Friday, May 18, 2007
The Days of My Seafarer's Life
I grew up in the rugged, scenic and secluded town near the foot of Sierra Madre mountain range, though I was born in Manila. Growing up in my hometown is full of idyllic memories till the day when our family moved back again to Manila to continue my studies. Grade 6 at the Philippine Normal College’s elementary dept, Manila High School, and College at the Philippine Maritime Institute.
Just after graduation from the Nautical College, I joined the ship as a Cadet. It was full of unforgettable memories, for that time I was young, innocent, and reckless, it was the beginning of the days of wines and roses, and adventures for me.
On the summer of 1970, I was already a ship’s 3rd Officer when I was assigned to work on a Hydrographic survey ship in the former South Vietnam. It was during the height of the Vietnam War and it was very thrilling and exciting experiences when I first arrived in Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport
The Airport tarmac was full of all kinds of war machines, Jet planes, fixed propeller aircrafts, Helicopters, and other armors of war. Young American soldiers arriving from the U.S. Military staging points in California, Okinawa, and from Clark Airbase and Subic Naval Base in the Philippines. The arriving GIs were mostly draftees and were very young,as young as 18 years old and as green as their green jungle uniform.
Also in the airport were American soldiers returning to their homeland after their grueling tour of duty and perhaps they wished they never come to Vietnam. Some returnees were in coffins, and some were in crutches. And those soldiers going back to the “Land of the Brave and the Free” were very much physically fit and hardened by the brutal war, but their psyche were already damaged by that ruthless war.
Those soldiers returned to their homeland, defeated and with a deep damage to their psyche and souls for the rest of their lives. But before they went home they usually spent their last night in the brothels and bars of Saigon, since most of them usually spents months in the combat area.
In those bars and brothels you can find the very young Vietnamese girl from 14 years old and the average age of those hapless girls is 20. Most of these girls or women came from the provinces in the highlands whose farms and homes were completely burned by Napalm. Those miserable girls have no choice, either they die from the bombs dropped from the U.S. warplanes, or die of starvation.
( Ten and twenty years later, I may have met them again, those hapless girls. Perhaps some of them survived that brutal war, became boat people and later resettled in the U.S. mainland. I may have met some of them again in the Hair Saloon in Vancouver BC, or in LA Ca, or perhaps they became bar owners in the harbor area of New Orleans or Houston)
The airport was bristling with activity, everybody seemed to be in a hurry, in a hurry to die or to live and leave that God’s forsaken place ?
The ship I was onboard was a Hydrographic survey ship that was hired by either the U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam or the CIA, to surveys the bays, rivers, and coastal areas where the Americans were having their war operations. I was in Vietnam for a year experiencing the agonies, sorrows, and brutalities of men against fellow men.
I have seen Vietnamese mothers pimped for their very young 14 or 16 years old still virgin daughters, just to have a bowl of rice for the younger siblings, as their families were impoverished by that war. The most inhuman war in the 20th century waged by the Americans against a brave peoples who struggle to free their land from the evils of corrupt local imperialist who was supported and sanctioned by the American government and the huge politically influential American weapons industry.
I have endured the endless nights of seeing and hearing combat Helicopters firing their Rockets and machine guns on their unseen enemies on the ground. Jet planes dropping Napalm and fire bombs on the hapless civilians and guerillas alike, and hearing cannon fire from the far off mountains. I have suffered the sleepless nights hearing the sounds of endless depth charges and hand grenades thrown to the water by U.S. Army patrol boats and US Navy warships, to kill the suicidal and brave guerilla commandos that were adept in putting plastic mines on the hull of Navy ships or any ships that is supporting the American war machine.
It was very difficult to get sleep on that war torn days as the nights were turned to days by the thousands of flares lighting in the night blue skies, your brains and ears will be numbed by the exploding bombs, cannons, rockets, and depth charges. It seems to me that war is like living in hell. But in the midst of war and agonies, love can also. In the ancient and beautiful coastal town of Danang in South Vietnam, I met my first love. Her name is Lan and by her looks I can trace that she a got a bit of French ancestry and her manners and poised, is a sign that she come from a well-to-do family, but were reduced to poverty due to the war. I met her on the street of Danang, selling pliers, hammers, cigarettes and etc, she bought from the American soldiers.
