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A Traveling Journal

In the fall of 2012, a creative Missouri school teacher gave an assignment to her 4th grade students to send out traveling journals. These are not journals about the children’s travels, but journals that travel. Meg, then 9 years old, started by sending her folder to her grandpa, Vince, and he sent it on to one of his friends, and on and on – that was the plan.

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The folder that is traveling the world right now is lovingly decorated by Meg with drawings, and inside, there are two maps: one of the US, and one of the world. Each person who gets the folder is supposed to write an introduction of himself or herself, possibly accompanied by a photo. This recipient of the folder then marks the area where he lives or where he is from with an x on the map, and tells a bit about the area. The size of a city, state or country, its main industry, or tourist attractions are the informations that Meg’s teacher is looking for. Then this person sends the folder on by regular mail, and sends an e-mail to all people who have shaped this particular folder’s destiny and history. That way, the previous hosts of the folder can trace its whereabouts.

My friend Jini Green, an Australian in Melbourne, asked me would I be willing to write an entry. I know Jini from my time in Beijing and Shanghai. “Please send it to my home address in Berlin, Jini,” I e-mailed back. The mail in Germany is more trustworthy than China Post, I felt.  So during my Christmas holidays in Berlin, I wrote a little piece, introducing myself, my family, my original home town Berlin and my home-town-by-choice, Shanghai.

My 6-year-old grandson Dario was on a visit to my house from his home in the countryside, and he decided to participate in the project. He dictated to me a story about his life on a horse farm in rural Germany, and with much concentration, signed it with capital, slightly shaky letters. I added the two pages, marked all the x required by the task sheet on the world map, sent an e-mail “Done!” to all the mail addresses before me, added mine, and off went Meg’s journal to Oslo, Norway.

My friend in Norway had more problems than I to find a willing recipient for the journal. So she took it manually around to friends from Sweden and Germany.

“Sibylla, where do you think the journal is?”, Meg’s grandpa Vince e-mailed me last week. “We haven’t received an e-mail in quite a while. We are worried it might be lost.

So I enquired, and found out that the journal is still being hand-carried from country to country, as my friend is embarking on a trip to her own home country and that of her husband over the Easter holidays, to be returned to Meg’s school in Missouri before the deadline on May 1. On that day, all the journals will be viewed  at her primary  school, and Meg’s teacher will then teach the 4th graders about the world, using the contents of all the students’ journals.

Meg’s is the widest travelled journal in the class, Vince proudly told me. That is no surprise, I thought, tracing in my mind its way across the continents. It has been forwarded inside the US, then it travelled to Australia, then on to Germany and to Norway. But I realized it hasn’t been to China, my host country. So how could I remedy that? And this is where I had an idea. My colleagues at Linden Centre are from all over China. What if I asked each one of them to tell their story? And I set to work, writing an e-mail to everybody. “Would you consider introducing yourself to these students in Missouri? Just a few lines about yourself and the area in China where you come from. Please don’t think you need a lot of time. 5 minutes are enough! ”

On a recent staff outing, I had taken photos of most of my colleagues, and they would go perfectly with the testimonies.

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And here came the e-mails pouring in. “I am Yanzi, from Hunan.”

“I amTina , I am 27 years old. My hometown is Luzhou, in Sichuan province.”

“The hotel where we work is close to Tibet. The area is beautiful..”

Now I needed a map of China, with the provinces and capitals of provinces marked, and with that map printed out, I toured Linden Centre. “Wang Chao, please mark your home town, Datong. Kat, where does your x go…..? ”

The map now looked like a porcupine, with arrows sticking out of China in every direction. “Pema, Lijiang; Fay, Xi’an; Tingyu, Lhasa”

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Some of my colleagues had included photos of themselves, clowning around a bit for the camera, and for the 4th graders in Missouri.

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I cut and pasted everyone’s contribution, attached a photo of the map to the email, then sent it to Vince so he can print it out for Meg. “Let’s put China on the map for those kids in Missouri! ” I said and my colleagues smiled and nodded.

A few days later, MCK said to me, “What a fascinating  project! What if we adapted it for the local schools?” And so I started thinking, how can we do this? By mail, via China Post? Or is it better to make it an email project? What if the Xizhou first graders  met our guests in person, to hear about the world?  What if the staff introduced themselves to the 8th grade middle schoolers, one more time telling stories of their home towns all over China, all over the world? What if…..

And I am wondering – Is this the start of a new project for me?

About Sibylla Grottke

Sibylla loves traveling, and she loves Yunnan. She has been a repeat visitor to Linden Centre, and if she stays for longer stretches of time, she enjoys blogging about her experiences in Xizhou. Her passions include writing and Chinese ink painting.