It was just like the cliché way that fiction writers describe their magical fantasies. The green mountains were blanketed by a thin layer of silvery clouds. The lush valley was fed by numerous rivers that ran through it. A cool breeze brushed against my cheek. Birds sang sweetly in the air. I had arrived at Shangri-La.
But this was no fantasy. Shangri-La had much of the same problems as the rest of the rural Yunnan province in China. The inhabitants of this magnificent valley lived in shacks that were intricate patchworks of scrap metal and wood. Hot water was a rare luxury that lasted a few hours, even at the few hotels built for the slow but steady stream of western tourists. Electricity did not fare any better, coming and going and never staying. It bared little resemblance to the utopia it was named after.
â–º honorable mention 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
And it was here, in Shangri-La, that I met the most affectionate people in the world. As a writer for Youth Impact International, I had to visit an orphanage, the first and only one in Shangri-La. Experiencing the conditions in Shangri-La, I was expecting another cliché. The cliché orphanage in which sad and tired looking young children worked all day and dressed in rags, just like the kind you would see on the websites of many non-profits.
I encountered the exact opposite. I saw young children playing with each other, smiling and laughing. The aura of hope was manifested through them. And I had taken but one step into the orphanage. Words can’t express what I and my friends experienced. As we talked to several children, we truly realized how wealthy these people were in vivacity.
One orphan especially stood out from the rest. His name? He mumbled it so silently, I couldn’t quite catch it. At the age of eight, his family was killed. He wouldn’t tell us why they died. Nobody in his village would take him in, thinking he was a bad omen. The Chinese government did not know he existed. He farmed for food all by himself and had no interaction with any other human being. It wasn’t until he was twelve that Tendol Gyalzur, the owner of the sole orphanage in Shangri-La, heard about him and took him in. Tendol described him as a “monkey” when she first saw him. I thought “Tarzan” was more suitable. The children of the orphanage helped the child academically and socially. With their help, he became just like the rest of the children at the orphanage. But this was a magical group of children. What does he want to be when he grows up? He wants to run an orphanage just like Tendol does and help other children.
The orphanage was filled with such heartwarming children who had a desire to help. I left the orphanage with awe and wonder at the kindness of these children who had very little in life. As I traveled throughout southwestern Yunnan, I discovered that this unselfishness was a quality inherent in people everywhere I went.
I traveled to Yunnan to help the people there. But I soon realized that we, in developed nations were the ones who needed help. We think of ourselves as the most successful of nations. But is our definition of success right? Ralph Waldo Emerson once said in a poem, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,” is to have succeeded. The selfless people of Yunnan who help everyone they meet are some of the most successful people on Earth. They deserve to be.
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