For about two weeks we loved and enjoyed the ecstasy of love as we were both young naïve, and restless. And words were not enough to describe our undying love for each other. After those happy moments we part and said goodbye not knowing whether we will see each other again.
While my Hydrographic ship is en-route to the island of Phu Quoc near the Cambodian border, I heard in the AFVN radio that my girlfriend’s village near Danang was overran by the Vietcong and later recovered by the US Marines after a bitter and ferocious firefights.
A few days later, I learned from a Filipino friend based in Danang that my dearest Lan have died in that battle, after her village was reduced to ashes by American planes dropping Napalm bombs. The war-weary Jet pilots accidentally dropped their Napalm bombs on the American-friendly village instead of their targets which is a Vietcong encampments a few kilometers away from Lan’s village She died a horrible and agonizing death from a friendly fire bombs. In the military jargon, civilian’s death from military operations were called “ killed by friendly fire.
She died during the Vietcong’s “Tet” offensive, on the eve of Vietnamese Lunar New Year, just a day before her 18th birthday, an innocent victims of that amoral and ruthless warfare. For a year, I was in anguished and in deep sorrows for her tragic and untimely death. It was the winter of 1971 when my Hydrographic ship left South Vietnam bound for Singapore.
I left Vietnam with a deep sorrows in my heart grieving for the death of Lan, and a deep pain in my souls as my spirit was also scarred by that war, a wound in my soul that may never heal.
The Hydrographic ship sailed for Singapore for dry-docking and there I transferred to a commercial ship. I was aboard many Singapore ship from 1971 up to 1985, from 3rd Officer rank to Master (Captain of the ship).
On the year of 1974 while attending the wedding of my Filipino 2nd Officer to a charming Singaporean girl, I happened to meet a beautiful and attractive Singaporean girl of Chinese ancestry who happens to be the best friend of the Bride. Her name is Liezl and on that very moment I knows that she will be mine. She is an 18 years old College student and work part time as a Ramp Fashion Model.
It was a love at first sight and about a month later she became my girlfriend. We have an unforgettable romance and passionate sex , until one day she told me that she is pregnant. Since I am leaving for sea that time, I promised her that I will come back and on my return, I will marry her. As if fate is against us, it took about three months before I was able to return to Singapore.
I was very excited on meeting her again, but on approaching her I felt her coldness and a look of apathy towards me. She said while crying “ I am not sure when you are coming back or if you will ever come back, so I went to a doctor for abortion”. And I told her “ If you only wait for me and trusted me then you don’t have to do that drastic action.” But she only cried and cried and I know that what is done cannot be undone anymore. We continue our relationship until we finally quarrel and was bitter to each other. We break-off our relationship while there is still love and respect between us.
On the year 1980, I was already a Master Mariner when I met and fell in love with a 25 years old Filipina Nurse in Singapore. She works in Thompson Medical Center, one of the best Hospitals in Singapore. Her name is Angela and I tried to win her love for about 3 years but owing to my nature of work, we seldom see each other.
Angela went back home to the Philippines for about a year while I was sailing in Singapore ships, playing the role of Casanova, flirting, and making love to any girl who falls in my hand. Later on the year of 1983, Angela was hired to work in one of the Hospital in Baltimore in the United States.
On that same year of 1980 up to 1983, while falling in love and trying to win Angela hearts I also have a forbidden love affair with a Singapore girl. She is Kristine, a Eurasian beauty, and she works in Hongkong Bank at Singapore. My best friend Evita, who works in the same bank with her, introduced her to me. When, I met Kristine, I never asked if she is single or married. I always presumed that a girl or woman is single if she is attracted and friendly to me as most married woman were elusive to other men and faithful to their husband. Married woman is taboo for me and never, I pursued a married woman, for I am a moralist and a God-fearing man
For about a week while my ship is in port, every day, I dated Kristine after her office work
at Hongkong Bank main building at Raffles Place. We have a delightful time together, holding hands in lover’s lane and romantic candle-lit dinner in cozy restaurant. During her office hours in the Bank, I always sent to her a bouquet of beautiful Red Roses. After about a week, I sailed with the ship and returned to Singapore after a month.
