Grandparents from Hong Kong


“Yes, okay, I can pick up your grandparents from the airport, but you should know my car isn’t very big. It’s a Honda Prelude. Do they have very much luggage?”

“No, they never carry very much luggage, and they are very small. They are Chinese people after all.”

“Not all Chinese people are small, what about that basketball player…what’s his name?”

“How am I supposed to know? Just because I’m Chinese I’m supposed to know?”

“No, just the point being–nevermind.”

“Oh, you should know by the way, they don’t speak any English. Only Mandarin.”

“Um, okay…you know I don’t speak any Chinese. Madarin or Xiang.”

“You think there are only two Chinese languages?”

“No, well, I guess, there are a few more…I honestly don’t know.”

(sighs) “Well, maybe I should just ask someone else.”

“You have Mandarin-speaking friends who can pick them up? Is there, like, a taxi service for this?”

“No, you are the only one who can–I mean, the best one. So you can do it, right?”

(sigh) “Yes, I can. What time do they come in?”

Just in case, I take the box with my emergency winter supplies out, and stash it at my sister’s house.

“You’re picking up somebody’s Chinese grandparents? Why? That’s weird.”

“Well, there’s no one else to do it. It shouldn’t be a big deal, he says they don’t have much luggage, so it shouldn’t be a big deal.”

“Well, I just hope they’re nice.”

“I’m sure they are…what does it matter? It’s only a fifteen minute car ride.”

“I liked the Joy Luck Club. They’re probably nice. Unless they’re like that mean one.”

“Um, okay, I have to go now. I’ll be late.”

The car feels surprisingly light without its winter gear. Thank heaven spring is coming.

“So you’re sure you’re okay to do this?” He has to close the car door twice, it bounced only lightly off the frame the first time.

“Well, it’d be a little too late to back out now, wouldn’t it?”

“Thanks. Is that Depeche Mode? Can you turn it up?”

How are we going to find two (his words, not mine) little Chinese people in the sea of tall people at the airport?

“There they are, there they are!” he shouts.

“Those are your grandparents? Your grandmother is in a wheelchair?”

“Why, what’s the problem? You have a problem with Chinese people in wheelchairs?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just my car is very small, and you said they don’t have much luggage. A wheelchair takes up a lot of room.”

“Don’t worry! I’ll fold it. Listen, don’t worry, really. I’ll translate for you.”

Grandfather sits next to me. He does seem nice. His eyes are kind, and almost seem to say, “I’m sorry my grandson is a boob.” He has a lot of questions. But his grandson is struggling with the wheelchair. I just smile at Grandfather, and say, “Yes, your grandson is a complete boob. Even more so than I realized.”

After several minutes of struggle, the wheelchair is balanced with the hatch propped on it. He tied his belt to it, and is holding the strap in his lap, so the hatch won’t flop up and down.

Grandfather continues to talk a blue streak. I am trying to keep my mind on driving.

“Grandfather says, ‘what are you’?”

“What do you mean what am I?”

Several phrases are exchanged in Mandarin. “He means, where does your family come from?”

“Oh. We’re all from California.”

More exchanges.

“Grandfather says you look more interesting than many Californians.”

“Does he know a lot of Californians?”

“No, just the Baywatch ones.” Oh, of course. I don’t look anything like David Hasselhof or Pamela Anderson, so this actually makes some sense to me.

“Grandfather means, all Americans are from somewhere else. So where are your grandparents from? Italy?”

“No, you know I’m not Italian! I am half Mexican and half Irish.”

More exchanges.

“Grandfather says this is not possible, you must be Italian.”

“Well, it is. I am.”

More exchanges.

“Grandfather says he is half from Hong Kong, and the other half is also Hong Kong. That means he is 100% Chink-Chink!”

“That is not nice to say!”

“I did not say it. He did it.”

Fifteen minutes has never lasted longer in my life.

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