Friday, May 27, 2005

Penned in by Mountains

America from the air is huge. The horizon stretches as far as the eyes can see until land, cloud and sky merge into a seamless whole. Great billowing clouds travel in a majestic and neverending dance across the skies. The sun is especially striking. The golden disc of Sol shines brilliantly down from the rarefied heights of its clear blue domain, casting deep shadows, lighting up vast sections of the white expanse of cloud and mountain beneath. The dance of light and shadow seen from the confines of a plane is one of the most stunning sights of the world.

As the clear air of Colorado greets us as we step gingerly out of the bus there is a sense of being out of your depth. Mountains in the horizon, skies so clear and brilliant and rich a tone with tasteful cyan that it is impossible not to contemplate with wonder the sheer power of the laws of physics in creating a tapestry of sheer majesty. Sitting there on the kerb with the monuments of man and of nature arrayed around you it is perhaps difficult to hold back a sense of being a fly on the face of the world. The others feel wonder, or perhaps apprehension.

American (suburban) culture is shockingly removed from the urban tunnel vision of the East Asian city-dweller. Especially with the Odyssey of the Mind atmosphere and the curiosity as to our origins and the process of getting here, it is easy to accrete more off-the-street conversation here in six days than you can get in Singapore in a year. Perhaps it is this atmosphere of friendly informality that has fostered the energy present in the campus, the sense of coming challenge and excitement as props move and actors display their arts. The traditions of trading of interstate (and international) wares such as pins and shirts are perhaps products of this atmosphere, although it is easy to reverse cause-and-effect.

It is perhaps strange how psychological conditioning can affect one's thoughts of a place or time. Before the competition came a sense of brooding apprehension, of laconic retreat fostered by the weight of responsibility, frenzied preparation, and late nights. During the competition came a sense of deployment, of focus, and perhaps release. It is what comes after that changes one's mindset. Suddenly there is a sense of complete release and relief, and with a puff of air, walls tumble, and problems evaporate. Clouds part, and the skies beckon.

And that is perhaps the greatest reward of all.

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