There have been a couple of moments on this adventure when I realize how differently I am experiencing our time in China on account of the fact that I am the parent of 2 small children.
One such moment occurred a few weekends ago as I headed out on my own to meet some friends. I got off the metro at my stop and was walking toward our meeting place, feeling good in that, even if I don’t blend in, I was at least looking like I wasn’t a tourist. Anyway, I was moving along with the crowd and all of the sudden a pair of Westerners with their big backpacks on their backs and their little backpacks on their fronts appeared out of nowhere. They were looking befuddled. I knew instantly that they were headed toward the hostel on Shamian Island. Their eyes lit up as they spotted me in the crowd. I understood the recognition, but all the same I was a little annoyed because I had just been feeling like I was almost unremarkable.
“Shamian?” I asked, staying in step with the crowd of Chinese surrounding me.
“Yes.” They replied. The crowd was pulling me past and I didn’t want to break with their pace.
“Up and over,” I called over my shoulder, pointing at the pedestrian overpass leading to Shamian Island’s narrow channel. “You’ll have no problem.”
I felt a little sheepish and even mean for not stopping but I also knew that I had given them sufficient information to get where they were headed. As I continued walking I realized that a few short years ago I might have been one of those travelers, armed with a map, some water purification tablets and tissue packs, only the most abstract of agendas, and the ability to sleep wherever and whenever chance would allow. Once in a location, I would pick a metro stop and wander aimlessly, just trying to get a sense of the rhythm of everyday life. Once I began traveling with Jason, things did change a little. He preferred a more detailed itinerary – one that included all the obligatory sights, sounds, and flavors. We developed a compromise approach – scheduled trips to tourist spots in the morning and an aimless ramble home in the afternoon, meals at the restaurants recommended by the travel writers balanced by (usually) unexpectedly delicious meals at small establishments recommended merely by the fact that we walked by and they were crowded.
Traveling with children is so different, for me at least. It is not pleasant to wander aimlessly for more than a couple of hours with 2 and 4 year-olds and flying from the hip for meals can be difficult too (especially given food safety concerns in China). The detailed tourist itinerary doesn’t really work for us right now either. They are up for the Forbidden City but, at some point, they do want to know where the Emperor’s playground is and if they can use it. On the other hand, traveling with kids (especially for an extended stay like the one we are having in Guangzhou) provides new perspective into life in that place – offering insight into expressions of interest and kindness (people like to touch children and give them candy and fruit), family structure (many more grandparents than parents tend children during the day), and culture.
This has been a rambling introduction to the fact that I am currently sipping a strawberry daiquiri at a seaside resort in Singapore. We decided to take a relaxing family vacation for Mid-Autumn Break. After our first child was born I told Jason that he had a narrow window of a few years to get me to do the resort/cruise thing. This is our first attempt. We have definitely made some mistakes. For example, I assumed that I would be able to wander to some neighborhood market or bakery to buy fruit and snacks for the kids. No way. There is no neighborhood. Also, although we knew we were going to the beach, I didn’t really pack for sitting around in the sun all day doing not much.I guess I am still not really sure what one packs to hang out at a resort.
Anyway, a car came to fetch us at the airport. The driver selected a radio station, Solid Gold Classics, which was playing REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feelin.” The music, the conspicous lack of litter, the perfectly manicured lawns and obediently stately trees made it very clear that we were not in China. The driver took us to Sentosa Island, a resort destination which Singaporeans must pay to enter. I asked the driver if the beack was beautiful. He said that he did not know because the cab drivers are not allowed into the hotel. I began to feel like an imposter, but whether I am pretending to be someone who enjoys resorts or pretending to be someone who disdains them is still up for grabs.