Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Sea, The Ship & Me

There is something about the sea that seems so close to me. Probably the fact that my father was a sailor for all his life with most of my childhood memories filled with an image of a father who sailed in a ship to earn us a living.

I am still vividly remember my experience being on a ship whenever my father's ship docked. Be it at the nearest port to my house - Pasir Gudang or at Singapore's Keppel Harbour, the journeys I went through were always filled with excitement. I remember taking the evening train from Johor Bahru so that we would arrive in Singapore just in time for dinner as the train station was just across the gate to the harbour.

Sadly, Tanjung Pagar railway station is now out of operation and the land is surrendered to Singapore. I am particularly saddened by this event as this is one of the physical form that enables me to reconnect to my past. The long platform with a vista of arriving train from afar held priceless beautiful moments of a little child getting excited to board a train after getting to spend a brief happy moment with his father who was always away from home working at sea.

Arriving at Tanjung Pagar and after passing through the immigration checkpoint, having to see the glimpse of a man I call Abah is one of the happiest moment money can't buy. He would then always brought us to dinner first - having a good Sup Kambing or Baryani meal before we headed to the ship.

Crossing the road there has always been my fear as a little kid because of all the big lorries serving the port would always sped just as the traffic light turned green. Somehow I am always fascinated by those lorries that in my early years it has become the primary subject of my sketches.

As we reached the port's entrance, my father would asked us to wait as he settled the necessary documentation and authorization for me and my mother to enter the port. Once inside, I am the happiest kid on earth and no expensive toy on earth could match that feeling because in a short while, after walking pass a series of warehouse with its distinctive smell of goods stored in it, my father would instruct to take the lane in between of the warehouses that was leading to the ship. As I took the turn, there stood majestically a big structure that has never failed to amaze me until now. The clanking sound of metal from machineries operated on the ship, with the alarming sound of forklift moving around arranging goods in and out of the warehouse and the distinct smell of the surrounding area, all of it fed my sensory stimulation that in present time, I am at times suddenly taken aback by a certain sound or smell that has the same resemblance with that situation. It's a kind of weird that all those worked as my lullaby when it's time for bed and it had never disrupted my sound sleep.

Before going to bed, normally I'd spent some times at the ship's bridge looking through binocular assessing the surrounding - identifying all ships visible and later in the next morning I could tell which ship had sailed away from the port because there was a new ship that had docked and was not in my radar last night. I'd always asked my father what kind of ship were there, what they carried and some times what were their weights.

Being a kid full of curiosity, my father once brought me for a month's sail at sea and indeed, I was full of questions. How did the radar worked? How far could it reach? Perhaps, I could be the youngest radar operator on South China Sea at that time as I constantly been the one who looked at the radar screen from time to time. How are we going to know where we are? How to read the map? To make it more relative to my situation, how to read the map from my point of view - on an open sea and and how to use visible visual marks whether it's day or night? Why there were many flags nicely folded in the shelf and why can't I turn on the lights in my room if the window is facing the frontage of the ship unless the window's curtain is pulled down?

Why at one time, there were many lights outside on the sea when my father answered it was the oil rigs and we were passing through Brunei waters. Why there were boats approaching our ship when we docked at Lahad Datu and to my surprise the boats were filled with kids - mostly younger than me, being an eight year-old at that time? Why my father threw his coins into the sea when much more to my surprise - those kids started jumping into the sea to catch it first?

Most of it, my father patiently explained to me, sometimes in other similar way, metaphorically if necessary when I still didn't get it. It struck me hard now, when my four year-old daughter fired me with never ending questions out of curiosity and at times, I lost my patience. With my past in mind, I am now determined to feed my children with enough information, enough understanding of how things work in this world. However, I wish that their learning process happens in such interesting environment as I once had.

The bonding I had with my father at that time was priceless and weird enough, we are like world apart now. I don't know what went wrong. I am having the same fear between me and my children as I am now constantly under tremendous pressure especially if it's work related. I fear that I might not able to attend to their needs, that is to play a role as a father figure to them.

Looking back and how things have changed, it was about a sailor and his son, and how the son had benefitted from his adventure, and now that the son has grown-up, working his own adventure as an architect (or perhaps it's a misadventure?), having his own kids, the uncertainty of the future sparks the fear in him creating another big question in his life - does the future holds a better life for his family?

Recently, it starts coming back to me why that I like going to the beach so much or why I wasn't too scared when I got caught in a freak storm at sea while going for a fishing trip at Pulau Pemanggil, though it's a fact that the chances of my survival is close to zero if the boat sank due to my inability to swim, it all now comes back to my upbringing years - my father and his work at sea.

However the world changes, be it me being a curious and playful kid who is now a stressful architect, my father who now spent his time at home after years and years at sea, the simple life I once understood and how I am now living a rat race lifestyle - the sea has always be there as it is, at least from the previous 32 years as I started to know it. The sea don't change (that much in the context of our time), the same splash of waves, the same salty water, the same backdrop, the same excited feeling it brought you in a sunny day also the same fear it struck into you whenever it's stormy.

Only the people changed. In this context, considering my attachment to the sea, it's a whole different life I'm living compared to my father's. That's why going to the beach make me feels like going back home.

Me & the sea. Lovely.