Family Vagabonding » Global Students http://familyvagabonding.com Family Travel Blog Mon, 09 Sep 2013 23:53:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6 Uniquely Paris — The Fireman Balls on Bastille Day http://familyvagabonding.com/uniquely-paris-the-firemens-balls-on-bastille-day/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uniquely-paris-the-firemens-balls-on-bastille-day http://familyvagabonding.com/uniquely-paris-the-firemens-balls-on-bastille-day/#comments Sun, 14 Jul 2013 13:37:20 +0000 Powell Berger http://familyvagabonding.com/?p=1145 Fireman's Ball -- Bastille Day Paris -- Port Royal 13eme

13eme Port Royal Fireman's Ball, Paris 2013

Among the many things uniquely Parisian  . . .  the Firemen’s Balls over the Bastille Day holiday.  The Firemen of Paris– who work out daily in Luxembourg Gardens to an audience of jogging, swooning admirers — open their Fire Houses and host raucous, music pounding, dance throbbing parties for anyone willing to drop a few euro in the bucket on the way in. Consider us willing. Us, and our fellow writers and classmates from the Paris American Creative Writing Program, our home away from home every July.

It’s our second time to stop by the Fire House on Port Royal, just around the corner from our temporary home.  We know it’s close because we can hear the music pounding well into the evening. We sipped champagne (well, I did anyway) and danced and mingled until the wall of people was too crushing and our ears too deaf to endure any more fun.  Simply put, it was fabulous.  Maybe not quite as fabulous as the croissants.  Then again, maybe it was.

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Dinner Amongst Friends in Paris http://familyvagabonding.com/dinner-amongst-friends-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dinner-amongst-friends-in-paris http://familyvagabonding.com/dinner-amongst-friends-in-paris/#comments Sun, 23 Jun 2013 16:52:11 +0000 Powell Berger http://familyvagabonding.com/?p=1107 Last year, while in Paris for the Paris American Academy Creative Writing Program, we heard about Jim Haynes’ weekly Sunday dinner.  NPR did a piece on it a couple of years back, and a student shared it with the rest of us.

An ex-pat American hosts dinner for as many as 100+ strangers weekly in his Paris apartment? Seriously? We were hooked.

 

 

This piece, from TRAVELATI,  tells our story of joining Jim for dinner last year.

A Paris Dinner Amongst Friends, TRAVELATI, June 2013

 

Any yep, we’re already confirmed for our return visit this year.

 

(click here for story.)

 

 

 

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Being an American Around the Globe http://familyvagabonding.com/being-an-american-around-the-globe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=being-an-american-around-the-globe http://familyvagabonding.com/being-an-american-around-the-globe/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 09:21:07 +0000 Powell Berger http://familyvagabonding.com/?p=1030 “Its rather difficult traveling the world as an American, isn’t it?” our Australian host asked as we drove from the airport.  It startled me.  I’d been relieved when Obama took the White House; we were traveling in Asia and Europe at the time, and the political discussions under the Bush era had become tiresome. And embarrassing.  But difficult to travel as an American?  I’d never thought of it in those terms.

He asked the question because of the question I’d just asked him.  His two daughters, both grown now and also traveling the world, were born in the US to Australian parents.  “So they could have duel citizenship, then?” I asked.

“Yes, I guess they could. But they’ve never bothered. Just never saw a reason for it.”

I think it was the first time I’d ever encountered someone who didn’t see any benefit to US citizenship. My arrogant American self – the one I try so desperately to avoid – was stunned.

“Less controversy traveling as an Australian, I reckon,” I replied.

We both changed the subject.

I couldn’t shake the thought as we continued on our travels. I’ve not always been proud of my country’s actions, but I am proud to be an American.  When a cab driver in Adelaide – recently immigrated to Australia from Syria – showed me the Queen’s face on an Australian coin and asked if the US is also loyal to the Queen, like Australia, I couldn’t help but smile. “No. We waged a war over that one. And won.”  He seemed shocked.

