Author: Fredrik Haren - The Island Man

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The island of  Ireland, number 19 (out of 100), country number 16 (out of 25), month number 18 (out of 100.)

“Companies in Ireland will only pay for a speaker if he or she is flown in from overseas.”

This I was told by numerous people when I was invited to Dublin to speak at the Professional Speakers Association of Ireland.

The reason for foreigners being paid was, apparently, not that they were “better”, but because they were “foreigners”.

Or perhaps more precisely because they are perceived to be better because they are foreigners.

I find that this behaviour is common in many parts of the world, it was true in China when I was living there, it is true in Singapore (where I am living now), and it is true in my native Sweden, for example

(The notable exception would be the USA where clients are somehow inclined to pay more for their own speakers than for foreigners flying in.)

Many speakers I meet seem annoyed and/or frustrated about this fact.

Personally, I like it.

The idea that thoughts and ideas from foreign lands are worth paying more for is a welcome break from the notion that local ideas are somehow better.

Ireland is one of those islands in the world where the opinion about “our ideas are best” has created a lot of suffering. The fight between Protestants and Catholics has created a country split in two. At least the violence that used to rock the island has subsided.

With the new Brexit vote a new potential conflict might occur, that between “EU is good to be part of” and “EU is bad to be part of” where they have to figure out how to resolve the issue of a EU border going straight through this green and friendly island.

The Idea of “we are right, they are wrong” fascinates me.

I recently did an interview with a professional speaker and teacher based in Hong Kong who told me that he had asked his students: “Was Hong Kong better run during the British or during the Chinese?”

The class was split 50/50.

He then asked: “How many of you have a different opinion about this issue than your parents have?”

Not a single student raised a hand…

The bias about “right”, of “good ideas” is pushed upon us from our society, our families, or culture etc and this “invisible influence” is so strong and so subtle that most of us do not understand that it is pushing us to what we should think.

One of the most eye-opening events I have experienced was a seemingly simple observation that happened to be when I lived in Beijing China.

I moved to China as a single 37 year old man, without knowing anyone in China. I arrived in a country where I did not speak the language, did not know the culture, and did not have any friends (local or Swedish).

Before I managed to build up a social life I lived a quite isolated life which meant many meals by myself in restaurants where I was the only non-chinese speaking person.

And I noticed something interesting: Often when I ordered a dish they would serve me the food and then give me a fork, a knife, a spoon and a couple of chop sticks.

All the locals just got chop sticks.

For the first time in my life I would eat a meal and not have a cultural bias on how this meal “should” be eaten.

This small, brain twister of an experience got me to realise how many things in life we do thinking that we are making an individual and conscious decision – when in fact we are just being lured into that feeling by surrounding cultural pressure.

Most of the time we are just a sheep in the herd.

People used to ask me if it was not difficult to live in China when I was cut off from my culture in such a abrupt and strong way.

I way the opposite: It was never easier to know who I (!) was, then when I just had arrived in Beijing. My Swedish “bubble” was gone and I had not yet been absorbed by the Chinese “bubble”.

I was making decisions based on what I wanted. Not what was deemed right by the surrounding culture.

And that is why I, since then, have been spending so much time actively traveling the world and get to see as many different ways of looking at the world, of many different ways of thinking what is “right”.

Today I did it in Dublin, Ireland, because the local Irish speakers wanted to have the perspective of a global speaker from a Swedish man living in Singapore. (But no, I did not get paid more because I was a foreigner at this specific event. I actually did not get paid at all. When you speak at speaker events you do it for free to give back to the speaking community.)

Speaking for speakers in Ireland got me thinking about our tendency to sometimes think that foreign ideas are worse, and sometimes think that foreign ideas are superior. I wish we would just look at ideas as ideas and judge them on their creative merit, not their geographic origin.

Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Ireland was island number 19, country number 16 and month number 18. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, United Kingdom and Ireland.)

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The island of Mauritius, Mauritius. Island number 17 (out of 100), country number 14 (out of 25), month number 16 (out of 100.)

The history of Mauritius is a story of change.

The island was discovered by the Arabs, re-discovered by the Portuguese, colonised by the Dutch, the French and then the British.

Over the years slaves from Madagascar and later workers from China, Malaysia, continental Africa and India were brought to the island.

The result is a paradise island with a very, very diverse mix of people from different parts of the world, different backgrounds and cultures – that is living in a society that is very friendly, peaceful and calm.

When we are living in a time where it is fashionable to say that the multi-cultural society doesn’t work (Even Angela Merkel said it) it’s refreshing to come to Mauritius and find a paradise island where people are living very peacefully together side by side from a multitude of backgrounds and cultures.

(Sure Mauritius has it’s own set of problems, it is in no way an utopia, but it is really amazing how a country in the middle of nowhere, far from most big economical centres can do so well and be so peaceful.)

I think one reason is that the country has been able to develop relatively successfully is that Mauritius has a long history of changing and/or being forced to change.

