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2011 June — The Meaningful Traveler

June 2011

The difficulty of wonder

by Steve Brock on June 28, 2011

A week ago last Friday, I went hiking with my son, Sumner. We took off after work to a popular hiking/mountain biking area, Tiger Mountain, not far from our home. And no, there are – to my knowledge – no tigers there.

The day was gorgeous, the trail near empty, and the lushness of the vegetation extraordinary. We commented on the “zones” we went through from dark, almost ominous forest to bright meadows to areas where mossy trees bent over the trail forming a cathedral of dappled light.

I periodically stopped to photograph some small detail that stood out: the gentle curve of a newly emerging fern, the smooth stone of a stream bed, the expanse of wildflowers just beginning their journey to full expression of brilliant summer color.

We spoke of God and the mysteries of such places, of the joy of being there at that particular time of day, of the transition from school to summer, of friendships passing as students graduate, of memories of past summers and the hope for future ones.

We appreciated this day, this hour, our time here together and the fact that it is so close to home. We missed little in our examination of the beauty that surrounded us except for one thing.


I had just spent that morning talking about wonder during my presentation on The Power of Place. Sumner and I discussed it on the drive to the trailhead. We even hinted at the subject as we hiked through a grove of trees with mysterious white stripes painted on their sides. And yet, amidst all the factors that should have triggered a response of awe and wonder, none came.

Surprise? Curiosity? Thankfulness? Attention to details I’d otherwise walk right past? Yes. But not wonder.


Wonder does not come easy to most of us over the age of ten. We spend our lives explaining things, solving the unknowns and attempting to bring order to the chaos in our lives. We have adult answers even to those things we don’t truly understand. We don’t make room in our lives for wonder because as adults we don’t feel we need it in our day-to-day struggles to just get by.

Sometimes, however, wonder sneaks up on us. It can even overwhelm us to where we have no choice but to pay attention. More often, however, we must pursue it with intentionality if we are to find it.

Wonder is neither easy to find nor easy to grasp. It wouldn’t be wonder if it was. Wonder is our response to something so new and marvelous that it shakes us and draws our full attention as we realize we’re in the presence of something we’ve likely never seen before, at least in that time, place or in that way.

Somehow in all the beauty of this day, I’d missed the deeper wonder. The funny thing about wonder is that we rarely miss that we’ve missed it. It was a great time of living in the moment and enjoying a good conversation, the simple warmth of the sun, the green coolness of a leafy canopy, the minty smell of fresh cut logs or the gentle cacophony of numerous small waterfalls.

Only later did I realize that seeing the day through the eyes of wonder might have made a good day even better. At first the thought made me sad, a tinge of regret invading a happy memory. Then I realized something else, a wonder of a different sort.

In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. I may have missed the opportunity to see the wonder behind the beauty at the time. Yet as is common to most good trips, reflection after the event affords me a second chance.

I may not have perceived wonder in the moment but I can now realize this:

It was there all along.

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Strange buildings around the world

by Steve Brock on June 22, 2011

Even with all the construction cranes, you get a sense that this isn't your ordinary church....

In light of my recent talk on The Power of Place, I was intrigued when my friend Pam forwarded me an email of some of some of the strangest buildings in the world. You can check out the full list (there are actually three parts to view) at http://villageofjoy.com/50-strange-buildings-of-the-world/ but you can see several of them below taken from this site’s top 50 list (I just selected some random ones I liked so the numbering below won’t necessarily be sequential).

The question for me is this: When does strange become meaningful? When does something move from a mere curiosity to something that provides meaning or significance to your trip or your life? I think it all comes down to context.

Something about the light and configuration of stone and glass made the interior of La Sacrada Familia magical...

I recall visiting La Sacrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. At first view, the building looked like a church created by sand drippings on the beach. But when I stepped inside, even though it is still under construction (and will be for years and years to come), something about the combination of light and stone, despite all the people around me, made this a sacred space, a meaningful moment.

How about for you? Ever come across a place that on the surface seemed downright bizarre but after you were there you realized that it touched you in a special way?

Sometimes we travel just to see the curious. That’s great. The buildings below definitely grab your attention and often that is enough. But when you find that the story of that place and your own intersect, it makes for more than just an interesting photo.

