Suffering from a bit of “Bali Belly”, I am room bound for the morning and thinking about all of the people and events that have expanded my world-view. It is normally around this time of year that, in the words of the Talking Heads, I ask; “How did I get here?”
Truly, it started with my mother, whom insisted we (meaning just mother and daughter; the boys just wanted to go to MN) travel around the USA and then to Europe. It was my Mom and I that took the train cross-country to California; she was the person I met in Brugge, Belgium while she was doing a summer program with Bradley University. She may be feeling a bit sad that I live so far away, but she sparked my wanderlust. And, even though my father is also a bit sad, he enjoys living vicariously through my family and me. I know they are proud and this makes the guilt more manageable.
The last place we are staying on our holiday is called Bali Starling Homestay in Canggu, which is in the southern part of Bali. There are just four units and we eat all together in a big kitchen, prepared by the Dutch owners, Mike and Marcelles. It forces Daniel to talk to people and this is not his “cup of tea”. But for me, it allows me to get to know other's stories and travels. Yesterday we dined with a nice Australian couple from Sidney who come to Bali two times a year. This morning we met a Finish couple that is experiencing their first trip to Southeast Asia. Turns out we shared a mutual interest in horses, so they will join us on an afternoon ride on the beach. Daniel just smiled as we made our plans.
This yin/yang difference between Daniel and me reminded me of a book I read by Malcom Gladwell. (“The Outliers”?) In it, Gladwell talked about a man whom had defined personal success by the number of people who knew or had met in his lifetime. I connected with this theme, as I am always interested in other’s stories and inevitably find a connection to my own life experiences. Daniel, on the other hand, would prefer to keep to himself, read his St Paul Pioneer Press online and is rather selective on his relationships. But in our fifteen years of marriage, he has been forced to ride along on my life journey.
During our first year of marriage, we did a six-week road trip to Alaska exploring the lives of the indigenous people as well as the transplants. My thirteen-year-old stepson in tow, we tent camped and explored. The second year brought us to Pskov, Russia, to adopt a beautiful11 month-old baby and learn about Russian culture. Subsequent years brought us together with other adoptive families and exploring the USA in our tent camper.
I was always interested in international teaching, so we had agreed when Anna was started school, we would attempt to live and work in a Russian speaking country. This is how we (remarkably) ended up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where we met the most amazing people! We left Tashkent in 2006, but I routinely communicate with former colleagues and students. In fact, I just wrote a letter of recommendation for good friend, Muhayo and spent my vacation in Bali with the Lasaters. Anvar, a colleague from Tashkent, applied for graduate school at St Thomas and became our close family friend during his three years in Minnesota. The guest room in the basement became “Anvar’s room”.
After returning to the Minnesota to teach for the next five years, my cultural love became my dedicated and welcoming Hmong students. From Stacy, Tou, Mai, Tashie and so many others, I learned about cooking, food, traditions, dress, family dynamics, Hmong history and celebrations and what it is like to be a first generation family to the USA.
Several years later, I met exchange student, Lena, in my business class. I was so excited to have a Russian exchange student and warmly greeted her. As it turned out, her exchange experience was lacking, so after the first semester, she stayed with my family for the rest of the school year and even ended up vacationing in Florida with my parents and my family. A very talented and intelligent person, Lena and I keep in touch as she finishes her degree in Canada.
A funny side story of Lena; she was in French class and the teacher was looking for host families for the French exchange students. It was a two-week hosting gig and my colleague was in desperate need of another host family. We giggled as we planned for Lena (our exchange student) to host Alina (to be her exchange student) in our home. We put Alina in Anna’s room, Anna slept with me and we moved Daniel to the basement for those weeks! But the bottom line was this, if we weren’t overseas, I was going to bring the overseas to us.
Other amazing North American adventures included Seattle and hiking the Ape Caves under Mt St Helens and heading to Churchill, Manitoba to see the polar bears and beluga whales. We really enjoyed learning more about the Inuit people and what life is like in such a secluded location.
Now we are in China. Our school in Beijing was full of Japanese, Korean and Indian students as well as local Chinese and a few other nationalities. In this place we learned the culture of a big city in addition to all the students and staff brought to us. I learned how to say hello in Japanese (ko nee chee wa), Korean (ayn yan ha say oh), Indian (Namaste) and Chinese (Nee How). J
In Guangzhou, we are working at a boarding school. This is another interesting dynamic. While our main population is Chinese, we also
have some diverse and interesting nationalities. Because of our life experience with
Uzbekistan, I am particularly attached to the two Afghani students. They are the first students in their Afghan
program to go to China for their education. I am teaching some pretty spectacular kids!
Here in Bali, we have developed a love of the gentle Balinese and their dedication to family and religion. Much of their existence is spent thanking God and placing offerings in temples and alters around their home and community. The scent in the air is always full of flowers and incense. The formal Balinese New Year celebration, which happens in late March, is a day of quiet and reflection. Everything shuts down, including the airport, and no electricity is used. There is always much to be learned from every place and every person.
We are about to board our flights back to China. Malcom Gladwell, I think, would categorize me with that man whose success is defined by his relationships. My brother and most of Daniel’s family thinks we are crazy. As for me, I am so blessed with opportunities, support and connections with all of the amazing people I have met in my life journey. If you are reading this, you are one of those people. Happy New Year. And thank you!