Hay-on-Wye: “The Village of Books” that Runs With The Modern World

People spend their summer holiday in many ways: from visiting festivals or amusement parks with families and friends, to simply staying at home and binge watch on Netflix. But if you wish to find something that is out of your ordinary way of vacationing, where you are not only able to relax your body, but also to expand your mind, then you should set your next destination to “the village of books” Hay-on-Wye.

View of Hay | Photo courtesy of Hay-on-Wye, taken by Phil Thomas

Hay-on-Wye is a small village that lies on the Welsh side of the Welsh/English border. The town’s name is derived from Norman origin Hay or Haie (a fenced or hedged enclosure) where it stands on the southern side of the River Wye. The village has more than 20 bookshops (mostly secondhand) with a wide array of selection: children’s books, arts, thriller, etc.; all of which can be yours at a reasonable price. On the streets, you will find shelves full of books kept in the open air for the passerby – sometimes with sofa and chairs next to them. These places are known as “Honesty Bookshop” where, instead of paying the books at the cash register, you put the money in the designated box. In these bookshops, ethic is the currency.

The unmanned “Honesty Bookshop” | Photos courtesy of Shawn Anderson (above left) Chelsea Whyte (above right) and Claudio Mazzetti, with a slight cropping and adjustment (bottom)

The villagers seem to know that providing a unique bookshop alone is not very enriching. So, they created a festival that connects books and people, known as Hay Festival. This festival serves as a space for readers and writers to share stories and ideas. Bill Clinton famously regards this as the “Woodstock of the Mind”. Beside Hay Festival, the village also holds HAYDAYS (sub program of Hay Festival), a literary festival focusing on children and families. A couple of years ago, Hay Festival stepped in to save Hay’s public library when it had to deal with the threat of closure.

History shows that, before it was called “the village of books”, Hay-on-Wye was once a ghost town. After World War II, the villagers left their hometown for cities, hoping for a better job and life. But an eccentric man by the name of Richard Booth turned things around, who later claimed himself as The King of Hay-on-Wye.

After graduated from Oxford University, Booth decided to revive the village. In the ‘60s, he took a trip to the US and brought back thousands of secondhand books and opened the first bookshop in the village’s old fire station. From there, Booth started to collect more books and rented more buildings to serve as bookshops. The village eventually came back to life and has since become a tourist destination and a retreat for artists, musicians, writers, and intellects.

Richard Booth’s bookshop from outside and inside | Photo courtesy of ReflectedSerendipity (left) and duncan c (right)

It’s clear that books have become the cultural and economic foundation for Hay-on-Wye; such a perfect example of “good tourism” model where it combines economy, knowledge, and ethics. Perhaps not too many people realize it, but if we look into the first time Richard Booth initiated the book town, we can argue that Hay-on-Wye is not only one of the unseen results of Counter Culture Movement in the 60’s, but also one that continues to thrive.

As one of the earliest, Hay-on-Wye is no doubt the beacon of book towns across the world. Maharashtra, Bredevoort, and California’s Gold Cities are among book towns that were directly inspired by Hay-on-Wye. These towns are a very different place compared to the world we live in, where the existence of printed books are getting replaced by the digital version. One of the indications today is children are introduced to digital technology prior to books (and other physical activities).

What do you think? | Photo courtesy of Anders Sandberg

From historical perspective, the reason why human tend to replace and abandon old things is because the old are seen as irrelevant. And many people also believe that “change is the only constant in life”. From the eyes of Sacred Bridge Foundation, however, some things do not (and should not) change. Take books for example. As one of the sources of knowledge, books contain values that are irreplaceable by “digital book”; it sharpens our sensorimotor skill (especially for children). Such value must not be replaced since we won’t be able to comprehend, let alone to develop knowledge without it. Meanwhile, the advantages of digital book in terms of knowledge are secondary compared to the printed one (for example, it’s easy to carry). This explanation is not meant to underestimate digital book; on the contrary it is to make clear that both printed and digital books have their own functions. Rather than to replace and be replaced, it’s better if we find a way to maintain both of them.