On arrival Singapore, I was in a state of euphoria for I will meet my dearest Kristine on that special day which is also Valentines Day. From her office I brought her home so she can change for a nightdress for a Valentines Dinner. We went to the cozy restaurant of Holiday Inn and had a very romantic candle-lit dinner serenaded by a Filipino Band while we are holding hands and talking of sweet nothings and playing gentleman to her. After that wonderful dinner with wines and serenaded with romantic love songs, we went to Sheraton Hotel's Blue Velvet Disco.
And there at Blue Velvet disco while the sweet music “ To All the Girls I Loved Before” is played and we were dancing with our bodies tightly pressed to each other, I kissed Kristine on her cheek which she responds by smiling very sweet to me. Then before her smiles faded from her lips, I gave her an unforgettable French kisses on her lips and mouth.
On that very moment we knows that we loved each other so much that I knew that inevitably we will spend the nights together. We checked-in for a room on that Hotel and we spend the night with a very passionate and lustful love making that I have never experienced in my days of womanizing. It was a blissful night of ecstasy and an affair to remember for both of us.
After a night of love and lust, we finally rested from exhaustion and then she told me something that frozen me. “ You know darling, I am already married,” said Kristine with sadness in her quavering voice. With remorse and guilt, I told her, “ You should have told me, when I first dated you.” “Well, you never asked me and besides you told me that you will always love me, whoever I am,” she replied.
Then she relates to me that her husbands always hurt her after her tiring work in the office. And she said “ He was so jealous and neurotic that he accused me that I have an affair with my own cousin.”
And she added “ I admit that sometimes I have gone with my cousin after office work to unwind in the cocktail lounge for a couple of drinks, but I never cheated my husband and never had a love affair with my own cousin or other man,” With a wink in her naughty eyes she said, “Well, now I had an affair with you, Kristofer.”
I said to her, “ I feel guilty to have a love affair with you, knowing that you are a married woman.” And she replied, “ I am more guilty than you are, knowing that you are still a bachelor and a nice gentleman. While me is a soon- to be- divorced woman.” I am so confused and my conscience was bothered. “ Well, if I did not met you, sooner or later I will also have an affair with other men, who will be smitten by my Eurasian beauty’’ and Kristine added “ I am thankful that you came, and we found love, my dear Kristofer.”
On the following day, I visited Hongkong Bank to bring a bouquet of Red roses to my dear sweetheart Kristine. But my best friend Evita is waiting for me in the Bank lobby, and told me “ Kristofer, I heard that you have dated Kristine last night. If you are interested with her, just forget it.” She is already married and there is a Divorce case pending in the Court and you might get involved in the scandals.” I replied to Evita, “Thanks for your advice but it is quite late.”
I told my best friend Evita that I have misgiving and does not want to continue further my relationship with Kristine after knowing that she is a married woman and on the middle of divorce proceeding, but Kristine won’t let me go. As Kristine is like a person drowning in the sea, clinging to anything that floats, so that she can survive in the cruel world we live in. And me, the good-hearted Kristofer was caught by a trap. Destiny had entrapped me in that unenviable relationship.
My love affair with Kristine continued for about three years until one day we realized that our Love affair has no future as we grasp that we don’t really love each other and our relationship was based only on passion and lust. We decided to finally end our affair, and at long last I was freed from a love cage. But it was an unforgettable Affair To Remember….
End of part 1
In the year 2000, I returned to Vietnam as a Master of a Container ship. The black and scarred vegetation on the banks of Saigon River and the Mekong River Delta that was burned by Napalm during the war were all green vegetation at present. Saigon city which was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, was a teeming Metropolis of motorcycles and flashy cars, the Vietnamese were still after the American dollars. More and more Americans were having their fun in the city, but they are not American soldiers but Tourist and former soldiers who fought the war, the most sought after foreign currencies is still the mighty US dollars. There is a Jollibee in the plaza center of the city. And the tallest and the most beautiful building is owned and occupied by Citibank, an American Bank. Ho Chi Minh City today looks like just another progressive capitalist city. I reckoned that ideology whether capitalism or socialism is not a big factor for a country to progress. It is nationalism or love of country that makes a country progressive. The little girl that ran naked after the napalm bombing of her home became an American citizen after residing in the US for many years.Her story was featured in the Time Magazine in the 1990s.