Close encounters of the Asian kind

Joel Quenby 15 July 2010 5 comments

In China recently, a phenomenon described by some as a comet-like “fireball” spooked locals and forced Xiaoshan International Airport, in the southeastern city of Hangzhou, to ground planes for an hour to avoid a potential collision. The national aviation authority confirmed that the dramatic July 7 incident was the first time a UFO had shut down one of China’s airports.

Earlier that day, a local bus driver named Yu saw a strange glowing object in the sky. “The thing suddenly ran westwards fast, like it was escaping from something,” he said. Some Chinese experts said it might be debris from a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile; others cited a possible freak reflection from some unauthorized combat… apparatus.

One shadowy, supposedly official source said the government knew what the controversial airborne object actually was, but were keeping quiet, as the matter had a “military connection.” Curiouser and curiouser… But is this sighting just one occurrence amid a modern flying-saucer epidemic?

Back in 2000, The New York Times reported a UFO boom in China’s skies, noting, “the normally conservative official news media have been lavishing attention on UFO news.” (The Times added, “this is an extraordinary reversal in a country where, 25 years ago, life was so focused on Communist politics that most people could not imagine anything so ethereal as an unidentified flying object, and expressing belief in them might have been a ticket to jail.”

But flash back hundreds of years, and ufologists will find the earliest saucer sightings in recorded history in 4th-century Chinese texts, which claimed that a mystical “moon boat” hovered above China every 12 years.

Differing views of the UFO that closed Xiaoshan airport, China

Differing views of the UFO that closed Xiaoshan airport, China


A dark object crossing skies over Koh Samui, Thailand in May 2007

A dark object traverses skies over Thailand's Koh Samui island, May 2007

In Thailand, the US Air Force coined the term “U.F.O.” in 1952. But almost a century-and-a-half before, one of the earliest extraterrestrial manifestations occurred in Thailand. According to Malaysian writer Ahmad Jamaludin, missionary and physician Dr. Jacob Hazlitt reported seeing a one-eyed humanoid with “gleaming” skin dressed in silver clothing in August 1810. The sighting took place “on a road outside Meklong” (which could refer to the northeastern, Mekong River-bordering districts of Nong Khai or Mukdahan).

In September of that same year, the mono-eyed, metallic-attired freak was encountered again. This time, a local Siamese lady claimed that an unknown force awaked her one night. Surprised to hear the surrounding area devoid of the usual animal noises, she looked out of the window to behold the alien in her back yard before it reportedly swept her away to a “palace of lights.” The incident is thought to be Southeast Asia’s first extraterrestrial abduction.

In more recent years, a tourist’s fantastical blog account of a psychically conducted UFO encounter in a (disconcertingly vaguely identified) “remote Karen [ethnic minority] village of about 40 people… in the mountain range about five hours outside of Chiang Mai.” The ripping yarn, detailing the “jaan fai” (plates of light) that swarmed overhead “almost every night,” is worthy of Steven Spielberg.

A UFO crash-lands in Bangkok (by Frederick Thommesen via Flickr Creative Commons License)

A UFO crash-lands in Bangkok (by Frederick Thommesen via Flickr Creative Commons License)


Former prime minister and veritable Japanese Kennedy Yukio Hatoyama admitted that his wife had aroused unprecedented passions in him. Former actress Miyuki, voted in Time magazine’s “Top 10 Colorful First Spouses,” perhaps awakened something else in the Democratic Party of Japan leader when she momentarily overshadowed his greatest political coup (which displaced the Liberal Democrats from over half-a-century in power).

Miyuki’s words in her 2008 book Most Bizarre Things I’ve Encountered made giant, Martian strides from former US president Jimmy Carter’s famous 1969 UFO sighting. She claimed that aliens took her soul to the planet Venus—which she described as “a very beautiful place” being “very green”—while she was asleep.

The Hatoyamas huddle up to the Obamas

The Hatoyamas huddle up to the Obamas

The revelations, which included hanging out with Tom Cruise—in a previous life, when Cruise was apparently Japanese—set subeditors around the world to “pun” mode. Regular readers of her spirituality column for Mu Magazine, a publication exploring the paranormal, were less shocked. They had previously dubbed her “Mrs. Occult” for her unorthodox views.

