It was today, three years ago, that me, my wife and my almost three years old Alice, were embarking for the most incredible journey of our life, on a plane directed to Beijing, China, ready to open our hearts and minds to the far eastern culture, without prejudices, without any expectation, with no particular plans. Nothing was predetermined, nor the length of our stay, nor the places to visit, nor the accommodation to transform in our home, only the tasks of my job that led me and my family down there.
It began as a short adventure ten thousands kilometres far away from home in Milan and it became a new life, from which we reluctantly tore apart two years and two months later, an adventure that definitely conditioned our most important choices for our next future, including where to establish our next home, how to educate our daughter, how to face the unexpected difficulties and to be aware of our happiness.
Along those years we were so euphoric to discover the world and life that each opportunity to take a flight led us to discover a huge part of the far east and the pacific, from Japan to Indonesia, from Thailand to Australia.
We bounced our little daughter and ourselves in improbable week-ends to Singapore by a pair of six hours night flights, in napping nights at Bangkok airport waiting for a connection, in thirsty walks through the Uluru bush at the dusk, in rolling passages towards remote Andaman islands where a tent and no electricity were waiting for us, in urban rides on the Tokyo transport network moving from the quiet of a ryokan’s garden to the fashioned lolita’s crowded streets.
We have been amazed when hopping on a huge elephant in Indonesia, scared when under attack of spiteful monkeys in the rain forest, amused when hugged by Minnie Mouse at Hong Kong’s Disneyland, astonished when snorkelling with Nemo in the pacific reef of Yasawa islands, relaxed when spilling mango juice in our throats in front of Boracay’s wide sunset, fascinated when admiring Kyoto’s koyo on a rainy day or an early fistful of shiny sakura during the hanami in Tokyo, breathless when climbing the high steps of Mutianyu’s Great Wall, impressed when watching the Barong and Legong dance in Ubud, indulged when tasting a spicy gongbao jidin with chopsticks in an austere and scruffy hutong or a delicious Yunnan’s sweet and sour rice served inside a pineapple in a fine stunning veranda with a view.
Our daughter never gave up, nor on the first day of school, where her only language to make friends was hugging and kissing, nor after moving twice in two years inside Beijing Chaoyang district, where she found anyway the place to ride her bike, no matter it was a serviced apartment corridor or the playground of the new Chinese compound, nor when we measured her high temperature at the international terminal waiting for the flight to Sidney (well, on that case, we did give up and delayed our holidays of a couple of days!), nor when we found ourselves wet in the Indian ocean at 4 a.m. on a sailboat awkwardly fishing in a storm and she only grumbled “what a naughty sea!” wrapped up in a soaked towel, nor when she carefully listened an elder neighbour speaking Chinese at the park and she repeatedly asserted “hao”, disguising she still didn’t master that new language at all.
Her willpower conquered us and made us believe that all could have been possible, and it really has been. We recognized it when my wife gave instruction in Chinese on how to access the subway to a lost peasant just arrived in Beijing, when I entered the local bank without English speaking personnel and recharged the electricity card for our apartment, when we drove our daughter to her Chinese best friend Maya’s birthday party, when my wife stopped at the cross asking the ambulant bikes repairer if he could inflate her wheels, when we got the invitation from our English friend Nola to join the Christmas party with her colleagues from the British embassy, when we looked at the watch worried for our daughter’s late returning from her first play date with our Singapore friends’ son Jared, when we received intense hugs from Alice’s teacher Lily and from our friend Amanda as we were living the joy of pregnancy first and the sorrow of the miscarriage afterwards.
So, what did I gather from this long journey in Asia? First of all I learnt that travel with a child is possible, even better beneficial, it opened mine and my daughter’s mind, it approached me to different cultures more than I expected, because with strangers and in foreign countries no one breaks the ice more than children, communication becomes easier, mistrust drops down and local people are used to have more kindness and make exceptions. Then I had the possibility to compare my pre-established vision of children’s education with different ones, with many new inputs from the school and other parents from all over the world, and I put under discussion my teaching methods, discovering that there wasn’t a project behind my actions, but only care for my creature, sometimes obscured by her mood or by my schedules, sometimes exalted by her progresses or by my love. And I experienced how big is children’s adaptation spirit, when she had to change the bed so often, when she learnt two new languages, when she made new friends among Fijian children, when she stuck together with her 3 years older German friend Joana on the beach of Boracay, when she played hide and seek in the hospital corridors with the phlebo rolling pole attached. Finally I learnt to be tolerant with people thinking different from me, with different traditions and values, with many positive surprises breaking any prejudice: I found a joyful spirit of living closer to the nature within the assumed Thai laziness, I discovered an elegant way to live in a dense community leaving space for the diversity in the Japanese maniacal respect for the rules, I was involved in an immediate cosiness by the Australian roughness of the manners, I was touched by the Chinese generosity from people that should think only to the profit as a commonplace.
Every day of this adventure gave me some more and I’ll always have great remembrances of today, that day three years ago, when all began.