Glyphs of Warding, Icons of Doom
I got in a car accident a while ago. Everybody’s fine, no injuries at all; quite a blessing considering I had the entire family in the van. A trio of young roosters were taking their daddy’s Mercedes out on the town of a Saturday night and were blatantly at fault.
Around here, unless the accident is really bad, negotiations will often be handled informally without police or insurance company involvement, more so than I remember from the States, with the party at fault paying out of pocket at a neighborhood mechanic of his choosing. Maybe accidents are handled that way more often here because the low cost of labor makes it cheaper than insurance penalties for most repairs. The generally high level of honesty helps too. But in this case, the guilty party – that would be them – needed to take it through insurance since those Merces ain’t cheap.
In order to process an insurance claim, I had to go to not just any bump shop, but one of only a few large garages that handle seriously ruined vehicles. Approaching the garage was unnerving.
A long gravel road barely wide enough for two cars to crawl past one-another was lined on both sides by one ghastly wreck after another. The impact marks of heads on windshields and the angles and breaks of the wreckage compelled you to imagine the tragedies that created each one.
It was like entering a hospital by passing through an allée of corpses.
Like the majority of businesses around town, this one was Chinese-owned.
In Chinese-owned businesses in Kuching, it is common to find a talisman of some sort above the door. Typically, these artworks look individually made to me, with calligraphy and woodblock stamps arranged, often with graphical embellishments and red ink to go with the black. They can be quite striking. The picture I’ve shown you here is unfortunately a plain and unexceptional example of the type, just what I could snap at my favorite local nursery. I don’t know what any of them say, but I think it is safe to assume that they are posted above the door to bring luck or profit and ward away misfortune and calamity. These sorts of sacred or blessed texts are of course not unfamiliar to muslims as well, as most muslim homes and businesses will have the Bismillah, Ayat al-Kursi, Khatam an-Nubuwwah or simply the words “Allah” and “Muhammad” hung strategically around the premises. (And in fact there is a tradition of Chinese Islamic calligraphy which is stunning.)
But in this case, I noticed as I approached the office building that something hung above the door that did not look like Chinese calligraphy at all. It looked like a Hindu icon, but that would make no sense. There are few Hindus in Sarawak to begin with, and besides this shop was clearly Chinese owned and run. What was going on? Puzzled, I drew closer until I could finally make it out.