No one will ever forget 2020. I will not forget either.
In a short few months, the world turned upside down – literally a “world war” against an invisible enemy. Our plan for Gap Year 3.0 also came to a screeching halt.
This pandemic made me realized how I took traveling for granted. Before, my concern was how to hunt for a good price for flights and accommodation and to decide which places are worth visiting, Now, I am just happy if a country allows me to enter.
Olivia also realized that she took “home” for granted. My daughter Olivia and son Nathan were born in the US, grew up in China, and currently studying and residing in Canada. My daughter shared with me recently, “As a Third Cultural Kid (neither belonging fully to the host country or home country), the hardest question to answer is ‘Where are you from’. But I now know my answer. Third Cultural Kids want to go home when there is a pandemic — and for me home is China where my family is.”
Waiting for Olivia and Enli to come “home” from Canada to start our one year trip turned from a 13 hours flight to a 45 days ordeal! One positive of the pandemic is that as a family we were all able to attend both Olivia and Joani’s graduation “virtually”.
While we waited for them, we took the time to say goodbye to Yunnan after living here for 19 years. For me, I said goodbye to 19 years at World Vision China.
Dear World Vision colleagues,
It’s hard to believe that the once far and unfamiliar China has been our “home” for almost two decades and where I have received much more than I have given. And the biggest blessings I have received are from the World Vision staff that I had the honor to serve together throughout my different roles in World Vision.
When I was serving at the two children centers in Kunming, I witnessed the dedication of staff and volunteers who went out at night to look for homeless children in dark streets and abandoned buildings. They didn’t mind the children’s bad smell or dirty bodies but cared for them like their own children.
When I was overseeing the Yunnan/Xinjiang zonal office, I was honored to be with a group of highly educated and talented staff who came to World Vision because they put meaning in their work above money or power.
When I was the program manger at the Area Program in Luchun, I witnessed staff who without complaint hiked through muddy paths and rice terraces for 2-3 hours to visit just one student at his home. Staff were simply happy that they can do something to help their people.
Working at resource development, I saw fundraising and communications staff who shared with excitement to donors and the public about how they can make a difference in a child’s life. It is contagious.
It was a difficult decision to leave WV China full time. However, with my youngest child graduating from high school, my wife and I feel our season in China has come to an end. And we are called to a new season.
China is more than a “home” for me. It is a treasure box full of faces and stories of people I have come to know, admire, and love. Thank you all for blessing me and for the impact you have made in my life.
One of the hardest goodbye, however, was saying goodbye to our faithful dog Paz who protected us and greeted us every time we entered our door. He was more than 12-year old and have difficulty seeing, breathing, smelling, and walking. We knew that he was near the end of his life. 3 days before Olivia and En Li were to finish their quarantine in Shanghai and 2 weeks before our start of the one year trip, Paz was very restless, pacing around. We knew something was wrong. We held him close to us for the entire afternoon. His legs began to falter, not able to support himself. Olivia and En Li spoke to Paz over the video call. Annie and I took him to his favorite island garden. I held him on our favorite bench where he used to run around without a leash. Then Paz stood up tall and strong, took a very long breath, then dropped to the ground. Joani biked home feverishly but was too late. The rays of the setting sun broke through the cloud for a few minutes, then it began to thunder while the clouds glowed the same hue as Paz’s fur. We buried him in his favorite island garden and planted flowers on his grave. The only comfort was that Paz didn’t have to say goodbye to us, but it was us who said goodbye to him.
It is not easy to get ready for a one year trip because one has to pack clothes for four seasons, as well as all the things we might need during this one year, including tents, stoves, sleeping bags, floor mats, swimming goggles and masks, cameras, binocular, chargers, water boiler, adapters, visa photos, IDs, and luxury items such as ukulele, board games, watercolor painting set, etc.
What I didn’t anticipate was that getting ready to travel as five independent adults was the hardest of all. We are not always the happy Su family adventurers that others see on those jumping photos. We each joined this trip with our own agendas, life habits, and emotional hurts that we gave each other. Olivia spent four years in college flourishing as someone with her own mind. Nathan spent two years in college expanding his social circle and learning to express his deeper emotions. Joani had two years as the only child and to suddenly adjust back as the “youngest” child of the family was not easy. Annie enjoyed having me mostly to herself.
We all knew we needed a “family meeting” desperately. Over a special 纸包鱼 fish cooked in wax paper meal, we first began with sharing the things we are thankful for each other, then went into our need for quiet hours and conflict resolution protocols. Then we ended with sharing our vision and goals for this one year trip. For me, I shared that this is almost certainly the last time traveling as a family for a whole year. I wanted to understand God’s creation (both nature/culture), build our family relationship to be strong for the future, minister as a family, and pray for the nations. For Annie, she also wants to commit herself to pray for the nations and minister together. For En Li (Nathan), he wants to focus on Faith, Family, and Friends, especially for the family to reconcile with each other. He realized from college that he needs support from family & friends to have a better relationship with God. Olivia realized after college that the relationship with one’s family is one of the most important relationship. She wanted to read spiritual books together as family and to grow spiritually together. Joani wants to learn to minister and learn about servanthood as an independent adult, start bullet journaling so that she will remember the trip better, and have better devotional time with God.
“Now that each of you is past 18 years old, we can plan days where we can either each travel on our own or in pairs! This will help us to give each other the space we each need,” I suggested.
The day before we left, we went for a family counseling session to work out our issues so that we don’t “kill” each other during the trip. During the counseling session, we each let out what has been brewing inside us. It was not pretty. But it was needed. After the counselors heard all our turmoils, one counselor said something that gave me hope, “The fact that the five of you independent adults still want to travel together for a whole year means something.”
“By faith Abraham left even though he did not know where he was going…and so by faith my dad bought us all tickets to Finland! Even though we can’t go there yet…!
Traveling during this pandemic season is unthinkable, but this hasn’t stopped my dad. After days and nights of hard work, 45 days, 3 flight, and two 15-day quarantines (in Taipei and Shanghai), he found a way to fly my brother and I back to China. Even though we can’t go to Africa and for our family gap year as planned, my dad continues to fid new ways for us to travel and gain new experiences Each morning he wakes up and looks up the news to see which airports are open to what citizens and keeps updated on every policy change He spends hours to find the QR codes we need to backpack within China as each province had its own requirements.
Planning is difficult and flexibility is key. This can not be more apparent when my logical, type 5 enneagram dad turns to me and says, “I have a new idea! What if we follow our hearts? We can go to a place, stay there for as long as we want, and then when we’re ready we can go to the next place.”
My dad is fun, adventurous, and never gives up, And now he has grown to be flexible and spontaneous. I am very proud of him.”
(Taken from Olivia’s Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCDq-lEgFmT/?igshid=ryug265zrarf)
The original one year trip to Africa, the Caribbean, and Central America is gone. Instead, I decided to call it #followourhearts#. On July 2, 2020, we began our one year trip starting in China at the famous 张家界 Zhangjiajie National Park whose rock formation was the inspiration for Avatar. We will “wander” within China like the Israelites for hopefully no more than 40 “days” until we are able to fly out of the country. Now more than ever, having multiple passport countries is very important. Which country will be our first country? I don’t know. But isn’t that what life journey is all about?