I’m back from an amazing 40th anniversary trip to Mainland China and Tibet (yes, obviously, we were married as babes!) On one hand, it was a blissful opportunity to leave everything work-related behind, but on the other, it was an immersion in creativity.
One of the wonderful things about studying creativity is that it gives me a lens through which to view the things I see, another way to appreciate the diversity of human endeavors. I’ve written before about the association between travel and flexible thinking. This month, as I’ve experienced more of cultures very different from my homeland, I’ve thought about the ways my basic assumptions were challenged and stretched—and how much I enjoyed the process. Here are some of the obvious—and a few not-so-obvious—things I thought about on my journey.
Food. One of the best parts of travel is learning about the things other people consider delicious—and often finding that you agree. It made me wonder about how cultures develop interests and taboos around food. Who first decided to fry a scorpion on a stick? Why do some things that likely started as a necessity continue as a tradition, while others die away? 10,00 year old egg, anyone? (Mine was tasty!)
Gardens. I’ve had the chance to visit beautiful gardens in different corners of the world, from the geometric formality of Versailles, to the riot of color in an English countryside, to cacti in the U.S. southwest. Some of the gardens I visited this time were as much about the rocks as the plants—and eerily beautiful. Aside from climate, I wondered how garden traditions emerged. I wondered if bits of what I’d seen would fit in my back yard, or I’d ever have the discipline to maintain them.
Buildings. In China I saw a seemingly unending parade of buildings under construction. I also saw buildings that were beautiful in many different ways, from the oh-so-contemporary glowing lights in Shanghai to much more traditional structures. I learned to be careful about making assumptions about the inside of a building when viewing the outside. Who would have guessed this humble Tibetan home would contain generations of family art?
Art and Innovation. I know this is obvious, but it was so interesting to see art made of materials different from what I typically see at home. The example at the left is actually carved multi-color jade, while the “picture” at the right is embroidered. I also saw paintings on leaves, engraving on pearls, costumes in Chinese opera, and traditional clothing that represented diverse traditions and needlework techniques.
And, of course, any country so full of human beings is full of problem-solving of all varieties. Some of my favorites were the amazing variety of small vehicles devised to carry portable stoves, collections of birds, and market wares of all types. In spaces that don’t typically include energy-demanding clothes driers, clothes were dried in every nook and cranny—transforming broomsticks, car antennae, and scrap materials others might consider waste into useful problem solutions.
A View Beyond the Moment. Particularly in Tibet, I loved the variety of ways in which people created sacred spaces. Worship there is very different than what I’ve typically known, and it was a profound experience to share just a bit of that, and glimpse the commonality of human beings opening themselves to things beyond themselves.
Of course, some things were ever familiar. Children made me laugh, particularly in their unbridled curiosity. Smiles transcended language, and trying on new clothes was a shared and universal experience. In fact, so much we shared as humans did not require extended language. It does not take much to communicate joy, exhaustion, hard work, diligence, hunger, humor, or sadness. Even absent the right-hand of Google Translate (which I didn’t realize did not work in China until too late), some things needed no translation. And isn’t that testimony to our ability to think in new ways?
So what does my travelogue have to do with schools, creativity, or anyone else? Aside from giving me a chance to share my delight, it also allows me to suggest once again that travel—even to another neighborhood or nearby city—gives us a chance to think in new ways. Learning that others view and enjoy the world differently reminds us that the familiar ways are not the only ways. Seeing others solve problems reminds us we can innovate, too. And perhaps most importantly, travel can force us to remember that what seems obvious to us may not be, and that ideas have other perspectives. If that is not foundational to creativity, I don’t know what it.
So take a trip as summer wanes, even if it just to the ethnic grocer down the street, a nearby museum, or even a travel video. Glimpse the breadth of imagination in the world. It will take your breath away!