The Greeks had a word for it, but it seems as though the Chinese invented it. As I prepare for taking some college students to China, I have discovered about many things that the Chinese invented. Some of those things, we all have known for years like gunpowder and fireworks. However, they also invented paper and printing. It wasn't long before books and paper money were next. But, did you know that they also invented the wheelbarrow, the plow, the compass, cast iron, matches, arbors, silk, spaghetti, bamboo fans, kites, the abacus, the rudder for sailing, and the list goes on and on.
However, I discovered another invention as I was looking for Chinese print wallpaper on the Internet. As I looked over rolls upon rolls of wallpaper, I found out that wallpaper should be added to the long list of things that the Chinese people provided the world. Wallpaper started to appear on walls of the Chinese around 200 BC. It took nearly a millennium before the world discovered their secret of making wallpaper.
You might ask why I was looking for Chinese wallpaper? Well, my wife and I not only like to bring back souvenirs from all our trips, but we like to makeover our home into something of those cultures in which we traveled. For example, our bedroom looks like a bedroom in Bora Bora, my office mirrors a museum with artifacts from all over the world, and the living room is a mix of Tahiti and Easter Island. In addition to the souvenirs, there are photos that I have taken covering most of the wall space of the house. These decorative additions provide a ready reminder of our past travel adventures.
However, one of our spare bedrooms was only partially decorated with Polynesian accents. The room was never completed-in part because it is hardly ever used. As we planned for our trip to China, my wife called me into that bedroom and said, "I have an idea. Let's make this room into our China bedroom."
It wasn't long before we had decided to wallpaper the room in a Chinese print and refinish the furniture in black Chinese lacquer. Then the real work began. The walls were prepared and papered. As I spent the long hours of papering this oddly shaped room, I thought about my upcoming trip and the places that we have already visited. Thoughts and memories filled my head as I tried to match the repeat of the wallpaper.
I recalled being nearly stripped-searched in Chicago on our way to Easter Island and making friends with Hotel Tibet's monkeys, in Dharamsala. I also remembered finding Sara in Lhasa. As I measured another strip of paper, guilt feelings came over me about America's cultural effect upon the world. I tell my students about how dominant our culture is because of the media and the Internet. I related a story of a friend of mine who was negotiating with the Mongolian government to introduce Dunkin' Donuts to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of that Asian nation. I also recall seeing a McDonald's in New Delhi and a Pizza Hut within blocks of the Taj Mahal. The invasion of our culture threatens to homogenize the world into what an America strip mall looks like.
One of the great blessings of travel is to see and experience that which is different than ones own culture. If the entire world becomes like Middle America, why travel? Travel is one of the greatest liberalizing and educational experiences that one can have. It will change your life forever. In the wake of the Americanization of much of the world and the resultant clash of cultures, I try to pick destinations that are off the beaten path.
When traveling overseas, my wife and I, far more than the average
traveler, bring back aspects of the culture that we visit. From our
backyard and throughout our home, one can't move more than a foot
without seeing things or pictures of faraway places. While America
changes the world, travelers returning home to America are also
changed by their experiences overseas. As philosophers have
reminded us down through the ages, one can't step into the same
river twice. We are different people when we return home, and I
wonder what perceptual changes will occur for us when we return from
China and Tibet. Time will tell, but first I have to lacquer some
furniture for our Chinese bedroom.