Sunday, August 14, 2011

Off Again

There are many reasons why I love to travel far and wide. I am about to take off again. Kyoto, Beijing, Shanghai. Sure, I love the sights and smells, sounds and food. The colors and crafts. History, culture, art. I study diligently before leaving and wonder about how the reality will meet my expectations. This trip I have plenty of time off in each city and I have only a few days with guides to lead the way.

I especially love to get into the everyday lives of the people who inhabit the countries I visit. I have a real interest in how the family works, where the babies sleep and who cooks. In most places I have been in the past, I have been able to ask away and get what I think are honest appraisals about everyday life: religion, sex, education, standard of living and community structures. This trip may be different.

In Japan, Kyoto especially, there is a quiet dignity that really respects space. People are said to be very considerate but very private, of their lives and yours. If you ask, you have already broken the unspoken rules of social etiquette and decorum. And rude doesn't come close to describing the reaction to this in-your-face behavior.

It may be very difficult for me to get a chance to ask about health care and prenatal care and labor and delivery. I know that children are cherished in a special way and greatly indulged because there is usually only one child to a family ( it's very expensive and very, very crowded in Japan )but children maintain a level of reverence for their parents and elders that we can't imagine of our kids here in the states. I wonder how that's accomplished and I may not get a chance to do more than witness it. I may not get the opportunity to ask. Women are stoic and the Japanese patients I have had the privilege to nurse in this country don't complain about how they feel or express their uncertainties about having a baby and raising a family. How will find out?

In China, I can't ask because they can't tell. The one- child policy is dictated by the government and there is a smooth veneer of well-being that permeates the impressions that are to be conveyed to visitors from foreign lands. Here, it is mandatory that I observe keenly and don't question or expect any real depth of sincerity about activities of daily living. Fortunately, I will have the opportunity to meet with some "real" Beijingers and Shanghailanders and I hope that I can get the real skinny on how these families manage their lives and as in Japan, succeed in raising children who unfalteringly respect and obey their elders. I sure would love to be able to pass that trick on when I come home again.

So, I look forward to tea ceremonies and temples and shrines, gardens and noodles, dumplings and Peking duck. Tai Chi and ballroom dancing in the streets. But answers to how life is in these countries and how it is different from what I know and have seen elsewhere, well, that remains to be seen. I hope that I can bring back insights and experiences that may enrich our understanding and acceptance. My world gets smaller with every trip and larger with tolerance and awe of how different we are and how similar we remain. Mostly, I want to know how the heck these folks get their kids to behave!! Wouldn't you like to know too?