A Different School Holiday

My family and I went to Batam, Indonesia during the recent March holidays.

When we reached, our first destination was a seafood restaurant by the sea. And, no, unlike most people who goes to the kelong restaurant, we weren’t there to sink our teeth into the succulent seafood. Instead, we were there to liberate the sea creatures, or in other words, set them free.

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I assisted my father in weighing the fishes and counting the cost. I looked at the creatures in sadness. I could not imagine having to spend almost all my life caught in a net, only to be slaughtered in the end. However, I was glad that for some of these sea creatures that had been kept in the kelong to be served as food, today, they would get to have a different fate.

In no time, we were ready to liberate the animals. As we went through the buddhist rituals, we sprinkled holy water on the animals. In Buddhism, such an act allowed us to practice compassion and at the same time, wished that these liberated creatures will be in a better place next life. Thereafter, we all made a beeline towards the owner of the restaurant, as he distributed creatures in buckets to us.

I was given a flower crab to release. Walking to the side of the floating platform, I squatted down with the bucket in my hands. As I slowly tilted the bucket to allow the crab to slide out of it into the deep blue sea, I could tell how happy it was to be set free.

Then, I returned to where everyone was and noticed that my father had volunteered to liberate a sea turtle. It had a very pretty shell, and I could tell it was very, very heavy. My father lifted it up with his strong arms and carried the sea turtle, which was frantically flapping its fins, to the side of the platform.

Slowly, he released the turtle and instantly my attention turned to my father’s red hands, having been “slapped” by the turtle way too many times. “Dad, doesn’t your hand hurt?” I asked worriedly. “This pain compared to someone peeling the shell off the turtle? Surely, it’s nothing.” My father replied with a big grin on his face.

Why do people even eat turtle meat? I didn’t understand.

Many other people were also letting free the sea creatures, and then rejoicing each other when they were done. It was really a sight to see, and my heart felt very warm.

On the second day, we went to visit an orphanage, and we brought with us some stationary and snacks that we could give to the children there. The oldest child was 13 and the youngest was just 3 months old!

When we entered the orphanage, I noticed that it was very small compared to other orphanages. In fact, it was actually just a tiny house by the roadside.

Instantly, a total of 19 children came out from the room inside, and greeted us together with the owner of the orphanage, a middle-aged mother. The orphanage director was a very cheerful person, and I could assume that she was a very patient person as well, looking at the number of children she had to take care of daily. I could not imagine the sleepless nights she went through just to sacrifice for these children, and how much money she had to use to buy their daily necessities.

We were then ushered to have a seat on a couch and some chairs in their front yard. We started off giving the children snacks and biscuits, and we also distributed the soft toys we donated. I could tell that the children were all very happy to receive such a gift. Then, we had a short Q-&-A session with the help of a translator.

The caretaker said that her previous job was actually going house to house to offer cleaning services. One day, she decided to start an orphanage to help these abandoned children. I was immediately reminded of my father’s words “Kindness is a choice” He mentioned that being talented and intelligent is a gift. But being kind? It was a choice.

I found out the youngest child, a 3 month-old, was actually given away on the second day of birth. His mother was underaged, and she was not able to keep the baby and hence had to give it to the orphanage. When I heard the story, I felt heartbroken. I pitied the baby. Growing up, the baby would probably not be able to remember how his biological parents looked like and he probably did not even have a chance to meet his parents. I did not understand why his mother was so irresponsible.

I looked at the 19 children in front of me. I felt so lucky to have my parents with me since I was young. It was truly something to be grateful for.

Time flew by so fast, it was soon time to go. As I looked at the children smiling and waving, I hoped for the best for them in my heart, and wished that the caretaker would treat them well. I said my final goodbye and climbed onto the minivan.

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As the Chinese saying goes “行千里路胜读万卷书”,  to travel a thousand miles beats reading ten thousand books. This was a really fruitful trip for me. These experiences has touched my heart and I was taught many things that were invaluable. It opened up my perspectives and I learnt to be more compassionate and grateful for the things I have, and especially for always having my parents by my side.

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Wong Xin Hui,
21st March 2019

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