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I was born in July, and one day has never felt like enough to celebrate the marvel of existing in this form, so for years now I have been having adventures – my favorite gifts – on many of the days in the month of my birth. Some of the best, and occasionally the worst, are documented here.

2010 McLeod Ganj, India
It was nearing dark last night, and I was on my way home down the hill, when Ubaid, a teenager from Kashmir whose acquaintance I have been making, reached out to shake my hand as I walked by, then gently pulled me up the steps where he had been sitting and into his uncle’s jewelry shop. I had the feeling he was bored, looking for conversation, so I tried to think of something to say that might interest him.
A couple of months earlier, a man who drove me across northern India from Srinigar to Leh had given me the Kashmiri name Nure, which he spelled out in English and pronounced “noo-REE,” emphasizing the stress on the second syllable. I told Ubaid my Kashmiri name, and I was pleased to learn that he is interested in names. Nure is an old name, he told me, and he likes the old names better than the new.
Today I asked my students, Tibetan refugees, to give me a Tibetan name. The one they chose, Kunsang Lhamo, means something along the lines of “Generous Defender of All Sentient Beings.” Of course I'm deeply honored. I've never met anyone named Kunsang. Lhamo is my favorite Tibetan woman's name.

2009 Dubrovnik, Croatia
Croatia Air may lack organization in its boarding strategies – Both ends of the plane: Ready, set, go – but they got us in the air. We touched down in Split and there had to get off the plane and go through passport control and security again. In Zagreb a 10-minute delay turned into an hour and a half, but we got to see lightning flashing all around us. They were closing the airport – Zacner Luka Dubrovnik – when we landed in Dubrovnik, so my strategy of sleeping there wasn’t going to work, but we found a kind taxi driver named Bozho who called someone he knew about private accommodation and taught us a little Croatian in the process.

2008 Tallinn, Estonia
I bought salty licorice on the ferry from Helsinki, exhausted my vocabulary of two words in Finnish. Here in Estonia, I’ve got the same two words – hello and thank you – but I’m planning to add a few as I go.

2003 Blagoveshchensk, Russia
I wish I could watch a movie of the three and a half hours that comprised the Drama Theatre adventure and its aftermath. The Drama Theatre itself – known to locals as Bastilya, after the French prison – is a colossal grey concrete ruin hulking on the Russian bank of the Amur River. The adventure was a visit to the interior of the shambles, which is even more preposterous than I imagined from outside.
The space dedicated to the performance of plays is miniscule in comparison with the sheer bulk of the edifice: a round stage, meant to spin, rusts in the middle of the modest room. But what are all those enormous halls? To what are the staircases supposed to lead? What is the purpose of the towers? What is the history of this edifice that was never finished and is now deteriorating? What is its future?
There are skulls and swastikas painted on some walls, but they are surprisingly few. Most astonishing is a poem of love and gratitude that I managed to photograph before we got word that the police, who rarely appear in this forbidding and forbidden location, were paying us a visit.

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