Throughout our lives, we’ve heard of the ancient pyramids and the sphinx of Egypt. But I couldn’t believe it was the real thing when I saw it. They were all massive, each block alone weighing more than two tons! And for what– the immortalization of a pharoah. Indeed, there seems to be a pattern in history, spanning from the Taj Mahal to the Great Pyramids: there is always the tendency to create great things for individual, important people and the powerful motive that is faith. These ancient people had so much faith in there being an afterlife for their mummified pharoah, and were convinced of his godliness regardless of cruelity or any other imperfect human characteristics he had shown them. In one sense, the sight of these ancient structures is miraculous, in another it is utterly disturbing. Yet seeing it in yet a different light, it is maybe not living proof, but it’s surely immortalized proof, of mankind’s potential for a faith that is strong a pure. This of course is a danger in a sense of blind faith, but it is also reassuring that we have the capacity of taking the leap, despite opposing forces.
Whatever you take from this, seeing these ancient structures was amazing.
We went to Niger, taking a flight from the capital of Niamey to a smaller city called Zinder. In fact, this had been the one country that we’d been slightly worried about going to, because there are many warnings on the internet that say how extremely dangerous it is. But we heard that the danger is mainly in the north, and so we went regardless.
What we found there was a fantastic surprise: a new family. We had come to Zinder to meet with one of my dad’s partners. But this man is not just any local of Niger; him and his family happen to be the only caucasian residents in the entire city, and may well be an extreme minority within the country as a whole. Their purpose there is an extremely important one: to be able to utilize native plants for food products that would’ve otherwise been replaced by foreign food stuffs. In this way, not only do native plants get protection, but less trees are cut down and the local people are given jobs to do in their own community. My dad’s technology comes in as a means of debittering these native Hanza seeds. Although they have other methods as well, this local family values the environment as much as my family does, and therefore tries their best to achieve environmentally sustainable methods.
But that’s all the technical stuff, and the reason why we came. But what we experienced when we got there was much more special. My dad’s partner had three beautiful blonde girls, one of which is only two and has a total attitude towards anyone who’s not her mother (I still love her though), and the other two of which became two of my closest friends within the span of only two and a half days. The authenticity of their entire family is so precious and so hard to come by in this age of materialism and short attention spans, that the connection between our two families became apparent instantly. And now I have to take back with me some wonderful memories that I will never forget, and two new great friends leading very different lives than my own.
The country of Burkina Faso is where the majority of our Blazing Tube projects are distributed. They’ve been sold at subsidized prices to many families in the city, as well as to UN refugee camps in the country. We got to go out in the field, well, actually to the bush (pronounced boosh in Africa), experiencing the immensely bumpy roads and the beating sun. In fact I almost fainted in one of the villages. It’s certainly not something I’m proud of, but being out in the sun so long must’ve really affected me without my being conscious of it.
Regardless, Burkina Faso is the African country I’m most familiar with, and it’s so nice to meet the people that are using the solar cookers and give out candy to the little children peeking at us full of curiousity. We even met a man from Brussels who spends much of his time in the country, helping out at a school for very poor children and feeding them with the help of our solar cookers. His perserverance to help people, even at the expense of his own comfort, really inspired us to do more with our efforts.
Yes, we saw the Taj Mahal…the Taj Mahal. I know, it’s only one of the most iconic historic mausoleums in the world, made completely of white marble. It was pretty intense, with walls of white marble encrusted with semi-precious stones like jasper, agate, and malachite, as well as coral and mother of pearl. Just one stone inlaid flower about an inch and a half in diameter consisted of sixty four individual pieces of stone. All as a symbol of love. Beautiful.
But terrible. It had taken about twenty years to build, with more than a thousand elephants required to bring up the giant marble slabs needed for its creation. Yes, the grand building had been built for the rememberence of great love, and has since become a symbol of this as well as the history of Indian culture. But to think of where it came from, how a man so greedy to have spent fortunes on this dream’s manifestation had to be thrown into a sort of prison by his own son in order to be prevented from building yet another on the other side of the river. History is beautiful but crazy. And so was the creation of this great monument. Nonetheless, it was a great site to see, if only to take in both its breathtaking beauty as well as to remind ourselves of the two sided nature of all of history’s greatest architectural achievements.
