The Great Gnome Nabbing Continues…. Beijing and Mumbai

It’s difficult to express, or even to process for that matter, the impact of an experience like this on my life.  I’ve been gone for just over two weeks, but in the course of that time, my life and perspectives have already deeply changed.  It’s a process that I know will continue and deepen long after I return home.

Watching the sun come over the horizon at the Gateway of India

Watching the sun come over the horizon at the Gateway of India

We’re leaving for the airport in just a few hours to fly from Mumbai to our next destination.  Mumbai and Beijing were both such rich, memorable parts of this journey.

Climbing the Great Wall of China (in negative 30 degree F with the wind-chill conditions, nonetheless) is a moment in time where life stands still.  It is an overwhelming to be in such a majestic place, fully realizing that I may never get back there in my lifetime.  I did my best to soak it up and take it all in.

The magnificent Great Wall

The magnificent Great Wall

Majestic, and very cold:

So windy that I wanted to put you right there with us- the wind nearly picked me up and blew me off towards the top!

We went to one of China’s most prominent Kung Fu schools, where the kids actually come to live and train.

It was such a rich experience to speak with a few of the girls, one of whom introduced herself as Ann and who spoke English proficiently.

Jeanne and I speaking with these 2 precious girls at Kung Fu school.  Meaningful interactions like this change the world by widening perspectives and narrowing biases.

Jeanne and I speaking with these 2 precious girls at Kung Fu school. Meaningful interactions like this change the world by widening perspectives and narrowing biases.

Jeanne and I got to ask Ann and another young girl who spoke no English about their dreams and hopes and what they aspired to do in their lives.  We had told them about this trip around the world and how we earned it, and they just giggled with delight at the thought of something like that.  When Ann asked her friend and translated her answer back to us, the little 10 year old girl had said, “I dream of being free.”  Ann said she was meaning free to travel and to do the kinds of things that we’re doing.  Her answer made me catch my breath.  I’ve always felt completely free living in America, where we can do or be anything or anyone we want to be.  I have a new appreciation of freedom after having been to China.

Guards at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing

Guards at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing

China is a beautiful country, but I felt an oppressive kind of feeling there.  The overall feel was polite, but not warm.  Most people we met had never thought of leaving China to go somewhere else– partly because that may not be an option, but my guess is also because it’s not even something they’ve been opened up to thinking about.  It was my first time in a Communist country, and I did find the overall sense felt different.

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In Tienanmen Square

We then set off to India- I have traveled quite a bit, but I have never experienced three different cultures back-to-back like this with visiting Rome, Beijing and Mumbai in such a short period of time.  It makes their differences seem more exaggerated:  the foods, the languages, the transportation methods, the attitudes and mentalities of the people, the levels of hospitality, the service at restaurants…. are all truly words apart.

Just a taste of life and traffic in Mumbai:

I was in India for a month nearly 4 years ago.  It was a month after I had ended my marriage, and it was a pilgrimage of love and self-discovery that molded me in some substantial ways.  I left India in 2009 a different person than who I was when I entered it.  Because the experience was so meaningful, coming to India on this trip was very rich for me.  There was such a level of comfort amidst the horns, the millions of people, the pollution and the chaos.

The sobering view of the slums in Mumbai while on the train:

Life is raw here.  I don’t believe another place exists with such dramatic extremes.  From the division of classes and the extreme levels of poverty, to the smells, the sounds and the visual stimulation of a million things happening at once, it is a bit overwhelming to the senses, but I love it.  There is a truth and a beauty found in a place and a culture that is so vibrant and open.

A Fish Market in Mumbai:

Travelocity has a program called Travel for Good that focuses on taking travel to another level of significance.  Travel changes people; it opens us up to new ways of life and perspectives.  We had the honor of getting to spend the day with Indian people from a few villages about 2-3 hours outside of Mumbai, where a program has been started to teach women different skills so that they can become self-supporting and have a better life– sewing, computer skills and cosmetology, amongst other things.

We drove up to the village and everyone was dressed in their finest attire, the jewel-toned saris and gold jewelry sparkling in the sunlight and the sounds of drums and singing awaiting us.  We got off the bus and they adorned us with flowers and gifts before taking us inside for a beautiful welcome ceremony.

The children sang and danced and they called Jeanne and I up to dance with them- as we learned their village dances, laughter and cheering erupted in the crowd of around 200 people who were there.  It was an unbelievably special moment.

We really aren’t all that separate.  When verbal communication isn’t possible, we are united through facial expressions and smiles, music, dancing and the vitality of the human spirit.  I couldn’t communicate with the majority of those people, but from our exchange together, I believe we both knew that we are really all a part of the same family.

Jeanne and I with some of these precious girls that we had the honor of dancing with.

Jeanne and I with some of these precious girls that we had the honor of dancing with.

There are only 2 destinations and 9 days of this trip left.  We have done and seen so much that it feels like we’ve been gone for months.  I’m focusing on the beauty and fullness of each day and not on the end of this trip, as it’s all a wonderful part of my life journey.  My life vision has budded like a morning glory in the sunshine–this is just the beginning.

Carpe Diem.

**See Travelocity’s beautiful videos from both of these experiences– they sent a 4 person production crew with us all over the world to capture these beautiful moments:

Beijing:

Mumbai:

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One Response to The Great Gnome Nabbing Continues…. Beijing and Mumbai

  1. libs012 says:

    Gosh, Ashley. I just caught up on all this. What an amazing experience. Can’t believe how cold the walk on the wall must have been. So happy and proud of you. Can’t wait to hear about all of it when you’re back. Keep enjoying the life. You’re an inspiration. Cheers and Love

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