Feeble Knees

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Idols R Us - Part II

Continued from Idols R Us - Part I.

Before I could linger too long in front of the shrine, the happy couple and their hostess ushered me through the kitchen and into the dining area where there was an impressive spread of heavenly smelling curries and foods. I grabbed a plate and breathed a silent sigh of relief. We all toasted the happy couple with plastic cupfuls of soda, then ate with gusto. The combination of food and polite conversation took the edge off my nerves.

Our hostess was a brilliant and passionate lady, a doctor and a professor at the local university. She was clearly overjoyed to play the part of family to the young soon-to-be-marrieds and took great care to see that all of us were well fed and enjoying ourselves. I liked her very much. She was warm, vibrant and engaging with dark sparkling eyes and a hearty laugh. When we had all stuffed ourselves full, she scooted us all back into the family room, whereupon she announced the ceremony would begin.

"Ceremony?" I stiffened.

For the benefit of us Americans, she explained matter-of-factly that they would now conduct a simple ceremony - I believe it was to formalize the betrothal and secure a blessing for the couple. I missed some of the pertinent details as my mind was spinning mad, half-formed, and desperate prayers for guidance, discernment, protection. In all my Bible studies and membership classes at church, no one ever discussed what to do if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of an impromptu Hindu religious ceremony. We'd been taught that praying to idols opens one up to demonic influences, and we'd heard ad infinitum the dangers of idol worship. Though I maintained my external composure, I must confess my heart was beating wildly, my mouth went dry and my palms began to sweat. What on earth would my pastors have to say about this? What was God thinking right about now?

We were instructed to sit cross-legged on the floor. As the Hindu folk began chanting softly, my brain cried out "Jesus, Jesus!" in a frantic mantra of my own. "Oh Lord, please forgive me if it's wrong for me to be here, I didn't know..."

Such was my state that I can't relate much of what happened next. I think there was some sort of incense, a traditional oil lamp may have been lit. The couple each spoke certain chants or prayers. As others in the room chanted and prayed over them, some of my American colleagues attempted gamely to join in; I sat tight-lipped and sweaty. Our hostess served as master of ceremonies and dedicated all the little dishes of limes and other foods to the menagerie of gods and goddesses hanging in the alcove. I sat rigid as a board, praying silently for myself and for all present. I fixed my eyes on the blushing bride, who suddenly seemed so timid, girlish and shy - a love struck young person on the verge of the biggest moment of her life. Without prompting, she performed each chant and each rite required of her with both earnestness and aplomb, as if she'd been rehearsing for this moment since birth.

It was over soon enough. We all stood to our feet, the couple smiled shyly at one another and everyone gathered around to congratulate them. I hung back towards the wall, still a little startled and unnerved. I was still mulling it all over in my mind when the hostess approached me with a bunch of bananas in her hands.

"Here, please take this!" she wrenched a single banana from the bunch and proffered it, smiling. "Because it has been offered to the gods, it is, as you would call it, holy, like your communion." She said this very proudly, hoping, it seemed, that this explanation would help me comprehend the honor being bestowed upon me.

My gaze shifted from the banana in her outstretched hand to her broad smile. I must have paled just a little. She pressed it into my hand "Please!" she insisted. "Thank you," I stammered, aware that the color was rising in my cheeks a little. The hostess seemed determined to engage me in a conversation. She was clearly devout, and eager to discuss it. My eyes flitted to the alcove of idols and she caught my gaze. "I pray to them all, each one of them twice," she said matter-of-factly. "I do not know what their hearing language is. I only know Tamil and Hindi myself, so I pray twice, once in each language, in the hopes that they will hear me. I hope they can understand..." Here she paused and grew quiet. Something in my heart broke for her in that moment and my mouth opened as if to speak, but I was dumb. "Of course, I do not know their speaking language. Maybe this is why they do not answer me." Her voice trailed off wistfully as she said this, her earnest eyes softened with sadness.

My heart was moved with compassion, and something stirred up within me.

