After graduating from senior high school, Haisen got a full scholarship from the National University of Singapore (NUC). He took charge of project management in a famous bank in Singapore after graduating from university. Although everything went smoothly, he resigned to be a volunteer in India, passed by the Middle East, came to Kenya and raised funds for the impoverished kids to build a school. “taking off shirts and ties and offloading superiority and pride”, he felt peace deep down inside on his way.
Text: Wu Xiaofan – editor: Wang Yaping
He fulfilled his wishes to live in a satisfactorily and luxuriously decorated house. Every day after work, he went back home and turned on his stereo and fell asleep holding his woolen blanket. In his twenties, he had already lived such a life by himself. Every time he went to the bank, seeing the amount of money shown in the screen, he felt a small pang in his heart.
Actually, he was not happy.
Haisen is from a working class family in Chongqing province. After graduating from senior high school, he got a full scholarship from NUC, majoring in electronic engineering. After graduating, he had the same standards as most people for jobs, and aimed for success in the finance industry, opting for a position as project manager in a big Singapore bank. The road to triumph was smooth.
But he resigned. As he went, he lied to his boss, saying he was going to the US for an MBA. He was actually heading to India to volunteer. That was one year ago.
Later, he went through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt, and eventually ended in Kenya. This year, he started fundraising activities for poor children in Kenya. He stayed in a Kenyan slum to teach.
One day, he received a message on Weibo: “You are finally doing something worthwhile for so many people!” When he saw the message, he froze: the person sending it was his former boss in Singapore.
“By doing this, I am coming to understand the value of living and the purpose of life.” He replied.
“You are tempting me now.” This middle-aged Indian who’d always been working hard answered.
We met in the house of Charity in Calcutta, India. Everybody there is looking after dying patients. Meanwhile, in his blog, he wrote: ‘take down your shirt and tie, take down your pride and superiority, and find inner peace in noisy Calcutta. Cleaning clothes, mopping floors, making food, this has become my work and my life.”
Haisen is now working for a school. The school is a simple tin shed, many of the children are orphans, and survive on the gruel provided by the school. The reason he raised funds was to build a cement school for the children.
This year, on May 29, Haisen started circulating a fundraising appeal among his friends. Within two days, the information had gotten around, and after a week, he raised 51783 Yuan, enough for his project. Further payments are still coming in a steady stream. This expanded budget has allowed for an extension of the project, adding a new toilet, a new playground, new furniture and new textbooks.
I think this experience, including everything before and after it, really offered this 27 year old a chance to start in his life. “When your heart has grown stronger, you can go back to where you came from, you can return to Singapore, you can join any circle, but you will maintain that independence in your heart,” he says.
China30s: Your experience might lead many people to think about “Gap Years”. What did you think when you quit your job last July? What was your expectation and anticipation?
Hysen: But I don’t agree to this concept.Actually, for me, this year is not the continuity of last year. This year, I didn’t indulge myelf because of the travel. My rest schedule, reading and thinking still took most of the time, it didn’t change amount. The biggest change was changing my job, from banking to charity.
Since I don’t regard this concept as important, so I didn’t have any expectation or anticipation. And I understand that the root of any disappointment is hope. We can only be like the empty bottle when we have no hope, we can accept any possibilities without doubting it. Now, one year has past away, it guarantees my point. Because I never hope for anything, so my life is full of surprise.
China30s: These seven years working and studying in Singapore must have been your most important period for developing your values, how would you describe the impact of this period? What do your consider are the main values in Singapore?
Haisen: I changed on the surface, including by broadening my international views, enhancing my professional skills, etc. But the most fantastic opportunity in Singapore was to join Buddhism. After devoting myself to belief for two years, I realized the most precious thing is the original intension in my heart and it won’t be “changed”; and I keep clarifying it and getting to know it.
