Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Searching for Shangri-La

I just finished watching a documentary called Searching for Shangri-La. It's about American Laurence J Brahm, an old China hand who goes on a physical and spiritual journey looking for the Shangri-La James Hilton described in his book Lost Horizon.

Hilton describes a place where buildings with golden rooftops reach the heavens and Brahm goes in search of this destination, wondering if it's a figment of Hiltons' imagination or reality.

Most of the movie feels like an ego-driven one, as there are numerous shots of Brahm trying to look deep in thought, or showing off his fluency in Putonghua. And just in case we've forgotten who this white guy is, his name comes up periodically along with the other people he interviews.

But at the same time it's a road trip where he travels through Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Lijiang and Zhongdian and meets artists, musicians, Buddhist monks and nomads.

He asks them all where Shangri-la is. And many of them say it's in your heart, when you have renounced materialism, meditate and drink yak butter tea.

The film also goes off on a tangent about how people in the West look for a spiritual answer and they get inspiration from the East, modify it or modernize it to make it seem New Age. They cite examples of music, saying Enigma's break out song Sadeness is actually based on Tibetan chants. They say this style of music evolved because sheep herders were usually alone with the animals with no one to talk to all day so they sang to fill the expansive land.

They also talk about how Westerners think meditating everyday will lead to enlightenment when they live in cities that are hardly spiritual. Chinese artists try to find places that aren't "polluted" so that they can freely find themselves and their art. That's why they drift to more remote areas free from distractions.

By the end of the documentary there is no real resolution or conclusion so the viewer is left wondering what the whole point of this film is.

So for the record, Shangri-la is where you are, and what you make of it. Sounds like the Eastern version of searching for the meaning of life.


Kai Sun said...

seek inner peace within oneslf and there is shangri-la. quietness, deep breathing, meditation are in order.

Anonymous said...

Shangri-La left, but never gone. At least that's true for me.