Monday, September 8, 2008

thank you please...

I've just arrived in Seoul, Korea, passed through ridiculously slow security to a chant of, "Thank you, please," repeated in sing song by the Korean security girls dressed in khaki polyester uniforms. Now I am in the windowed terminal watching the sun creep towards the western horizon. My only real glimpse of Korea was a smattering of islands silhouetted on the rippled silver of the sea not far from the airport.
It is about eleven hours from SFO to Seoul, I kept myself entertained with my new favorite magazine, GOOD, and a book that came highly recommended, Three Cups of Tea. Of course, both have left me feeling equally optimistic and depressed about where the world is headed. A topic to which I feel many words could be dedicated.
Good talks about the poor state of the Public School in the US, while Three... documents the efforts of an American mountaineer to build schools in Pakistan. Education, and I am not talking calculus and chemistry type stuff, but the basics, reading, writing, 'rithmetic, is something that, at least in my opinion, everyone should have access too. Yet in our attempts to help educate the world I often wonder with our western ideals and ideas what impact we end up leaving.
I consider this stuff a lot. In my job we like to proselytize how low impact and sustainable our way of traveling is. Many travelers love to be arrogant about how they are giving back, how they stay off the tourist trail, and how they live like locals. But at the end of it, we go home, or go somewhere else, and I wonder what is left in our wake besides empty water bottles.
In another fantastic book, Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, the author talks about his impact on the l0cal people he develops relationships with. As I have spent more and more time in Central America I often find myself torn. I don't want to perpetuate ideas of American wealth and prosperity, I want to be generous with friends, but not feel like I am buying them or that they are exploiting me. I end up feeling my hands are tied. And the more I read the more unsure I feel. A bright light in all this thinking were two quotes that I felt at least made a lot of sense to my thinking, they follow....

It may seem absurd to believe that a "primitive" culture in the Himalaya has anything to teach our industrialized society. But our search for a future that works keeps spiraling back to an ancient connection between ourselves and the earth, and interconnectedness that ancient cultures have never abandoned.
-Helena Norberg-Hodge

"Tell us, if there were one thing we could do for your village, what would it be?"
"With all respect, Sahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don't envy your restless spirits. Perhaps we are happier than you? But we would like our children to go to school. Of all the things you have, learning is the one we most desire for our children."
-Conversation between Sir Edmund Hillary and Urkien Sherpa, from Schoolhouse in the Clouds

I'm not sure any of this makes much sense, but it is a glimpse of what is swirling around in my noggin as I am on my way to see Miss Kohan out there in Cambodia. Than you, please.

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