I grew up pretty sheltered.
Not the ‘my parents didn’t let me out of the house’ sheltered but ‘I grew up across from a farm’ sheltered. I was safe as vanilla ice cream and not even the fancy vanilla bean kind.
I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Michigan when I was five. We touched down on Christmas Eve just in time for snowfall. It was the first time I ever saw or touched snow and I was so bamboozled. Looking back at old family albums, the story I gathered was everyday was spent outdoors during that first winter.
But as I grew older so did my surroundings. In the ocean of achromatic grey concrete and Kentucky bluegrass, it’s hard to tell which way is North. As a teen I believed it was Midwest’s endless tract housing that barred me from adventure. All I wanted to do was be elsewhere.
However, traveling post-Hong Kong was a time and economic luxury. So recounting travel stories and playing ‘name that country capital’ became favorite dinner-time activities. While stories and games kept me entertained, it also equipped me with the tools to stay curious at a young age.
Like many first-generation immigrants, my parents were dogged at adapting American culture. At the same time they knew being American, in its most utopian form, meant not giving up our Chinese heritage.
It is the combination of geography, revealing the importance of travel, and growing up as a XYZ-American that helped me understand the world is bigger than where I stood.
I am thankful for my parents whom took me on trips as a kid even though they knew I wouldn’t remember. Then needing to re-tell these trips to me because my three-year old brain didn’t have the capacity to store episodic memory. Now that my hippocampus is capable of pulling visual memories together, I won’t be forgetting these lessons anytime soon. Thank you.
After moving to Shanghai, I began to see how caustic my views were regarding a suburban upbringing. Growing up in Michigan makes for interesting conversation when you live abroad. It feels more unexpected, draws more confused faces, and usually leads to long talks. Perhaps this is true, perhaps it’s in my head – but it sounds about right.