Journey to the East

BERLIN, Germany
April 6, 2008

I've had only four days in Berlin--not enough time. As with other places I've been recently, I've continued to socialize with friends I originally know from elsewhere.

I split my four days here staying with and catching up with two friends: Friederike and Jenn. Friederike is yet another Urumqi connection: she too was living in that city and studying Uighur over many of the same years I was there. Jenn was a co-worker in Seattle whose life also has parallels to mine. She and I both made the decision to quit work and move abroad in 2003. Her destination was Germany, mine was Xinjiang.

This is my first time visiting Berlin; I couldn't have better people to stay with and show me around. Though not a native Berliner, Friederike grew up in West Germany so has plenty of perspective into how things work here. Among other odd jobs, Jenn leads tours around the city, mostly showing people around sites significant to the second World War. I've been strolling about town a lot with either--or both--friends, getting a sense of the city, and trying to understand what made east, east and what made west, west. Berlin is a fun place for consumption. We've had lots of meals at restaurants, lots of cups of coffee at cafes, and lots of time--just about everywhere--over a glass of wine or beer.

I'm about to fly out of Europe. I have traveled by air a few times within Europe over the last months, but leaving the continent by air feels like a real conclusion to this trip. The journey as I envisioned it before setting out last summer has come to an end.

I've experienced everything that I hoped to when I left Urumqi: I made it overland west from China to Europe. I had adequate time to visit the three countries I most wanted to explore--Uzbekistan, Iran, and Turkey. Upon reaching Europe, I toured with family. I caught up with various friends around the continent. Things have gone just the way I hoped.

Though I see the grand journey at an end, I will continue to be transient for some time. Back when I left Urumqi, I planned to catch a flight from somewhere here in Europe to North America. I shipped most of my belongings to Seattle before leaving Urumqi. To avoid tearful farewells, I promised all of my local friends that I would see them back in Urumqi "sooner than later". To make good on that promise, I deliberately left behind a couple boxes of my belongings in Urumqi as incentive for me to come back all the sooner.

I've decided to turn around and fly back toward where I started, get those things, and spend time with some friends before going to see family in Seattle. It's no longer the cheap season for air travel, so I cashed out frequent-flyer mileage to get me back to where the journey began. On Lufthansa, a flight to Almaty is considered "within Europe" so required only 20,000 miles for a freebie ticket. I'm not sure what I'll do with the return leg of the ticket.

Almaty is the first place I arrived when I left Urumqi last year. I could take a bus from there directly back to Urumqi tomorrow. I hope to make my return more interesting, seeing parts of Kazakstan which I have not previously visited, in the northeast of the country. There's a remote border in the Altay region, Gemini, where I hope to cross into China.

Now that this trip is over, I've realized that I need to re-work my list of top new destinations. Let's see: Syria, Lebanon...