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Follow the Light


Follow the Light

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Natural History Nuseum, Shanghai.--

By: Dahlan Iskan

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“Are you alone?”


Example 300250

“How many times have you been to Disneyland?”

“Many. I have an annual pass. Valid for a year.”

In football, season tickets are common. This is Disneyland. Turns out, there’s an annual pass too. Anytime, for a year. Last year, this year, he keeps renewing it.

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He’s been in Shanghai for 14 years. Still single, like Aat, enduring as a bachelor.

His name: Hody Zacharia.

Father: Sangir Talaud.

Mother: Minahasa.

Age: 46.

Occupation: theater teacher, specializing in lighting design.

He teaches theater in Shanghai. That’s the city’s youth. Occasionally, he glances at me on the subway. Now, we’re both in the open space in front of Disneyland.

“Ever read Disway?”


“Why not enter the gate right away?”

“Wait, sir.”

“I can’t go in. Don’t have a ticket.”

“Then, where do you want to go?”

“Back to Shanghai. But I don’t have money.”

“I’ll take you,” he says seriously.

“Huh? Take me? You should go to Disneyland…” I say, worried he might respond, “Yeah, sure.”

“No problem. I’ve been here many times,” Hody says seriously.

That’s when I find out he has an annual pass. My guilt lessens a bit. He can come here again tomorrow or the day after.

We become friendly, wandering on the street. All cafes, shops, and restaurants are still closed.

We search for a way back. I failed to enter Disneyland, but I’m already entertained outside.

There’s a massive lake. A giant Donald Duck statue is on the lake. Earlier, it was like an elephant in the room. Unseen. Concentrating on queues, mazes, and counters.

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Now, the peak of expectation has passed. The curve has descended. The heart is calm after meeting the savior. We can walk leisurely by the lake.

Hody buys the train ticket. He uses a subscription ticket himself. No wonder. If he has an annual pass for Disneyland, he surely has a subway pass. Maybe even a space shuttle pass.

“How about going to the Natural History Museum? Have you been there?” he asks.

“Sure! Never been.”

So, at the next station, we switch to the train heading to the museum.

“The museum is interesting. It’s a 5-story building underground,” he says.

For the first time, I enter a museum in Shanghai. I want to compare. I’ve been to the Natural History Museum in New York, next to Central Park.

The one in Shanghai is fascinating too. Complete.

It’s Saturday. So many visitors. The queue is long, winding through a maze. Crazy. Entering a museum is like attending a concert.

Most visitors are couples with little kids or just mothers with their little ones.

“In Shanghai, Saturday is Children’s Day. Parents always take their kids out on Saturdays,” says Hody. “Seeing this, it feels like I’ve missed so much.”

Hearing Hody’s words, a pang of regret stabs my heart.

I’ve never done that in the past. I never had Saturdays. Or Sundays. Even on Eid, I still requested the newspaper to be published. I was so proud back then, being called a pioneer in many aspects of the media world.

Museum visitors know which number they are. There’s a digital display on the wall.

I’m the 2,976th person that day, at 9 in the morning. The digital number keeps going. Once it reaches 5,900, the door closes. No more entry allowed.

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Museums are usually quiet. In Shanghai, they even have restrictions.

We enter the first floor, exploring the pre-human era. Descending to the lower floors, we encounter various life-sized dinosaur exhibits. Some are animatronics.

Further down, we delve into the evolution process until the emergence of humans, starting from 10 million years ago. Evolutionary films are also shown, asserting that humans aren’t creations of God but a result of evolution from apes.

Displays of ancient human fossils from around the world are exhibited. On one wall, you can see Javanese human fossils from Sangiran, Sragen (misspelled as Sangiran), and Trinil, Ngawi.

At 1:30, we finally exit the museum.


No breakfast.

“What do you want to eat? Shrimp? Fish? Meat?” Hody asks.

“Just noodles.”

“Just noodles?”

I nod. Don’t want him to spend more money.

“Lanzhou la mian?” he asks, as if reading my mind.

Initially, Hody worked at a private international high school in Jakarta. Handling computers. Later, he became a computer teacher’s assistant. When the school owner opened a similar school in Shanghai, Hody was transferred to the new school.

Five years later, he changed jobs, moving to a high school specializing in theater. Still in Shanghai. He has skills in lighting design. He became a theater teacher specializing in lighting.

I order noodles. Hody orders something like iskender in Turkey.

Hody must visit Disneyland often. He needs to observe lighting designs in the performances there.

“Managing lighting in high school theaters is more challenging. Their movements aren’t mature yet,” Hody says. It’s not easy to make sure the light follows the movements of drama actors or dancers.

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Hody teaches how light can precisely follow a dancer’s movements. “Now there’s AI, but basic skills are essential,” he says.

Now, a dancer’s body can be equipped with a chip, directly connected to lights moved by AI. Being a lighting teacher in the age of artificial intelligence isn’t easy.

After eating, we head to the hotel. Walk with renewed energy. Hody has caught the Shanghai culture: walking fast.

Hody knows my grandchildren will be at Disneyland until night. So will he. Hence, Hody suggests having dinner. He’ll invite another Indonesian friend. She’s been in Shanghai for 14 years too. A beautiful, extraordinary woman. 明天见. (Dahlan Iskan)

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