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,
If you had everything you needed, would you know it?
I remember being asked, “…when is enough, enough?” I thought it strange at the time, but see the wisdom in such a question. The answer is really not the important end of the transaction. For me, asking the question is its own answer. When I take time to reflect, to question, to explore what is important in my life…in some strange way, it begins to conform to that perfection I seek so fervently.
I have lived most of my life by a formula. A formula I chose as an adult, but one that was inculcated within me from childhood. That formula was touted as “success.” Work hard in school, go to college, get a professional degree, work to get a good job: so you can make enough money to be happy. Once you have the good job, buy your first house, and pay for your first car, you can fill your life with things that make you happy. As you get older, you seek a long-term relationship, which often brings about other dependents: each of which comes with a contract of needs and wants. Once positioned, a larger house in a better neighborhood becomes necessary, more storage, a BBQ grill ;-), and another automobile: which means you also need a two car storage space! You work longer hours, take on extra assignments or part time jobs, all to provide for you and yours. Soon, the stress of your job means you need a golf membership at the local golf course, and then better clubs to work with. Factor in a golf pro, golfing vacations, and a subscription to the golf channel and magazine…well, you see the pattern. You need to get away, relax, or just simply rest and it costs a lot of money for these “sanity-savers.” With each step along this path, your means do not quite keep up with your “needs,” and a vicious cycle squeezes the very life from your bones.
In effect, success becomes the formula for our own demise. Constantly needing replacement, the consumer lifestyle is, by definition an unfulfilling one. We spend time chasing a shadow of happiness so diligently that we fail to see the joy that is available all around us for free.
No longer. No longer will I ignore the beautiful times that swirl all around me. I want to sip from the cup of laughter, swim in the pool of friendship, and bask under the warmth of a vigilant sun that energizes the world I live in. I want to do good work in areas of personal strength, while I use my resources wisely. I want to learn about the larger world. The world that has been just beyond the grasp of my experience. In so doing, I come to grips with my own reality in a way that was never before possible.
As a young boy, I would pine over the great novels and epic poems from British and American authors. As I ingested great works like “Paradise Lost,” “Walden,” “Moby Dick”and “A Farewell to Arms”, my mind was filled with ideas and a desire for adventure that can only be described as deliberate. It is the realization that I have much in common with Ernest Hemingway, John Milton, Henry David Thoreau, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and so many other dreamers that I draw inspiration to fuel my current travels, and encourages me to share them with others. As I journey, I see more clearly that I have long been infatuated with living a life that is above ordinary.
It is with the aforementioned authors’ blessing I find myself on the cusp of a new beginning. My time in Thailand is drawing to a close. It has been a perfect holiday. Many days I have not even left my hotel. Content in the experience to rest, heal, and love those who walk into my life on this beautiful front porch. I have come to a deeper understanding about a people and the land that connects them. I have enjoyed local food, drink, and even the occasional Guinness! I will say, the Thai people have much to learn about beer! 😉 Their approach to food, however, is absolutely beautiful. Fresh, vibrant, colorful and flavorful the Thai people take great pride in their national cuisine. It has been beautiful to share this time with such a happy people.
When we are young, we do not know about our socio-economic standing. We might be rich, poor or somewhere in between, but are not aware of the ramifications of such stations. That is learned, and as such, comes upon us later in life. As I look around, I see a people who are lovely as they are, all the while trying to “buy” as much western culture as possible. I hope they can find peace and prosperity within their own means, while continuing to celebrate the beauty that is the Thai people. I see the bounty they possess, and want to learn as much as I can from such an ancient and soulful civilization!
Check out this video from the TED talks library. Use art to turn the world “inside out!”
Happy…that’s it! I’ve never seen a people more happy than the people I have met in Thailand. Such a beautiful country, easy to navigate without speaking Thai, and welcoming in every way. While Singapore Airlines did a great job of setting me up for success in Asia (thank you Singapore Airlines), every facet of my time in Bangkok and Pattaya has been wondrous. Just a note on Singapore Airlines, and I have absolutely no affiliation with them at all, but consider this:
On a 2 1/2 hour flight from Singapore to Bangkok, the cabin crew served me breakfast with fresh fruit and really good coffee (espresso), a hot towel to wash my face (I’d been flying for more than 26 hours), and a smile for every request I made of them. I cannot remember the last time I had a hot meal on a domestic flight, economy class in America. On the long flights they had a snack bar available, had a gluten free menu option, and offered wine and beer as a part of their “free” beverage service! I had wine with lunch and dinner and never had to use my credit card! Needless to say, I am a fan…a BIG fan of Singapore Airlines!
Upon arrival in Bangkok, the immigration process was organized, efficient and welcoming. Customs was no problem, and the arrival area easy to navigate. I had a driver waiting for me, recommended by my hotel, and a wonderful transit to the beach front property. My driver was most curious as to why the American government never came out against the corruption within the Thai government. A military coup took control of the country last year, and it made only a blip on the US Media screen! I didn’t have an answer, as I question the same thing of my country. I do have an idea, however: $$$Money. It always comes down to economic interests. If we have little to gain, corruption goes largely unbridled. If there is oil to be had, we invent stories of WMD so a war is justified…just sayin’! Other than that question, the driver was helpful, pleasant and a good driver! Which is important in a foreign country.
