December 4, 2011
Tonight, we had a great opportunity for a teachable moment.
If you read between the lines, you will know that this is code for a challenging day. OK, maybe just the end of the day was a challenge, but it was a doozy.
Today was designed to be ultra-easy. If our motto has been “it is not vacation; it is not even travel - it is an adventure”, today was meant to be the last exception to this rule for a while. Our next stop will be 10 days in Nepal that will involve staying in pairs with 3 separate Tibetan refuge families for 2 nights, hiking for 5 days and staying in “tea houses” (huts to you and me). We fly tomorrow and arrive at midnight.
We felt like our family should have a vacation-like day.
We would sleep in, take a cab (not a train or bus!) to the Ocean Park amusement park and then end the day on the famed Star Ferry (one of National Geographic Traveller’s Top 50 sites to see) to view Hong Kong from Victoria Bay at night. If there is a more quintessential tourist experience in this area, I cannot imagine it.
Yep, nice and easy. A loving gift before Nepal.
Did not happen.
It started well enough. We slept in. Everyone seemed over their minor sicknesses. We walked to the curb, hailed cabs and headed to the park.
It is worth noting that cabs are incredibly reasonable methods of travel. Gas is cheap (govt subsidized) and cabbies are abundant. In fact, this is a basic rule in China. Yet, we have avoided cabs for a simple reason. They only take 4 people at a time and I have a strong discomfort of familial separation. What if our cabs deliver us to slightly different locations? We do not have phones or internet access here. Re-uniting could prove to be extremely tricky. As a result of this concern,we have used busses, subways, bamboo rafts, bikes, walking and just about everything other than cabs.
But today is special. It is the easy day.
We get two cabs back-to-back and make sure that both have the same destination, Upon arrival ,we attacked Ocean Park.
It is a source of mild embarrassment that we are unabashed lovers of amusement parks. We love the simple fun, the smiling kids, the white-knuckle rides and the extra something that each park offers. For Disney, the “extra something” is the characters and the attention to detail. For Seaworld, it is Shamu and the other shows.
Ocean Park has two “extra somethings”. First, the animals were extraordinary. We saw pandas, ultra-odd fish and a great bird show.
Second, the setting was unequaled. In fact, I will dare to say that no other site is like it and none will ever happen. I say this simply because no one with a functioning brain would take this tract of land and put an amusement park here. It is meant for real estate or a national park or a golf course.
But we were the beneficiaries of someone’s planning anomaly. Here are a few shots to give you an idea.
So, we saw the animals, rode the rides, ate mediocre food and absorbed the atmosphere.
We even made friends.
This amuses me because Terrill does not have any angst, but she can look the part well.
The best “friends”, however, were made in line at the one of the rides. To appreciate this story, you should know a couple of important facts. First, Susie is a great lover of order and fairness. As a result, she has a great love for orderly and respectful queues (lines). Line jumpers are her hot button. I agree that there is a selfishness about cutting a long line, but few feel as strongly about it as she does.
The mainland Chinese clearly have a completely different perspective. While in a 30 minute queue for a ride, a man in a white hat saw a small space between Liam and me and started to walk through our family as we stood there. We both had the same reflex - putting our arms out rapidly to block his stroll. He seemed legitimately surprised that we would not allow him to join and/or pass us.
But it gets better. While we were discussing his efforts to ford the River Baskin, we left a little space in front of us. We then turned to see 3 women in their 50s or 60s sneaking under the separating chain and jumping in front of Susie. The woman was quite surprised when she found Susie’s hand on her arm pulling her back. Apparently, this had never happened to her. Perhaps we broke some great social rule. Perhaps when someone jumps a line in China it is a act of great love. Perhaps we should have offered them some water or a piece of fruit.
We did none of these things. We walked back to our place in line. Oddly, the man in the white hat was completely willing to allow the trio of ladies to stay in front of him.
For the next 15 minutes, they leaned into Liam who had decided to become a human barrier at our rear. He gave me his backpack because they were grabbing it. There was a lot of talking and pointing on their part. Liam held his ground. The only time they gave him any space was when I broke out my iPad to take their picture over my shoulder (they were clearly interested in the device and temporarily halted their non-stop lean into Liam). I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that I could not capture his “standing wide” and their “leaning in”.
So with the exception of this behavioral anomaly, we were executing our day of leisure perfectly. Heck, we could have been in San Antonio as far as we could tell (except, of course, for the stunning ocean views and the line bandits).
As we left, we discussed our travel options. We could catch the express bus, but it would land nowhere near the Star Ferry sight.
Having established a norm of luxury today, we decided to go with cabs once again. It would assure that we make the ferry in time to cross, see the 8PM laser show and return for dinner. Sure, I would be uncomfortable with the separation until we arrived, but this seemed the best choice.
While we stood in the cab line, I allowed my silly fears to manifest in the following,
“If we end up getting separated, we should go to the Star Ferry ticket booth. Also, here is enough money for 4 cabs. Also, here is one of the 2 keys to the hostel (I was carrying both). If everything else fails, we at least both enter the hostel.”
As you can tell, I am a contingency planner. Put differently, I am a camp director - a role that requires regular midcourse corrections. During camp, you can spend 4 months planning a special event for the evening that is on a field with lights and picnics and special surprises and THEN find it is raining.
Clearly, this is a hypothetical example. It rains far too little these days. One of the favorite activities this summer during the rain was to – well – watch it rain, but please go with my example.
