Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Airports and Long Drives

Lima Chinatown photo by Paul Brandon-Bravo

About two months ago I promised my mother and stepfather that I would pick them up at the airport when they got back from their trip to Peru. The plane was due to come in at 11:15 PM but I forgot about two things: rain and customs. They actually got out of the gate at 12:15. I then drove them home to the Sacramento area from the Oakland Airport in heavy rain. We got in at about 2:30 AM.

During the three weeks they were gone, I decided to try out my mother’s Toyota Prius which was quite fun to drive. I liked the keyless door system and the Prius is very stable and quiet for such a light vehicle. I got something like 45-48 miles to a gallon according to their monitoring system. It’ll be interesting to see who seriously challenges Toyota in this market sector. I’m looking forward to the Chevrolet Volt, but I fear that we won’t see one for at least three years.

Over the weekend though, we had all sorts of frustration. I got a parking ticket for staying too long in a yellow zone on a Saturday (50 bucks). My daughter’s volleyball tournament didn’t go well for them from a won-loss standpoint. On the night before I was supposed to return my mother’s car, a truck threw up a rock and it left one of those lovely spider cracks in the Prius windshield. I spent the first part of Monday morning seeing if there was anyone around who could fix the thing before I had to go the airport.
Auto glass places apparently don’t do Martin Luther King day, but they still had to get the windshield from another county.

I suppose the big surprise/shock though was seeing my 84 (soon to be) year old stepfather coming out of the international gate in a wheelchair. I quickly learned that he’d caught bronchitis while in Lima and they had to cancel their side trip to Argentina. He’s had lung issues for the last several years. He used to joke about not wearing a mask when he used pesticides while farming for most of his adult life. I have no idea though if that played any role. Of course, if you make it to 84 and you’re still flying to South America, you’re doing pretty well.

Much to my shock, my parents didn’t want to get a hotel. Having flown for 11 hours and stopped in San Salvador along the way to change planes, they were perfectly happy to drive home in the rain at what was about four in the morning Peruvian time. Maybe they got used to the lifestyle there. Apparently the parties frequently run until six in the morning. It’s a little strange to have your 78 year old mother send you cellphone pictures from a Peruvian nightclub.

We got home, I expected them to fall asleep. Instead, my mother spent the next couple hourse unpacking. After doing my usual fiddle with her compute thing, I went to bed. I woke up at 7:30, later than I’d wanted to but still early. I walked out to find my mom awake. Apparently she didn’t go to bed because she was intent on making sure that I had breakfast before I left. I guess I should have taken her up on the offer to make bacon and eggs at three in the morning.

They’re apparently planning to drive to somewhere near Bakersfield (6 hours) to pick up their dog today. When they get back, their Peruvian hostess’s pre-teen non-English speaking sons are coming to stay with them for the next 3-4 weeks. There are days when my mother talks about thinking about assisted living and how various parts of her body are failing her, then there are days like this where I just scratch my head.

In between, I got to hear about the world of relatively wealthy Chinese in Peru. Peru, like Argentina and Brazil is much more heterogeneous than most Americans imagine it. Alberto Fujimori ran the country for many years. My parents were hosted by a Chinese family friend who grew up there. Her family has been there for three generations. Interestingly she had never heard of the Chinese slave trade brought to Peru for guano cultivation and railroad construction. I remember a similar thing meeting Mississippi Chinese who knew nothing or claimed to know nothing of Chinese laborers being brought to the Delta to replace black slaves after emancipation. I do wonder if families bury these stories, because they’re embarrassed or that it reflects badly on their new country-state.

Somewhere between talking about fruit and seafood they have there that we don’t get in the United States and the general lack of wood for furniture and home construction there, my stepfather who was interned during the war started talking about the Peruvian detainees during World War 2. It’s one of those odd bits of history, but when the West Coast Japanese were put in camps after Pearl Harbor some South American countries sent their Japanese to the US to be interned too. The largest contingent came from Peru.
At the end of the war, they weren’t returned to South America. Instead some of them had to live as stateless individuals left in the US without either Peruvian or US citizenship. At the end of the story, he then said “You know, you can make it all sound really bad if you want to, like camp was for us. Still, in some ways it wasn’t all that bad.”

As nice as life sounded in Peru, there’s the rather significant issue of the constant fear of being kidnapped. Apparently it was much worse when the Shining Path was flourishing in the country. Still, our friend has had two family members kidnapped. Her uncle was kidnapped and murdered in a plot that involved his own attorney and the local police. The attorney was convicted, did his time, then returned to the practice of law within five years of the murder. The second was her sister who was grabbed in front of the university. She escaped by jumping out of a moving car on a country road and running up to the next car to come by who fortunately took her in and returned her home. One result is that the homes have high walls around them and people take care not to drive fancy cars or dress ostentatiously. As much as there is wrong in the US, I don’t think we live like that quite yet.

Perhaps the oddest thing of all is that it occurs to me that this might have been my parents last big trip. Getting them at the airport turned out to be worth it in its weird way.



At 1/23/2008 02:57:00 PM, Blogger None said...

Good story CL. My girlfriend is first gen. Peru. The history lesson is much needed, to say the least. We have tons of photos from her trip back there about 12 months ago. Really an interesting place. I guess, as her Mom says, Lima has changed plenty. Mostly in a boring, sprawling sort of way.

As for it being your parents last big trip.. That must be difficult too. I know I've seen my parents age plenty in the past five years. On some level I feel sort of thankful. Finally, I get a chance to help them out. Sort of a repentance for all the trouble during those regretful high school years. I just sort of mean to say that growing old isnt all bad.

Wish I could say this all better..

At 1/23/2008 07:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for you for picking them up. You do these posts so marvelously. Let your mother feed you -- it obviously makes her so happy.

At 1/24/2008 09:23:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

For whatever reason, I've had it in my head that anything south of the United States is more or less like Mexico. Even Mexico isn't all that much like my mental image of Mexico.

In general, my parents have been very lucky. They get around, have plenty of friends, etc.
fwiw, you said it all fine.

Thanks. It does help to humor my mother's food obsessions or more precisely her obsession with feeding other people. At the same time, I don't want to be 300 pounds.

At 1/24/2008 01:21:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I hope I'm still roaming when I reach that age. My dad will be 80 in a month and my mom's pushing 77. They're not incredibly active or big travelers but they've got relative good health and they're happy so it's all good I think. Great story CL.

At 1/24/2008 11:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know for 100% sure whether it's Michelle Bache-lay or Bache-leht in Chile?

At 1/25/2008 04:22:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

The president of Chile is Michelle Bachelet.

At 1/26/2008 02:22:00 PM, Blogger Marianne said...

There's enough material here for at least several novels . . .

I love your "family" posts.


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