Enjoy some very strange buildings…


1. The Crooked House (Sopot, Poland)

Construction of the building started in in January 2003 and in December 2003 it was finished. House architecture is based on Jan Marcin Szancer (famous Polish artist and child books illustrator) and Per Dahlberg (Swedish painter living in Sopot) pictures and paintings.

The Crooked HouseImage via: brocha

2. Forest Spiral – Hundertwasser Building (Darmstadt, Germany)

The Hundertwasser house “Waldspirale” (”Forest Spiral”) was built in Darmstadt between 1998 and 2000. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the famous Austrian architect and painter, is widely renowned for his revolutionary, colourful architectural designs which incorporate irregular, organic forms, e.g. onion-shaped domes.

The structure with 105 apartments wraps around a landscaped courtyard with a running stream. Up in the turret at the southeast corner, there is a restaurant, including a cocktail bar.

Forest Spiral - Hundertwasser Building (Darmstadt, Germany)Image via: Kikos Dad

4. Ferdinand Cheval Palace a.k.a Ideal Palace (France)

Ferdinand Cheval Palace a.k.a Ideal Palace (France)Image via: Mélisande* 

  5. The Basket Building (Ohio, United States)

The Longaberger Basket Company building in Newark, Ohio might just be a strangest office building in the world. The 180,000-square-foot building, a replica of the company’s famous market basket, cost $30 million and took two years to complete. Many experts tried to persuade Dave Longaberger to alter his plans, but he wanted an exact replica of the real thing.

The Basket Building (Ohio, United States)Image via: addicted Eyes

6. Kansas City Public Library (Missouri, United States)

This project, located in the heart of Kansas City, represents one of the pioneer projects behind the revitalization of downtown.

The people of Kansas City were asked to help pick highly influential books that represent Kansas City. Those titles were included as ‘bookbindings’ in the innovative design of the parking garage exterior, to inspire people to utilize the downtown Central Library.

Kansas City Public Library (Missouri, United States)Image via: jonathan_moreau

8. Habitat 67 (Montreal, Canada)

Expo 67, one of the world’s largest universal expositions was held in Montreal. Housing was one of the main themes of Expo 67.

The cube is the base, the mean and the finality of Habitat 67. In its material  sense, the cube is a symbol of stability. As for its mystic meaning, the cube is symbol of wisdom, truth, moral perfection, at the origin itself of our civilization.

354 cubes of a magnificent grey-beige build up one on the other to form 146 residences nestled between sky and earth, between city and river, between greenery and light.

Habitat 67 (Montreal, Canada)Image via: ken ratcliff

9. Cubic Houses (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

The original idea of these cubic houses came about in the 1970s. Piet Blom has developed a couple of these cubic houses that were built in Helmond.

The city of Rotterdam asked him to design housing on top of a pedestrian bridge and he decided to use the cubic houses idea. The concept behind these houses is that he tries to create a forest by each cube representing an abstract tree; therefore the whole village becomes a forest.

Cubic Houses (Rotterdam, Netherlands)Image via: vpzone 


12. Dancing Building (Prague, Czech Republic)

Dancing Building (Prague, Czech Republic)Image via: jemil75

15. Manchester Civil Justice Centre (Manchester, UK)

Manchester Civil Justice Centre (Manchester, UK)Image via: tj.blackwell 


16. Nakagin Capsule Tower (Tokyo, Japan)

Nakagin Capsule Tower (Tokyo, Japan)Image via: pict_u_re

17. Mind House (Barcelona, Spain)

Mind House (Barcelona, Spain)Image via: angelocesare 


18. Stone House (Guimarães, Portugal)

Stone House (Guimarães, Portugal)image via: Jsome1

19. Shoe House (Pennsylvania, United States)

Shoe House (Pennsylvania, United States)Image via: James Gordon

27. Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain)

Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain)Image via: disgustipado 


28. Bahá’í House of Worship a.k.a Lotus Temple (Delhi, India)

Bahá'í House of Worship a.k.a Lotus Temple (Delhi, India)Image via: MACSURAK 

29. Container City (London, UK)

Container City (London, UK)Image via: y Fin Fahey 

30. Erwin Wurm: House Attack (Viena, Austria)

Erwin Wurm: House Attack (Viena, Austria)Image via: Dom Dada

31. Wooden Gagster House (Archangelsk, Russia)

Wooden Gagster House (Archangelsk, Russia)Image via: deputy-dog.com

22. The Hole House (Texas, United States)  The Hole House (Texas, United States) 

 Image via: melinnis


25. Grand Lisboa (Macao)

Grand Lisboa (Macao)Image via: Michael McDonough 

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The missing joke

by Steve Brock on June 16, 2011

Now if only he was raising his front foot, it would be far funnier...

