7 The Inner Child

My oldest daughter Weixin graduates from the Naval Academy. In celebration, she and William, her fiancé, decide to take a month off to travel through Europe. Their first stop is Paris. Paris, the romantic capital of the world! In my teens, I took French classes at Alliance Francaise because I loved Paris so much. I still dream of the day that I will be in the love capital with a lover. After hearing Sophia’s suggestion, at the last minute I invite myself to go with them.

I walk around Paris with my daughter and her man…with no man of my own. They’re so happy and so much in love that I feel sharp pangs in my heart every time I look at them. After five days, I decide that I can’t stand to be in Paris like this. I tell them to go on their way without me.

I stand stiffly and anxiously in the middle of Gare du Nord. My mind races as all the different options jump out at me. Should I take the train to the airport and go back to Los Angeles? Or what? I’m feeling frightened and confused.

Just then, out of nowhere, an image of my father’s study in Hong Kong flashes through my mind. This was a place of enchantment and wonder growing up. The musty smell of my father’s cigarettes permeated the room. The walls were lined with Chinese literature printed on rice paper and leather bound English classics. There was a globe standing next to his massive leather recliner. As a child, I loved to read my father’s books in his study.

I see the child version of myself turn the globe and marvel at the mighty cities of the world: New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Rome, Barcelona. I must have been around eight years-old when I promised myself to one day visit all of these great cities. Suddenly the sad and frightening moment I was experiencing turned into an opportunity to fulfill one of my childhood dreams!

Somewhere in the depths of my soul, a surge of joy kicked me in the butt and I tingled with anticipation!

In my imagination, my eight-year-old self turned her head from the globe and looked directly at me. “Well, we’ve already been to New York and London! And here we are in Paris…let’s go to Geneva!”

I arrive to a completely deserted Geneva that night. I look left and right but no one is there. I know no one here. I don’t know where to go and there is no one on the streets to ask. I hear a loud explosion in my head and then my mind goes blank. Nada. Nothing. Not one thought. My mind, having specialized in planning, has just snapped. I stand in a confused stupor, “Huh?!”

Sophia’s cool, calm voice rings out. “Turn left! And walk!” Like a soldier who has just received marching orders, I lift my foot and take a turn to the left. I walk down the street until I stop at an intersection, not knowing what to do next until Sophia gives me another command. “Turn right. And walk!” I do and in this fashion we walk through Geneva for over an hour.

It is now midnight and I am officially exhausted. My feet hurt as if they are on fire but Sophia finally declares that we have arrived! I look up and find myself standing in front of a brightly lit youth hostel. I go in and thankfully find that they have one bed left in a large female dorm! I yell out in joyous relief, “I’ll take it!”

I share the room with nine other young women. It’s a strange but wonderful new sensation to be sleeping with strangers in the same room. I climb onto a bunk bed, tuck my face under the sheets and feel a great wave of relief rush over me. I fall into a deep sleep.

The next morning I find a hidden spot behind the hostel. I try to meditate yet end up bursting into tears. Sadness gushes out of every pore. I have no idea where this sadness comes from but it haunts me now.

Sophia stands at my side watching me helplessly. Without words, her presence fills me with love and warmth. Eventually I am exhausted at which time Sophia perks up. “Let’s go eat something now.” I wash my face and follow her instructions, which lead us to a nice restaurant. We eat – me and the voice in my head.

After a few days of good rest, Sophia announces, “Okay, time to move on.” I pack my little traveling bag and we walk over to the train station. Sophia guides me to the ticket office and I join the line, not knowing why. I think of leaving the line to do some research on places to go. Shouldn’t I know where I am going before I get in line to buy tickets? I turn to look at Sophia but she just smiles and encourages me to stay.

When it’s my turn, the man behind the counter asks, “Where to?” I rub my hands together, I fidget, I feel ridiculous. “Well, where do you suggest?”

The man does a double take. He must be thinking, “Hmm, another one of those tourists with no idea of where to go. This one seems particularly lost.” But then, without skipping a beat, he suggests, “If you have no idea where you want to go, it’s best to buy a Swiss Pass. You can use it to go anywhere.”

What a good idea!? There is actually a plan for people without a plan! Hiding a small chuckle of relief, I buy a ten-day Swiss train pass and find out that the train goes in a loop, so I can’t go wrong no matter which direction I take! Swiss trains are like Swiss watches: always on time, smooth, precise and expensive! A train pulls in and I hop on. It’s heading to the Alps. Perfection! I find a window seat and settle down.

Floating past the train is an endless spectacle of Alpine perfection. Pristine, green meadows are dotted with millions of red, pink and purple wildflowers while the sky stretches to infinity. I find myself pointing at the distant mountain peaks and yelling with childish glee, “Yaya! The Swiss Alps!” We pass by quaint Swiss houses and dairy cows. These cows are the largest I’ve ever seen. I feel a sense of wonderment, “Wow! Big, big!” I am super amazed at how blue the blue sky is and how green the green fields are. The train zooms by a Swiss milkmaid, wearing a little hat with curly blond hair peeking through. She waves at the passing train with a genuine friendly milkmaid smile. The sight of her makes my feet stomp down twice and I yell out in joy!

My dad was the editor of the Hong Kong Tourists’ Association journal. Part of dad’s job was to entertain visitors. One of these visitors was from Switzerland and she gave me a box of Swiss chocolates. Each chocolate was wrapped in paper showing pictures of milkmaids. This lady looks exactly like the ones on the wrappers!

I feel like I am in the movie The Sound of Music. When I was eight or nine, my grandma took me to watch the film and it burned itself into my psyche. I begin to sing out loud, “Doe, a deer, a female deer! Ray, a drop of golden sun…” The people on the train are looking at me; some are entertained by my childishness and some look away but I don’t care! An innocent, childlike happiness fills me. It occurs to me that I had been a happy child but haven’t allowed myself to be this happy for many years.

At some point, the train comes to a rest and stands still for a long time. I get caught up in banter with a Swiss lady. I find her lilting French accent totally enchanting and I don’t notice the time passing. When the train finally roars back to life, Sophia suddenly speaks up, “Get off right now!” I scramble for my luggage and jump off the train as the lady looks at me wide-eyed just before the doors shut.

“Next time, give me more warning!” Sophia beams at me and gives me a jolt of positive energy.

I walk around the little town consisting of only a few dirt roads and houses. I stomp around as I did when I was a child and come to a stop when I see a cute chocolatier that makes me yell out in childish delight. I skip, hop and jump in! “I want this one! This one!” I suddenly realize that, although I am acting like my childhood self, I am actually a grown-up and I can buy and eat as much chocolate as I want! I go into a buying frenzy and procure a huge supply of the yummiest Swiss chocolates.

Next, I see an old coppersmith in his 100 year-old workshop, I rush in to take pictures. I watch him hammer away and when he stops to rest, I share my chocolates with him. “What’s your name?”

I answer in a baby voice, “Chu Dai Hing!” It’s the Chinese name I was given when I was born and it consist of three characters: Chu means slow, Dai means big and Hing means happiness.

I pop a yummy raspberry chocolate cup into my mouth and my foot shakes with delight. Big, slow and happy – that was me as a baby and that baby is alive again in me today!

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