Thursday, September 17, 2009

Marathon blog entry!

1:32 PM, Newark to Beijing. Continental Airlines rocks! 250 movies, TV episodes, assemble-it-yourself music playlists, flash games, and a running commentary of our flight progress. Right now we have 12 hours to go before we reach Beijing. Our ground speed is 538 mph and the outside air temperature is -56F. We are over Quebec province, in the Central time zone.

I can write journal entries on my laptop while listening to 4GB of music on my iPod and watch a movie, all while flying at an altitude of 33002 feet. Someday my son will laugh at me for fawning over such pathetic, dated technology.

Although, y'know, he's not going to be wired and hooked up into every latest gadget and gizmo. Not in this family. We are a little bit frugal when it comes to life's trendy luxuries. We can always make exceptions when we choose to. I think showering children with every new thing is as bad as buying nothing at all for them.

3:15 PM EST. 10 and a half hours until we reach Beijing. We are over Hudson Bay - the big one in northern Canada. Not what I sometimes refer to as Hudson Bay between New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. That one is actually just the Hudson River or something. Nope, no Wall Streeters and fashionistas here. This is polar bear and caribou country. Maybe not so much polar bear country anymore. If I were sitting by a window, I could tell you that the whales look like ants, although I'd probably be making that up.

I was thinking about control and responsibility. Some people may get the impression that I'm a control freak, but I'm actually not. Healthy attitudes about control requires a balance. Whichever direction within that balance you're working toward, there will occasionally be times when you have to switch directions. It's like Buddhism, which, as I was remarking to a friend, is catered toward a dominant male perspective. Buddhism tries to teach you to let go of the ego and de-emphasize the self. When you are approaching it from the opposite direction, actively forming an underdeveloped sense of self, the rhetoric doesn't quite ring. Let go of your ego, let go of your...wait... what?

9 hours until we arrive in Beijing.

This whole adventure is getting more and more real. There are Chinese people on the plane, many with Chinese children. In fact I'm sitting next to a little girl and her father. They are both bilingual, but she chooses to speak Chinese most of the time. Likewise, my husband is sitting next to a little boy who does not appear to know much English. He's very cute, in a relentlessly bouncy sort of way.

We're approaching Baffin Bay. Baffin Bay, people. Unbelievable. We are now in the vast, vast region where all those europeans searching for the Arctic Passage got lost and, frequently, died. Or - and this is the hilarious part - found and cared for by native tribes. I love pioneering stories. the storytellers often gloss over the fact that these intrepid explorers encounter native peoples, but stop and think about it. Native peoples are PEOPLE. They're intrepid every day of their lives for hundreds of generations.

Baffin Bay. Yeah, I'm in an enclosed vessel with a comfortably constant temperature. No need to kill a seal to stay alive here. But still! Baffin Bay!

5:53 PM EST. We've gone 2954 miles and we are well north of Baffin Bay. Only 7.5 hours and 4298 miles to go.

I've watched about 2 hours of TV so far, 2 hours more than I usually do. I'm as mesmerized as anyone by the magical moving pictures, but when offered so many choices, I get very picky and have trouble finding many shows that interest me. I watched some Penn & Teller (eh) and 2 episodes of "30 Days." In the first episode, a deer hunter lived for 30 days with a vegan animal rights activist family. In the second episode, host Morgan lived for 30 days on the Navajo reservation. This one interested me because we spent last Christmas just outside the res. We met some very likable people with compelling stories. the food was excellent, the accents were charming, and the poverty was shocking. To gain a true understanding of life there, you can't just armchair philosophize. You have to go there. Even then, we only got a tourist's taste. You can learn as much about Italian-American culture by watching 'The Sopranos' as you can from a week of Native American
souvenir shops. Of course, talking to the real people helps, and we did.

The whole time, i was thinking cultural thoughts in terms of my son. His culture is so complex, so fleeting. From year to year it can change dramatically. What, now environmentalism is in?! Now Chairman Mao merchandise counts as nostalgia?! Who can keep up? Everything I know about China is sooooo yesterday, or last decade, or more accurately Korean.

I see culture as a continuum, which might not be a concept one can easily find discussions of. But then I am coming at Buddhism backwards. If some people find my perspective offbeat, at least it's not unprecedented.

If I were in a window seat, the endless white I'd be looking down at would be snow. maybe still clouds. But under the clouds, assuming i could see that far down, there is snow.

So. Culture as a continuum, and what that means in practical parenting terms.

Well, it can mean lots of things. It can mean that I don't have to frame every cultural lesson in terms of the kiddo's Hanren heritage. When he learns about the Navajo, he will learn as an outsider to their culture, but only as much as I'm an outsider. White American/european culture is not the center and starting point of all human culture. People who are immersed in it think it is. We may even convince our minority neighbors that it is. I am always a bit dismayed when nonwhite Americans define themselves in comparison to white Americans. We may be the ones to beat in the grand cultural rat race, but we're not automatically the default point of reference. even if we think we are. Even if our delusion is shared by other groups. Some people think the Hanren is where it's at. And maybe they're right. Hey, maybe some Navajos think their tribe is the culture of cultures... although the show I saw didn't suggest that. Neither did anything I saw and heard
myself in Arizona. But that's understandable. The last 100+ years of Navajo history, 300+ or even 400+ for other American tribes, has been about us using them up and spitting them out. The Hanren don't have that kind of all-consuming history with us. They have their own. For much of that history, we only have a bit part.