There’s no experience quite like journeying to the Bangladeshi countryside and meeting face-to-face with the village people. Although there was a major language barrier between us all, in this instance the face said it all. Everywhere we turned there were curious faces peeping out between the palm frongs and tall grasses. I’m sure they’d never before seen any facial features other than those of the familiar Bengal face. But there we were, my strange family trio consisting of a white haired white man, a Chinese woman, and me, the strange in-between specimen. Like before, a crowd of people followed us wherever we went, trying to catch a glimps of our alien faces, and exchange smiles. And there were many smiles; genuine, thankful ones that spoke of joy regardless of poverty. The women hid their faces and laughed when we pointed our cameras at them, the children ran by us giggling, sometimes chasing wild dogs. Visiting these people, and seeing them retrieve water from the very rain-catchment systems we’d provided them, really gave our abstract philanthropic organizational some solidity, some more authenticity. I had always wanted to support those in need, but such an experience as this one was a wonderful reminder of what we take for granted in the developed world, what many are deprived of, and most of all brought inspiration and passion back into our project. The Bengal people had thanked us for their drinking water; now I thank them for bringing meaning into my life.
Sorry, this post is a bit late considering that we’ve passed through four countries within the last two weeks. We left Taiwan on July 15th, and when we landed in Hong Kong we had gone to the visa office to get visas on arrival for China. We decided to do this at the airport instead of getting our visas back in the US because we did our research and had been reassured that they were available on arrival. But two things happened. First of all, I was not allowed to get a visa, since only two months ago a new law had gone into effect that stated that all passports issued after 2015 must get their China visa from the US. And if this wasn’t bad enough, my mom was also refused for an even worse reason: because she was born in Taiwan. Yes ladies and gentlemen, in the year of 2017, a modern era that supposedly values freedom and condemns descrimination, my mom was refused a China visa due to her origins at birth from an opponent country. Not to mention that she’s now a US citizen. So long story short, we had two extra days in Hong Kong that we did not expect. It’s been an exciting adventure so far, I would say. Lets see how the rest goes.
As our very first stop to our long journey around the world, I’ve made it to my home away from home: Taiwan. Being the hapa haole that I am– for those who don’t know what that means, it’s a name for someone half white and something else; in this case, Chinese– I come from two very different families. They’re literally from opposite sides of the planet. Which makes it hard to stay connected with all of them. Of course, I have my family on Oahu, and those that visit from the mainland now and then. But the deep connection I feel to my family in Taiwan hardly gets to be strengthened due to the immense distance of ocean that lies between us. But here I am, in my home away from home. And as with every time I return to this wonderful place, I can feel the very air charged with the sentimental energy of all the visits before.
It’s hard to explain the strangely deep feeling I have every time I’m here. It’s a feeling of love and contentment that has grown over the past seventeen years of aquaintance, but it’s more deep than this; for I have to mention that I still barely know any Mandarin, and because of that I am surrounded day and night by words spoken in a foreign tongue. My dad used to complain all the time about being stuck in one of these family gatherings where, for all he knew, they were insulting him for the entire dinner in another language. But for some reason, I revel in this strange experience. It’s just such a comfort to be surrounded by my family and hear them talking together, regardless of whether or not I can understand them. But most strange yet precious of all is my bond with my two favorite cousins. I’ve known them all my life; we used to play with toy guns and cars together all over the house when we were little, the very same house I sit in now as it continues to echo the sounds of laughter from another time. Now, even though their English and my Chinese have both improved a bit (I’ll admit, I’m still the worst at this bilingual thing) there’s still a huge language barrier between us. But, just as we were able to enjoy each other without words in our childhoods, we are now more close than ever even though between us lie boundaries of language, miles, and years. It’s such a relief to know that such a family connection can endure regardless of all those conditions, and it’s so great that I have the chance to visit these people I love so much on the island I feel so connected to. I’m sorry for rambling but it’s true; I love this place and these people so much. In fact, that’s why I insisted that we come to Taiwan as our first stop instead of our last; so that I wouldn’t get to sad when we left.
I’m signing off from my home in Taiwan. Zaijian!
It’s all been happening as if through a filter; an image, perception-altering lens that enhances everything within its frame. And as each vibrant snapshot tumbles into the abyss of memory, so does a new image appear, these frames being compiled to create the very identity of those who witness them. I must admit that times are changing; not just in the generational sense of the word but in the mere sense of years, months, even minutes. High school has come and gone, and a summer of these very snapshots have passed with surprising intensity and speed. I had sought to recreate old times for posterity’s sake, but instead have experienced moments that have become precious in themselves, and because of that they’ve become that much more reluctantly filed away as new memories in the grand stack that is my life.
