Four generations, three countries, two
continents, one family
Before we had children, I might have
thought of the following as drawbacks to living in Beijing in an
international marriage with a Chinese girl: being mutually
incomprehensible in an argument, never being able to win an argument,
protracted lunches with the extended family on frequent feast days,
not being able to have Sunday lunch with the European relatives, and
being bankrupted by the cost of sharing Christmas dinner and a pint
with the folks back home. For sentimental reasons, living half a
world away from my son’s Anglo-Saxon grandparents now tops the
list, while practical reasons place the cost of bridging the distance
to our far-flung family at second.
With that said, we don’t regret a
penny spent taking Daniel to see the big-nosed branch of the family
in Europe this summer. Though the month-long family reunion may,
perhaps, have been a bit extravagant, it yielded many priceless
moments. One of the highlights was introducing Daniel to my
irrepressible granddad, who, at 94, is one of the sprightliest among
those in the retirement community in London where he lives. The old
fella was so excited, in fact, that as soon as he clapped eyes on
Daniel he rushed next door, returning moments later to wheel his
neighbor in for a viewing session ñ after all, it’s not only
the Chinese elderly who like to show off their newest family members.
I suspect Great-granddad Jim was also
quite self-satisfied at living long enough – through two world
wars, mind you – to see his great grandson. It may have been
the best part of 30 years since he had held a baby, but it didn’t
take long before the dapper old gent was cradling Daniel like a pro.
"That’s alright, Danny boy," he murmured soothingly, over and
again. "That’s alright." Daniel, oblivious that he had arrived
at his other home, was indeed alright.
We are a global family. My brother
recently moved from Indonesia to Korea. In London, besides the
Ancient One, "aunties" Julie and Joan eagerly await Daniel’s
next visit – which is just as well, for without their hospitality,
Daniel’s mum and dad would be broke from family reunions. But we
felt the distance most poignantly in Spain, where my parents finally
got to meet Daniel in the flesh almost three months after their
Chinese counterparts first saw him. Indeed, anyone considering an
international marriage is likely to be put off by a frank
consideration of options which will always seem cruel to either one
set of grandparents or the other: to live near her parents and
disappoint his, to live near his parents and disappoint hers, or
disappoint everybody by living somewhere a long way from anyone. The
catch-22 becomes more intractable when "mum" becomes "grandma"
and "grandpa" loves kids, too. And though my parents would never
put pressure on us to move westwards, they wouldn’t be grandparents
if they weren’t secretly wishing for it.
"It could be the last time we see
each other – you never know," warned Daniel’s great-granddad when
we made our farewells. After all, he is getting on a bit, as he
pointed out. It’s a measure of just how full of beans he is that
the first time I ever heard him say such a thing was when he was 94.
And he was indeed literally full of beans, freshly picked from
amongst the vegetables he grows in his garden. Perhaps his gardening
days will go on well past a hundred, but saying goodbye to him and
the rest of the European relatives brought home once again what a
bittersweet fruit an international marriage can be. Washed down by a
pint and a chat, on the other hand, Granddad’s beans were nothing
if not hao chi.