Month: August 2011

So Long To Hong Kong…

Tomorrow morning we will fly to Bangkok on the next leg of our year-long tour. It’s an emotional farewell.  We have had such an amazing experience both in China and here in Hong Kong.  It’s been a life-transforming time.  So many lessons learned.  So many moments spent connecting with remarkable, brave kids who move us to want to do more.  We are wishing the kids here from New Hope successful operations and recoveries.  And to all the doctors and staff of MedArt, our heartfelt gratitude and admiration.  You guys are so inspiring. There are saints here in China who are doing amazing things.  It has renewed my faith in mankind!

There is so much we can all do to make a difference.  You don’t have to travel around the world to do it either.  I’m learning. Believe me, I’m a novice.  If you are moved to make a difference, start it now.  Go to a soup kitchen, a hospital, a prison, a hospice, a crisis center or crisis hotline.  Just do it.   What I’m discovering is that it’s in the giving.  The rewards are off the charts.  You will give yourself the greatest gift ever…

Okay, I’ll get off the soap box. But when you have seen what we have seen in the last two months,  you become aware  that we all have a responsibility to do more, help more, save more…  We are so lucky to have so much and a little goes a long way, especially over here.

We have met so many amazing people here in Hong Kong.  We had the chance to check out Kowloon, the light show over the skyline of Hong Kong, Soho, and Happy Valley.  Hong Kong is a happening city… alot of great energy.  And thanks to our host, Jack, for letting us crash at your awesome house on Hong Kong Island.   We owe you big time!

So as the sun sets on Victoria Harbor this Tuesday evening, with mixed emotions, we pack our bags.

And with anticipation for what lies ahead, we look forward to the adventures unfolding in Thailand.   Up, up, and away!   More to follow…

 

 

Posted by JD in China, 2 comments

As We Leave The People’s Republic of China…

We are heading out of Hong Kong shortly, preparing to work with the elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand.   But before we leave, I feel compelled to reflect on this incredible month in China.  I am so grateful for the experience of a lifetime.  China – the people, the cities, the architecture, the food, the temples, the squares, the markets… soon it will all be a videotaped and photographed memory.  It’s hard to let go of a “real-time” adventure like China.  A journey of emotion, sight, temperature, touch, and sound. One can’t really translate the visceral into the written page.  It is to be experienced with one’s whole being.

Our first taste of Beijing… pulling in on the Trans-Siberian Railway… and disembarking into a hot, chaotic, and remarkably intimidating train station.  I remember fearfully thinking, “How are we ever going to find our driver and what am I going to do if he’s not here?  How are we every going find the orphanage?”   Well, as fate would have it, he was there as planned and we were sped away into the hazy fog of Beijing and then off into the Chinese countryside.

The kids and I will never forget the experience of The New Hope Foundation.  The kindness of Dr. Joyce, Robin, and Katie Hill, Dr. Steve and his family, Shannon Wu (our pal who helped us with everything!), the crew of Mama’s (the caregivers), and most importantly, the beautiful children of this orphanage.

We will wholeheartedly miss our new family at New Hope… and have vowed to keep up with the progress of these children.  I know we will return to this place, so it’s not “good-bye” but simply,  “Until we return…”. I hope that I am able to shed a little light on their work through this website and through my efforts when I get back to the states.

We were afforded the experience of true saints in action…  People who have dedicated their lives to save the un-save-able.   These kids were either rescued from the street, left in hospitals or taken from other orphanage that could not help them.  This is the real deal.  It’s not a reality show.. this is real life.  When you are in the midst of work like this, your life changes forever.  It’s subtle too, because no one is walking around saying, “Look at me, I’m doing noble things.”  They are just doing what they are led to do.

These kids are so happy too.  And rightly so.  They receive tons of love, three meals a day, a playground, swimming pool, loving nannies who care for them and the chance of medical attention to help them walk, see, breathe, use the bathroom, and live. My thoughts and prayers, with a sense of helplessness, go out to the less fortunate that don’t make their way to New Hope or the likes.

I am so thankful for Dr. Joyce and Robin Hill.   Not only for their self-less work, but because they took the time to show a Yankee and his two kids Beijing and The Great Wall.  Robin took the boys and I Go-Carting, which is another highlight for the boys…  (and secretly, for me as well).  And damn, those carts are fast. Their youngest daughter, Katie, was our pal and interpreter.  Thank you, Katie, for your incredible enthusiasm, great energy and ability to speak a bunch of languages.  You are, without a doubt, the undeniable Go Kart champ!

