By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Maybe we should go to China this year.”
These are the eight words that immediately bring a shiver to my spine. Eight words that I have been dreading for the past two years.
These are the eight words my wife, Maya, used yesterday to officially announce that we will begin planning a family trip to China some time this year.
Our children — triplets — are now 11 years old, and given that we are an Asian American family, and once they have reached their pre-teen years, we apparently have a fiduciary responsibility to introduce our spawn to their “roots.”
I know there are those of you out there who are thinking, “This is an adventure, Wayne! Enjoy the experience of watching your kids discover their heritage. They’ll get to climb the Great Wall! They’ll stroll down the Bund in Shanghai. They’ll get to see a part of recent history by visiting the Bird’s Nest from last year’s Olympics! Stop complaining and treasure this!”
Fair enough. All of that is true. But you’ve left out a few things.
Let’s start with when we’ll actually be going to China. Given the kids’ school schedule and when we can logically take an extended vacation, the only time we’ll be able to go is in the summer.
Summer in China is a month-long sauna. We’ll be walking in heat that is so oppressive that it’s only suited for lizards and Kenyan marathon runners.
And since I’m the only one strong enough in the family to carry my wife’s oversized luggage, I’ll be the only Kenyan marathon runner carrying around a 50-pound backpack.
Of course, in most of the main cities in China — Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong — all the newer hotels have air conditioning. And, perhaps as a way of compensating for the oppressive heat in the summer, most hotels blast their air conditioners so low that when I walk in from outside, I’ll be the only Kenyan marathon runner carrying around a 50-pound backpack, wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and a winter ski jacket.
Then there are the children. Ah yes, our three impressionable children.
Having gone to China repeatedly over the last 15 years for business, I know that the flight is around 14 hours. If I recall, the last time we had a family trip and took a one-hour flight to Las Vegas, I had to answer the question, “Are we there yet?” 27 times.
Once we arrive in China, most likely in Hong Kong first, our kids will undoubtedly discover that lo and behold, there is a Disneyworld in Hong Kong!
For at least a day, I will likely discover the joy in my kids’ eyes, as they make their way through the Magic Kingdom, in order to ride on the same rides they have ridden on a hundred times at the Disneyland that is only a couple hours away from home. I will likely have to listen to “It’s a small world” in Chinese while enduring heat that is suitable only for a lizard or a Kenyan marathon runner carrying a 50-pound backpack and wearing a Mickey Mouse hat.
OK, OK, enough with the cynicism. I’m just kidding … well, half kidding anyways. The truth is, I think I’ll actually get a kick out of taking my kids to China for the first time. For the first time, they’ll walk down the street and not feel like they’re the odd man out. For the first time, they’ll know what it’s like to live in a place where the people around them look like them.
When I was in my teens, I felt that experience. I went to China on my own. It was a life changing experience. I went to China with the expectation that it would be an overseas spring break, but I came back profoundly changed. I looked at the world differently.
I met people who were integral to my parent’s lives, and by extension, my own.
I learned that the Mandarin dialect I had reluctantly used only with my parents was actually a gift that connected me to generations of family before me.
If not for that one trip, I doubt that I would have married the love of my life, who was born and raised in Taiwan.
I went to China that year as an American who happened to be Asian. I came back as an Asian American.
So in all seriousness, “Maybe we should go to China this year.” ♦
Wayne Chan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.