We consider ourselves global nomads, but we are first Americans. I was reminded of this in Fiji once, when a young French woman – convinced that the US knew nothing of how the world really works – started a brisk discussion at our dinner table one night.  A smart young army officer also shared our table, and I had some sort of out-of-body experience, tag-teaming with him to defend our nation’s integrity, showcase our considerable achievements, and share a tutorial on the US / French relations dating back to WW II, a piece of history she seemed to have little knowledge of.  The beer flowed – and the politics were fiery – and I remember even being surprised by my veracity. Apparently she’d touched a nerve I didn’t even know existed — desecrating a country she later admitted she’d never visited — and I felt honor-bound to wave the flag.  She left the next day, so we never got to finish our discussion, but I took some childish pride in knowing she’d locked herself out of her bure that evening and had to break in through the outdoor shower to find her bed in the wee hours of the morning.

But I digress.

Australian Defence Force Memorial, Kings Park, Perth Australia

Australian Memorial to those lost in Iraq & Afghanistan

It was a couple of weeks later, still in Australia, that my friend’s words resonated again. We were wandering through King’s Park, a magnificent oasis in the middle of Perth, larger and more manicured than New York City’s Central Park, with spectacular vistas sweeping out across the city. It’s a working park, with kids playing, ladies sharing their wine and biscuits on the sweeping lawns, and meandering waterways and hiking trails and memorials.

The park’s memorials are its centerpiece.  The original memorial was built to honor the Australians who died during WW I, but as the conflicts around the globe continued, so did the memorials in the park. There’s a wall dedicated to Korea and Vietnam, and another section that honors Australian women who’ve served their country.

It was the shiny new addition, off to one corner, which stopped us in our tracks.  Emmi spotted it first.  “Look mom,” she whispered.  The granite was new and shiny, the brass lettering polished, and the flowers at its base still fresh. A hand-written note was stuck to the wall, ink still new and legible. There aren’t many names listed, but even those are too many. The memorial, honoring those fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan – conflicts for which no end date is noted, because none is yet known – is there because we called the shots, and we brought our friends with us.

In that moment, I heard my friend’s question again. In that moment, it didn’t feel so easy being an American, looking into the face of loss we’d brought upon our global neighbor.  In that moment, I was struck by all our power and our might and our force, yet wondered where in it all our integrity and our honor might still shine through.

Note on War Memorial, Perth Australia

Sentiments from around the World....when will it end?

 

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Whale Sharks http://familyvagabonding.com/whale-sharks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whale-sharks http://familyvagabonding.com/whale-sharks/#comments Sat, 25 May 2013 08:09:47 +0000 Powell Berger http://familyvagabonding.com/?p=1042

Whale Shark, Ningaloo Reef, Australia

Whale Shark, Ningaloo Reef, Australia
Picture 1 of 16

“Great idea,” Owen (my 23 year old son who’s off doing his thing in the world) commented when we told him we wanted to swim with whale sharks.  “All of you in open waters, hundreds of feet deep, swimming with sharks larger than school buses. What could possibly go wrong?”  Truth is, Emmi and I wondered the same thing.  They are huge, and Emmi is pretty tiny, and I’m, well, not tiny, but still, they are really big. And they are, after all, sharks.

Austin and a whale shark, Ningaloo Reef, Australia

But it was Austin’s 16th birthday request, and so it was to be.  That’s the deal in our family. I adopted the idea from a client, back years ago when I had clients and my kids were still young, that on their 16th birthday, they could choose an adventure and I’d do it with them. There are rules and limitations of course, and it requires some mutual planning, but if it’s doable and within reason, that’s their big pay-out.

Austin was 12 when he learned about whale sharks and started planning.  Now, here we are, in remote western Australia, in a tiny outback town called Exmouth, the jumping off point for all things sharking on Ningaloo Reef.  Yep, that’s what they call it: sharking.

Exmouth itself is half the story. The town came into existence because the US military, during WW II, decided a refueling station was needed, and for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, selected this little outpost on a pristine reef as the perfect spot. They built a base, complete with a water tower (which was never used but was erected to make American soldiers feel more at home in the Outback), a bowling alley, and standard issue US military barracks. A tiny little town evolved to support the base, even establishing the point on the edge of town where cars moved from the left side of the road to the right in recognition of this American outpost.  Eventually, the US military abandoned the base – just shutting off the lights and walking away – leaving Exmouth to reinvent itself. The abandoned barracks became a traveler’s inn, and whale sharking and diving on the reef became the new source of revenue and prosperity.

