1000 a Day – Day 12

This is my last memory from before I moved to the United States, and my first one in the States. This is somewhat of a milestone as I’ve finished sorting through all the memories I have from before I was six, few though they may be. I think there are no more than 18 distinct memories. I asked Maria if she thought this was a small number, but she responded that normal people may not be able to delineate what memories they had from before a certain age. Unlike me, they don’t have a convenient sign post that indicates a specific before, as in before six and the States, and after. So while it’s a none answer because I’m still not sure if most people have more than 18 memories from before the age of six, it did make me a little less insecure nevertheless because at least I could tell what memories I have are from that specific period of my life. Either way, this is a milestone, and I’m glad I’ve been able to write this much. Here’s to another 21 years of my life!

I had just spoken to my parents for “the first time” a few hours before on the phone. I was very excited, so much so that I couldn’t sleep. I spent some time lying in bed, waiting, then went out into the living room to sit on the couch. I turned on all the lights and sat there watching the clock, listening to the rhythmic sound of the seconds ticking by. Lights in China back then were all yellow, and the living room was a bright shade of orange, tinted by the moonlight shining in through the windows.

My grandparents had called for a taxi to take me to the airport. I had very little baggage, none at all actually the more I think about it. The only thing I did have was a sign, written in English and Chinese, that said who I was, what flight I was getting on, and where I was going, which was hung from my neck with string. That morning, I gave my grandmother a hug goodbye, and got in the cab, and as it drove off towards the airport I waved to my grandparents through the rear window of the car, crying.

When I got to the airport, I did a little bit of random wandering before someone caught sight of the sign around my neck. I was directed towards an airline attendant of some sort who helped me get through the necessary channels and paperwork. I don’t remember any of this, but there would have been check-in, immigration, customs, and then the gate. I do remember being amazed at how many people there were though in the airport; I’d never seen that many all in the same place before. I was led by the attendant to where I needed to be, and boarded the plane.

747s were all the rage back then, before the prominence of Airbus airplanes. The particular one I flew in that first time from China to the States had one of those domes in the front for the really fancy people to fly in. When I got on the plane, a stewardess saw my sign, took my ticket, and directed me to my seat. Now, both my grandparents are quite noteworthy within the Chinese government and the Communist party. Granted, at one point my entire family was arrested by those same people, but afterwards they were given a very heartfelt apology and eternal subsistence basically. As I mentioned before, my grandparents lived in government housing. From what I hear, my grandfather in particular is of note. I’ve been told that he helped sort out China’s first space program, helping to launch their first rockets and satellites in the remote deserts to the Northwest. He was also apparently invited by Castro to go visit Cuba, where he was given a box of Cuban cigars (later confiscated during the Cultural Revolution) as thanks for his help in reverse engineering a crashed US cruise missile. He did his studies at Caltech, earning a Masters and a PhD; apparently he was recalled to China before his program finished so he wrote the remainder of his dissertation while on the plane back to China and mailed it in to complete his coursework. The point though, is that someone else, equally prominent within the Chinese government and Communist Party, somehow got wind that my grandfather’s only grandson was traveling, alone of all things, in coach since my parents and family are not wealthy, for the first time to the States. He took pity on me, and invited me to join him in first class. And not just first class, but in the dome.

What I remember of it is not at all like what it must actually be, having never actually been upstairs before on a 747. But I remember a vast space, though most spaces must seem vast to a six year old Chinese boy, and at one end was a huge buffet table, full of exotic foods I’d never seen before and lobster. I specifically remember the lobster. I did not recognize the elderly gentleman who had invited me up.

At some point during the flight, I must have fallen asleep because I remember being woken by the sunrise. Now, when flying from China to the States, you’re chasing the sun, so at some point it will be night, then sunrise, then perpetual day until you land. This particular sunrise though was very noteworthy. We were flying above a thick layer of clouds, completely white and looking very fluffy, very thick and dense. All of a sudden, a circular patch literally burst into flames and melted away, downwards, like molten metal, and from this ring of fire rose the sun, unlike I’ve ever seen it before or ever after. It looked like a literal fireball, nothing like the bright circle of light one would normally see. I could see the licks of flame flying off in all directions, see the curvature of its spherical shape, see it spin, suspended in the air, feel the fire upon my face as I gazed at it. It rose through the burning clouds, sending off small flares of flames, catching other patches of clouds on fire which melted away as well. Before long, all I could see was a sea of flames.

Obviously, this could not have truly happened. Although it would be really cool if it did.

The next thing I know, presumably twelve hours later, I had landed at LAX, the international airport in Los Angeles. I was greeted by a very nice looking American airline attendant who directed me through the necessary channels, immigration, customs, etc. Seeing as I had no baggage, she pointed me in the direction of the exit to where all the visitors were eagerly waiting to pick up their loved ones. I remember walking through a glass hallway with tropical trees and plants all around. I remember the sun shining through this canopy. Little by little though the plant life began to be replaced by people, more and more, until instead of a rain forest around me, there was nothing but people pressing their faces and their hands and handwritten signs against the glass hallway. I could hear them shouting. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be looking for, didn’t know how I would recognize them, so I just kept walking. And then in front of me stood a woman with medium length blond hair and a box of chocolates in her hand. She smiled at me, as if she recognized me, and I thought that this was it, my mother. This would turn out to actually not her but a good friend of hers; the woman I wanted was next to her, where stood my mother, an even bigger smile on her face, with long black hair. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

We walked out to the parking lot where my father was waiting for us in a light blue Subaru station wagon. We got in and headed out. Apparently I was underweight to use the child seats that one is supposed to for kids my age. I think we fudged it and just had me sit in the back, using the lap belt one would normally use to hold down a child seat. As we drove on the freeway, I remember seeing billboards for the first time in my life. I remember asking my parents what these massive, brightly lit and colorful signs along the side of the road were, literally wide-eyed at all the new sight around me.

My parents were living in Pasadena at the time, in a small apartment. There wasn’t a bed for me yet, no place for me to sleep, so that first night I spent on the couch in the living room. I didn’t realize this, but I was horribly jet lagged. Usually, when traveling from China and the States, one gets completely turned around for a while due to the time difference. But I didn’t know about this, and no one had told me, so that first night was terrifying for me. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t fall asleep. I laid there, on the couch, in a brand new apartment with brand new parents, looking out an unfamiliar window at unfamiliar trees lit by streetlights, and I was terrified. I thought something was horribly wrong with me because any normal person would be able to sleep in the middle of the night. I remember pulling the blankets up over my face and telling myself, “It’s alright, don’t worry. You’ll be dead in the morning and everything will be alright.”

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