Since this North American road trip began, we have only stayed three nights at the most in one place. We’ve been hopping from one place to another every one to four days. My friend Julia noticed from my blogs that this may not be a very healthy way to go and asked us to linger in St. Cloud and we did just that in her town in Minnesota. Chill out and relax, breathe in, breathe out, don’t run too fast, child. Monsters are not out to get you (but demons are). It was a much-needed break to not unpack and pack up as soon as we arrive. It’s soothing for a change not to have three or four hour long rides with two children who keep asking why it’s taking too long to get somewhere. We have tried to keep the drives less than four hours but our longest drive by far was the one from Regina to Jamestown clocking in at seven hours before we reached St. Cloud in another four hours the next day.
Julia and Julio’s house in St. Cloud was the perfect place to have a week-long breather from the mad dash, car chase of a trip. We can park our bikes inside the garage and take rides by the river every day. We can visit the public library and not have to substitute the Goodwill second-hand selection of books for the homeschoolers’ craving for new materials to read. We can pretend we have a cozy house in America which happens to be situated in a dynamic, internationally diverse university town. We can set meetings with the locals while the kids can see their playmates a bit longer but probably still not long enough for them.
Julia was not in St. Cloud when we arrived because she taught classes in Minneapolis, but she linked us up with her friend, Kirsten who happened to have three boys, Henry, Soren and Bjorn who were not only into Pokemon cards like Joshua and Jimmy. They attended a Chinese immersion program in a public school and spoke Chinese fluently. They were not only fluent, they also read and wrote Chinese characters because they were formally studying Chinese three years before their formal English education commenced. Henry who is ten years old has already read Charlie and Chocolate Factory in Chinese! I was flabbergasted. I wish I could send Joshua and Jimmy to that school. I wish we didn’t have to homeschool. I wish I could convince my husband to send our children to school, but that is another story for another blog. (Insert meltdown.)
Kirsten introduced me to Kathy, the director of the Confucius Institute who had lunch with us together with a visiting scholar from mainland China who had just arrived that morning to study about American education. Kathy also introduces me to Jerry who started the Jane Goodall school and the non-profit organization, Yes Network which helps strengthen community ties.
We visited the research laboratory where Vinny (or Vinicious), the Brazilian student who rents a room in Julia’s house, spends his days and nights holed up, tinkering and working on possible life-saving devices and other engineering techno-wizardry.
We attended the Mhong night at St. Cloud University where we got a glimpse of how culturally rich and diverse this little spot in Minnesota is and how great it would be to re-live university days if one can enter a university like this. The Mhongs are nomads and nation-less but the US has embraced and adopted a number of them. They shared their culture with the audience with a palpable passion. Jimmy fell in love with one of the Mhong women wearing silver coins that jingled, jangled, sparkled and fascinated him. The students enacted a Mhong folk tale about mortals and gods, evil and goodness, love, death and reincarnation – the ingredients of any gripping mythology but oddly and surprisingly, it felt fresh, bold and powerful despite the simple package. The show ended with a rap about identity rallying Mhongs to stand proud of their heritage.
We attended Easter Sunday church service and had two egg hunts – one by the Riverside Park courtesy of a radio station and the other at Lake George courtesy of Julia and Julio. Jimmy won a coloring book and he never had the patience to finish anything he colored before except for this particular prize.
Because there was no TV or Wi-Fi in Julia’s house, we were forced to more creative and we discovered the best way for Jimmy to sleep faster at night is to dance with him. I took a hiatus from blogging, facebooking (semi-hiatus because there’s mobile data) and other screen activities which is part of the idyllic charm of being in retreat mode. The boys work on the garden raking leaves, burying a dead squirrel and organic waste.
None of these experiences would have been possible if we rushed to exit the town so that we could reach another so I have to thank Julia for insisting. (Not to mention, the meltdown.)