July 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
On the evening of the Fourth, as my wife and I were getting ready for bed, the fireworks in our neighborhood started kicking in. Boom! Boom! Ka-boom!
“Here we go,” said my wife as she pulled back the covers.
Then I crawled into bed . . . and fell asleep. Maybe it was because our neighbors ran out of bottle rockets. Or maybe it was because fireworks don’t bother me as much after living in an Asian city—where the lunar new year is like one big month-long Fourth of July. In fact, we got used to sleeping with a fan on while we were in Taipei, to mask the loudest of the city’s sounds. We still use a fan now that we’re back in Missouri, but it’s not because of the noises outside. Instead, it’s the lack of noise that we’re masking. Sometimes quiet can be so loud.
So last week, when I saw this T-Mobile commercial, I could relate.
I couldn’t find this couple’s ambiance video, but that didn’t stop me. If you’re soothed by urban clamor, here are two loooong tracks that should get you well on your way to slumberland (population 5 million).
And if your city soundscape needs some pyrotechnics to complete the full auditory scene, try mixing in one—or both—of these below. Ahhh. I can almost smell the stinky tofu.
(Still not catching any Zs? Maybe long international flights are your recipe for a good snooze. If so, go to “A Biscoff Cookie, an Inflight Magazine, and Some White Noise . . . Welcome Aboard.” It takes all kinds.)
May 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
In May of 2004, explorer Ben Saunders completed a solo, unsupported trek to the North Pole—on foot. He set out on his trip from the Russian side on March 5, reached the Pole on May 11, and was picked up by plane on the Canadian side on May 14. So here’s a repost, in honor of the thirteenth anniversary of his return.
Also, today is notable because it’s Mother’s Day, and point #9 below is a shout-out to moms, including a very emotional and very long-distance telephone call. Have you called your mum today?
In 2004, 26-year-old Briton Ben Saunders became only the third person, and the youngest ever, to ski unaccompanied to the North Pole. As it turns out, there are a lot of ways that making a solo trek to the North Pole is a like moving to another country. Here are 11 things that the two adventures have in common, all taken from Saunder’s February 2005 TED Talk, “Why Did I Ski to the North Pole?”
- Luggage is a drag
Saunders describes his specialty as “dragging heavy things around cold places.” He says, for his trip to the North Pole, “I was dragging all the food I needed, the supplies, the equipment, sleeping bag, one change of underwear—everything I needed for nearly three months.” That sounds like trying to put every necessary item in your carry-on bag, just in case your checked luggage gets lost. (If you think your bags are heavy, Saunder’s supply of food and fuel weighed 400 pounds.) Sometimes your destination has harsh conditions. And sometimes it doesn’t have chocolate chips. How many bags of those should you bring? Can’t be too prepared.
- It can be lonely out there
One of the challenges of Saunder’s voyage was that he had to make it alone. Very alone. When he arrived at the northern-most point on the globe, he was the only “human being in an area one-and-a-half times the size of America, five-and-a-half thousand square miles.” Most of us don’t go to such remote places, but even if you’re in the biggest city, surrounded by millions of other souls, you can easily feel all by yourself.
- No, Virginia, there isn’t a Santa Claus
When Saunders got to the top of the world, he didn’t find Santa. No Santa’s workshop. No elves. In fact, he says, “There isn’t even a pole at the Pole. There’s nothing there, purely because it’s sea ice.” When you go to another country, expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised when what you find doesn’t match the photos in the magazine article. “I’d read lots of books,” says Saunders. “I studied maps and charts. But I realized on the morning of day one that I had no idea exactly what I’d let myself in for.” Photoshopped and cropped pics don’t do us any favors. If GPS and street signs say we’re in the right place, don’t waste time—or emotions—trying to find something that doesn’t exist.
- Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back
According to NASA, during the year of Saunders journey, the ice conditions were the worst on record. Ninety percent of the time he was skiing into headwinds and the drifting ice pulled him backwards. “My record,” he says, “was minus 2.5 miles. I got up in the morning, took the tent down, skied north for seven-and-a-half hours, put the tent up, and I was two and a half miles further back than when I’d started. I literally couldn’t keep up with the drift of the ice.” When you’re in a new place, learning the language and culture, get used to those backward drifts. But always keep your compass set on your true north.
