‘Never Give Up’ : Jack Ma’s Journey & Indispensable Advice to Startups (11 Minutes read)

‘Never Give Up’ : Jack Ma’s Journey & Indispensable Advice to Startups (11 Minutes read)

Hey Guys,

I made these notes for my team at Viktorianz. Then realised it would be of great value to entrepreneur and startup community as a whole. Those who may not have time to read the book – but can gain critical advice from my Notes on this Book. Here is the cover of the book i am reviewing here … “NEVER GIVE UP” Jack Ma in his own words (Suk Lee & Bob Song)

Book review on Jack Ma by Manoj Keshwar
Book Review on NEVER GIVE UP – Jack Ma in his own words

Jack Ma and Alibaba, represents the struggle and hardships that any Start-Up or Entrepreneur would go through – and achieve success the hard way up. His style of leadership, positivity, humility and perseverance is an inspiration for any entrepreneur or a start up team.

Jack Ma in Short

With $21.8 Billion worth, Jack Ma is one of the wealthiest individual on earth. In 2015, Forbes Magazine named him as one of the 22 most powerful people in the World

Jack Ma’s journey to the top is a rags to riches story. Before creating Alibaba, he was a humble struggling English teacher at Hangzhou Normal College.

Ma faced rejection at every stage of life. He made to city’s worst University (in his own words) after failing twice.  After graduation, Ma applied for 30 different jobs and got rejected by all. The Harvard’s Graduate School rejected him 10 times and when KFC came to China 24 persons applied and he was the only one rejected.

Alibaba is now one of the most valuable tech companies in the world and Jack Ma now serves as executive chairman of Alibaba Group, which is a holding company with nine major subsidiaries: Alibaba.com, Taobao Marketplace, Tmall, eTao, Alibaba Cloud Computing, Juhuasuan, 1688.com, AliExpress.com and Alipay.

Quoting Jack Ma on Startups

There is inspiration and wisdom in what Jack Ma has to say about starting a business and making it a success. Here is what he says …

1. Believe in Your Dream and Never Give Up.

“In the internet recession of 2001-02, we talked only about ‘surviving’. Even if all other internet companies died, we had to survive. And we did so only after Refusing to Give Up, by believing in our dream. This incessant effort and constant ability to learn from our mistakes led to success”. 

“While today is tough, tomorrow may be tougher. However the day after tomorrow may be beautiful. But too many will give up after tough times on the eve of tomorrow night. Therefore Never Give Up today.”

“From Day one all entrepreneurs know that their day is about dealing with difficulty and failure rather than defined by Success. My most difficult time has not come yet, but it surely will. Nearly a decade of entrepreneurial experience tells me that difficult times cannot be evaded or shouldered by others – the entrepreneur must be able to face failure and Never Give Up.” 

2. Establish Credibility & Trust.

“After lots of research, we found that number one thing for business is Trust & Credibility. Business people are most concerned with this.”

“I am lucky now, in that, if i were to leave this company, i could still finance USD 30 Million, with one telephone call. That’s credibility. We have walked the walk, relying on this belief”. 

3. Client is God, Period.

“The important comments come from your clients –  If users find your service useful, then it is. If they say it is useless then it is.”

“You can talk your product to high heavens, but if users regard your product without value or utility, you will be crashing to earth in no time.” 

As i say to my staff “Don’t tell me how to make money. Just tell me how to provide value to our clients”.

“Most of the time Salesman think of how to get 5 Yen from your pocket into theirs. Alibaba employees need to consider, how they can keep that 5 Yen in your pocket and change it into 50 Yen. Thinking this way makes us different.” 

“When a disaster strikes, think of your clients. Then think of employees and then your competition.In fact better not think of competition as you need to handle your own troubles first.” 

4. Always tell the truth .. Always.

“Our only secret is to always tell the truth. No matter wherever or whenever, say what you are thinking.”
“Don’t say things that media wants to hear or to cater to them. Tell a lie now and you will be forced to keep it going even as you forget parts of it. This will only cause lots of pain.”

