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p1000234.JPGp1000214.JPG From October 22 through 24, the Second Biennial Festival of Thinkers was held in UAE. I was invited to join the Japan team organized and led by President Monte Cassim of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University. As I had never been to the UAE and it was one of the places I was so anxious to visit, I accepted the invitation a few months ago, without even checking where in the world the UAE.was.

 We arrived at Dubai Airport a little after 4:00 a.m. local time, after 11-hour flight from Chubu Airport. The chauffer of the limousine explained to me the various high rises which were being built, including the world’s tallest building. After about an hour drive in the desert, we came to Abu Dhabi which was full of greens. The trees in Abu Dhabi gave me a complete different impression from that of Dubai. (I am always fascinated by the type of trees I find at different places.)

 The hotel in Abu Dhabi where the Festival was held was so impressive and overwhelming, beyond my imagination. It was very hot and humid outside, but the facilities, service, and hospitality were truly splendid!
People would often say “everything is fluid”, which made me wonder at the beginning. Later, I found out that this means that many programs are subject to change at any minute. For example, the reception and dinner at the palace on the day before the official opening, to which I was invited, was only decided upon several hours before the actual event. (Some people did not even know that they were invited, as they had not registered.)(See photo of the dinner.)
 I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of facilities, the abundance of natural resources and above all, the hope in the young peoples’ eyes. Almost everything was the first of its kind for me, and as such, very exciting.  The Festival of Thinkers itself was such a impressive event with many Nobel Laureates, scientists, artists, and media people from all over the world. Featured on the first day was Dr. Wangari Maathai from Kenya, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 2004, who made such an impressive and inspiring keynote speech. Her talk was on her own experience as a student and her involvement with Green Belt Movement. Her sense of humor, her dedication, and her passion were so contagious. Her talk was extremely relevant and thus inspiring for the young population in UAE and for Abu Dhabi in the middle of desert, where trees have been planted with dedication and a strong desire to protect the en vironment. I felt so fortunate to be given the opportunity to actually hear and see such a great person. In as short as two weeks, I heard Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State and Muta Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner. Their speeches were full of inspiration and hope. (See my blog on Colin Powell at World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, as one of the best keynote speeches I have heard recently.) What was even more impressive was the Festival of Thinkers program itself. After the panel discussion by the Nobel Laureates and other distinguished group of people, the breakout sessions were held with students from the UAE and surrounding areas. There, the students and the participants discussed subjects such as “Protecting our Environment” “Energy and Sustainable Development”, “Globalization, Innovation and Entrepreneurship”, “The Role of the Media” among others. I was fortunate to participate in several of these breakout sessions.
In particular, the breakout session right after the “Rising from the Ashes: Japan Special” in which I participated, made a great impact on me. We discussed “Balancing the Global and the Local”, one of the topics which in recent years I have been interested in. The comments made by the students were very insightful, refreshing and gave me a lot to think about. Towards the end, one student asked me whether having so many natural resources is good news or bad news. I thought this was an extremely fundamental question.
It reminded me of Dr. Maathai’s remarks about “Mottainai” (in Japanese), deep-rooted values in Japanese history of making the best use of limited resources. It also reminded me of many organizations or people who had to think hard to make the best of limited resources.Having too much sometimes makes us lazy and keeps us from being creative and innovative.
The three-day trip was too short, but was full of new experiences, and many things to reflect and explore.The most memorable thing for me was the young people, with so many questions and their eyes sparkling for a brighter future.

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