We did what we came to do. We forked out the requisite small fortune and went sharking.

And I am here to tell you, it was worth every penny and every moment of trepidation.

It’s a funny dance, this sharking thing.  A plane flies overhead and spots the creatures, directing the boat captain to the vicinity. On signal, a group of ten “sharkers” jumps in the water and assembles itself into a pre-arranged order (which my group never seemed to fully grasp) and when done correctly, the whale shark comes swimming through the tunnel, almost like kids at the end of the soccer game running through the throngs of proud parents.  Unless the shark has other ideas. Then at the direction of the guide, the sharkers start swimming with the shark or around the shark or away from the shark, trying to stay with the amazing creature while also keeping the requisite distance – 3 meters from the body and 4 meters from the tail.

Trust me when I tell you that being any closer than four meters from that massive tail is something of a death wish.

Our first time in the water, it all worked just as planned. And I swear that massive, beautiful creature heard me mutter “holy f***king shit” when I saw him. We locked eyes as he swam by, as though to say, “yeah, I hear that all the time.”

Our next encounter, same drill. In the water, get in position, guide spots shark. But this time, the shark had other ideas. He took off swimming in the other direction, leaving us to catch up. This time, his swimming abilities and mine were not in the same league. Not even close.  The kids stayed right with him, but I was the forgotten bait, dragging up the rear. The kind and handsome guide in the dinghy took pity on me and towed me back to the group.

I was determined that would not happen again.

Two more encounters, each time same drill, and each time, “holy f***king shit” when I saw the shark. I couldn’t help it. There are no words to describe these magnificent creatures.  I’ve snorkeled the Great Barrier reef and seen some amazing things. I’ve been in a cage encircled by feeding sharks. I’ve had the privilege to swim with dolphins. None of it compares.

They are massive, yes, and they are beautiful, with unique patterns of spots all over their huge bodies. But it’s more than that. They swim with a grace and a power that is almost spiritual. They lock eyes with you, lazily open their massive mouths (easily 3 – 4 feet wide) and strain the krill from the water, then silently move on.

It’s magic.  And we were there to see it.

Oh, I did have one more encounter with the handsome dinghy captain, after swimming with one of the sharks I was a bit slow getting back to the boat. Once again, he came to the rescue, this time hauling me into the dinghy and giving me a lift. Trust me when I say there’s nothing ladylike about being hauled into a dinghy, but I didn’t care. I’d just been swimming with whale sharks.

 

(Photos courtesy of Three Islands, the magnificent outfitter we spent the day with. Luke, our photographer, was stellar.  The other cool creatures pictured — including turtle, reef shark and octopus — were spotted during our morning snorkel before heading out to the outer reef.)

 

 

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Perth — A Vibe and an Attitude that Fits http://familyvagabonding.com/perth-a-vibe-and-an-attitude-that-fits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perth-a-vibe-and-an-attitude-that-fits http://familyvagabonding.com/perth-a-vibe-and-an-attitude-that-fits/#comments Sat, 25 May 2013 06:50:37 +0000 Powell Berger http://familyvagabonding.com/?p=1035 We wandered into Perth for a couple of days on our way up to Ningaloo reef. We hadn’t loved Adelaide, where we’d spent one night before flying on to Perth. While the surrounding areas – Kangaroo Island, the wine regions, and Hahndorf were wonderful – the city left us cold and ready to move on. Our hostel (the YHA in Adelaide Central), a cool bar table/pit at the pub where we had dinner, and the new airport were our only highlights from the 24 hours, a sure sign a city won’t be on our come-again-soon (or ever) list. By the time we got to Perth, we were jaded, fearing another let-down.

Silly to be so worried.  In its little corner of Western Australia, this smart, can-do city delivers on the charm, adventure and simple pleasures that make Australia one of our favorite destinations.

