I wouldn’t mind betting that for most people, holidays come somewhere very near the top of the list of ‘best bits’ for any given year. We may all have different tastes when it comes to deciding what makes a great holiday. But whatever our personal preferences, that time away from normality, reality, work, routine and the every day pressures of life is golden. That is what makes holidays great.
This week I am in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. It is a Malaysian city on the island of Borneo, and just an eight hour road trip away from our home in Brunei. But it seems a world away. I am typing from the lovely poolside gardens of a seafront resort, overlooking the sea and islands beyond. We are enjoying the dappled sunshine under the trees, the cooling breeze blowing off the mountains, the cosmopolitan feel of the resorts, and the hedonistic indulgence of eating and drinking too much, snoozing often and splashing about in the warm, clear blue sea. All of it heavenly, and despite only being a car journey away, completely different from the stifling humidity and mundane calm of life in a sleepy town in Brunei.
It is not ‘authentic Malaysia’ that we are experiencing, but we knew that when we came. We’ve been to Kota Kinabalu before; we’ve done the night markets, and Gaya Street market, we’ve soaked up the local sights, sounds and flavours. This time the trip was all about unashamedly self-indulgent escapism. And we have not been disappointed so far. A perfect temporary utopia.
The word is directly attributable to Sir Thomas More who created it. It is the title of his work, Utopia, which described a fictional society where politics, morality, social behaviour and values were at the peak of perfection.
Today the word can be used in reference to:
- Thomas More’s island creation
- an ideally perfect state of existence or place, especially in its social, political,and moral aspects
- a visionary or idealistic scheme for social and political practice or reform
- any real or imaginary society, place, state of being, etc, considered to be perfect or ideal, especially in laws, government, and social conditions
- an impractical scheme for social improvement.
I read Utopia at University as part of a semester studying utopian and dystopian ideals in literature. It seems like an incredibly long time ago (it was a pretty long time ago!)! But I enjoyed dipping back in to it, to choose an interesting quote for this post.
I fully appreciate the irony that holidays are not something that everyone can afford, which in itself is the dystopian reality of modern society. Perhaps that is, in part, what helps to maintain their status as a utopian ideal.
There are lots of great quotations to draw from Utopia, but one line particularly struck me. I liked the sense that even in reality, whether that reality be the 16th century world that Thomas More knew, or our modern day life, there is a way for us all to experience utopia:
“Nobody owns anything but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”(Thomas More, Utopia).
The suggestion that utopia is a state of mind and attitude as much as a tangible place and time is something that I find immensely reassuring. Even for the mega-wealthy and lottery winners of the world (neither of which categories include me, sadly!), life cannot possibly be one long holiday. So the idea that we can help ourselves live a more utopian existence by striving for happiness and peace of mind makes a lot of sense to me. It can’t do any harm anyway. And it’s better than sitting in misery, counting the days, hours and minutes until the next holiday!