These women emerged from their houses at the Sera monastery in Tibet in 1985, brushed their hair and aprons and wanted us to take their pictures. So we did. Unfortunately it turned out that they thought we had Polaroid cameras with instant processing and printing. The disappointment was big when they discovered the truth. They had apparently met or heard of charter tourists with such cameras. No “travellers” had them.
That’s what I wrote about this scene many years ago. In fact that situation does not stand out as typical East Asian in my opinion. Of course, curiosity and friendliness in combination with a traditional sense of hospitality is most certainly major impressions of mine. I found these sentiments not only in remote Tibet and Mongolia but in modern-day Japan as well.
A stronger impression is what I would call the hectic way of life most East Asians are living. This is only partly due to living in one of the world’s most populated regions. I do believe there are cultural reasons as well.
As a means to counteract this it is no surprise that the region has fostered religious philosophies which put much emphasis on deep meditation and mental balance. As a result there are many troubling balancing points in East Asia’s society today: Old and new; traditional and modern; work and leisure; manual and mental; stagnation and growth; poverty and prosperity; collectivism and individualism.
“Distance tests a horse’s strength. Time reveals a person’s character.” (Chinese proverb)
My travels in North, Central and East Asia. Click to access the dynamic map.
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