"When I pray to Jesus..." I started. The words came unbidden, and I startled a little at the sound of my own voice. Oh no, here we go, I thought. Where is this going? "I am sure that He hears me, or anyone else, regardless of the language we speak. He knows my heart, so even things I don't know how to express, He knows what they are." Her eyes locked mine in a steady gaze. It seemed we were a million miles away from everything else. I hadn't noticed the room had grown quiet around us.

"And Jesus speaks to us, He is faithful to answer..."

Words streamed out, flowing between and around us gently, peaceably. There was no time to think what would come next, no premeditation. I told her what I knew about Jesus. She encouraged me to continue, whether out of politeness or fascination I couldn't be sure. Her eyes searched mine for truth. In her eyes I saw questions, perhaps a little fear, a spark of something - was it a yearning? She was rapt with attention, and so were a few others, unbeknownst to me. I finished quietly, sensing the hallmarks of the Spirit of God in that room. Joy, love, praise glowed in my heart, and I thought I'd about bust right open with love for the God who both hears and answers:

Emmanuel, God with us; He was there, hallelujah.

* * *

The next morning I sat in my kitchen, contemplating breakfast. The "holy" banana sat mundanely on the countertop. It sported a few more brown speckles than the night before. The night before.

I thought of our hostess praying desperate prayers to the posters in her family room closet. I wondered if she'd ever sat there late at night, perhaps in the midst of a family or personal crisis, keening softly and waiting in anguished silence for answers that never came. I imagined her beseechingly, painstakingly repraying her prayers. I wondered how often she and her family offered gifts and food to the gods.

Food offered to gods. In the New Testament, Paul said not to ask whether foods had been offered to idols, so that we might partake without troubling our consciences. But here I was with a banana that had unmistakably been offered to a motley crew of icons the night before. I stared at it. It just sat there growing more mushy and mottled by the minute. I thought of the fanciful but mute images staring wordlessly from the closet, suspended in their plastic gold frames. I examined my conscience, then began to pray.

"Lord God, You could probably tell me where in the world and on which exact tree this banana grew. You know the hands that picked it and when. Not only that, but you designed banana trees and set them in the precise climate where they would flourish. There is none other like you in all the universe, You are truly Lord of all creation.

"You alone are God, and you alone have the power to bless or curse. I do not believe this is anything but an ordinary banana, I don't care who said what about it or to whom or what it was offered. In my heart I believe there is no power in it, nor in the words that were spoken over it. I'm going to eat this banana, asking first Your blessing upon it, believing in faith that there is no uncleanness in it at all."

And with that, I sliced it up rather unceremoniously over a bowl of corn flakes and milk. And that was that.

* * *

The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.

He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.

Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:

And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.

They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.

And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?

He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?

Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. Isaiah 44:13-21

* * *

For ease of reference, I've decided to call the wooden figurine Bessie, since its rather prominent mammary glands would tend to make you think of a creature more bovine than human. Bessie is still wrapped in tissue paper, sitting in the bottom of the flowered green Hallmark gift bag. A few days have passed. There is so far no sign of creeping plague in the walls or floors of our house. We have not been swallowed up in a ditch. Beyond the usual pregnancy complaints, I'm feeling quite well and Baby F is kicking away to beat the band. Mr. F still has his job which he dutifully trudges off to each day. We have food on our table and we retire in peace each night with clean consciences. Furthermore, no one has been nearly drowned in a surfing mishap, crawled upon by tarantulas, or scared witless by Vincent Price in some creepy fire-lit cave. (Those of you who grew up watching the Brady Bunch may get the reference.)

Bessie will not be given a place of honor in our house, that much is very certain. Were I completely ignorant of its significance and intended use, I'd still rather not subject myself or anyone else to its rather exaggerated physical attributes. For now it's staying in the bag, and the bag is sitting on the table in the living room until I figure out where to toss it, probably the basement with our stockpiles of wrapping paper and gift boxes.

Last night, lying awake, I pictured the grain of the wood, and wondered what tree, once stately and strong, was harvested to make perhaps dozens of busty little Bessies. I wondered whose hands carved and sanded each little form, somewhere on the other side of the world. Was this just a cheap trinket, useful for culling American dollars? Or did it mean something more to the person who created it? I don't know. God does. In the middle of the night, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, I prayed for that person, whoever he or she may be. Maybe like my charming Hindu hostess, they too wait silently in the night for answers that never come.

