Chris Huntington debuted on Growing Sideways in March when he participated in The Parent Interview #5: Irrational Love. A few weeks later he told me he and his family were taking a trip to Hong Kong Disney. As a big fan of Chris’ writing, I asked him if he might write something about the trip to share here. He did, and he did not disappoint. I hope you enjoy his tale from the other side of the world as much as I did.
You asked me what I thought of Hong Kong Disneyland, so let me tell you, though that means this letter will be all about M’SELF. And Dagim and Shasta. And Goofy. And magic. Also, maybe, a little evil. You told me you and Caroline haven’t taken your boys to DisneyWorld yet, but I recommend it.
When I worked in the prisons, I had a co-worker who was full Mickey. That is, he and his wife took their kids to Orlando every year– even after the kids were in high school. They stayed in the Disney hotel and rode the monorail to the park and afterward he’d come to work innew Mickey Mouse and Pluto ties (and this was in a medium security prison; none of us wore ties). But he was also a 45-year-old racist who liked showtunes and had his house rewired to accommodate the thousands of Christmas lights he put up every year. I figured that Disney was just a symptom of his desperately arrested development and not something any normal person would be affected by.
But let me tell you! Kevin!
Disney is great!
Now, I haven’t been to the one in Orlando, but on Lantau Island north of Hong Kong, my wife and son and I stayed in a Disney hotel with a regular bus to the park gate. It was all as perfectly clean and orderly as a Swiss dream.
Dagim hasn’t actually seen many Disney movies except for The Incredibles and the Toy Story trilogy. I don’t know if that’s because we’re living in China or because nobody at all watches Disney movies anymore. I mean, I know kids don’t watch Steamboat Willie but entering the park, we saw banners for movies we had completely forgotten about. Aladdin? Pocahontas? Hercules? Did you know there was a Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame? (Fortunately the latter was NOT a character roaming the park, but he was in the stage show and I had to answer a lot of questions about that.)
The highlight of the morning was Space Mountain, which addressed the eternal question, “What if Willy Wonka had started NASA inside Mount Everest?” The girl at the empty turnstile checked Dagim’s height and waved us in. Dagim grew silent. He’s almost five years old. The tunnel was black-lit and mysterious. The adults in the racecar spaceships seemed nervous as the huge, foam-covered bars lowered over their legs. Shasta and Dag were placed into the seat ahead of me, and so I watched their tiny heads as the racecar cranked up a hill. Then it was so dark, I couldn’t really see their heads or the walls and the car fell weightlessly forward, then seemed to be caught, then torn sideways, flinging us through– no, around– a wall– then up– next over– a giant jellyfish of light, which was an exploding galaxy or something, and then into a cave made of nebulae and stars. We went left, right, up a ladderlike hill, and down a great tunnel filled with incandescent bulbs and the final pop of a flash (the picture was later available in the gift store). I was dizzy and laughing out loud for no reason at all except that it was tremendously physical. Shasta and Dag were trembling and holding hands on the platform as I climbed free. “Did you like that, Dag?” I said.
“Yes!” he said. “Let’s do it again!”
I asked my wife how she felt. She made a wobbly gesture. “Except for the lack of water, that was just what I imagine it’s like for a Matchbox car to get flushed down a toilet,” she said.
“Mom.” Dagim made a very serious face. “You need to be a risk-taker.”
As he said the last word, he pulled one fist across his chest in a very dramatic and Roman-looking gesture he’d practiced in pre-kindergarten. Risk-taking is one of the qualities of a good student in our school.
And so, my wife, who is scared of heights, not only rode Space Mountain another three times that day, but rode it in a car by herself when Dagim wanted to go in the first car with me.
Anyway, Kevin, Disneyland is great. While you’re there—no matter where you come from or what shitstorm of human pain and suffering you’ve lived through—you can’t help but believe that people are basically good and everything is magical. During that stage show, I looked over at Dagim as the lead character sang “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and I almost burst into tears. I looked at this four-year-old boy who was born 6,500 miles away from me but came into my life and turned it upside down—and he was so happy he couldn’t blink, which made me so happy I thought my heart would stop.
We left the theater eventually and went back out into the settling evening. We got in line at the Winnie-the-Pooh tunnel, which is a kind of funhouse where you ride a pot of honey through pages of Pooh Corner story. But as we were waiting in line, this one father and his son (really too old for Pooh; the kid must have been ten or eleven) literally push past us and past the next family too. I mean, we’re in the very narrow zig-zagging cattle rails, just standing there, waiting for the line to go forward, and this guy and his kid just walk right past us, make us step aside with their haste, and wind up in their honey pots like eight or ten people in front of us. Me, I’m thinking: What the $@#@ is up with that?
And there is a part of me, even before we get to the honey pots, that just wants to push past all these other families myself. I know my arms are like twice as big as the Chinese arms around me. I’m American. People expect me to be a bully. And I know how. I did spend ten years teaching in prisons. I know for a fact that no one will stop me from walking up behind this man and I can quietly put the palm of my hand on his bald spot so that he leaps around. And I can put a huge, fake smile on my face and then speak so quietly and with such warmth that no one except him and his son will hear me threaten to beat the living shit out of him. And I can look him in the eyes and wait as long as it takes for him to look away and I KNOW he will look away from me. Because there is a part of me that honestly would like to beat the shit out of him right there in front of his son.
But I don’t do that. Because that’s just mean-spirited and I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want my own son to see me acting the brute. I don’t want to be a person who takes everything personally. So what? I ask myself. Are you in a HURRY to do the Winnie-the-Pooh ride? And so I let the moment pass. My wife hasn’t even noticed. I comment on how the ride encourages kids to read because it’s got these huge fake pages of The House at Pooh Corner all over the walls. But my thoughts are still going back to that father who has kind of ruined my moment.
But then, later! It’s way past Dagim’s bedtime, but he’s been a real trooper—no whining, no crying—we’re staying up for the fireworks, and we walk through the park, which is quietly closing. We join the edge of the crowd in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. There is a little moat and it has the pointed turrets and it’s obvious that when the fireworks start, it’s going to be just like the logo, just like the first thirty seconds of every Toy Story movie and all those movies I watched as a kid. Dagim asked me when the fireworks would start and I remembered going to Disneyland with my own father, almost forty years ago, and I felt so helplessly in love with my own dad and my son at that moment that, once again, I couldn’t speak. And then I saw the man from the Winnie-the-Pooh ride! And his son! And another, younger, son! And a wife! And again I wanted to humiliate this man. But instead, I say, “Dagim, you want me to pick you up to see the fireworks?”
“Yes!” he said. And I lifted him onto my shoulders so I had his knees in my hands. And then I floated through the crowd (Shasta following along) until I was standing right in front of that man and his boy. I could feel them leaning, first one way, then the other, as the crowd got tighter. The fireworks started. I took small steps sideways so neither father nor son could get around me. I glanced to my left (pretendingto see what time it was) and saw the boy had a camera in his hand. “Oh no,” I thought, “I’m totally going to ruin THAT for you, my friend.” No matter which way he leaned, I made sure that he was not going to get a picture of anything except my son’s . Finally, their whole family murmured and left; they moved along the edge of the crowd to take a new position up ahead (but half behind a tree). Dagim just watched the fireworks, which filled the sky like dreams. Afterward, he was almost falling asleep in my arms as we walked to the gate. I could feel his tiny chest beating with excitement even as his head was getting heavier and heavier for him.
“That was nice, wasn’t it?” my wife said.
I nodded. “Perfect.”
Kevin, what can I say? At Disneyland, anything is possible and anyone can be happy. I’m a believer now. You should go.