Another shout out goes to Shannon Wu.  Can’t even express how grateful we are.  Seems like every time the boys and I were confused or couldn’t communicate, or didn’t know how to get somewhere, or how to make a train reservation, or didn’t know what to eat….. we would turn around and there would be Shannon to save the day.   What’s so admirable about California-born Shannon, is that she is in China volunteering with these kids.  She has the gift of speaking Chinese as well, so she can communicate and love these kids and help the non-speakers as well.  She’s here in Hong Kong, where we are currently, caring for a baby from New Hope that is having an operation.

There are so many memories we take with us from New Hope… teaching pre-school with these kids as they shouted out their ABCS, to playing in the ball pit with my pal, Ray-Ray and the others, to playing in the playground outside, to swimming in the pool with them, to watching Dr. Steve put on casts and doing procedures on club feet…  to eating chicken hearts in the village, to watching Buck eat a Donkey Burger.. for real… to the sight of Jackson on a bicycle pedaling through this tiny Chinese village smiling to the old people on the side of the road… To staying in a Yurt…    You can’t buy these memories…. they are lived…. (and I’m actually crying typing this).  I’m so thankful for this experience, you have no idea.  I’m not sure how I got so lucky… but so thankful.

At the end of our stay at New Hope, we were able to check out Beijing… The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and 798 Arts District. The adventure was a bit soothing to the soul considering we were dealing with separation anxiety from the orphanage.  Walking through history is to put it mildly.   You can feel it all around you.   Beijing is historic but also alive… and thriving.  The art scene is very cool as well.  Had the chance to hang at Yuanfen New Media Art Space with owner David Ben Kay.  A cool man who has created this awesome art space for all kinds of art.  A real visionary.  I’m hopefully going to teach a workshop there in Beijing in 2012.  Check out his interview:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMZ5kYnF2-w    They are doing great things there.

From Beijing, we headed to Shanghai for a few days and hung with a incredible man who’s making a difference in the world. Robert Oliver.   His cookbook, Me’ a Kai won the Best Cookbook in the world in 2010 by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris. What’s unique about his approach is that it’s not just about food, it’s about teaching different cities and countries about sustainable tourism and teaching people to use the local produce of their region to help boast the economy of that particular area.  He is currently in Shanghai as a consultant in this arena.

 

We only had a few days layover so we saw The Bund, The TV Tower with the glass bottom floor, The French Concession, and People’s Park.  The beauty of People’s Park.  They play music on loud speakers and people are dancing… couples dancing in the park… and other’s sing opera.  It’s a culture that is not self-conscious.. They love getting up and dancing and singing.  Really fun to watch.

From Shanghai we have flown to Hong Kong, which is where we are now.  We have been visiting the babies who are here from New Hope who are getting their operations.  We are hanging with Shannon because she is down here watching one of the babies.  The hospital is beautiful, modern and fairly new.  These kids are so lucky to be getting surgeries from the doctors of MedArt, a group of incredible doctors who dedicate their time and energy to help these kids in need.  They are all musician who raise money doing concerts during the year to afford these orphans free medical attention and very expensive surgeries.

Hong Kong is an interesting city… very international. After Russia and mainland China,  it’s a bit of a cultural break… as most people speak English, there are more western style food options, and there are stores that carry America products.  The skyline is beautiful.   It’s like China meets NYC.  Lots of shopping…. thank god we can’t partake, since we can’t haul any more than we already have.  We are taking the ferry to Kowloon across the river today to check things out.  Still hot…  when does Fall happen?  🙂

More to follow…. from Bangkok… Wow!  Bangkok….  “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster..” And Twelve in Twelve continues.  Stay tuned.

Posted by JD in China, 13 comments

12 Things I’ve Learned In Shanghai!!!

 

12 Things I’ve Learned About Shanghai!!!

1.  “Lil” is nowhere to be found.

2.  Rickshaws are now motorized and a total blast to ride in… probably bad parenting but super fun.

3.  Another proud city sponsor of Mystery Meat.

4.  The Bund is incredible … cross between the NYC skyline and Disneyland.  If you knew nothing about it, like us, google it… Super cool.

5.  The Cricket Market is a sight to behold.  Come get your feisty cricket warrior for a Friday Night fight.  Michael Vicks … you are safe over here.