* * *

Since our outing the other day, I haven't spoken to my old friend, save for an exchange of quick emails. While contemplating whether to address the matter of Bessie with her directly, I remembered something she said to me in the car, right before we parted ways that day. As the afternoon drew to a close, she became thoughtful and quiet. There was a lull in our conversation, then she spoke rather suddenly, blurting out the words as if she might not get the chance to say them again. She hearkened back to the days following her personal tragedy, her terrible loss. She had gone to a certain priest, she said, and had told him that she was angry at God, that she wanted to know why God would take her loved one away from her, and why so senselessly. In response, this priest gave her a litany of worn platitudes and cliches, greeting card sentiments. He offered nothing she could cling to, nothing to counteract the growing chill in her heart. "What was the use in asking anymore when you never get an answer?"

She went on. Seems a short time ago she sat down with minister at a nearby church in her town and posed the same hard questions, the ones she's been yelling into the night for years. This time, answers came. Hard answers, unshakeable answers, answers you could stand on, rail against, fall on - answers that bore her up and carried her. It's a beginning.

Perhaps little by little she's considering things in her heart, perhaps there is a kernel of understanding. Perhaps she's coming to realize that all the totems and statues and fetishes in the world stand stock still - deaf, dumb and dusty as ever - silent curiosities without power to heal or save. Maybe she's not completely there yet, but in her heart she's beginning to notice the difference, to sense the mind-blowing reality of a God who hears - and answers.

Someday, maybe not too far off, I believe I will have the opportunity to tell her precisely what I really thought of Bessie, and we will laugh about it together. I'll let her decide what we should do with it - maybe draw on a kooky face, clothe its nakedness with a tacky little muumuu, and make it wear a crazy little flowered hat like Minnie Pearl. Then again, maybe we'll just decide to toss it. Perhaps we'll offer up a quick prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus for His mercy and grace, then Bessie will get an unceremonious heave-ho into the trash.

I'll let her do the honors.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Idols R Us - Part I

When is a birthday gift an abomination?

A couple years ago an old, old friend from eons ago picked up the phone and called me. I hadn't talked to her since high school, and so much of our lives had changed since then. We'd drifted apart by the end of our junior year and went off after various pursuits. We lost touch altogether during college. About a year after my college graduation, tragedy struck her family. I attended the wake. We hadn't seen each other in probably five years at that point. When I reached her in the receiving line, no words were said; we just held each other and sobbed. A year or so later my phone rang, she was finally ready to talk again.

It was awkward, and strange. Word had gotten back to her through mutual friends that I'd become a Jesus freak, and though she was kind enough not to mention it, the hesitancy in her manner gave her away. We tried to "catch up" on where we were at present. She was married, working. I was still single, (though somewhat married to the church), and working. It wasn't a long conversation. We hung up and more months passed.

Not until she became pregnant, a few years ago, did we start talking on a more semi-regular basis. It came at a time when I was leaving my church and losing all my friends. It was somewhat of a comfort and a temptation to fall back in with a friend who knew me from way-back-when. But I kept my guard up just the same. We met for lunch a few times. We even talked about matters of faith. We talked about her tragic loss of a family member (carefully). We talked about her pregnancy and her new status as Mom-to-be. I kept in touch, calling or e-mailing to inquire about her and the baby.

Fast forward to the present. After keeping in touch and attending her child's birthday parties, she is now thrilled that I'm pregnant and is brimming with all sorts of well-meaning advice. Both of us celebrated our birthdays recently, and we decided to celebrate by meeting at an area salon to get manicures. "Manicures for the Mommies" we billed it. We exchanged small gifts - nothing extravagant - at lunch afterwards. Knowing me as she does, she picked out a very practical gift: tea. It was a whole decaffeinated tea sampler. Wonderful, since it will certainly be put to good use. But as I sniffed at the last box I pulled from the bag, she edged forward eagerly.

"There's one more thing in there" she urged.

I reached in and pulled out a small hard object wrapped loosely in tissue paper. It was smooth to the touch, with two pointy spots. I can only imagine the look on my face when the paper fell away to reveal a very meaty, super-voluptuous fertility goddess.

