(#1 in the Annie series)
It’s that time again, the day before I leave for a big trip, only this time it’s a Really Big Trip, to the other side of the planet, the farthest I’ve ever been from home. So that makes it Super-Duper Heebie-Jeebie Day, a single day and a wake-up call from being driven to San Francisco and getting on a big ol’ jet airliner to take me so far awaaaay, as Steve Miller sang.
Only this is not about me—it’s about Nikki, as you know, if you’ve been reading along up till now, and her daughter-to-be Annie, who will be picked up in Changsha, China, by this coming Monday. After four years of waiting and working to be able to adopt Annie, Nikki will become a mommy for real in a few days. That kind of puts my puny little anxiety about the trip in perspective. It really does.
And people show up to say just the right things at the right time—some of them from China, like our friend Leilani Hu, former Sacramento Bee photographer, now an attorney for the state. She was born “at sea,” as they say, as her parents were on a ship coming from China to San Francisco. Her father was a diplomat, and Leilani (named for the popular Hawaiian song, “Sweet Leilani”) made her appearance enroute to his job in New York. Last night she and I had a good phone conversation about China, where she lived in the ’80s for a while, and has been a number of times. She’s not been to Hunan province, where Nikki and I are going, but Leilani, who grew up in the U.S., is perhaps the most Chinese person I know. She said her parents used to tell her that she wasn’t really American; she was Chinese. She never knew what they meant until she went to China and saw people who not only looked like her but had similar characteristics, the way they walked and talked and acted. “I AM Chinese,” she told me on the phone, which was exactly why I wanted to talk to her.
And then, today, Dick and I had lunch at Burr’s Ice Cream with our friend Laura Chun, another former Bee photographer who is now a designer, and Laura’s daughter Ellis. They live in San Francisco with Laura’s husband/Ellis’ father Greg Urquiaga. Laura’s parents are from China, so like Leilani, she is also a first-generation American kid. She is another good touchstone for me.
And then, after I came home and was practice packing Nikki’s small rolling backpack I’ve borrowed for this trip, the doorbell rang. There was Pat Smith, my former boss (also at The Bee) with a bag of perfect-for-the-trip accessories. She is Aunt Pat to a lot of people, and she and Leilani (dear friends for decades) have traveled more of the world than I am ever likely to. She always knows the right things to say… and bring: lots of tissues, hand sanitizer wipes, hand lotion, a bag of almonds and a lovely book of Chinese prose poems by Lu Hsun—all in a bag with a typewriter on it. She so gets me!
China, it turns out, is not only the world’s most populous country (1.38 billion people) and uses 45 billions chopsticks every year (thank you, National Geographic Kids), it also pops up often in the U.S. So much of what we buy is, of course, made in China, as well as things we drink. Last night over a quick dinner at Dos Coyotes, this the house brand of iced tea: I have no idea if this tea is really from China, but there is that saying about all the tea in China, so maybe, right? I will be drinking that Chinese tea in China for the first time during the year of the monkey. (Apparently one of the things you can say to people as a way of greeting them this year is: “I wish you lots of luck for this Monkey year. 祝你猴年大吉”)
People have asked if I’ll see the terra cotta warriors (no, they’re in Shaanxi, farther north than we’ll be) or the Forbidden City (no, that’s in Beijing, even farther north) or the Great Wall (also in the north). I will not see some of the most famous things in China (it’s a huuuuuge country), but everything I see and hear, smell and taste will be new to me. I will get to eat real Chinese food and ride a bullet train and do things I can’t begin to imagine. That’s great because that’s what an adventure is all about.
Most important, I get to spend time with a dear friend. it’s a real honor to go along on this journey as Nikki’s kokua (“helper” in Hawaiian). As our friend Laura Martin said, I get to see a family be born. And that’s the magic in this adventure.
China, here we come!