Life in prison

Recently, I had the amazing privilege to spend some time with the director of one of the biggest prison in Thailand. The woman is in charge of facilities housing 4,000 female prisoners. It is the common size of a village in Switzerland! We discussed about the differences between male and female prisoners. About the challenges of running such kind of establishment. The prison even offers vocational and meditation courses, grows fruits and vegetables and sell handicraft.

I started wondering. What is a good prison? Is it a prison where the prisoners feel good? If so, does it remain a punishment? Or is it a place of suffering, in which case why would we criticize prisons with poor living conditions? The answer I was given is that prisons are places where freedom is removed, and where respect of the rules and discipline towards authority are taught. And almost no prisoner goes through this without suffering, otherwise they would not be there. There is no need to bring additional suffering. There may not be any other purpose for imprisonment.

I was wondering more: These places are so well organized. Prisoners are given tasks for the community. Everyone has a roof, friends, food and work. Even meditation courses. Like a small village. Better than a small village? I was thinking, isn’t it similar to a monastery, except that in a monastery, the integration in the community is chosen voluntarily? Jean-Paul Sartre was saying that freedom of choice brings suffering. What if we offered alternative villages where people voluntarily choose to serve any task that is given to them, force themself to work a certain amount of time in exchange of food and accommodation, and peace of mind. Peace of the absence of responsibility. Volunteer total subordination.

Now I am thinking: This “alternative village” pretty much looks like our society. Except that we have freedom of choice, which is good, but not everyone has a roof, nor food, nor work, which is pretty bad. So in a sense, we sacrificed the potential for great peace for the sake of freedom.

But who really is free in this world? What does freedom mean? What more should it bring, that worth the sacrifice of a comfortable life in prison? And do we get it?

Maybe I am thinking too much.

Rebirth

It’s been more than a month since I arrived home. People are asking: How do you feel about going back to real life ?

And the answer is: fucking good. For real life has no constraining meaning to me yet. My real life was first about going to weddings, Christmas parties, new year parties and celebrating reunions with friends. Still, I haven’t had enough time yet to meet all the people I want to see.

But this is not what my idea of real life is really about. If I was so enthusiastic about coming home, it is because I had great plans that needed a stable, rock-solid environment to build on. I want to achieve great things in the forthcoming years, and for that I need a top-notch daily routine that does not let me waste my time. A virtuous routine encouraging introspection and action, that motivates me to do nothing less than my very best and work hard every single moment. That’s why I came back to Switzerland. Because here I can get that. Here I can build that. Together with all of you.

So I took eight days of almost complete isolation very recently in order to make a deep clean of my environment here: cleaning the room, cleaning the long-awaiting administrative tasks that stacked upon my shoulders. Cleaning my spirit with meditation and yoga exercises. But also cleaning the body: I fasted four days. I abstained eating. I only drank juices. This was an amazing experience about myself that lightened my relation to food and hunger. I prepared for two days prior to fasting by progressively removing some food. Then I took one day for readaptation.

During these days, I also spent time considering my future. My values. What I want to be, and what I want to do. For that, I read a very interesting book on self-development by Robin Sharma and also answered these 27 questions to find your passion from Live Your Legend, an online community of people actively working on living their dream. I applied and was admitted to a weekly three-months-long entrepreneurship program funded by the government. I met start-ups and companies to discuss job opportunities that helped me identifying more clearly my interests.

This leads us to today, Saturday the 23rd of January. In four hours, I will be in a plane going to Thailand with my father. For three weeks, I will have the opportunity to rediscover my own culture, which I haven’t experienced for ten years. Back in those times, I was a sixteen-years-old kid. A baby. It’s now time to get to know my roots. Get to know the source of my father’s life teachings. With him. And get to know the color of the blood that flows through my veins. I expect this to be the last chapter of this great journey I started almost one year ago. The closing chapter that will offer me the opportunity to start writing a new book immediately afterwards: the book of my entrepreneurship life.

 

On the way home.

There we are. After nine months of travelling, I finally wait for my last connecting flight for Geneva at Istanbul Airport.

I see all these people around me sleeping on benches, waiting for their connecting flights. This is beautiful. The poor and the rich connect. In front of the most luxurious shops, people wearing suits sleep on the ground. Money does not seem to make the ground softer though.

I am happy and peaceful. Today – or was it yesterday? – I spent my last day wandering in Taiwan. Nothing special to do, I already ticked all the must visit places on my to-do list. That’s the moment when you start considering these interesting places that you decided to sacrifice from your original plan. The moment when you decide to spend your last afternoon in a teahouse recommended in your travel book. The moment when you happen to meet some of the most interesting people because they sit next to you: an elegant woman with fine manners producing high quality tea, a graphic designer who studied in Tokyo, a young graduate in textile industry, and a Korean journalist willing to explore the tea universe.
We chat. They invite me to visit remarkable tea ceramics shops in Taipei’s old streets. They offer me gifts to bring home, snacks for the flight and bring me to the airport shuttle bus station by taxi.