*Detailed information to get to Hay-on-Wye.



Source: globetellers.com, chicagotribune.com, smithsonianmag.com, theguardian.com I, theguardian.com II, and firstpost.com

Guiding and Hoping for a Better Future After the Indonesian Terror Attacks

[Jakarta, LTTW] All Muslims in the world have united as Eid al-Fitr had finally come after a holy month full of fasting. The celebration could be seen as a moment of brood and introspection, especially because this year’s Ramadan was opened with acts of terror that killed innocent lives in Indonesia – striking terrors to those who were affected directly and indirectly. People were left with anger, fear, and confusion in response to the terror attack.

According to Serrano Sianturi in his article titled Trump: Turning USA into Uncle Sam’s Abomination – Part Two “terrorism and its cruelties can grow because of various reasons, such as economic injustice, technological dominance, corrupt governance, low trust societies, power-hungry individuals and groups, and lack of cross cultural understanding and respect.” The aforementioned factors could lead to acts that goes beyond morality and common sense.

What we have seen in these particular terror acts in Surabaya are problematic in many level. One crucial matter is how children were used to participate in the suicide bombings. The word “used” is essential to underline because there is no way children would do this without “guidance” from someone. Adults are mostly aware of the choices they made; children on the other hand tend to follow guidance from other people such as their own families. Guidance is the keyword that made these children ultimately act as a suicide bomber just like their parents.

Fathers and mothers have a role to raise their children with ideals that can eventually be useful in society. They could and should teach children of norms such as religion, tradition, and even law. It gets problematic when the parents’ teachings contradict the common consensus of a nation, harming and even killing others, like the Surabaya bombings that was carried out by a family of five. A child can be guided to become a citizen who understands his rights and duties, or they can also be a vessel of hate that carries a bomb, killing and terrorizing others.

“The self is something which has a development; it is not initially there, at birth, but arises in the process of social experience and activity, that is, develops in the given individual as a result of his relations to that process as a whole and to other individuals within that process,” said George Herbert Mead in his book titled the Mind, Self, & Society (1934).

With that in mind, family plays a crucial role for children’s experience and activity. Although there are other groups or institution that can also guide them, school for instance, family is the number one and first source for them to grow. It’s up to families and all layers of society including us to guide the children in choosing which path they should take, for the betterment or deterioration of our world.

We pray to the victims of Indonesian terror attacks and hope for the best for this multicultural nation’s future. Lastly, we would like to wish Eid Mubarak for all Muslims and to all human being that coexist in this wonderful world. At its best, the holiday will give us a chance to cleanse our mind, body, and soul, so that we, including those who was affected by the terror attacks, will not submit to the chain of hateful revenge.



Symbol From the Wilderness

[Jakarta, LTTW] Man and beast are two completely different species that have intertwined within cultural domain throughout history. Such inter-relation plays a role in modern society by being a symbol to communicate with others through images and characteristics that the animal was known for. One of them is using the mother nature’s inhabitants as a symbol of a nation, region, or even continent.

It’s a common practice that a country takes the mantle of a specific beast because an animal is in its territory. Apart from restoring the population by promoting the preferred animal, nations can also benefit from using the symbol from the wilderness for their own political and economic gain.

Bedouin people and his camel.

Animal Symbol: Peace and Preservation

Ailuropoda melanoleuca or commonly known as the giant panda is an animal loved by the world, and widely associated with China. As the only natural habitat for this black and white irresistible creature, China wields it proud as supposedly a symbol of peace. Panda can be seen as a tool for diplomacy for China, for example, we can trace it back to the period of Tang Dynasty in the 7th century when Empress Wu Zetian sent two giant pandas to Japan. The “panda transaction” continues in 1941 when Beijing as the capital sent the two animals to the Bronx Zoo in New York, United States right before the World War II.

