Charmed Life

“Can I swap places with you?” asked Bart.

Bart and his wife Sofie, both Belgian, were walking by, and had stopped to chat with Wendy and I as we sat at a poolside table on the Lido deck. The two of us were in the midst of 宵夜, a late night snack of leftovers from lunch at a Bergen seafood restaurant: steamed mussels and boiled fresh shrimp, washed down with Grolsch beer (me) and hot tea (Wendy). Since seafood tends to smell rather fishy, we decided not eat them in our stateroom, nor bring them into the Lido restaurant to eat. Besides, peeling shrimp is quite messy.

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No, Bart was not asking for a sample of the crustaceans (he’s from the land of moules-frites, after all). I had just told him the itinerary for my six-week European trip. “You’re going to all these beautiful places I want to go to!” he exclaimed.

Six weeks in Europe. Never mind complete strangers, pretty much all my friends were in awe and envy that I was going to go gallivanting around the world, while they were stuck at home with work/raising kids/saving the world, etc.

But as I related my news to each of my friends, I caveated and asterisked the heck out of my impending travel plans. (I tried to downplay my charmed life, untethered to any productive responsibilities. But my friends aren’t much fooled by my act.)

The first two weeks would be spent with my mom Wendy (and her cousin Shujun with husband Harry) on a cruise to Norway*.

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Disembarking from the Rotterdam in Rotterdam

The second two weeks would be spent with Dad (and Joe) traveling independently around Scotland and England**.


The boys in Edinburgh

The third two weeks would be spent with my step-mom Yeeta (and 20 other people) on a Thailand-based escorted package tour of Slovenia and Croatia***.

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Roving in Rovinj

(Thank goodness I only have three parents, and none of them are Elizabeth Taylor.)

The downsides of this trip were:

  • – I don’t like cruises.
  • — Taking my Dad traveling is indeed ‘travail’ – hard work.
  • — I don’t like escorted package tours.

The upsides of the trip were:

  • + I’d never been to any of these places before.
  • ++ I wouldn’t have gone to any of these places, if it weren’t for my parents.
  • +++ After six weeks in Europe, my spoken Cantonese and Thai would improve immensely.

And I got to do cool things like photograph drying fish in Norway. By the way, it smelled exactly like Thai or Chinese salted fish.

Even though I’m an over-planner, I couldn’t have planned the trip this way even if I set out to do so. It was just a complete fluke that the dates fell into place, and that all these destinations were conveniently grouped in Europe, the most densely compacted of continents. (Ah, Europe. Where the language changes every 50 miles, and until the euro came along, the currency changed every 100 miles.)

Dad wanted to go to Scotland and England (even though he’d been there before.) Yeeta wanted to go on a package tour, to anywhere, so long as it was somewhere she had never been to before. Since it was a milestone birthday for her this year, I told her I’d go with her, even though I generally avoid escorted package tours like I avoid Ebola.

(Dad absolutely refuses to go on package tours as well. It’s been a long-standing bone of contention between them. But they’ve now figured they could go on vacations separately, and the sky wouldn’t fall on their heads.)

I told them I wouldn’t be available until October, since my work contract ended September 30, as did my house-sitting stint.

“October? It’ll be cold in Scotland by then! I want to go in September,” said Dad.

“Well, my work contract ends September 30 . . .”

There was a tour of Slovenia and Croatia put on by Yeeta’s favourite tour operator starting in mid-October. Neither of us had been there before, so Yeeta and I signed up for it. Yeeta didn’t want to go to Scotland with us because she didn’t want to be gone for such a long time.


Our tour was ‘sponsored’ by a bank, which got us a discount if we paid with their credit card. Hence the obligatory social media photo pose.

This would work out quite nicely, I thought. After I wrapped up work and house-sitting in September, I would spend October in Europe, and be back by the first week of November, in time to do the Rim-to-Rim hike in Grand Canyon, which had been arranged even before I even knew I was going to Europe.

Meanwhile, Wendy had signed up with Bob for a 14-day cruise of Norway during the last two weeks of September. They were going to go with her cousin Shujun and her husband Harry from Canada.

In mid-August, Bob found out he wouldn’t be able to go on the trip. Wendy asked me to go as a substitute. I said no, I had to work and house-sit, and besides she had Harry and Shujun to hang out with. Plus she had a single supplement by default, from Bob.


Wendy never pleads. Underlying that entreaty was: “You’re taking your father on a trip to Scotland. You’re going on a package tour with your step-mother even though you hate package tours just because it’s her milestone birthday. Yet you won’t come with your mother on a cruise, even though it’s my milestone birthday too.”

Solomon had me not only at the umbilical cord, but the jugular. I have three parents; and if I was obliging Dad and Yeeta by going on a trip with each of them, I should also do the same for Wendy.

I agonized over the pros and cons. I didn’t want to flake out on my responsibilities, but it was possible to cut short on the work contract. And I could make arrangements for the house-sitting. These really weren’t sacrifices. It wasn’t like a “if I had to decide which of my three parents to save if I could only save one or two from a burning building” kind of dilemma. This was a good problem to have. It’s a blessing that each of my parents are still healthy enough to walk, eat and go see the world. It’s a rare luxury for adult children to be able to join their parents traveling. Lucky Celia indeed.

I slept on my decision. The next morning, I told my client I was quitting early. I made arrangements about the house-sitting. I emailed Wendy to say I’d go with her. But if things miraculously worked out for Bob by Labor Day such that he could go on the cruise, I could change my flight and let him go instead according to the original plan.

Then I got the following text from Wendy:

“It is not right to make u make major changes to accommodate me. Bob said the third option is to forgo his part and I go by myself. I think that is best so you can keep your plan to work till end of September.”

Argghhh! I had told her the exact same thing the first time around, but she was deaf to the message, until Bob said the same thing to her.

“I said I would go, so I’m going!” I told Wendy through gritted teeth.

Then I emailed Dad.

“Since you haven’t bought your plane ticket yet, it turns out I can meet you in Inverness earlier, as soon as September 27, since I’m going on a 2-week cruise with Wendy to Norway that ends on the 26th.”

Dad called me back. “You couldn’t go with me in September when I asked you because you said you had to work, but now you’re going with Wendy on a cruise?”

Sometimes, you just can’t win.