Everything is natural. This is Taiwan. This is Taiwanese friendliness and hospitality expressed at their best. In which other country in the world do locals express so much kindness to foreigners?

And it is not an isolated case. Every Taiwanese person I met was exceptionally open-minded, careful, welcoming and generous. I’ve stayed at people’s homes. Been invited for lunches, dinners and breakfasts. Driven by car all around Taipei just to show me the most amazing sights and vegetarian restaurants. They organized mountain hikes for me. They booked tables in the finest cafés. Introduced me to their families. Regularly, they would write to ask news from my trip and offer me again to answer any question I would have. Always friendly. Always generous.

Never have I been welcomed so well in a country. Thank you so much.

Posted from Istanbul, İstanbul, Turkey.

Hello from Taiwan

Taiwan. This country already sounded interesting the very first time I heard about it three years ago. I left this feeling untouched somewhere in the back of my mind. Then I met someone in Kathmandu who made me feel even more curious about this island. Then suddenly, without any particularly good reason, I knew I had to come. I bought the ticket. I bought the Lonely Planet travel guide and went through the pages. I felt I would love this country.

And I was right.

Taiwan is fascinating. Roughly summarising, it was originally inhabited by adventurous Chinese centuries ago who just left the continent to establish themselves on this volcanic island. The territory ended up being stolen by Japanese in the beginning of the 20th century, after experiencing Dutch and Spanish occupation. Finally after WWII and 50 years of occupation, the Japanese left the island to whomever wanted to have it, which happened to be a political leader who failed establishing his supremacy on the mainland and retreated there with his fellow friends. The unlucky guy had the great idea of stealing almost the entire collection of Chinese government’s antique heritage, which is now luckily displayed in an absolutely amazing museum in Taipei. The guy also thought he would like to rule the island without much discussion with the people and thus established his dictatorship supported by his fellow military friends who joined the retreat (yeah, they were a lot). Finally the people got unhappy enough to get rid of the dictatorship and established democracy 30 years ago. To celebrate this, the United States who like to get involved in every possible place in the world when there is military or economic interest decided to put Taiwan under their protection (to protect them from evil Chinese communism of course! Buuuuhhh), thus theoretically preventing China to mess too much with them.

The result is a unclearly defined state (China claims it is their territory but let them do whatever they want) where Japanese and Chinese influences joyfully shape the culture of this beautiful island full of mountains. A slight US influence can also be perceived, and the lifestyle of the prime aboriginal tribes is omnipresent outside of the major cities (and especially in mountain villages, their refuge during decades of oppressing and discriminatory politics). Tea plantations and natural hot springs are spread all over the place, and Taipei and its 2+ billion inhabitants feels a bit like a mini-Tokyo (sorry if it hurts anyone!), full of activities, shopping, temples and entertainment areas.

The sad part lies in Taiwan’s political status. Not officially recognized as a country, international partnership opportunities get limited. China does not want that so many people start considering the place as an independent country and happily reminds everyone it belongs to them, and try to prevent them from getting too much involved on an international level, including tourism. So they are now stuck with almost one single trade partner (China) which actually provides now cheaper labour, forcing the country to move to the service industry, while not being completely able to join international markets. Taiwanese’s life thus become self-centered with little career opportunities abroad (they even don’t use the same chinese characters as China’s main land) and salaries keep decreasing, unlike the living costs. Nowadays, Taiwanese have a hard time to keep being optimistic about their future. Many want to move abroad, but feel stuck and hardly able to compete with Chinese labour. And since pessimism comes often with risk avoidance strategies, many Taiwanese prefer to accomodate themselves with their own country.

I feel sad about that. Actually, I really, really like this place. The mountains offer amazing trekking opportunities, the hot springs are delightful, the tea culture on the island is nothing but a jewel of delicacy, and Taiwanese people themselves are so lovely and easy-going you just can’t help feeling home. During my stay, I was very lucky to meet many locals with CouchSurfing. I spent a couple of days in a family with two children in the suburbs of Taipei, some other days with another family, been brought to mountains and over cute cafés and tea houses by absolutely lovely people, went clubbing, and so many other things… and there is so much more to see. I am already planning to come back. Maybe spending a couple of years here, who knows?

Anyway, coming back to Switzerland in just a few days. So weird. I’m both excited and confused. A chapter comes to an end, and a new one is about to start.

See you very soon!

