Ladies and Gentlemen, we are that much closer to rescuing the Princess Zelda and defeating the evil Ganon. No, we haven’t reassembled the eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom and we haven't acquired the Silver Arrow.
We bought bikes!
When you arrive in a new city, across an ocean, in a new country with a drastically different culture, it’s a little like playing The Legend of Zelda for the first time. You can look at a map of the terrain ahead of time, which helps a little, but it gives you no sense of what it’s like on the ground. (You just don’t know, for example, which old woman will give you the potion you need, or, in this case, which potion won’t put you on the toilet for the next 24 hours.)
Shannon and I, in our first week or so, felt like we only knew a tiny portion of the greater landscape, like we were on some sort of training level, acquiring the basic skills. This is where you get water, this is how you pay for it. This might be an okay breakfast food, these crackers taste like fish.
Staying in a dorm on a gated school campus let us learn those things at our own pace and we could venture out into level 1 whenever we chose but even the training level was a challenge with jetlagged toddlers, one of whose favorite new pastimes was "wunning away!" “Level 1: The Street,” being the first level, ought to have been a little easier than it was, but we chose to play the timed version, arriving just 32 hours before Shannon started her school duties. Nevertheless, we survived all the dangers of Level 1: spitting men, unregulated traffic, gawkers, toddler coddlers, and the sneakiest of them all, silent scooters. Even our toddler sidekicks are getting savvy. Kaleia hails “Kaxis” like she's been doing it since before she could ride a bicycle--oh wait, she can't ride a bicycle...
Once we finally found an apartment and moved across the city (to Chaoyang District), Shannon said she felt like she was having to redo the first level every time she took the subway back to Haidian. I felt like my mental game map of the Beijing Adventure was oddly pocketed. My personal Beijing map would show three nodes (Tsinghua International School, Wudaokou’s main drag, and the Ocean Express apartments in Sanyuanqiao), each with odd little tendrils showing where I had walked, and all connected by long subway lines or bus rides. Everything else on the very large map was totally blacked out (like the dungeons in Zelda).
We have now been in Beijing for 50+ days and our mental game maps have grown, with each node acquiring more tendrils and more territory. We know some great restaurants. We have some new friends. But we still don't know what the old man meant when he said “Eastmost Penninsula is the secret.”
In fact, we don't understand 95% of what anyone says to us but the game and our skills are certainly expanding. And we have bikes!
Sure, I may have mistakenly bought a woman’s bike and sure, our terrible two-ster may have had a few meltdowns in the bike store but it felt good to breeze through the summery air of Beijing streets. I’m pretty sure there’s no bicycle in The Legend of Zelda item list; Link didn’t know what he was missing out on.