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I spent the last 24 hours in Shanghai. No matter how eloquent, descriptive or powerful the language I use impacts you, it pales in comparison to the actual experience. I know this about travel. It was something I dreamed about long before I was old enough (and financially stable enough) to actually make those excursions reality, but I never tire of the lessons I learn when engaging new cultures and new civilizations! As I write this, the opening monologue of “Star Trek” is playing on the video in my mind, “…to boldly go where no one (man) has gone before.” Even though many have made these trips, for me each unique destination comes fraught with its own lovely frustrations, its own distinct character and a host of insights.
Shanghai is an amazing city. At once, it is cosmopolitan and modern. Around the next corner it is distinctly Chinese. At the city center, the Pearl Tower and the Bund draw millions of visitors a week. For our trip, during this week’s National Holiday, there were millions of visitors in Shanghai, and most of them seemed to be where we wanted to go!
But that is part of the flavor of China. This is a land encumbered by human presence. From the subway to the Bund Tunnel, people are everywhere. Yet, the masses move with relative ease, and around every corner there are respites from the crowds if you know where to look.
I was warned about the population density. From my perspective, it is no worse than NYC or Chicago during rush hour, the most notable exception being the subway. Masses of people move onto and off those trains with a singular mission, and it is somewhat frightening to realize one might not make it off the train because of the people-mass you have to engage between you and the door of the train!
Regardless, this is part of the Chinese travel experience and with a bit of preparation it was easy to handle. As to the actual experience, I was in awe with the architecture of the city! The Pearl Tower was magnificent, as were the other architectural wonders of the area! We spent a couple of hours there, had an amazing lunch at a Thai restaurant, and then made our way across the river to the Bund. This is another shopping area, complete with thousands of locals and tourists! From there, we made our way over to the French Concession.
A haven for expats, the French Concession was once French territory and operated under its own laws, as an embassy or consulate does. Today however, it is a beautiful respite from the gleaming malls and skyscrapers for anyone who wants to spend an afternoon or evening enjoying a great glass of wine, cold beer or exquisite meal. It is also an enclave for discriminating shoppers. Nestled among tree-lined streets, the pace is decidedly slower and the culture much more diversified. Here one can find Irish Pubs next to Mexican Restaurants, Asian Spas across from contemporary art studios, and sidewalks begging to be walked.
We settled in at one of the best watering holes: Abbey Road. The drinks were great, moderately priced, and the food was good. We had mostly appetizers, but along with the great service (English-speaking, I might add) made for a beautiful ending to our one-day Shanghai overview.
I’d like to be more specific on some aspects, but will save that for later. This was an overview trip. I wanted to experience the high-speed rail service, transfers by subway and bus, and see where I want to spend time. I will say, that we in America are missing out from not having access to quality, high-speed trains. Zipping along at 300 kph, the trip from Wuxi to Shanghai took less than an hour. The train was comfortable, easy to use, and quick! This was one of the most impressive parts of the trip. Getting to Shanghai was so easy, and very inexpensive. Unlike most airports, the train stations were geared for massive amounts of people and traffic flowed on and off the trains in easy fashion!
Not everything was perfect. We did get lost a couple of times: but isn’t that part of the adventure? Getting lost, then rebooting and working through it is part of the lure of travel! Water seemed to be scarce and was pricey, and toilets even more so! All in all, it was an amazing day, and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
I want to apologize to my nephew, Ben. I stole the title of this blog from a quote of his I lifted from Facebook. I promise to give him credit for his intellectual property, and due consideration for any monetary values he ascribes to his work. Regardless, I couldn’t resist. His statement was never more applicable than this day: “Why would I want to watch a movie, when I can live one?”
As always, be kind to one another. Send questions or comments when you can or feel compelled. As we “…seek out new life and new civilizations” let us be conjoined together in this enterprise! 😉
Source: Life Doesn’t Owe Us Anything
Life doesn’t owe us anything.
In many ways, our work ethic is the most important personal skill we need to develop. It determines the altitude of our lives, and the quality of our journey. We have grown so accustomed to letting others take care of us that we have forgotten how to live at the “bone marrow-level.” We insure our lives against calamity. We minimize risk at every turn: in the workplace, at home, during recreation; then wonder why our lives often feel unfulfilled.
It is risk that provides the spiritual adrenaline that creates a meaningful life. We were born as hunters, bred as adventurers and instructed in the arts of high-mindedness. When was the last time you went “hunting” for something not found in a shopping mall? When was the last real adventure you planned and executed? What ideals have you inculcated in your life so deeply that others can observe these tenets just by the way you plan your day? If you are unsure of the answers to these, why don’t you try something new? Healthy risk is a welcome addition to any day!
I get lonely and frustrated when I isolate myself from others and adventure. I am most alive when I am on the cusp of something “dangerous” (mildly speaking of course! ;-). I have committed to being the man I have always wanted to be. I want to live through every moment. If I feel moved to meet someone and make a new friend, I move in that direction. If I want to get my haircut in China by a man who doesn’t speak much English, but wants to communicate with me…I do it. (Did it on Sunday! Had so much fun with Vic, the stylist!) He even did a few highlights and had one of the massage therapists come and work on my shoulders while I was being shampooed! Made the afternoon fly by, and I made a new friend! Not the very least of which means I also have someone who can cut and style my hair! It was often hilarious, sometimes scary as to what I would look like afterwards, but the experience was a priceless one!
