Today, my dad and stepmom and I talked about whether or not we would take a free one-way ticket to Mars. “No way!” both my parents chimed. It seems like the shadiest of deals, if it did pan out: so they put you in a rocket and land you on Mars, all guaranteed for free, in anticipation of generating revenue for a reality TV show. What happens when interest runs out, funding dries up and you suddenly find yourself with no food or resources in an utterly alien environment?
Then I asked, “would you rather: be in jail with the death penalty, or get sent off to Mars alone?” Seems like an easy question, right? Both my dad and stepmom had immediate and very different answers. My dad voted for Mars; my stepmom opted for (Venus) jail. At first I would totally have chosen Mars, too; however, my stepmom’s reasoning gave me pause.
“I don’t want to be all alone,” she said, “plus how will you do when you run out of food?” The idea of being marooned on Mars, far from family or friends, was just abhorrent to her. On the other hand, Dad would rather have freedom – even though Mars exploration didn’t particularly interest him.
Dad, by the way, has lived in America longer than he did in Vietnam. Ever since coming back from Asia, and conversing with my stepmom about things, I have slowly come to realize just how my father, as odd and hilariously fobby he can be, is so totally Americanized. I just can’t picture my father living in Vietnam and being happy. He’d have to give up his McMansion, his gigantic acre-lawn, his riding mower, his trees, his car, his junky American food. In a sense, he has taken a one-way ticket to Mars. He’s living quite happily there, and doesn’t want to go back to what was once his Earth.
My stepmom, meanwhile, is still adjusting. I asked her if she was scared when she first came to America, and she was terrified – a lot of her family also fled Vietnam, but settled in Canada. It took a big leap for her to come to the States. Every winter, she packs up and spends the freezing months in Vietnam with her family back home. I feel a bit sorry for her, as her life is pretty lonely here in Wichita. She hasn’t made too many friends, due to lack of confidence in her English, so she spends her days hanging out at home and watching TV. She’s been thrilled to have me around, both for companionship, English practice, and “Settlers of Catan” (which I introduced her to and to which she is now addicted).
As for me, I don’t know what I would choose. It used to be that I would instantly choose Mars, because who wouldn’t opt for exploring a new planet vs. being stuck in a jail cell with a bunch of convicts, waiting to die? I like to travel and I hate sitting around waiting.
But as I’ve moved around, from America to Korea and then back again, I’m starting to become pretty attached to the places I inhabit. A little less willing to leave the people that I love, in every one of my homes. The toughest thing about leaving Korea was the certitude that I will never see most of these kids again, and that I would have to bid adieu to my cozy little apartment in my sleepy little tomato hamlet. After dwelling a little while in Houston at my mother’s place, I was kind of reluctant to get on that plane to Wichita. I’ve settled enough into a pleasant routine here at my dad’s house, enough that I will certainly miss going on bike rides with my dad and playing Catan and chatting with my stepmom about things. No longer can I just pick up and fly off, unscathed.
Sure, I could probably befriend some Martians and start up a little co-op with potlucks (what would be a good dish to bring to a Martian potluck, I wonder?) But I don’t think I could fully make the decision to leave behind everyone I ever knew, in fact all of humanity, forever. At least with jail, you’d presumably get visitations and letters and even the possibility of exoneration, or a re-trial.
I know I am blessed to live in this era of globalization, in which one can go to another country and come back at the click of a button. I was listening to a podcast – can’t remember which, maybe This American Life or the Moth – in which they talked about how, in the Little House on the Prairie series, Pa decides to leave to set out West, causing Ma to say goodbye to her family forever. Even when my Ma and Pa fled Vietnam, they did so without any certainty that they could ever return to their homeland.
With my American passport, I can go pretty much anywhere in the world and come back as I please. I’m so accustomed to that privilege, I think I’d be loth to give up my return ticket. What would you rather do?