TED Rule 17

Hue, Vietnam

Better late than never, today is monday, new TED rule!

I went to North Korea, it was amazing, unbelievable. Literally. You can see some pictures on flickr or facebook, and some bellow this article. I also edited a long video of the beautiful arirang mass games on youtube, trying to explain the story. Much more are coming, but video editing  takes a lot of time. I was going to explain what I did after, but an image is worth a thousand words:

Map of my trip from August to November

As you understand, I bought a nice old Minsk motorbike in Hanoi, went north of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay, and now I am going south to Ho Chi Minh city.

I spent the last 3 month in 3 of the 5 last communist countries (still missing Laos and Cuba). I must say I didn’t understand the impact of the cold war in Asia before, and its implications even today. I really like the aesthetic of the propaganda posters in North Korea, China and Vietnam, or the green military uniforms, but obviously there is more than that.

North Korea was richer than the South until 1975, and began to go economically backward only in the 90s (check this gapminder graph and play with the Time cursor). China and Vietnam are the 2 countries with the highest economic growth between 1991-2006 (respectively 10.2% and 7.6% average). Two communist countries beating all the capitalists at their own game? Looking at the news, it seems that for the European and US governments, nothing matters except growth. If growth is more important than the happiness of its people, should Europe and the US become communist to face their crisis?

You can say: “Yeah, but China and Vietnam are blocking access to facebook. If we become communist, what am I going to do? Maybe we can think a bit more!” OK, let’s look at other successful countries in East Asia (that doesn’t block facebook): Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Singapore. Some were ruled by authoritarian government during the 60s,70s and 80s. Maybe the solution for Europe is to become an authoritarian government?

Hopefully this is TED Rule, and I can call Yasheng Huang, professor of political economy at MIT, to help us fighting authoritarian ideas (and access to facebook):

” The problem with that view is like asking all the winners of the lottery: “Have you won the lottery?” And they all tell you “Yes, we have won the lottery!” […] For each of the successful authoritarian government in East Asia there is a match failure […] If you look at all the statistical evidences worldwide, there is really no support for the idea that authoritarian government hold a systematic edge over democracy in therm of economic growth”

Ouf, that was close… Watch the video for more: Does democracy stifle economic growth?

For the lazy, I can summarize: Yasheng Huang compares India (democracy) and China (less democracy). China is a superstar of growth not because of it’s political system: Infrastructures, strong government -no private property rights, and state capitalism and government ownership do not provide growth, but are the consequences of growth. China is succeeding because of its advantage on human capital: Education – life expectancy – women. What is important is not the static political system (authoritarian), but the change from less authoritarian to more democratic (more and more democratic reforms).

My TED rule for this week will be an easy one: Don’t forget that economic growth doesn’t come from authority, but from human capital.

In his talk Yasheng Huang is only talking about emerging economies. Let’s wait for a new TED Rule to know what to do in the old rich economies!

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TED Rule 16

Beijing, China

Long time no see! Almost one month without a new TED rule…  well, let’s take it on the positive side: I am so busy enjoying my exciting life that I cannot find time to watch TED talks and write the blog. From last month in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) I flew to Taipei (Taiwan), a wonderful crazy city with the best tea on earth (for the moment). I took a train to Chiayi to visit the countryside and the mountains, then back to Taipei and an other plane to Hong-Kong. After a week in Bruce Lee (and Jacky Chan) country to get the proper visa for China, I arrived yesterday to Beijing.

To summarize: I spent the month in big crazy modern Chinese speaking cities, each very different from the other, each having so much to do and see. I took many pictures – and videos – but had no time to process them. And I will not have time in the following week because of TED Rule 16.

TED Rule 16 is about peace, walk and tourism. It comes from a TED talk from William Ury, a mediator who worked on negotiations to avoid war (and was successful in Indonesia and Venezuela for example). In the talk, he presents his vision of the 3 sides of a conflict: 2 who disagree, and the third side: us.

