the lighthouse



[A message inside a Christmas card from Jelmer in 2007]

Dear Janet,

Your last Christmas was in the Kong, about halfway down the globe from where you are now! I hope you’ll have an equally awesome time though!

For 2008, I wish you lots of laughter, love, parties, friendship and success, and that all your wishes may come true!

Don’t forget to take a metaphorical jump from the lighthouse every now and then; keeps you alive! =)


Take Care, x*3      


HKUST hosted a welcome party for the foreign exchange students. The party (and thus the school) served alcohol. That blew my mind. I thoroughly made use of it and accompanied my roommate, Leen, in mingling with the others. The atmosphere in the air was electric – we knew something big was happening to us, was going to happen to us, and we were eager to discover it. When I left the party I was a bit tipsy. I would describe myself as relatively shy, and upon realizing that I was walking to my dorm almost in step with a tall, blonde boy next to me, my 20 year old self dreaded the awkward silence until the moment one of us spoke. I wonder if it was me. We happened to be staying at the same dormitory building – Hall IV. He invited me to go swimming at the barbecue area where the bay meets the shore with a large group of exchange students. Not fully sober yet, I agreed. It’s not that if I hadn’t been under the influence of alcohol I would have not liked to go. It was just more likely that I’d let my shyness convince me to decline the offer. But decline I did not.

We both changed into our swimwear and walked to the meeting place. When we arrived, the situation was this: three blonde boys and I were the only ones willing to take a midnight dip. With the effects of alcohol wearing thin, I was almost mortified. But my pride came in handy and I didn’t want to appear like a cowardly girl in front of everyone, especially not to my newfound tall, blonde friend. So we swam. I don’t even remember seeing the lighthouse until we were well on our way. We estimated it was a quarter mile out – definitely doable.

When we got to the lighthouse, there was one rope hanging from a high platform. That dreaded rope for physically fit dudes to climb up in gym class. It felt like forever as we waited for each male in our group struggle and pull his heavy, wet body up. I had no chance, but I didn’t mind. When all three were already up, I was curious to look around so I swam to the opposite end of the structure. There, I was delighted to find a ladder crawling up the side of the whole thing. I was also delighted to surprise the boys and to show them that I am not that easily defeated. They got a real kick out of us not looking around earlier, and seemed happy that I could resume being a part of the adventure.

Well, from the top of the lighthouse, the only way to go next is down. The view downward was of absolute darkness. I don’t think anyone voiced it formally, but we could feel the pull of the blackness below. I don’t remember seeing waves or ripples, the water was dull black glass. Imagine the thrill of jumping into a black hole, a black abyss. The height was about 30 to 40 feet, I would say. When you think you’re about to hit the water, there’s a second when you realize you’re wrong. You continue to fall. I love that feeling of thrill -  your stomach where your heart should be, your heart outside of your body, falling. It allures and excites me, the sense of vertigo.

We each jumped twice off of the lighthouse. Afterwards, we decided to head back to shore. Jelmer was swimming next to me at my pace, to make sure I was okay. What a gentleman. It goes without saying that I made an impression on him and he on me. Looking back, we were pretty dumb kids. We didn’t know that the bay is infested with sharks at certain seasons. We didn’t know how deep the water was surrounding the lighthouse. And at the time, it all didn’t matter.

So in summary, this drawing, or symbol, feels particularly significant to me and at particularly this moment because:

    1. The words in his card remind me of a side of me that I hope I never lose – to be able to make those metaphorical jumps every so often – to not just live, but be acutely alive. That’s a worthwhile reminder to wear on my body for the rest of my life.
    2. Getting this tattoo at this moment feels right. It’s what moving to the Philippines means in a way. To enter the dark waters and take a chance, and have faith. We’re returning to Asia, the continent of our fateful beginnings.
    3. That night was an incredible night. It was because of the way in which events unfolded that night that drew us to each other afterwards. The night that started out seemingly insignificant ended up fulfilling its greatest potential – it set off a chain of events and has brought us to this moment and this place now. It directed the trajectory of our lives, our lives together.

Janet Lau, October 2013