As a part of my personal risk-management, I am learning to examine carefully the rubrics of my life. When they are authentically mine, I am at peace with myself and the world in which I live. When they are out of alignment, even the things I enjoy doing are often miscued and troublesome. When I was blessed with an opportunity to re-imagine my life, my “Ignition Point,” I started by removing almost everything from my life. I worked to simplify my daily regimine until it was mostly about survival. During that first 3 month period, I examined every aspect of my life. I rebuilt my personal rubric by adding back only those aspects of living that served me. I replaced religion with spirituality, the need to please others with a deeper love of myself, and the desire to have more things with the desire to have more friends. Gone was the need to “go.” It was replaced by a deeper sense to “be.” I looked at people who said they were my friends, and replaced them with people who acted like my friends. I replaced the dogma of a misguided religion with an acutely authentic spirituality taught by the same Teacher, but often misquoted in the desire to monetize spirituality. I slowed the pace of my life down to the point where small points of joy became reasons to celebrate.
I know some of this will not resonate with you. Remember, this is my rubric. Yours most assuredly will differ. That is the beauty of our individuality! I can celebrate your beauty, even as I radiate mine. You are welcome additions to my journey, and I hope I am an invited guest to yours as well. May you prosper in meaningful ways, and celebrate with those whom you love!
This week, a colleague and I both entertain birthdays. We plan on celebrating with our friends today at an expat bar and grill, where I know they have Guinness on tap, and a great wine list! Wish you were here to join us!
I think a lot about love. I guess because it is so important to me. What I have recently come to realize is that for such a long time, I never thought about what it meant. I took for granted that I knew what it was, how it looked, and how it felt.
But I was wrong.
I have discovered that love is absolute. That perfect love can only emanate from within a person who is totally, completely and utterly in love with themselves, and then able to reflect that love upon others. For many years I substituted cheap counterfeits for real love. I paraded career, education, accomplishment and financial security as meaningful goals for my life. I place no blame on others, but I was merely reflecting what I had been taught by those around me.
And I was a good student!
I had to bankrupt myself to clear the air of these false visions for living. Once my eyes were open, I was able to reconstruct my heart according to the original plans implanted within my soul when I was born. It is from this perspective I now live.
So I am learning to dance.
I cherish the moments I share with those who are important to me. I value their presence in my life. I have sought out and found a kindred spirit who shares many of these same values, and has the courage to carry out the imprints they know to be upon their heart. I desire to dance the up-close, connected dances where commitment is involved. Those waltzes where bodies touch, hearts mingle and souls are imprinted upon one another in meaningful ways that transcend the time we spend together.
And I will never be the same.
Oh, I know my life may look different. In reality, I haven’t changed at all. I just met myself on the plain of authenticity and fell in love with who I am, and what I am to do in this world. I’ll be honest….at times it is a bit scary. These are new “clothes” for my heart to wear, and I need time to break them in properly. For the first time since I was a child, I operate free from fear and judgment. I opine for unending seasons of passion, while reflecting pools of solace ripple with the contentment of this moment. Be patient with me; or better yet:
Source: Pythagorus’ Other Theorem
I had an interesting question posed to me this week by one of my students. As we begin a new semester, I work to establish a comfortable learning environment for my students, establish protocols, and give an overview of the courses I teach. During the opening days of class, I mentioned to my students that one cannot learn music apart from learning culture. As one studies the music of a people, one learns the culture, for they are interwoven. I made the further promise that I would do my best to share the culture of my people and my music, and invite my students to share theirs. One of the brightest of my students posed a question that caught me off guard: “Mr. Doherty, but your culture is only 200 years old. What is it that we in China can learn from such a young cultural tradition?”
Now mind you, she was not being rude. She really wants to know about Western Culture, specifically American culture. She has made the decision to pass on the Chinese national exam, and forego study here. Instead, she will take the SAT and attend university in the United States. It made me pause and reflect on what we have in American Culture to teach the world. Is our contribution to global society measured in only in pop culture, blue jeans, and drones? China has taught me much in the past month. I have learned a lot about Chinese society, how the people live, work and relate to one another. It is vastly different than the vibe in the United States.
I have learned that being a part of the society, the community and the collective is more than just an idea. Like the USA, China may not be perfect. They do, however have an ordered society that works for the 1.3 billion citizens of this vast land. Do not mistake me on this, I am proud to be an American citizen, that is without question. We have done many things in service to our citizens and the world. At the same time, I see many aspects of Chinese life we would do well to emulate in America. Their traditions and ideas have served them well for more than 5,000 years: and that is important for us to remember.
I reminded my students that during WWII, China and the US were allies. The enormous celebration and holiday that we observed here was a testimony to that alliance. In the ensuing years, a competition evolved as China emerged as a true world power that has not served either country well. We each have much to offer, and the world is made better by our mutual cooperation.
I have for many years felt we needed a greater depth to our global communication. I shared with another of my classes last week that in my view, what we are doing everyday in Wuxi is a template for life in the 21st Century. Separated by differing ideologies in government, economics, business and culture we have found common ground with these students in our mutual desire to better ourselves through cooperative learning. As we reach inside our respective cultures and those of our allies, we find better solutions to problems facing the world at-large. My classes may look like rooms for music instruction, but I view them differently. I see the arts taking a leading role in how we relate to one another. As Pythagorus mused millennia ago:
Music is Mathematics
Arithmetic= Number in itself
Geometry= Number in space
Music/Harmonies= Number in time
Astronomy= Number in space & time
His philosophy has shaped the thoughts of countless men and women through the ages. As we contemplate these things called numbers, and apply them to everyday life, music is there to help us move through time. In music we find a place to meet and safely challenge one another to be better, as well as develop a cauldron for the fomenting of new ideas. Yes, this has been an amazing week. There are many items I would like to share since my last post, but I’ve been really busy getting settled into my new role. In the days ahead, I hope to find the time to share some of the other details of my life here in China, including my new red bicycle!
As always, thank you for walking with me on this journey. If you have questions, submit them through the comment box on this page. Until next time,