6.  Hotter than a witch’s cuckoo here… Yikes!   Like 3 Ken dolls in an Easy Bake Oven.

7.  Taxi’s are dirt cheap… so awesome…  of course, they don’t speak English and you can’t tell them where you are wanting to go… but once you work that out… dirt cheap…

8.  It’s true… they stop you on the street and want to take your picture… Especially Buck… He might as well be Justin Bieber.  Very funny.  They like to hug him and touch his hair.

9.  Subway is fast and spotless…. If you can figure out which station you are going to.

10.  Not only is McDonalds, Coca Cola, and KFC everywhere… so is Ikea.

11.  The rumors are not true… I have yet to see sheep, goats or chickens on any domestic or international flight.

12.  The Neon signs and automated billboards are something right out of Blade Runner.  Super cool.  They just have to work out the flying cars and they’ll have it down…

 

On to Hong Kong….

Posted by JD in China, 5 comments

The Toughest Part is Good-Bye…

As we board the plane headed for Shanghai, I reflect on the last few weeks with a sense of wonder.  What a truly profound experience.  The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City… all seem to pale in comparison to meeting our new family and friends at The New Hope Foundation.

It’s beginning to dawn on me that the toughest part of our journey will be the “good-byes”.  Saying farewell to our new pals was pure anguish.    Ray-Ray, Au Jun, Mao Mao, Luke, Shannon, Katie, Dr. Joyce and Robin, Dr. Steve & The Martins, The Moore Family, all the mamas ( nurses) and so many others.

My kids and I have had the great honor of experiencing the lives of some remarkable children.  Each one welcomed us, allowed us to be part of their daily routines, shared their warmth, their laughter, their tears… I know it sounds a tad melodramatic, but I’m at a loss for how else to express the immensity of our experience and love for these kids.

These guys aren’t just your average kids.  As fate would have it, they have been lucky enough to be taken in by the New Hope Foundation … their lives changed forever.   Each of these kids comes with a tragic tale of abandonment, physical challenge, and very little hope for a future.

But because the stars aligned, or god blessed them, or the random-ness of the universe would deem it so, these guys won the lottery thanks to Dr. Joyce and Robin Hill.  Saved from either sure death or an uncertain existence of pain and suffering, these kids have received the medical attention to either walk again, smile again, talk again, see again, or just to live again.  And it’s all topped with a ton of loving kindness and nurturing from the incredible staff at The New Hope Foundation.

My experience with these kids is hard to describe.  Quiet moments with them sitting on my lap, or carrying them in my arms, or just waving and smiling from across the room… from playing in a plastic ball pit, to the jungle gym outside, or swimming with the kids in the pool.  Greeted in the morning with Ni Hao… which means hello… with smiles… hugs, extended hands with the hopes of being held… all this has truly had a deep effect on me.  Cathartic really…

See, I fancied myself a guy who knew the world.  Who had a rough and tumble childhood myself with tons of tragedy of my own.   With a loss of both of my parents by the age of 8, I thought I had joined the ranks of hard knocks…

But I’m the luckiest man alive… I have two beautiful healthy boys, my own health, a cool career, friends and family that are there for me…. Life is good.  I have a new gauge in which to count my blessings.

And still one has to think of all the kids who don’t have the good fortune of being one of the chosen few at New Hope.  Of the kids all over the world who still suffer and sit at death’s door without someone to come along and save them.  I wish for a million New Hope Foundations…   I guess there will always be kids to save on the planet….  I honor the people that find it in the hearts to be selfless and make a difference.

Here is the link to a short film on The New Hope Foundation:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvMME-2dJ40

Oh, yeah,   The Great Wall was awesome.  I took a moment to remember my tribe who spoke up and were heard at Tiananmen Square… Got a kick out of standing in front of the huge picture of Mao hanging over the entrance to The Forbidden City….   And walking through the Forbidden City made me want to see The Last Emperor again and wish I could have lived at that time and experienced the majesty of all that… of course as royalty….

So we are being spoiled on two fronts.   The joys of experiencing the awe of different sights and cultures, and secondly and most importantly,  the joys of being of service.  I hope that our efforts here abroad make a small dent in these angels hearts… because they have opened ours fully.

We’ll be in Shanghai for a few days and then on to Hong Kong to meet the doctors who actually do the surgeries on these kids.   Their’s is an interesting story which I’ll report on from there.

