For the past month my luck, karma, fate, destiny has short circuited big time. It started with a broken water pipe that flooded the kitchen, took out the ceiling of the basement and has been responsible for my inventive, yet limited outdoor grilling skills. My husband is having the time of his life in Italy, cooking the Firenze way, while learning Italian. I’m stuck at home learning to use language I didn’t know I possessed as I hunt down insurance adjusters, contractors, and relocation specialists. The kitchen is still a single foldout table for a counter and a microwave. To top it all off, my daughter is looking forward to a teenage summer and is aspiring to get her driver’s permit, as I envision careening vehicles dancing in my head. I was convinced when a trip to Beijing presented itself for business that our luck was changing. I used my frequent flyer miles to get a companion flight for my daughter and together we would have our own cultural experience, flooded kitchen, be damned.
Shortly after booking her flight, she looked at our departure date and looked at me incredulously.
“I can’t go then! I will miss my dance recital and I just got a solo in my jazz class.”
I felt sick. Somehow as I made peace with the fact that she would miss Father’s Day, I forgot that on that same day were two back-to-back dance performances. Being in the performing arts business, I respect the strict rules of attending rehearsals, and showing up for the performance. I had also sunk over $200 into costumes, not to mention the investment of a year’s worth of dance classes, and weekly taxi service to and fro. I sighed and said I would see what I could do, but no promises. After several phone calls, the free frequent flyer ticket came with a $280 change fee. C’est la vie. Now we were facing a teenager flying from Seattle to Beijing alone, maneuvering through customs and somehow popping up halfway across the world. Chalk it up to a character building experience complete with a nervous mother with really bad luck praying she didn’t make another miscalculation in the logistics.
We put all the arrangements in place and I left with promises from my husband that he would organize the flood repairs and get our daughter on the plane as planned. By the time we arrived home he would have departed for his summer in Florence, Italy as a culinary exchange student. I convinced myself that this is what being opportunistic is all about. On my flight to Beijing, I tried to relax and not worry. I was in the second to last row on the plane, but at least I had a window seat. It was an older 747, so no seatback entertainment systems and no on demand movies. Thank goodness for books. Halfway into the flight the young Chinese woman sitting next to me left her seat and returned with a friend that was sitting elsewhere. They wanted me to exchange seats so they could sit together. I felt like I should, since on the flight home, my daughter and I would be in the same boat, relying on kindness of strangers to switch so we could sit together.
“Is your seat a window seat?” I asked hopefully. The young woman shook her head, the universal symbol for “no.” I hesitated, but then I apologized and said no. I was exhausted and I really needed a window to rest my head upon. The young woman went back to her seat and I watched with a guilty conscience. Not more than five minutes later, the attendant asked via the PA system if there was a doctor on board. Two minutes later the attendant inquired if there was a nurse or some type of medical professional on board. There was a scurry and several people stood up, all in the vicinity of the seat that I had just refused to occupy. Whatever the medical emergency, it went on for another 30 minutes. My guilt melted away and I was relieved that I was not in the middle of another stressful situation. The plane kept heading toward Beijing and there was no medical evacuation upon landing, so I assume that things stabilized or it was a false alarm.
My daughter made it to Beijing several days later, looking like she had been a world traveler all of her life. All was well as we took a taxi back to our hotel and got settled in. The next day I fired up my email on my phone to check on the departure of my husband. Staring back at me was a cryptic message stating that my husband had admitted himself in the middle of the night into the ER with a kidney stone attack, his flight had been delayed due to strikes with Air France and he wasn’t sure whether he would be in any condition to travel. I frantically tried email, texting and phoning with no luck. After several hours I finally got through to his mobile and he confirmed he was still in the hospital with no sign of the stone passing. He said he would keep me updated. The next day I received a short text saying he was boarding the plane complete with kidney stone and heavy meds in hand. For over ten hours there was no communication and I had visions that he was probably the medical emergency on his flight. Finally I received a brief text saying he was boarding the flight to Florence with kidney stone and all. Again, for over twenty-four hours we heard nothing. My daughter told me to stop worrying, but all I could think of was the last time he had such an attack and even though the medical professionals said the stone was small enough to pass, it never did. They had to remove it via an uncomfortable and tedious surgical procedure. In desperation I called my sister who was the last to see my stone-carrying husband, and she said he seemed to be handling the pain or was stoically faking it. Finally, I got an email that said he made it to Florence, and had been pain-free for a day and a half. He had no idea if the stone was laying in wait or had passed and I reminded him that there was nothing like a ticking time bomb to make life interesting.
With business meetings complete and medical emergency behind us, my daughter and I set off to see the sights of Beijing. I was bound to turn my luck around. We headed to the Temple of Heaven, a Tao temple built in the round to represent symmetry and balance. I watched others as they lined up at the temple entrance, made a financial offering, clasped their hands together, and bowed several times. I was determined to try anything much to the chagrin of my daughter. She kept her distance as I made my offering and bows. She threatened to disown me. I was convinced that my luck was turning around. We continued to explore the sights, were successful in navigating a city bus back to our hotel, and got directions on how to take the subway to the Beijing Zoo for a panda sighting. We would have to navigate three transfers but after failing to find the first subway station we hailed a taxi and decided not to tempt my fragile fate. We were sorely disappointed with the zoo which looked to be in a state of depressing disrepair. The pandas were groggy and dirty due to the humidity and heat and their environment was quite aromatic. Eau d'Panda Pee was in the air wherever we turned. Hot and tired, we elected to take a boat ride up to the Emperor’s Summer Palace. After getting in the wrong line, we finally found our way to the last departing boat enroute to our destination. We were the only Caucasian people and somehow sat in the lucky seats next to the tour guide who yelled into a megaphone as she pointed out the sites and history (all in Chinese) as we made our way north. About halfway along, the engine was cut and we drifted for a moment or two under the welcome silence of the tour guide. I then spied the driver of the boat pull a wrench out of his pocket and head to the aft. I may not speak Chinese, but it was clear as we drifted from one bank to another that this was not business as usual. My daughter turned to me and said, “Your offering obviously didn’t work.”
I tried to look authoritative. “It takes twenty-four hours.”
“Really? Perhaps it’s because your offering of one yuen is only equal to thirteen cents.”
I quickly said it was the gesture, not the amount that counts. After about forty minutes of continual trying as the tour guide decided to fill the uneasy time with more insights, the engine finally started and we finally arrived at the Summer Palace. Thankfully, it was serene and beautiful. By that time, most of the visitors had left and we joined locals as we strolled around the lake toward the palace. All concessions were closed and the paths up to the palace were locked at a certain point, but there was a soft breeze and a pleasantness to accompany our now grumbling stomachs. When we finally found the east gate, the only after-hours exit, we were offered a bicycle rickshaw ride to the subway. I remembered the complexity of the three transfers and was delighted to see a taxi idling ahead. We were the only tourists left. As I hailed the taxi, I turned to my daughter who was certain that we would be stranded for the night at the Summer Palace.
“I think our karma has changed.”
She smiled gratefully, and I gave the driver our destination and decided not to mention to my daughter that this was a private car and the rate was twice what a normal taxi would cost. My thirteen cent offering helped restore balance so that we could hail a twenty dollar taxi to take two weary travelers to the “walking street.” I guess every yin has a yang, especially when you are in China.