Melbourne brags about being the best of the best of Australia (which, by the way, it’s not really, in our opinion, but would be pretty darn cool if it quit bragging so much.)  Darwin is the entry point to the Outback – or so it seems – and revels in its too-cool-for-school rough and tumble self sufficiency. Cairns and Queensland have the Great Barrier Reef (enough said).  Sydney has that iconic Opera House, a harbor with ferry tale boats that bob around taking folks to and from work, the globe’s best New Year’s Eve fireworks (above one of the world’s coolest bridges) and world famous surf spots; to paraphrase Bill Bryson, no wonder those folks are so damn happy all the time.

And Western Australia? It sits over there on the other coast, some several thousand miles from the rest of the country, just doing its own thing.  We get it now. Why would they want to share the secret?

We did what we always do in a new place. We walk. We eat. We explore. In those first three or four hours after dropping our bags, we introduce ourselves, get to know each other.

It was the simple stuff that spoke to us.  The artsy, playful street scene in the downtown walking area, for example.  It’s not that we’ve not seen it in other cities – street musicians, playful fountains, acrobats doing various routines for a crowd – but here, it felt normal, like part of the vibe.

Take the random fountain. A young mom embraced it with her two children, allowing her toddler to run, dodge, jump and try to outwit the spurting water that shot up unexpectedly from the sidewalk.  The little girl squealed and giggled, and mom encouraged her, praising her bravery, even joining in and darting between the spurts with her stroller to get in on the action. And when the little girl was finished, drenched and happy, mom popped in the department store and bought dry clothes so her daughter could change before continuing on. Other parents with other strollers followed her lead, and soon the fountain was filled with giggling, happy pre-schoolers.  And the department store readied for the after-party. All this on an otherwise random Wednesday afternoon.

In Kings Park, two women sat with their perfectly outfitted folding table and chairs, their picnic basket, their glasses, their biscuits and their bottle of wine, chatting and nibbling and enjoying the afternoon.  All in the middle of the green lawns between the memorials where people walked and snoozed and caught up on their reading. And somehow, it looked perfectly at home, this tea party setting in the middle of the park. I choose to believe these two kindred souls meet there weekly, and the stories they share are honor-bound to those grounds, never to be spoken of outside that sacred spot.

The café scene is all it’s cracked up to be, with cool, hip spots on every corner, and coffee a religion as though spun off of the grounds shipped over from Seattle. Even public transportation is in on the action:  free buses carve a pattern through the main areas of the city – totally free! – so locals can get to and from without drama. When we hopped on, clueless, the bus driver and several passengers took time to help us map our route, made sure we got off at the right spots, and even made suggestions of things not to miss.

When planning long-term travel, you get it right some of the time, and other times, you realize you fumbled.  Perth is the jumping off point for the vast wilderness wonderland that stretches up the western coast and on to Broome, the Kimberlys and eventually into Darwin.  I routed us through Perth for a quick stop-over before flying up to Exmouth for our Ningaloo Reef and whale shark adventures, not understanding that in this part of the world, getting there really is half the fun.  We’ve already decided, next time through Australia, we’re setting aside a month to drive, explore, meander and get to know the place.

And of course, we’ll start that journey in Perth, where we, too, will dance in the street fountains and share secrets at a tea party right in the middle of the park.

Perth Australia Bus Sign

 

 

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Walkabout http://familyvagabonding.com/walkabout/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=walkabout http://familyvagabonding.com/walkabout/#comments Fri, 24 May 2013 20:41:46 +0000 Powell Berger http://www.familyvagabonding.com/?p=60 The Aboriginal culture uses the term Walkabout to describe a journey of unforeseen destination and adventure in an effort to find one’s soul.  It’s a journey of unknowns –  destination, duration, and discovery. You go, then one day, you return. And in that time, it is believed, you find what you’ve been seeking.

Ningaloo Coast, Western Australia

Sitting in a campervan park in remote Western Australia, looking out over the vast red earth that stretches past the horizon, I get it.  What’s out there, beyond the last visible scrubby tree? As the sun sets, the reds and oranges and pinks stretch across the sky in technicolor, a prelude to the carpet of stars that soon fill the darkness.  What might be discovered if one ventures just a bit further, beyond the horizon and into the Outback?

