(Hi Readers! Here's my column on summer travel that appeared recently in That's Beijing, That's Shanghai and That's Guangzhou magazines. Enjoy!)
NOT that I’m a grumpy old man or anything, but by God today’s kids are spoiled. Spoiled rotten. They need a good war, etc etc …
There are a few areas I could highlight, but the issue is glaringly, often hilariously, exposed here in expat land at summer holiday time. The poor little things are world weary by about eight, well used to airports and weighed down by all that ink in their passports.
Granted, expats usually earn decent money. And for most of us, our relationship with this country demands that we and China have regular breaks from each other. Many of us will feel that since we’re already overseas, we should explore this part of the world before we repatriate and settle down.
That said, it can be disarming how our kids have evolved to view what is normal - and even passé - about international travel.
When I was a lad, from an average family in rural New South Wales, Australia, the idea of going on a plane was just a bit less fanciful than going to the moon. I didn’t achieve it until 1982, aged 15. It was a trip from Sydney to Brisbane lasting all of 75 minutes, and I remember every one of them. My second flight came five years later.
But here was our six-year-old Evie a few weeks ago: “Daddy – when we fly to Australia, are we going on Cathay Pacific or Air China? It’s just that I don’t like Air China.”
I can see her point, but I’m 46. To be big about it, the fact she has a lot of air experiences to compare already just makes me kind of – what’s the word? - jealous. Our kids know what separates five star from four. What drives me most nuts is that when on planes, they don’t even look out the window!
When I was six our idea of an exotic holiday destination was defined A) by my father and B) as “anywhere that would have us”. Cheap was good. Free was better.
Once we drove to South Australia, where an uncle had built a beach shack. “Shack” is overdoing it a bit. It had fibro walls three millimetres thick, and maybe a roof. It had one or two vertical beams, but these didn’t stop the walls moving if I leant on them. It’s chief defining feature was a B-Grade movie plague of hairy huntsman spiders. In fact, I’m pretty sure that without their webs the whole thing would have collapsed.
We drove everywhere and, like most Australians, we were used to long distances. It was nothing for us to “enjoy motoring” for two or three days to get somewhere. This wouldn’t have been so bad except for company in the backseat I had two large, violent brothers and a carsick sister.
We kept ourselves entertained in traditional ways: with interminable decades of the rosary led by our religious mother, by listening to the cricket, by playing “Spotto”, and by hitting each other.
I fancy one day giving Evie a holiday experience like this. I might even write a book about it. Not Without My Daughter? More like Not Without My iPad.
|Here's a photo I found of a family enjoying a lovely,|
peaceful flight together.
|Here's another one of an alternative scenario. As people|
often say, I blame the parents, in this case for their
obvious mistake. Where are the iPads, people?
Our kids know their airlines - which ones have the best food, but particularly which ones have individual TVs. An air hostess once remarked near the end of Sydney-Beijing flight how well behaved the then four-year-old Evie had been. “It’s true,” I said, “but then it’s not often she gets to watch 12 hours of TV.” (All enlightened parenting bets are off when it comes to long-periods in tin tubes.)
Our kids also know their airports. They like the yum cha at Hong Kong’s, the origami museum at Narita, the playground at Beijing’s. Their piggy banks bulge with foreign money like I used to see on TV. Their passports are full of stamps. I didn’t even own a passport til I was 23. My dad first flew aged 50, and didn’t go overseas until 70.
Of course there’s nothing really wrong with our modern situation. I enjoy it too. For while they picked a woeful place to build Beijing – too hot/cold/windy/dusty; no water, no beach and no racetrack – at least they plonked it in a spot close to Europe and North America. Close for us, that is. For Australians to get to such places usually requires an enormous effort. Granted, it’s not an effort completely unknown by other travelers, but they do include Vasco da Gama and Magellan.
The thought of actually staying in Beijing through the summer – when it’s boiling and all potential playdates are away – makes zero appeal or sense. Yet some friends did just that last year. In about April their six-year-old daughter made some casual enquiries.
“Mummy – which country are we going to for our overseas holiday this year?”
“Oh, we’re not actually going anywhere this year,” the mum said.
“What?!?!” the daughter erupted. “Like poor people?”
The style to which modern kids – and expat kids in particular – have become accustomed is sometimes galling, sometimes funny. Surely every generation has felt similar. It’s just that when my six-year-old is telling my how to find my in-flight movie, it can get downright embarrassing.