The Arabs came, and left.
The Portuguese came but abandoned it
The Dutch came but abandoned it.
The French came but had to give it up to the British
The British let it go by giving it independence.

The island was used for harvesting ebony trees, then suger cane took over, then when countries like Brazil started to compete for the sugar business the island became a centre for textiles and then countries like India and Bangladesh started to compete for the European textile market.

Now the island is a centre for financial services and tourism.

Today this small island state with no exploitable natural resources, located in one of the more remote corners of the world (in the Indian Ocean, outside Madagascar) has one of the highest GDP per capita of Africa and is ranked as having the 8th most free economy in the world.

I think that has to be called an impressive success granted the circumstances.

And I think the success can be attributed to a mentality of being open to the outside world – and open to change.

If you visit Mauritius you can not ignore to see pictures of the Dodo – the flightless bird that went extinct within about 100 years of humans arriving on Mauritius (The last one was killed in 1681.) You see pictures of the Dodo in every tourist shop, on t-shirts, hats, shirts, bottles of rum – The Dodo is even in the coat of arms of the country.

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It might seem a bit weird for the citizens of a country to embrace an animal that humanity made extinct shortly after arriving in the country.

But for me the Dodo is a symbol. A symbol of how anyone (an animal, a country, a people, a company – an island – or a planet) must change, adapt and evolve in order to survive.

Or, as I ended my speech in Mauritius: “you have to Do or you have to Dodo” – as in “You have to react and change with change or you will go extinct just like the Dodo did.”

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And one of the best ways to make sure that you are open for change and new ideas, is to have an open mind to people, influences and ideas from all over the world – something that you really feel that Mauritius have had, and has.

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I leave this paradise island inspired by how such a diverse group of people from different cultures and backgrounds can live together in such a peaceful way – and by how humanity can survice on a small little island in the middle of nowhere by constantly being open to change.


Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Mauritius was island number 17, country number 14 and month number 16. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India and Mauritius.)

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The Elephant Island, Mumbai, India. Island number 16 (out of 100), country number 13 (out of 25), month number 15 (out of 100.)

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Elephant island is a small island just outside Mumbai that you easily reach by a ferry that leaves just behind the famous Gateway to India-monument. Mumbai itself is built on seven island (that merged into one landmass over time) – so as a man hocked on islands it of course is a city that attracts me.

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It’s a crazy, vibrant, buzzing, chaotic place.

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A place where all people, from all kinds of cultures, backgrounds, social classes, religions and ethnicities mix in a big explosion that some people find overwhelming, stressful and annoying. I too find it overwhelming, but I love it. Not all of it, but the whole of it.

Mumbai is a magnifying glass of humanity. It’s like if someone took the whole humanity and squeezed it on to those seven little islands that was merged into one.

It’s vibrant – but it’s not always pretty.

Just like how humanity, at the moment, is vibrant but, in some aspects, ugly.

We know that.
When you come to India, when you come to Mumbai you see it. You feel it. You become aware of it.

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The clash between rich and poor.
The unsustainable environmental mistakes that pollutes our planet.
The rapid development and innovation side by side with stubborn traditions.

It’s all on high display in the human magnifying glass that is Mumbai.

Some people get uncomfortable when these less beautiful sides of humanity are in plain view – I actually prefer when you can see the problems. Not because I am less appalled by them, but because living in a part of the world where they are not visible doesn’t mean that they do not exist, or that you are not part of the same problem.

That T-shirt that you bought was made by a poor person, just not a poor person in your country.
Those mangoes that you bought might very well be grown by a farmer using toxic pesticides.
Those mangroves being torn down for a luxury resort might be paid for by your pension fund, etc

When you see them you become more aware of them, when you become more aware of them you get more determined to have them fixed.

And when you are in the middle of it you realise that we are not living on 7 separate continents, we are living on one interconnected land mass called Earth. The word “Continent” comes from the Latin “terra continens” which means ‘continuous land’. So the main meaning here is “continuous”. And if we, as humanity, want to have a positive continuous evolution here on Earth it’s time we start looking as the planet as one continuous mass of land and sea. Time to start looking at solutions that are good for us as humans. Time to get serious about solving the biggest problems facing all us here.

Or if I should try to sum it up in a slogan inspired by the picture at the top: “It’s better to stick our heads into the trash than to burry our heads in the sand.”

That was the thoughts that became clear to me while I was visiting the Elephant Island just outside the seven islands of Mumbai that merged into one.


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Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The Elephant Island was island number 16, country number 13 and month number 15. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and India.)

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The island of Tioman, Malaysia. Island number 15 (out of 100), country number 12 (out of 25), month number 15 (out of 100.)

This is a post about trying to see humans as humans.

You reach Tioman island via a one hour ferry ride off the East cost of southern Malaysia.

We arrived at the rustic but charming resort for a few days of swimming with stingrays, swinging in the tree-swing and playing in the sand.

While there I got chat with a woman who worked in the spa, a woman who’s story inspired me to this post.

