Friday, May 23, 2014

Life is colourful ....

Over the last 15 years I've been fortunate enough to have traveled to many different countries with a wide variety of cultures, history and traditions.  I've lived in 3 of those countries for reasonable lengths of time and many people have asked the question, "Which is your favourite?" I ask, "How am I expected to answer that when each has had it's own unique attractions and influences on my life?" 

Let me first define attractions, 'the action or power of evoking interest in or liking for someone or something'. These aren't necessarily only on the outside, which  most tourists get a glimpse of,  but when you're fortunate enough to live in a country for any length of time you soon find out that they each have many depths of character (colours) which include the geographical, architectural, cultural, societal, and religious aspects as well. This depth of character is what the country is really all about.

Firstly we went to Korea to live for 3 years and there I discovered a depth of culture that I hadn't ever experienced before. I was born and raised in Australia which doesn't have a very long history of  white Australian culture. The original inhabitants of Australia were the Aborigines and their traditions are amazing, and I don't wish to take anything from them but, they're a long way from the history of the Far East with the Emperors, Grand Palaces and structurally complex societies. White Australians have only been in Australia for around 250 years so it's nothing in comparison to the thousands of years of the documented societal history of China, Korea and Japan.

At first Korea was a culture shock for me as it was so different and yet so fascinating.  Back in the year 2000 there were very few signs in English where we lived and it felt as if we were aliens who had landed on a different planet. We weren't going to be there for just a short time, then going back to what we knew in our home country, so we had to embrace it and learn from the surroundings and the people as much as we could. 

This was when I discovered the wonderful world of Hanji and I've loved it ever since

I so admire the traditional arts, crafts, dress and manner of the Korean people and applaud them for being hardworking, conscientious and polite. Of course in any society you get those who aren't stereotypical but  I found from my own personal experiences that this was true for the majority of people I met.

Because of the wonderfully rich history of that region there are still many of the palaces and old Buddhist temples which are still beautifully maintained and well restored so as to remind them, and us, for generations to come of what the country once was, and where they've come from.

There were things in all countries that we lived in that drove us crazy, they mainly related to the practical side of living like dealing with official protocols that seemed to be so much more difficult in another country than in our own but there were so many more positives that made up for it all.

Next we moved on to Malaysia which was very different once again. This move was easier than the first as I'd started to learn how to embrace the differences of the people, language and things around me and take them more in my stride. 

Malaysia is a country with three largely diverse ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese and Indian. The  architecture in general is not that interesting but the tropical weather gives the countryside a lush, green blanket which is uplifting to look at and it softens its man made concrete surroundings.

It was great to see how well the Malaysians all got on together and how each celebrated one another's festivals which means, as a working person, you ended up with a myriad of Public Holidays every year  as the country seemed to stop and become a big festival of riotous colours and celebrations. 

They have their internal problems and not everyone gets on with one another, especially when equality for the races is not truely practiced as we know it but, they make the most of it and life ticks along quite nicely. Religion plays a large part in their lives with mosques, temples and churches all on display and the people are very relaxed, fun loving and respectful of foreigners.

We stayed there for 5 years until our contracts ran out. and we decided to move on.

Our  destination for the last 6 1/2 years has been the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  I never had any  desire to come to the Middle East, I was happy to read about it in books and magazines and to see documentaries on TV but it all seemed too daunting to actually have to live in one of these Muslin countries. 

To my surprise the transition was much easier than expected and here I've seen so many different colours (layers) in this society not only visually with the yellow, wide open expanses of sand dunes and the glitzy, neon  lit buildings and architectural wonders of Dubai and Abu Dhabi but also in the 
barely visible people behind the black and white kandoras.

The UAE is progressively modern and amazingly tolerant for a Muslim country whose population is made up of more than 80% expatriates. It's been amazing to see what the oil money has allowed the Sheiks to do over the last 40 years and how the Emiratis have embraced their relatively new found wealth with gusto, employing only the best architects and builders from around the world to change this country from a once sleepy  desert town into a thrilling and thriving metropolis. 

Their religion is everything to them and the country is dotted with mosques which seem to pop up every few hundred metres as you drive through the towns.  The calls to prayer are heard regularly throughout the day but you soon get use to it and barely notice the cries of the Iman after a few short weeks.

I've been able to visit my students stone mountain dwellings where some of them were born in the surrounding caves about 30 years ago, to visit their weekend homes in the desert where they enjoy sand dunning, singing around open fires and eating feasts with them on the floor of their hut as well as  out sailing in traditional dhows on the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf.

How can I choose?

Today is the day that I  head back to Australia to fulfil more dreams.  Not those of travel this time but those of being closer to my family, setting up a Hanji business in Adelaide and having more time to spend on things I love doing. Living in different countries and travelling has given my life a richness of colours like no other and I hope there will be many more to come but if not, I have nothing to complain about. I've taken opportunities when they've been presented to me, I've embraced people  & their cultures from around the world and I've been enriched by every positive and negative experience  put before me.

 ........ I'm now looking forward to what's going to happen next.

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