I’ll be seeing my dad today.
I haven’t seen him since I moved to London in Nov. 2008 and over time, I’ve imagined and re-imagined what it would be like when we meet again. Will we hug? No. My family never hugs. But in which ever scenario my mind would create, it always consisted of us both grinning widely and me just being really happy to see family again.
I went out of my way to spend the morning at Lush. For old time’s sake. It’s quite a nice cafe/pub that serves good breakfasts, sandwiches and the lot. At night, it turns into a pub with movie nights, live music and drink deals. Lively (foreign) student hangout.
Nasty used to live just round the corner and this is where we came for food a lot when I visited. And so here I sat reading, writing, people watching…killing time until I need to go pick up dad at the Beijing West train station. (And no, that’s not me. Is that a guy?)
Dad came up on a 24 hour train journey from Hong Kong. Perhaps I killed off too much time at Lush, coz I was running late and I half ran my way there.
The problem with Beijing maps is that they never do the actual size of the city justice. What looks like a block on the map is really a block. But while a block in most other cities means a short walkable distance, in Beijing, it could mean a 20min walk.
Knowing how impatience and short-tempered my dad is, I bolted out of the tube station and ran. Fortunately for me, his train was delayed, so I hung around outside, with what looked like 10,000 other people.
The station was poorly signed and there was no way of telling which exit arriving passengers would come out of. I kept going round, up and down, peering through thick crowds of people, hoping I’ve covered all possible exit points.
After some time, the sky opened and it was pouring cats and dogs. Not long after, I got a call from mum in Hong Kong, saying that dad had been waiting outside something called “Immigration Inspection”.
I eventually found him there.
This long imagined moment. I’d always thought it would be a happy, elated reunion.
Instead, the very first thing he did was to point, open his mouth and yell at me. No smile. No how have you been. No it’s been a long time. No nothing. He told me off saying that he’s been waiting there for a long time and where the hell was I.
I don’t know how I was ever supposed to know he was standing under Immigration Inspection behind a million people. But what the hell. It wasn’t the time for an argument.
This has been a trip of superlatives, and this has come to be one of the most disapointing moments of my life. Maybe I’d built my hopes up too high? I was utterly dejected and absolutely gutted. It felt like Christmas was ruined.
We spent sometime in the afternoon looking for a laundry place. We found out the hard way that instead of charging laundry by weight, they do it by item here. So I cringed as we watched the shop owner count out each single sock and panties and bra and all and charged RMB5 for each item. Yes it’s outrageous, but yes this is apparently how they do things here. We went to a few other shops afterwards and it was the same, if not more expensive. I collected our clothes to leave, but dad got angry and started an argument with them, which turned into a yelling match. What’s the point of arguing? He was still as ill-tempered as always. I hated it.
In the evening, while going out for dinner, on our way to the tube station, we hopped onto the edge of a raised flower bed to avoid other people on a narrow section of the pavement. We were about two feet off the ground. Either he lost his balance or slipped, but he very suddenly lunged forward and fell. It felt like I was watching it in slow motion. He somehow couldn’t reach out with his hands to breach his fall and smacked face first into the mud of the flower(less) bed.
The left side of his face hit the soil. His glassed were mangled and bits of it had cut into the ridge of his nose. His checkbones looked bruised.
It was quite a shock. And for a few seconds, I was too surprised to do anything. I think he was in shock too. A group of men walking by came over to help him up. His face was covered in soil. We were very lucky. If he’d fell to the right instead of the left, he would’ve hit concrete and we probably would’ve spent the night in the hospital.
Seeing dad again, plus all the events of today, reminds me how he is still the same ill-tempered, stubborn man, and how quickly he’s aged. His hair is grayer and he looks more and more like my long gone grandma. It breaks my heart and I get scared, both for him and for myself.
I cried in bed that night, and I selfishly wondered if it was a mistake to be traveling with dad. It’s enough of a change to be suddenly traveling with someone, and having to make decisions with someone after the past few weeks on my own. Now it’s even more stressful when that person isn’t particularly easy to handle afterall.