If we speak about mainstream values in Singapore, these include admiration financial elites and these elites promoting professionalism. A few years ago, there was a local film called “Just follow law” which criticized those elites, busy dividing the turf and protecting themselves, while ignoring true humanity and ‘professionalism’.
These kinds of mainstream values are aligned with globalisation, they’re an objective social phenomenon. It has two sides, both shortcomings and rationality. Whether you love it or hate it, you will be influened by it. Then why not take it as a neutral thing, accept it without any criticism.
China30s: When you were a child, you didn’t have good family circumstances, and it was so hard to reach success. It would not be easy to leave this comfortable condition and stable social environment.
Haisen: Nomally, if you are used to poverty, the first thing on your mind is how to make yourself wealthy. And so I did. But when you work in Singapore, you spend most of the money you earn. Buying furniture, singing day and night, expanding social relations. After one year I felt it was boring to enjoy this shallow entertainment. Emptiness and solitude reached its peak. My standards for entertainment were going up, I was no longer satisfied by the normal thrills. Gradually, I sold my furniture and retracted from interaction from other people. When I had time, I would read and self examine. And so I found satisfaction and happiness again.
I my original social group, I was easily influenced by others, limiting myslef without noticing. In the third world country, although the society is poor and chaotic, I was able to move away from the habits and values of my old social group, become more independent and know myself better. As for comfort, I found out two years ago that it cannot bring us durable happiness. In contrast, in a simple environment, we can decrease our desire and get assurance, peace and satisfaction.
China30s: There’s a huge difference between these two types of life. Did you adapt easily?
Haisen: In my heart, I see no distinction between these two lives. And if we see no difference, we won’t feel love and hatred, but accept all environments. It’s like the water in the mountains, sometimes it flows through a valley, and sometimes through a desert, and the water won’t think that the valley is better, or the Gobi worse.
China30s: You were working as part of a volunteering group in India, how did you start developing the idea of helping others along your travel?
Haisen: I already had it while in Singapore. In the bank, before they did anything, everybody would ask what was the cost in time and opportunity, and ensure maximal return. In this environment, I was also forced to calculate, and found it really tiring. All this planning for oneself, it didn’t make me happy. From that time on, I’ve wanted to change the way I lived, work as a volunteer, help others without calculating everything. This way, I could reach inner peace and joy simply through the process.
China30s: After India, you went through the Middle East and Africa, and during that year, you’ve been to many poor countries, where help is needed. Why did you finally choose Kenya? And why did you choose to help the locals by building a school?
Haisen: After leaving the Indian house of love and virtue, I found volunteering opportunities along the way. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are many restrictions on international volunteering. In the Middle-Eastern Arabic countries, there were limits to what I could do, and I couldn’t add much value. That was until I arrived in Kenya. There is a grea English speaking environment there, the volunteering policy is loose, there was a rich slum project, so I decided to stay there.
When I started with the school, I only taught year 7 maths. During my free time, or when I went to visit the principal, I was shocked by what I discovered about the children. Every day after schools, some children have to go begging or go through the garbage for food. The school does not offer gruel during the holidays, so some children die of illness or starvation. And there are many children whose parents suffer from AIDS, and who survive through the help of their neighbours.
Slowly, I discovered that the usefulness of teaching was limited. and I wanted to contribute in a more meaningful way. After discussing with the principal, I understood that if we could build a brick school to replace the current metal structure, the government might save 30,000 Shillings of rent per month. This way, the tuition cost for each child, so that the meals and learning environment could be greatly improved.
But this was just a small project, and I struggle to supervise it all, so let’s not speak about sustainable development for the slums. But what I was trying to solve was a genuine problem at the time, how to improve the safety and peace of mind of a set of children while they study. This is a small improvement, but we shouldn’t dismiss it just because it is small.
China30s: When you raised funds for your project in Kenya, did you consider corporate sponsorship? Why did you think of crowdfunding? Had you previously used any such platform?