The secret to peace is us. It’s us who act as a surrounding community around any conflict, who can play a constructive role.

If you watch the video, William is talking mainly about the middle east conflict, but his vision is way bigger. With other people he created the Abraham path, a way for the third side (us) of the middle east conflict to remind the two other sides (Israel/Palestine) the story (Abraham) that unites them. But it is more than that:

Terrorism is basically taking an innocent stranger and treating him as a enemy who you kill in order to create fear. What’s the opposite of terrorism? It’s taking an innocent stranger and treat him as a friend who you welcome into your home in order to show and create understanding, or respect, or love… […] The potential is basically to change the game. And to change the game you have to change the frame, the way we see things. To change the frame from Hostility to Hospitality. From Terrorism to Tourism.

I like that. From Terrorism to Tourism. Where could I try that? I could go to a country that scares a lot of people (who’s the enemy in video games nowadays?). An hermit country that is just opening his frontiers to few tourists, showing a will to move from terrorism to tourism. A country where the outside world is demonized, all subject of the american imperialism (they are not so wrong). A country mixing communism and fascism, with beautiful kitsh propaganda. So good that it was predicted in 1948 – in 1984. I could go to North Korea!

I may not make a big change going there, like William with the Abraham path. But starting the habit and opening the country, talking about it, sharing pictures, videos, experiencing the biggest truman (human?) show in the world may be quite a fun!  at least this is what I was thinking from books and documentaries, until I read “Nothing to Envy” and watched “Children of the secret state” – the only 2 medias showing compassion for North Koreans.

So I’m going to North Korea tomorrow  for a week! Of course no internet there (and no cellphone or GPS – but good surprise, laptops are permited), so I leave you with our great leader Kim Jong Il looking at things – and looking at you from his spy monitor.

Late TED Rule 16: Visit North Korea


Chiayi, Taiwan

Hello people! Thank you for coming here looking for news. Unfortunately my laptop died again, it won’t boot. I think this time is the RAM… I just hope I’ll not loose the hard drive again.
Well, so no TED Rule this week 😦


TED Rule 15

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Back in Kuala Lumpur. Since last post I did a nice tour of Bali. The island is beautiful, impressive landscapes, colorful culture, old temples… Maybe too many tourists, Australians in the South (Kuta) and Frenchs in the North (Lovina). I then came back to Kuta to sell my motorbike and enjoy the lifestyle. I would have stay more but it’s time for new adventures! I am now preparing my trip to Taiwan, then Hong-Kong, Beijing and Pyongyang. Following TED rule 6 I will have to learn Chinese, better to start now and look at manuals, dictionaries and online tools. Not going to be easy!

So I finally did it! I crossed Indonesia in motorbike, from Medan to Bali, a mere 6500km. On a 150cc bike, with no highways. You can check the map here (click on next to get the full trip) – it is equivalent to a Paris (France) – Tehran (Iran)… During the trip I also went on exhausting trek in the mountains of Papua (7 days), I climbed Gunung Rinjani in Lombok (3 days – from 600m to 3726m) and Gunung Batur in Bali (1 day – 1700m full of clouds).

Why did I do that? I must say I’ve never been really found of sport, especially the boring ones (running, cycling…) until I turn 30. But on my birthday I decided to run a half marathon, just to prove myself that I could do it, even with my not-so-healthy lifestyle. And I discovered two things:

For the first one I introduce Lewis Pugh. From Wikipedia:

“Pugh was the first person to complete a long distance swim in every ocean. He frequently swims in vulnerable ecosystems to draw attention to their plight and is best known for undertaking the first swim across the North Pole in 2007 to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice and for swimming across a glacial lake under the summit of Mount Everest in 2010 to draw attention to the melting glaciers in the Himalayas, and the impact the reduced water supply will have on world peace.”

Check his first TED Talk where he explains how he prepared to swim across the North Pole in 2007. Impressive.

