I tuned out at 82, was jolted from my daydreams at 74 by the view from the Yangpu Bridge, drifted off until 50, again until 24, and paid attention for the last five bottles as the six sixth grade boys, birthday party guests, sang in the back of the minivan headed to play laser tag. My son was in another car ahead of us. It was raining and the windshield wiper blades needed changing. Traffic at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon was brisker than I imagined and since it is legal to cut off other drivers from the right, it felt like we were in constant danger of being sideswiped. Getting off the bridge did not do much to quell my anxiety as we traveled right onto an “elevated road”, sort of like the Aurora highway in Seattle that everyone thinks is going to collapse in the next big earthquake. Ever since our Colombian friend Alfonso, who worked for a French cement manufacturer in Mexico, told us how construction companies like to cut good cement with other fillers, bridges in developing nations make me a tad nervous. To say nothing of elevated roads. So, the irritating song distracted me from prolonged and continuous anxiety.
The boys – Americans, Chinese, Dutch, Filipino, Canadian – had lived in the following non-native countries: Saudi Arabia (“we went to the beach a lot, by ourselves”), Morocco, Israel, Germany. Surprisingly, the Americans were the ones who lived in the Middle East. Two kids were Chinese/Dutch. The mother, of Chinese heritage, said that although she was born in Holland, she is not as fluent as she should be in either Dutch or Mandarin and doesn’t feel entirely “at home” in China or Holland.
Which brings me to the burning question every career expat must answer ad nauseum to well-meaning persons: where are you from? My children can’t answer this question successfully. Jacksonville, Florida is a place on a map to Thing 1. Thing 3 doesn’t remember Mexico. Our parents do not live any longer in the states in which Mr. Understanding and I grew up in. We have mini-houses in two states but we are not “from” there. The best answer is “America” but we cannot narrow it to a state and it does not apply to our Third Culture children. How will they answer this question? The longer I live abroad I realize we have set in motion a series of events that can only lead to long Transpacific/atlantic flights as grandparents.
Hope for world peace, it seems, lives in a 100 bottles of beer. Singing that infernal song with gusto, determined to reach the end, these children have learned to jell with others from different religious backgrounds, skin colors, and experiences. They have been to places I will never go. In honor of this life lesson, I closing this post to go crack a Carlsberg, the only kind of beer I happen to have on hand. I am equally comfortable with Heinekens, Miller MGD, Red Hook, Corona, and Tsingtao, to mention just a few. Now, if only 99 others will join me ….