“Destroy racism. Be like a panda; he’s black, he’s white, he’s Asian.” – Unknown | Pixabay

In 1982 the Chinese government stopped giving away giant panda as a part of its gift-giving diplomacy since they agreed to follow the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora that prohibits such practice. Instead, they lend it for a period of 10-15 years with a lending fee starting at US$1,000,000 to countries such as U.S.A, U.K, France, Norway, Japan, Malaysia, and even Indonesia up to today. The act of lending panda sometimes leads to benefit the foreign relation; the promotion of panda as a tool for diplomacy also brings good will for the endangered animal. More attention is given to pandas, resulting in substantial efforts to restore their population by both multilateral G to G programs and initiatives from international conservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Since 2016, the status of giant panda is no longer endangered as their population started to increase 17% in 2014 totaling to today’s 1,864 in China’s wilderness. This Yin Yang symbol from the wild that was once vulnerable due to the high level risk of extinction, has grown to a sufficient number of population.

There are similiarities in Indonesia regarding the use of an animal as a symbol. The country with an archipelago that flourishes with a wide array of flora and fauna is home to numerous endangered animals threatened to extinct such as the Javanese Rhinoceros, Anoa, Belida fish, Proboscis monkey, and Jalak Bali. Amongst those animal, Komodo dragon or Varanus komodoensis steps into the spotlight and becomes Indonesia animal symbol that represents the country.

Komodo Dragon | Pixabay

That’s why in 1980, Komodo National Park was established in the province of East Nusa Tenggara and since then, the attempt to increase the population has been made. The statistics on Komodo populations vary. Worldanimalfoundation.net stated in 2014 there were approximately 6,000 living Komodo dragons. Other sources such as Jakartapost.com, reported in 2016 that the number dropped from 3,222 in 2013 to 3,092 in 2014, and recently 3,014 in 2015; Achmad Ariefiandya, researcher at the Komodo Survival Program Institution, told that the population on Komodo and Rinca islands is relatively stable while the declining numbers are found in smaller islands. Early 2018, Antaranews.com shared the latest fact on the komodo population in 2017 that reached 3,012 in Komodo National Park including a stable increase in Gili Motang. Although the numbers doesn’t necessarily add up from 2015, the stability of the population was met since the increase in 2015 and has continued in other islands for two years.

The effort made an increase, or at the very least making the population stable. Indonesia used methods such as wildlife monitoring programme that was executed by rangers and staff of the Indonesian Department of Forestry and spreading community education that gives knowledge and shares ideas on natural habitat protection. If it goes well in the future, Indonesia can focus on other endangered animals that gradually decrease in population or perhaps socialize the model that shaped komodo dragon conservation a success.

Just like China that lend their pandas to other countries, Indonesia also enact this diplomacy with their dinosaur like faunal symbol. In 1988, Indonesia government gave away two komodo to the United States. The friendly gesture was made after President Soeharto promised President Ronald Reagan to gave the majestic animals in 1986.

Such practice has continued since the political reformation in 1998. Case in point, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono bilateral relation with Hungary led to the Indonesian government giving the famed beast in 2008. Recently in 2017, Indonesia traded their komodo dragons with giant pandas from China, placing them in care of President Joko Widodo and the government. The exchange that strengthens both nations ties is complementary and Indonesia enjoys a 10 year loan on the couple pandas named Cai Tao and Hu Chun.

An animal can also be shared by not only one, but two nations as a symbol. Look at the critically endangered Bornean orangutan or Pongo pygmaeus; it doesn’t belong to any specific country because this animal exists in Indonesia and Malaysia. The two countries both shared it in the island of Borneo and can be a symbol of both nations but not exclusive to neither one like giant pandas or Komodos. Fortunately, both nations can work together, creating a cooperation that attracts the world’s attention, restoring the current 54,000 population of the “forest man”.

Bornean orangutan | Wikiwand

There is even an animal symbol that covers much wider than an island like Borneo with its orangutan. Girrafe, zebra, and lion are animals that can be identified with the African continent. It’s not limited to a specific country, but a whole identity of the 30.3 million km2 land. That is why there are many wildlife conservation and projects in Africa; from local, continental, to international.