“I can understand to a degree [the existence of UFO’s],” responded baffled PM Hatoyama, according to a Japanese blog. “But being told by your wife ‘I’ve gone and returned from Venus,’ still bewilders me.” As indeed it might.


The India Daily reported “an enormous number of UFO sightings” before the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and wondered “were they trying to warn?”

The editorial claimed that those, “in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu … Nicobar Island as well as many in Indonesia” were seeing strange flying objects and speculated that the aerial bombardment meant the visitors “were trying to communicate something.”

According to some unnamed “experts,” the Daily continued, “UFOs always hover around the epicenter of major calamities. They somehow sense these coming natural disasters … Some even believe these UFOs simulate natural disasters in the earth.”

The plot thickens and the conspiracy deepens: the India Daily linked pre-tsunami UFO flybys to the supposed earthquake-luring properties of a dangerous planetary alignment of the Sun, Earth, Moon, Venus and Jupiter. Dispelling all doubt, it argued that, “Mayans and Egyptians were always scared about planets lining up.”

The piece concludes that: “It is possible that UFO’s are trying to communicate to us to warn about the planetary positioning effects on the Earth’s tectonic plates and crust.” Possible—in the farthest reaches of credulity, perhaps—but not exactly likely.

Have you seen a UFO in Asia? Let us know here.

Joel Quenby

Joel Quenby

A British writer working and traveling in Southeast Asia since 2002, filing words in support of exotic fripperies beyond his means. More can be had at:

5 Comments For This Post

  1. goodoldboy goodoldboy Says:

    A great article! Are we any closer to solving these phenomena with all our modern technology?

  2. lgee lgee Says:

    Oh I wished I believed in alien visitations! UFO’s as an early warning system for natural disasters? Now that would be progress! We could certainly use an injection of alien innovation. Our failure to imagine aliens as anything much beyond the 1810 Malaysian description you cited is rather pathetic of us really. Although, I might upset the sci-fi fans with that comment…

  3. lbriar lbriar Says:

    And here I thought aliens only visited the mid-western United States… Great little piece on the great beyond…

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. World Wide News Flash Says:

    Close encounters of the Asian kind…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)

  2. » Close encounters of the Asian kind | Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia Says:

    [...] Go here to see the original: Close encounters of the Asian kind | Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia [...]

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Sign In

Amy Ma

Food & Drink + Hong Kong

Amy is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post and Wall Street Journal amongst other publications. [...]

Pua Mench

Hong Kong

Pua is a writing and traveling enthusiast based in Hong Kong, with a weakness for all things related to the culinary arts and healing modalities, and a passion for sustainable living. [...]

Kim Inglis

Wellness Spa

Kim has been an editor and journalist for over 20 years, more than half of which has been spent in Asia. [...]

Nellie Huang

Travel Adventures + Singapore

Nellie has been published in Food & Travel magazine and Lifestyle, and is a contributing author of V!VA's Guatemala Guidebook. She writes to travel, and travels to write. [...]

Sarah Jane Evans

Travel Adventures + Borneo

She has published travel articles in Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia in publications including: Vacations and Travel magazine... [...]

Carrie Kellenberger

Photo Blog + Taiwan

She has traveled throughout Asia, finding work as a writer, editor, educator, voice over artist, photographer, and nightclub singer. [...]

Mark Lean

Kuala Lumpur

From writing about music, Mark expanded his focus to design, fashion, food and travel. In recent years, he has explored the highs and lows of Asia. [...]

Joel Quenby

Entertainment + Asia News

Joel is a British writer and journalist who's lived, worked and traveled in Southeast Asia since 2002. He's filed yarns for numerous publications...[...]

Alex Gunn

Chiang Mai

After several diverse careers as a circus performer, school teacher, psychotherapist, stunt pilot and university lecturer he can now be found poking about far flung markets, museums, restaurants and odd places in and around Chiang Mai.. [...]