Thursday, September 13, 2007

Drawing an arrow from Bhutan to Barcelona

I read The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home by TIME journalist Pico Iyer around July. It's an absorbing read, as Iyer tells the story of his multicultural upbringing and the globe-trotting that forms part of his profession, while reflecting on what it means to be a global citizen in today's connected world. Occasionally he overreaches - attempting to establish a link between an observation and a more general point he's trying to make when none exist. Still, I guess you could say that about a lot of reportage.

The anecdote he shares about Bhutanese archers is, for some reason, the one that sticks the most in my mind, and when I read this little story, I knew I wanted to share it. Here is Iyer, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics:
They were archers, from Bhutan, as it transpired, who couldn't quite orient themselves amidst this crush of alienness.

They'd never seen a stadium before, one of the teenagers explained, They'd never seen a high-rise building, or a working television set, and they'd never seen a boat. I remember how, in their landlocked home, I'd watched students practise archery between the willow trees behind the Druk Hotel., their arrows whistling through the silent air.

None of them had ever boarded a plane before, one of them went on (in careful English - the Raj having penetrated even those places that television could not reach), and none of them had ever competed before crowds (besides, Olympic rules are so different from Bhutanese that they were all but guaranteed last place). "I thought Barcelona was going to be peaceful, like Thimbu," one of the young students said. "It's so busy!" The Olympic Village alone was almost the size of their capital.

...what stays with me, many years later, is the image of those guileless, bewildered, excited, souls, one day in a hidden kingdom where everyone has to wear medieval clothes and all the buildings are constructed in fourteenth century style, and the next, in the midst of the greatest planetary show on earth. And then, after two weeks surounded by exploding flashbulbs, to be back in their forgotten home, where the only concrete mementos they'd have of their surreal episode would be their photographs. Whenever she had a free moment, one of the archers told me, she hurried off to take pictures of the habor. She'd never seen an ocean before.

P/S I never saw him, but when I was at Oxford, the Bhutanese prince was studying there too, and had to leave halfway to quell a civil war! Kind of puts my essay crisis into perspective...

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