PART 1. FLYING OVER
Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival.
— Martha Gellhorn,
Travels with Myself and Another
For months, ever since Drex got an academic collaboration offer in Singapore and we bought the family tickets, I’ve been mentally preparing myself and the girls for our long voyage to Vietnam before heading to Singapore. I explained that it would take more than a day and we’d need to take three planes to Hanoi.
The first plane from Montreal to Chicago would be an Activity Plane (no electronic devices). Then there would be a layover and a second plane from Chicago to Tokyo (which the girls were highly anticipating) because it was the iPad Plane. Drex had configured, loaded, and optimized the girls’ orange iPad buddies with movies, games, and other apps to keep them busy for the long long voyage over the Pacific. And then, even after we’d made it across the world, we’d still have a third (and final plane) to get to Hanoi. That plane would be an Anything Plane— iPad, Activities, whatever.
Despite all the preparation, and the girls’ excellent travel history, I reminded myself how much we were demanding of them. I expected there to be Complications, Incidents, Uncontained Bodily Fluids, Mood Disturbances, and Total Emotional Breakdowns at some point. NONE of that happened. It was astonishing as we took the trip segment by segment just what excellent, well-behaved world travelers our girls revealed themselves to be. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised really. After all, we’re Adventure Buddies— and We Can Do!
Our family T-shirts got a number of compliments at the airport. And we felt a tremendous sense of camaraderie throughout our voyage. When we arrived in Tokyo, Sonya said, “Since we’re such good travelers, can we take more trips around the world?”
My “snack kits” were very popular. The girls could unwrap and enjoy one whenever they were hungry, and eating it was an Activity in and of itself.
I’d also pre-packed individual large-size slide-top Ziploc bags into “Activity Kits.” One kit included bird, flower, and leaf stickers. The girls could draw a tree and then create some multimedia art.
Another Activity Kit included peel-and-stick gemstones to bejwel plastic stick-by-number bracelets, which the girls made into collars for their stuffed animals. Leena sat on my lap. I tweezed gems and she stuck them on. Both girls exceeded my expectations of their fine motor skills. I thought I’d need to help more with this particular activity, but Sonya could do it all on her own and Leena, impressively, needed very little help on my lap.
After lunch at O’Hare Airport and a Run, Stretch, Jump break at Gate K19, we got on the iPad Plane and commenced Total Entertainment Zone Out. We flew Japan Airlines and I have to say that the inflight service and legroom in economy class were stellar! The flight attendants were in love with the girls— who, as a result, collected a lot of airline swag. I drank plenty of water, did periodic stretches to maintain blood flow, and baby boy just tumbled around happily in the womb.
PART 2. FIRST MORNING IN HANOI
Ruths family friends, from when Drex lived overseas in Rumbai, Indonesia during his junior and early high school years, picked us up from the airport and deposited us at the home of an ex-pat family that’s traveling abroad and graciously allowing us to stay in their home. They have a daughter somewhere around the girls’ age so there are toys and we are so comfortable and so grateful to have these amazing accommodations in Hanoi. Not to mention our awesome hosts, who’ve arranged so much of our itinerary so that we can see, experience, and enjoy the local Vietnamese culture.
We began our first morning early at 5 a.m. by a statue of Ly Thai To, the Vietnamese emperor who moved the capital to Hanoi in 1010, over a thousand years ago. In the morning, lots of local women, mostly middle-aged and older, gather for free laughing yoga, tai chi, aerobics, and ballroom dance classes. The girls were wide-eyed on the sidelines trying to figure out what in the world was going on, but then they joined in. The girls turned heads and brought out smiles. Reminding me, yet again, how lucky I am to be their mommy.
And here I am, beginning my third trimester overseas by Ho Hoan Kiem or “Sword Lake.” And there is Leena, holding a frog she just caught.
It was so hot and humid. My Fujifilm X20 camera had a chip read error, so this picture of Leena kissing a frog is glitchy. By the way, the frog smooch happened inadvertently, otherwise I may have tried to stop her. (Germs! Germs! Everywhere germs! I’m filled with paranoia). But Drex reminds me to relax. There’s no invisible amoebic dysentery or typhoid in the pool water— or so he tells me.
We’re all having fun. Relaxing. Eating safely. Enjoying life and time together. A larger number of Ruths have arrived now. More adventures to come!
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.
— Hans Christian Andersen,
The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography