Friday, August 14, 2015

A Wonderful Summer Vacation

The reason I've titled this “A Wonderful Summer Vacation” is because I came away from the experience with a sense of wonderment. How could I have enjoyed myself so much on a trip that I took not for myself but for the sake of others? Arriving at Dulles International airport, I was soon greeted by my oldest sister, Trish and my younger brother Paul's wife, Cassie. At the airport and for the entire time I was on vacation, I was, dare I say happy with a sense of wonderment at how warm and friendly everyone seemed in relation to one another and me.

By the time we got back from the airport to my brother Jim's house, most of the family members that had gathered for our reunion were at Dan's house. Both Jim and houses are huge, but Jim's is like a mansion with a huge grass lawn in the front and one in the back that also has a slow-flowing river that is filled with trout and ideal for swimming, kayaking and canoeing. Inside of Jim's house, it looks like a museum with works of art and antique wooden furniture mixed with modern day conveniences. Overall it reminded me the houses that Hollywood uses to portray the living standards of high-level government officials such as the secretary of state or the Secretary of defense. Earlier on our way home, Jim had called and asked what we all wanted to eat, pizza or scallops. I had wanted to say pizza or a submarine sandwich, but Trish and Cassie both wanted scallops, so when we arrived at Jim's house, he cooked up scallops and Trish prepared a salad for me, which was absolutely delicious. It was filled with different kinds of leafy greens, black olives and lots of feta cheese. I thought about the fried rice and fried noodles that I so often eat and right then and there I decided that when I returned to Taiwan, I would make some changes to my dietary habits.

The next day, we went over to my youngest brother Dan's house. His house is I would say more comfortable than Jim's, but also huge, at least compared to what I've become accustomed to over the last twenty-plus years of living in Asia. Here, I got to meet some other members of my family, some of whom I hadn't seen for over five years. My mother seemed so happy to see me and especially to see all of us together, except of course for my brother Paul, who had passed away last September, about two weeks after I had started school. I guess that's why it was so important for me return to the USA this last summer even though I hadn't really cared so much to go on vacation.

Since I had arrived a week later than most of the other family members, several of them were already preparing to leave in the next couple of days to fly back to California and Washington State. Thus, my time with Paul's family was shorter than I would have liked it to be. However, I did get chances to speak with Paul's wife and two daughters, one of whom I invited to visit Taiwan after finishing high school. I figured that since she had lived most of her life in Singapore, she might also consider attending school Asia, specifically Taiwan.

Besides the love and consideration that my family and extended family seemed to give to one another, I was also amazed by the size of the land in the USA. People seem to have such big houses and giant lawns that I knew required to be cut at least twice a month. While walking down the street or driving in the car, I would look at the houses, at their windows and giant lawns. I wondered: who lived there and why do they needed such big houses and giant lawns? Dan has a really cool lawnmower that's like a big go-cart to ride, and everyone who visits his house does get to ride it if they like, which I'm sure Dan doesn't mind because he's also getting his lawn cut. Jim on the other hand apparently pays a company six hundred dollars a month to tend to his lawn, the flowers and the trees. While thinking of this, I also thought to myself, perhaps UN agenda 21 isn't such a bad idea. After all, why should some live in huge mansions while others sleep on the streets? Cities or communities that are designed correctly would use fewer resources while still offering people the atmosphere of big lawns and lakes in community parks without wasting so many resources.

A week after I arrived in Virginia, I decided to take up my youngest sister, Maureen's offer to drive with her and her two children up to Maine. Jim and Dan had really wanted me to stay in Virginia so that we could do something on the weekend, but I wanted to get up to Main in the northeast of the USA where there are even more trees, crystal-clear air and the cool sea breeze of the Atlantic ocean. Maureen's house in Freeport Maine is like a hundred and eighty-six years old. It has two stairways and floors that creak. It's not modern at all and even has four wood-burning stoves. Maureen says that Maine is the place where people go with a plan; no one just ends up there, because it's so expensive and the winters are so cold. I like it because the air is so crisp and clean. Perhaps one day I will stay there for a longer time, maybe even several years, and if the winters are too cold, I'll simply migrate to where it's warmer and then return for the spring, summer and fall.

Another point that I noticed about some of my family was how much money they seemed to spend as though without a thought or even a care. Perhaps this is because they have a lot of money I thought or perhaps it's because I was there. Maureen said it was about living for today, offering her children a life that we as youngsters didn't have, a life without fear of going hungry at night. Maureen's daughter seemed to exemplify this fearlessness and total lack of consideration for the cost of goods and services. Almost every day it seemed she would ask for a Starbucks frappuccino, the most expensive ice cream or to eat at one of the local restaurants. At age ten, she seemed to already be acquainted with all of their dishes and what was best to eat. According to Maureen, it's not that they're so rich but that they just don't save that much money because they prefer to live for the day, at least that's my interpretation of what she said.

