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small moments — The Meaningful Traveler

small moments

Traveling small

by Steve Brock on November 30, 2012

In thinking about the reasons why we travel, it strikes me how different our reasons for travel are today versus in the past. We travel mostly for work or for pleasure these days. As a result, our scope of thinking about travel has narrowed. The noble quest that consumed months or years of one’s life has become more of a vagabond’s wanderings. The pilgrimage that cost us more than just the extended time of being on the road has been reduced to a one to two week missions trip or volunteer vacation.

So just as I was thinking that we’ve lost the “bigness” of travel, the epic or heroic nature of it, I came across this short blog post on Spain-based photographer Alejandro Ferrer Ruiz’s exquisite macro (close-up) photography. In this case, it’s a visual essay on ladybugs in the rain.

These beautiful images remind me, once again, that beauty and wonder and discovery are all about us. We don’t always have to go far or even go “big.” Sometimes much of what we travel for lies in the small revelations that are ours to experience if we have but eyes (or in this case, the photographic lens!) to see them.

I don’t want to give up on the big quests. I think we need such journeys to pull us out of ourselves and become more than we are currently. But those big trips tend to be few and far between. In the meantime, we can learn to see – and appreciate – the small journeys available right where we live.

You can view more of Alejandro’s close-up work here: http://500px.com/Aleandro

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It's a small world after all – Part 1

by Steve Brock on November 15, 2011

We know it's a small world (after all), but just how small?

You know you want to sing it. You’re already humming it in your head…

Anyone who’s ever been to Disneyland or dipped a toe in popular culture knows the initially-charming-yet-ultimately-irritating-but-impossible-to-forget tune from that happiest of overly-happy Disney attractions, It’s a Small World.

I loved the ride as a child. Only later did it begin to make my eye twitch. Yet now, I can approach it as a theme, one that weaves its way through many of our trips and in fact, our lives.

Let me give you an example.

While studying Mandarin Chinese in Taipei, Taiwan during the summer semester of grad school, my friend Bruce and I decided to visit central Taiwan one weekend. His teacher’s parents lived in Taizhong, the first stop on our trip, so we agreed to look them up and meet them.

We quickly found that as in many cultures, you don’t just say hi and leave.

Upon arrival at their house, the parents quickly invited us not just for dinner, but to stay the evening. The teacher’s elderly father was one of those people who display that stately kind of presence where we practically expected him to say something like, “Well my young Paduans (or Grasshoppers), sit here and I will reveal to you the wisdom of my years.”

Instead, since our conversation was all in Chinese and we had no clue as to what the word for “grasshopper” was in Chinese, much less anything from the Star Wars lexicon, we hunted for topics within our range of vocabulary.

We worked through the usual Q&A routine: How long have you been in Taiwan? How long have you been studying Chinese? My, isn’t your Chinese good (which is a polite way of saying, “We’re amazed any of you Westerners can even mumble a word or two of our civilized language”).

At some point, we broached the topic of travel. The father told us that he once visited America, way back during WWII. He went there to train as a fighter pilot against the Japanese. Then, as he explained this in Chinese, he off-handedly threw out what we thought was an English word: “Dundabud.”

“Dundabud?” we asked.

“Dundabud,” he repeated. He told us that was the name of the airbase where he trained. Out in the desert. In a state called Arizona.

“Do you mean Thunderbird?” Bruce asked, dumbfounded. “Yes. Dundabud” he responded with a look like, “I will be kind to you slow foreigners and repeat what I have already clearly told you.”

Bruce and I grinned, looked at each other, looked at the old man, looked at each other, looked back at the old man, then began pelting our new friend with more questions than he could answer.

You see, the reason for our sudden giddy enthusiasm was because that same airbase would, after WWII, become a graduate school to train recent GI’s in how to navigate the opportunities in international business that exploded after the war. That graduate school would retain the airbase’s original name, Thunderbird, and expand it to become The Thunderbird School of Global Management.

All semi-interesting points of history except for one small detail: That was our school, the place we proudly point out to this day as being the top-rated learning institution of its kind in the whole world. That’s the grad school Bruce and I were attending back home, the place from which we left to come to Taiwan and the school to which we would eventually return.

None of the scholastic value of the place mattered at that point, however. Instead, the wonder of that evening was that we had met someone who just moments before was a virtual stranger. But now, through a common point of connection, he was someone with whom we shared an unlikely bond.

It may seem like a small thing to anyone who wasn’t there. Yet those small moments are often what make travel so meaningful. They remind us in powerful, surprising ways of this hummable truth:

It is a small world, after all.

To be continued…

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An ode to old shoes

by Steve Brock on July 11, 2011

Last time we looked at how being away from your ordinary life on a trip helps you better appreciate how extra-ordinary that so-called ordinary life actually is.

In the same vein of paying attention and being thankful for the familiar, let me focus today on something I rarely notice: my feet.

More precisely, my shoes.

I have this pair of summer walking shoes. If you look just at the upper parts, they appear much newer than they are. They go on in a flash, envelope each foot like nostalgia, cushion the toughest trails and cling to rocks like a “Yes Man” to every utterance of his boss.

These shoes, however, just about didn’t make it back this last trip. Alas, the elastic ties that make them so convenient are their undoing. Once the elastic frays and the fabric eyelets tear, you can only band-aid these puppies so much. I know. Just take a look at the picture (which unfortunately doesn’t reveal the sad state of the worn soles and heals).

They are only a few years old yet have more miles on them than a truck stop waitress. They have gone with me from the red rocks of Bryce Canyon to the red sand beaches of Prince Edward Island. But mostly, they have trod the familiar streets and sidewalks of my neighborhood and trekked the mountains and valleys that surround my home.

Shoes are stuff. They are a physical possession that we use. They won’t go with us to heaven. This pair won’t likely even make it to September.

Yet even as a thing, they have value. They have particular value today because I noticed them. I gave thanks for them. I appreciated the small things, the way God provides for our soles, as well as our souls.

You often hear people disclaim, “Oh, if only these walls could talk!” Agreed. But I think this old pair of walking shoes might have even more interesting tales to tell could they both walk and talk. These shoes could remind me of all I’ve seen. All the places I’ve visited. All the intimate conversations along a quiet trail or the boisterous laughter on a busy city sidewalk. All the life I’ve experienced in them.

They are just a pair of shoes. Inanimate. Ordinary.

Just a pair of shoes.

Goodbye old friends.

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The art – and meaning – of small conversations

by Steve Brock April 5, 2011

Small conversations with strangers can often add more meaning to a trip than you would think possible as we found out on our LA trip.

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Nothing is small

by Steve Brock March 22, 2011

Some of the most meaningful experiences on a trip occur in small moments…if we will only notice them and realize their source.

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God is in the details – Part 2

by Steve Brock October 11, 2010

Details add meaning to our trip because they often summarize or highlight a broader experience. But sometimes, they come to represent far more than what we saw. They also serve as reminders of what we felt and all the related associations and meaning of that moment.

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Small moments on tough trips

by Steve Brock August 18, 2010

Even on hard trips, we can find small moments that bring joy or at least a deep satisfaction. Sometimes they come out of our struggles and sometimes they make sense of those struggles…

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