The Hermit Life of Modern China

The challenges of modernity — in terms of alienation, empty consumerism, and over-stimulation — are becoming a universal problem (which, in fairness, is in some sense a good thing, since it means more parts of the world are industrializing and being lifted out of poverty and deprivation). Few nations are struggling with these issues more than China, which has been thrown into modernity at remarkable speed, thrusting hundreds of millions of citizens into the bittersweet life of material abundance.

An eleven-minute documentary, Summoning the Recluse, by Beijing-based filmmaker Ellen Xu, follows several young, middle-class Chinese who are embracing  meditation, spiritual quests and monastic asceticism in an effort to find peace and meaning in a difficult and more complex world. They are tapping into a millennia of rich spiritual, philosophical, and lifestyle traditions — such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism — that have long sought to address these issues. Their relevance today speaks volumes about the inherent struggle of the human condition.

I can’t embed the video here, so click here to view it. I felt more peaceful just watching it. Plus, I’m reminded of how much amazing Chinese philosophy and thought I need to brush up on.

Credit: Aeon

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The Man With the $10 Million African Art Collection

Brooklyn native Eric Edwards has amassed a collection of over 1,600 pieces of art from all 54 countries of Africa. Needless to say, as an aficionado of history and African culture, I am quite jealous — and not just because it is worth an estimated $10 million.

Check out the four-minute video by Mark Zemel, courtesy of The Atlantic. (Click to see full-screen version; sorry, WordPress cannot imbed certain videos.)

//www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/398342/

The Town Where Guns Are Mandatory

Since 1982, the town of Kennesaw, Georgia, U.S. has required the head of every household to own a working firearm with ammunition. In this 12 minute short film, Canadian photographer and filmmaker Nicolas Lévesque profiled the small town of about 30,000 and captured their perspectives about the intersection of guns, culture, and American identity.

Click below to see the fullscreen version, or click here. (Sorry, videos sometimes do not embed properly.)

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/398495/

Courtesy of The Atlantic.

The Apache Hotshots

From The Atlantic is a clip from a fascinating documentary about an elite squad of Apache firefighters that operates all over the United States year-round. I am having trouble embedding it here, but click the hyperlink to see the six-minute video for yourself.

From the article:

On San Carlos Apache Reservation in southeastern Arizona, unemployment is high, and firefighting jobs are one of the few stable opportunities for work. The Geronimo Hotshots are an elite firefighting crew based out of San Carlos, who spend most of the year on the road, battling the most intense wildfires in the United States. “Your mom, your dad, your uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins—one of them probably fights fire,” says Squad Leader Jeff Belvado. The Geronimo Hotshots are one of seven Native American hotshot crews in the United States who are sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

This is definitely the stuff of cinema, although I am much more enthused to see a factual documentary on these unsung heroes.  Not only are they putting out dangerous and damaging wildfires, but as noted in the video, they are restoring pride to a beleaguered by resilient community.

Timelapse Video of North Korea’s Capital

Given the exceptionally insular and totalitarian nature of North Korea’s regime, everyday photos and accounts of the country are hard to come by (though contrary to popular belief, outside visits and reports aren’t nonexistent). So I was surprised to see this rather beautiful timelapse video of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital and premier city, courtesy of Mother Jones. It gives a far more vibrant and organic picture of the city than we’re accustomed to seeing.

The MoJo article points out that the video’s cheery vibe reflects the fact that it is an advertisement for Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based company that has run tours into North Korea and that subsidized the filmmakers’ travel expenses. Moreover, the plight of North Koreans is far more dire than one may imagine from the otherwise sleek-looking capital:

[The] capital is home to the ruling elite, and used by the regime as a showcase city; people here are hardly representative. For example, 16 million of North Korea’s 24 million people suffer from critical food insecurity, relying only on state-rationed food, according to the U.N.; one out of every three children is too short for his or her age. Hunger, poverty, lack of electricity, brutal repression and political reprisals… you name it: A UN special inquiry recently described North Korea’s human rights violations as without “parallel in the contemporary world.”

The lack of traffic in such a large and otherwise modern-looking city is just a mild reminder that most North Koreans are in dire circumstances, regardless of their rulers’ efforts to plaster it all over.

Seeing this, I cannot help but reflect on the potential of a united Korea, and whether I will ever live to see it happen.

The Lives of Average Ancient Egyptians

Nearly all historical studies tend to focus on major figures — monarchs, chiefs, military leaders, and revolutionaries — the folks who most stood out in terms of their pivotal roles, monuments, or outsized characters. But clearly, these individuals are an exceedingly small minority in the societies they lived in, and hardly representative of the typical person’s lifestyle, beliefs, routines, etc. We can only glean so much from the exceptional and often disconnected upper-classes that are often disproportionately represented.

Moreover, even the greatest and most exemplary leaders could only accomplish so much without the thousands (if not millions) of faceless and nameless people that helped make it happen. From the peasants and laborers that helped build empires, to the grunts that executed successful conquests and campaigns, these are the neglected masses that deserve some attention, if only to know: how did average joes and janes like us get by day-to-day?

With respect to Ancient Egypt at least — one of the world’s most spectacular and captivating civilizations — there is thankfully a great two-part series that sheds some light on how members of this advanced society got by. It is of course courtesy of the esteemed BBC.   Check out the videos below, as they are well worth your time.

Who knew that Egyptian courtship was relatively so liberal? Or that Egyptian homes were advanced enough to feature proto-fridges and ovens? Or that the Egyptians used moldy bread to successfully treat infection, unknowingly realizing the benefits of penicillin before we even knew such microorganisms existed. The familiarity and humanity of these thousands-year old people is absolutely awe-inspiring…to me at least.

Feel free to share your own thoughts and reactions.

A Breathtaking HD Tour of India

Courtesy of Gizmodo, I came across this spectacular four-minute video of various sites across northern India (namely Agra, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Khichan, Jaipur, and Dehli). It was put together Jacob and Katie Schwartz, who apparently create these videos for commercial licensing (all while having spectacular adventures along the way). See the magic for yourself:

I’ve had a fascination with India for most of my adult life, but videos like this make even more restless to visit someday. Given the sheer size and diversity of the subcontinent, I’m sure I’d have to go numerous times to get even a decent chunk of it.
 

 

What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work

This great TED Talk by researcher Dan Ariely explores a topic that is no doubt dear to all our hearts: how can we better enjoy the work we do, whether its part of a paying job or free time? What motivates us to drudge on with activities that constitute a huge chunk of our time awake? It’s a pretty interesting video that challenges a lot of assumptions, although some might find the conclusion to be rather intuitive.

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

 

 

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Video: Wealth Inequality in America

The rise and intensity of socioeconomic inequality in the US seems to be getting more attention, and for good reason — as the following video shows, the problem is far worse and more consequential than most Americans realize.

For those concerned about the reliability of such claims, or looking for additional information, the sources are as follows:

Of course, you’re also free to read my long list of posts on the subject. As you can tell, it’s a topic close to my heart (though honestly, even I didn’t realized how much I’d written about it over the past year).

As always, please share your thoughts and concerns. Even if I don’t get around to responding, rest assured that I do read every comment I receive.