"Uh...oh!" I said, scrambling for something to say as my brain went tilt, Tilt, TILT.

"It's from Indonesia," she said proudly. "I got it for you at a gift shop while we were on vacation."

"Uh...um. Wow." I stammered. What on earth do I say now? I made a joke about its behind being almost as big as mine, then stuffed it hastily back into the bottom of the bag. If this was some kind of SuperChristian test of my piety and righteousness, I was quite sure I was blowing it big time.

* * *

Driving home that afternoon I was half tempted to chuck the thing out the window. A slideshow of Old Testament scripture clicked and whirled through my brain. An idol! She gave me an idol! I could already hear the lectures on how I should have handled the situation - that I should have given it back to her and explained gently why I couldn't accept it. But in a split-second decision at the lunch table I ruled that out. Did I want her to think I was a afraid of a piece of wood? "Let's be honest," I reasoned with myself. "This thing has about as much power as a Lincoln Log. I know that, God knows that. It poses absolutely no threat to me or to my family. Right?"

I thought briefly about burning it, but immediately felt silly. Again, it has no power, right? Why then would I need to destroy it in such a ritualistic fashion? As I pulled into the driveway, I still contemplated whether or not I should even bring the silly thing in the house. I trudged upstairs, bag in tow. "I don't know what I'm going to do with this," I muttered to myself. "But it is just a piece of wood."

* * *

Now, the banana situation was different. That was different altogether. Of course had I known what was going to happen that night, that it wasn't just a nice little party to celebrate my co-worker's engagement, I might missed out on the rare opportunity that banana provided.

I was flashing back to that night now, several years ago, when I went with several other co-workers to celebrate a colleague's engagement. The couple were Hindu, from India, and had met here in the states in a somewhat more liberal arranged marriage situation. When she first came here to the States all on her own to work at my company, she knew no one and struggled to set up her own apartment. She didn't have a car yet, and had to rely on rides from other Indian male colleagues - not the most comfortable situation for her modesty and propriety. I offered to take her shopping for things she was going to need for life in New England - namely a winter coat, boots, gloves, and other cold-weather stuff that she never had need of before back home. We became friends. She knew I was a Christian, and was a little wary about it. But hanging out with a Christian female was still preferable to being escorted by a single male who was not a member of her family.

She was so excited about her upcoming marriage. Because they were so far from home, she and her fiance arranged to solemnize their engagement at the home of a friend, another Indian colleague who was accepted by their families. She invited some of us from work to attend, and so we did.

I knew I was in trouble when I walked into the family room and beheld a makeshift shrine in what had been a large double-closet. The doors had been removed, and inside the alcove hung dozens of framed pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses. A large statue of somebody, I'm not sure who, sat in the midst, staring dolefully at us. Around the base of the statue were flowers, candles, and many, many little dishes of what looked like the drink garnishes you'd see at a bar - coconut, limes, all sorts of stuff carefully prepared and arranged.

"Oh boy..." I thought to myself. "What have I gotten myself into now?"

To be continued...

Monday, May 09, 2005


Mr. F and I struck it rich this past weekend, rich I tell you!

I've been looking forward to this past Saturday morning for a few weeks now, it's been circled on my calendar for months. It was plant sale AND book sale day in a town not far from here, just over the border in lovely southern New Hampshire.

We spent $56.25. Okay, that's slightly less than it what it costs to fill both our gas tanks these days, but I think we got a lot of value for the money. Our spoils included:

A lilac bush
An adorable baby Japanese Maple tree (it's probably not much bigger than Baby Feeble at this point!)
Four hardy (perennial) geraniums, a.k.a. cranesbill
Six 'Early Girl' tomato plants (for $1.75! You can't buy a pound of fresh tomatoes for that much anymore!)
Six cherry tomato plants
Six bell pepper plants
One tarragon plant
One basil plant
One Italian flat-leaf parsley plant

All those plants cost us $33.25. At the nursery we might have gotten three or four perennial plants for that much.

