Everything is different in Southeast Asia – the sights, the smells and the people. Henry Miller once said, “one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia and, because of it, see the world differently. The magic of travel is that you leave the security of your home and the known and enter a world you cannot imagine or derive from any book. We open ourselves to the unknown and realize that the world is both big and small all at once. We become different – better versions of ourselves. As I traveled in Southeast Asia, I took away wisdom from each country I visited and that has given me a “new way of seeing things.”
Singapore & Diversity – Once a trading post for the East India Company, Singapore has been the center of business in Southeast Asia ever since. Its socially progressive policies and acceptance of diversity have led the World Bank to consistently name it the “Easiest Place to Do Business.” Ranked 11th globally on the UN’s Human Development Index, 90 percent of citizens own homes. Lacking natural resources, though, it has chosen to focus on its talent resources to build a knowledge economy. Forty-seven percent of citizens go on to post-secondary education, and the country has a goal of being a “global schoolhouse” attracting first-class universities, including Duke, MIT, and INSEAD. While crisscrossing Singapore on its easy-to-navigate public transportation, I saw a true melting pot, that is building a thriving economy by choosing diversity as a prized possession.
Vietnam & Persistence – Vietnam has been one of the most prized territories in Southeast Asia, but it has emerged as a thriving independent economy with one of the highest growth rates in the world. Although still largely an agrarian economy, it is making economic gains in high-tech and manufacturing industries. These gains have largely reversed its poverty rate and greatly improved living standards, especially in rural communities. What struck me about Vietnam is the persistence of its people to improve their lives and their community. When we toured the coastal town of Phu My, women on motorbikes persistently followed us to sell their handmade crafts. By the end, I was compelled to buy a number of souvenirs just to reward their efforts. Its culture values harmony and humanity, which in combination, has led it to progress swiftly as a country and a leader in Southeast Asia.
Cambodia & Gratitude – Cambodia is a beautiful country with even more beautiful people. To Western eyes, this country has a long way to go toward curbing widespread poverty, low human development and corruption. Yet, the Cambodian people, where 95 percent practice Buddhism and believe in the importance of bonn (merit) and good karma (work), exude gratitude. When I toured a school in Sihanoukville, I encountered curious children excited to meet an American and anxious to speak English. Cambodia is a land of untapped potential, and I look forward to seeing how it harnesses its human potential for future growth.
Thailand & Inner Peace – I enjoyed the unique juxtaposition of the energetic flow of Bangkok streets with the peaceful serenity of its temples. And, the Thai people make this dichotomy work. When visiting Wat Ratchanatdaram, one of the famous Buddhist temples in the heart of Bangkok, I found a meditation that gave me insight into their culture: “By not being angered by someone who is angry, you have won the battle not easily won.” It reminded me that the battle is not an external one at all, but an internal one. The key isn’t the absence of conflict in life, but maintaining control and a peaceful heart in the face of conflict.
Each country opened up my eyes to new ways of seeing the world and myself as well as the importance of having values that drive our efforts and culture. Diversity. Persistence. Gratitude. Inner Peace. I came back from vacation refreshed, but also reinvigorated with new wisdom to add to my daily practice and my work with clients. Southeast Asia is an amazing place with a lot to teach all of us. Please share your thoughts on your summer travels and what you have learned.