Seen in Miami Int'l Airport

A family of six, five children, all Asian and the girls just adorable. What disturbed me was when the father places long tresses on the girls who couldn’t have been more than five years old. The dress up tresses, unlike their own shiny dark locks, were platinum blonde. The girls put on the wigs and proceeded to run around the waiting area.

For some reason, this sight really struck a chord with me.

Why would five year old Asian girls need blonde wigs?

On one hand this could be ‘just fun’ something to entertain them during hours of transit.

On the other, dressing up as someone you aren’t, as someone who represents the dominant culture which is so different from you, is slightly dangerous in term of self esteem, self image, what you consider ‘normal’ or even beautiful.

Your thoughts? Blonde wigs on Asians okay?

Have you ever seen a white child with a dark wig?

Does playing different only go one way?

Delayed…. Transfered… Cancelled.

Admittedly since moving to Qatar I have been spoiled by international airlines that are doing well, not dependent on profits but government subsidies.

And while I have been back to the U.S. on a number of occasion for work, and listed to NPR horror stories of travel from my desk in Doha, nothing has compared to the stories of this weekend.

First, a flight that was on time at Dulles airport (outside Washington D.C.) at 1:15 pm suddenly was delayed by the time I exited the nearby Subway line, sandwhich, drink, and cookie in hand.

The flight was delayed for three hours because a passenger on the incoming aircraft had ‘a medical emergency’. So the plane had turned back around to Charlotte, off loaded everyone, reloaded, and come back.

Charlotte being the major east coast hub for US Airways, there was a line of 14 people long, one gate agent, trying to rebook connections. The gate agent smartly offered everyone the 1800 number and from the comfort of my chair and in about 4 minutes, (I do like sitting) I rebooked myself on the 8:10 pm connection in case I missed the 5:40 pm one.

Well, I also managed to turn around and tell a few people standing in line that they should go the phone route and settled in to wait for the plane. Meanwhile a German family of four were sitting next to me. I tried not to think of their predicament but I couldn’t. My sister has 3 kids and traveling as a family is not something anyone does lightly.

Of course they had no idea how to navigate the touch tone “Push 1 for a new flight, ….” so I was Iris Bitn– for a few minutes. With them settled I opened back up A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS (which I highly recommend) and got to work figuring out how was the serial killer in Augusta Falls.

Three hours later, we boarded the plane. 

The woman next to me was a shambles, because, as it turned out, if she missed her 5:40 p.m. flight in Charlotte she would miss her daughter’s wedding. In Germany.

Needless to say it was a long flight and I debated before touching her arm gently and saying, “I hope that’s not your flight” as we taxied to our gate and the Lufthansa flight was taking off.

It was.

So here I sit: in the Memphis airport, having gone to my gate only to be told my flight to Charlotte was delayed. Luckily there was a Northwest flight, non-stop going to Florida. Unfortunately it was on the other side of the airport. Nobody said life was clear cut.

So I hauled myself over to the new gate (33! halfway down to Mississippi) only to be told the other gate agent had not in fact booked me on the NW flight as she had informed me.

I had two choices: walk all the way back or use the 800 number from Friday – still in my call history – to sort it out.

That I did and believe it or not – the agent on the phone was helpful – after being put on hold so she could talk to NW agents over the phone had a confirmation number for me.

So here I sit, typing, using the best of my time, and the flight is in range.

Of course I didn’t check a bag (you can get a lot out of 3 oz toiletries after all) and the plane is in range. 

Who knows what could happen? Maybe I’ll get to Florida earlier and not have to do the midnight haul to my destination and perhaps arrive early.

Stranger things have happened.

Home is wherever you are or Advice for those relocating

I was four years old when I got on my first plane. That fateful ride took me from my birth country to another continent and set me on my journey as someone more at home on the move than in any one specific place. In the late 1970s, moving from Asia to North America was a feat for our family of four and looking back I’m amazed at all that my mother managed to do for us in our first of many homes abroad, despite being an sheltered and inexperienced traveler in her twenties. That first move at four was repeated at ages nine, twelve, thirteen, each time my father’s professional interests throwing the three of us – my mother, brother, and me – to our own resources as we created a ‘home’ in each of the new places we found ourselves.
Perhaps this is why others marvel at how quickly I set up my own homes, also in a series of moves from age seventeen to college, twenty two for further graduate study, twenty four for professional pursuits, and most recently at twenty six to Qatar.
Although the locations have varied, the elements I use to make myself feel at home have stayed the same. Here are some suggestions:
A few key photos filled my suitcase when I arrived in Doha as I waited for other items to arrive by air freight. The first night in my marble floored and echoing apartment, I put up photos and souvenir magnets on the refrigerator, framed favorite family moments in the living room and bedroom. I felt better when I went to bed and was surprised when my colleagues exclaimed how cozy and personalized my apartment (which looked exactly like theirs in layout and furnishings) felt during our first week in country. It seemed homesickness was chasing us all and the bright smiles of my loved ones helped ease the sense of distance.
My first trip to a grocery store in Qatar was with a group of colleagues, as we were using group transportation while waiting for our driver’s licenses. While others piled back into the van with bags full of cold cuts, meat, and bread, I clambered on with an armful of white lilies, causing everyone to chuckle. We had been feasting at local restaurants all week and food had been the furthest thing from my mind as I wandered the aisles of the Carrefour. Instead, I found my way to the flower stand and remembered how the scent of Easter lilies could make any dull afternoon seem bearable. I bought a few strands and met the van. Flowers – either fresh cut or as potted plants – can soften the often sterile feeling in many new spaces.
Music is another element to tuck away in a pocket of a suitcase when relocating. A small CD case of ten or so favorite albums can make any new space seem familiar as it fills up with the nostalgic notes of your current favorite artist.