Haisen: I considered corporate sponsorship. Back home, I had helped some friends with fundraising, I met with a big boos, who said he would help connect me, and find companies ready to sponsor a small school. But when I discussed it with my friends, we came to a joint understanding that our goal was not only to build a school, but also to make more common people aware of this project. They saw our appeal, they saw these children in distant Africa, they were moved, and did something good.
In our view, love is very precious, it can take down the barriers between people, and make society more harmonious. Therefore, we chose crowdfunding for a selfish reason, we hoped that building a school and inspiring love could go hand in hand. It’s like monks begging, both the receiver and the giver of alms benefit.
China30s: During the fundraising processes, have there been any surprises or unexpected difficulties?
Haisen: When you’re fundraising, every day brings a surprise. We received messages continuously, people saying they’d been moved by the children. A student said, I don’t have money right now, but I’m going to look for a small job so, by the end of the month, I can give you something. All the friends who helped me fundraising were deeply moved.
But in truth, if we want to speak about difficulties, there have been some. The contributors asked a lot of questions. Some people didn’t believe the project was genuine, or suspected we didn’t have a proper project plan, were only in it for ourselves, etc etc. When I faced these questions, I could understand where they came from, and I spent a lot of time explaining. In the end, I gained the trust of most people.
China30s: You were the person in charge. During the process of constructing the school, what was the biggest difficulty?
Haisen: The construction team was all locals, residents of the slum, from the manager to the contractors, and they all lacked professionalism. Apparently, they all seemed lazy, came late, made empty promises, tried to get bribes, etc etc.
Just after we started, the workers started to sell off the materials, I made a counts, and the amounts did not correspond to what was on the invoice. I was very harsh with them, and from then on, they no longer dared sell off a pound here and there. The workers arrived late and left early, the progress was slow. I found a foreman to set a daily schedule, and if it was not respected, the wages would be reduced. After a couple of protests, the workers were forced to be honest.
In addition, there were many unexpected problems. For instance, the workers stole the steal to sell it, and replaced it with cheaper materials. The manager fudged the price of material per unit in the budget. After the building was finished, half a wall collapsed, and the windows were placed in a position where no light could come in. There was also a time when, as we were waiting for materials, the roads had been blown up by Somalis, which delayed work for the whole day, etc etc. Fortunately, by constantly dealing with them, I became familiar with those issues, found countermeasures one by one, and eventually completed the project.
China30s: In mid-July, the school will be completed, and you’re willing to leave Kenya. What will your next step be? Will you continue with public service, or return to Singapore and your previous life?
Haisen: My next step is to go to Nepal, and continue with the natural flow of my life. I have no particular plan. I might continue to do public interest work in the future, but that’s not certain (laughs). There are many forms of public interest, as long as there is love in my heart, no need to go to the Indian house of love and virtue or the slums of Kenya, there are many opportunities in life. Whether at home, on the street, on the Internet, whether it’s facing family, friends, or a stranger, as long as the heart harbours good thoughts, the most trivial thing can be public interest, it can change even water to a force for deep social change.
China30s: If there’s other people here who are considering quitting their job, what do you have to say to them or what advice would you share?
Haisen: When friends want to quit and go travel like me, I tell them, on the surface, I earned a lot this year, beautiful sceneries, amazing experiences. But what goes far beyond is finally realising that a calm and self-satisfied mind is the greatest wealth. Compared with this treasure, external landscapes and experiences are fleeting and superficial. On the road, I met a few people who said they were looking for the meaning of life. After travelling for a year, what I want to say is, if you can find your own inner peace, meaning is just here, in your heart, you don’t need to travel a thousand miles to find it.
So people keep asking me, why quit your job to travel, does it take a lot of courage, what is the goal, etc etc, and I never have an answer. Because for me, it happened naturally, stepping into the unknown with no source of income, it wasn’t about seeking adventure, but simply accepting what life arranges for you. It’s not better than staying home, or worse. It’s just a different type of life.
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Source : China 30s