Then at the book sale:

The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Rape of the Lock (and other works), Alexander Pope
Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott
Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand (published in 1899!!)
Sophocles in English Verse, Oxford Press
Aeschylus in English Verse, Oxford Press
The Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam
Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling
The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Animal Farm, George Orwell
The Deerslayer, James Fenimore Cooper
Three Complete Novels by E.M. Forster (Howards End, A Room With a View, Where Angels Fear to Tread)
The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

...plus an old hymnal and several old children's books that we remember from our childhood.

So we went heavy on the classics yet again. When we were dating, both of us were elated to learn that we each had a personal goal of collecting and reading as many classic works of literature as we could. So we've been building on our collection for a while now, little by little. We got all of those today for a grand total of $23.00!! You can't buy one hardcover book these days for less than that, and here we got armloads of hardcovers, some published seventy or more years ago. We feel like we hit the jackpot.

Now we've just got to figure out A. Where to plant everything and B. Whether to re-read our favorite old books or delve into works we haven't read yet. (Immediately upon arriving home I dove into the children's books, then read Sonnets from the Portuguese cover to cover. I love Elizabeth Barrett Browning!)

Oh happy day!

Tag, I'm It

I've been Tagged by Messy Christian. This means I must pick five professions from the list below and finish the thought. Then I'm to tag three other people to join in on the fun. Ok, here goes.

If I could be a scientist, I'd be a bit of a maverick and drive my scientific colleagues batty. I'd be the one coming up with off-the-wall theories that I just instinctively knew to be right. Because I'm not the greatest at finding proofs that back up my wild instincts, I'd probably be very unsucessful in any scientific pursuit and get drummed out of the core, then I'd live the rest of my days in poverty and shame. Later on after I was dead, someone would discover that my crazy idea wasn't so crazy at all, and that I was right all along. ;)

If I could be a chef, everything would be cooked in butter or olive oil, no low-fat, no-fat or sugar substitutes would be allowed anywhere near my kitchen! There would be lots of decadent desserts made with cream and eggs and all sorts of wonderful stuff. Bread would be made fresh every day and all our herbs would be grown in a traditional French potager outside the kitchen. Tradition would be honored and embraced, but my creations would be influenced by a variety of different cultures. I probably wouldn't do well cooking for very large crowds - it'd have to be an intimate little Bistro type establishment with a good turnover rate!

If I could be an athlete, if I had the strength, agility and a good pair of properly straight knees, I would love to know what it's like to be able to skate and land a triple axel, or pole vault myself effortlessly into the sky, or hit a three point basket from halfway across the court as the 4th quarter ended, or shoot a winning goal in a hockey playoff. Just once, once in my life I'd give my left arm to hit a home run out of Fenway Park. Actually, I'd even settle for an inside-the-park home run. Or a wall-ball double off the Green Monster. :)

If I could be a world famous blogger, I'd get all full of myself and go around pronouncing my opinion to everyone I meet. I would sit at my desk all day reading news sites and other blogs so as to be sure I'd have no lack of things which to criticize, expose, or complain about. Every once in a while I'd say something nice about someone. Soon I'd become completely self-absorbed, obsessed, and forget to shower daily. I'd be cranky and mean to commenters who call me nasty names. I would not enjoy being famous and would probably up and quit on the advice of my doctor and for the good of my health. (Good thing that's never going to happen, eh? ;)

If I could be a writer, I imagine I wouldn't be a lot different than I am today, except that I'd be perhaps more serious and disciplined about it. I'd work a lot harder, and with a purpose to tell a story that deserves to be told. I'd be horribly self-conscious about every paragraph and become quite the nervous wreck every time I submitted a manuscript. (Hopefully all the rejection notices would not drive me back to drink!) The moment something I wrote was published, I'd experience a momentary flush of pride and pleasure which would be immediately followed by a sense of panic and fear that I'd never be able to write anything even halfway decent again. I'd have to struggle to put any successes behind me as much as any failures - dwelling on either makes me an insufferable, moody, and whiny neurotic. I'd have to balance writing out with less cerebral activities to bring me back down to earth.

Now tag, you're it:

Samia at Redneck's Wife
Cindy at Quotidian Light
Michelle at Seeking Serenity

At your leisure, pick five professions from the list below and finish the thought. Post it on your blog and then tag three others to do the same.