How would I teach AwesomeCloud about his culture? I'll start simple, of course, because he'll be so young. But as soon as I can, I'll convey to him that it's sooooo storied and complex, that there are patterns and facts and traditions he can rely on a little bit, and that the rate of change is dizzying. And that he can accept all of this at the same time. and when someone says, "Nooo, you're doing it wrong," which they already do, because they know more than you or they like to keep their old ideas or they're just like that as people, I can assure AwesomeCloud that he is not doing it wrong. That he's learning anything at all is superb. That he's keeping his mind open puts him well ahead of the experts. The person who asks questions is wiser than the person with ready answers.

If someone tells him what to think, they should be in for a surprise. If they want to tell him about themselves, that's when he should listen. That's where the good stuff is. And, just like they should not define themselves by him, neither should he define himself by them. Not even if they are white Americans.

We're at the north pole. I know this because our trajectory just shot ahead. On a journey totalling almost 7000 miles, a sudden jump has to mean your map is skewed. Which it is. Even better, on the other map we just entered the black area over the map. We are off the map, people. north pole for sure.

37002 feet over the north pole, to be accurate. And it's a balmy -50 degrees.

So yes, I have big plans to teach my Han Chinese son about the Navajo Nation. He doesn't have to relate to it, in spite of the parallels of their tradition-rich histories and dramatically different modern existences. He absolutely should know about it. We may bring him there ourselves. We do want to go back to AZ someday, so it only makes sense.

I think the sentiment of "teach him American culture, but teach him his own culture too" is silly and small-sighted, and perpetuates the delusion that White America is the center of everything. what's even worse is "teach him American culture, but only teach him specific types/amounts of his own culture." My agent wouldn't answer my question about Confucianism in his region because "Communism changed everything there!" No duh! Complexity doesn't mean that some elements are unimportant because other elements are more relevant. Time is a continuum too. i decide what is relevant, and I'm deciding that everything is relevant. Why would I ask if I didn't genuinely want to know? I don't need to be set straight. There's no such thing as straight knowledge. It's all messy and interrelated.

I must be getting tired. OpenOffice has a function in which it fills in a word you've typed previously if it suspects you're typing that word again. Its guesses are getting longer and longer. First it was 'themselves' but then it started giving me 'perpetuates' and 'interrelated'. I used to use bigger and bigger words as I got tired, back in the day. It's interesting to learn I still do.

We're really zooming across the north pole stretch. We are juuuust about looking at a map of Asia now, Yup, there's Siberia. It is now nighttime on the Cape, according to the map.

And that was all the blogging I did on the plane. For the last 5 hours, my eyes ached from watching that little TV screen up in my face, and I alternated trying to sleep and trying to watch more. Then I started to get scared - my head got all stuffed up. The staff handed out a form to deal with quarantine, and I was sniffling so severely that I felt compelled to check off the 'runny nose' symptom. I could just imagine myself standing in front of the quarantine officer, saying, "I'm *snif* all right, *snif* no symptoms!"

When we landed, I was still sniffling like crazy. Plus the sleep deprivation was making me red-eyed, and dammit I just lost the whole quarantine story. I was typing away and looked up and only the last few words were left.

Okay, I'm not quarantined, although I had to go into the quarantine booth to explain to the official that my form had 'runny nose' checked off because I'd developed a runny nose as the plane descended, but it was gone now and I'm not sick. He was very nice about it and it was taken care of quickly. In truth, I'm sure I'm having sinus problems, but it is a smog-induced sinus infection brewing - NOT swine flu.

We almost lost the baby car/flight seat at the airport. It was in 'oversized luggage' but the area we were looking in was empty. We finally found the correct area, found the car seat, and met up with our guide, Rocky. Rocky is great, but he knows less English than he lets on. He had a very outgoing demeanor and speaks very confidently. We will have to make an effort to keep it simple. Rocky says my Chinese pronunciations are excellent, considering how little Chinese I know.

The hotel is very nice, but some things are confusing. We were not greeted with bottles of water everywhere, as our agent had mentioned. But my husband managed to exchange some currency and buy us some water. I was really, really thirsty, but now I'm conserving what's left, as I'm in my PJ's and do not wish to go seeking more water bottles.

And how do you turn on the lights? There are things that look like light switches, but nothing happens when you flip them.

Internet is not free. It's pay per minute, with a maximum of $15 a day. (I do not yet know what that is in Yuan.) Blogger is blocked and Livejournal isn't. So I'm going to go ahead and post to LJ, and use my proxy to post on Blogger if my email is not blocked. I don't know why all the adoption blogs are on Blogger. I guess LJ was blocked, too, at one time, though.

Tomorrow we are on our own to rest and find food and wander around. Tienanmen Square is supposedly done up for the holiday, but it will be a mob scene.

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