Until fairly recently, I liked traveling alone, and would complain that traveling with my family was restrictive and just... not as fun. But I was recently asked about good trips I've taken with my family - and realized that some of my formative world-hopping experiences came from my parents shuttling us back and forth across the Pacific when we were young. Here's what I wrote.
The trip that stands out in my mind was when my entire extended family - father's side - went to China. I was 15 and my younger brother was 12. My dad and his siblings (1 older brother, 1 older sister, 1 younger brother) decided they wanted to have their parents show their children - reared in the US, Japan, and the Philippines - our roots before... well, before we no longer had the opportunity.
My dad and his siblings had all grown up in the Philippines; they'd never lived in China. I grew up in the US with my brother; when our parents spoke of "home," they meant Manila, so China was this far-off place where we'd gotten our genes, and what we we were instructed to say when someone asked us for our race. But we flew to China, and spent what seemed like days (although it was only hours) in a giant rental van bumping along out of Shanghai through increasingly rural areas. Conversation among the adults shifted from English to Tagalog to Fookien as we neared the province my grandparents had come from - finally, we got out and there it was. A dusty little town, clearly put up before the advent of electricity and running water in the area.
Nobody in the village spoke English. They barely spoke Mandarin. It was a regional dialect of Fookien - I couldn't speak it, and my parents were only fluent in the Filipino variant, which had plenty of English and Tagalog mixed in, and were just barely able to catch enough words to understand basic sentences and relay them back to us. But people came out to meet us - other Chuas, distant relatives we'd never met before but who nevertheless embraced us. We met my grandfather's sisters, who he hadn't seen for decades - he had come back to visit occasionally, but left China permanently for the Philippines when Communism began looming, and then the Bamboo Curtain had come up and he couldn't go home again.
They took us to a little shrine, lit by sunlight showing through gaps in the ceiling. We children were handed incense sticks and bowed to the dozens of little black engraved tablets with the name-characters of deceased ancestors many generations back, adding our new sweet smoke to the old, dusty smell of incense that seemed permanently embedded in the walls, trying to mimic unfamiliar words of blessing in our dialect that the adults told us that we should say.
And then they opened a thick book of old paper in the front of the shrine, and there were names - lines and lines and lines and pages and pages of names, births and deaths - every member of our family, every member of the extended Chua clan, people I will never meet. My father and his brothers were in there, as were our mothers (since they had married into the family). My brother was in the book. I learned I never will be, because as a girl I'm expected to marry out of the family and get entered in the record of someone else's family book.
My grandfather took us to our ancestral home - empty but still maintained - and showed us the tiny bedroom he was privileged to have - his own room! - as the cherished first son. Walked us through the routes he took to complete his chores - hauling water, I think it was - as a little boy. He had left the village before he was 12 to join his father, a businessman, in the Philippines - and I think he'd left his childhood in that house, because the stories I'd heard from his early life in the Philippines were those of a boy who was dutifully housed and fed, but otherwise left to fend for himself.
Most meaningful vacation I've ever taken.