Lost in New York City

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Justin and Boy8.  Justin looooves cars. But he prefers new ones and not old ones.

So these 36 kids from China come to America for a 2 week vacation.  About half of them speak passable English but the other half barely speak a word.  They can say, “My name is …”, “How are you?” “A little,” and “Monique is at the library.”  No, wait.  That last bit was from my high school French class.

The kids range in age from 11 to 17.  Eleven!  Boy10 turns eleven in a month!  Granted, the 11-year-old from China (Zhon) was taller than me and possibly outweighed me, so maybe his parents forgot he was only eleven, but still–eleven!  I wondered how their parents felt about this trip.  Sure, they must have been ok with it enough to send them in the first place, but as John said after a phone call with his mother, “My mother worries.”  John is 13.  Of course his mother worries.  I have friends with 13 year olds and they’re only 40% grown.  At age 13, you’re still 60% kid.

For example, as much as Justin likes his ties and talks his politics, he still has a big dose of kid in him.  We were greeted every morning with a house-rattling THUMP as he leaped from the top bunk of the bed onto the floor.  When my parents visited and stayed in the bunks we were not greeted each morning with a magnificent THUMP as my mother leaped from its heights.  No.

So, these kids’ parents see them off at their local airport.  From the local airports, the kids fly to the Beijing airport, which is the second largest in the world.  I’ve been telling people it’s the largest, but I was wrong—the one in Atlanta is the largest.

Once they’re in the second largest airport in the world, these kids, including any eleven year olds, have to find their way, all by themselves, to the flight that’ll take them to America.  Remember—their parents are home in Fuzhou or Shangdon or wherever they’re from–hours and hours by plane away.

Then once they arrive in America, the students will be staying with strangers and being bussed to various major cities to go sight-seeing.  They will have one American and two Chinese chaperones.  For 36 kids, half of whom don’t speak English.

I wondered how the parents were feeling about their babies off in another country.  A good many of them must have missed their kids and been worried about them.  I know I was worried about them.  The responsibility for their safety weighed heavily on me.  For example, even though it’s not a law for the backseat, I require everyone to wear seatbelts no matter where they sit in my car.  No way do I want a 150 pound person in the backseat flying into the back of my neck, killing us both, if there’s an accident.  You stay in your seat, and I’ll stay in mine.

So, every time the kids rode in the car, I reminded them to wear their seatbelts.  I carpooled with Vince’s students a few times so sometimes I had 5 students in the car.  Every time I started the car, I would sing out, “Seatbelts!”  I told them, “I am not going to call your mother and say, ‘John died in America.’”  Justin translated it to the car and they all laughed and laughed, but it’s true.  I am not calling some worried Chinese mamma and telling her that her son died in America.  Sheesh.

On the day they were to visit New York City I carpooled the five kids to the meeting place at 8:00 in the morning and Vince was going to bring them home at 10:00 that night.

But at 10:00 Vince called and said, “They’re going to be late.  They told us something happened in New York and they’ll be an hour and a half late.  I don’t know what happened.”

Huh.  I wonder what happened.

At almost midnight, Vince dropped off our students.  They were happy to see us and were all smiles and bouncing around the house.  John forgot to take his money to New York and only had enough pocket money for a t-shirt.

Ha—pocket money!  I washed and dried some ‘pocket money’ by accident.  When I opened the dryer, there, sitting as nice as you please on top of the clothes, was a $100 bill.  Later in the week, we bought some skin cream for another kid’s mom and he paid us back with…a $100 bill.  And Zhon, the burly 11 year old, gave Vince’s seven-year-old a present—a $100 bill.  The seven year old held it for all of 3 seconds with wide happy eyes and a big grin while angels sang in the background before Vince said, “Nope!  Not gonna happen!” and yanked it out of his fingers and gave it back to Zhon.

So, John bought his $30 “I heart NY” t-shirt and Justin was bouncing around the living room because he had finally bought his ipad.  He had talked about it non-stop all week—about going to the Apple Store in NYC to buy the ipad.  He had wrestled with whether or not to buy a full sized one or a mini.  What a delicious decision to have to make.

And in the middle of them bouncing around the house and giving me their leftover packed lunch and showing us the ipad, Justin mentioned that he got lost in New York City.

Lost in New York City!

Really, really lost–as in, make the bus an hour and a half late because one of the kids is LOST IN NEW YORK CITY!!

I’ll tell the tale in Justin’s own words.  Read it with a lilting accent and a lot of expression, because that’s how he talked:

I am in the Apple store and I buy my new ipad.  Full sized.  My father tells me to buy full sized.

But I must find the bus.  But the bus!  It is on seventh avenue—so, so far from fifth avenue.  So far.  I do not know where it is.  Why so far?  And I am lost!  Fifth avenue is too crowded.  So many people.  So many.

I find an old man.  I ask the old man, “Where is the Apple Store?”  The old man say, “Close!”  and I am so happy.  So happy that it is close.  But when I get to the store, it is an…apple store.  (At this point, Justin mimes eating an apple.)  Not the Apple Store!  I am so lost!

I asked, “How did you find your way back?”

His answer:  I use google GPS to find the Apple Store.

Lesson learned: do not ask little old men about new technology.

But at the same time, I love this world our kids are growing up in now.  Technology is such a part of their lives that it’s science fiction come true.  When I watch Star Trek with my kids we see Picard using his touch screen ipad at his desk and Captain Archer Skype-ing with the people back on earth.

Justin seemed none the worse for his little adventure in the Big Apple.  But when the kids were offered an optional shopping trip on their last day in America, he told me with a big grin, “I will not go shopping.  Maybe be lost again!”

And that’s when we went laser tagging instead of shopping.  Ay yi yi.

But that’s a story for another day.

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John with Michael at church. Michael did not play the drums the day they visited. Such a disappointment.

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