Taking someone overseas for the first time is a bit like taking their virginity. Will they enjoy it? If they don’t, is it your fault? Is their suffering due to your incompetence and likely to put them off this new experience for life? Will you feature in their ghostwritten autobiography when they are in gaol for psychopathic acts that stem directly from the trauma to which you subjected them?
I am happy to report that no quivering innocence ruined things for the Owl when I organised a trip to Poland to visit my sister and her husband. And then organised a stop-over in China, because if you’re going to pay $1800 for a plane ticket it is essential to wring every last stopover out of it. And then arranged to spend three days in Amsterdam on the way back to catch up with the only European-dwelling friends I could track down who are still footloose (excepting their cat) and likely to jump on a plane at a minutes notice.
I was a bit concerned about the language barrier in China, and in a display of efficiency unlike anything seen from me before, I actually booked the first nights accommodation. Which we then missed out on because Air Southern China was five hours late leaving Brisbane. Picture us, full of excitement at the end of the runway, poised on the brink of our great adventure…and then taxiing slowly back to the airport to get the computer on the plane fixed. Organisation does not always pay off. But the Owl remained unpeturbed.
He remained determined when purchasing food in a language he didn’t know. He was calm about the fascination his very long streaky ponytail inspired in crew-cut Chinese men (‘They used to have queues, didn’t they?’) He remained systematic about finding trains, buses and toilets without a clue about what he was looking for. He ate everything without getting sick or overtaxing his compromised heart and he wasn’t deterred from his attempts to speak Polish when he inadvertently called a little old lady in the supermarket a small pig.He took supermarket tourism to new levels, although my sister maintains that her non-English speaking in-laws on their visit to Australia gave him some fairly serious competition, and it was me that came home with a gross of paper towels when I meant to buy toilet paper, not him.
He saw how other people live and will probably never complain about the Australian minimum wage again. He drove on the wrong side of the road (Polish drivers don’t make it immediately clear, but it is a right-hand side of the road country) and no one was killed.
I’m ashamed now that I was so fearful about his ability to cope, but also delighted that I can start furtively planning our trip to India. Let’s see if some Kolkata street food breaks him.