“People like honesty. Not many people, however, will tell the truth at anytime. Do so and you will differ from others.”
“Never deceive others, in business or in life. In 1995, I was deceived by four companies – four companies that are now closed. A company can not go far by deceit.” 

5. Failure or Mistakes Will Happen, Its part of Entrepreneurial Journey.

“Invariably, mistakes are made when starting a business.”
“Failure (in fast moving internet company) comes from fear of making mistakes. Mistakes have to be made today, in order to grow and run better tomorrow. Just don’t keep making the same mistake.” 

“Strength accumulates from failures.”
“Final success includes many miserable mistakes.”
“There in no CEO who does not make mistakes. Every successful person has faced frustration and made mistakes.” 

I call Alibaba ‘1001 Mistakes’.
“We expanded too fast, then Dot Com bubble and lay offs.
By 2002 we had only enough cash to survive 18 months. We had lot of free members using our sites and we did not know how we will make money. So we developed a product for China exporters to meet US buyers online. This model saved us. By end 2002 we made $1 profit.
Each year we improved. Today, Alibaba is very profitable.”  

“If you only regret the fact you failed but not the reasons for it, you will always be in a state of REGRET.”  

6. Your Business Strategy is Three Questions …

“One word – Survival. Small and Medium enterprises need unique survival methods.  Opportunity exists in danger. A big crisis may take down larger companies, allowing small to medium sized companies to emerge.”  Think through three questions :

What do you want to do? 
“You must have an ideal and a dream you are willing to give up your house for.”
What should you do?
“It is critical that you think about this from very beginning. Easy to say, difficult to do.”
How long do you do it for?
“No matter the Industry, count on at least 30 chances in your first five years. Insist on this principle, no matter outside temptations and pressures.” 

7. An internal Email to Employees

“We never promise that as Alibaba employees you will enjoy non-stop promotions and share in lots of wealth. We do promise however, that you will have a steady share of our difficulties, depression and pain.”
“If you have been with us for less than a year, please spare us Alibaba Strategy reports and development plans. Better you should open an exit door on your way out, than your mouth.”
“However if you have been here at least three years, I am all ears, happy to hear your suggestions for our growth and grateful for you intention to make us better.”
“Remember Alibaba does not pay you for your own personal development, but for helping our customers in their growth. We develop ourselves though our customers.” 

8. Financing …

Never think about financing when creating a business. You will never create a good company that way. Don’t chase after investors ( they will only run away faster) but know that as a successful small to medium- sized company, investors will come to you. Money will then be a happy surprise.”  

“If everything could be won by money, then banks would control all the biggest companies.”

9. Free Services

“When we launched Taobao two years ago, we offered it free. Alibaba also provided three years of free service. Almost all of our services are launched free for the first year or two.” 

“The main reason is to understand our clients needs during this period. Then we make adjustments accordingly . But if you find then that you can’t generate any traffic even as free service, it’s hopeless. You may not have any value.”

“We gained lots of valuable experience during our free period, so that today things are very good. We now have USD 1 billion and can provide even more free service.” 

10. Equity and Shareholding

“Equity should be dispersed. Wisdom, not financing should influence company management and employee teamwork.”  

“While i respect shareholders and occasionally even listen to them, i act on my own ideas. I hear from my staff too, but still do what i think is right. But for customers, i am all ears and try to follow their advice as much as possible.” 

“Customers First, Employees second, Shareholders third – this order does not change … because of an IPO or stock market.” 

11. Softbank CEO before Investing in Alibaba

“700+ companies apply to Softbank and they invest in only 10%. The CEO Masayoshi Son negotiated directly only with one : Alibaba.”  And this is what he said to me :
“I invest in you because of your unique leadership. Keep it up!”

12. Creating Value …

“If your CEO serves 10,000 clients, then your team should serve 100,000 clients. These 100,000 clients should serve 1 million clients. You create the most value when you clients can help other clients.” 

