Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Missing Country B: Palau
A mysterious wreath
Owen Powell - 24th October 2007
Last Thursday, Alex and I were standing on top of the GLA building, with wonderful views of Tower Bridge to the east and St Paul's to the west. We had been discussing our project with the Mayor's office, and they were extremely enthusiastic and helpful, and now we were up on the tenth floor thinking about ideas for parties and massive international get-togethers in 2008. It's nice to think that 'The World In One City' might end up being an ongoing project, rather than reaching a partially-triumphant conclusion tonight.
Alex pointed out to the east, nudged me and said, "Is that where Rotherhithe is?" I confirmed that it was (it's only a twenty minute walk from where I live). "Great," he said, "let's go and find our Palauan after this meeting has finished ..."
You're probably expecting me to be more excited about having found a Palauan. After all, we have just spent a year trying to meet people from every country on the planet, and with a week to go Palau was almost top of the list of the countries we had heard nothing about. But it was with a fairly heavy heart that we jumped on the 188 at Tower Bridge, made the short journey to St Mary's Church in Rotherhithe, and stood by the grave of Prince Lee Boo.
In all our research, the only Palauan we can conclusively prove to have lived in London is Lee Boo. Unfortunately, for him and us, Lee Boo died aged 20 in the year 1784. He was picked up on the East India Company's ship, 'The Antelope', when his father, the King of what is now Palau, asked the Englishmen who were travelling home via China to take his son with them and make him an Englishman. Lee Boo firstly visited China, where he saw his first mirror and first cow, then arrived in London, witnessing the first balloon flight in England a few months later. (There is more on his story here.)
Sadly, after five months of living in London, Prince Boo caught smallpox and died. He's buried in the churchyard of St Mary's, and you can see a 360-degree image of his grave here. We stood there for a while, and I copied the authentically eighteenth-century inscription into my notebook (sample: "stop reader stop let Nature Claim A tear / A prince Of Mine LEE BOO Lies Buried Here").
St Mary's itself was quite quiet. Alex spoke to the priest, who looked a bit like Friar Tuck, and he said that once every three or four years, somebody from Palau comes to visit and lays flowers on the grave. This year, however, a mysterious person had laid a wreath and he wasn't sure who it was. Could it be a London-based Palauan? We're not sure. Probably not. We think we would have found them by now.
We waved goodbye to the church and Lee Boo, and Alex went to meet a chef from Laos.