Conservation of animals are happening, and everyone from individuals, organizations, to countries should continue working together hand in hand to achieve the goal of restoring the population as well as the ecosystem. This gives us a perspective that mankind is still willing to fight for their well being on this earth, trying to make amends with mother nature.



Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi presents moral vision in age of crisis

At inaugural event in the T.T. and W.F. Chao Distinguished Buddhist Lecture Series, Bhikku Bodhi applies Buddhist ethics to today’s social problems.

Lisa Hickler | Global Studies and Languages

The Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi called for solidarity, love, compassion, and justice as an antidote to the crises of our time spawned by corporate greed. He called for a willingness to act on behalf of people in need, near and distant, including future generations, and on behalf of a living planet. Bhikkhu Bodhi, an American Buddhist monk, spoke at MIT April 19 as part of the inaugural event in the T.T. and W.F. Chao Distinguished Buddhist Lecture Series sponsored by MIT Global Studies and Languages.

The bespectacled monk, with flowing orange robes, confided to the audience that he was concerned his talk would be “too radical” and shared his notes in advance with one of the event organizers. He said he was assured that MIT, which has been the intellectual home of Noam Chomsky, would be a suitable place for his remarks.

Bhikkhu Bodhi pointed to the social, environmental, and economic problems of today as being driven by “the quest for expanding profits, for higher dividends for shareholders, for higher returns on financial investments, for increased capital accumulation, to be achieved by suppressing of wages and benefits for workers, by precarious contract labor, and by weakening (or abolishing) regulations.” He also spoke about the need for justice by fighting racism and police brutality.

“We are intrinsically interconnected and interdependent . . . with countless other people, with the entire intricate web of life” Bhikkhu Bodhi said. “True happiness does not come from ‘maximizing one’s private self-interest’ through rational, detached, economic calculations, but from participating in all the domains of true value. At the human level happiness depends on meaningful, fulfilling, uplifting human relationships, on friendships, on collaboration and cooperation with others, in pursuing the good of all. Our own good comes from the common good, promoting the common good enhances our own good.”

Bhikkhu Bodhi discussed the Buddhist Global Relief project he founded in 2007, founded to combat chronic hunger and malnutrition, which does work in Burma, Cambodia, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Nicaragua, and several other countries. The society has a special focus of promoting the education of girls and women as way to combat poverty.

Bhikkhu Bodhi was born in Brooklyn and was attracted to Buddhism in his early 20s while studying philosophy in graduate school. In 1972 he moved to Sri Lanka where he studied for several years under the late Ananda Maitreya. He was ordained as Theravada Buddhist monk in 1973. He currently lives at the Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York, and is the president of the Buddhist Association of the United States. The Sanskrit word “bodhi” is usually translated as “enlightenment.”

Professor Emma Teng emceed the evening’s program. She is the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations and the Head of MIT Global Studies and Languages.

Introductory remarks by James Robson, the James C. Kralik and Yunli Lou Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, put the evening’s lecture in the context of an ongoing conversation between Buddhism and science, including the 2003 conference bringing together the Dalai Lama and neuroscientists (captured in the book “The Dalai Lama at MIT”). Robson pointed out the central role played by Bhikkhu Bodhi in bringing Buddhism to a Western audience through his translations of critical Buddhist texts with commentaries.

Robson explained that Bhikkhu Bodhi “has been stirring things up in the Buddhist World” by speaking out as a social activist. He said that the monk had become “a key figure in speaking about the role of Buddhism in contemporary society.” Robson continued, “Despite the almost daily reports about how meditation can help one live a happier and well-adjusted life in a lot of the ‘mindfulness’ discourse, the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi has been urging Western Buddhists to get out of their minds, and not just focus on their own greed, hatred, and delusion, and into the world to deal with some of the key issues of our day that involve issues of social, economic, and political injustice.”

