Renaming a place doesn’t make it Shangri-La

Clearing the real streets of Shangri-La, China (formerly Zhongdian) (photo courtesy Ed-meister at Flickr CC)I’m a big fan of Lost Horizon: A Novel, written in 1933 by James Hilton (and later made into the iconic 1937 movie Lost Horizon.)

The setting of the story is the mythical utopian Shangri-La, a beautiful place somewhere in the Himalayas that is so peaceful and stress-free that it stops aging.

If you ever leave there, the real world crushes in and you age immediately.

The story has captured imaginations for decades. As a Navy veteran, my personal favorite for irony is naming an aircraft carrier the USS Shangri-La (CV-38) – when reporters asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt where the 1942 surprising Doolittle raid on Tokyo had taken off from, he replied, “They came from Shangri-la.”

The reality was classified at the time; the sixteen heavy B-25 bombers took off from the carrier Hornet (none of the Army Air Corps pilots had ever flown off of a Navy carrier) and then because of low fuel, most tried to ditch in – more irony – China.

To broaden tourism appeal to the relatively remote area of Zhongdian, the Chinese government renamed it Shangri-La. Of course, there is really no such place.

Everyone has their own definition of a perfect destination; a peaceful respite where your cares don’t age you because you have no cares.

It’s not that the myth can’t somewhat become reality if you find your perfect place (we all look better, aged or not, when we aren’t stressed) but don’t depend on a tourism bureau to tell you how to find Shangri-La.

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