Love you all ♡

Towards the end

Namaste!!
I’m writing this from my tent, camping in a field in Hari’s village, next to his house. It’s 9PM and it’s complete darkness for a couple of hours already. The dog is barking outside, I wish I knew why.
I feel strange because it’s my last night in the village. Last night with this wonderful family who hosted me for so many days, taking care of me as if I were a member of the family. I will leave Nepal on the 1st of Dec. before spending 2 weeks in Taiwan and coming home. I will most likely come back very soon, but here in Nepal, you’re never sure you’ll see someone again. Life is fragile everywhere, but even more here. So I try to open myself to everything around, print the smells, the tastes and the faces as deep as I can in my heart.

It is also time to say goodbye to some other people which I have met on my way here. Precious people, beautiful people. I wish I could offer them more than my best thoughts to accompany them for the forthcoming times.

Tomorrow I will go trekking with very good friends who came from Switzerland. We will walk in Langtang and discover a trekking area that only very recently reopened. Entire villages have disappeared around here after the earthquake, and we will also try to document the current situation and assess development opportunities there. Homestay at local families will offer us unique opportunities to get to know the Tamang lifestyle, one of the major ethnic group in Nepal.

I am also very excited to share with you my latest project to help these people getting a better education: Together with a couple of friends and with the support of so many others, we designed t-shirts which we are now selling for Christmas.
100% of our profit will go towards building a library for a major high school in this area (more info about that in my previous blog article). So if you’re looking for a great Christmas gift that makes more sense than just making the rich companies richer, please have a look at our project! T-shirts are shipped worldwide and they are available in many shapes and colors.

Enjoy your day!

Visiting earthquake refugees campsites

A few days ago I went to visit earthquake refugees campsites. I did not know what to expect. I heard stories of heavily spread diseases due to horrible living conditions. I have also been told that the conditions were poor but that NGOs were quite successful at fulfilling basic needs to everyone.

So I visited 3 campsites in Langtang area. These campsites hosted about 100 families each. One was significantly worse than the others: very crowded, using tents (the others had iron shelters) and they were washing their dishes on a small tap on the roadside. All had toilets and drinking water. One had a common house with TV and a fridge. One provided garden and poultry farms (I heard that the people there were actually renting their spot).

But none of these campsites offered a future to these families. They are temporary places for people who lost everything, waiting to be kicked out. We were lucky enough to discuss with one of the community representative who gave us the critical number, the price for buying a future: 4’000$ US per family to get a land to cultivate and a house. In Nepal a good job in Kathmandu rewards 300-400$ a month. So all these families are now focused on finding how to get this money in a country with significant unemployment rate: the husband could go to Qatar or other foreign countries to find a job. They can ask their relatives for financial support. Or they can just wait and see.

Since I am here I have been thinking and discussing a lot about Nepal’s and more generally developing countries’ issues and their solutions. Finally I decided to pick one of them and contribute my little part to it: improving education.

Why improving education will help earthquake victims a lot?

Because education is the key to get a decent salary around here that would let them rebuild their collapsed houses on the long term. For 25’000$ you can build 5-6 houses to help a couple families getting back comfortable living conditions by the end of the year. Or you can build a school with 7 rooms and provide education to more than 200 students every year,  which will help around 100 families getting a relatively good income to rebuild their houses themselves in 10-15 years, plus 100 more families every following year.

So, in my opinion,  education is one of the key to efficiently support Nepal’s relief.

My parents, myself and a couple of friends have joined hands to collect 11’000$ to build a fully furnished library in a mountain high school. Right now we collected 5’400$ and so we are halfway on this objective.

If you are interested in helping us raising this money, you are most welcome to spread the word on your favorite social media or by donating to my personal bank account (see below). High Himalayan Community Projects Nepal, the NGO with which I collaborate on this project, will issue a donation receipt which may be eligible for tax deduction (no guarantee on that sorry). Unfortunately this NGO does not have a bank account in Switzerland, and transferring money directly to Nepal is a big mess with huge overhead costs (~10%) but we will bring the money cash to Nepal and avoid all overheads. Please send me a message after donating, this will help me keeping track of the process.

Thanks a lot for your support and continuous reading of my adventures. There is so much to say about everything I experience here. I hope I’ll find the time to write about all those things soon, otherwise I now have a fixed return date to Switzerland: 15th of December 2015. I’m really looking forward to see you all again!

So if you want to donate, here are my details:

Bastien Rojanawisut
Rue de la Prairie 5
1196 Gland
Suisse

IBAN : CH81 00767 000T 5050 4779
Bank address
Banque Cantonale Vaudoise
Place St-François 14, CP 300
1002 Lausanne
Clearing National : 767
SWIFT/BIC : BCVLCH2LXXX
CCP : 10-725-4

A night with mice

I am writing this message from Mount Shivapuri. I am in some kind of storage house with one big room full of mattresses and blankets.