I arrived at my hotel, checked-in, and still haven’t given them a credit card! I didn’t need it for my reservation, they don’t use it for incidental charges, and one of the residents even walked me to his favorite bank to exchange my currency! And, by the way, didn’t even ask to be paid for the advice and time it took to walk to the bank. We enjoyed a lively conversation, he hails from the UK, but has lived in many places in the world, including South Dakota! I’ve never met anyone who actually lived in South Dakota…and typical of my experiences, the one I did meet has a passport from the United Kingdom! The staff has made me feel more like a member of an exclusive club or family, just by virtue of the fact I am staying at their beautiful guest house! The bar seats 3, the restaurant has 5 tables, and the owner is behind the bar most of the day! Where has service like this gone in my home country? I am old enough to remember my parents and grandparents speak of such times, but this is my first time to actually experience such an exquisite connection to my host and his staff and friends.
Neil, Tui’s friend, has been a welcomed presence for my holiday here. His wit is keenly British, and his knowledge of American pop culture is inspiring! I have made it a priority to have no agenda here. I want to have long conversations, meet many people, and truly enjoy the nature of this place.
On Friday, I spent time at Jomtien Complex, hanging out with a couple of the staff from the hotel. Though I don’t speak Thai, most of the residents of Pattaya speak English (some better than others! ;-). As the wine and Bailey’s took effect (Bailey’s Irish Cream is a big hit here! God bless the Irish!), several observations became evident. These guys were really happy in the moment. We had wine and cocktails that cost less than $3.00 each, and a food truck that stopped in front of the establishment created quite a stir. Obviously, a well-known proprietor (think motorcycle/side car, rather than an American Airstream!), my hosts jumped up and bought food for 3 of us for $3.30 cents. Rice, fish, and pork with a side of Thai Chili sauce. The pork was barbecued, and the sauce on it was spicy enough for me, and I really like spicy food! I did try the Thai Sauce, suffice it to say, I did not want that working its way through my digestive system all night! The fish were small mackerel, smoked and then grilled or fried, I couldn’t figure which, and seemed to me like eating large anchovies! The Thai’s loved this meal, and I could tell they were very happy and proud to share such an authentic and delicious meal with me. At no time did I feel like an outsider. The languages we spoke were bridges to one another not barriers, and the best part of the time together was the laughter that permeated the evening. One of the bartenders walked me back to my hotel (it was only about 4 blocks), to be sure I made it ok.
It has been a long time since I have seen people truly happy and thankful for what they have. Most of the guys in our party had moved here from the northern more mountainous regions of Thailand, and have family still there. Many of them are college graduates or skilled laborers, happy to have a job and even happier to be able share time with friends and make new ones. They would leave their mobile phones on the table when they went to the toilet or to visit with another table, and I saw no locks on the motorcycles and bicycles around the hotel where we stay. I know it can’t be as idyllic as I see it now, surely there is crime here ;-), but my experience thus far has been completely free from fear. I can speak from my own experience, that I have learned much from the Thai people in just a short time. In my rush toward “owning” and “possessing,” I had forgotten how important things like smiles, handshakes, trust, and great conversation were to the quality of my life.
I am looking for a dose of what these people possess. I’m not sure they even recognize the beauty of their culture. I see them looking toward work, enterprise and things to define their lives, all the while they posses a paradise of soul that is irreplaceable. When I meet guys at the bar we shake hands, and almost without fail when we leave, we embrace in a hug. Strange how close I feel to these amazing people and their beautiful lifestyle. It has been the perfect holiday so far: strangely holy, wondrously fulfilling.
On Saturday, I asked one of the hotel employees to direct me to a great restaurant for dinner. He decided to show me instead! His comment was, “…I don’t trust you to find real Thai food. I will go with you.” He took me to a lovely restaurant called the Surf Kitchen. He helped me in ordering, and I have to say…the food was amazing. We had a lovely grilled chicken with coconut sauce, a beef dish with onion and cucumber, accompanied by a seafood-vegetable soup. While I was somewhat familiar with these dishes from eating at Thai restaurants in the US, the flavors here were in some ways more subtle, and in others over the top. The proteins were tender and clean, and the vegetables fresh from the local market. The sauces were amazing. When Thai people say spicy, they mean really SPICY. The food was great, but what was equally good to see was the pride the employees take in how their food is presented and received. There is a great national pride in the Thai culture, and I can see why. We sat outdoors, within earshot of the beach. At least 5 languages were being used in conversation around me, and once again, it was exactly the kind of evening I was looking for.
On a side note, I slept most of the night last night. The thirteen hour time difference from Austin, TX to Bangkok has taken a bit to overcome. I am so glad I decided to do it before heading to China. This way, upon arrival I will be fully present, rested and ready to dive-in to a new job. As my first post comes to a close, I want to thank you for being on this journey with me. As always, send any comments and/or questions you have about my writing, my music, or my travel. It is a blessing to have such good friends along for the ride!