“So, I was thinking, when you come this year, we could go to Disney World…”
Although still about 5 months away, stateside trip planning is in full swing. Surprising that I don’t already have plane tickets. Loose itinerary includes all the usual hotspots: Cali, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania. Possible stopover in North Carolina. No Memphis this year. What I’m doing is gearing up for a grueling but happy reunion with all my loved ones. What my loved ones are doing is planning to make the most of their allotted time with me.
That is my Jenn’s big plan for my visit this year. Going to Disney World and cruising the Everglades. Our conversations of late sound like a Dr. Seuss book, something straight out of ‘Green Eggs and Ham’:
“Would you like an airboat ride? O’er the water we would glide!”
“I surely do like airboat rides! O’er water it’s best to glide!”
“Would you go to Disney World? See Magic Kingdom’s flag unfurled?”
“I would NOT go to Disney World! I don’t care if their flag’s unfurled!”
“Would you go if it were free?”
“I would not go if it were free!”
“Would you go if lines were short?”
“’I WILL NOT GO’ is my retort!”
You get the idea. She was pleading the Magic Kingdom’s case. I was digging my heels in, equally determined: Goodness! That’s a lot of money! (military discount), we have to eat park food (we can pack a cooler), overnight lodging (park is 2 hours from home), the kids will be back in school (you’ll spend at least one weekend here). I don’t find standing in line for 45 minutes to ride a 2-minute ride fun (we’ll get speed passes). For every argument I had she had a rebuttal, and a few arguments of her own.
“I thought it would be something you’d enjoy doing with the kids.” “I don’t mind treating if I have time enough to budget and plan.” “I thought it would be something you’d enjoy, never having been.” “It is my Christmas gift to you: time at the Magic Kingdom with your grandkids.” The clincher: “I love how you get childlike when seeing new things!”
Clearly she wants me to go to Disney World. When did she get so persuasive? We left the discussion at her serving green eggs and ham, upside down, around town, and my not wanting them even if I were a clown, with the understanding that I would think about it and get back to her.
Life goes on. The school year has started. From the training field, freshmen shout cadences. If you’re in any way familiar with life at Chinese University or preferably, this blog, you know that college freshmen in China spend their first 3 weeks in ‘boot camp’: military drills, tai chi, learning principles of what makes good people good. But mostly military drills.
Teachers gear up for the new year. They’re a bit apprehensive about facing a classroom, especially those who’ve not exercised their English skills over the summer. Buses are crowded again - Wuhan’s student population having flooded back into the city underscores the fact that this burg is fundamentally a college town.
Sam is a busy guy these days. Besides teaching his full course load and managing Foreigner Teacher affairs, he’s been selected to be Teacher Coordinator, a position he had held in the past but had relinquished to Hellen Shao (the Unpleasant Hellen, for those in the know). In a sweeping declaration that took us all by surprise, Ms. Shao has quit her job, leaving that administrative position in chaos and her classes teacher-less. There goes all of her Guan Xi.
There goes any free time Sam might have had.
Although missing my friend and in fact, having some bureaucratic matters that need his help straightening out, I’ve resisted contacting him. I’ve been here long enough to know that the start of school year is hectic for all, especially administrators. And he needs time to get used to being back in the classroom, too. And… well, he’s my friend. If he had time, he would contact me or drop in. That’s the way we roll, being the friends we are. After weeks of being incognito, Sam invites me to dinner with his family. Can’t wait to go! Since celebrating Baby Erica’s birthday a few weeks back, we haven’t had a chance to catch up to one another.
Erica is my little buddy. At first fearful of the big foreigner, she would shy away, hiding behind her parents, usually never saying a peep the whole time I’m there. Maybe something about my getting down on the floor and playing helped break the ice. I think it was the day we discovered we had so much in common, down to the same color panties that made us fast friends. Whatever clinched it, I thrill when she casts her elfin smile my way.
And so, we play. In spite of the language barrier – even at 3 years old, she speaks better Chinese than I do. We get along famously. She’s not really hungry come dinner time. She fills up on apple flavored milk and nibbles on deep fried spring rolls.
This precious, beautiful child, dressed all in pink! I’ll bet she would love to go to Disney World! I can just imagine her gamin grin as she runs from Mickey to Minny, from Goofy to Scrooge. And OH!!! When she sees Cinderella with her own eyes for the very first time! Why, I believe she would stop dead in her tracks, wondering by what alchemy the princess in her book became real.
As is wont to happen at pivotal moments like this, thoughts came crashing in. As though in an arcade suddenly brought to life at the throw of a breaker, I saw the light.
Erica would love a trip to Disney. If they could, Sam and Penny would sacrifice limbs to treat their daughter. They might never step foot on American soil even though it is a dream of theirs, let alone have the chance to take their child, the only one they will ever have, to see fairy princesses and ride carriage rides. And here I sit, being given such an opportunity, and I balk.
When did I stop wanting to have fun? When did I decide to live so narrowly that, when offered an experience outside my rigid perspective I find reasons not to partake? Since when do my desires take precedence over what anyone else is so eager to share with me? And who am I to disappoint my daughter who, at this very moment is planning grandiose schemes to ensure I am fully entertained and will return to China with the memory of a once in a lifetime event?
Of course, you might argue the flipside just as persuasively. Over half the worlds’ children don’t have enough to eat. There are people in war torn countries that will bed down with fear and not wake up because of a drone strike. Lack of water, lack of food. Dysentery, tse-tse flies and dengue fever. Cholera, malaria, machetes and guns. And Disney World?
It is said that you grow old once you stop being a child. I’ve always seen myself as a child at heart, approaching life with élan. Going places I’ve never been, seeing things I’ve never seen, doing things I’ve never done… and then, of course blogging about it all. But maybe I’m not as zesty as I thought I was. Remember how I would not climb the mountain to the temple I waited 3 years to visit (See Wu Dang Shan, a few entries back)? Of late my adventures have become script opportunities: I constantly record impressions instead of just enjoying.
Have I *GASP!* gotten OLD???
I aspire to live my life at austerely as possible, in solidarity with those whose lives, by necessity are so. Comfort, luxury, frivolous spending… as long as there are hungry people in this world, running for their lives and sleeping on the ground, what right do I have to wantonly pitch money out in pursuit of a good time? On the other hand, what right do I have to dash my daughter’s desire to please me? Why rob myself of the joy shining from my grandchildren’s eyes and gleeful cries? And how can I look at Baby Erica, who will never be invited to the Magic Kingdom, and tell my daughter it is impractical to exercise frivolity just to lose one’s self in fantasy?
Most of my life is lived with the echo of the unfortunate. One month out of the year I indulge in frivolity, enjoying pleasures that perhaps the elite would see as their due. Sharing loved ones’ thoughtfulness and care is certainly one of life’s sweetest obligations. What are grandchildren for, if not to play with, indulge in fantasy with, hear their laughter and share their joy?
Sweetie, I gladly accept your offer. Not just to share the magic with you and the kids, but so I can bring Sam, Penny and Erica in my heart and share it with them too.
Get ready, Goofy: This kid is going to DISNEY WORLD!!!