08 June 2007

On Traveling and China

I began my love affair with traveling early in life. I can’t remember when I first decided to make sure I left in the “departure” level of the airport more times than I picked someone up from the “arrival” section. I can remember the day my grandmother told me, “Well, you know dear, your grandfather and I only started traveling after he retired.” And because I am who I am, I thought, “There is absolutely NO WAY I am going to wait that long.”

But it wasn’t until I was 17 that I first felt the pull. I was a CIT at Girl Scout Camp in New Mexico and we went on a road trip to discover “how other camps ran.” Really, though, it was a time when 5 semi-responsible teenagers and two crazy-fantastic counselors were left on our own. Of course we visited the camps, but I learned more about myself and what it felt like to have an open road in front of me than about camp administration. No hotel reservations, no restaurant plans, just where we wanted to stay (of course, cheap, which made it more of an adventure) and where we stopped to eat. Sneaking into the movie theatre helped the mystique also…

So here I am. Crossing the International Dateline for the 4th time in my life. Wow. I didn’t realize it is 4…

The first was when my Senior Girl Scout troop went to Australia when I was in high school—the summer after that CIT road trip, to be exact. We planned, raised the money, and did it all ourselves. It was a great 2 weeks spent in Sydney, Cairns, and a little town called Mission Beach, right on the ocean. We sat at the picnic table eating breakfast while watching the sun rise and the 2 friendly dolphins swimming by. Gorgeous.

The second time I crossed it I was a senior in college. The university I went to required a cross-cultural experience in order to graduate. Since I’d just spent a summer working in Europe—more on that later—I didn’t really feel like the 3 week class would really cut it for me. So I applied and got into the SAU Japan program. I was the first student to spend a semester there. In fact, I was only the 3rd student to go at all because the program was so new (the first two students were there in the summer). I think it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I loved it. Still, I don’t think I’d ever choose to live there permanently.

The third time was again with Girl Scouts. This time, though, I was the adult helping my Senior Girl Scout troop. They worked hard to raise the money and plan what they could, and eventually we went to New Zealand. We joined other Girl Scouts and Girl Guides on a tour of the North Island. The land is stunning and I think I’ve found the place I want to retire to.
So, when I say that Girls Scouts is fantastic, I mean it. It’s gotten me across both oceans. Twice. I spent two hard but incredible summers working at a GS camp in Germany. Those summers were when I really learned to travel. And learned I was okay at it.

All of these experiences has left me wanting more. And like any great love, here I am seeking it out. I’ve never been a good tourist. We spent two nights looking up at the Eiffel Tower but didn’t ever go up it. I wandered around the outside of the Louver but never wandered in it. And Disneyland Tokyo? I passed it by once on a train. Bad tourist. Bad. But that’s because I’ve never wanted to be a tourist.

Always I think, what’s it like to live there? Who are those scruffy boys sitting on the graffiti covered wall, watching the trains come into London, and what are their stories?

What about the man I saw get on the bus going to Mission Beach in Australia? He was on the same bus as us coming back to Cairns, only this time he had his new bride with him. She was still amazed at the ring she wore.

And the Australian bank teller we met, who was staying at the hostel in Scotland for six months and why did she choose that path in life?

The bus driver in New Zealand who used to be the boss of the city bus service but retired and was driving us around. Was it a favor to someone? Did he just miss doing it?

My friends in Japan, from whom I’ve learned many lessons in life—one being that life is to be enjoyed, regardless of its storms. There is beauty in this world, and peace if you stop to see it. Our Father weaves himself in and out of it all, and His timing is perfect.

So I’m going to China. To teach English for 3 years. To live and work and know what life is really like in a foreign country. “Why China?” you may ask. Well, here’s another story.

Now, my love for Asia has specific beginnings. When I was in elementary school, I collected stamps. I didn’t really collect them like some people do. I just thought they were pretty and I was always interested in how many kinds there were. One day my far away aunt in New York gave me a present—stamps. Not just any stamps, but stamps from China. They were gorgeous. Bright colors, pictures I’ve never seen before, and all in a pretty little book. My favorite stamp was a huge scenic picture of horses and warriors and things. That stamp was probably 3 inches wide. I can still remember thinking I had an incredible treasure tucked away in that little book.

A few years passed. I grew up, stopped collecting stamps, and found myself in my high school economics class. We were watching a video about different economic philosophies and suddenly, BAM, there it was. The most incredible skyline of a city I had ever seen. Hong Kong. A city as strange and diverse as one can imagine. But that skyline…the water in the foreground and then those incredible skyscrapers that defy calling it anything but world class…I don’t even have words for it.

Of course, China is more than stamps and Hong Kong. It is so vast, so mysterious to my western mind that just thinking about it makes me stop in amazement.

So this blog’s whole job is to share with all of you my experiences in a place I understand so little about right now. I will try to update it a lot more than I have this spring.

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