Gulaim and Tobias Play
on Slide at Hexenwasser as
Begam-ai and Jochen Look On
MUNICH, Germany
July 2, 2011

Each of the times I've seen Jochen over recent years we've wound up meeting in some wholly different part of the planet. The last time we saw each other was in Kyrgyzstan exactly two years ago. Then, the time before that was back when I was passing through Korea. On this present visit, I'm now staying with his family in their new home in Germany.

So much has happened in both my life and that of Jochen's family since our last get-together. That was back at Jochen and Gulaim's wedding in Bishkek. Right after that wedding, Jochen's company transferred his position across continents. His entire family moved from Korea to Russia. They left their home in Seoul and settled into a new one in Moscow. Then, just a few months after landing in Moscow, Jochen was again transferred: this time back home to headquarters in Germany.

Despite (or, perhaps on account of) all this globe-hopping, the family seems to have settled into a good routine. It's been great to spend recent days catching up.

Marienplatz, Munich
Jochen and Gulaim's son Tobias was scarcely born when I last saw the family. He's now an active toddler who can't play enough. When I have the energy to keep up, he and I go outside together to kick a soccer ball around. More often than not he's distracted by leaves, slugs, or unripe berries, all of which he points out to me and declares, "Nicht essen!" (Do not eat!) He does recognize that the chives growing in a corner of the backyard garden are edible. Each time we've played together outside Tobias has plucked a shoot and offered me one to eat.

We play together indoors, as well. "Nochmal!", (Once more!) he tells me each time I raise him up to the ceiling and bring him back down to the floor. I usually comply. Tobias is now formulating basic sentences in German. Half-sister Begam-ai translated some of the babble he came up with while playing. When Tobias picked up a couple figurines he declared the first to be, "Bob the Builder's mother" and the second to be, "not Bob the Builder's mother".

I wish my mind were still young and pliant enough to create characters like "not-Bob-the-Builder's-mother".

Begam-ai is flourishing. When I was first introduced to her as part of the family in Korea three years ago she was still a little girl. Now, she's well into her teenaged years and forming an adult personality. I envy her her ability with languages. She usually speaks in Kyrgyz when talking with her mother, Gulaim--though they occasionally lapse into Russian. She speaks in German with stepfather, Jochen. She speaks with me in English in flawless grammar and a perfect American accent. Begam-ai claims that she was, "Never all that good with Korean, but can understand it." She also claims similar inability in the French she's presently learning in school--though I suspect that she's already far more fluent than I'll ever be in that language.

Gulaim, Begam-ai, and David
at Summer Bonfire
When I picked up Jochen's old guitar from a corner of the guestroom and started picking she came over immediately. I gave Begam-ai her first guitar lesson; she was a natural with the instrument. I really wonder how that girl is going to turn out the next time I call on Jochen's family. So talented.

Parents Jochen and Gulaim are both well. They have their own pet project they're in the middle of. They've lined out an ambitious plan to walk from Jochen's hometown in southwestern Germany to Gulaim's hometown in the hills of Kyrgyzstan. This is being done in multiple legs whenever they have time-enough to take on another portion of the journey. Jochen anticipates the trip will be completed approximately 10 years from when they began it last year. They're about 1,000 kilometers into the long hike. Last port of call, Sardinia. They maintain a travelogue of their journey; I've agreed to clean up the English.

Today was a day for the entire family to go out. In the morning, we drove to a children's theme park just across the border in nearby Austria. Hexenwassen ("Witches' Water") was just the place to play outdoors with the children on a beautiful day. The witch theme to the park might have been a little childish for Begam-ai and utterly lost on Tobias--but was a good compromise as both played along and we all had a fun day out together.

We drove back to Munich in time for dinner. That was a few hours ago. Everybody else has already gone to bed. I'm still awake typing this entry. Though, I really ought to try to catch some sleep, too. I have to wake up soon. I have to go to Munich's airport in a few hours. The last friend I saw before leaving the U.S. last summer has decided to make an impromptu getaway, tagging a couple days onto the Independence Day holiday to take a brief excursion together around Bavaria.

I'm excited to be meeting up with somebody familiar from back home. Can it really have been nearly a year that I've been away from all the people I care about back there?