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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.

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The island of Phuket, Thailand. Island number 13 (out of 100), country number 11 (out of 25), month number 13 (out of 100.)

The JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa is “set in 27 acres of lush tropical gardens with natural swimming pools, freshwater ponds, and natural preserved coastal wetlands” and “offers seclusion and tranquility overlooking the Andaman Sea.”

A 60 minute massage in their Mandara Spa will set you back Bath 3200++.

Just outside the property of the JW Marriott (meters away from the Marriott spa) a group of thai women have built a simple hut, a structure without walls but with a leaking roof. Under that roof they are offering one hour massage on the beach for 400 Bath – no “plus plus”…

For the last few days I stayed in the Marriott and had massages on the beach. The difference between the luxurious resort spa and the simple hut on the beach is vast. Yet, both offer the same service. (The experience of laying outside on the beach, listening to the waves is, in a way, more luxurious that laying inside in the air-conditioned and controlled environment.)

Seeing the same service being offered under so different circumstances, and at such different fees, makes you think about how un-evenly the wealth of humanity has been distributed.

Millions of foreign tourists visit Phuket every year – more than 33 million tourist visit Thailand each year, and about 1/3 of them go to Phuket – and they spent 1.71 trillion (!) Bath in the country.

And even if the average Thai salary has gone up, from 9000 Bath in 1999 to 14 000 Bath in 2016, that still only means that the average Thai person earns just 282 USD per month.

The JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa is controlled by the Marriott family, which, according to Forbes, is the 42nd riches family in the USA with a wealth of around 7 000 000 000 USD.

I am not, in any way an opponent of the Marriott operating in Thailand, on the contrary, and they can charge what they want for their massages. I believe in trade and business as a driver of good and positive development in many ways (I have been to North Korea and seen with my own eyes what a closed world and strict limitations on business can do to a country.) And I am thankfully aware that I belong to the very top percent of people on earth when it comes to access to financial means.

But I do think that a more efficient model of reducing the income differences between the rich and the poor is needed.

It’s easy to see.
It’s easy to say.
It’s quite difficult to know how it should or could be done.

Walking by the expensive Mandara Spa to get my massage on the beach I was reminded of the two world that are living worlds apart – just next to each other on this Thai island.

It served as a reminder of how we all – the entire humanity – are all living just next to each other on this small, little “island” called “Earth” which is floating in the big, black, vast, empty ocean of space.

 

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 Phuket was island number 13, country number 11 and month number 13.

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The island of Svanholmen, Sweden. Island number 12 (out of 100), country number 10 (out of 25), months number 7 (out of 100.)

“I am going to own my own island!”

That was the idea that popped up in my head in November of 1999.

To buy your own island is a bit of an unusual idea. To decide to buy an island in the end of November would, at first glance, seem like a terrible idea. (You see no-one sells an island in Sweden in the midst of winter! Why would you? No one can come and look at it, because all the boats have been taken out of the water. And even if you could come out to the island it would look gloomy and cold with all the trees lacking leaves and the grass being covered by snow etc.)

So if you want to sell an island in Sweden you do it in the summer.

Everyone knows that and that’s why islands are, generally, sold during the summer months.

That of course, also means that people interested in buying an island do not go looking in the middle of winter since they are assuming that no islands are for sale…

But I did.

I decided to look for islands for sale during winter…

And I found the most amazing, little gem of an island, and with a magical location too – it’s one of the 10 closest islands to Stockholm, less than 20 minutes away from the absolute city centre, yet without feeling like it is so close to the city.

Me and the real estate agent had to rent a taxi boat just to get out and look at the island.

I remember that is was cold, windy and icy on the island – but I just fell in love with it.

In the car going back to town I asked the agent how much the owner would agree to let the island go for, and to my surprise the agent bargained the price DOWN for me. (Turned out he was so un-interested in going back out to that cold, windy place that he just wanted the island sold as quickly as possible…)

I got the island for an absolute bargain.

And I managed to do that because I was the only person who was crazy enough to go looking for an island in the dead of winter. There were no other interested parties…

To me this is the perfect story about the value of not just “having” ideas (“I am going to buy an island”), but to also “act” on your ideas (“I will check if there are any islands for sale in November, and then actually checking that there was.)

The picture of the island you can see at the top of this post is taken from a drone video that I got done this summer.

