My first big trip to Asia was over a decade ago. As China was preparing for the 2008 Olympics I was receiving a crash course in the day-to-day life of so-called “Developing” China. I was inspired then by the rich diversity of culture I found throughout the western regions. Organic gardens seemingly sprouting from every vacant lot and of course the bikes, which seemed to outnumber cars then by at least three to one made me ask myself, “Why don’t we in the far west learn some lessons from our friends on the other side of the pond and learn how to live with such cultural nobility, lower our carbon footprint and eat from our own gardens!” Admittedly, I was quite naive them, as I still am, but indeed, the richness of color found then left an imprint in me that altered the course of my life.
Last week I returned to China after ten years. This time with a group of 12 students of my own. My first observation was that most of the gardens and street markets were gone, torn down to make space for a “Civilized Kunming”. The bikes have all been replaced with fancy cars and, as I was soon to learn, the cultural meccas which hosted me years ago are currently living under heavily monitored police states.
These are interesting times we live in. As a Dragons instructor, living on the front lines of the “exotic” worlds most people only visit for but a weekend to catch a polished glimpse of a fantasy experience that ultimately is no longer actually there, the challenge is in finding the last vestiges of real culture that lay hidden like secret seed jars in far away and unexpected corners waiting to sprout at a time when people are genuinely ready for authenticity.
These concepts are difficult to grasp. In a world of high speed internet, bullet trains and to-go lattes it seems that most have lost all recollection of those not-too-long-ago-days when our calendars were marked by the passing of stars, our days were spent riding bareback upon horses galloping through grasslands and deep connections were formed slowly, awkwardly, beautifully, in real time.
I cant help but feel nostalgic for those days spent wandering around the old alleyways of Kunming before they were torn down. I struggle to share the same enthusiasm for the New China so many here now seem to hold. Yet below all this concrete I believe that in the living soil is the memory of a time when Buddha himself once offered a lesson so true it remains potent today, Nothing lasts forever, and how we choose to respond to life’s inevitable shifts is ultimately all that matters.