“Guys, I just realized something weird,” Olivia said to us with a twinkle in her eyes. “We are kind of doing a one year experiment, you know, like those people that go inside a cave for a year. That’s basically what we’re doing!”
Olivia continued, “The experiment is to live with just five people for a WHOLE year. ”
“That’s so sad. That’s a sad life…” Joani agreed thinking about herself. “I am living in this crazy journey but then I am missing out my teenage life.”
I jumped in as well, “In addition, people around the world are watching this experiment like a TV show. Of course, in any experiment you have to document it.”
“We are! What do you think is that device over there?” Nathan said sarcastially pointing at the iPhone on the table by which I was recording our conversation.
“You don’t know how challenging that is…wait… You DO know how challenging that is!” Olivia said looked at me knowing that we both were learning how to understand Joani better.
Olivia continued, “Like what I said, I feel like I am living in a cave and it is just you and me. We are like writing stuff on the wall of the cave, since there is nothing else for us to do anyways.”
We all laughed.
We were sitting, eating, and joking around a table at the outdoor porch of the King Kebob Restaurant in Pokhara, Nepal. Pokhara is the popular tourist town where trekkers around the world stay before and after trekking the Annapurna Himalaya mountains. We had traveled for exactly four months since we began in June. At our four month point, we reached our sixth country, Nepal.
Nepal was currently going through a major crisis. This was in addition to the 8.0 earthquake that killed more than 8000 people 6 months ago. After close to 10 long years, Nepal finally passed its constitution, but it also sparked anger from the Indian ethnic groups of Nepal who felt the new constitution was discriminatory and as protest blocked the flow of petrol and propane from India to Nepal. When we crossed from India to Nepal, we witnessed first hand the protesters who blocked the border bridge and burned any bus or truck that tries to leave the border. We had a hard time finding transportation to Kathmandu but eventually found a tuk tuk that took us to another nearby town to catch the bus. The result of the protest was a severe fuel shortage where buses, cars, and motorcycles lined up for many kilometers waiting for their ration of petrol. Because of the fuel shortage and the upcoming Nepali New Year festival, our original plan of helping with earthquake rehabilitation unfortunately had to be cancelled. (See video and newsreport)
Despite these setbacks, our whole family really enjoyed our travel in Nepal. In Kathmandu we stayed with an American family with four children whom we were good friends back in Kunming, China. It was a good rest and good social time for Olivia, Nathan, and Joani. We did a two-day overnight white water rafting trip along the Triuli River, where we got to jump off the raft and tumble in the midst of roaring rapids. We did an eight days trek on the world famous Annapurna Circuit mesmerized by the blue, blue sky and white, white snow peaks above 8000 meters (Read the blog on our trek). Like Bolivia, Nepal not only has some of the highest mountains in the world but also lush jungles where we rode on elephants high above the tall grass and shrubs and got to see one-horn rhino and large crocodiles in the wild up close. We also went on a jungle walk inside the Chitwan National Park and saw footprints, nail marks, and feces of the elusive Bengal Tiger. We also enjoyed bathing together with an elephant on its back.
To celebrate our four months anniversary, we ordered a yak steak, extra servings of pasta with cheese, and a bottle of tonic water and shared our thoughts our the past four months.
“I can’t believe one-third of our one year trip is over!” Nathan exclaimed. “Hearing ‘four month’ is like, ‘yeah…’, but hearing ‘one-third’ is like, ‘WOOOOAH!’“
Joani also was surprised, “Two more months then is like…WOW…half a year gone!”
“Our first one-third is mainly Asia, our second one-third will be Middle East, and our third one-third will be Europe,” I analyzed.
“I was emotionally preparing myself for India. It turned out as I had expected – it was my hardest country. I think Middle East and Europe will be easier,” Annie reflected.
“Yeah…the heat, the humidity…breathing the humid air in India for a whole month, I felt trapped. It felt like a year,” Joani said as if she was still feeling the heat.
“Your birthday will be in Egypt” Joani said to Olivia. “First time outside of China.”
“Your birthday will be in Israel, Joani. High five! Mine as well!”Nathan high fived Joani.
“Maybe Joani you can be baptized in the Jordan river on your birthday!” I suggested excitedly.
“You know, Nathan already has been to many of the places in the Human Geography textbook he is studying online,” Olivia mused. “Nathan should stick photos of himself in those places over the photos in the textbook, like the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple…”
Nathan said, “It’s cool to be ranked up with those hard core backpackers we met before. Those that were traveling for one month, two month, half a year, one year…”
Olivia added, “We are actually near the long end…but for a family, it doesn’t really matter how long, family backpackers are always rare!”
“Only cyclist are longer. And they’re amazing,” Nathan added.
We were having a lot of fun and laughers reflecting back the past four months and looking forward to the next few months. It was a small restaurant and we were definitely making loud noises. I decided to focus our sharing a bit.
“So, what is the highlight for you in these four months?” I posed the question to each person.
“I feel this last month, we are finally getting into a groove and our family relationship is finally getting better. 磨擦够久了 (Translation: We had bang heads enough)! I feel more a part of this family. My relationship with Joani and Nathan are better. We are doing something about it and I am seeing the growth,” Olivia shared first.
“In the beginning we were all in our little world. It was quite discouraging. I got lonely. It was lonely because we were together in the same space, just stuck. That’s lonely,” Olivia continued.
I was surprised at their feelings and had to clarify with them, “But we were doing many things together, didn’t we?”
“‘Doing thing’ and ‘DOING THINGS’ are different,” Joani emphasized.
Olivia continued, “Four months you see many places, but what really counts is seeing progress in relationships. Progress happens after you cry every other day…because of mainly two people. You know who you are! You two (Joani and Dad) are on my ‘Made me cry the most’ list…Now, I feel closer with you guys and that is why I am here for. So it has not been a waste of time. It is your willingness to change (e.g., like the no electronic days). I can Skype my friends less now because now I have family members that exist.”
