Of course the experiences and memories are the most important things to hold on to after an adventures, but occasionally you’re given something else as a memento. I have a handful of items that have been given to me throughout my travels that I will probably never part with because they represent something more than just the thing. As part of my 5-year anniversary celebration posts I want to share some of those trinkets with you. These are not souvenirs I purchased, but tokens given to me by people I met along the journey.
While I was living in China I received several gifts from students and others. However, a few of them mean more than others because of what they symbolized to me and who gave them to me. I had the opportunity to teach a couple of special lessons for a middle school in Hefei, where I lived. When I was getting ready to leave the country I went back to say goodbye and was surprised with a gift. Funny thing was they didn’t have it there and ready to give me because it was still being made by one of the students. It was delivered to me a week or so later and now hangs proudly on my wall reminding me that the smallest interactions can have big impacts. The large text of this six-foot long scroll means Friendship Forever and the small text says from all the students of the 13th class of 7th grade at the 50th middle school of Hefei, China.
Another special gift I received in China was from one of my college students. It is an apple made of plastic beads. Sounds kind of kitschy, but it meant a lot to receive my first apple as a teacher. Kevin, the student, probably didn’t know the old American tradition of giving an apple to your teacher. I did, and I was very touched.
The last of my Chinese mementos I’ll mention here is another seemingly cheap thing. It is a little plastic camel phone charm. I don’t use it as one, and I don’t think the giver intended it to be used as a phone decoration. Why would a small plastic camel mean so much to me? Because of the person who gave it to me. While in Dunhuang, my friend and I took an overnight camel trek into the Gobi Desert. It was one of my favorite experiences. It was enlightening, exciting, different, and peaceful.
Anyway, our camel guide, an man who didn’t speak English and walked the whole way, was nothing more than a man who owned some camels and took people on camel treks. When we returned to his home, Mr. Li went to a drawer in the room that served as bedroom, living room and office and pulled out these little charms. He gave one to each of us. It wasn’t needed, but he was proud of his camels and loved sharing the experience with us. That is why my plastic camel phone charm is something I will hold on to.
In Hungary, I was a missionary for the LDS Church. For a short time I served as a pastor of small congregation in the city of Sopron. There were very few people in our flock, and I got to know some of them very well spending lots of time with them. One family in particular was a lot of fun to be with because of their little girl, Julika.
We would play games with her when they invited us over to dinner or to celebrate someone’s birthday and when the other missionaries were teaching her mom in the meeting house. Eventually, she gave me the nickname of Moka Mester, which basically means jester, clown or master of merriment. When it came time to leave, she gave me a special present to remember her by—this clown on a swing.
She is a teenager now, and I haven’t seen her or her family in ten years. But, I will always remember those fun times in Sopron being the Moka Mester when I look at my gift from Julika.
Platypus and more
I was 14 and on the other side of the world when the Bowman took me into their family for a short time. I was attending St. Peter’s College in Adelaide, South Australia for six months, where their son went. I had only been there a few weeks when my birthday rolled around. Mrs. Bowman wanted me to have a great birthday, so she made me a cheesecake (I told her I love cheesecake) and some friends were invited over. I was brand new to this family, but I felt like I was a part of it. She took what little she knew about me and put a lot of effort into her gifts.
First, she gave me a platypus keychain. She knew I love animals, and who doesn’t think the platypus is an awesome animal. I use the keychain to this day. It has been used for various keys over the last sixteen years, but it has always been on my key hook.
She also knew I collected patches. I don’t know how she did it, but she ended up with a couple dozen patches from all around Australia to give me. She had to have gone to some real effort to get them all, and it is something I really appreciated. She even ended up with some of places we would end up going while I was living with them.
All throughout my time with this family, she would cut out newspaper clippings about things I would find interesting to leave on my desk such as snakes and possums in schools or the announcement of the LDS temple to be built in Adelaide. It was only a short time, but it definitely felt like home even when I was so far away from my true home.
All of these trinkets remind me of people I met and shared an adventure with. The physical objects aren’t what is valuable, but the memories behind them. I’m glad I have these mementos and will treasure them because of those who gave them to me.