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Shangri-LaSo, this is the true story of an L.A. reporter who took six weeks off from her job in 2007 to travel to Bhutan – the happiest kingdom on earth – to help get their first radio station, Kuzoo FM, off the ground. Then she takes several more trips over the course of two years. It’s kinda midlife crisis meets travel/adventure meets spiritual seeking (with snippets of her past, and what was really nice was that (spoiler alert) it didn’t end with a fairytale love story or the-Westerner-moves-to-the-undeveloped-country-forever-and-adopts it or even with one neat, tidy spiritual answer.

I also really liked it because of lot of her experiences, both while in Bhutan and while processing her time there back home, reminded of my experiences in and with India. Here are some of those moments:

  • “When time is limited and the environment is so different than your own, relationships skip the ‘how do you do’ phase and go straight to the heart of friendship.”
  • “A wise older friend had warned me that most people wouldn’t know how to ask about my journey. ‘They’ll say, “How was Bhutan?” but they won’t really want to know. They won’t know what kind of questions to ask.’” Wow, is that true.
  • “I’ve learned that the ingredients for happiness are simple: giving, loving, and contentment with who you are.”

…and other great quotes:

  • When the narrator asks her friend the meaning of the giant penises painted on buildings, she got this response: “We believe it is wrong to envy what someone else has. When you have a phallus painted on the house people will be too ashamed to look and to covet what they don’t have. In this way, the phallus wards off evil spirits.”
    The author’s commentary on this interaction: “This had to be the most beautiful circuitous logic I’d ever heard.” Um, YES.
  • “I was making peace with myself, relaxing after a long war.”
  • On how her first trip to Bhutan came about: “It all seemed completely strange, and yet, completely normal, the way huge, life-altering experiences can almost feel like an invention, or a dream. Except that never in your wildest imagination could you have made them up.”
  • “A city is at its best, its purest, at dawn. Empty, raw. You can see the veins of it…”
  • “I’d never met such adventurous souls, people so committed to living life outside the sphere of comfort and routine most aspire to have… People who went out of their way, really out of their way, to meet other humans unlike themselves, and see how they really lived.” ß This is pretty much my life goal.
  • In contrast to fairytale love, “Sometimes – more often than not – love came to you in a short fit of wonder, warmed you, enthused you, and then vanished as suddenly as it had arrived. And that was okay, too.”

 

So, there was a lot I loved about this book. I loved seeing this place and its people through her eyes. I loved her willingness to be spontaneous, drop everything, and go explore something completely new to her. And so much more.

What made me sad were the parts that talked about Bhutan giving up parts of its culture because of Westernization. Of course I think that opening up, not being an isolated country, is a good thing. But I wish it didn’t have to mean loss of culture because everyone wants to be like the West. (It’s like high school all over again: everyone trying to be like someone else. Why can’t we all be friends – know each other, not isolationist – and still be ourselves?) It’s especially sad when, as in this story, people begin to think their own ways of life are “backward.”

But, before I get too much into criticizing culture loss, I’ll just stop here: this book is great.

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