Packing Up the Tent

Last night I packed up the tent in my Grandma’s backyard. It may seem like a simple task, but the stories and meanings behind this task was very heart breaking and emotional. Packing up the tent felt like breaking a fragile porcelain bowl filled with precious droplets of memories—memories of my family and our one-year journey together. Nostalgia and sorrow flooded over me like a tidal wave crashing into an earthen wall. Why does packing up this tent bring me so much pain? Why is this empty space covered by a tarp have so much meaning and significance?

Our tent
Our tent
Tenting at Grandmas backyard in Los Angeles
Tenting at Grandmas backyard in Los Angeles

The tent represented the beginning of the trip and the final end of my Silk Road Journey. Even though my Silk Road Journey ended 2 months ago on June 12th, flying back to China signified its true ending as I finally returned home. Before my family began our Silk Road Journey, we were debating whether or not to bring a tent with us (that was given as a gift from a Polish cyclist that we hosted back in China). In the end, we decided to give it a test trial by spending a night in the tent at my complex’s empty swimming pool! That was the first night we have used the tent, signifying the beginning of my family’s Silk Road Journey. That was the first night out of 37 nights out of a year we had camped! It was quite a coincidence that we started camping at weird places such as my complex’s empty swimming pool and ended camping at another weird place: my grandma’s backyard (since her house was too crowded). Who knew that tent would be so useful? Sadly, every tent that is set up is temporary; eventually it has to be taken down and packed away along with its stories.

For the entire night, we camped out inside the empty swimming pool.
For the entire night, we camped out inside the empty swimming pool.
Qinghai Lake, China
Qinghai Lake, China

The tent represented routine and stability to my and family and I. To set up the tent at a camping spot we would divide the work into three teams. We worked very well as an efficient team. Once we got off the car and selected a camping spot, we followed a routine that we created out of experience. My parents were responsible for cooking breakfast and dinner while we set up the tent. My sisters Olivia and Joani were responsible for laying the mattresses, backpacks, and sleeping bags inside the tent, and I was responsible for laying out the tent, putting the poles through, and attaching the water proof tarp on the tent. After my sisters and I finished setting up the tent, we would come and help my parents prepare dinner, usually making a salad with the vegetables we bought at the supermarket.

We pitched out tent on top of the best viewing point in Jiankou Great Wall.
We pitched out tent on top of the best viewing point in Jiankou Great Wall.

img_6500p1320574We have done the same routine from the high and ancient walls of the Great Walls of China to the valleys deep and green of the Central Asian nation Kyrgyzstan, from the deserts springs in the Middle East of Oman to the rugged alps of Switzerland, from the sea cliffs Moher of Ireland to my grandmother’s humble home in Los Angles. It didn’t matter where we were or what we did, as long I was together with my family we were able to camp anywhere and laugh at our hardships. We slept 37 nights in that tent out of 365 days, we traveled to 41 countries lugging that tent behind our backs, and we laughed and cried inside the four corners of this 2 by 2 meter tent. That tent was my family’s stability and sanity when traveling got rough.

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The tent represented special recollections with my family— a treasure trove with a canvas as its box and memories as its jewels. Where we slept with the tent didn’t really matter, it was what we did inside the tent that made me laugh and cry in comfort and joy. Our tent was fairly small, it was 2 by 2 meters long and wide. Supposedly it was only meant to fit two European adults, but we literally squeezed five Asian body builds into that tent. There was no room to move around—side-by-side our bodies laid neatly tucked inside our sleeping bag, like a row of coffins packed right next to each other. How in the world would one say they found it enjoyable squeezing with their entire family in one tent sleeping through the night?

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Despite sleeping five people in one small tent, we had many fun memories of our time inside.
Despite sleeping five people in one small tent, we had many fun memories of our time inside.

I’m glad we did more than just sleeping inside the tent. Every night we would huddle together in our tiny tent and play rounds of card games full of shouts and jeers. Slapjack, Bluff, and Kaboo was our form of entertainment and bonding; the roof of the tent became our movie theater when we put up our iPads and computers; the two zippered flaps was our doorway and closure from the outside world. Inside the tent, there was only my family and nothing else; the weariness of travel and homesickness melted away in the laughter and tears. Countless stories and memories occurred inside that tent—conflicts and resolutions standing side by side, joys and sorrows leaning on each other’s shoulders, and tears and laughter giving each other a warm embrace. That tent was a treasure trove.

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Packing away that tent was packing away the beginning and the end of my Silk Road Journey, packing away my old routine and stability, and packing away the special memories that occurred in that tent. Not only did I bid farewell to the tent, I also bid farewell to my older sister Olivia. I didn’t realize that those few nights sleeping on the hard solid ground of my grandmother’s backyard was my last few nights with my sister as we shared the tent. As I packed away the tent leaving nothing left but bundled bags (canvas, tent, and tent sticks), I realized that our entire lives is a temporary journey of setting up tents and taking them down. Every stage of life from birth to death is a time of pitching a tent and moving on. Living in China the last 15 years was a period of pitching a tent settling down temporarily; it was a home that moved with me as I continue on my journey in life. Different seasons and different moves in life were different tents pitched at the various continuum of a person’s life. A tent is a temporary home, it is to be assembled and taken down as a person moves along in life. We are all wondering nomads with no permanent homes, but my final home rests in the Father’s arms in His Kingdom. Our tents on this earth are ephemeral, but our homes in the Father’s Kingdom are eternal.

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