(Ladies, let me know if you don't want to play and I'll tag someone else!)

If I could be a scientist...
If I could be a farmer...
If I could be a musician...
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be a painter...
If I could be a gardener...
If I could be a missionary...
If I could be a chef...
If I could be an architect...
If I could be a linguist...
If I could be a psychologist...
If I could be a librarian...
If I could be an athlete...
If I could be a lawyer...
If I could be an inn-keeper...
If I could be a professor...
If I could be a writer...
If I could be a llama-rider...
If I could be a bonnie pirate...
If I could be an astronaut...
If I could be a world famous blogger...
If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...
If I could be married to any current famous political figure...

Friday, May 06, 2005


I'm dreaming of jet engines, gleaming cities and ancient ruins. This morning a family member wrote to say her trip to Beijing is definitely on, and I'm just a little jealous.

Okay, I'm a lot jealous!

As it is, I've been reading about Michelle's trip to Australia with great interest. And then there's always something interesting going on in Messy's corner of the world, which to me always seemed like one of the most exotic places on earth. No doubt about it, I'm having a serious attack of wanderlust.

Perhaps it's due to my impending foray into the world of motherhood; maybe I'm craving one last crazy escapade to destination anywhere. Don't get me wrong - for the first time in probably sixteen years it's great to finally feel at home, rooted and stable in one place - safe, happy and content. Yet the fascination, the draw of the unknown and undiscovered still has the power to captivate my thoughts.

Maybe it goes back to the little brass pyramids, exotic little perfume bottles, or any number of little treasures my dad brought home from the four corners of the earth. All the while I was growing up, he was frequently off somewhere across the sea. The large map in our family room was stuck full of brightly colored pins that marked all the cities he'd been. Whenever he'd travel someplace new, I wanted to be the one to stick the pin to mark it. Alone, I'd gaze at it, wonderingly tracing the distance from here to the latest there, running my fingertip over the smooth plastic red and yellow spheres on the heads of the marking pins. Anticipation would build through the morning on the days he was scheduled to arrive home. What would he bring us from Seoul? Would we get more scarves from Paris? Or those beautiful fancy little perfumed soaps and real British tea from Harrod's? The little brass pyramids he'd brought back from Cairo sat on our mirrored coffee table in the living room for years. I used to absentmindedly trace my fingernails over the brick patterns stamped into each smooth cold side, turning them over and over in my hands, lost in thought.

Back then it'd take a day or two for his pictures to come back from the Fotomat, then we'd have detailed images to fill in the outlines of all his stories. I'd gaze at the pictures for hours: temples in Japan, The Hague, Greek ruins, Versailles, Buckingham palace, St. Peter's basilica, dark, mysterious Egyptian bazaars, and Ooh la la! NUDE sunbathers on the Cote d'Azur! On rainy Saturdays, he'd sit at our old kitchen table and carefully trim and paste them all into big vinyl binders with handwritten notes in the margins. Sometimes he'd draw little arrows to label and highlight particular points of interest (like the blonde beach girl carelessly doffing her bikini bottoms!) He was renowned for his knack for cobbling together fold-out panoramic views of distant coastlines, bustling cityscapes and sacred ruins. The carefully spliced, taped, and folded photographic panorama is his trademark. It was good hobby, saved up for rainy days at home.

I've never been to most of the places my dad was fortunate enough to see, but then I've taken at least one trip he never dreamed of taking. I remember the day I told my parents where and when I was going. Mum was not too keen on it at all. Dad just smiled this barely perceptible smile. He understood. I had his blessing. Years later we both still have a fondness for retelling our traveling tales to bored family members and hapless strangers alike, the gleam in our eyes undiminished by the passage of time or ordinariness of our current lives. Now I realize it was dad who gave me the bug, this fascination with the world and everyone in it. It's all his fault.

So my heart will be winging its way only vicariously to Beijing in a few weeks. Meanwhile I'll eagerly devour updates from Australia (though I'll still be fascinated by Michelle's everyday observations when she returns to life in South Africa). And I'll dream of having a coffee in Kuala Lumpur with Liz someday. Someday!