13. Copycats

Can Alibaba be copied?

“Our methods, may be, but not our team and the wisdom gained from our mistakes. Nor can you copy my thoughts, our client’s trust, or the opportunities they have presented us.”
“You company’s core competitiveness is you team and you. Others may copy your model, but not your constant persistence and passion.”

14. Ranking First or Second in Your Industry

“We rank first in some of our industries and second in others. Some of our ventures fail to make money and die. Ranking second while still spending little, making good money and being influential is fine.”
“Be either first or second, NEVER third. If after two years of being third we cannot pass into second, then it is time to close that venture.” 

15. Crocodile in the Yangtze – Succeed in Home Turf First

“Alibaba is like a crocodile in the Yangtze River. To fight with the shark in the sea is to lose. However if we fight in Yangtze river, we surely will not be defeated.”
“eBay came to China to do battle in our native country, where we have home field advantage. Here it is Ok for us to eat a bowl of noodles for 3 Yen and rather stupid to spend 300 Yen for the same.”
“eBay invests 70 billion Yen in the Chinese market to our mere 100 million. But what can they do better than us?”

16. The Four Qualities in Addition to Talent 

“At Alibaba, four qualities are needed in addition to talent :
Trustworthiness, Team Spirit, Adaptability & Optimism.”

17. Common Company Values 

“A common mission, values and goals are mandatory in any company or organisation. Without these three things you cannot succeed.”
“When we employ a person, we choose those who identify with our company values.
No matter a person’s individual talents, they must identify with our culture and ideals.”
“From first day of our training, we talk about common values and team spirit. Together this leads ordinary people to extraordinary achievement.”

18. There will be Uncertainty  – Always Adapt – Blind Tiger

“In the past 15 years that I’ve been working, I’ve called myself “a blind man riding on the back of a blind tiger”. Those experts riding horses, they all fell. We survived because we worried about the future, We believed in future. We changed ourselves.” 

19. Wild Dogs and White Rabbits

“We assess employees on two standards : Performance & Team Spirit.
Those with high performance but no team spirit are ‘wild dogs’ and those with a good team spirit but low performance are ‘white rabbits’.
No Dogs or Rabbits in employees, please; they must excel at both.” 

20. Focus is the Key

“Our concentration on e-commerce is persistent.
10 years ago we concentrated on e-commerce and we still concentrate on e-commerce.
10 years ago we focused on small and medium companies, and we still concentrate on small and medium companies.” 

21. On Business with Government or Relatives

“I have never gotten one cent from government.” 

“I had a very strict talk with my team. Never, ever do business with the government. 

Love them. Don’t marry them. So we never do projects for the government. ( if they ask help, we do it for free)”

“When Selling to close friends and family, no matter how much you’re selling to them, they will always feel you’re earning their money, no matter how cheap you sell to them, they still wouldn’t appreciate it.”

“When doing Sales, the first people who will trust you will be Strangers, Friends will be shielding against you, fair-weather friends will distance from you. Family will look down upon you.”

I am really inspired by these quotes from Jack Ma. I thought these would be useful as not everyone has time to read the whole book. I would be really keen to know which of these 21 wisdoms you liked the most. And do subscribe if you wish to keep receiving such blogs …

Parents! Are YOU shrinking your Kids?

Hey Parents, The year is coming to an end! And we will now get into reflecting what ‘got-done’ and what ‘did-not-get-done’ in the year. If i tell you that, we are inadverten…

Source: Parents! Are YOU shrinking your Kids?

Parents! Are YOU shrinking your Kids?

Hey Parents,

The year is coming to an end! And we will now get into reflecting what ‘got-done’ and what ‘did-not-get-done’ in the year. If i tell you that, we are inadvertently  shrinking our kids – how would you react?

This blog is about the physical (and Mental) handicap our children are facing due to lifestyle changes of our society.  We are increasingly getting less physical and more sedentary – that is not good.

