Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.5.11: The Shangri-La Option

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again

I won’t go looking any further than my own backyard.

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

After 25 years of escorting people on travel itineraries in dozens of foreign countries I have learned that some people are travelers, and others are not.   To find out which category you fit into I have devised what I call The Shangri-La Test.   It only requires the exercise of a little imagination, even less so if you have seen the 1937 film, Lost Horizon .   It’s really quite simple: you read this little story and, at the end, make a choice (although it could be a little scary because these are life-defining choices).


Ready?   Here goes:

You have a dream that you are taking a short plane ride to visit your Aunt Hortense in Peoria.   But shortly after you and your fellow passengers are airborne the plane makes a sharp turn and heads in a different direction.

Your plane has been hijacked and you fly through the night toward an unknown destination.   The pilot (if there is one) makes no announcements over the PA system and the flight attendants all look like clones of Linda Tripp so you wouldn’t trust what they told you anyway.   In the morning you look out the plane window and see huge, snow-covered mountains from horizon to horizon.

You and the other passengers wonder where you are, but wonder is soon replaced with worry as the plane begins a rapid descent.   A terrifying few minutes ends with the plane half-buried in the snows of a high mountain valley.   Everyone is alive and unharmed, but there’s a lot of praying, cursing of airlines, and anxiety about lost frequent flier miles, until through the blowing snow some lights can be seen approaching the plane.

You’re Saved!   And by people with beatific, smiling, ambiguously-Asiatic faces (the sort of faces you get when Western actors are made-up to play Tibetan monks).   They dress you up in warm animal skins and lead everyone through a pass in the mountains.   Suddenly you emerge above a sunlit valley with streams, woods and fertile farms and orchards, and a pleasant, clean, cute and orderly town.   The temperature is ideal as you are lead down to the town, where—lo and behold!—you discover that it’s your home town!

Only better.   Yes, everything you remember and like is there:   the local fast food places, but you don’t have to pay to super-size your french fries; the cute girl (guy) is still next door (only he or she now undresses with the blinds up !), your local sports team is there, too, with an unbeaten record.   Better yet, every jerk you ever knew in junior high or beyond has died of terminal acne.   There is tranquility, abundance, amity and happiness everywhere.

Now for the best part: in this new and improved hometown of yours, the way of life is so stress-free, so pleasure-filled, that you will age at only one-third the normal rate!   Yup, you can live to a ripe old age of about 210 years (give or take a few depending upon whether you supersize those fries).   This is all explained to you by the Dalai Lama-looking guy who seems benignly in charge, a guy who looks like a cross between John Guilgud and Bruce Lee.

What a dream!   But what’s the catch, your suspicious nature wants to know?

No catch really, he tells you.   You just have to remain in your new and improved hometown for the rest of your nice, long life.   Hey, that’s a pretty good deal.   But you should also know, he says, that once you make your decision to stay if you ever so much as set a foot outside of this valley land you will immediately begin to age at three times the normal rate.   Sort of like a temporal balloon payment.   But who would want to ever leave such a wonderful place anyway?   Right?

So you have a couple of days to check out the place, and then, you can choose to stay here in this paradise of Shangri-La or to roam that chaotic and crazy world outside of the valley where you will age at the normal rate wherever you may wander or settle.

Now you wake up in a bit of cold sweat.   What a dream!   What a choice!

So, what choice would you make?   Oh, one other thing.   If you decide to remain in Shangri-La, you won’t be able to get on the web and read the Dragon City Journal.   I bet that’s a help.

©2004, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.17.2004)