i won't forget you

Shion is my spirit flower. At least that's what I was told at Dubai Expo's Japan pavilion — a place where ideas meet. There's magic at any moment when differing perspectives meet and clash, and either fall apart at the seams or fuse with a bang. More like nuclear ideation instead of nuclear fusion. Imagine if you had a constant ticker tape of interesting ideas streaming through each day of your life. If you could take a good chunk and turn those into real actions, could you ever feel unfulfilled?

I've been trying to collect pockets of insight through my two weeks here, in the biggest cultural mosaic I've ever seen. I've heard people talk negatively about Dubai and how materialistic it is, almost as if it were a "soulless wasteland". But in my experience, Expo 2020 proved the exact opposite — I mean, how often can you cultivate a breeding ground of 192 different cultures with the option of conversing and learning with them?

In Japanese culture, a single wildflower is given as a signal of hospitality to a new guest in your home. They believe strongly in the spirituality of nature, popularizing zen across their rendition of mindfulness. Japan remains one of the top destinations on my list because of this rich cultural bridge between tranquility and modernity; their dazzling showcase at Expo fully proved this.

Back to flower philosophy — shion is a lavender-shade flower that connects directly to the heart. In the custom language of flowers (called hanakotoba), shion stands for remembrance, fondness, sweet memory.

Simply put: "I won't forget you."

I've been thinking a lot about memories lately: how to collect them, how to contain them, how to celebrate them. I've come up with a few musings:

Place is an important part of my lifestyle now, where I'm jetting off to a new locale every other week. There's no other feeling than stepping into ground soil in an environment for the first time. For me it’s even before that, the plane descent looking out the window ready and nervous to get started. The very moment you step out of the airport and all your senses go off. The first smells, sights, and sounds bombard you with a simultaneous heavy yet tender touch. Truly euphoric. As I continue adding to my travel adventures, I think these blissful moments come less predictably — on a meandering walk, when seeing something iconic for the first time, having a coffee and watching a scene unfold, in the middle of the night when the vibe suddenly feels “so very [place].” The shine of “I’m here” has dulled for me, but that’s okay! There’s plenty of gloss still around, and being present is the best way to absorb this. There are so many "I won't forget you" moments throughout the journey: before landing, roaming around, and after departing. Here are the paper trails of past fond memories: New York, Cairo, Istanbul, Dubai, for my own reference and your own curiosity.

People are the visceral component of memory: just hearing someone's name conjures up a range of feelings, images, and sensations. Sometimes people flicker into your life as fleeting fireflies, yet other times they can float around as pervasive phantoms that linger rent-free in your mind. In classical mindfulness teachings, we're taught the essential skill of “letting go” — to remove resistance in the form of emotional blockers and leftover baggage. But I beg a question: with our tendency to refresh and release ourselves from negative people, would we benefit even more if we took the time to absorb the suffering and unpack the pain? In flower speak: how can we make sure to stop and smell the proverbial roses — manifested as shadow people in our psyche— before cutting out the scent? Anyway, this piece is getting more philosophical now. But I think the critical thing to remember here is that memories of people have a profound impact, and can be triggered on-demand from the little things. The constant fun in life is getting to experience the magic of a new person's presence over and over again. In my experience, if you put your authentic self out there enough, good things come to you organically. The carbon cycle of memories keeps going.

Process sounds like a super mechanical addition to this list, but has important weight to memory all the same. We tend to remember stretches of time more easily rather than defined one-shot moments. This holds true unless we filter the latter to significantly formative events. So when I talk about a period where I was trapped 24/7 with my old roommate in downtown Toronto during early-COVID, the context clues and the step progression of emotions matter more than remembering isolated incidents. That example makes an important memory because of the phases of my own development (and sanity) under a completely stimulus-deprived environment: despair in the beginning, absurdity in the next act, and dedication in the last. This time-boxed moment taught me lessons about how to best share space with someone else, how to best draw energy when the traditional extroverted streams are dried up, and how to craft a goal-driven narrative under uncertainty. I can't be more grateful for such a wacky process, even though reaching these realizations is only possible by intentionally looking backwards.