Seems maybe there’s a reason our vagabonding keeps bringing us here.  We started our adventures in Australia, several years ago, and now seem to be drawn back again and again. This time, we’ve wandered through Southern Australia – Adelaide, Barossa wine region, and Kangaroo Island – and now on to  Western Australia, first Perth then north, to outposts it seems even many Australians seem only to have heard about but never visited.

We came seeking whale sharks.  We’d heard about them one starry night sitting on the Sydney Sundancer back in 2009, after yet another glorious day snorkeling the waters of the Whitsunday Islands (Cross link to that post.)   As our friends and hosts told tales of Western Australia – it’s rugged, outback terrain, and the stunning coastlines that stretch for miles – we knew we’d one day see that corner of their country.  When they told us about the whale sharks – gentle giants larger than school buses that swim near the surface – Austin knew what he wanted for his 16th birthday.

He never forgot.  For the following several years, he researched and studied and followed the patterns of these amazing creatures.  He knew where in the world they could be viewed; apparently one can also swim with them in Baja, but it’s less reliable to have a siting there he told me.  I think it was a ploy to get us back to Australia, but I didn’t mind. I wanted to return to this mosaic of a land as well.

Much has happened in our lives since sitting on that sailboat, bobbing around the Whitsundays

Exmouth, Western Australia, Vlamingh Lighthouse

Vlamingh Lighthouse

.  On that journey, we were just beginning our roadschool adventures, not sure how we’d do it or even what it really meant. Four years later, we’re still trekking around the world, roacshooling along the way, a Walkabout of our own, I guess.

As happens in travel – and in life, too, I guess – we plan less now than when we started out on these adventures.  We leave more to chance. We follow our whims and our instincts.  We’ve embraced hostels and campervans and rental apartments in the sketchier parts of town. We’re still learning to spend less and enjoy more.

Our family has changed too. We are older now. The kids, primary and middle schoolers when we started, are now teenagers with their own ideas and plans and dreams.  I’m older too, and keep the Advil bottle a bit closer for those days when the joints remind me of my age.  It’s just the three of us on the road these days. Sometimes families take different turns and course corrections as well.

It’s our Walkabout, our discovery, our adventure. Sometimes it’s hard, not knowing what’s around the next bend, where life might take us.  But it’s harder, I think, to be still and dormant and stuck, and know exactly what’s ahead day after day after day. And so we wander.

Tomorrow, we swim with whalesharks. We make a 16th birthday wish come true.  Then after that?  We leave that to the Walkabout.

 

 

 

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Paris in July http://familyvagabonding.com/paris-in-july/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=paris-in-july http://familyvagabonding.com/paris-in-july/#comments Mon, 04 Jul 2011 13:57:02 +0000 Powell Berger http://familyvagabonding.com/?p=980 Paris American AcademyYou’d think as much as I’ve traveled, a month in Paris as a writing student would come easy. OK. Maybe not the student or writing parts; that still has me worried. But a seasoned traveler morphing into Parisian life for a month, I should be able to do that, right?

Three days into it, here’s what I’ve discovered.

(By the way, sorry. Having sworn I’d never do top ten lists when I started this blog, I’m breaking that oath.)

  • Despite my initial impression, “Solde” is not a group of St Germaine boutiques  offering beautiful and diverse Parisian goods. The deals and bargains, however, are amazing.
  • The Metro stop Jussieu is only convenient if, after 45 minutes of purposeful wandering from the exit, you find yourself somewhere other than the opposing exit.
  • Bonjour, merci, si vous plait, and au revoir, if used strategically, can be sufficient vocabulary to successfully negotiate a rudimentary retail transaction.  Until the sales clerk tells you the price. In French.
  • There is no quantity of French vocabulary to successfully negotiate an early morning croissant transaction when your smallest currency is a 50 euro. Just deal with it; you will be admonished. In perfect English.
  • My hips are too wide for most tiny cafe chairs. The croissants are not likely to help.
  • No matter how hard I try to pronounce street names and Metro stops, I’m wrong. And there’s typically someone nearby to point that out.
  • Wine really does go with everything, even eggs. (So do frites, but they are like crack. Not even once.)
  • Okay. Maybe once.
  • When people stop me on the street and ask for directions, in French, I can’t offer a whit of assistance. But I’m thrilled they think I can.