I wonder if you have seen this 1989 live-action comedy film – Honey, I Shrunk the Kids ! The plot goes like this – an inventor Prof. Szalinski experiments with an electromagnetic human shrinking machine. He leaves the device unattended; shortly afterwards, it is accidentally activated. Alas, the demon machine is aimed at his children. The kids, shrunk to 1/4-inch height, are tossed into the trash. For the rest of the film, our tiny protagonists attempt to gain their parents’ attention – to survive the wilds of the backyard, that threaten their well-being. Remember this as you read on …

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In real life the subject is a lot more serious – right in front of our eyes – something like the film is happening to our kids. Inadvertently our generation of parents is poised to shrink (metaphorically :)) our kids and may be send them up a path of Counter Evolution**.

I am sure everyone remembers Mr Darwin and his theory ‘Survival of the Fittest’. Our physical human body got evolved as a great combination of intelligence, adaptability and strength – we are the nature’s best creation – we evolved in body as hunters and farmers. And so our physical constitution, complimented this strength to hunt for our food or grow crops. Both of these required physical labour – none of that hunting or farming we need to do today!

So what do you think is happening to our Body and its Capabilities? See the picture below, does it ring a bell?

Children addiction to screen
Children addiction to screen is almost an epidemic …

Its only in last 2 decades we ushered in this big Shrinking Machine – the automation, technology and IT – making us lazy and glued to devices – resulting in massive reduction in physical activity. So most of us don’t farm, don’t hunt and don’t do any physicals. Mr Nature is pretty confused – this wonderful human physique  was never designed to : Sit on chairs or bed …or Work on computers  … or Look at some or the other screen ‘All Day’.

Lifestyle changes of the day is a large threat to the physical well-being of our societies than we could possibly think. And the worst hit segment of this change in society are “OUR KIDS”.

Now that is what I am calling – the body’s **Counter Evolution.

Modern kids are glued to screens of various kinds – I pads, Smart phones, LED TVs, Laptops, PSPs, X-Box, video games etc. The modern parents – both go to work – kids have lesser parent time – and they do what is easy and gratifying – Nothing. Thats the Catch.

Experts on Whats Happening to our Kids!

  • Children are Getting Weaker!   This is interesting – a study published in the child health journal Acta Paediatrica compared children 10 years of age, 10 years apart (Year 1998- 315 children and Year 2008 – 309 children). Compared to 1998 group, 2008 children could do lesser sit ups ( -27%), had lesser arm strength (-26%), lesser number of them could not pull up their own weight (-50%) and, even more alarming is that kids of 2008 batch carried much more fat than muscle.

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    Average child of today is weaker than your Generation

To summarize the study –
“Children are becoming sedentary, weaker, less muscular, heavier, unable to do physical tasks that previous generations found simple.”

  • Well to do Children at more Risk!    As per paediatricians – Dr Nidhish Nanavaty, prevalence of obesity is estimated to be 10% in children below 14 years of age while it shoots up to 50% in children of high-income families. Its the excessive nutrition to blame – too much is being given to children to eat. Children of wealthy parents are thus at a greater risk.

    obesity-in-rich-kids
    Well to do kids are more at Risk?


Problem we are not Solving?
This problem at hand – is a typical Covey’s 2nd Quadrant item -‘important but not urgent’. So we all understand that it is a major problem but since it is not immediate, and not too urgent to solve, hence the ‘Action to Solve’ gets postponed. The devil is in Habits – of junk food, of addiction to modern gadgets, of sedentary lifestyle. What is the solution?

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Family Outdoors Activities are great things to do …

Questions and Suggestions
If this lifestyle is not good for future of our kids … then what do we need to change?

  1. Are kids screen addicted?   This one is a killer of good habits. Being stuck to a screen is an addiction – kids leave one screen to go to the other. This is slowly affecting their social behaviour and health. It would pay if we do not provide the modern gadgets to the kids too early in age. Parents will have to fix the screen time for the children.
  2. Are they doing enough Outdoors?   One of the important healthy habit to nurture in children is to have a decent volume of physical activity everyday. They have tremendous energies and those need to be positively find expression. Sports and outdoors fill that gap very well.

