The First Pagoda
"Impossibilities are merely things of which we have not learned, or which we do not wish to happen." Charles W. Chesnutt, American Writer
(Dedicated to the Memory of My Father, Mervin Vann)

In 1998, when my father was seventy-eight, he flew for eighteen hours to visit my sister Sonya who lived in Japan.

At the time, I remember thinking that he was too old. What had gotten into Daddy? My mother had been dead for about five years and, unlike my six siblings’ and my dire predictions that he wouldn’t live one year without her, he was appearing to have a new lease on life. Our father had become this bossa-nova-ing, cavorting world traveler. Although he still had crippling arthritis, he got around, hobbling, limping, but still moving.

He stayed in Japan for two months and came back a changed man. He even wrote us letters, which was a first for him, because he was not a letter writer.( He always counted on my mother to write the letters to us.)

Well, like that old saying goes, “Until you walk in my shoes, you can’t sing my blues.”

Now, as a grandmother of five, I just returned from a nine-day trip to Beijing, China. We also visited Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou—all modern, progressive cities in the south of China. The trip included round trip air tickets, local tour bus transportation, accommodations at 5 star hotels, meals throughout the trip, business matching, factory touring and networking during governmental banquets.

I even climbed the famous Great Wall of China. Although I only made it to the first Pagoda, I saw that as being symbolic of the steps I’ve had to take to go from being an employee to being a business owner to now being an International Trade Business person.

For others who would like to try new things, I say go for it. I have a saying, “You’re going to be dead a long time, so why not enjoy life?”

I speak from experience. In the past, with my writer’s overactive imagination, I envisioned all types of future disasters that never happened. This kept me from enjoying life fully, but now I find, as I get older, I am throwing my caution to the wind and going for the gusto of life—whatever it has to offer. I can’t recount how many things I held back on while I raised three children. (I only flew once every other year because if there was a plane crash who would raise the children and other such foolishness I concocted) At any rate, now everyone is grown and as the young folks say, “It’s on.”

I want to taste all that is good and different about life. I want to come outside my backyard and see the world.. I want to see things from a new perspective. I have now eaten bird’s nest soup, learned a few words in Chinese, learned how to haggle with street vendors. Needless to say, I had the time of my life. I was introduced to many different foods and saw the world through an eastern world view of peace, harmony and tranquility. .

My original purpose for going to China was to meet publishers, expand my Internet radio shows at www.maxineshow.com, www.voiceamerica.com, and www.artistfirst.com, and learn about the culture. I want to change the negative image of African Americans which is portrayed in videos and have the Chinese learn about different aspects of black culture through literature written by African Americans for African Americans.

But I found a deeper meaning. The human connection. I feel the trip will be the beginning of futu relationships with China.

What was particularly heartwarming was the fact that, in spite of the language barrier, the people were friendly and embraced my sister Nancy and I. They seemed to be magnetically drawn to our natural hairstyles. Nancy wears sister locks and I wore my hair in an individual, braided shag style. We were treated like celebrities. There was an open, honest curiosity and many people took photos with us and of us. It made me feel more Afrocentric and aware of our natural African beauty. To say the least, it was a restorative experience.

Just as William J. Lederer’s book, The Ugly American, pointed out American’s shortcomings, I became aware of how spoiled we are as Americans. I can’t count the complaints I heard from the group because of having Chinese food each day, but after all, we were in China. When in Rome…

As I learn more about the import export business, the international publishing business, I will share this with interested writers and aspiring entrepreneurs. This trip was funded by MBOC, (Minority Business Development Agency, U.S.. Department of Commerce and Office of Economic Development) through the Los Angeles City. The purpose is to encourage more minority businesses to do international trade business. (For more information, contact Long Chang at (714)956-0669.)

So in honor of Father’s Day, I write this article as a tribute to my late father, Mervin Vann. Our parents leave us lessons which live on long after their deaths. My father’s lesson was that you are never too old to travel and enjoy life.

Thank you, Daddy.