I have taken for granted my air! The most essential thing to life, oxygen, so critical, and yet so abused here from manufacturing pollution.
But surely there is something to learn from the Chinese, one of the longest lived cultures in history. Maybe my discomfort here resides in the inflated expectations my life in America engenders. I take things like water fountains for granted. They are not "necessities," which is shocking for me to consider. The Chinese do without many things and are just fine--which leads me to reflect on the lifestyle I have grown accustomed to. I guess I'm realizing that to live in a culture is to inhabit a paradigm that determines what's normal and that determines what's a "necessity" and what's a "luxury."
The Chinese people seem to demonstrate that simplicity cultivates contentment. For them, happiness doesn't require material wealth, but rather the closeness of family and a good harvest on their farms. Their minds are clear. Their existence escapes the bombardment of minutia we endure daily. Sure their conditions seem stoic to me, but the Chinese don't even appear to have to "endure" these conditions as I do; they effortlessly live in the moment without dwelling on a sense of poverty. Their capacity for joy in the midst of widespread poverty is forcing me to recalibrate what I consider to be essential for living well. It's also making me realize the extent to which human beings are physically and emotionally resilient.
In the West, where success defines happiness, we feel as if we must relentlessly push forward to achieve something greater. Ironically, it's our insatiable pursuit of success that negates contentment. The Chinese, on the other hand, seem to do their work as best as they can and that's enough for them. Maybe it's that they thrive internally first, which fuels an outward fulfillment and happiness. Maybe it's that in 3,000 years of collective experience, they've learned a thing or two about how to live a meaningful life.
During this whole trip I keep hearing Thoreau from some dark corner in my mind: "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. Our life is frittered away by detail."