I was sitting on the island and saw a guy flying a drone on the other side.

“Hm, it would be nice to have a drone video of the island”, I thought.

But having an idea will not make it happen.

Do make it happen we have to make it happen. 😉

So I jumped into my rowing boat and rowed over to the man and asked him if he wanted to fly his drone over to my island and film it.

He agreed but half way to the island the drone stopped.

Turned out the island was too far away for the drones radio coverage to reach.

I thought: “Too bad” and decided to row back.

But half way to the island I got another idea: “Hm, what if I row the guy out to the island?”

I turned the boat around and approached the guy again: “Would you, by any chance, be interested to get out to that island out there and film my island from there?”

Turned out that he did!

He had just bought his drone and was keen on trying different ways of filming.

So for the next 15 minutes he flew the drone around the island creating, what I think, is a stunning video of where I live for two months every summer.

I could have sat on my island and thought: “It would be cool to have a drone video of the island”, but it was the fact that I acted on the idea that made it happen – just like how my acting on the idea of buying an island 19 years ago made it happen.

I guess the lesson here is: acting on ideas makes ideas come true.

Make sure you have a lot of ideas, so many that you can make most of them die because you had better ones – but also make sure that, when the right idea presents itself, you step out of the “idea generation zone” and get into the “make it happen zone”.

I, for one, know I am happy that I did that cold, November day when I got the idea to buy an island – and then acted on it.

 

ps. (So why, did the previous owner decide to sell in the winter, when he could have gotten considerably more if he had waited till summer? Because it turned out that the previous owner, a rich guy, hated Swedish taxes, and in Sweden (at the time) you paid property tax based on what you owned on December 31st. And this guy just could not stand paying another krona in tax to the Swedish government. It was a matter of principal for him and he did not care about loosing money. I signed the contract on December 30th, paid the property tax, but saved a bundle on buying the island… 😉

(Click to see the drone video that was created for me. (I suggest you watch it in full screen mode.)

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 Svanholmen was island number 12, country number 10 and months number 7.

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The island of Penang, Malaysia. Island number 11 (out of 100), country number 10 (out of 25), months number 5 (out of 100.)

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The password to access the WIFI in the E&O hotel is “heritage”.
I find that funny.

This old hotel founded in 1885 – more than 130 years ago! – has introduced a relatively modern technology – wifi internet access – but to get access to it you have to write the word “heritage” …

According to the dictionary “heritage” means: “valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions that have been passed down from previous generations.”

And yes, E&O gets many of its guests from tourists who want to experience the old, historic buildings of George Town, the main city of the island of Penang.

The “oldness” is what draws the tourists to the island.

And E&O is an iconic landmark in George Town. Situated just next to the water, and with loads of character reminding visitors of its long history, it is in many ways like stepping back in town to step into the halls of the “Eastern & Oriental Hotel”. In its heydays is was know as “the premier hotel east of Suez.”

In 2008, it was listed as one of Malaysian UNESCO World Heritage Site for its long history as a cosmopolitan city.

And here is where the paradox occurs.

Because the definition of “cosmopolitan” is “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures.”

So George Town was included into the list of World Heritage Sites (a list of historic buildings and cultural traditions) because of its history of being a city that is “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures.”

Sounds like a paradox to me.

A city open to new ideas from foreign lands is celebrated as a place that should be protected to be kept the same as it has been…

Personally I love the E&O hotel (even if it has lost some of its glamour from the past), and I love the historic sites of old George Town – but I also love the concept of innovation, creativity and new ideas.

To have progress – to make the world better – we need to constantly strive to improve and make things better.

At the same time we need to know when to slow down and protect what we have.

Logging in on the WIFI to write this column while sitting in a very old chair in a very old hotel has given me the dual sensation of inspiration from new technology and inspiration from history.

That is the dual sense of emotions that hit me while visiting the island of Penang today.

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 Penang was island number 11, country number 10 and months number 5.

 

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The island of Manhattan, New York, USA. Island number 10 (out of 100), country number 9 (out of 25), months number 5 (out of 100.)

“When I first arrived to New York I did not like it. The first semester was hell, and I just wanted to go back home to Vilnius.”

The words belong to Ruta Kruliauskaite, a Lithuanian woman studying New Media at the prestigious Tisch School on Manhattan.