Robson pointed to the role Bhikkhu Bodhi played in spotlighting the “plight of the Rohingya people of Myanmar/Burma and the massive ethnic cleansing and refugee crisis in Rakhine province as the minority Muslims have been attacked and killed, with Buddhists being complicit.”

In addition to the public lecture on April 19, which drew 140 people, Bhikkhu Bodhi led a meditation session on April 20 for about 40 students, faculty, and staff, at the Burton Conner dormitory.

Also on April 20, a lively discussion was held with about 45 students who are members of the Concourse program. After this discussion, Abigail Stein, a first-year undergrad commented, “I was really interested to learn about Bhikkhu Bodhi’s humanitarian initiatives and the growing activism in modern Buddhism . . . [He] described the evolution of Buddhism around the world, and entertained our questions about Buddhist philosophy. I had little prior knowledge about Buddhist culture and religion, and I feel so lucky that I got a chance to learn from such an active and well-learned scholar.”

Reprinted with permission of MIT News

Famous People Hologram for Sale

[Jakarta, LTTW] Nobody can bring back the dead. With that in mind, they can still be immortalized through memories, ideas, media and other inheritance that they left on earth. Artists who sing their way throughout generations left their records for us to hear and stories that are documented to be shared over various medium.

Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, came alive in a music event called The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Topless with a cross necklace in his chest, the deceased artist performed and shared songs with living artists Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre on stage. Clearly it wasn’t really him, but the live “optical illusion” brought back the Harlem, New York born singer and astonished the festival attendees. In the 2014 Billboard Music Award, another deceased legend was brought back to live in MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas. Michael Jackson emerged in a gold jacket, white shirt, and red trousers; performing and dancing to Slave to the Rythm with 16 real life backup dancers.

Hologram USA was the mastermind behind these two stage acts. As the name indicate, they claim hologram as the main technology that brings back the dead artists. With permission by families of the dearly departed, the company can resurrect artists to please and shock audiences. Regarding the hologram itself, it’s actually a different technology called Pepper’s Ghost and it has been around since 19th century. Improvements were made by Hologram USA using high-quality video projection technology that combines motion capture technology with 3D computer-generated imaging (CGI).

Fast forward to 2018, the Hologram USA Theater stand proud in Hollywood, Los Angeles—showcasing dead artists such as Billie Holiday. The American Jazz singer and songwriter who died in 1959 sings nine times a day in a 40 minutes show. Of course she will never be tired because it’s only a projection of the famed singer. It is clear that the “hologram” displayed in the theater is for entertainment purpose, otherwise they wouldn’t charge admission tickets. But what makes this technology more useful and can move forward is the “reachability” that it can be bring to the masses.

We can see the ideal purpose of this projection technology as a way to document someone with importance, sharing their lives to those who put interest, remembering a legacy, or simply breaking boundaries by giving a near life experience with them. The technology is also morally acceptable as long as it still honors the artists reputation. On the other hand, technology can be a product of its own. By sharing and inspiring people through this projection technology, interests will arise from the masses. When Tupac performed in 2012, the company behind the stunt was included in the highlight and a box full of opportunities was left open.

By showing what the digital projection technology can do, people can use or improve it for other reasons. Demand keeps coming and even the living are also utilizing it. In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi partnered with MDH Hologram and used Pepper’s Ghost method for his electoral campaign—rallying his supporters in more than 1,500 locations. Adrénaline Studio also joined the bandwagon by projecting the French president candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Paris and Lyon at the same time in February 2017. Campaigning to gain voters for the election, he continued the gimmick in April with wider broadcast from Dijon to 7 other places in France.

This just goes to show that technology can also be a commodity that sells. Hologram USA started with a bang by resurrecting Tupac and Michael Jackson, but afterwards they also sell their patented technology. As stated in the official website, everyone can buy Hologram USA Eyeliner, the main set of tools and system that can project people—dead or alive.

The improved Pepper’s Ghost can immortalize people in an effective way, but it also has the same principle of watching movies and documentaries or screens that are played live in concerts. The future is visual, we will see and of course buy what comes ahead.