But most of all,

  • There is no greater privilege than to study writing in Paris in July.

 

I’m already scheming to figure out how to get back next year. Maybe by then, I can speak a bit of French.

 

 

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Kid Wisdom http://familyvagabonding.com/kid-wisdom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kid-wisdom http://familyvagabonding.com/kid-wisdom/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2011 08:11:38 +0000 Powell Berger http://174.121.2.9/~familyva/?p=900 Glow Worm Cave, North Island New ZealandFriends and wisdom show up in some of the most unexpected places.  I’ve recently  discovered a terrific Facebook group, Families on the Move, and this poem appeared there over the weekend from Mojito Mother.  (I’m captivated simply by the name and her blog: Mojito Mother — Putting the MOJO Back into a Mother’s Life.)

Raising kids is hard, at least if you want to do it well.  Teaching them, mentoring them, knowing when to dial it up then dial it down. It’s a balancing act, and all of us struggle to figure out how to do it right. I remember almost 15 years ago when my god-daughter (who was around 15 at the time) observed “I think Mom needs to set more boundaries for me. I need them.” It was one of those notes-to-self moments.

Now, all these years later, you’d think I’d know something after wearing the  MOM badge for over twenty years, but three kids and a step-daughter, and I’m still learning. This piece from a child’s perspective hit at just the right time for me — funny how fate works it out that way sometimes — and I  thought it should be shared.

Don’t spoil me. I know quite well that I ought not to have asked for it.

I”m testing you. Don’t be afraid to be firm with me. I prefer it…. it makes me feel more secure.

Don’t correct me in front of people if you can help it. I’ll take much more notice if you talk to me in private.

Don’t make me feel that my mistakes are sins. It upsets my sense of values.

Don’t be too upset if I say “I hate you.” It isn’t that I hate you; I only need your attention.

Don’t protect me from consequences. I need to learn that way.

Don’t take too much notice of small ailments. Sometimes they get me the attention I want.

Don’t nag. If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.

Don’t make rash promises. Remember that I feel badly let down when they are broken.

Don’t forget that I cannot explain myself as well as I should like. This is why I am not always accurate.

Don’t tax my honesty too much. I am easily frightened into telling lies.

Don’t be inconsistent. That completely confuses me and makes me lose my faith in you.

Don’t put me off when I ask you questions. If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.

Don’t tell me my fears are silly. They are terribly real and you can do much to understand.

Don’t ever think it beneath your dignity to apologize to me. An honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm to you.

Don’t forget how quickly I am growing up. It must be very difficult for you to keep pace with me but please try.

Don’t forget that I love experimenting. I couldn’t get along without it, so please put up with it.

Don’t forget that I can’t thrive without lots of love. But I don’t need to tell you that…. do I?

– Anonymous

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WHY WE TRAVEL — A REMINDER FROM CHRISTCHURCH http://familyvagabonding.com/why-we-travel-a-reminder-from-christchurch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-we-travel-a-reminder-from-christchurch http://familyvagabonding.com/why-we-travel-a-reminder-from-christchurch/#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2011 03:46:34 +0000 Powell Berger http://www.familyvagabonding.com/?p=599 Christchurch Cathedral 24 hours before earthquakeIt’s been a week exactly since the tectonic plates beneath Lyttleton Harbor brought Christchurch, New Zealand toppling down.  The city’s famed cathedral spire lay crumbled in the town center, twenty two visitors feared crushed beneath it.