- The only constant is change
Because the ice is constantly drifting over the North Pole, Saunders says that if he’d planted a flag there, it wouldn’t be long before it would be heading toward Canada or Greenland. Like Saunders, don’t be surprised when the emotional flags you plant aren’t permanent. The ground may not move under your feet (earthquakes not withstanding), but other kinds of landscapes certainly will. Find a special restaurant that serves your favorite dishes? Wake up the next day and it’s become a plumber’s shop. Make friends with some other expats? You may soon have to say goodbye. But, repeat after me, “Change can be good. Change can be good. Change can be good.” Maybe, just maybe, that plumber’s shop will end up being exactly what you need.
- Culture stress can be a bear
Literally. On his first try at the North Pole, Saunders went with a partner, but they failed to reach their goal. Saunders says that from the outset “almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. We were attacked by a polar bear on day two. I had frostbite in my left big toe. We started running very low on food. We were both pretty hungry, losing lots of weight.” Yup. Sounds like culture stress to me.
- Coming back can feel like the bear wins
When his first attempt fell short, Saunders says he “was physically exhausted, mentally an absolute wreck, considered myself a failure, in a huge amount of debt personally to this expedition, and lying on my mum’s sofa, day in day out, watching daytime TV.” His brother texted him an encouraging quotation from Homer Simpson: “You tried your hardest and failed miserably. The lesson is: don’t even try.” Repatriation can feel that way. Maybe all the people who’d said you shouldn’t go were right. But Saunders didn’t let his failure define him. Instead, three years later he made history.
- People aren’t sitting around waiting to hear your stories
When Saunders reached the North Pole, he got out his satellite phone. After warming up the battery in his armpit, he made three calls: “I dialed my mum. I dialed my girlfriend. I dialed the CEO of my sponsor. And I got three voicemails.” OK, that’s unfair to say they didn’t want to hear what he’d done. They were just busy at the time, that’s all. But . . .
- Some people really do want to listen
“I finally got through to my mum,” says Saunders. “She was at the queue of the supermarket. She started crying. She asked me to call her back.” There are special people who will make time to listen—when they can focus on your story without distractions. Thanks, Mum.
- Don’t let others draw boundaries on your map
When Saunders was 13, he got a school report that said, “Ben lacks sufficient impetus to achieve anything worthwhile.” Saunder’s response—”I think if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: that no one else is the authority on your potential. You’re the only person that decides how far you go and what you’re capable of.”
- One of the three most important questions will always be “Where is the bathroom?”
Saunders gave his TED Talk to answer three questions:
(1 ) Why?
(2) How do you go to the loo at minus 40?
(3) What’s next?
That second question is very important at the North Pole, because it seems that “at minus 40, exposed skin becomes frostbitten in less than a minute.” Your question number two will be more like “Where’s the bathroom?” or just “Bathroom? Bathroom?” Then, once you see the facilities, you may ask yourself, “How?”
As for the answers to those question, in short, Saunder’s responses go something like this:
(1) “For me,” says Saunders, “this is about exploring human limits, about exploring the limits of physiology, of psychology, and of technology. They’re the things that excite me. And it’s also about potential, on a personal level. This, for me, is a chance to explore the limits—really push the limits of my own potential, see how far they stretch.”
(2) That’s a trade secret, no answer here.
(3) Antarctica. Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are currently on the first leg of their trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again—1,800 miles in all—unsupported and on foot. You can follow Saunder’s daily blog posts here. Why the South Pole? See answer number one above. Somebody’s got a severe case of wanderlust. [Saunders and L’Herpiniere completed their expedition on February 7, 2014.]
July 22, 2016 § Leave a comment
From my post this month at A Life Overseas –
goodbye /gə(d)-ˈbī/ excl. / salutation spoken at a departure, extremely unpopular for certain English-speaking tribes, such as cross-cultural workers, TCKs, their loved ones, and the like.
Many of us know from experience that saying goodbye can be hard, really hard. And practice doesn’t make perfect. In fact, it often makes it worse.
But what makes goodbye so tough to voice? It’s not because it’s hard to pronounce. That’s simple enough. Rather, it’s the meaning behind the word that’s difficult. Is that because we don’t actually know the definition of goodbye? To quote that great linguist/philosopher Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Goodbye actually comes from God be with you, which, in it’s older form, was God be with ye. From there, it morphed into such shortened versions as God be wy you, God b’w’y, Godbwye, God buy’ ye, and good-b’wy. The replacement of God with good was influenced by the similar phrases good day and good night, which takes it even further from the original. Seen in this way, goodbye is related to the French adieu and the Spanish adios, which mean “to God,” as in “I commit you to God.”
