I listened to “Around the World in 80 Days” on my flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong. Phileas Fogg considered it fast to traverse the Pacific in 22 days. It took me 14 hours.
At 40,000 feet the world is smaller — but I see less of it than did Fogg. I have this sense that I am skimming the surface of vast complexity, seeing only the largest peaks and valleys.
I wonder if our children will look back at these 14-hour journeys and consider them quaintly antiquated. As we move further and faster, it seems we need new navigational skills. Not so much using the stars to find our way across vast oceans, but using our hearts to find our way across the chasms of bias and assumption.
Last night I went to a Turkish restaurant in Singapore’s Arab Quarter called Alaturka. On the menu they have a vision and mission statement that talks about the world becoming smaller and their restaurant as a way for people of all colors and creeds to connect. At first blush it might seem an overly grandiose vision for a little restaurant?
I live in a small town — a couple thousand people, no traffic lights, the largest buildings are the commercial greenhouses. Walking around it’s typical to hear both Spanish and English, and we consider it a multi-racial community. Even in the orchards of Corralitos, the world seems to be moving fast — but it’s not so apparent that it’s become so small.
A long airplane ride and much jetlag later, I wake up in a world that’s hard to imagine in my small town. Sitting there in the middle of tropical Singapore, enjoying absolutely delicious food, I was surprised to hear patrons talking German, Japanese, Chinese, and English and the occasional Turkish interchange between waiters. Looking around the restaurant there were only a few tables full, yet there were people from five of the world’s continents and at least 3 major religions.
I find the “small world” concept paradoxical because I experience the world as a very large place with incredible diversity. Even in the era of megabusiness that’s the same all over, as I travel from continent to continent I perceive vast savannahs of brick and endless jungles of concrete and glass. Walking through the Canyon Lands of the American Southwest is a different world from the canyon lands of Singapore or Shanghai — so far away one is nearly inconceivable from the other.
And then I wind up in a little restaurant on a small street where, even in the days before Phileas Fogg’s fictional travels, people from a dozen races mingled, and the world does truly seem to have shrunk.
[from EQ Reflections, Nov 28, 2006]