Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Star Trek and Immigrant

The first draft of this post inadvertently turned into a heartpouring rant about the pros and cons of being an immigrant, but that detours too much from the topic of this blog, so I'll turn to a more light-hearted note, of some of my first memories.

My mom and I immigrated to the United States when I was 5, following my dad who had come over about a year before us to "pave the way." I remember a nauseating plane trip (my first) which would probably be equally painful now. My sister just left for China yesterday and I looked at her itinerary; it's a 13 hour non-stop flight, Chicago to Beijing, not counting the short hop from home to O'hare.

I remember they served some kind of noodles on the trip, I think it was Chow Mein. It didn't taste like any Chow Mein I'd ever had in China. It was greasy and too yellow from food coloring. I remember the puke bags the food came up in (do they have names other than puke bags? Air sickness bags?). I remember I got carsick a lot in China; how could they expect me not to get sick on a plane ride?

When we got to the United States, I saw my dad who I hardly recognized after more than a year. I thought it was him at first and started running towards him, but hesitated before I got to him, because I started doubting myself, if it was actually him. I wonder if he remembers that painful moment as well as I do and if he wondered then if he'd been away too long and regretted it.

What followed was a dizzying trot through O'hare, which at the age of five and dazzled by its brightness and shine, I was sure must be the biggest place in the world. It was so different from anything I'd ever seen, I didn't believe it was a building. I wasn't sure what it was. Then a cartrip to my dad's apartment, which I don't remember at all. I just remember walking into that dark apartment and on the small round dining table, there was a 6-pack of coca-cola in those little plastic 6 pack rings that you always seen wrapped around dying fish.

Then we went upstairs to his friend's apartment where they'd prepared a big meal (my dad couldn't cook) and we all sat around a big table, me next to my mom. There's a photo of that somewhere, I look lost and not too happy. I'm sure I didn't understand anything, but I was happy for the feast.

It was a big contrast to the apartment we'd left in China, which I'd always remembered as warm and bright, in 10 o'clock in the morning lighting. The last meal we had there had the same brightness, as well as the big blue moving truck that hauled away all of our stuff, probably to my relatives, including the bright red tricycle I'd just gotten, given away to a cousin before I even learned to ride it.

What brought on this reminiscent kick was another blog post comparing and contrasting Star Wars and Star Trek. I watched Star Trek when I was 5 or 6, shortly after all this immigrating stuff. Obviously I didn't understand much at that age. Even more, I barely spoke English. But I got the general gist of the show, that this crew was lost in space, far from Earth and they were trying to explore the universe and find a way back.

Even though I watched it, I never really liked it because it made me uncomfortable. Today it finally clicked for me why, and I'm surprised I never put the two together. The situation reminded me of own, having left China and come to this strange new place, Chicago. O'hare was the strange, bright spaceship that had brought me here and I had no idea how to get back. The parallels aren't that clear-cut and psychotic, but the feelings are the same. And I always wanted to see the Enterprise crew get back to Earth, because I didn't want to give up the hope of going home to China. But of course they never did.

Extrapolating, I think that's why I dislike all stories with similar plotlines. Even more than dislike, they make me uncomfortable deep in my stomach. Call of the Wild, assigned reading in fifth grade, where the dog starts out as a pet on a warm, sleepy Californian veranda and gets plunged into the Wild and has to fend for himself. I don't like stories where the characters start out happy and comfortable and they end up having to undergo a hard and arduous journey to get home, if they ever do. It resonates too much with my nomadic childhood, and like the crew of the Enterprise, I'm not sure if I'll ever get back home.

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