Ocean Reverie: A Cosmic Perspective
For several times in the past, I made it a point to treat my family to an out-of-town relaxation and intimate bonding, as part of our Christmas and New Year’s celebration. This time, we find ourselves in Bauang, San Fernando, La Union, checking in at the China Sea Beach Resort. We like this place very much, after having been here several times already. It is also in this same place where I used to invite my friends to stay a night or two before proceeding to the beautiful summer capital of the Philippines, Baguio city.
While it is strategically located along the seashore, the resort maintains a medium-sized, oval-shaped swimming pool, just right in front of the family cottage where we are lodged in. It is here where my growing children indulge themselves in, in a cool and, in a very relaxing atmosphere, enjoy the early morning breeze, while at the same time taking their hearty breakfast. In the adjacent resort, just a few steps away, is a pool table, a dart area, and a complete set of musical instruments that are always available to them.
I was not surprised this time when, while strolling along the beach on the first day of our arrival, I casually met one of the regular “hang-outers” in the Makati bar which I frequent. On a number of occasions, we met here in the past. Vacationing with his family, I learned later that they have been here for the past three days already and staying in their favorite hut at the Coco Grove Resort, just beside the resort where we were staying.
I anticipated I would have more time to engage in a more congenial exchange with my friend, this time in a relaxing, but invigorating mode. What makes this place more alluring to us is that the long stretch of the fine sandy beach is lined up with quite a number of bars where one can hop in anytime of the day and night, without the pressure of time and traffic congestion. As in the past, meeting other friends in these places can be rewarding. The conversation is almost always pleasant and, occasionally, the relationship that gradually develops can be lasting.
The atmosphere of the place during this time of the year is peaceful, not dull, but gay and merry triggered by the presence of children singing in chorus to the tune of “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Their syncopated voices are only muted by the rhythmic sounds of the waves and the refreshing breeze of the cool winds coming straight from the direction of the Philippine Sea.
Staying in this place is always a real unwinding process to me and my family, after a grueling year of sweat and labor. There are no more pressures of fulfilling the tasks I am supposed to do in class and in the office – no more interrogations; no more nagging questions and scrutiny of what I do; no more stressful, unproductive faculty meetings. At this time and in this place, it’s all rest, recreation, and family bonding.
It was in this relaxed atmosphere that my friend and myself were downing our chilled bottle of beer, while every now and then indulging ourselves with an icily cold, delicious aperitif, made of raw slices of tuna fish, marinated in coconut milk, lemon juice, and diced with pepper powder, small slices of green and red chili, onions, thinly crushed ginger, all nicely arranged on a rather unusually large plate placed on our umbrella-covered wooden table.
It’s the best place to enjoy the stunningly beautiful, clear bluish skies above us, decorated by a mixed variety of cloud formations that change their colors and shapes every now and then, and made more enticing to behold by the occasional passage of migratory birds that travel in defined formations away from their winter habitat.
Along the beach, people are strolling leisurely in their varied light, multi-colored casual outfit, even as the more daring ones continue to brave farther out into the sea - boating, snorkeling, or surfing. Still farther into the horizon are a number of fishermen, now barely visible, scattered around the vast ocean on their way out for their nightly expedition. One could literally behold a sea of humanity under a canopy of a beautifully painted celestial canvass.
"What an awesome cosmos we are living in," I thought to myself, but at the same time wondering if there are really other planets out there inhabited by a humanity of extraterrestrial beings strolling along beautiful beaches like ours! I was conditioned by science from the beginning, to believe that there are indeed aliens out there, so I always say my "hello" and "greetings" to them whenever I'm here..
I could now smell the distinct scent of the ocean breeze that has the strong effect of almost lulling me to sleep, had I not been, I would almost say, rudely interrupted by my friend, who in his usual low-toned, soft voice that is almost imperceptible and undecipherable to my ears, intoned:
“You really made me think seriously about our conversation we had down there in Makati a few weeks ago.”
I thought he could only have been sleep-talking, or getting bored of the long silence and was already unable to deal with it. But being my friend I would like to think that he was just simply touched by the early afternoon's beach-inspired canvass of the cosmos and the flow of humanity that triggered his restless mind to recall that particular moment in the past. I didn’t really know what was going on inside him. The weather was getting colder and colder, giving me a comely and relaxing feeling that put me easily into a deep meditative mode.
