Dear Matisse, Phoenix and Ignatius,
There is something awfully romantic about strolling along the tree lined avenues of Shanghai. It is where the tallest boughs of the French maple arbors tower above the busy streets, intertwining to form an arched canopy which provides shade and charming appeal against the neoclassical architecture of an older world. For me it is a nostalgic city that offers glimpses of the old and the new, the preserved and the intensely redeveloped. Amongst the chic new boutiques and the modern cafes I fall in love with the heritage lane ways and traditional dwellings, each delicately hidden behind impressive iron gates and large wooden doors with huge brass knockers. I find instant solace in these characteristic little alleys as they provide a quiet haven away from the hustle of the international metropolis this city has become but also because they conger up feelings of sentiment as if I have been here before in a previous lifetime and its familiarity encourages me to seek adventure.
While I walk along my little road, my idyllic oasis, with my handy book bag on my back, I go in search of the perfect writing destination which I trust will give me the desired inspiration I need to write another valuable message to you. In my mind I am in search of a picturesque café with delectable French pastries displayed in its ornate glass façade while the sweet smell of hot chocolate permeates the air and iron clad chairs and tables are filled with loving couples intimately interacting. However, as it usually is in life, when you are looking for what you believe is the ideal, what you often find is the exact opposite. In fact, what you discover is generally in direct contrast to your expectations but you must remain open minded because you may just find a diamond hidden within the unexpected.
You see, I did not find my idyllic café. Instead I found myself sitting at a small table in the corner of a back packer’s paradise. This secluded gem was garnished with boulders of rock on its walls and tasteless knick-knacks which formed part of its cheerfully eclectic décor. With electro music releasing its hypnotic beat through its speakers, there are no delicate French aperitifs to be seen. Instead I found myself consuming a huge salad from a biodegradable bowl while sitting at an old recycled electrical wire reel and surrounded by long bench seats with bright blankets and feathery, colour-rich cushions.
But what this small cafe looks like is really of no relevance – its surface is merely superficial. Rather, what enthralls me is the nature of humanity that occupies its space. It is a microcosm of living vitality, an ethic tribe made up of flesh and spirit from different worlds and cultures, making time to interact with one another. All around me conversation is a mix of beautiful languages and unrestrained laughter which echoes warmly throughout the room, magnifying the importance of human contact. There are no phones, there are no computers, there are just human beings relating. It makes me think about my own social connections and how I should never take them for granted because whether they are friend, family or complete strangers yet to cross my path, they are essential for my own well being, they give my life a purpose and my heart a sense of belonging. The people I surround myself with make me feel alive, fulfilled and worthy of being here.
As I continue to watch the unbounded patrons mingling and interlacing in genuine verbal banter, I think about how connecting with people means getting involved and this usually requires being brave enough to move out of your own comfort zone and reach out to others. Whether you speak to each other in your own national tongue or you do the dance of charades, it is still all about connecting. So my lovely three, look around at where you are right now. You are not just spending your holiday time at a mandarin school but rather you are sitting in a classroom amongst an assembly of your peers from all the corners of the globe. Think about how you have all gathered here together at the same time and place for the sole purpose of being immersed in a new world in the centre of the Orient. You are experiencing your own microcosm and the best thing you can do for yourself is to reach out and extend the essence of who you are to your new friends. Be real in your interactions. Be sincere. Allow your heart to get to know someone. Enter their world and allow them into yours. Don’t ever be afraid to invite them in to share your path because this my lovelies is how to pave your way through life. Learn from each other, share information about your selves, discover what makes you the same and what sets you apart. This is how wonderful friendships begin. These are the diamonds you were never expecting to find. This is the importance of connection and of social harmony.
I ask you to be conscious of those around you because essentially life is all about people. It is about the magnificent mortals that make an impression and change you. It is about the folks that challenge your thoughts and generate a crack in your heart but in the end teach you a valuable lesson. It is about the friendships that make your soul swell and the rabble that tear you to pieces. It is about the incredible bodies that you know for a short time but you never ever forget and about the treasures that seem so far away but really are always invisibly present on your shoulder. But most importantly, people are about connecting and about sharing stories. Every single one of us are connected somehow and all you need to do to find that connection is to reach out and to listen. No matter where you are and who you meet, listen for the stories because everyone has a story to tell and an impact to make. And then if you are very lucky, you may just find a special connection for the duration of your life.