Creatively then, your memories are almost always good for material when your other wells go dry.

My best memories are experiential in nature and evoke a dominant emotion: joy, melancholy, surprise, fear, wonder. I don't even have to tell you what they are: every single note I've written in this digital garden is part of this rich forest of memories that will keep forking into an infinite number of fractals. Just like a nuclear fusion reaction though, these memories will overlap and collide into themselves, releasing a renewable source of power. A power that keeps us human, searching and yearning for more.

Just like shion says, I won't forget you. Ever.

Here's to living a life of continuous memories — both the beautiful and ugly ones :)

Postscript on Expo 2020

Dedicating an appendix section to what is easily a top 3 experience in my life.

Favourite Pavilions: 
1. Japan: This one should be clear as the #1 winner, clearly shown by the insane hype and demand by all visitors; the only pavilion I visited twice. Japan's must-see pavilion offers a five-series immersive experience into the culture of the past, present, and future. The interactivity is the most impressive: your AR-powered audio guide becomes your shepherd, ushering you through personalized decisions and insights tied to your custom flower. You end the experience in a room that combines all of the choices and memories you've made, compressed into one theme (life below water, life on earth, life in space, future of humanity), with a pixelated, metaverse-styled avatar as your spirit flower. Really mesmerizing stuff, something I won't be forgetting for a long time. 
2. Germany: Campus Germany was the most thorough educational experience at all of Expo, solidifying my confidence in Germany's status as a world superpower of the future. The choose-your-own-adventure prompts, the light educational experiences with neatly packaged exhibits, the infrastructure of the pavilion itself... each component adds so much dimension and reveals the inspiring initiatives Germany is trying to spearhead. I mean, you literally start with a yellow ball pit of "ideas" and end with the most explosive swing set play as the graduation ceremony. Top-tier effort, stellar results. 
3. Kazakhstan: The sheer ingenuity of this experience surprised me, but I guess I should've known I would be in for a bomb experience after what I saw in line (bumping EDM music followed by a hypnotic performance by a folk band and gorgeous Kazakh dancers). While Borat might "make a mockery" of this nation, this pavilion does a tremendous job of highlighting its decorated past culture and immediately following that up with its ultimate layup: a choreographed performance all based on next-gen AI and robotics. Overall, an extremely solid showing from a country that doesn't get enough screen time or appreciation (excluding the political tensions in Almaty).
4. Saudi Arabia: The elegance and thoughtfulness of this pavilion is what is single-handedly making me change my travel plans and spend a month in Saudi in March. Saudi is perhaps the most misunderstood and misrepresented nation in the whole world by mass media outlets — this pavilion gave an earth-shattering perspective of all things culture, sustainability, technology, and society that the Saudis are piloting and experimenting with. The Kingdom is shown through multiple viewpoints with dazzling imagery and videography, expertly leveraging its status as both a resource-hub and religion-hub, and giving a sneak peak into the country's natural & crafted beauty. Riyadh, Jeddah, Mekkah, AlUla, and more... the vibrant energy is palpable. 
5. Russia: As much as Russia is getting extreme flak in global news right now for their preemptive Ukraine invasion, you can't help but stare at the insane progress they are making as another global power. Russia was the only pavilion that dedicated its core operation to neurotech & the mind — understanding consciousness and thinking is one of our fundamental traits, after all. I really appreciated the way the exhibitors and designers made technical science concepts accessible, and included one of Expo's most colourful performances, in the form of a moving giant brain and thousands of neuronal connections, as its swan song.
Honourable mentions: - Thailand (shoutout to Rak & Mali for being the cutest mascots)- Indonesia (colourfully designed with inspirational imagery)- Singapore (the most nature-heavy, greenery-based pavilion)- Egypt (a solid throwback to my past culture-rich trip)- UAE (the host went all out with their storytelling, visuals, and country showcases)

Published by Sam (samwong) 4 months ago on Monday the 31th of January 2022.

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