Thursday, January 5, 2012


Dear Spike:

There are many wonders in this world. But the one of which you’ve been most acquainted — ever since you began to study Mandarin — is the Great Wall of China.

It’s in your books. It’s in your movies. It’s in some of the songs that you sing and many of the stories you’ve been told.

And today, it was under your feet.

I circumnavigated the globe for the first time when I was just 19 years old. I’ve visited enormous castles, ancient cities and mountaintop civilizations. I’ve flown alongside fighter pilots and floated through the air in zero gravity. I’ve ridden horseback through a herd of stampeding buffalo. I’ve been to war.

I’m not awestruck by many things.

But this was a special experience for me. When I was a young boy I learned about the Great Wall and marveled at the idea of a barrier that stretched across an entire nation. And the very idea that this incredible edifice was built without the tools and technology we have in the modern world was simply mind-boggling.

It still is.

But today I saw it and touched it. And that alone would have been enough.

But I got to do it with you and your mother. And as I watched you hike those steep, uneven steps — thrilled by where you were and what you were doing — I realized that the adventures I’ve had might likely be eclipsed by the adventures you will have.

And that left me even more awestruck than I was before.


P.S. — Your grandfather visited the wall in 1996 when the Major League Soccer team for which he was working made a trek to China to play some exhibition matches. When he returned, he brought your grandmother a blue and white quilt with stitched-on pandas. Your mother loves that quilt — but your grandparents wouldn’t part ways with it. We thought we’d find something similar when we ducked into a few gift shops near the wall, but we were astounded to find — 16 years later — the exact same pattern of quilt. We purchased the last one in the shop (and another, with dragons and other exotic creatures, for you.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Dear Spike:

We couldn’t be more proud.

Just minutes into our flight from San Francisco to Beijing, you were making small talk with one of the flight attendants.

“Do you live in China?” she asked you mother and I after you ordered some apple juice in Mandarin.

Then today, outside the Temple of Heaven, a young man complimented your accent. And later, with riding in the back of a pedal cart, you sang songs along with the driver.


But while we’re proud of your developing language skills — and excited by the way your eyes lit up today as you realized how valuable your second language can be — the biggest compliments you received today had nothing to do with your ability to shoot the breeze in Chinese.

“Doc,” a former Army medic who is one of our fellow travelers on this tour, said it best: “You were better behaved than most of the adults on this tour,” he told you on the bus ride back to our hotel after a 12-hour day in freezing temperatures and biting winds that started in Tiananmen Square, weaved through the Forbidden City, featured a visit to the Heavenly Temple and a tour of a silk factory.

He wasn’t kidding. You were.