The woman, let’s call her Mrs Human, was from Indonesia but had left Indonesia for Malaysia at the early age of 16.

“I am a christian”, Mrs Human explained.

A catholic woman from the Philippines, living in Malaysia, had taken it upon her to train Mrs Human how to be a masseuse and by doing that given her a job and a career so she could make her own living.

Mrs Human’s life had turned out good, but it was clear the her the reason she had left home – and her home country – at such a young age was because she had decided to convert to another religion than her family – and that her family had pushed her away because of her decision.

Her faith had turned her family away from her.

I find it sad how differences in religions can push family apart.

On our way to Tioman island we had booked a car for our little group. (We had decided to go the whole family, including our two helpers so all in all we were 10 people with my mother and my wifes sister and her son joining us for the trip.)

When the driver came to pick us up it turned out that our 10 seater van only had nine seat-belts, the seat that one of our helpers was sitting in did not have a functional seat belt. When we pointed this out the drivers respons was: “Just let the helper ride without the seatbelt.”

As if a helper was less of a human than the rest of us, as if a helper did not need to wear a seat-belt.

As we were late for the ferry we had to get into the car and ride with just nine seatbelt, but we made sure that the van which would come and pick us up for the return trip with have seatbelt for everyone. (and it did).

To have to point out that a helper should also be expected to get a seatbelt when you rent a van made me uncomfortable.

The fact that people can make a decision like who should and should not wear a seatbelt based on their occupation makes me sad.

These two stories from Tioman island are, for me, two different examples of how we as humans for some reason are not able to look at humanity without looking down on some. It might be a human behaviour to want to do that, but it’s a sad human behaviour and I am absolutely convinced that it’s a human behaviour that we can train ourselves to be less and less affected by by making a deliberate decision to try not to judge people based on their religion, their job title, their skin color etc – but by their character and their actions.

We are, after all, just 7.5 billion people clinging on to a small, little, tiny speck of an “island” called Earth. We might as well try to work together as best we can while we are here.


Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Tioman was island number 15country number 12 and month number 15. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hong Kong.)

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The island of Lantau, Hong Kong. Island number 14 (out of 100), country number 12 (out of 25), month number 14 (out of 100.)
Hong Kong is one of the most populated places on earth with 6,735 people per square kilometer it is actually the 4th most populated country (or territory) on earth.

But Hong Kong actually consists of 263 islands (and the Kowloon peninsula.)

I met with Rob Liwall, a British adventurer who live in the town of Mui Wo on the island of Lantau (the biggest island in Hong Kong) with his Chinese wife and newborn son Magnus.

Mui Wo is a 30 minute ferry ride away from the bustling, crowded, metropolitan metropolis that is Hong Kong. The ferry ride might be short, but the two places are worlds apart.

On Mui Wo there are very few people, even fewer cars and mostly people commute on bikes. The houses are small and low, the pace is slow and time seems to have stood still (or at least moved very slow) for the longest time. The cows and buffalo literally roam the streets; their slow and un-stressed pace sets the tone for the whole place.

If Hong Kong is a metropolis, Mui Wo is a “minipolis”, if there is such a word.

But things are changing.

In the last few years the speed of Mui Mo has been picking up. Fueled by the rumors of the city extending the subway line to Mui Mo, land prices have sky rocketed and construction companies have moved in building shiny new apartment blocks on what was, until recently, farm land.

Where there is money to be made development happens.

Some people here love it. Some hate it. Some see it as progress. Some as the end of the world. Or at least as the end of the world as they knew it.

Right now Mui Wo is both the new and the old at the same time: just look at the picture of the cow grassing freely just next to the brand new and modern apartments buildings, so new that no-one has moved into them yet.

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Going from the crowded Hong Kong to the, still, remote Mu Woi reminded me of a trip I did a few weeks ago to Namibia.

Namibia is the second least populated country in the world. It has just 2,9 (!) humans per square kilometer.

You can drive for hours without seeing a human, and without even seeing any trace of humanity (a part from the road you are driving on of course).

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Vast parts of the country side is desert and many corners of the Namibia has most likely never seen a human.

When you spend time in a country like Namibia you get pulled back to a time when human beings did not rule the world – when we were just one animal species amongst many others.

It is a humbling, and surprisingly refreshing feeling.

Like we are guests on this planet, not the owners of it.

When I walk around Mui Wo I think about how mankind is spreading out our footprint over our planet. And once our foot have been planted we tend not to go away.

Is it a blessing or a curse that Mui Wo is now transforming?

The jury is out.

And I leave this place and go back to the chaotic melting pot that is Hong Kong to fly back home to Singapore – an crowded island that just 50 years ago was nothing more than a small trading post and a huge swamp and rainforest.

Is Singapore better or worse now?

It depends on who you are asking.

Most people would probably, all things considered, say that it is.

Most animals would probably disagree. And the buffalo that onces walked freely in Singapore are long gone.


Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Lantau was island number 14, country number 12 and month number 14.