Five months ago Anne and I talked about two non-travel posts that would be a little deeper and more introspective than our normal posts. The first went up when we got to China, so it is only appropriate I get the second one up in India. China and India have been the two biggest unknowns for us. They were the most intimidating and probably caused us to think the most about why we were taking this trip. There is nothing like a little fear to stir up some deep musings.
Top 6 lessons we want the family to learn on the trip and how we apply those lessons (and because I can’t make it through a January without doing some kind of performance review, I will also include a grade on how we are doing)
1. It’s a small world and we are all brothers and sisters
Application – Obtain a love of and sense of responsibility for all people in the world.
Status – I would grade us a A- on this one. During our time in Australia and New Zealand we didn’t make much progress on this goal, but traveling around China, Southeast Asia and now India we have given ourselves much more opportunity to learn this lesson. We have met people from all over the world, we have made friends with locals and travelers alike. We have had to be comfortable and supportive in situations where people think differently, where people look differently, and where people’s goals and opportunities are radically different from our own. We have also gained a much greater understanding of the day to day reality of people in multiple countries which are much less fortunate than our own. We have been surprised how small things can make a big difference. Small amounts of money can make huge differences in people’s lives. Small acts of friendship can go a long way. For example, it has been hard on Asher as her blond hair gets her noticed everywhere we go. In some countries she has been such a novelty that we’ve had to plan extra time just to get from point A to point B because so many people want to take their picture with her. As a family we decided to not get angry or dismissive, but rather to indulge people’s curiosity, smile, and allow them to pull Asher or the boys into their pictures. We learned how letting people practice their English on us helps prepare them for a better future. I have been proud of the kids’ reactions to situations where we have to think about others. We’ve discussed many of the world’s major problems, such as pollution, poverty, sickness, lack of employment and education, and health issues. We’ve exposed them to people and ideas that are trying to fix these problems. Hopefully our actions will back up our discussions and the seeds we are planting today will grow into action as our children continue to grow.
2. Family first – Grow together, play together, work together
Application – Create memories to share forever and look for ways to help one another
Status – This is a tricky one. I see all the good the trip has created, but I also see the tension and bickering which come from 24/7 companionship. I would give us another A- and ignore the bickering: what family doesn’t bicker? In New Zealand and Australia the kids had to come to grips with the fact that their only playmates for the next year happened to share the same DNA. They found innovative ways to play together and to bridge the age gaps between them. The relationships between the children are all much stronger than when we left and Dax is much more a part of Kieran and Asher’s lives. As the trip has progressed the number of shared experiences and things to joke and reminisce about has grown exponentionally. Some of these memories are the big ones you would expect–climbing the Great Wall, Zorbing in New Zealand, riding elephants in Thailand. Some come from being part of another culture such as visiting Richard’s house in Australia, crossing the street through a sea of motorbikes in Hanoi, or sharing dinner with new friends in Beijing. But even the smallest experiences are rich with inside jokes which will prove fodder for lifetime of family laughter. The kids’ camaraderie is enhanced by the added responsibility the big ones–Dax and McKane–have taken to look after the little ones–Kieran and Asher. McKane is especially attentive to the whereabouts and status of each family member. So the bottom line is although we still have our moments of frustration, the good is far outweighing the bad and the family is coming together as a result of the trip.
Application – When difficult things happen–such as injury, sickness, lost items, or money problems–we buckle down and get to the next good thing
I put this goal in to remind us to keep going if things ever became really tough. They haven’t been tough yet and hopefully they won’t be, so this goal may have to wait until after the trip. We haven’t had too many trials or concerns so far. Most of the problems have been small, like broken computer cords or lost iPods or silk sacks. There is still room for improvement sice these small things often cause us too much mental anguish. The power cord we left in a hotel in Coff’s Harbor, Australia is gone (the hotel went out of business); we will never see the bag we left in the taxi in Xi’an again. So just as with life at home, we still need to learn to put things in perspective and not sweat the small stuff.
4 Hard things are good things
Application – Get out of your comfort zone; gain a sense of accomplishment from conquering challenges
As I mentioned above, we haven’t had any big trials to date, but we’ve done a great job of throwing everyone out of their comfort zones. Whenever we’ve become comfortable in a culture, it is usually time to leave. When we were in Saigon, I hit a wall. After figuring out our rhythm, I was ready to set up camp. I didn’t care if we missed a couple other countries. I was tired and at that point Vietnam was becoming easy. Anne did not indulge me, and we pushed on up the Mekong to Cambodia. A similar thing happened in Thailand, and again thanks to the coercion of my wife, we pushed on to Laos. I am glad we did. Each of us has had hard things: Kieran the food, McKane the languages, Anne the pollution, Tom the smells, Dax the missing of friends, and Asher the constant grabbing and touching from foreigners, but nothing has slowed us down.
Application – Less focus on stuff and money and an increased spiritual focus that comes from being grateful
In deciding to take this trip and spend a hefty chunk of our savings, Anne and I took great strides toward focusing more on experiences and less on material goods. Anne tried to simplify at home and minimize the “stuff” we left behind and I acknowledged that a pause in earning was an acceptable career move. Eleven months of living out of backpacks and buying only what we need to get by–cookies, pens, memory cards–seemed an enticing alternative to maintaining a house, a few cars, and busy schedules. We’ve found a great sense of liberation in our decreased consumerism and a heightened sense of gratitude for the opportunity to even be on this trip in the first place. (An added benefit is that is makes dealing with souvenir salespeople a no brainer. We simply say, “No thanks, it won’t fit in my backpack.”)
This one has been much harder for the kids and admittedly is a lot to ask from children. Dax has excelled, contenting himself with a new pair of iPod headphones and a few T-shirts over the past 5 months. The younger ones still want to buy toys and tchotchkes everywhere we go and struggle at sharing the few treasures they brought along. Our strategy has been to give them a small allowance, which they use on expendable items (which Asia in particular is full of). We’ve left many a 50 cent toy in a hotel room for the maids to take home, a reality they’ve accepted but which doesn’t prevent them from wanting something new at the next stop.
But we have nearly broken that cycle and are thinking less about what is the next big thing is we need to acquire, although a “pool table” does come up once in a while. We have become much more focused on experiences rather than stuff. And the family is also grateful daily for these experiences. Perhaps seeing God’s creations and spending so much time meeting His people everywhere just lends itself to gratitude much more than a new car, computer, or plaything. We have created a great foundation for gratitude but we still have a ways to go.
6 Gain a zeal for tackling all the world has to offer. (sights, sounds, people, smells, tastes, etc.)
Application: Purely loving the world and embracing all it has to offer
This is our stretch goal. If we only had the big boys, I think we could have done well on this one, but we have to be much more tempered in our adventure and zeal with a 4 and 6 (now 7) year old. I realize I am a hard grader on this one. We have made progress and accomplished much trying to cram a lifetime of travel into one year, but there is still much more we could do. After 5 months of traveling, we have days when one or more of us will sit on the bed and say, “I don’t want to go.” Most activities have one or two detractors who would rather be doing something else, like watching TV or playing computer games. We sometimes indulge those interests–Anne would say too often. We should make more progress on this goal over the second half of the trip as the country count goes up and we have fewer opportunities for such distractions.
For those who are new readers, we don’t digress like this often. We will be back to our normal travel postings in the next day or two. India is giving us plenty to write about.