The most important thing was to train my mind, to prepare myself of what was going to happen

Or as he says in his second TED talk “mind-shifting Everest swim“:

There is nothing more powerful than a made up mind

The way I get it is that in endurance or crazy physical challenges, the body will follow the mind. Going on a marathon or swimming across North Pole is not showing how fit you are, but how mentally strong you are.

The second thing I discovered is the consequence of that. And here I’m quoting back Tim Ferris (the inspiring guy from TED rule 6) in his last (excellent) book, “The 4 Hour Body“:

Running an ultramarathon can’t be good for you. I can’t imagine how it’s possibly good for your body,” I said.

I wasn’t biting on endurance. Running wasn’t my thing and it never had been. Brian MacKenzie laughed: “Good for you physically? No. But you’ll recover. And I assure you: if you run 50K or 100 miles, when you finish, you won’t be the same person who started.”

I thought for a minute, and that’s when I bit.

I’d seen a strange ripple effect dozens of times in the world of strength, but for some reason, I’d never connected the dots with endurance. Perhaps just as you haven’t connected the dots with some subjects in this book. After all, in a knowledge economy, what’s the value of deadlifting more or losing 2% bodyfat? Of hitting a home run?

In a word: transfer

Yes, achieving crazy stupid physical challenges makes you change. In the good way. It makes you mentally stronger, it proves you you can accomplish, in a very simple form: if you finish, you made it.

So I’m going to continue that way, and this is TED rule 15: take physical challenges.

Below some pictures of the Rinjani trek (more on facebook and flickr), and a video from an old prophet, Olivia Newton John…

Let’s get Physical!

TED Rule 14

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia,

Yes I know, I’m (very) late again. But this time I have a better excuse… Last week I joined some friends from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in Lombok, the island just on the eastern side of Bali. We climbed Mount Rinjani, an impressive volcano. The summit is 3726m high, so starting at 600m it’s a nice 3 days trek. Of course no internet connection… Maybe more on that in my next TED Rule (and I’m currently processing the pictures of the beautiful landscapes – soon on Facebook)

So I’m back in Bali, I think I’ll stay there for the next 2 weeks, time to enjoy the island and prepare my next destination. Taiwan or Hong-Kong?

It means that this is the end of the muslim countries for my trip. Malaysia and Indonesia were great discoveries, with beautiful cultures, histories, people, food… and very different from Saudi for example, where I spent some time in 2004. So Indonesia might be the biggest muslim country in the world (86% of the population is muslim – Indonesia has a population of 237 000 000, making it the world’s fourth most populous country), the way they view and practice Islam is not as strong as Middle Eastern countries. It is interesting to note, especially with the importance that Islam has taken in the news for the last 10 years.

But what makes two different muslim countries having very distinctive ways of following Islam? Or more importantly, how does a religion like Islam evolve in relation to the different cultures?

Well, TED talk again. Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish journalist, writing on issues relating to Islam and modernity.

What we call today islamic law, and especially islamic culture – and there is many islamic cultures […] – has a core, the divine message which began the religion, but then many traditions, perceptions, many practices were added on top of it, and these were traditions of the Middle East, the medieval Middle East.

This is what I like about Indonesia, most of the country may be full of mosque, old or in construction, but it keeps his Hindu culture as a base. Most of the legends, dances, music, stories, are based on the Vedas, generally the Ramayana or Mahabharata. And the mix of influences creates the beautiful Indonesian culture.

Coming back to Mustafa Akyol, his wikipedia page has a bit of controversy, especially on his vision to Intelligent Design. I’ve also been advised by some friends that his book might not be totally right… Well, who can I trust?

As an old man once said: “Think for yourself. Question Authority” – or in french PPTM/CA. The best is for me to get the information at its source. I read the bible (old/new), some shortened version of the huge Mahabharata and Ramayana, some buddhist books like the Bardo Todol. Now may be the time for the Koran!

