It has been said that escapist books take you out of yourself; more serious books take you into yourself. Likewise travel. Some travel takes you away from your life, and some travel makes your life larger: new and different experiences, new and different people stretch and bulge the skin of your life. And although the people and places stay behind when you return home, part of them rubs off.
I looked out of the window of our Boeing 777 on our way to Hong Kong as it passed down the coast of Russia, south of Kamchatka, toward Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. For the first couple of thousand miles of our flight the earth had been blanketed by a layer of cloud, but now the sky had cleared, and to the west, toward the Russian coast, white expanses of snow and ice floated on the Sea of Okhotsk. Directly beneath me, further out in the Pacific, the snow and ice gradually broke up into pieces, from this height looking like flocks of white arctic birds.
Every year we make this trip to Asia, visiting current families, past families and alumni. We see people in Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, China (normally we visit Tokyo but this year by the agency of some providential hand we gave Tokyo a miss because we had a successful alumni gathering in November). Having this attachment gives us a window into these places that fills them with the texture of lives lived. Each city, of course, and each part of the countryside, has its moments that stick in the memory. For example: the dated but sturdy Star Ferry crossing back and forth endlessly from Hong Kong to Kowloon; the deafening roar of take-offs at the airforce base in Hualien, Taiwan, minutes away from the tranquility of the Tzu-Chi Buddhist community; in Seoul, sitting in a restaurant at the American Air Force base, my smiling host reminding me how conscious they are of being 40 seconds by fighter jet from North Korea.
But it is the people that make a place. Over the 16 years that I have been making this trip the hospitality and character of people who have hosted us have nourished relationships that enlarge the life we lead. Some of these families continue to stay in touch even after their sons and daughters have gone on to university. Some alumni, and some parents, have come out nearly every year to see us, inspiring a bit of awe at the connection the School creates.