I was buckling in the kids, following Joel's pre-op appointment at the pediatrician's office, and I heard the sickening crunch of metal against metal. The woman two cars down had backed into another car. The woman ran out of the car, crying, "Oh, my God, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. Are you okay?" Even from my respectable distance, I could see her hands trembling.
The other woman said, "Oh honey, it's nothing. Just a scratch."
The first woman sniffed, "Are you sure? I'm so sorry, I'm so---"
"Honey," the other woman said, "Happy New Year. It's fine. I promise." And then---and then!---she gave this woman a hug. As the two strangers embraced, I could see the tension waft away, like smoke from an extinguished candle. I have to admit, I sniffed back a tear or two.
Deep down---people are good.
This made me think, of all things, back to 1997, when I traveled to Hong Kong with a group from college. I was a senior, in the midst of my student teaching, grabbing one last adventure before graduation.
Our job was to be conversants for students at a middle school, providing language practice and cultural exposure. I'll freely admit that this was an excuse for my main goal---seeing the world.
Hong Kong reminded me of a British Southern California. Lush and balmy, it smelled of the sea, yet buzzed with the energy of Manhattan. Yet, everywhere hung a pervasive dread, like dark bunting, for the citizens were awaiting the advent of Chinese Communism.
As it turns out, life changed only in minor ways since the changeover in 1997, but at the time, nobody knew. It was a bit like watching the Berlin Wall grow from the ground, brick by soul-crushing brick. What light would be blocked---and for how long?
One of my goals when traveling was to be an adventuresome eater. Some of my fellow Americans were whiny, moaning about their desire for McDonalds or "American Chinese Food." Philistines.
We were in Asia, for God's sake, and I wanted the real deal. We went to a vegetarian restaurant which served chicken and beef flavored tofu dishes, which was odd, but whatever. I used chopsticks militantly, even though they provided forks for the "foreigners." I had dim sum, and yes, I ate this with hearty gusto, and asked for seconds:
Chicken feet: Hells. Yes.
We went to Guangzhou, China on a one-day visa, and visited a local marketplace. I made children cry with my creepy white skin and saw turtles, bats, dogs, cats, chicken, alligators, fish, tarantulas, mice, rats, possum, jellyfish, and beetles for sale. To eat.
Although I considered eating the beetles, I instead ate two fish eyes.
They looked kinda like this.
In all of this, my stomach did not revolt, churn, or protest. On our final night, the middle school had a "thank-you" banquet, and they served "American" food--including macaroni and cheese, casseroles of various sorts, and hot dogs.
Oh. My. God. It hit me at the downtown marketplace a few hours later. My stomach contracted as it never had before. I said a hasty goodbye to my friends, and took the subway, alone. Hailed a cab, alone. Returned to our dormitory, alone.
I don't speak a word of Chinese.
Once at the dorm, I curled into a ball and threw up in a garbage can. The smell was inhuman, and I vaguely remember putting the can in the hallway.
The next morning, I found myself tucked into bed, a glass of water on the table. I heard scrubbing outside my door, and saw a friend of mine scrubbing away at my vomit. I had not put the garbage can outside. I had dumped the can, and all my hot-doggy puke right in the hallway. I was too sick, I guess, to even care.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry," I croaked, as the odor of my own puke hit my nostrils.
"Honey," she said. "It's okay. Really." Then, she patted me gently on the back. "Don't worry about it," she said. "I'm just glad you're feeling better."
People are good. Really, really good. I helped my friend clean up after me, grateful that somebody was willing to take care of a foolish young girl a long, long way from home.
However---Chinese macaroni and cheese? I'll take a pass on future helpings, thanks.
This is my first, incredibly long-winded attempt at Memoir Mondays. Check out the other entries and thanks to Travis for hosting!