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Her statement surprised me, especially since I knew how much she had wanted to go to New York to study, even leaving a successful career as a event organiser in Lithuania to pursue her dream in the City of Dreams. It also surprised me since I knew that she really liked the course.

But it was not the school that had made her unhappy. It was New York.

I asked her: “Imagine that you somehow were able to fly over all the teachers you have here at Tisch to Vilnius, would the course still be as good?”

She thought for a while and then replied: “No. Part of what makes the school so great is because it takes place here on Manhattan.”

She went on to explain that what had put her off in the beginning was the sheer size of New York. The city is just too big and energetic for anyone to wrap their heads around it.

That is what the people of New York have understood. So New Yorkers tend to specialise, cut out a smaller, more manageable piece of the Big Apple so to not choke by biting off too much.

Every city has different areas that have different characteristics, but I think it could be argued that nowhere is these “cities within a city” more distinct than in New York

China Town, Harlem, Chelsea, SoHo etc.

Same with the creative aspect of the city. If you are into advertising New York i Madison Avenue, if you are into finance it’s Wall Street, if you are into theater it’s Broadway. Or off Broadway.

If you are going to make it there (as the song goes) you have to focus.

This is the magic of New York. All those very nisch things happening here. How you can be invited into a room behind a door to discover magic.

Like when Ruta today took me past the security guard at the Tisch School of the Arts at 721 Broadway.

When I was standing outside the school waiting for her to meet up with me the building looked just like any other building. On the sidewalk was the usual unique mix of New Yorkers with men in suits, homeless people pushing carts, tourists with cameras and young students rushing to class. Fashionable, rich women trying to catch a taxi next to a conservative jew walking slowly next to a FedEx delivery man double parking to deliver a parcel. Noise, stress, hustle and bustle. Human randomness.

And then we step into Tisch and take the elevator up a few floors and step into a different world.

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Hundreds of students sitting hunched over computer screens developing the future. I see someone building a arcade game in the workshop, someone else is trying on a dress filled with some kind of electronics. A series of 3D-printers are spitting out some creations.

In the elevator we meet a guy with a VR-helmet and it looks like the most natural thing in the world.

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In this small, tiny space high above the streets of New York some of the world’s leading minds in how to creatively use technology are developing our tomorrow.

I tell Ruta about how I had watched a Ted Talk on the plane to New York about a color blind man who have had a camera operated into his head to translate color to sounds that his brain can interpret. (you can watch the speech here.) Ruta replies: “Yes we had him here as a speaker last semester.” It’s that kind of school.

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A micro cosmos for a specific area of interest. (In this case new media and new technology)

Walk one block, or one street, in any direction from 721 Broadway and a totally different micro cosmos is hiding behind a different door.

As it happens I also watched another video on my flight to New York which turned out to be about the city I was traveling to. (It’s a 21 hour flight, so I had a lot of time to watch film…)

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The movie was “Homme Less” – a documentary about a man who is projecting a life of being a successful photographer in New York, working at the New York Fashion week, for example, but who is reality a home less man, squatting at night in a corner of a roof top, sleeping in a sleeping bag under a tarp and having to use a bottle as a toilet. A fascinating film about how the glittering promise of New York lures people with dreams like a sirens singing to the sea men. A sad reminder of how these extreme silos of New York can create parallell worlds where people fall behind the cracks.

As I leave New York I reflect over the need we humans have to craft out a small part of the world for ourselves in order to stay sane.
How we need to feel that we are part of a puzzle, and how that puzzle can not be so big that we can not see the whole picture.

But at the same time they are all “New Yorkers”.

Ruta might not have loved New York when she came here – because she had not been able to get to know her “sub-tribe” in this city of tribes. But after almost a year here she likes it more and more.

For me the lesson from spending a few days walking through the different parts of New York and talking to everything from bankers to fire fighters is the need to create our own little “me-cosmos”.

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Done right you can look at the world using many different perspectives, just like you can use the one camera and get very different pictures using different lenses from fish eye to telescopic.We view the world based in the perspective of our personal preferences, our family, our neighbourhood, our city, our state, our country – and the world. From our culture, our interests and our backgrounds.

We need to carve out our own little nisch, and then – when we have made it there – “we can make it everywhere…

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 Manhattan was island number 10, country number 9 and months number 5.
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