100 Bottles of Beer

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 ….



Filed under Birthdays, Family, Life

7 responses to “100 Bottles of Beer

  1. Tom

    I had the swing tied to the huge oak tree kind of childhood. In hindsight, it was great but I would trade it for your kids experiences.

    I believe they will be better people for it.

  2. gamamãe

    I agree with Tom. I went to international schools and it was there that I learned a few things: that australians eat vegemite. Not all Germans where socks with sandals. If your dad works on an oil platform in the middle of the ocean, you only see him 1x a month. If your mom is on that maintenance staff at school – you get to play on the playground without having to take turns on the weekends. Looking back on such valuable information though I do think it did help me understand and accept differences are just that – differences, not better or worse. People and places can be horrible and wonderful – no matter where you are, where you´ve last been or where you are from.

  3. La Lopez

    You knew the Duncans? They were a hoot! Another cosmic connection, expat!

    As for the brew, make mine a San Miguel Dark, or during the holidays, a Nochebuena.

  4. La Lopez

    Forgot to mention that I’m sitting here eating a piece of cornbread I made from Lee Duncan’s recipe. It is to die for. Can you get corn in Shanghai, and do you want the recipe? Maybe the maid could whip it up, no worries?

  5. La Lopez: I need Lee’s info! Would love the recipe – can get corn meal here!!!

  6. Tom & Gammy: I know there is no going back. My children have their first real shot at “Halloween” because our neighborhood is so American. Is that weird or what? I am passing out root beer candy.

  7. gamamãe

    Princess – My first shot at real Halloween happened the 2 1/2 years my family refers to as ” the New Jersey years” and then trails off. I went as a clorox bottle( it was a hot commercial, the bootle got to drive a boat – in a toilet), collected a gigante bag of candy only to have it confiscated as that was the year newscasts were flodded with stories of razors in apples and rat poison tootsie rolls( my favorito). So – is ” real ” Halloween that great?? Hurray for you for taking the time and the effort all these years to get the basics of the experience across , and safely too.

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