31 January 2010

Alone in Beijing

Nothing gets the blood flowing like a taxi ride through a rural western district of Beijing on a dark, frigid night. My driver fails to catch the outer reaches of the glow cast by his blood red Hyundai Sonata's headlights ... but I suppose he can't be faulted for not trying.

A weekend that began welcoming a friend back to the city on Friday gave way to farewells to others on Saturday. The rotating door of Shanghai is always in motion.

Now I find myself alone in Beijing on Sunday. Taxis and airports. Room keys and business cards.

The city that flashes by the windows of my taxi is both mysterious and exciting. Lyrics from Andrew Bird's concert on Friday float through my mind...

being alone it can be quite romantic
like jacques cousteau underneath the atlantic
a fantastic voyage to parts unknown
going to depths where the sun’s never shone
and i fascinate myself when i’m alone

I stare ahead through the windshield and silently cheer on the driver. Maybe we can outrun the headlights!

23 January 2010


Martin was a judge. Jacob was a doctor. Abigail was the mother of 16 kids and Homer worked on the railroad.

No, this isn't the cast the newest reality TV show. Its my family.

I have chipped away at my family tree over the years, collecting bits and pieces online and filling in the gaps with stories from Grandma. I have never met these people, but their lives fascinate me. Every puzzle piece I put in place brings more questions...

What kind of leader was Colonel Strong on the Revolutionary War battlefield?

How hard was the decision to leave Germany in the mid-nineteenth century?

What went through their minds the first time they caught sight of America?

I get a laugh out of some of the names that fill the tree.






There is even a branch of the tree with names like "Freedom" and "Preserved". Were they seventeenth century patriots or merely hippies of that day? I have no doubt that my ancestors will share a laugh at my expense a couple hundred years down the road ("Trent and Harmony? Who WERE those people??")

Looking back this far into my family's past makes me realize how incredibly unlikely it is that each of us come to exist. For instance, what if Colonel Strong had not made it off that battlefield?

My eight-times-great grandfather John Strong set sail from Plymouth, England for America in 1630 with his wife and two sons. At some point during the two month crossing his wife and one son passed away, leaving him and his remaining son to establish themselves in the New Land on their own. He eventually remarried and went on to have 16 children with his new wife.

Had his first wife not passed on that trip across the Atlantic, the family tree would have grown in a completely different direction. And I certainly wouldn't be here in Shanghai typing this on my laptop. Is it wrong for me to admit that I am grateful for that tragic turn of events?

I think Bill Bryson puts it best:

Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely- make that miraculously- fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, everyone of your forbears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from it's life quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result - evetually, astoundingly, and all to briefly- in you.

21 January 2010

“A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.”

~ English Proverb