APRIL PENG 13V
I know a humble little paradise, far, far away, of the utmost innocent and free spirited joy. It’s a place of boundless youth and infinite possibilities, where fears and anxieties of today vanquish entirely. Indeed, this haven is difficult to find, as I believe it is trapped within my memories. So allow me to take you there. Can you imagine it? The sun, the heat, the humidity…
I grew up by the water, learnt to swim before I could even speak. My hometown goes by the name of Hainan, meaning ‘South of the Ocean’, a small piece of paradise located in the South China Sea. In my memory, there isn’t a single shadowed corner of the island unkissed by the sun, and indeed, it is as if the sky is constantly painted with a piercing swatch of blue. The humidity would hit you the moment you step off the aeroplane, thick, dense air. You can almost smell the water vapour molecules, tickling your nostrils as you inhale. It smells slightly of both tarmac, and pollen, of blinding blue skies and towering palm trees. If you really concentrate, if you’re patient enough and determined enough, you can almost smell the salt of the ocean, though its probably just your senses deceiving you.
The mid-august early afternoon sun is poisonous. Two minutes under those blistering rays are enough to saturate you with sweat, oozing out your pores. That’s why the summer afternoons are slow, quiet, lazy. It takes dusk to bring the city to life. When the sun begins to set, it is as if you have acquired saffron tinted vision. The horizon becomes rimmed with a warm shade of blood orange, dissolving into the dull turquoise of the water. This is my little slice of paradise.
I will never forget those carefree Sunday afternoons, when my father and I would drive down to the beach, a mere twenty minutes away from our house. The car would be overwhelmed with excitement, music blasting, father and daughter harmonious, giddy with joy. When the smell of salt would hit us, pungent and liberating, and we would roll down our windows and begin searching for signs of the sea. You can always smell the ocean before you can see it. Palm trees would pave out our path on either side of the road, tall and rigid, like fences, guarding the waters beyond. It would tease us with glimpses of blue through the trees as we approached, as if the ocean were coy, playing a game of hide and seek. I would bubble in anticipation, yelling and rejoicing “I can see the ocean!”. And then, as if exiting a long dark tunnel, the trees would suddenly clear, and we have arrived.
I remember the exhilaration I felt as I charged down the shore into the water, spraying the blistering sand behind me on every step. My feet would tingle in anticipation as they dove into the cool, crisp waters, feet first, then thighs, then waist. Yelps of pure, concentrated bliss. When underwater, my hair would flow gracefully around my face, like the ribbons of a delicate ribbon dancer. The water was never crystal clear and the shore would always be packed with people, but I was always too submerged in my own joy to notice. Sometimes I would become overwhelmed, and mistakenly inhale the salty ocean. I would splatter and cough, then laugh at my own carelessness. The salt was sharp, but always bearable.
When evening struck, the smell of barbecue would dominate, luring us out of the water. By this time my stomach would be quivering with hunger. We would feast on the shore wrapped in towels, and my salty hair would drape down my back. Drip, drip, dripping wet. The evening was never cold, only refreshing. We would indulge in the lavish flavours of the grilled squid and lamb and chicken and aubergine kebabs, ordering another and another, seeking pleasure in excess. My father and I would each be drinking our own chilled coconuts through a straw, comparing size and sweetness. The sound of gentle waves would wash in and out behind us. The sand would remain in my hair for days.
Even today, the seaside serves as a sanctuary, a place of comfort. I often stroll by the ocean at night, alone with my thoughts, alone with the sea. The water, dancing in and out beneath my feet, erasing any footprints I imprint in the sand. I could stand for hours, watching, the blackness of the water and sky, feeling the ocean breeze tickle my hair. All my worries would dissipate, washed away by the waves and carried out by the current. I would be left with a feeling of undisturbed harmony and tranquillity, an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, yet, a hint of melancholy from those memories lost to the past.
This is my paradise. Can you imagine it now? The sand in my hair and the gleaming turquoise ocean. The comfort, the safety, a blanket of air that wraps around me. Childhood, joy, and the exhilaration that anything was possible.