For those of you who attended my presentation on The Power of Place at Kiros, I mentioned that I left a joke out of the talk.

The joke was to illustrate the point that while we’re on our trip is usually not the best time to complete creative projects. Instead, travel is where we gather the sparks of ideas, the raw material that we collect for later synthesis and application. You can read more about this notion here.

I thought I’d lighten up an otherwise fairly serious presentation with the following joke. But when I did a run-through for timing purposes at home before my wife, she informed me that:

  1. She’d already heard the joke. From her mom. Who doesn’t tell jokes. So that alone should clue me in about the possible quality of it.
  2. She saw minimal connection between the joke and the message.
  3. If I had any desire to preserve even a trace of dignity and self-respect, I might be wise to leave it out. She can be quite incisive and diplomatic at the same time, my wife.

You judge for yourself:

“A man was driving along the highway, and saw a rabbit hopping across the middle of the road. He swerved to avoid hitting the rabbit, but unfortunately the rabbit jumped in front of the car and was hit. The driver, being a sensitive man as well as an animal lover, pulled over to the side of the road and got out to see what had become of the rabbit. Much to his dismay, the rabbit was dead. The driver felt so awful he began to cry.

A woman driving down the highway saw the man crying on the side of the road and pulled over. She stepped out of her car and asked the man what was wrong.

“I feel terrible,” he explained. “I accidentally hit this rabbit and killed it.”

The woman told the man not to worry. She knew what to do. She went to her car trunk and pulled out a spray can. She walked over to the limp, dead rabbit, and sprayed the contents of the can onto the rabbit. Miraculously, the rabbit came to life, jumped up, waved its paw at the two humans and hopped down the road. 50 feet away the rabbit stopped, turned around, waved at the two again, hopped down the road another 50 feet, turned, waved, and hopped another 50 feet. The man was astonished. He couldn’t figure out what substance could be in the woman’s spray can! He ran over to the woman and demanded, “What was in your spray can? What did you spray onto that rabbit?” The woman turned the can around so that the man could read the label. It said:

’Hare Spray. Restores Life to Dead Hare. Adds Permanent Wave.’”

             (Source: http://www.ahajokes.com/tra04.html )

Huh? What do you think? I was going to conclude that this guy went home with plenty of ideas for new product innovations.

Should I have left it in?

In reality, it doesn’t really matter. Here’s why.

I’ve been thinking about this joke. What sets it apart from being pure “pun-ishment” are the final three words. So I’ve considered going out, buying a lucky rabbit’s foot and bringing it home. I would then wait for a quiet moment with my wife, raise the rabbit’s foot, and then give it a little wave, sort of like William and Kate’s at the Royal Wedding and say rather sheepishly, “…Adds Permanent Wave.”

At that point, my wife would probably do one of the following: 

  • There’s a 7% likelihood she would shake her head in sadness and walk away, dropping the subject.
  • There’s a 14% likelihood she would ask incredulously where and why I have a rabbit’s foot and completely miss the connection to the joke.
  • There’s a 9% likelihood she would just change subject and tell me to go take out the trash or go re-landscape the entire backyard.
  • There’s a 70% likelihood she would pause, stare at me for about three seconds, then laugh and walk over and give me a hug and mention how goofy I am and we would both know why we married each other.

This is a perfect example of the Power of Place: I had to give a presentation in another city not far from home in order for me to realize the amazing value of what I have at home.

Every day.

Even on bad hare days.

Maybe my wife was right.

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Meaningful travel and the value of lowly places

by Steve Brock June 13, 2011

Restrooms and bathrooms can be surprising locations for meaningful travel, but they serve well to facilitate relationships and foster creativity. Seriously…

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Meaningful travel & transactional relationships – Part 3

by Steve Brock June 8, 2011

The most meaningful aspect of transactional relationships is sometimes the transaction itself as we discovered by accident when buying a unique musical instrument in Peru.

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Meaningful travel & transactional relationships – Part 2

by Steve Brock June 3, 2011

Engaging at a deeper level the people who provide you services on a trip can help you see both their world and your own in a very different way.

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