Healthy Mind in Healthy Body – So how do we get this Outdoors and Physical activity into daily routines of our kids. Traditionally– this physical outdoor activity habit is inculcated in 3 forms –

  1. Children should endeavour to play at least one field or team game – such as hockey, football, basket ball etc; Team games are known to develop body, character and team spirit.
  2. Pick up one individual game – Individual games such as athletics, swimming, tennis, squash, badminton, taekwondo or golf – are known to develop physical fitness, skills, personal excellence and competitive spirit.
  3. Its good to nurture one or two hobbies in outdoors space – trekking, wall climbing, biking, mountaineering, skiing, hiking, kayaking or canoeing etc.

    children-biking
    Physical Outdoor Activities are an absolute MUST!

Family Adventure Activities is Best Answer 🙂
The good Schools of the yore, normally would take care of above three things. Expecting to find these solutions in city schools is a long shot, but, taking your child out for an adventurous activity is in your hands for sure. In addition to many things that you would plan for year coming up – taking your children on outdoors adventure activity, should be high on your list. Not only does this increase family bonding, you would also give to your children, the most precious habit for life – the love of outdoors and open skies.

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Go outdoors with your kids …

Parents seem to be overlooking the Shrinking Machine that is stunting  their kids’ growth. May be its time for Parents to make a resolution for New Year –  Break the sedentary lifestyle and …

Your Resolution could sound like – have an Outdoors Focus – Get them into some sports and take them out for a family adventure outing … You would do long term good to them … and launch them well in life!

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself ….
….. You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.”         Khalil Gibran

kayak-with-kids
Go spend some time outdoors with your kids

I would be so keen to know what you think of it and how do we get out of this real life problem of our generation? Please leave a comment or suggestion.

Mike’s Notes : My Times in Congo

These are the musings from one of the most ambitious United Nations Mission. Its a story not many know of …

I was destined for Congo …
‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad, the Polish-British novelist was the narrative that came alive in my mind when i got this signal from Army Headquarters. The signal called for an interview to select officers for a deputation with United Nations Mission in Congo – it was a diplomatic assignment and select few would get an opportunity. Back in 2003 fresh out of Staff College, I was a Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade, serving Indian Army somewhere on the line of control in Kashmir. And Line of Control, by Jove, is loads of real time action, a roller coaster of a life – day and night.

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The United Nations Flag

Cut to – late1980s, I was in National Defence Academy and my brother who was then in St Stephen’s College, Delhi doing English Honours, brought this book home in summer vacations – ‘Heart of Darkness’ – a small 100+ page novellette. It was about Marlow taking a boat journey upstream of Congo River to find a white man Kurtz, stationed deep inside central Africa. This piece of land was then known to western world as ‘Congo Free State’ and almost unknown to rest of the world. In those earlier centuries, when the maps were still being drawn – Africa was Dark Continent – unexplored, unknown, undefined, un-demarcated and Congo was the Heart-of-Darkness.

Post a high profile interview, I was nominated to join United Nations Mission in Congo. June of 2004, some diplomatic and immunisation routines later, I was finally on a circuitous flight to Congo via Mumbai, Dubai, Nairobi and finally Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC for short). That is where the headquarters of UN Mission in Congo was situated.

Congo of the Phantoms …
Africa has always been a curious land – like the deep jungles of Phantom comics – so much shrouded in mystery. As i flew the African skies – i could see below the huge brown and green expanse of vast African landmass.

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Map of Congo DRC and Eastern Neighbours

Few hours later, the plane approached the Kinshasa airport, and like a curious child i wanted to catch every glimpse of this dreamland preserved in my memory. The  plane flew over the mighty Congo River and I could see two medium sized capital cities of two Congos –  Kinshasa, to South, the capital of Congo DRC, an erstwhile Belgian colony and Brazzaville, to North, the capital of Congo republic, an erstwhile French colony.  As these river views faded from sight the plane touched down on the runway and I was actually in Congo. My curiosity levels were higher than ever.

