When I was 15 my mother, brother and I went to visit my father in Hong Kong. It was the first time we travelled internationally together, and in what would quickly become a family tradition-we managed to make culturally-inept morons of ourselves.
Granted, it didn’t take much for us to stand out. My dad is 6ft, my mother resembles Diane Keaton, I’m blonde, and my brother is a redhead. Blending in with the Chinese is not really an option. Add to this equation several tour guide books, an obnoxious teenager with headphones permanently stuck to her head (yours truly), copious amounts of denim, and a travelers backpack (worn by dad-not sure what in the hell he kept in there)-and you get the equivalent of National Lampoon’s Hong Kong Adventure.
We visited various sites, ate at a plethora of restaurants with food my brother and I had never seen before, and spent most of our time trying not to be separated by the constant crowds of people. My dad had rules set in place for us to follow. They included simple things like not wandering off by oneself and not keeping money in ones back-pocket. One morning as we set off for our daily site-seeing agenda, he gave strict instruction not to take pictures of anything in a square through which we had to pass.
It was full of people selling various souvenirs, begging, and offering rides on rickshaws. Dad insisted we keep our cameras down in order to avoid further attention on ourselves. Upon entering the square, it was obvious why he had been so clear in his instruction. People crowded the area, selling everything they could think of. We were instantly spotted and bombarded with statues, books, jewelry, and jade. The three of us stood quietly in the mess of street vendors while awaiting further instruction from my father.
I’m not exactly sure what happened next-but somehow things took a definite turn for the dramatic.
I remember my father asking me to read something out on the map for him. The two of us attempted to find our bearings when we heard the commotion, which incidentally turned out to be my brother yelling:
“I’m coming Mom, I’ve got you!!!!”
Dad and I glanced up just in time to see first my mother, and then my brother be rushed off into the streets of Hong Kong on two separate rickshaws. They were both screaming. Both sets of limbs flayed about as they attempted to gain body control in the rickety contraptions. Each of them looked horrified, and neither could get out of whatever situation it was they had stumbled upon. The drivers seemed all too happy to run off with our family members in tow, bare-feet clambering against the ground as they wheeled down the street.
Dad and I gaped at the disappearing figures as they were ushered away. By the time we had a second to react, they were both completely out of site. We had absolutely no idea what had happened.
Evidently, my mother had decided to take pictures of the rickshaw drivers.
One of them took this as a sign that she wanted a ride, threw her into the back of the cart, and ran away. In an act of heroism, kid-ginger followed suit by launching himself into a separate cart, and let the driver of that cart run-without a common language for directions.
Fortunately for Dad and I (who stood helplessly in the square without the slightest notion of what to do next)-the two risk-takers returned about fifteen minutes after their unscheduled departure.
I will never forget the look on my dad’s face as he screamed in English at the rickshaw drivers-each of whom screamed back in Chinese. He had to pay, they did take the tourists for a ride after all. Jaw-clenched, he threw cash into their fists as my mother and brother hugged in tearful reunion. You would have thought one of them had faced the death-penalty.
Turns out they just went around the block, screaming at each other the entire time.
That was the dawn of my family’s international travel days.
Inter-cultural relations haven’t been the same since.