The stories keep coming.  The 14 year old boy, on a local bus headed into town to plot how best to spend his birthday money; the bus is crushed; the boy, not heard from.  The young woman trapped under her desk, texting her fiancé, who led rescuers to her then helped as they dug her out; they were married, as planned, three days later.  The husband who survived the quake, then hoofed it over Bridle Path (the bridges & tunnels closed) to reach his family; “I’m OK. Walking.  Home in 10,” he texted, just before he was struck and killed by boulders tumbling down during an aftershock. My heart breaks everytime I read another story, hear the latest fatality count.

Less than 24 hours before the earth shook, we walked those streets, exploring this quaint little city so proud of its ongoing recovery from last September’s quake.  We frittered away the morning at the Boat House Café, Sacagawea and Dundee pedal boating and kayaking up and down the Avon, while Columbus and I enjoyed a scone and a cuppa. We’ve not heard the fate of that beautiful little boat house since.

Midday found us in Cathedral Square, Columbus drawn into the act by a unicycle-riding-juggling street performer with an inflated surgical glove on his head who needed a ‘big strong man” for his theatrics.   That open-air stage now lay in heaps of rubble, the epicenter of mourning for this frightened little city.

As the afternoon wore on, the kids and I hopped a city bus back to the port in Lyttleton and settled into a hole-in-the-wall pub for some fish and chips, while Columbus hunkered down at a swanky internet café to get some work done before meeting us back on the ship.  The signage from the café can be spotted in the footage of the rubble, while the entire Lyttleton block of that sweet pub has been leveled.

Christchurch is a small town in a big city’s hat. The comingling of old and new – modern buildings with an iconic cathedral and cheeky little trams, picturesque gardens and confidant entrepreneurs – seems the heart of the city we explored.  Yeah, they’d taken a hit last September, but they were quick to show us they were back and ready for business, ready for the Rugby Cup this fall, ready to get on with life.  Twenty-four hours later, it tumbled down again.

Timing. Fate. Karma. We all know it and think we understand it.  The car accident that happens just ahead, the one we might have been part of had we not taken that last call or gotten caught at that last light.

For us, however, this one seems a big bullet to dodge.  We keep thinking through it, how we would have been just beneath that spire as it toppled, or would have been separated on the Avon, or between Christchurch and Lyttleton.  Like everything in our travels, we talk it through.  We discuss emergency procedures, self-reliance, how and what to do.  And we answer the questions as they come, admitting we don’t know all the answers.  None of us ever do.

Yet, like other travelers, we keep going.  These moments, however frightening, are a vivid reminder that life doesn’t wait. It’s a big world, and bad things sometimes happen.   We are so touched by this earthquake because we were there; we feel in our own way we know this quaint little town, and we’re pulling for it to recover yet again.  When Thailand’s king celebrated his 83rd birthday before Christmas, we celebrated too, picturing the festivals in Bangkok and around the country, our friends there laughing and celebrating until all hours.  When floods and cyclones ravaged Queensland Australia, we cried too, fearing for the safety of friends up and down the coast and mourning the secret treasures we discovered during our journeys there.

It’s our world – not just our street, our town, our state, or our country – and these are our local events.  Just as we plug into our local community back home, so must we plug into our world.  That’s why we travel.  It just took Christchurch to make me realize it.

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REFLECTIONS FROM ASIA http://familyvagabonding.com/575/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=575 http://familyvagabonding.com/575/#comments Thu, 03 Feb 2011 19:19:29 +0000 Powell Berger http://www.familyvagabonding.com/?p=575 As we get ready to head off on our next adventure, Dundee reminded me why we do what we do.  This video montage was his Christmas gift to me, a thoughtful overview of our adventures through Asia.  It’s about so much more than riding elephants, seeing temples, eating new foods.  It’s a personal journey . . . discovering who we are, connecting with the world around us,  forging life-long bonds.

Our stories of adventure are typically met with curiosity blended with a fair dose of doubt.  Can kids really learn while gallivanting around the world? Time will tell, I guess.  But there are a few things I know for sure.  I’m learning at least as much as they are, and these memories will be with us for a lifetime.  I’m not sure we could give each other any better gifts.

P.S.  The musical choices — or at least the last one — may raise some eyebrows.  Remember the post about retro-techno-music blaring from our driver’s car in Chiang Mai?  This little tune was one of his favorites.

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