Finding out news of what's going on at home while you're away can either be joyful or shocking, and sometimes both. As travelers, when it comes to staying in touch we may have limited resources at hand, and we usually hear of these big events by unconventional means. But the main thing is not necessarily how we stay in the loop, but whether or not we actually do it.
While I was away in Borneo Malaysia, my sister gave birth in New York. Micah-Kai Brandstrom came into this world at 8 lbs 3 oz in a hospital on Long Island at the same time that I was getting on an AirAsia aircraft departing Kota Kinabalu International Airport, Malaysia.
I didn't find out about my nephew's birth until after my 10 hour plane-slash-bus ride-transit, which brought me home to Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I heard about it on Facebook.
When you're on the road, you can't be picky about how you get your news. After all, you were the one who bought the ticket that took you further away from your family to begin with.
That simple fact, however, does not negate the feeling that, in some way, news of the birth of the very first baby in your immediate family should not be delivered to you via social networks.
But truth be told, I have to take it as it is.
A side note: While I was away in Borneo Malaysia, it was also my parents wedding anniversary in Hawaii.
Every year I try to call them and talk to them in person. This year it didn't pan out as well. I Skyped them once. No answer. My battery died.
I borrowed my friends laptop and Skyped them again, a second, third and fourth time. Again, no answer. I finally left them a message the fifth time around: “Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. I miss you guys.” Then signed out.
As soon as I got home to my apartment in Taiwan, I plugged in, signed on and saw the email from my brother in Hawaii. It was a new Facebook message: “Congratulations, you're an uncle!”
I knew it was coming, but so soon? The first thing that popped into my head was, Is she alright? I pictured my baby sister, 9,000 miles away, exhausted and pale in her hospital bed, and my heart dropped.
But I knew that there really was nothing for me to worry about. Chris would definitely be there with her, and my parents had flown out to New York as well, (which explained why I couldn't reach them, I'd just forgotten), so Crystal would be fine, and the baby was probably healthy and strong.
While I was reading my brother's Facebook message, an instant message from my cousin Kalei living on the island of Maui, Hawaii popped up. I asked her for numbers, I needed to contact them as soon as possible. My only option? Skype.
I dialed in Crystal's cell number, no answer, (of course, what was I thinking?), Crystal's home, again no answer, ( I still wasn't thinking straight), and finally my mom's cell, and I reach someone.
“Hello? J.R.?” I can hear sounds in the background. “Is that you?”
“Yeah, mom, it's me.” My voice is quiet, I'm trying to mask my mix of emotions; frustration, worry, happiness and pride. “How is she doing?”
“Oh, J.R., you would be so proud of her. She did good.”
“She was so strong.” Mom pauses. I can hear muffled sounds, and then, “Let me see if she's up.”
“No, mom, she's tired!” I try to stop her. But it's too late, mom probably has the phone held against her chest as she walks into the room.
I can hear voices, soft, distant and muffled. Crystal...J.R. is on the phone...
And then mom is back. “Oh, she's still sleeping,” she says. “She's so tired.”
“Yeah, I know mom, it's okay. Thanks for trying.”
“Here, talk to Chris.” She hands over the phone and I smile.
“Congratulations, dad! How does it feel?”
He sounds happy, but tired. He says Crystal is fine but that she's resting and that the baby is big. We talk a little, just a light conversation, then he says, “Okay, I'll give you back to mom.”
“Do you want to hear the baby?” she asks. “His cry is so strong. He reminds me of you.” I can hear dad in the background, He not crying, hun. He pau* already.
Too bad, I figure. Anyway, it doesn't matter, it's not that big a deal.
But then I hear a sound, high pitched and trembling. It's the sound of my first nephew, just born, crying his heart out 9,000 miles away from me. I smile with pride. He really does sound healthy and strong. It is a big deal.
*Pau is a Hawaii Creole English word meaning finished or done
When you're away on a trip, or living in a different country, it is a reality that you will be removed from the events that surrounded you in your life back at home. There is nothing you can do about it. That's one of the sacrifices you make to experience what life is like abroad.
But you don't have to stay completely out of touch. You don't necessarily need to disappear.
In today's fascinating techno-gadget-online-digital world, we have the communication button at our fingertips.
Sure, this click-of-a-mouse is not the same as being there to physically touch the soft cheeks of a newborn child, or to hold the hands and cradle the head of your exhausted baby sister to make sure she's alright, but at least it's something, and anything that keeps you posted on what's going on outside of your little travel bubble world is something to be appreciated.
“Okay, mom. Well, just please text Phil the pics of Micah when you have time, and he can post it for me to see on Facebook,” I tell her. “Oh, and if anything else comes up, just have him message me and I'll call you guys right away, okay? I love you guys.”
“Okay, J.R.,” I can hear her smiling. “Love you, too.” I'm about to click the 'end call' button on my Skype screen, but then I remember something.
“Oh yeah, mom...by the way,” I say. “Before I forget... happy anniversary.”
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...