At the end of our trip to Mexico, Feng and I played the “where should we travel next” game. It’s a bit of a pointless exercise because we never plan our trips, but we indulged in it because we were facing the not-so-enticing prospect of flying back to Canada in the middle of the winter.
“How about China?” Feng suggested. “We haven’t been there in a while, plus we could visit my relatives.”
I was speechless for a minute.
“What? Mark is old enough for a bit of adventure, he’ll be fine!”
“No, it’s not that,” I admitted. “I was wondering whether meeting your relatives in China would be a nine or a ten on the awkwardness scale. I think it’d be a then. Yes, definitely a ten.”
“Why? We’re married, we have a kid. You’re part of the family.”
“Yeah, well, I’m also a 5’6 Western woman with a big nose, big eyes and relatively big boobs. Not to mention that you aren’t exactly close to your relatives.”
Feng and his parents moved to Canada when he was 11. He went back to visit family twice since, and the last time was in 1999. I knew he had family over there—uncles, cousins, etc.—but that was it. Even his parents rarely travel to China—they went three times, I think, in the past thirteen years.
“But I’m actually close to my family,” I argued. “We visit my parents, my brother and my sister, my grand-parents and yes, you met a couple of uncles and aunts. I don’t drag you around France to meet my extended family, whom I barely know by the way.”
“Who cares! We’re talking about traveling. And this is China. A country we both like.”
This much was true. I love China. I have a degree in Chinese studies, after all. Feng and I first met in Beijing in 1999, and I traveled there five times in total.
China wasn’t mentioned again after we came back to Canada. At least until May, when Feng’s parents announced they were going to China in the fall and asked us whether we were coming along.
Of course, I agreed to travel to China. Despite the awkwardness of the situation. Despite the perspective of traveling with my in-laws.
Eh, this is China!
First, we had to book tickets and convince ourselves that Mark would be “just fine” on a long flight across the Pacific Ocean.
Then we had to apply for a visa—all foreigners need one to enter China.
It took several attempts. The first time we showed up at the Chinese Visa Centre on Laurier, we just wanted to get a copy of the application. The second time, the clerk glanced at our applications and said he needed more info—hotel bookings, copies of previous Chinese visas, etc. The third time, he claimed we were applying too early. Finally, the fourth time, our applications were accepted and we picked up our passports with the visas four days later. And paid the $285 fee. Ouch.
We didn’t have much time to think about the upcoming trip in August. I was very busy with a major translation assignment and Feng was catching up with work as well. I bought the Lonely Planet China but didn’t even open it.
Yet, here and there, between work and, well, life at home with Mark, we got ready for the big trip. We exchanged Canadian dollars for Yuan, and I stopped by my bank to notify them I will be traveling, so that my card wouldn’t be flagged for “suspicious activity” when withdrawing money in China. “Why are you going there?” asked the clerk, curious. “Oh, we are visiting family,” I replied absent-mindedly. He took a double take at me, no doubt wondering why my Chinese genes weren’t showing.
I made the usual packing list, wrapped up my work projects and started to swear in Chinese—just to practice, you know.
And then what?
And then, nothing.
Because nothing can really prepare you for China. You just have to make the big jump, and hope to land feet first in the Middle Kingdom.