I am alone.

I am not very sure of the purpose of this house. It is one of the four houses that you can find at the peak of the mountain. I’ve been told that a great spiritual guide was living here and that this house is used for his disciple to sleep. But either they haven’t been here for months, or they really don’t care about things being tidy, or both, because that’s quite a messy place. Mice are running around, and I am here in the middle of this in my sleeping bag. Quietly writing to you. Despite the appearances, I feel good here. It’s quite warm and protected from the wild animals outside in the forest.

How did I get there?

Maybe because of this Russian woman whom we are hosting these days through CouchSurfing, who offered me to join her and another friend of hers in this overnight mountain expedition. And maybe because I was too scared to sleep outside with them without a tent in the middle of a forest I know nothing about. Maybe because I told them I would prefer to sleep in this house instead, and that it was OK if they left me there while they would have gone for a 25 minutes walk in complete darkness in this forest. A forest which – I have been told – is unsafe at night because there are bears and black panthers. Also, I think it is going to rain.

So that’s maybe why I am here.

A beautiful holy fountain hidden in the forest.
This holy fountain was hidden in the middle of the forest.
A beautiful view of Kathmandu Valley on the way to the top of the mountain.
A beautiful view of Kathmandu Valley on the way to the top of the mountain.

Posted from Budhanilkantha, Central Region, Nepal.

Every day is my birthday

Every day is my birthday. Every day I wake up and feel like the day is going to be special. That the day is offered to me as a present. I wake up and I feel that the world is the most beautiful place to live. For some reasons, I see problems all over the world without feeling sad. I feel happy because I feel like each and every one of us has the solution to all the world’s problems deep inside us. For no reason, my optimism is overwhelming. Every day, I see people who care about the world. Who care about the other people. Who care about what is right and what is wrong. I am surrounded by such beautiful people. They are my friends. They are the friends of my friends. They are unknown heroes that jump into my Facebook news feed just to say “Hi, I’m doing my best with what I have.”

There is this French osteopathic team that came to give free health advice in remote mountains. They came with beautiful intentions, they stayed here and gave all they had for people they don’t know. They left with shining smiles, and hearts full of ideas to create a brighter future for themselves and the world.

There is this Australian firefighter who fell in love with Nepal and started organizing fundraising events after the earthquake, because it was just the right thing to do.

There is this crazy 21 years old Moroccan girl who cannot bare the idea of spending too much time in her comfort zone and came to Nepal out of nowhere without any plan, because “no plan is good plan”. And even though she has no patience she just applied to a 10-days meditation course here. Her mind is scared, her heart feels it is right.

There is this French girl who is 26 years old, who did a Bachelor in France, a Master in Vietnam and another in Serbia, because she felt this need to open herself to other cultures.

And especially, there is this Taiwanese woman that I just randomly met in a restaurant because I sat next to her and who happens to be the closest thing to the female version of myself that I’ve ever met.

Life in a mountain village

2 weeks ago, my sister and I visited Hari’s village for 4 days. We walked around with him, visiting his friends and the neighbouring schools.
Life was going on peacefully there. The atmosphere is very quiet: lots of rice and corn fields, small houses here and there, children in uniforms going to or coming back from school.

It does not struck you immediately that almost every single house there collapsed four months ago during the earthquake.

They quiclkly rebuilt the most important walls, just enough to put corrugated iron roofs to survive the moonsoon season that is about to finish now. The loud music of the heavy rain orchestra falling on these thin metallic roofs still echoes in my mind. And when the sun shines back, these tiny houses turn into human-sized oven. But when the sun shines, nobody is inside. Everyone is in the fields, cultivating their own vegetables and cereals to feed themselves, their goats and their buffalos. During the earthquake the weather was good and everyone was outside, which saved numerous lives. Imagine what would have happened if it struck during the night.

 

A typical post-earthquake shelter
A typical post-earthquake shelter

I was very happy to meet again Hari’s family. Last time was 4 years ago, when I was teaching in the school nearby.

Regarding schools, most of them turned into iron-schools. Where being a man who turns into an Ironman is good, life of iron-schools is less great, for any rainfall gladly creates enough noise to cover any attempt of the teachers to make themselves understood properly in the classroom. Moreover, when rain is not a problem, the noise of neighbouring classrooms is one. Nepali students are unexpectedly crazily enthusiastic when it comes to studying by repeating what the teacher says, which is a common practice here. Their enthusiasm really made me happy, and I could not help thinking about how much we tend to dislike school in developed countries.

Ironschool
Iron-school with super cool Iron-tunnel

Posted from Kathmandu, Central Region, Nepal.