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papa osmubal
oscar balajadia Author's notes: My family and I spent a week (August 2-9, 2008) touring Malaysia. We stayed at a resort called Awana, in Langkawi Island, which serves fine beers, wines, and an assortment of tri-cultural (Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian) delicacies. In a nutshell, Langkawi Island is just like the Philippines's Hundred Islands and Boracay combined, although Langkawi can boast of its high-tech motorboats and ferries and well-designed facilities that make one feel one is in a First World place. By looking at Langkawi Island in particular and at the Peninsular Malaysia in general, I should say that the Malaysians have successfully put up an effective, efficient, and working government. In our travel from the south to the north of the peninsula, we never saw any hint of dire poverty. Those who are considered poor live in well-built and mostly painted wooden houses. Our travel literally transported us into a glossy postcard. The Malaysians must be extremely proud of their country and government. I knew Langkawi Island from my Cantonese wife because it is one of the favorite tour destinations among the Chinese. My wife and mother-in-law have already put up a plan for next year: Sarawak , Malaysia.

***

I PUT Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey down on the table in such same fashion a priest would solemnly rest the Good Book at the altar. It is no ritual, though, no stereotyped artificiality—it is just one being true to one's surroundings and what it endows to them. I feel the tropical breeze blowing the pages and my fingers. The breeze is an ethereal whisper.

The waitress, half-asleep and half-awake, approaches. She manages a forced smile. "What do you want to drink, sir?" she asks while side-glancing at the book I have in front of me. She scratches her forehead, emphasizing the current sorry state she is in or perhaps puzzled by the book or its title. "The best that you guys have in the house—an ice-cold beer!" I answer back, feeling my face light up with some kind of flame. She looks at me blankly, pauses, thinks, and then leaves, as if there was an unanswered question on her mind that is bothering her and that badly needs answering. She must be wondering what is so special about beer that I have to punctuate my order with an exclamation mark and my eyeballs bulging big like they would fall out of their sockets.

This is the world-famous Langkawi Island in Malaysia, whose waters and winds are as fresh and refreshing as a glass of ice-cold drink! My family and I deserve this vacation—my wife and I survived another year at school despite the students and our respective principals (one should know what a teacher's life exactly looks like when students and principals are in the same place at the same time!), and our two kids survived another year at school despite their teachers and their principals (one should know what a student's life exactly looks like when teachers and principals are in the same place at the same time!). We have chosen the right refuge. This is where we are going to put broken pieces back together again. To my family, vacation means shaking off their tiredness and boredom and seeing new places. To me it means beer and poetry and to catch up with life. I dare say I am in my element here. Call it downright exaggeration, but this place is made for me and for me alone, and my coming here culminates and sums up its very creation, like tomorrow it can sink right back into the deepest abyss and cease from existing. This place speaks to me—it possesses the pristine voice of creation.

I push my chair back out a bit farther from the table and place it in a position where I can feel and see everything. I spread my hands, put them on the arms of the chair, and take a deep breath. I suddenly feel reborn. I literally feel life flowing within my system after sipping my beer. Relieved and revived, I pick up my book and intently look around, carefully scanning my surroundings.

Near the door one fellow is drowned in his book. He is a Caucasian, but where he comes from is not a matter of import, because what stimulates my curiosity is where his book has already taken him. It must be a very beautiful place. His book is a mirror in which he sees his own countenance and existence. I will be in such same condition after my first mug of beer: Bacchus and Hermes can easily capture the soul and that is what they are ordained to do. I have always been thinking that if belletrists had been cured of their alcoholism, the world would have been fraught with goons and political parties and literature would have long been dead. Dylan Thomas would strongly agree on this. (Pneumonia actually did him in, not his poetry and the "beers and 18 straight whiskies" he had had hours before his exit. ) My wife will never like Dylan Thomas because folks like him are always welcome to sit with me to fill our blood vessels with alcohol while nursing our souls with poetry. My doctors, who always agree with my wife, want me to do the impossible and improbable, to maintain my blood pressure at the livable level and prevent my veins and arteries from inflaming and exploding—that I write verses without my beer. Por dios, por santo! That is just like asking Ernest Hemmingway to shave his mustache and beard, give up his Havana cigar, and go to bed sober. Por dios, por santo! That is the surest short cut to the funny house!

In one corner another folk is staring at the wall. He would not blink, as if watching his favorite TV show. He doesn't own his soul anymore. He is totally hypnotized. His sight reaches as far as where only dreams can go. He is entirely in his own world. Who can rule this man who is not even in the very place where we are? His smile has wings. He is totally free.

There are hired crooners doing their trade near the bar. They look like they are from the Philippines, but in this part of the world it is hard to tell, and only their way of singing confirms my hunch. Strangely enough, their singing doesn't at all disturb.

The water in the lake nearby has a thousand faces—faces I know quite well, faces I might soon know, and faces that I only saw in my dreams. I just don't know why I have always associated water to reminiscence and the future.

A couple of sea gulls perched on the poles holding the wooden dock are looking at me. They would not look away from me: are they wondering why I am not feathered like them? I briefly look back at them, but then I will never do it again. The way they look at me just makes me feel uneasy. If I don't look at them they might shift their attention to somebody else or to something or just preen their damp feathers. There is just something in their eyes that mere humans like me cannot fathom.

Up in the sky an airplane whizzes by. I know it is going somewhere, but whereto exactly will remain a total mystery. The plane just disappears from my sight as soon as it enters into thick silver summer clouds. A journey, I should aver, becomes sacred when the destination is mysterious.

Here life reveals itself without human interference. Life happens here without even involving me. Neither sad nor happy, I just witness occurrences as they unfold. I have never been so alive, free from emotions.

A sudden gust of wind abruptly dishevels my hair and, like a motherly hand, touches my cheeks and shoulders. After dog-earing the page I am reading, I put down my book back on the table—in my mind words and images spring forth. The air is filled with voices—familiar, yet inscrutable voices. I suddenly feel as though I was back in the womb where the unknown becomes a home. Everyone looks on, halts, and pays attention at the same time, as if called by their name. I lift my head, too, and take a deep breath—the air smells of salt, of unknown flowers, of poetry, of life.


[About the author. Papa Osmubal is Oscar Balajadia of Magalang (Well, don't get fooled by that name), now a Macau resident (Sorry, where?) and married to a Chinese local (How? How come? Why?). He has been a Catholic seminarian (OK, he once opened a book at an exam in Latin and Romance Languages---but who in frigging hell did not?), a Catholic missionary (Oh, the rosary is the answer to our country's economic problems and to your alcoholism and addiction to nicotine!), a bookstore staffer (Yes, sir, listen here, we know it is urgent, so your book is on its way from Guangzhou and will be here in 8 months!), a librarian (Oh, it's Friday the 13th and I am not putting 666 as Dewey call number on this bloody book!), and a teaching assistant (OK, pal, I know you prepared for the exams so I will check and mark them!). He is currently a teacher (yawn) and has an M.A. in English Studies (yawn even more, nod off, and then snore) from the University of Macau (sorry again, where?).]

-Posted: 2:47 AM 8/19/08 | More of this author on eK!
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