The sail of this childhood fantasy was set when I was in third grade, during a three-day summer trip, organized by Dad’s office, to Tianjin, a city by the sea.
It happened so long ago all that I can remember about the trip are mostly bits and pieces: our bus driver got lost countless times as streets in Tianjin are not laid out like lines on a chess board but twist and turn as if they are paths in a maze designed by a madman, we all slept on the pleasantly cool marble floor of the lobby of an elegant old building that bore witness to the glory of a bygone era of the Tianjin concessions, we visited a pork processing facility where pigs were “humanely” rendered unconscious by electric shock before being dispatched…
It was on that trip, during a visit to the Tianjin Harbor, when I started to have this fantasy of sailing the seven seas. The harbor visit was nothing short of eye opening. I remember strolling on the pier, dwarfed by towering gantry cranes lined up on shiny rails. They looked like giant soldiers ready to leap into action. I marveled at ships moored along the pier. Everything seeming bigger when you are young, those ships appeared humongous to me that day if they were in fact featherweight among ocean-going vessels. And yes, for the first time in my life, I saw the ocean.
I had read about the ocean. I had heard stories about the seafaring Odysseus. I had seen the ocean in movies. But I had never seen the real thing. Now that I was standing there staring right at it, as book knowledge of its vastness embracing eye-popping reality, I found myself gaping at it longingly, lost for words, totally mesmerized.
It could have been a long time, or it could have been a fleeting moment, before I heard a voice inside my head, growing from a whisper into a deafening crescendo, “I want to sail the seven seas！”
The yearning for the vast and endless sea has been with me ever since, but the fantasy to sail it had to stay just that, a fantasy, for a long, long time. There was once a chance for me to get enrolled in a college that would have trained me for the ocean-going transportation industry. But a different school, with clout, grabbed me. I did travel from Dalian to Tianjin once by ferry, but that would hardly count as sailing the seas, as the voyaging was done almost entirely at night inside the Bohai Gulf.
I’ve done more sea travel since then. I have done Caribbean cruises. But the Caribbean Sea is not “the seven seas”. I have done transatlantic cruises. Then again, the Atlantic Ocean is not “the seven seas”.
I love traveling by sea, so much so that, I suspect, I would keep on narrowing my definition of "the seven seas” to allow me to continue fulfilling that childhood fantasy of mine.
Oh, how I wish all this chaos thrown our way by the pandemic will soon end so that we can all go back to the happy business of turning our childhood (or adulthood :) ) fantasies into reality.