Friday, August 14, 2015

A Bamboo Bird Cage

This is a story about a treasured souvenir.  It is a nostalgic story about seeing the world through the eyes of a toddler.  It is a reminder to me that sometimes I have actually gotten things right.

It all began in Singapore, way back in 1985.

On a Sunday morning I found my way to an area of Singapore near the old Chinatown.  Hundreds of local men had brought their beloved songbirds to share with the world.  They hung ornate bamboo cages up for everyone to see.  I'm not sure which was more beautiful, the cages or the birds within, but the audience was filled with admiration.  And anticipation.  Once the birds were settled, they broke into song.   One chorus after another erupted.  High notes with low melodious refrains.  Quick staccato chirps.  Warbles and whistles.  All creating a symphony of joyful sound.

 I write about this thirty years later because the moment is still so vivid.  It was a moment of utter and complete rapture.
Singapore was our last stop on a six-week trip through Southeast Asia.  My suitcases were already bursting at the seams with clothes, jewelry and colorful textiles from Thailand and Burma.  I coveted one of those small birdcages with the little porcelain feeding bowls, but I simply did not have the room.

Two years later, however, I found myself in a completely different venue--Bird Alley in Hong Kong.  And there they were again.
This time I had a 15-month old toddler by my side.  Keeping him seated in that stroller while we walked through that narrow street was a challenge, let me tell you.  That little boy was mesmerized by all the beautiful, singing birds.  His eyes widened.  He wiggled and squirmed and tried to crawl into one of those cages.  Finally, giving up, he simply broke into song.  "Caw, caw, caw," he bellowed.  Everyone, vendors and tourists alike, all started to laugh.

I bought my bird cage.
   Today, people returning from Singapore tell me that Bird Street is now gone and that this hobby is a dying one.  There are still clubs around, but their only members are old old men.  "You were so lucky to see it," they say.

That bird cage now swings from the railing of my canopy bed.  It has been a permanent fixture in my home ever since that trip to Hong Kong.   Today, in Oregon, I wake up every morning and it is the first thing I see.  Outside my window, I then watch ospreys, gulls and white pelicans fly over the river.

 Sometimes I actually get things right.


  1. Such a lovely story and I bet a very memorable sight and sound. I love your writing!

  2. I saw this in Asia as well. The cages are beautiful but I'm glad you don't have a bird inside yours. We know how important it is to fly! Haha.