I’ve realized over the years that as these snapshots fade, their value seems to multiply as that of an antique. It seems that once the foundation of memories is set, it will always be there in us no matter how nonexistent in the present. Yet the present is all we’ve got; constantly shifting, moving pictures that begin fading by the millisecond. These ever transforming scenes may consist of laughter and tears, mere minutes and years. Bleh, I know this is cheesy. But when you are on the border between childhood and adulthood, and when you are freaking out about the prospect of getting past the very checkpoint that divides the two, there is no preventing those feelings of sentimentality and reminiscence. Before this summer even started, I had felt the impending loss of many friends that were soon moving on to bigger and better things, as well as my own daunting future ahead. But, as the date of my trip around the world creeps around the corner, a bright beacon in my very near future, I cannot help to try to grasp those fleeting shadows of very fresh memories that have collected over the past month. I’ve seen the island of Oahu spread out beneath me as I stood on the Ko’olaus, first-handedly shot a billiard ball straight to its target (not quite as often as hoped, I must admit), even endured a badly bruised arm from a not-so-stealthy jump off the rock at Waimea bay. But none of these great experiences would have meant much without the great connections I made and strengthened while doing them. Life’s too short to live without some company, and I feel closer now than ever to those who are on the brink of leaving me for good. But all I can say is that it was worth it. No matter what happens next, I must keep experiencing these moment-enhanced snapshots of the present, and make my collection of memory as vibrant as can be.
It’s 4:00 in the morning. The harsh sound of alarm bells send painful reverberations to my eardrums. Why am I doing this again? I ask myself. But them I’m up, and facing the day.
Koko Head. They just happened to decide not only go on the one hike I vowed to never again do– mainly because of a previous incident of near-fainting under a blazing sun– but to do it at sunrise on the longest day of the year…in other words, the earliest morning of the year. Horrible. Just horrible. All we had to look forward to were heaving lungs and the not-exactly-trusty footing that results from lack of sleep. Perfect hiking situation, yes?
Well, it went as planned. We did get up at the appalling hour of 4:00 AM, we did feel the pressure of our desperately contracting lungs in their attempt to counteract our exertion with a fresh supply of sweet oxygen. We let many people pass, feeling less and less in shape with every passing group, and as the sky began to glow a deep blue, then a pale one, we thought it was certain we wouldn’t make it for the sunrise. 5:51 it had said on the internet. We wouldn’t make it by then.
We decided to take one more desperate break on the steep steps of the constantly ascending tracks, when I saw the opening in the brush. We were about ten steps away from the top. We were going to make it! I ran the last few steps up and rushed to the nearest rock ledge. It was 5:49. We made it just in time as a golden speck peaked out behind a cloud that hugged the horizon. Flecks of gold began to appear as the cloud moved on, and as the golden orb moved upwards, until it was blazing through the darkness and lighting up the sky. God, had this hike been hard. But at that moment, with the wind cooling the sweat from off my neck, and the sun’s rays blinding me, it was completely worth it. From where we sat, the whole world was spread out before us, all small and seemingly insignificant in individual manifestations but displaying one great sheet of existence, each part of which glowed now in unison with the next. Had I really complained about waking up early this morning? Had my lungs and legs been made useless with fatigue? Because I wasn’t feeling any of that. I was feasting my eyes on the rising sun, and it flooded my senses and became seared into memory.
I had a writing assignment for my AP English class this past year that really sparked my interest and proved to me just how much of an English nerd I am. We were to write an entire story with only 55 words. Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Here’s a few that I came up with.
“Why don’t your parents approve of me?”
“I don’t know; since we’ve met, they’ve just looked at me like I’m crazy or something.”
“They don’t understand that what we have is special.”
“They’re jealous they’ve never felt this way before.”
“She started hearing voices five months ago.”
“Don’t worry; she’ll be in good hands.”
April and May left with chaos in their wakes. I had hoped that they’d bring about some kind of change in my life, some sort of self-transforming experience that would make me see the world differently. But alas, my life sustained its meaningless monotony.
Until June came. I married her and lived happily ever after.