day weekend every week. And I still have the flexibility to travel whenever I want and work my three days a week while traveling. But I think for a little while I want to enjoy some routine of work, fitness training, weekend adventures and road trips with Paul. I hope we can still travel overseas for 2-3 months a year because there is so much more we need to see and experience. But I want to do most of it with Paul; not alone. And, as the spirit of my friend stands behind my at the ceremony, I know that I have made the right decision. Because suddenly I feel at peace and after this day the gastroenteritis will suddenly clear.
And that’s how I find myself at the Matahari in the evening buying three pairs of business pants and three business shirts at a buy two get one free sale.
I also buy the first pair of jeans I’ve owned in almost exactly a decade to signify that my wardrobe can expand a little beyond lightweight traveling clothes.
I am excited about the next chapter. I look forward to dropping the two trouser sizes I have gained this past 18 months and feeling attractive again. I can’t wait to have friends around for dinner more regularly and to spend more quality time with my family. It will be fun to have work colleagues and a professional life again in a more regular part-time capacity. And I get goose bumps knowing that Paul and I will have more time together instead of having our relationship tucked into my travel schedule.