Anyway, you need to be flexible and able to adapt. Resilience and adaptation are the keys, but it also pays to have a backup plan at the ready. Personally, I think that such skills are critical in a rapidly changing and highly competitive economic environment.
These skills are also nice when you travel.
But not today. It is a easy one. Remember?
I think you can see where this is going.
Susie is very specific about where she wants to go in her cab with the girls. She has a map and points to a particular wharf. She says “Star Ferry”. After a 10 second conversation, the cab nods and drives off.
We wait 5 minutes for the next cab. I say, “Star Ferry”, he smiles and we are off.
As we drove, I noted that we were going too far West. I asked our cab to pull over. I pointed to the place where Susie had pointed to her cab.
Pointing emphatically to the wharf Susie had identified, I say, “We are going here, to the Star Ferry.”
“Not right. Only one Star Ferry. We go now.”
We then chatted for 30 seconds.
“Are you sure there is only one Star Ferry. This is too far to the West.”
“Only one Star Ferry”. I can sense that it is all the he can do to avoid adding “you staggering fool”.
But I cannot shake the visual image of Susie pointing emphatically to a particular wharf on a map. That location was to the East, on the other side of the Convention Center. As we arrive, we find that we are, in fact, at the Star Ferry.
Susie, Terrill and Virginia are not.
The boys and I then engaged in a reasoned and informed discussion. Here were our conclusions.
Both boys were calm and active participants in the conversation. They reminded me that Susie had plenty of cash and a key. They also pointed out that they could find their way back to the hostel. Since I am the DN (designated navigator), I am never sure if anyone else knows our exact location. They named four different ways that the gals could find our place even without the exact address. [Note: I do not want to suggest that Susie is directionally challenged. Far from it. She is a great traveller. On this trip, however, we have designated jobs. She booked virtually all of the flights and hostels. I am in charge of finding our way around.]
Meanwhile, Susie and the girls were having a parallel experience at their destination.
Here is the extra little something that we do NOT think about. The pier that she selected hosts the Royal Star Ferry. The Royal Star is not listed in any guidebook, but it is busy and is located at the place Susie specified. [Note: I am still unsure how we came to believe that her pier was the one, but the assessment was fairly mutual.]
Oh, and her cab has insisted emphatically that “this is the only location for Royal Star Ferry.”
Had it been called any other name - Royal Ferry or Royal Moon Ferry or Royal Keep-Families-Together Ferry, Susie would have realized she was in the wrong location. Instead, she waited – with her cabbie’s assurance that she was in the right location – for one hour.
Sound enough like a bad comedy yet?
We both waited. Since I had seen Susie point to the other location, I understood what had happened with her cab. Well, I understood most of it. I knew she was in the wrong location. But I was sure that she would realize it.
Yet I did not count on the ole Royal Star Ferry. She was certain she was right too.
Susie, however, was in a much harder position. She also thought she was in the right place, but she could not account for our absence the way I could explain hers. Nope. Accident loomed as the most likely explanation.
Yet we did not arrive. Susie started to worry. Should she call the police? A hospital? Sure the traffic was brutal, but after 30 minutes?
As she recounts it, this is the moment our daughters shined.
Virginia was playful and relaxed – she kept Susie smiling.
Terrill was at her best. If Susie got worried about a car crash, Terrill point out that the traffic was so bad that any collision would be at a speed less than 10 MPH and not to worry.
Both groups waited 50 minutes for the other. Both spent 15 minutes appreciating the Hong Kong laser show.
We both then returned to the hostel and arrived within 5 minutes of each other.
As I share this, I think of my sister Becky. She is brilliant, beautiful and very organized. She is not a big fan of variability, so she plans. She plans with a vengeance. When I wrote a blog about increasing our “appetite for uncertainty” she suggested that this can be quite hard.
If you read a lot of my blogs, you will notice that I love my kiddos, but I do not use the blog as a way to brag on them. We have all read the Family Holiday letter that seems to suggest that the writer’s child will soon need to choose between professional athletics, a record deal or research in cold fusion. I do not know about you, but I am not a big fan of the hyperbolic child report. It tends to make people feel either jealous or inadequate.
I prefer to show the much more amusing (and accurate) underbelly of the Baskin clan. As a result, you know about Liam’s stubbornness, Wiley’s absentmindedness, Terrill’s obsession with Wiley’s drool levels and Virginia’s emotional sensitivity.
Today, I make an exception. I was quite proud of how they dealt with this tricky situation. They helped each of the “adults” develop plans. They found and shared humor.
They did not worry or become nervous. I am particularly pleased with this point. You see, Susie can be a touch of a worrier. She, however, has consciously committed herself to not passing this on to our children. It seems she has been successful. We are separated in a city without phones and no one is nervous. In fact, they have enough emotional availability to find humor and be solution-oriented.
OK, perhaps Virginia complained about being bored, but that was the only negative emotion.
This might be the greatest gift of this trip. We want to cultivate our children’s resilience and adaptability. We also strive to make them more optimistic. Tonight, we saw that it seems to be working.
Terrill helped Susie developed contingency plans – where to meet us, what to do if we do not show up, etc.
The boys were calm and thoughtful. Each presented a scenario to explain the absence of the girls and potential meeting points.
Virginia was playful and kept Susie smiling.
Both groups found a way to enjoy the laser show in the middle of the separation.
None thought that a disaster had happened.
I am delighted with this outcome – calmness combined with contingency planning. They are growing up quicker than I had assumed. Happily, it seems to be in positive ways!
Now they can get busy researching cold fusion.