Annie shared next, “The no electronic days helped me to reassess my use of Wechat and Facebook. I talk to people more. The one day we were rafting made me realize that I don’t really need it. This is not the way to live my life..I had gone on one-on-one date with each of you already. I think we should continue to make effort to date each person in the family once a month — to make it into a life habit. Nathan has only 2 years left and Joani has four years left.”
Olivia joked given she would not be home anymore, “Does that mean I will have 3 to 4 skype calls a month from you guys when I am living in the US?”
Joani shared as well, “My friends ask me the highlight of our trip so far. It is funny but I think the highlight for me is converting from eating vegetarian in India back to non-vegetarian and wearing jean in Nepal! That was a pretty big highlight!”
“A change I saw in myself is that I am more attentive to you guys. When you call me, I will respond back. I will turn off my music and listen,” Joani reflected.
Olivia also shared her change, “Here, among family members, you are almost seen as the worst you can be. You don’t have outside people who say how great you are. You can look at yourself more closely for who you are and your shortcomings. It pushes you to grow. Everyday I wake up very excited and loving God so much, wanting to change. Watching how the American family we are staying at live their family life, I feel it gave us hope.”
“For me, I started to write my journal for the first time when I did my devotions,” Nathan said agreeing with Olivia.
Nathan continued, “When we were rafting, Mary asked me, ‘How did seeing so many things affect you as a person today?’ I don’t really know. When you form your own identity, it is choosing what you want and what you don’t want. That’s what you choose. But what you are right now, that’s not really up to you. But you can still choose what you want to be. That is something we should all work for and look ahead to.”
It was very enlightening to me to hear their sharing. I did not realize how difficult it can be for teenagers, who need social life outside of the family, to travel with just their family members for one year. Originally, I thought this trip will be just like 7 years ago when we traveled together for a year, when daddy and mommy were all that they needed. Much of their self-esteem had been built by what their peers think of them. Now they have to really think deeply and introspectively about who they really are and not what their friends say who they are. I was also encouraged to hear from them how we all changed, adjusted, and are more intentional in growing closer to each other, although we still have much room to grow.
“What are you all thankful for these past four months,” I continued to asked them.
“I am thankful we have been relatively healthy — no major accident or sickness, not the type you need your health insurance to evacuate you. That was grandma’s biggest worry,” Annie shared first.
“I am thankful that now after four months, we have learned how to travel as a lifestyle and not as tourists. At first, I wasn’t sure how it will be like to travel for a year because the longest we had traveled from place to place was for three months in South America. Now, I feel we have found a good pace of seeing places and allowing some time to rest and relax,” I shared next.
“Like breathing…” Joani laughed, thinking about how we learned how to slow down our pace when we trekked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal so that we don’t run out of breath.
Nathan shared next, “I am thankful for two things: God and family. Even though it sounds cliche, but it is true. When I started writing my journal (thanks to Olivia for pushing me here), I started thinking about how things happened and how little we did and how much God did. Dad did a lot but most of the things we credited to dad is actually from God. If you think about it, so many things could have gone wrong, but God made it right.”
“Our crossing the border to Nepal could have been just awful (due to the protest at the border), possibly being stuck in a hotel doing nothing for five days…” Nathan continued.
“…apart from doing homework…” Joani laughed.
Nathan continued, “…Although one thing closed, another window would opened. Although there was fuel shortage, we found another way. We couldn’t go anywhere but we got to enjoyed ourselves in Kathmandu because we stayed with the American family which was so great. Although food was hard for us in India, it made us realize how Chinese food is amazing, best food in the world. Although in Mongolia it was the hardest leg, it was a good start because we learned how to live in cold weather and to work very hard.”
Joani also agreed with Nathan, “On the bus to Pokhara, when it rained really hard, I thought my ukulele was dead because it was on top of the bus. I prayed to God asking him to keep it dry, hoping that it is buried beneath other bags on top. Then it ended up it was inside the bus. That was amazing because dad didn’t do anything. The bus driver just threw the bags wherever he wanted. Mine was the lucky one that ended up inside the bus! God also did many others things such as the sunglasses, ear rings, Kerry’s phone, and so on.”
Joani continued, “I am also thankful for electronics. Imagine a year without electronics and with just four people…my friends will think I am dead! It will make me go crazy!”
“Also this trip made me realize that dad puts in a lot of effort into planning. During the rafting trip, people kept asking me questions like how did you find this, how did you do that. All I can say was, ‘I don’t know. You can ask my dad. He did everything. I just follow him.'” Joani shared.
“Dad is like thinking, ‘Thank goodness this is being recorded’,” Olivia joked.
It was Olivia’s turn to share, “I am thankful for this trip. Truthfully, I was not 100% committed for doing this trip. Of course it is the sensible thing to do: last chance with your family and seeing 100 countries for free. But if I really wanted, I had a choice not to join. After four months, now it is good to know that this was exactly where I should be. I am really thankful to be here. I learned so much. I am completely immersed in two things that I might like to do in the future: education (tutoring Joani and Nathan) and hospitality (volunteering and living in hostels). I also learned how to live with just four people, like an experiment!”
As I listened to their thanksgivings, I couldn’t help but to give praise to God. They shared from their heart. They also all experienced God’s goodness in these four months and gave God the credit. Even though we are living in a ‘cave’ like an experiment, the children are still willing to work hard to make it work, to see the positives, and to treasure the time we have together.
Olivia ended her sharing with the perfect conclusion, “So it is really cool and honoring to be a part of such an experiment!”
I wonder what we will share at the end of the one year experiment?