And, of course, I’ll give you an update in Shanghai….   Anxious to check it out and the boys and I will look out for Shanghai Lil.   We’ll let you know if we come across her.

P.S. –  Big Shout out to LEGO!   They came through with their promise and Buck has been giving out huge shipments of Lego to all the kids.  The kids in our locations are loving them!

Guess the joys of Lego is just universal!!!  Play on….

Posted by JD in China, 14 comments

Walking The Talk at The New Hope Foundation

We are so honored to being working here at The New Hope Foundation in Beijing.  The purpose of this particular facility is to prepare abandoned  babies, and kids from orphanages, for surgery,  to help arrange their medical procedures and for their post-op observation and recovery.   Most of the children have cleft palates, club feet, bowel or bladder disorder, or other serious ailments.

Through the vision and big hearts of Dr. Joyce and Robin Hill, this amazing place was created.   Check out the website: http://www.hopefosterhome.com/     If you are able to donate or sponsor a child, this is the place to do it!  I’m experiencing it first hand and this place is the real deal.  This husband and wife are saints, truly.  They are doing all they can in their power to save these kids lives and give them homes.  It’s so inspiring.

I have so many stories to tell of our stay so far, but I want to focus on one.  A number of these special needs kids have been linked up with an adoptive family after their procedures are done and they have recooperated.  There are about 20 kids that I love with all my heart here.   Most have families waiting for them.

Which leads me to Ray Ray.  That’s kind of his English name.   This kid is amazing and my great buddy.  Ray Ray has the coolest spirit.  Really happy, soulful, deep, cool… hard to describe in words.  Everyone just “gets” him. I certainly do.  We just have this major connection.   He doesn’t have the use of his legs.  He has arthrogryposis, which is a disorder, but that doesn’t stop him.  With his arms (which he has limited use of) he scoots himself across the floor to you. His spirit is so powerful.  He has the best smile, plus he just knows who he is… has a real sense of himself.  I will be posting video of him shortly.

If anyone knows of a family that is interested in adopting a special needs child, please, personally let me know.  Ray Ray deserves a family who will give him the love he deserves.  Believe me, that family will be blessed a thousand fold. He is the greatest guy and would be a great joy to any family.

We had the good fortune of going up to visit The Great Wall with Dr. Steve, another saint, and his family.  Dr. Steve let us sit in on the procedure to fix club feet.   Another man who is doing great work in the world!  Bravo, Dr. Steve.  My boys and I are huge fans of this guy.

I will post more in the next day or so…

Posted by JD in China, 6 comments

Twelve Things I’ve Learned While In Beijing.

1.  I haven’t a clue what anyone is saying when they speak Chinese. I mean not a clue….

2.  Real Chinese food is awesome…. but Mystery Meat is not exclusive to Moscow, Russia.  It’s available here too!!!  I’m starting to feel like it might be available globally… Yikes.

3.  Charlotte, NC  is not the most humid place on earth.

4.  Ice Cream tastes good in any country.

5.  There are people on the planet who care deeply and are dedicating their lives to helping others.   So inspiring.

6.  My heart has exploded with love in a small village on the outskirts of Beijing.  I’m so lucky to experience it with these amazing kids.  Nothing is better than being greeted each morning with smiles and open arms.

7.  My sons are compassionate, caring boys and I’m really proud of how gentle and kind they are with kids less fortunate.  Rock on, Lewis Boys!

8.  I cannot lie, I miss climate control.  Alot.

9.  Clubbed feet can be fixed in infants and toddlers by putting them in casts and helping them to re-form their feet… then cutting the achilles tendon and then wearing braces.  These lucky kids who are being helped here.  They’re given the gift of being able to walk.  Bravo to Dr. Joyce, Robin and Dr. Steve!   Three real life heroes!

10.  The old people in the village have so much character in their faces and so much soul in their smiles.  I only wish I could speak their language and hear their stories.  Want to just get off my bike and hug them all. Such amazing people.

11.  Los Angeles does not have a patent on smog and/or poor air quality or traffic.  Trust me.

12.  China is booming!   Things are happening here.  In fact, so much so, that they are trying to slow down the boom so it doesn’t escalate too fast.

Posted by JD in China, 3 comments

Here at The New Hope Foundation in China!

