The boys and I exited the TaeKwonDo studio and made our way to my truck. As usual the parking lot was full of trash but for once our youngest (#2) was actually wearing shoes so I didn’t have to worry about a trip to the hospital for stitches. He’d mistakenly interpreted the edict against shoes in the dojang as a general indictment of shoes in general. #2 had also long-embraced the concept of “clothing optional” so any attempt at a public appearance was now a long, painful ordeal.
We piled in the truck. As I began to back out our oldest (#1) rolled down his window to scream goodbye to one of his classmates, who we’ll call Susie. Susie was five-years-old but brought a seriousness to the study of martial arts that belied her years, and her high-pitched voice. She tipped the scales at something less than 40 pounds and stood approximately 3’5”.
Susie and her parents, who did NOT like us, waved back. More on the dislike shortly.
Windows back up, we embarked upon another round of philosophical discussions that made these short commutes famous, and treacherous. Case in point: on a previous drive home I was forced to pull over and look up every potential line of the Diarrhea Song as a diversion to a thorny, thought-provoking question regarding religion.
Tonight’s discussion actually had a segue.
“I think Susie is Japanese.”
I responded to this assertion from #2. “No, I believe she’s Chinese.”
I felt confident here because her parents, who did NOT like us, had complained to the Master that our boys were too rough with Susie and her brother (though we’d all seen her brother toss haymakers at other students, mostly when they were looking the other direction). This truly became what could fairly be described as an international incident. It also sealed the deal on how her parents viewed all of us. They hated us.
#1 then weighed in with, “Maybe they’re Korean.”
I already feel myself back-pedaling. Did I know they were Chinese? Hadn’t the Master said something to that effect during the UN Summit that had taken place to resolve rowdy Cobb boys issues? “No, I’m pretty sure they’re Chinese.”
#1 refused to let it go. “How do you know?
I didn’t have the time or inclination to get in to how much I’d learned about Susie’s family, and their hatred of us, as we were now on our way to, of all things, an international festival at their elementary school. As a side note neither of our boys cared a lick about the festival. Our youngest spent his time making paper airplanes outside the cafeteria and cavorting with like-minded friends. Our eldest inserted himself into a bingo game in the cafeteria, which he then abandoned to pester his brother, somehow managing to hurt his leg in the process. I was forced to carry the weeping, despondent #1 back to the entrance of the school, where I laid him down on the concrete whilst I went to find #2. Several other members of the paper-airplane crew said he’d fled the building, and I eventually found #2 hiding on the side of the building, in full pout because he had not gotten to play bingo.
All of that fun was still yet to come. Back in the truck I was still trying to come up with an answer that wouldn’t lead to thirty more questions.
“Her parents told me they’re Chinese.”
This is a slight stretching of the truth as I couldn’t really remember why I thought they were Chinese, but I did think someone had told me. Lest you judge or seek to infer some sort of racism, I please remind you that chubby, overworked white guys are often found wanting in this area. I do not think my ignorance is bliss. At times it’s downright uncomfortable.
“You speak Chinese?”
I attempted to steer this conversation back on course while also trying to stay in my lane.
“No, they also speak English. And for the record the Chinese people speak several different languages.”
I immediately recognized my oversharing error, but it was too late.
#2 was now reengaged. “Why do they speak more than one language?
“It’s a big place. Much bigger than the United States. Their culture has been around for thousands of years — long before cars, planes and phones — so each area developed their own language.”
That sounded solid, reasonable and not worthy of any additional follow-up questions.
Again #1 my oldest jumped in. “How many different languages do they have?”
How could I have missed this one, and where was I going from here? I’d been to Japan and Thailand, but my knowledge of China and its languages was derived primarily from the menus I’d perused in Chinese restaurants and movies where warriors can fly, and beat up 30 – 40 less flight-worthy fighters at a single sitting. Does Kung Fu Panda count as research? A few long dormant synapses fire.
“I don’t know exactly. A lot I think.”
I didn’t really think that was going to work as an answer, and it didn’t.
“What are their names Daddy?”
“Oh…. there’s Mandarin, and Cantonese… Maybe Mongolian…?”
I trailed off because I had no further information — not that what I was relaying could actually be considered information by anyone with rudimentary knowledge of China, or access to the internet. Speaking of which…
“Maybe we should ask Siri?” #2 always wanted to query Siri, but usually got flustered and just asked something inane such as the distance to the nearest gas station.
“I’m driving dude.”
“You could hand me your phone?” This particular conversation had happened on many previous occasions, and this Old Man wasn’t taking the bait.
As punishment for not handing over my phone #1 decided to belittle me. “Why don’t you know more about China?”
“Because I was a film major.”
This answer jars the youngest into action. “What Daddy?”
“Nothing buddy. Daddy’s just playing around.”
A blessed silence falls over the truck. We’re only a couple of miles from the school. I reach for the radio. #2 was now in full ponder. “I’d like to have my own language.”
I snuck a quick look at his little face as he pondered this angle. I could’ve left well-enough alone, but did not. “I guess you could, but who would you talk to if it was a language you invented and only you understood it?”
“I could teach people.”
A silence descended as we collectively pondered this idea. He was the only one who could actually read his handwriting so there was some basis to this approach.
“Maybe you could work on your English first?”
“Why? I talk great!”
We eventually returned home from the international festival and I relayed the evening’s events. My wife immediately confirmed that Susie was Korean, not Chinese. She also asked how our eldest had hurt his leg so badly when playing with paper airplanes. Finally, she wondered aloud how our youngest had managed to flee the school and escape my oversight.
They were all good questions but, as I’d already demonstrated, today wasn’t my day to be the answer guy.