Luqman's Day 13 - Following the rule of "When in Rome," let me philosophize for a moment…
As today we are basically sitting around waiting for tonight's flight, this blog is all about reflection. Since Egypt is the true home of philosophy and the world's earliest deep thinkers, I thought that I would end this leg of the trip by reflecting on what I have learned thus far, and also by looking ahead. I hope I don't get too spaced out for you, as I have been known to lose people some times. However it may end up, understand that some of this made sense in my head at some point before I typed it.
Now I don't feel that it is a coincidence that we found ourselves in the places we have landed. Being in Rome and Egypt has been amazing, and it triggered some thoughts in my head. The first thing is that people have been here a long time. In a very good book, the Dalai Lama discusses the analogy of the universe composed in a single atom. He discusses how the macro-world is mirrored in the micro-world, even though we may not recognize it. I have always believed this, and one is example is how the history of mankind can be represented by the life of one man or woman. In the old Greek "riddle of the Sphinx", men are asked 'what animal first has four legs, then two, and then three?' The answer of course is man (or woman) because we first crawl on all fours, then walk on two, and then need the help of the cane. In Islam, believers are encouraged to practice humility because in their older age they will again reach a level of vulnerability that they had in infancy, and the strength and vigor characteristic of younger men will be a distant memory. In the same light, civilizations are born, reach a peak in strength, and decline. They always return to same point they visited in their infancy. However, to see this you cannot be small, narrow, or short-minded. You must roll out the entire papyrus scroll to see that no civilization exercises its will forever. Rome had its wonder years, but their ruins reminded us that this success was short lived. However, as Deepak Chopra often tells us, death is necessary to allow new life, and this is shown by present-day Rome's resurrection amongst the ashes of the past. Egypt, which had by far the longest run, was even plagued by crests and troughs themselves, which required their story be broken into chapters called dynasties. Sometimes, things were good and the beer flowed like wine (quoting genius from Dumb and Dumber), and other times barbarians came out the woods and smacked people around. At different points, the Egyptians were taken over by Hittites, Hyksos, Turks, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. However, there was often someone like the Kus***e King Taharka of the 25th dynasty to expel the foreigners and reunite the Egyptian kingdoms. This was generally followed by a cultural renaissance where temples could be built, kids could eat enough grain to get fat, and pharaohs could make it rain on their concubines. Egyptian history was kind of like the movie Bad Boys II, where you thought they were done and the movie over, and then there was a whole other hour and a half of action left (can you say overkill). Depending on where you look in Egypt's illustrious history, there could have been a completely different story and perspective about their people, depending on who was in charge at the time. Seeing the five thousand year old step pyramid at Saqqara reminds me that America is in fact a powerful infant. Its reign is nothing new under the sun, and we must be cognizant of this. Empires like those of Ancient Egypt and China left behind several wonderful monuments of their power and intellect that continue to influence us today. Several members of the group brainstormed on what from our country would last 4-5,000 years and represent our achievements to those who follow. Outside of Mt. Rushmore, (which is a stretch), we had a tough time thinking of anything. I challenge others to this exercise as well (remember what 5,000 is really like and compare it to our countries 230 year age).
Keeping this in mind, it is even more interesting to think about Thailand and the Asian tigers and the fact that some Asian dynasties rose and fall for hundreds of years, and countries like China are starting a new Renaissance of their own. The ability of the tigers to use cheap labor and manufacturing strength to build powerful global economies is impressive to watch. We live in a time period where we are witnessing the birth of a new super power before our eyes. Does their ascent imply an American decline? I don't know, but surely we would be fools not to consider this.
Lastly, I thought about how the Western world tags other nations as "developing" or even "third world." I feel these are horrible names cause it assumes that we all started off on an equal plane and due to our work ethic and intelligence, the dust cleared and there were haves and have-nots. That is obviously not the case, and books like Confessions of an Economic Hitman prove this. The story of why some live in comfort and others in poverty is very complicated and we should all try to figure this out for ourselves. Otherwise, we will walk around with a false superiority complex that will end up crippling us. Did African Universities like the ones at Timbuktu called European nations "third world" during the long stretch of the Dark Ages? Did Britain scoff at America's "development" as their incessant taxation of the colonies brewed a revolution? What role does this 'holier than thou' attitude play in the roller coaster ride of civilizations? These are interesting concepts to ponder, but then again maybe I am just a nerd and boring you to death, in which case I apologize. But until I land in Thailand, I will bid you adieu. I am off from the big city of Cairo when man's greatest engineering feats are prominent to Thailand where I will see God's work prominently featured in the mountains, hills and rivers. I know this will spark more philosophical thought, but the backlash from this rant will probably prevent my sharing it. But to ensure that I put you to sleep, I also compiled my top 10 lessons from the trip thus far. Enjoy.
1. Nothing on an overnight train is more fun than comparing words for things in Bri'ish English (spelled it that way cause I never heard them use a 't' in this word) vs. common American slang vs. 'southern' English. It is amazing that this is all one language. Hannah traded our British friend Jenny and Eleanor a "douchebag" and a "tool" for a Bri'ish w***er' and a 'chap.' We all had a smashing time playing with language until Hannah started consistently referring them to the Urban dictionary, which is the bane of my existence, but that is another story altogether.
2. I don't know what is worse for a man between missing 2 straight weeks of Sportscenter and being detached from the world altogether, or knowing he will miss another week. Stay tuned for the results on this.
3. It really is the bomb when you somewhat resemble the natives of the country you visit. It opens up a whole new world of conversation. Gets you straight past the tourist price in bargaining. I will miss this benefit in Thailand.
4. We never know how real this gas thing is until we learn the price in pounds sterling per liter, then remember how many dollars in a british pound, and then remember how many liters are in a gallon. Hope I didn't lose you on that one, but if so just trust me and put a down payment on your smart car (see pictures from Day 13) now.
5. We never recognize how important the world's new priceless resource of water (replacing oil) is until you have to drink it out a bottle for a while or risk instant death (exaggeration for effect people).
6. I hate tourists. I have never been bumped by arrogant folks so many times in my life. And, I am pretty sure that silence and a dumb look is not 'excuse me' in both Dutch and German (will google to make sure when I get home though).
7. I cannot drive at all. Trust me, until you ride in a taxi in a country with traffic like India or Egypt, you may think you can drive too, but I have developed a six pack this week just from wincing and bearing down on my stomach every time I thought we would hit a truck or a few pedestrians.
8. Hearing impaired citizens can run a restaurant just as well as anyone else; in fact, they are even more attentive and diligent
9. The sun in Egypt is quite deceptive. It was only 70 degrees, but it burned many in our group and even gave me a nice rotiserrising (verb meaning "to make rotisserie")
10. History is a beautiful thing once you recognize that you better get on it today if you want to be part of it.