Hey folks.  Here at Hope Healing Home just outside of Beijing.  Dr. Joyce and her husband, Robin, are our gracious hosts.  Talk about an inspiring couple.  These are two people who are truly “walking the talk”. This orphanage is amazing!  So beautifully run. The kids are all indoors in a beautiful air conditioned building.   The volunteers stay out in Yurts (super cool).  The facility is spotless and the staff are terrific. This location helps orphans who are in need of medical attention.  There is a large staff, including a number of medical doctors.

We have been holding the babies, playing with the toddlers and just getting adjusted to being in China. Please check out the website and help or donate if you can.  http://www.hopefosterhome.com There is a wish list on the website for things they are in need of.  If you are moved to want to create a care package for this location, let me know.  And, if you are feeling like you might want to volunteer, this is a great location.   Pictures and much more news to follow.

Posted by JD in China, 5 comments

The Slow Train to Beijing has arrived!!!

The Trans-Siberian Railway Experience.

We arrive at a crowded, blazing hot train platform in Moscow around 9pm.  Our Mission: The Trans-Siberian Railway to Beijing, China.  We are being seen off by our Russian friends, Elena and Vikie.  The unwashed train pulls in sluggishly to a stop at Platform #4. From the looks of this tired Little Engine That Could, I assess that we are in deep trouble. A crew of Chinese train personnel disembark and line up at the carriage entrances, not actually looking like a commercial for the Beijing Olympics. They are a daunting bunch, none of them looking particularly happy, or able or willing to speak English.  I plaster on my big Hollywood smile and American charm to absolutely no avail.
They take our tickets and we climb aboard.  Down a long, dimly lit hallway, we finally arrive at compartment Number 5. We have berth 17, 18, and 19.  There is room for one more in our compartment for four, berth Number 20.  Please God, no!  As we slide the door open, I know we are in for an adventure.  The cramped space with two upper beds and two lower beds might as well have flames shooting out of it.  My first attempt at opening the window fails miserably.  I mutter, “Oh, Shit…” under my breathe, so as not to have the kids hear…  not the “S” word, they’ve heard that plenty of times before, but the fact that I might be perceived as being negative from the “get-go” on the longest train trip in the world, that we are about to embark on.  A small fan attached to the wall above the window is on and blowing a scorching breeze through the cabin.  “Oh, a fan…  cool!”  A little part of me dies inside.

