Sep 10, 2018

I am setting out on a journey (to nowhere in particular)

“We call it a ‘monkey wedding’ in South Africa,” said Dave, as all the people in our office looked out of our big window at the golden sunshine in a blue sky reflecting off the falling nails of raindrops outside. This is Amsterdam in September, where the weather dries and wets you at the same time, and makes about as much sense as monkeys getting married.

Dave, like the others sitting here at the beautiful old merchant mansion (next to the Mayor’s residence) on the iconic Herengracht, is a scrappy entrepreneur tirelessly scratching out a startup from nothing. The space is called Hackers & Founders, which is a meetup-turned-community of tech people enjoying the current boom in innovation and accessibility created by the commercial internet. Just about anyone can build a product these days, but it doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. Some have – Dave’s company works with retail businesses to help them solve their loyalty headaches, while another called HackYourFuture, a bootcamp to train refugees to code, along with many other awesome projects.

It’s from here, in the Hackers & Founders garden that I typically work from. Since September last year, I’ve been working on building my own business as a freelance web developer. I’ve also spent time working on my own projects including and now (Parlay’s going to launch next month!).

Since I moved here, I’ve also had a son – his name’s Krim (Крым – after the Crimean penninsula) and he’s now two. He’s technically entered into what is known as the “twee is nee” age (“two is no”), but so far, being around him has been more enjoyable than before when he was more of a…how shall I put this, blob that needs to be fed, changed and vomits everywhere. The little guy has personality quirks. He plays his own games and is obsessed with deedaas (aka trucks with sirens), and he loves it when papa throws him in the air and catches him, or chases him through the house. And every once in a while he does something hilarious like accidentally makes portmanteau of Dutch and English words, such as mixing up the English bye with the Dutch dag which ends up with him telling people to die when they leave.

Krim and I at Pride 2018, Amsterdam

So in a few weeks Krim, my girlfriend and I are going to get on a plane and fly off to Southeast Asia. Having been to Thailand and Vietnam, I can’t imagine a better place to start. Last year we visited Vietnam, flying through Bangkok – after 11 hours on a plane with a one year old baby followed by a nap, we hit the streets to find some street food to call dinner. I never thought over 8 million people could ever feel so human because I’ve never seen it quite like Bangkok before. The air was soft and tepid like the evening of a hot day as we walked next to the constant stream of traffic on a typical busy street where cars and mopeds scavenged for every square centimetre of space. The tall buildings flashed us to draw attention to their massive signs for toothpaste or Tylenol with their happy sated faces. The cohabitors of the sidewalk go about whatever it is that they were going to do, walking along or standing there selling from the back of vans, carts or bikes. The tiredness and the twinge of backpain from the long trip seem to fade away as the city catches you in an embrace.

“City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest,” the full name of Bangkok, the village on a stream, on the banks of the Chao Phraya river.

When I travel – be it for work or pleasure, I’m prone to pangs of pure emotion. I don’t really know how to even explain this except that sometimes, I just feel everything at once. It’s like the pang of adrenaline finding the sore muscle during a massage – a Gordian knot made up of a sense of excitement, belonging, a lack of belonging, infinite possibility and a whole bunch of other unexplainable sensations buckshot into one split second. It usually happens when I notice some small detail of the world around me, and it seems to let my mind tap the vein of existence itself. I usually try to channel it into some creative outlet, be it taking photos or writing or, hell, even coding.

My girlfriend and I have spent the last year working on building our networks, finding clients, arranging things, saving money, researching visas, all with the goal of going to try the digital nomad life for a while. And you know what, preparing for this has been fun. It all started with an idea we had in Vietnam, “why don’t we take a vacation and travel around the world for a year?” When confronted with a map, we ended up making that indefinite, and that vacation turned into working as we go to support ourselves.

But above all we’ve changed the way we see work:

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

- Lawrence Pearsall Jacks

Unitarian minister L.P. Jacks summed it up pretty perfectly – we’re not looking for a vacation or to get away, we’re trying out how to live entirely differently. Everything that we do, including our work, is a part of us all, it’s about time we embrace it, and that’s what we’re doing. And if it doesn’t work? In the words of Epicurus:

The fool’s life is empty of gratitude and full of fears; its course lies wholly toward the future.

Why be afraid of failure?

The only caveat is that unfortunately our world of borders and travel visas and health insurance is just not designed for transient living. From personal experience, it’s kind of ridiculous that, after staying for a month or two in a country I have to physically leave its border, even if it’s to turn around and prompty re-enter it two minutes later, for example, just so I can get a fresh stamp in my passport.

As a society we’ve embraced globalisation and now, I no longer need to take a hot air balloon for 80 days to circumnavigate the globe (Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days also lent its name to this blog). With the internet and a whole slew of communication tools (Skype, Slack, et al), I no longer need to physically be in the office somewhere to get my work done.

But there’s still challenges to living out of a suitcase. And I am going to try it out and post all about it. This blog, 80days, is going to be where I talk about travel, but also where I discuss technology, product making, freelancing, being a father to my awesome son, and everything else I can possibly imagine. And sorry to be a quotation whore, but here’s another:

Perhaps the most touching and profound characteristic of childhood is an unquestioning belief in the rule of common sense. The child believes that the world is rational and hence regards everything irrational as some sort of obstacle to be pushed aside. […] The best people, I think, are those who over the years have managed to retain this childhood faith in the world’s rationality. For it is this faith which provides man with passion and zeal in his struggle against the twin follies of cruelty and stupidity.

- Fazil Iskander

I believe in the world’s rationality. And I believe that in my travels I will encounter a great many things, some cruel and stupid and some profoundly rational or amazing. And that’s the point. And I believe that actually trying to do this, and striving for excellence in all ways, is how I am going to be able to have the best life.

So follow along – I’m going to explore this world, and I’m going to tell you all about it. I’m going to explore what it’s like to live all over the world, and I’m going to explore shipping products and writing my book and what it’s like to have no permanent address. Just like Hackers & Founders are finding ways to launch products, I’m going to look for best ways to blast off from routine, day-to-day and the “9 to 5”.