One point that I did however find somewhat peculiar and even a little disturbing was how much food they all seemed to waste. For example, at every household I visited, I noticed that people would pour bowls of cereal but only finish half the bowl. I wondered to myself and I spoke of this to Dan and Maureen: why did they waste so much food? The only clear answer I felt that I received was from Dan, and it had something to do with not gaining weight. There was one moment in time when this lingering judgment within me suddenly blew up into an energetic reaction and just before I was about to fly off the handle, I said to myself, this is not who I am, and just as quickly as the reaction had arisen, it was gone. Later, I realized that, each time I had though to myself, they're wasting food and it's wrong, I was also energizing a thought pattern of judgment. Yes, it was judgment and thankfully I've since then let it go. For what is a judgment, but a comparison of definitions within and as me, that I've projected onto others without realizing that the definitions are mine and therefore have nothing to do with anyone else but me.

The day after we arrived in Freeport Maine, we were once again off to somewhere else, Maureen's vacation ski house, which is also great in the summer time because there are so many trees, rivers and lakes up there. Every morning, Maureen would get up and walk with the dog on parts of the Appellation trail. I joined her for these walks and I found myself huffing and puffing just to keep up. Her two kids were content to stay in the cabin and play Minecraft which seems to be what all the children liked to play. After our walk, we would have breakfast and I would joke to Maureen's ten year old daughter, telling her that I didn't really need to prepare any food because I could just walk around and eat what they didn't eat, and that's pretty much what I often did. This point of walking around, eating uneaten leftovers reminded me of a memory of my grandmother doing exactly the same thing.

After breakfast, we would have about twenty minutes before Maureen said, let's go. Then we would be off to a swimming hole for an hour or two of cold clean river water swimming. After that, we'd go to the swimming pool, then have lunch and then head off to the same river across the street for an activity they called the salmon run wherein we'd jump off rocks and swim in the currents. On Friday, Maureen's husband, Rob who manages a local TV and radio station a few hours away came up with Trish's daughter, my niece, Sophia. It was Rob who had named swimming in the river, the Salmon Run. Sophia was staying with Rob while she did a summer internship at his TV station. I though to myself and spoke to her about how lucky she was to have relatives, aunts and uncles who would give her such an opportunity. She even got to meet various US presidential candidates such as Hilary Clinton and Bernie Saunders. Rob invited me to the TV station to do the same, but I decided it would be more fun to stay with Maureen and the kids, swim and play in the salmon run.

After having been in the USA for almost two weeks, I realized that I had to figure out how to pick up Apple at Washington Dulles International airport almost 9 hours drive away. So I said goodbye to Maureen, the kids and Maureen's friends that she had also invited up to the ski house. Then in the early hours of the morning, I set out in my rented car for a thirteen hour drive back to Dan's house, which is two and a half hours from the airport. Driving and flying isn't as fun for me as it used to be and I guess it's because I no longer take life for granite the way I used to. Driving a car comes with tremendous responsibility, not only to me but also my passengers and the other people on the streets. This responsibility requires (I would say) tremendous focus, which is also kind of cool because it doesn't allow for thinking and/or daydreaming as is the way I used to drive long distances.

From the airport, Apple and I drove back to Dan's house which is only about twenty minutes from Jim's house, which is only about twenty-five minutes from my mom's house. Once again, I felt that my family were so kind to us, especially to Apple, and this was important because I wanted her to feel at home. For three days, we stayed with Dan's family, Jim's family, and once again it was really fun, the most enjoyment I've felt in a long long time. Aside from how warm and kind everyone seemed to be, I also noticed and even wondered about how and why the children of my siblings seemed to be so intelligent, so intellectually advanced beyond what I've noticed in so many other places. I wondered if it was it due to good genes, good schooling, good parenting or all of the above. And then once again Apple and I were off to other places. This time when I said goodbye to mama, I realized that it could be the last; however, I wouldn't be surprised if she stays around quite a while longer, especially with Jim and Dan's family providing such nice hospitality.

Apple and I drove east to Williamsburg Virginia, a place that was once a colonial town of the USA. For me it seemed more like a tourist trap, so Apple and I did lots of shopping at the outlet malls and then began heading north, back up to Maine. For the next two weeks, we did basically the same as I had done in the previous two weeks. We had fun with family and enjoyed ourselves. It was a wonderful summer vacation, the best I've ever had. Not only do Apple and I plan to return one day, we may even settle down in Main or one of the other states in the northeast of the USA. I wonder if perhaps the love and kindness I seemed to see in others is a reflection of the changes I've made in me.

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