So what’s so hard about saying, “God be with you”? What’s so difficult about giving someone a blessing? Why do we so often hear, “I don’t want to say goodbye”?
Maybe it’s because we do actually know what it means—at least for those who move far away. . . .
April 23, 2016 § 2 Comments
When you’re a tourist, it’s mostly fun to be a tourist. Most people like to help you and you’re treated as a guest. Sure, when you go to buy something you might get taken advantage of, but you don’t know any better, so you can still think that you got a bargain. And if you break a cultural rule—or even a law—you can play the I-didn’t-know-I-don’t-live-here-maybe-even-get-out-of-jail-free card.
But when you do live in a new country, you don’t want to be treated like a tourist. You want to be treated like “one of us,” or at least ignored. So how do you look as if you belong? Maybe it’s the language, but you’ll have to talk first, and that could hurt more than help. Maybe it’s your clothes, but it’s easy to go overboard on that one. Or maybe it’s what you’re carrying around. Of course, it’s what you’re not carrying, as well, for example, a camera or a souvenir bag that says “I ♥ (name of country).”
In my post yesterday at A Life Overseas, I quoted author Tahir Shah’s views on acclimating to a new culture, from his book In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams. Shah had moved to Casablanca, and he didn’t want to be treated like an outsider. He writes that one day his maid, Zohra, overheard him talking about getting “eaten alive” by the salesmen in the vegetable market, and she gave him some great advice.
“Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!” she snapped. “Of course the salesmen trouble you. It’s because they think you are a tourist.”
“But there aren’t any tourists in Casablanca!”
“Well, they don’t know that!”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
Zohra motioned something with her hands. It was round, about the size of a dinner plate. “You have to carry a sieve.”
“No tourist would ever be carrying a sieve,” she said.
That’s it. A sieve. Gotta get you one of those.
(Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams, Bantam, 2008)
[photo: “I ♥ Tourists,” by Lain, used under a Creative Commons license; “Markthal Rotterdam” by Kattebelletje, used under a Creative Commons license]
December 24, 2015 § 3 Comments
This is a time of gift giving. It’s a time of buying and making and choosing and wrapping.
In our family, we tend toward minimalism when it comes to wrapping gifts. From my father I inherited the practice of using newspaper. When your package carries the latest headlines, there’s no need for bows or ribbons. And if you’re feeling extra festive, you always have the Sunday comics.
We all know it isn’t the paper on the outside that matters, but we sure do act like it sometimes.
I think that one of the best gifts to give and receive—any time of the year—is the gift of our stories, our feelings, our truths. Sometimes they come in worn-out shoeboxes, in paper bags with the tops folded down, or in cardboard boxes marked “Kitchen” from the last move. They’re offered with trepidation and best received with reverence. They’re precious, authentic gifts, rugged and unedited.
And without a bow.
Are we willing to receive such gifts, or do we prefer presents wrapped neatly in shiny paper, with colorful ribbons curled just so? Do we want only the stories that have tidy, happy endings, tied up with a platitude or moral or lesson? Do we carry our own supply of bows in case the gift givers are lacking?
Are we willing to give those gifts as well? Do we hold back the deep realities of our lives, the honest hurts, waiting until we can decorate them with a “that’s when I knew it all happened for a reason,” an “I learned so much,” or a “now I can see it was all part of God’s plan”? In the waiting there is sorrow and pain.
I can’t help but think of my missionary friends, and other cross-cultural workers, too often feeling the need to adorn their stories so that no one will “misunderstand,” too often saying what is expected or what is easier to hear. I can’t help but think of myself when I’ve done the same thing.
Not all gifts are meant to be shared in the open. Some are too personal. Some can only be given in a private, safe, accepting space. Can you create a space like that for your friends, for their parents, for their children? Without such a place, their precious gifts stay hidden away. And hidden gifts are often forgotten and remain ungiven . . . simply for lack of a bow.
The decorations aren’t necessary. Give your gifts without bows, we’re listening. Receive our gifts without bows, we’re talking.