Sunday, April 4, 2010

Three Generations with Frequent Flyer Miles

Towards the end of summer, Ma got a call from Grandma Chu. When we went to the US the previous summer, we had all signed up for frequent flyer miles. The airlines kept sending notices in English to Grandma Chu’s house, and she wanted to know what they were all about. So later in the week, she had one of the uncles drive her up to Chungli with her letters safely wrapped in a plastic baggie in her purse. She sat around in our living room waiting for me to come home from class. As soon as I saw the letters, I told her that we all had free airline tickets to any place within Asia and back.

I was tired, so I went up to bed. Grandma Chu had already sent the uncle home and was spending the night with Ma. The next morning they accosted me as I was taking the kids out for their morning constitutional. Could we use those airline tickets over the Confucius’ birthday holiday at the end of September? Grandma Chu wanted to prove to the uncles that she could travel anywhere so they would take her along when they went to Southeast Asia with the Lion’s Club tour group. The uncles told her that the only reason she had done so well in America was because I had family there. They really did not want their mother along to spoil their fun. How could I say no to such a sweet old lady? (or to spoiling a selfish uncle's fun?)

And so another flurry of planning took place. Since the Lion’s Club always went to Southeast Asia, we decided not to go there. Grandma Chu wanted to go someplace that her sons had never been before. We decided against Hong Kong because Pa had been there in his youth. In the end, Ma, Pa, and Grandma Chu all wanted to go to Japan. I was fine with that because I had an uncle there who could help with hotel recommendations in Tokyo. My uncle did better than that. He worked with his company’s hospitality department to get us 50% off two rooms in the New Otani Hotel. It was a five-star hotel in the center of Tokyo. We had a two room suite. Each room had two king-size beds and a lovely wooden crib. Ma and Grandma Chu shared a bed in one room, and Pa had a bed to himself. Truth slept in the crib next to Pa’s bed. Peace and I shared a bed because I was still breast-feeding her at night, Yuni had the other bed to himself, and Love had the crib in our room.

Fortunately, I had taken that business trip to Tokyo five years previously, so I had some idea of what to see in the city. We went to the Tokyo Tower, the Imperial Palace gardens, and the electronics markets in Akibara. The old folks were not interested in the zoo, but Pa wanted to take the girls to Disneyland Tokyo. It was very new in 1989. The nice thing about five-star hotels is that you can get just about anything you need at the concierge’s desk, including the directions to Disneyland Tokyo. So another day of our vacation was spent at Disneyland. The following day we took a bus to Mt. Fuji where we hiked around. We did not go all the way to the top because of the grandma and babies, but we got pretty far up the mountain. We had a great view. After coming down, we took the bullet train back to Tokyo. On our last day, we took a day tour out to some Shinto temples in the outlying areas around Tokyo. We got back in time to go to dinner at my uncle’s house and let my first cousins play with my kids. (My brother and I were deprived as children. Our oldest first cousin is seventeen years younger than I am, so we had no one to play with growing up. But my cousins all had a great time with my kids.)

We had a great time in Tokyo. I had taken two years of Japanese in college, and I could speak enough of the very formal style Japanese with all the honorifics to get us what we needed. Unfortunately, I could not understand the answers because they were given in more colloquial Japanese. But Pa and Ma and Grandma Chu grew up in Taiwan when it was under Japanese rule. Pa had even attended three years of Japanese elementary school, so they could understand pretty much everything, but they could not string a proper sentence together. When we wanted to buy something, Pa and I would go to the counter. I would politely ask how much. The proprietor would answer in rapid, colloquial Japanese. Pa would fish in his pocket and pull out the money. If Pa had anything to say, he would tell me in Chinese, and I would then put it into my schoolgirl Japanese. Because Tokyo street signs have both characters and Romanized spellings, we could figure out street names and directions. I think it gave Pa, Ma, and Grandma Chu a great sense of power to be able to get around a foreign city and understand a fair amount of what was going on.

Of course, the Confucius birthday holiday was just the Friday of a three-day weekend, but we spent five days in Japan. I took off a few days from school earlier in the week, and we returned to Taiwan on the Sunday at the end of the holiday. Everyone was tired and happy. It had been a good trip. The maternal uncles all greeted us at the airport to pick up Grandma Chu and take her back to Toufen. They were quite relieved to find her none the worse for the wear.

That winter, when the Lion’s Club took its annual vacation trip to Southeast Asia, Grandma Chu went along to visit Thailand and Malaysia. She was a trooper, and she certainly kept up with the tour group, although when she got back and visited Ma, she told us that tour groups couldn’t hold a candle to the trips that I planned. She did, however, enjoy visiting the khatuey shows in Thailand. (Khatuey are the Thai third sex, the males who dress like beautiful females. Khatuey shows seem to be a must-see event for all Chinese and Taiwanese tour groups to Thailand.)


Cloudia said...

You plan a tour and I'd love to come along, Teresa!

Aloha from Hawaii my Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

Hi Cloudia,

Thanks for stopping by. My next tour might just be Hawaii :)

murat11 said...

I'm wondering what it must be like to travel around in your multilingual brain.

This was fun: I like the collaborations between Pa and you on the Japanese, and I think I'll have to set Grandma Chu up with Pa as one of my favorite characters in your Tales. I'd read about the khatuey during my "travels" around Thailand a while back with author Lawrence Osborne.

Teresa said...

Murat, you may not want to travel in my wild and wooly brain. The code-switching can get hairy.

I really liked Grandma Chu, too. She was an orphan sold as a child-bride to her husband's family. They pretty much used her as slave labor until she was 16 when her husband decided he didn't want to wait any more to have sex. She was pregnant a total of 16 times with 12 live births. 11 of the 12 lived to adulthood. She had a wonderful sense of humor, and she lived in wonder that in her old age she could do so many things that she had never dreamed of, ever.

Barrie said...

Great use of frequent flyer miles!! didn't feel the earthquake at all?

Teresa said...

Hi Barrie,

Of course, I felt the earthquake all 45 seconds (that felt like 15 minutes) of it. That's why I went online to see where the epicenter was and discovered it was coming out of your neck of the woods.

I think we all thoroughly enjoyed that use of frequent flyer miles.