I go out into the hallway to see it there might be a tad more oxygen there and I come across the cabin attendant.  I mutter, in a hopeless attempt, “Air conditioning?” He just smiles and shakes his head no.  “American?” he asks. “Yes”, I smile, hoping that might be interesting to him.  He just chuckles and turns around and walks off.
My boys, Jackson, 14 and Buck, 8, seem to be more available to the adventure than I, so I attempt “rally mode” and suck it up to the best of my ability.  With sweat dripping down my face and our “way too much luggage” safely stored under our beds, we wave good-bye to our friends on the platform from the carriage entrance. With a cross between a war-time wave to soldiers off to war and the look of “they’re goners” on their faces, Elena and Vikie fade into the distance.  As I return to our berth, I’m emotional for some reason, maybe fearfull, over-heated or perhaps just exhaustion. For better or for worse, we’re off.  I find some comfort in the fact that no one has claimed the 4th bed in our compartment, at least not here at Moscow Station.
I lay on the bottom bunk in the blistering heat, knowing damn well that there is no way I’m going to be able to handle this for 6 night and 7 days. I begin plotting our exodus, perhaps in Omsk, where we were originally planning to visit a baby orphanage before some confusing Russian bureaucracy stood in the way.  In complete abandon, I fall into a bit of a zen state or heat coma, I’m not sure which.  Enthusiastically, Jackson says, “Let’s try and open the window” and my faint and hopeless response with ultimate despair, “ They don’t open”.  “Sure they do…” and he hits a latch on the window and down it goes.  “Thank you, Lord Jesus”, literally comes out of my mouth.
We have departed promptly at 9:51pm and now waddling down the tracks at 10:30pm, we leave the lights of Moscow behind us. With the excitement of a first train ride, the boys jump from top bunk to top bunk, looking out the window, wanting a snack, where’s the bathroom, pass me my iPod… while I try hard to lay quietly in the bottom berth, breathing deeply, trying to figure out how to best explain to the boys that our journey would abort within 24 hours somewhere in the middle of Siberia.
Having had a full day of activities in Moscow, around midnight we settled into our smaller than twin-size, hung from the wall, harder than concrete, sleeping berths.   When I say harder than concrete… there is no exaggeration.   My hips are literally aching. This is also confirmed the next morning, by two English lesbians a few cars down who are both complaining of the same issue. Thank god it was not just me and the on-set of old age. With our compartment door double locked, the boys in their beds, and the fan and window doing what it can do to blow what feels like napalm on us, we drift off to a “fit-ish” sleep.
Much to my surprise, like Christmas in July, I awake in the middle of the night to actually need the sheet and blanket crumpled at the foot of my bed.  Buck gets up to ask for help with his as well. Yes, there is a god! The elements are giving us a reprieve.
I lay in my concrete cot, a bit chilly, gazing out the window as anonymous towns as they pass us by.  The train’s haunting echoes go from being annoyingly head splitting, to surprisingly soothing.  They seem to whisper … “I think I can, I think I can….”.  I fall back into a chekovian slumber.
As if we’ve fallen from the sky in a shack on a bad witch, my boys and I awake to a Technicolor paradise.  Morning offers up a stunning array of Russian country-sides, so much so, that my two American kids even noticed.  “Look, Dad, isn’t it cool.”  “Yeah” replies the other.  “Cool” doesn’t do it justice.  Lush landscapes with an occasional unpainted wooden house with faded green and blue painted shutters.  In the yard of these homes is the occasional  women tending to her garden in what I can only describe as “Babooshka” skirt, sweater and scarf.   It seems staged for our benefit.  I marvel at the fact that these people actually live here in the countryside, tending a garden in the middle of Russia.  The simplicity of their lives is so massively appealing.  And, we are only one night and one early morning out of Moscow.
As with real live fairy tales, some harsh realities must rear their uglies… and this story is no exception.  With the need to pee, comes the realization that we are not in OZ at all, but on a long distance out-dated commuter train from Moscow to Beijing.  I enter the tyanet (toilet).  Yikes. Water (I think) on the floor, a beyond unpleasant stench, and a toilet that looks well used, to say the least.  I stand on the moist floor hoping beyond hope that the water does not reach my feet in flip-flops as I pee.  Wait, it gets better…  There is a pedal to flush the toilet on the floor.  I gently take my open toed foot and depress the lever to experience something that still has me amazed.  The flush opens up the toilet straight onto the tracks.  Yes, below me I actually see the tracks… My mind is reeling.  I’m peeing right on the Russian railroad tracks…  for real. Wow.  What about shitting?  Holy shit. Are Russian’s pissed off when they walk the tracks?  Do they not walk the tracks in Russia?  Then I begin thinking, “Is that how it is in America??” All those years, as a kids, flattening coins on the tracks by my house… was I wading in urine and shit.  No, it can’t be.  It’s America, right?  Each time I use the bathroom on this sojourn, my mind wanders between the Russian locals and my youth.
Returning to our compartment after a mind-blowing rest room experience, I spy that the natives are restless.  “What’s for breakfast?”
We take out the groceries that we have bought the night before at a Moscow Super Market.  Well, not really a Super Market.  More like a confusing local grocery mart where we haven’t a clue what we are buying.  Is it butter or some sort of cheese?  Is it water with or without gas?  Are those cookies or dog biscuits?  We are clueless Americans.