How I wished I could have remained in this state of calmness and serenity!
But I could not, as I was almost suddenly jolted by the unexpected voice I heard. A sudden feeling of uneasiness began to creep in inside me. I felt I was about to perspire and explode and immediately hoped that my friend was only hallucinating and not really serious of what he just blurted out.
“Oh … oh, here we go again,” I thought.
I felt his unexpected comments only disrupted my rumination and, honestly, I didn’t want to respond to him at all, much less pursue the kind of conversation we had in a bigger group, days before. But at the same time, I did not want to appear so rude and spoil his day.
All along, I immediately recalled this Asian wisdom of human relationship - that in times when we feel we are unfriendly and unwelcoming and we want to be alone, it pays to pretend to be happy and sociable. This I learned, I remember, in one occasion in that same watering hole, when one Indian friend of ours, apparently aware of himself to be sometimes quite abrasive, and often to the annoyance of others around him, would loudly exclaim, while boisterously laughing:
“I know we are not friends, but let’s pretend for a while that we are.”
We all found this ‘pretentious’ strategy of his sometimes, if not most of the time, very effective. It became a silent strategy practiced among us, bar-goers, and indeed when I applied this to my family and friends, I also found out that it works just the same. I once pretended to be happy in the company of my children and their friends, singing along with their strange rap music, talking in their strange language ('jejemon,' is it?), and dancing with their Michael Jackson-choreographed body movements.
Of course, one no longer has qualms of doing all this after downing glasses of red wine. After a while, all pretentious feelings vanish and what sets in is genuine friendship and wholesome communion with the hilarious teenage group. Feeling young, I became one with them, to the satisfaction of everybody. “Daddy is not KJ this time,” I overheard my youngest child exclaimed when I was away to replenish my drink. Deep inside me I was also very happy since I did not disappoint my children’s party celebration with their relatives and friends. “It pays to pretend to be happy after all when you are feeling sad and blue,” I said to myself.
Anyway, I was immediately transported back to the present moment, to the presence of my friend beside me… And, after a very long pause, I said jokingly:
“Having sleepless nights thinking about it. I suppose.”
At this time, he took out a stick of cigarette inside a half-filled Marlboro pack lying on the table, picked up the disposable lighter beside it and lit it, which is now securely fastened between his lips. Inhaling, he took a long puff, blowing out a cloud of smoke as he exhaled slowly, while taking the lighted cigarette on his left hand in a gesture of great contentment. Almost immediately, he coughed sporadically, but still managed to sport a gracious smile on his almost facetious face, like that of a little growing up child. Lying almost flat on his back in his reclined chair, a bottle of beer on the right hand, he began to relax, and later continued his recollection, this time more calculated and determined, knowing that he was able to extract me from my solitary confinement and got my full attention to what he was about to say.
Once the stage was set and the actors ready, the dialogue became almost instantaneous:
“My job assignment brings me to many places around the world. But the most outlandish place I’ve ever been to is here in Asia; its varied cultures and beliefs, sights, sounds, tastes, and smell are all entirely strange to me as a European. When I first landed here in this continent, Asia was an entirely weird place to me and I could not then imagine myself living my whole life in this part of the world.”
Preparing for a long night of relaxation, I ordered another round of drinks from the Bar lady. As he was calmly saying about cultural differences, I immediately remembered the words of one poet:
“Oh, East is East and West is West. Ne’er shall the twain meet,”
Oh, blame this on globalization and the advances of science and technology. The two continents are not only meeting each other, but are now also living together. Or, so, I thought ...I must have been propitiated by the cosmos when I heard these words from him …
“But, here I am now … married to a very beautiful and loving Filipina and we have a very handsome child … We often go to their province to visit their family. There, I got deeply exposed to the Filipino way of life. Today, I am more Filipino than a European. I go home to my country every now and then, but, then, I feel I no longer belong there.”
Anxious of the direction of what he will be saying later, I did not dare interrupt him from his rumination. We still had plenty of time to spare. The sun was just about to set and we were just barely starting. In the distance, we saw our families strolling along the beach enjoying the late afternoon breeze, and going towards our direction. Giving him more time to compose his thoughts, I signaled to the Bar lady for another round of drinks.
But there was not enough time for the two of us to continue our reverie, since we found ourselves conversing with our families who by then were already gathered around us, inviting for an early dinner ...