TED Rule 14: Read the Holy Koran

TED Rule 13

Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia

I know I’m late, I missed a TED rule last week. No worries, I’ll add one more soon! During the past two weeks, I’ve been to crazy big durian Jakarta, then Bandung to meet some friends for the week-end. As my visa had to be extended, I came back to Jakarta to start the process. Now I’m on the road again, crossing the Java island to reach Bali and Lombok, where I should arrive next monday to meet another friend.

Since the beginning of my trip in Indonesia, I faced some visa challenges with authorities. Let me summarise quickly two little stories:

– When I arrived one month ago to Jakarta airport, the immigration guy asked me if I had a return ticket. I’ve been to Indonesia many times before, and never had to show a return ticket to get the visa. Unfortunately this time they asked, and I did not have one. The immigration guy transferred me to his boss desk, where after talking for some time, the boss told me “No worry, you help me I help you”. I asked how much, expecting a small amount of money. When I saw the number he was writing, I laugh… 1 000 000 rupia (=81 Euros). It is more than the minimum monthly salary in Indonesia (900000Rp), more than my fly ticket to and back from Kuala Lumpur. I manage to live decently with less than 200.000Rp per day. Well, so I laugh nervously and the guy took it bad. Angry, he told me I had to buy a return ticket now and left to find a travel agency representative. Then I waited. 10min… 20min… After 30min I wrote a fake email on my iPod touch, with the date and number of a fake ticket out of Indonesia. I then went to another immigration guy asking naively where his boss was, and if I could go. When he asked for my passport and if I had a return ticket, I showed him the iPod. He just stamped my passport and let me go…

– When I came back to Jakarta airport one month later to extend my visa, it was in different office, but I had the same problem. You can tell when you cannot enter the office because a fat official with a strange smile takes your shoulder and say: “You want to extend your visa, I can help you if you help me”. I just said I will not. It removed his smile, I had to leave. I managed to find a friendly young woman official who gave me the address of an other immigration office in central Jakarta. The day after I was there, and one more day to get the visa extension, the official way!

I never had corruption problem before in Indonesia, so I knew it is just some wrong apples, most of Indonesians are honest and very helpful with strangers.

Unfortunately sometimes I had to pay. When dealing with the police, there is no escape… They arrested me twice on my motorbike, always finding something wrong (no lights during day, no papers with me). Although it was a reasonable price (50Rp and 100Rp), the money get directly to their pocket.

At a different level, corruption is way bigger in India. And Shaffi Mather, successful entrepreneur, has a very good idea to fight it

Imagine you’re being asked to pay a bribe in your day to day life, to get something done. What do you do?

At my level, in a country where I am seen from far away as a tourist, how do I avoid bribes?

I managed to get the visa and extension without paying bribes. For the police, here is my new way to avoid corruption:

my anti corruption mask!My anti corruption mask! Now I am wearing it any time I ride my motorbike. The mask with a jacket and helmet makes me much more difficult to see from the police. I am not anymore a tourist riding a bike, I am Anonymous inside the huge mass of Indonesian motorbikes. Well… so far it worked.

Any other ideas?

TED rule 13: Avoid paying bribes

TED Rule 12

Wamena, Papua, Indonesia,

I’m just back from an exhausting trek with the Lani tribe in the mountains of the Baliem valley, Papua. I learnt to walk on trees in the jungle, to sleep with rats in small huts, to teach flute to kids (and I re-learnt flute is the most annoying instrument when kids start to “play” it), to wash -or not- in cold rivers, to eat strange fruits from the jungle, to great Papua people, to participate to the collective songs in smoky huts at night, to eat betel nuts (thanks Jacques!)…

But I think the most important thing I learnt during the trek comes from a short TED talk I watched just before… Thank you Terry Moore! “How to tie your shoes”

I can tell it makes a huge difference! If you tie your shoes correctly, no more need for double knots, ever!

Seriously, did you know that?

TED rule 12: Tie my shoes properly