So this morning, we dig into a loaf of bread, some cheese spread (which we thought was margarine), and some sort of empanadas with mystery meat in them. I have to be honest, the empanadas (forgive me for not knowing the Russian name) are not a big hit.  American kids and adults like to identify their meat before ingesting it. Between the three of us we could not get a positive ID on it. Maybe lamb, beef, camel, dog… who knows.  I’m assuming that the six other meat pies that we bought, because they were  convenient and we thought would keep, will go into the trash.  I feel weird offering them to the Italians staying in our neighboring berth.
So the lazy days of train riding go by… Gazing out the window, reading, drawing, playing words games, arguing, chiding, dealing with a cough, constipation and only one major melt-down.. But the joy factor is off the carts.  My kids and I are really spending time together… we have no choice.   And guess what?  It’s really fun.  My teen can’t call his girlfriend or get on Facebook, my little one can’t sneak off to play with the kids next door or zone out on Power Rangers, and I can’t return emails or chat with LuAnne or Kristina for hours on end.  So, with nowhere to hide, we have the pleasure of getting to know each other better. I don’t want to sugar coat it.  It’s not Mayberry.  My older son still pulls an attitude when asked to write in his journal, my younger one is bored more times than not, and I have the hourly mood swing, but beside that we are definitely groovin’.
The greatest part is the mutual appreciation of the whole experience.  Even though we were warned about the dangers of the long train ride across the tundra: the thieves, the boredom, the dirty bathrooms, no air conditioning, and no one speaking English, we are having a great time.  The scenic aspect is off the chart.  I was under the impression that Siberia was a vast wasteland of endless dry fields and an occasional ice station.  That is so not the case.  It is lush and green this time of year, with so many different types of landscapes.  The swaying fields of green, gold and lavender, to small townships of rugged homes painted in blues and greens, to major industrial cities on rivers, to hills and rugged mountains.  I said to Jackson today that parts of it remind me of what “The Old West” must have looked like.
And then of course the people we have met on the train…. Well, I’ll start with the run in on the café car.  The two people working in the café car are characters.  Brilliant story… went in the first day for a coffee and an apple juice with Buck (Jack decided to take a nap) and the bill came, it was 250 Rubles.  The next day I go in, this time with Jackson, and order the same exact thing.  This time the bill comes at it’s 360 Rubles.  I ask the waitress why…  She says something in Russian, I reply, “That’s not working for me” and give her the international charades symbol for let me see the menu.  I show her the price in the menu and, get this, (wouldn’t even have believed if I saw it in a movie), she takes the sheet out of the menu, crosses the price off and say they no longer have it at that price. We have a multi-lingual argument and eventually I just laugh and give her 300 Rubles for having the balls of a bull and we go back to our cement cots, having done the dance.
With that being the only shady dealings, we have met some great people.  First our steward, a Chinese man who speaks no English, after “smiling him into submission” took a liking to the kids and me.  Now he let’s us charge our iPods and computer in his private cabin with an electrical outlet.  We are feeling a tad spoiled.
The Italians next door are super cool and the girl next door on the other side is from Mongolia.  She has fallen for Buck and spends a lot of time doting on him.  And there’s the Dutch family… the father has just turned 50, so he is taking his wife and kids on a camping trip to Ulan Bator, Mongolia.   Didn’t know there was camping there but apparently it’s very popular and you stay in Yerts.  The 15 year-old daughter seems to have eyes for Jackson.  He’s playing it cool though, see, he’s got a girl state-side waiting for him.
Then there’s the girl from Dublin, who’s in her late 20’s who’s traveling by herself from Dublin to Beijing then Thailand and on to New Zealand. There’s the very handsome Parisian aristocrat, Justin mid-thirties, who tells us his take on their President and Carla Bruni.  It’s like an international smorgasbord.  How thankful am I that English seems to be the international language. Phew!
The train is comforting to me. I feel safe… protected.  Twice or three times a day, we stop at a train station where vendors sell their wares… from those mystery meat pies (can’t recommend them), to ice cream, juices, water, yak yak (my kid’s new favorite dessert), and even sweaters and shoes.  It’s an adventure… not scary even with the language barrier.  I don’t care what anyone says, it’s all good. And the ace in my back pocket, I’ve learned the secret…a smile goes a long way.  I guess it’s a universal thing.
We have now left Russia and Siberia behind us, and have crossed over into Mongolia. We successfully made it through the passport check and border patrol.  How is it that as a grown man, the minute an immigration officer boards the train to check your papers, you feel like a helpless 6 year-old.  I guess that in the back of my mind, for reasons unknown, they can yank me off by your feet, never to be seen again.  That, by the way, was not our experience.
In the belly of Mongolia now, we are experiencing the Gobi Desert. Can you believe it?  The Lewis boys are smack dab in the middle of the freakin’ Gobi desert! As the heat begins to return to our cabin, we spy a family of camels in the distance in this barren, arid land of rolling hills.  Camels, holy cow!

I’m assuming when we arrive in Beijing mid-day tomorrow, our cabin will be piping hot, like it was when we began this journey 6 days ago in Moscow. Seems only fair….   We survived it, we didn’t abort half way, we’re richer for having done the dance, and thankful for the experience.
Check Russia off the list…. Time is moving so quickly as our slow train to China approaches The Great Wall….
Peace, from the Love Revolution.  jd, jackson and buck

Posted by JD in China, 18 comments