The Trains of Life

“Whoosh!”

“Slap!”

“Neeeerrrrttss!”

“No fair! You toppled the cards and caused me to lose track!” my Mom complained.

“Hey Nathan! Put the cards back where they belong! You think we can’t see you slipping those cards on top of the pile?” shouted Joani with an angry voice.

“Joani, did you cheat this time? This is the second you’ve won,” questioned my Father.

The children took break from their home schooling work by playing a card game call "Nerds".
The children took break from their home schooling work by playing a card game call “Nerds”.

Nerts. What is this game? Why is my family playing a card game on a train? People do all sorts of activities during the summer—some work, some play, and some travel; but I, I play Nerts with my family on trains. We played this game wherever we go: on buses, on trains, and even planes! I am constantly traveling, hopping from city to city, country to country, and even continent to continent. One question people often ask me when I travel is “do you miss your home?”. What I left at home, what I miss at home, and what I do at home are all important aspects of my home that I hold dear.

Even though I am half a world away from home, my home lies with my family.

When I started my journey along the Silk Road, I left much of my home behind. As the deafening sound of a train horn rung in my ears, I shouldered my heavy packs and absorbed all of what’s left of my home—Kunming city. As the gloomy tunnels slowly swallowed away the view of the city I once lived in, I saw tall skyscrapers and traffic jams flashed black and white as it melted away into the darkness, along with the memories of my friends and home.

Train is our new favorite home!
Train is our new favorite home!

With a sigh I looked away from the windows and listened to the humming of the train, meditating on what I couldn’t bring. Oh how I miss the dancing trees and swaying flowers of home, the gentle winds, and the vicious barks from my dog; Oh how I long to see the faces of my dear friends and classmates—their laughter and quips resonate throughout my memories…. I left so much behind and yet I didn’t leave all. The stubborn actions of my Father, the caring hands of my Mother, the commanding voice of my eldest sister, and the mischievous grin of my little sister’s eyes are always with me—together we call ourselves a family. Although I have left my home, I have not left my family.

Instant noodle is our staple food while on the train. We learned in Mongolia to use glass jar as container!
Instant noodle is our staple food while on the train. We learned in Mongolia to use glass jar as container!

No matter where I go, I always miss my home. Here I am again, sitting in a cramped space surrounded by people who snored, watched, and prattled. Trains are a poor substitute for a home. My bed is a chair, harder than a stone ground; my desk is a lap, slippier than a waxed floor; my floor is a piece of metal, filthier than a garbage dump. Oh how I yearn for the comforts of my home! Instead of this uncomfortable train, I envision a messy but comfortable bed calling out for my weary self, an untouched empty desk yearning for pen marks and fingerprints, and the dry and desolate floor crying for seas of fur and dust. Although I miss my home, a home is an empty shell without anything inside of it. What then fills this destitute shell? Is it wealth? Is it comfort? Is it our desires? No—it is the smells of hot meals, the sounds of joyful laughter, and the spirit of forgiveness— a family. Although I miss my home, my family is still with me.

In our first month, we took the train 9 times. Train became a new rest place for us travelers where we rest, work, play, and reflect.
In our first month, we took the train 9 times. Train became a new rest place for us travelers where we rest, work, play, and reflect.

One thing that keeps me going back at home is the inviting and satisfying comforts of routines. Instead of waking up at 5 or 6 am to see the sunrise, I would wake up around 7am to walk the dog. I take great pleasure in walking the dog every morning for the past three years: to witness the dawning of a new day, to soak in the beauty of nature with my dog, and to capture the fleeting treasures of the earth with my trusty old camera. Instead of the beds and odd tables I found to do my homework on the road, I would work on my wonderful old desk throughout the seasons of the year: winter, spring, summer and fall. Oh, how I miss them all. Although I have bidden farewell to my good old friend, routine, I unknowingly found my old friend again traveling with my family. Eating meals, getting help for schoolwork, playing card games and watching TV shows and movies are all common things I do at home; these are the same things I do on the road. Eating street foods, resting at cafes, and watching movies on iPads with my family is what I do everyday. What I do at home revolves around my family, and it still does on the road.

Sunset in Mongolia taken from our train window.
Sunset in Mongolia taken from our train window.

“Nerts!” its name vibrated through the air, causing much scowls and complaints.

“Ha! Ha! I win again!”

“My cards slipped!”

Here I am again, playing card games with my family on a train in Mongolia. Although we often shout and argue during the game, we always find a way to make up for our blunders. Even though I am not at home, my family has become my home. Through the different places that I have traveled to it has been a rough balance of traveling and stability, but through the family I have been able to find that balance. What I left at home, what I miss about home, and what I do at home all reflects how my home is my family. Those who travel alone leaves their home behind, but those who travel with family brings their home with them.

We like the spaciousness of Mongolian train for 1/3 of the price of Chinese train.
We like the spaciousness of Mongolian train for 1/3 of the price of Chinese train.

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