After an entire month of being imprisoned with our baby, Henry wanted to arrange an outing–something totally new and exciting!–for me and Anelise. He asked, “What are the most ‘desirable’ places for foreigners to visit in Southern California?” The popular destinations were discussed: Disneyland, Hollywood, Universal Studios, and so forth. Henry and I, the two adults, didn’t care where we went. Our main concern was what Anelise would want most. “Would you like to go to DISNEYLAND?” we asked her, heavily stressing the last word. Anelise nodded excitedly and smiled wide, exposing the gap where her two front teeth used to be. However, I was certain she would have responded this way to anything we offered. This five-year-old girl, so young yet so mature, never asked or begged us for anything. We presented her with the option we assumed all kids would want: Disneyland. There was no option fancier than this one for a kid.
“No problem! Let me take care of Angela, so you can all enjoy your day!” my sister-in-law Sue offered generously. I was out of shape and, embarrassingly, still had to wear my maternity clothing. It was early autumn, and the sun’s rays were so sharp the whole world looked bright and unreal.
Our Camry launched nervously onto the freeway and lurched across multiple lanes. Somewhere between the web-like intersections and layered freeway overpasses, I began to feel dizzy and frightened. Our new car, carried along in a stream of confident, speeding peers, was extremely timid. I held my breath whenever a big truck rumbled thunderously past us. “They could fall over and crush us at any time!” a fearful voice screamed silently in my mind.
Finally, the torture was over. There we were. Majestic palm trees, lined up in rows, guarded a gigantic entrance where a billboard read, “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Our jaws dropped upon seeing the vast, ocean-like parking lot filled with cars. “On this big continent, everything is HUGE!” I sighed. After paying the admission fee–$62 for two adults and $25.50 for one child–I sighed again, “And expensive!” (Fun fact: today’s prices are $92 for an adult and $86 for a kid–three times more!)
Disneyland was no doubt an imaginative construct. The first thing we saw were colorful castles and village cottages that spoke loudly of a different time and place. Turrets, teeth-like battlements, and colorful banners and garlands decorated each castle. This is a scene I’d seen many times. Anelise and her friends scribbled such castles in their leisure, and I had done the same as a child. This was the fairy tale backdrop for stories where heroic princes save the lives of beautiful but unfortunate princesses and declare their “happily ever after.” I was one of many eastern children who grew up with these popular western fairy tales. The persistence and influence of these tales had survived generations. However, this influence, which relied largely on unrealistic elements to hook its child-audience, seemed lame to me.
I vividly remember that as a child I was so bored by Disney animated movies that I fell asleep while watching Snow White and Cinderella. In the years where owning a TV was rare, herds of children used to squeeze into electronics stores or a neighbor’s house just to steal a glimpse of an American cartoon. I, on the other hand, loathed the mouse in Tom & Jerry, who cruelly chased the poor Tom cat around and beat it up. I sniffed through Popeye the Sailor Man and strongly disliked all three main characters. I hated that Popeye couldn’t live without his can of spinach; that Bluto was nothing but a bully; and that Olive, with her screeching voice, was unpleasantly naive and fickle.
Standing in the middle of Disneyland, as my childhood memories mixed with the invented reality before me, I thought, “Oh, it’s okay! I was just too serious as a kid!” All around me, adults were smiling and kids were jumping! Everyone seemed happy. Little Anelise held my hand tightly, looking here and there with her eyes squinted. This wonderland was a little too overwhelming for her, I could tell. I wasn’t exactly sure how she really felt, though, so I said (to encourage her or myself), “Here we are in the happiest place on Earth!” I figured that to feel “real” in this world, one had to drop one’s realistic perspective and let imagination lead the way.
Visitors wore casual summer outfits. There was a general uniform of t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, but these came in a diversity of designs. People with all different traits passed by each other, shoulders brushing past shoulders, all speaking languages of their own. Heads, including ours, turned busily, navigating their way through the park’s many signs. Legs moved just as busily, taking its owners to their targeted destinations. We bumped into many cartoon characters: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy. These larger-than-life figures with their forever-smiling faces patrolled the park while waving to or shaking hands with people. They posed for photographs with the most gleeful of gestures besides tourists young and old. These lively moving elements attracted more of my attention than the rides and shops.
