In less than 48 hours my mother and father will touch down in Beijing for their second visit to this great nation. The first was for my wedding, in 2006. My parents loved China. They loved that they were in another country, they loved they were meeting my husband, visiting his family, and seeing for themselves the appeal of the expatriate life their daughter lived. When my father in law passed away last year they felt honored that they had made it over here in time to meet him at least once. When they left China they were already talking about their next visit. Gone were their pleas for me to return to America — they’d made up their minds that they would be back.
And back they will be, on Saturday. My parents, driven by a fierce desire to meet their first grandchild in person, scrimped and saved and borrowed and maybe even begged (just a little) in order to afford the trip to China. Those close to them aknowledged that this was a worthy cause and supported their dream for a second time. Their first trip was aided by school fund-raisers, the Montessori community in Dallas, as gift to my mother for her years of dedication to other people’s children, decided to make possible a trip to see her own child walk down the proverbial aisle (proverbial because in fact we have no aisles in China. You have banquets and lots of toasting, and some speech giving, but no aisles).
My parents are typically American. My father sports a beer belly and (last time I saw him), a large beard and has a certain fondness for Hawaiian shirts and cowboy hats. My mother was a hippy in her youth, grown a bit frumpy, with a middle-aged woman’s short hairstyle and elastic waisted pants. They both have hearts of gold and an earnest desire to learn more about the world. My father is a big fan of google, and has made an odd hobby out of conducting internet job searches for his already employed children. Ever the dreamer, my father was and remains perpetually convinced that the grass on the other side must be greener. For everyone. At one point my inbox became so cluttered with random monster.com search results that I had to tell him to stop, seriously. My father has always lived with a sense that perhaps he is missing out on something, that his big break is right around the corner, and this sense carried over into China. When my parents came to China last time they wanted to know everything, no matter how mundane the exchange, they wanted me to translate it. If I asked if a shop had change for a hundred, or where a bathroom was, or how much for bus tickets to Jinghong, they wanted the details of the exchange, nothing left out. It was about a week before my wedding, my husband was not with us, and my nerves had reached their breaking point. In the end I hired an English speaking tour guide for a day, the best 400 RMB I ever spent. The man was more than happy to chatter with my dad, to point out every detail, in English. To explain why the bananas were being processed in such a way, why Dai houses were built on stilts, and what exactly that guy over there just said. More than happy, he was being paid to do all this.
This time my parents arrive not in Kunming, of fresh air and blue skies, but in Beijing, of smog and haze and oppressive heat. I am desperate to take them away from here as soon as they arrive, but as Wang Yao points out, tourists come from all over the world just to visit Beijing. I should let them enjoy the city too before making a run for it. My father already has a list. The typical list. Forbidden City. Great Wall. Tiananmen. Unfortunately this is Beijing and the Olympics are upon us. I can hardly afford a tour guide. Luckily this time Wang Yao will be with us the entire time. My husband speaks no English, my father no Chinese, but they enjoy the game of trying to communicate.
My mother, on the other hand, says forget the sights, forget the trip, she’s content to stay in the apartment with her grandson. Nothing else matters. Bless her.