Chinese Buffet – Part 12: Child’s Eye View of China

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

What do you remember from when you were four years old?

Beth and I spoke about this several times during my visit. They moved to China when her son Ryan was just two and a half years old. And now he was about to celebrate his 4th birthday in Shanghai. His passport is almost as thick as those of his parents, full of stamps from visits to Japan, Thailand and South Korea. Around China, he’s been to Beijing, Hainan Island, Xi’an and went on an overnight Yangtze River Cruise too. And of course, he’s well traveled in America as well — from Florida to Boston to California, this little guy has seen a lot.

His mom often wonders about what Ryan will recall from these early adventures. She’s been keeping a scrapbook and collecting tons of photographs, so there will be plenty of reminders to keep the memories alive. But she still wonders, just what will Ryan remember?

He’s able to communicate with Mr. Ding and his ayi in Mandarin — he asks for apple juice, or to go to the park — always using the proper Chinese words. Beth knows these language skills will soon fade, unless she is able to find a way to keep Ryan learning once they are back in the States. Only time will tell. But for right now, the focus is on enjoying China while they are still living there. I loved tagging along, seeing the world through Ryan’s eyes…

One of the first things we all did together was visit the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum to see a 3D Bug movie:

Located in Pudong, the museum is home to several IMAX theaters and a new dinosaur exhibit that is drawing crowds from all over. But these kiddies — Ryan’s playmates from the US and Australia — had already seen the dinosaurs. They were back specifically for the bugs!

The film was in Chinese with no English subtitles — but who needs words when you’ve got enormous creepy bugs on the screen?! I think Ryan prefers dinosaurs and superheros to bugs, and I’d have to agree with him on both counts, but we all had a good time and enjoyed our silly glasses:

For the record – Ryan IS indeed Superman! He wore his cape on several of our Shanghai outings, always drawing stares and giggles. He’d live in that costume if his mom would let him!

But even when not dressed in his superhero gear, Ryan is a crowd-pleaser. Here’s an example of what typically happens when he and his parents go out. While Beth snaps a photo of Ryan and his friend, the young man to her left snaps one as well — a photographic phenomenon that foreigners in China encounter all the time! The locals seem particularly amused by cute little kids like these two:

As Beth and her family prepare to return to the US, she explained to me that she’s been talking to Ryan more and more about being safe around strangers. He’s become very used to this scenario of folks saying hi and asking to take photos with him. There is a celebrity-like status in China for a little guy like him — but it’s something that won’t happen with the same frequency every time they step outside their home back in the States.

Ryan celebrated his fourth birthday during my visit with his family. Here he is again — same superhero, different day — making his big birthday wish. He had a small dinosaur-themed party with only a few of his closest playmates. Many of his expat friends had either recently repatriated or were back home visiting relatives for the summer. The cycle of comings and goings is a constant in this international neighborhood.

It wouldn’t have been a true Chinese birthday party without some authentic “Made in China” gifts — and this one was the winner for sure. Ryan’s ayi bought him this obnoxiously loud egg-laying duck! If Ryan’s mom even allows him to leave the country with this one, it should surely be saved with his other China mementos — the bump-n-go action duck will be fun to pull out and laugh about years from now.

Interspersed with all the wonderful new toys, games and experiences of Ryan’s overseas childhood, Beth makes sure to allow ample opportunity for the activities Ryan loved to do before he moved to China. When he’s not discovering dinosaur bones or fighting off the bad guys, Ryan is given plenty of time to swim — he’s a first-class fish!

And not a fish-out-of-water at all! Ryan’s early exposure to the world has made him a super adaptable and flexible kid. I’m sure that regardless of what he actually remembers from his time in China, the experience of living abroad at such a young age has surely expanded his horizons and taught him lessons that will last a lifetime.

Ryan taught me a thing or two as well. His smile, laughter and sense of curiosity were contagious, and I fed off his energy. Sure, there were moments of pure exhaustion (Auntie Kel needs a rest NOW!), but overall, hanging with this special guy made me feel like a kid all over again.

An awesome feeling indeed.

Thanks buddy! Xie Xie.