I read a transcript today upon returning from holidays. It was John Stephen’s message to the graduating class of University of Pennsylvania. Otherwise more famously known as John Legend, the Penn alumnus challenged the graduates to consider love as the ultimate success in life, which, when infused with passion can help a person to achieve the most in their life as opposed to cool apathy. And when extended beyond those we know to those we don’t, is embodied by justice. He encouraged the class to do the former by hard work, and the latter by knowledge of the world and travel. Our trip to Phuket gave us more than we expected. The question, why is Phuket such an attraction for tourists, was answered on arrival. Its coastline is the home of a number of beautiful beaches, since discovered by backpackers in the 70’s has been the playground of the rich and elite.
Indeed, the quality of the food and hospitality of the locals made us feel like royalty. Having tour guides who picked us up and took us around to the local dives, showed us the views, and who gave us the most up to date ethno-cultural changes in town was definitely worth it.
Some lessons are hard to learn without experiencing firsthand- thus, a value of travelling. Issues of ethical treatment of animals and environmental sustainability are a worldwide issue, but the issue was very palpable where there were no barriers between nature and us. Being animal lovers, we were keen to visit the majestic tigers and elephants there, as Thailand is one of the only places in the world that allow us to get so close to them. We also visited an animal rehabilitation center as part of a tour. For the record, the tigers and elephants looked healthy and did not exhibit any signs of stress that we could see. But we had to ask ourselves for example, though captive tigers are safe from being hunted in the wild, or from losing their habitat due to deforestation, it fair that they are bred and kept in captivity for tourists to pet?
The fact is most of us do what we can to survive and make a living. But on the other hand what are we also doing to fulfill the responsibility to take care of each other, the animals around us, and our environment? While there were inspiring things happening, like volunteers who were rehabilitating abused animals to the wild and farming communities who were almost completely self-sustained, we realized we were probably indirectly endorsing tourist- driven captivity of wild animals and industrial waste production. So what can we do? I think the first step is to talk about it, learn more about it, and in John Legend’s words, consider how we can ourselves, and together, take steps towards living passionately as well as loving beyond those we know.
-F.Chan (My Wife)