Welcomed by the children

By Christopher Wink | Oct 26, 2008 | WeDontSpeaktheLanguage.com

He liked the movement of the mouse cursor on my computer screen. So I pried his hands from the keys and opened up Microsoft Paint. With a few interruptions to change color and tool, a four-year-old who stumbled upon me in a park in Budapest, Hungary drew me a computer-generated painting.

Children don’t likely understand the concept of language. I certainly don’t remember when I learned of the six billion people in the world, most don’t speak like me. The little boy with the dirty sweatsuit, dirt on his brown-olive skin, and sand in his bushy, black hair spoke on to me, in a language I couldn’t understand.

He shrieked, too. First when – hoping to get him to stop smacking my laptop – I took his underarms and lifted him into the hanging leaves of a nearby tree.

He was positively gleeful.

He got on toy horse near the swings and – with a strong-armed point and another high-pitched shout – demanded I get on one nearby. For a few good moments, he and I raced fast and long toward a Soviet-era apartment complex across the street.

Then he got off and wanted to be lifted more. Offering demand I still couldn’t understand, but smiling in a way I could.

I don’t know where he went. Someone called what I thought was a name – a woman in the distance. He asked me to lift him once more – into the branches and leaves. He spoke more to me, grabbed some leaves and tossed them at me – sand included – and was gone.

Running off with a green soccer ball. A young boy I’ll never know. Who shrieked in my ears, threw sand at my face and gave me a pleasant picture to keep.

Originally written for the travel blog WeDontSpeaktheLanguage.com.

Weed and prostitutes: a conversation in Amsterdam

One of the many canals in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Oct. 7, 2008

By Christopher Wink | Oct 9, 2008 | WeDontSpeaktheLanguage.com

We meet Sander and Neek at the outskirts of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Sean, his brother Brian, and I are on a bridge demarcating where the sex ends and the large, quiet residences begin. A small, sloping bridge over a small canal, 15-feet wide, on which covered bicycle taxis perch to take drunk tourists back to their hotels.

We’re deciding if one more walk through the alleyways glancing at half-naked women in their rented window brothel doorways would be one too many. Half-naked women tap on the glass under red fluorescent lighting – the most give and take you’ll ever have window shopping. They’ll sleep with you for a little money. This is one half of many people’s Amsterdam.

Sander and Neek walk by reminding us of the other half, shouting at us to ’smoke weed everday.”

Continue reading Weed and prostitutes: a conversation in Amsterdam

Travel Well (Newsweek submission: 3/18/07)

By Christopher Wink | Mar 18, 2007 | Newsweek submission

I have an excessive devotion to my nationality. I like to think there is something distinctly American in that pride of being American. I have saved money and made friends all to answer my desperation to travel, desperate to learn and explore and represent this nation.

I carry a four foot by six foot American flag that was once my grandfather’s whenever I’m abroad, whenever I’m representing this nation. So, that faded flag has gone from his attic, to the wall of my row home in Philadelphia, to a migrant workers’ station in Mexico, to a slave castle in Ghana, to a great wall in China.

I take very seriously my representing the United States. I speak with the polite “vous” in southern Quebec and drink slowly my wine in central Tuscany. Yes, I have an excessive devotion to my nationality. But, sadly, perhaps it is my expressiveness that is distinctly American. I have seen hundreds of Italian club-goers glaring at a group of American girls who were having too much fun–pocketbooks over their shoulders, shoes in one hand, drinks in the other–as they tripped through a break-dancing competition.

Continue reading Travel Well (Newsweek submission: 3/18/07)

Fatherly Advice (NPR submission: 5/20/07)

By Christopher Wink | May 20, 2007 | NPR submission

It is too rare what I have, two spectacularly loving parents who coincidentally love each other as well. Still, understanding that I also someday want to be a competent father with strong arms and too much advice, I particularly idolize my own father in a way that everyone should have the privilege to do.

Because he is always muttering advice like clean up your own mess and never drive behind a car with a mattress on its roof. Advice like treat secretaries, custodians and garbage men with respect because they do the hard work. Advice like wear your seatbelt, and don’t be afraid to use a band-aid if it hurts.

I grew up in northwest New Jersey, a gentle swath of rural America that is only now being discovered by the faceless, suburban sprawl of family-style chain restaurants and one-stop shopping. I was freckle-faced, loved my mother’s cooking and posed for Norman Rockwell paintings.

Continue reading Fatherly Advice (NPR submission: 5/20/07)