The lines were all long. Our patience was put to the test as tired legs propped up bodies under the harsh heat. It was really impressive to see people standing in long lines with such good manners. We all agreed that a civilized society was well-presented here. Nowadays, Taipei is world-famous for the courteousness people exhibit while taking public transit. But thirty years ago when I was living in that crowded city, the experience of getting on a bus as the crowd pushed against you was frightening. The worst experience was when my purse was stolen by a pickpocket. I was on the bus, heading to the first wedding among my group of college friends, and in the purse was red envelope money that I had saved from my unstable tutoring job. It was purely by accident that the orderly lines at Disneyland would remind me of a painful scene from my past as a poor student.
My trouble involving frequent restroom visits added more lines to the overall experience. And they had another effect: they worried Anelise so much that she recently revealed that she remembers them even now. She confessed, “I was scared that you had become too old because when I asked daddy why you went to the restroom too much, he said that it was because you’re old now.”
We might have taken more rides, but these are the ones I remember now. There was the flying Dumbo ride and the swirling tea cup ride, which made Anelise very scared due to their height and speed, respectively. Then there was the charming choo-choo train that drove Anelise’s fear away. My favorite ride was It’s a Small World. We got into a small cart and were sent through a dark tunnel. Many cute little people from all over the world dressed in the clothes of their culture waved at us from their flowery gardens. The voices of cheerful, sweet children sang as a choir:
It’s a world of laughter and a world of tears.
It’s a world of hope and a world of fears.
There’s so much that we share
that it’s time we’re aware
it’s a small world after all.
There is just one moon,
and one golden sun,
and a smile means friendship to everyone.
Though the mountains divide,
and the oceans are wide,
it’s a small world after all.
As a child I sang this song in a choir competition. It was so familiar to me that I could sing along to it in Chinese. Listening to this world-famous song in its birthplace was thrilling. “Do you think it’s a small world here?” I asked Anelise as I gave her a squeeze. She happily nodded with a big grin on her face.
The sun lost its power and we, too, were very tired. It was time to go home. Like a ritual we had to perform, I encouraged Anelise to pose with Goofy for a picture. We bought her a Mickey Mouse balloon as a souvenir. The balloon was tied to the handle of a stationary bike Henry’s sister Sue gave to us. Magically, it survived for quite a long time, and was still floating in the living room more than two months later. The smiley face of Mickey continued to remind us of the day we visited his wondrous home. Disneyland was unique. As Walt Disney envisioned it, it was a world of fantasy. As I envisioned it, it was an entity erected by money. The castles we adored; the machines that launched us in and out or up and down; the souvenir-filled shops; the duty-bound workers; the large plot of land it sat on; the elaborate equipment; the powerful advertisements–it was all built by tremendous amounts of money. Without it, Disney couldn’t have created this fantastic and perfect world for us. It wasn’t free. People who were enchanted by it and enjoyed it paid a price in return.
This was a world of business, of a willingness to trade. It was a very large-scale example of capital exchange that, as a woman from a moderate family who grew up in a third world country, I couldn’t quite agree with. As I looked at the iconic picture on the park’s website with cartoon characters marching in front of a magnificent castle, another image popped into my mind in contrast. A kid squatting, eyes down, focused on something on the ground for a very long time. It was a long line of ants carrying pieces of food on their backs diligently marching down into their cave. That was me and my childhood playground — all without a Disneyland.
這個地方無可置疑是個以想像力建構的世界。第一個進入眼簾的是色彩鮮豔的小型古堡和農莊，它們高聲宣告，我們進入了不同的時代和地點。哇！那不是我童年時代畫的圖畫嗎？那圓頂尖塔，那齒般的城牆外圍繞着色澤繽紛的飛揚旗幟。怡安和她的朋友們也喜歡畫這同樣的景緻啊！那些被我們畫出來的童話故事，總是有個美好的結局：一定會有一個英俊勇敢的王子，前來拯救一個美麗卻不幸的公主，然後他們得以永遠快樂幸福地住在這個城堡中。這些流行的西方童話故事, 不僅攻佔了無數的東方孩童 (我便是其中之一)，其影響力依舊持續不斷，代代相傳。
這是一個生意的世界，一個雙方同意，互相交易的世界。這個很大規模的金錢交換，在我這個從第三世界的中等家庭出身的女人看來，並不是心有所同的。我在迪士尼網站上看到這張圖片，那些卡通人物快樂地在睡美人美麗的城堡前齊邁步向前走。這時，突然有一個影像跳進我的腦海裡：一個孩子蹲在那兒，盯著地上看好久好久，哦，是好多螞蟻背著食物，整齊排列成一隊，努力地，邁步往它們的洞穴走去。那孩子就是我 — 不需要迪士尼樂園的我，和不是迪士尼樂園的，我的大自然樂園！