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‘Two cheers for local culture’

(To Li Li)

Dear Outside World,

We the Dragons, on the last night at Bagan, came to write to you about our exciting adventure. This one-week experience is understood by many of us as unparalleled. Magnificent pagodas as the epitome of the 11th century craftsmanship whispered their stories to the curious foreign visitors, decorating our monotonous modern lives with mystery and excitement. The Nature, long revered by the Buddhists as the ultimate source of wisdom, awakened those who have been isolated by the artifice of city life, displaying her true beauty only to the most observant eyes. Then, as the legend goes, Bagan unfolds its charisma as the Dragons proceed into its heartland…

Hundreds and hundreds of pagodas scatter across the city and, when viewed from above, altogether compose a splendid picture of Burmese culture and religion. There is no better chance to appreciate history and reflect on ourselves. As we wander through these imposing temples, their centuries-old stone foundations create a sense of permanence and infinity across time and space, something that is lacking in the consumer-centric culture that we are accustomed to. The economic principle we learned in modern classes taught us the importance of balancing unlimited human desires with scarce resource, but it never teaches: should humans desires be unlimited? Modern science tells us too much “what”, yet too little “should”. We are obsessed with the idea of dominating and manipulating nature and have no time to waste on revisiting ancient wisdoms. Perhaps inevitably, environmental destruction is taking place every day on a massive scale, species are dying out at a rate far surpassing that of natural selection, and humans, at last, are suffering the consequences of these unsustainable actions as the rate of mental illness and food pollution is secretly climbing up. The deemphasis on morality in our education succeeds in liberating individuals but, at the same time, has a great potential to curtail the future of humanity.

Walking into an ancient temple, facing the Buddha’s all-knowing smiles, we seem to realize something. Travel provides us with a unique opportunity to reexamine our efficient yet anxious lives in modern societies. Before we go too far in our materialistic path to success, it’s time for us to take a break and tell ourselves: “breathe in, and breathe out”.

At the end, I would like to express my immense gratitude to all the instructors for designing amazing activities in the past few days and all the fellow travelers for constructing this unforgettable experience together. Bagan gave us its daily performance of sunset this evening, but we took away lessons that would be cherished for life.

Best wishes,

The Dragons

(Written by Charles)