My parents weren’t the world’s most adventurous travelers, or the best prepared, or the most unflappable. Most of our trips started off with a crazy, chaotic rush out of the house, probably forgetting a few things, yelling, stress, followed by icy silence in the car for several hours. Still, this never stopped us from traveling throughout my childhood and adolescent years.
Mom came to the U.S. while pregnant to join her husband, a student at Utah State University, of all places, and so I was born in a tiny town in the middle of Utah – a most bizarre place for a first generation Taiwanese to be born. They had no misgivings about packing me up and going cross country and there are photos of me in places that I never remember visiting, from Chicago to Washington D.C. We ended up in upstate New York for a time, but by the time I was 3 we moved to Pennsylvania, where we settled for the remainder of my childhood.
Me, 9 months pregnant in Barcelona.
I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t hesitate much when I was also faced with the prospect of giving birth in a foreign country with a student husband. I knew it was doable, and my mom’s horror stories, perversely, just made me want to do it even more. It’s funny that I didn’t get turned off by my parents’ approach to travel, which generally consisted of a lot of last minute panic, poor preparation, arguments, and getting lost. This is how they approached everything from a day trip to Lancaster County to trips back overseas to Taiwan.
My mom had a way of just packing me up in the car and disappearing for a while when she was fed up with things. I was never quite sure what was going on, though looking back now of course, I realize a lot of my tendencies to run away from confrontations and problems come from her. Once, she even flew me back to Taiwan with her, leaving my father to explain to my school what I was doing there for a month in the middle of third grade.
I remember that trip as a grand experience – bouncing from relative to relative, walking barefoot among rice paddies, eating lychees and sugar cane, helping at my uncle’s cake topping factory (made in Taiwan!). I even attended a local school, which was an eye-opening experience. Every morning, before class began, students would wash down the school, mopping floors and washing windows. Everyone learned to take pride in their classroom and school. Lunch was nutritious, light, but filling, usually a clear broth served with rice, vegetables, and roasted water chestnuts for dessert. Ice pops could be bought during recess but it was a rare treat for most kids. And corporal punishment was the norm for things as innocuous as answering a question incorrectly.
During this whole trip, my mother left me with relatives, and to this day I don’t know where she was or what she was doing. I might never know, although lately we’ve become a little better about opening up about the past.
As an adult, and now a mother, I try to travel more to discover than to escape. If you travel to escape, your problems are all still there when you return. If you travel to discover, you have a much better chance of alleviating your problems, either by finding ways to fix them, or realizing that they really are quite manageable. I try to travel with less stress, less fear of the unknown, and less disagreement, though old habits can be hard to break. Still, as with most things, with practice comes improvement, and travel is one thing I sure love to practice.