Thursday, 30 September 2010

I am deeply affected by Europeans

Excitement today. A Spanish galleon sailed into Victoria harbour.

How amazing is that? To me, it is bust through the roof and touch the stars amazing. We had to see it. I am history hungry. Especially for memories of home, for things to see and touch that are not-Chinese. Culture that is European, temperate, and for which I have an understanding. In truth, on hearing the news of the Spanish arrival, I know I am desperate to fondle woven rigging, hear the creak of oak settle into water, and tell myself I'm three hundred years old and counting.

The galleon is a seventeenth century replica. No, I'm told it's the only seventeenth century replica of a Spanish galleon that sails today. Once, these ships traded the waters from the Philippines to Mexico and from Spain to the Americas, carrying Chinese silk and Spice Island pepper to ports in Mexico, overland then on again to sea, and into the markets of Europe. We fought them for it, we beggarly English, and don't mention the Armada.

People wiser than me can talk global trade, nation states, economic cycles. Here, I like to imagine the everyday business of sail, talk and trade. The noisy heave of the harbour and the hoisting of cloth-bound spices, crates and pots. The faces on board that felt the winds, feet that rubbed against wooden deck, hands that navigated and knew just how much a ship could safely carry before New World gold met the bottom of the sea.

Today, the galleon nestles tiny against Hong Kong shopping malls and mile high cruise liners, but doing much the same job as over three hundred years ago. Bringing a strange and foreign culture to people in the East; stopping to lift us gawping aboard; watching us wonder at the marvel of it all, how empires can be built from tiny wooden decking floating over a vast and formless sea. How many galleons would sail then? Two hundred? Three hundred? That would be a sight to knock both your socks off, sailing into port.

And something else, too. I can't help but notice. The Spanish sailors are very dashing. They speak like soft song, are round eyed, tall and broad chested, and look like they can handle sail and rope. Maybe I have eye-spied too many Chinese men around me. I mostly meet them face on, and I am five foot four. This is not romantic. Neither are thin and tiny limbs and bony hands, nor bundles of hollow skin and sticks. You do not imagine much comfort in the arms of will o' the wisp.

Well, the galleon and its men, are fantastic. They make me think, I am my history. I am European, dangled amongst China Hong Kong, albeit for a few short months. I know it, because here I am, dipped on board a floating castle for an hour: lifted out of a place that is not my home and briefly shown my past.

Now I have a request to see me through the months ahead in my home at the toe end of China. Along with your New World gold and oak wood and coiled rope, please send your European men. Make sure they are six foot, firm jawed, broad chested. With fantasy hands. They would be welcome.


sharon said...

It's amazing isn't it, that contrast 'twixt the Now and the Then - probably even more so with the whole cultural difference too. Glad you managed a little European antiquity fix to make your day. I know that's how we felt a few years ago when we saw the Duyfken replica at Eagle Bay in Western Australia. Purely on a whim we had gone there for a lunchtime picnic. Later, as we lounged on the almost deserted beach gazing out to sea, she appeared, all majestic rigging, gliding like a spectre along the horizon. A moment from the past, seemingly fixed in time. Brilliant.

PS And I'm pretty sure the not-so-little eye-candy helped to lift your spirits too, especially while the gritlets are too young yet for Spanish sailors to be a temptation . . .

Anonymous said...

So with you there! One of the first thoughts on landing at Heathrow last month for a short visit was "wow - look at all the handsome men!!" and that was at 5.30am in Terminal 3.... I may have been slightly brainwashed by the Asian normality of teeny tiny men.