As I walked across the runway – ground reality hit me hard! The scene at the airport was rather discouraging – a strange and winding immigration procedure, a New Delhi railway station kind of chaos all over and a physical struggle to extricate my trunk of supplies.  No one seem to be knowing what was going on. Well .. welcome to Congo!

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A Century Back … Leopold Came in …
DRC has a uniquely interesting history. Before the world knew Congo, it was inhabited by humans since 80,000 years ago and Bantu tribals were the residents of this land, before slave trade began in 15th and 16th Century. One famous slave and ivory trader of 19th century was Tippu Tib, who made successful inroads into the unknown Great Lakes region, and also helped famous european explorers, David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley go deep into Africa. He was famed to have 10,000 slaves at a time and was responsible for Stanley’s famous expeditions into heart of Africa. Indirectly, Tib was the man who brought the white man’s burden to the bear on central Africa.

One book i read as part of my preparation for Congo was ‘King Leopold’s Ghost : A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa’. It is a best-selling book by Adam Hochschild that explores the exploitation of the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgium.

If there is one person who could be responsible to initiate the misery in Congo, that continues till this day, it was King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold unsuccessfully tried to measure up to other affluent nations of 19th century Europe by acquiring Philippines as a colony, which did not work out.

He then desperately manipulated to acquire Congo as his personal property, under the garb of human development and called it Congo Free State. He commissioned the popular explorer of the day Sir Henry Morton Stanley, to go deep into Congo, up the Congo River and establish trade stations.  Sir Stanley, was a British and American explorer of central Africa – who was as controversial as he was famous. Stanley is a key figure who has a foot print almost all over Congo – locally known as Bula Matari ( meaning Stone Breaker). He was known to join the slaves in breaking of stones to make roads in Congo.

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King Leopold’s Exploitation

In the years that followed Stanley’s expeditions, Leopold and his emissaries exploited and killed mercilessly to extract ivory and rubber and bring fortunes to Belgium. During this period of plunder an estimated 10 million people died, which reduced native population to half.  In 1908, under pressure from UK, the Belgian parliament annexed Congo from Leopold – from Congo Free State it was now the Belgian Congo.

Belgians Exit Congolese Step in …
The typical colonial exploitation and cruelty continued unabated till 1960. If a native would extract lesser rubber than day’s target, his hands or legs could be chopped off as punishment. In 1960 under pressure of a nationalist movement, Congo got independence. People had their first elected Prime Minister Patrice Lubumba.  The name of new state was changed from Belgian Congo to Republic of Congo.

Unfortunately, this freedom was short lived. Once the Belgians went away it was time for the native leadership to play the exploitation game. In the backdrop of cold war rivalry of times, America supported  a coup by the Army Chief  Joseph Mobutu, who annexed power and declared himself the President. He created a brand new nation Zaire, situated by River Zaire ( Congo). PM Lumumba was arrested and till date no one certainly knows whatever happened of him. The rumour is he was killed by a Belgian firing squad or cut to pieces or may be dissolved in acid … who knows?

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The live Volcano in Goma, East Congo

Mobutu was an epitome of corruption and mis-governance. In his first speech upon taking power, Mobutu told a large crowd that since politicians had brought the country to ruin in five years, “for five years, there will be no more political party activity in the country.”

Mobutu had the strange dual honour of being the richest man in the world while presiding over the poorest nation of the World. Backed by US against spread of communism in Africa, Mobutu continued to be yet another despotic head of state. It was explained by one of his relative –

Mobutu would ask one of us to go to the bank and take out a million. We’d go to an intermediary and tell him to get five million. He would go to the bank with Mobutu’s authority, and take out ten. Mobutu got one, and we took the other nine.

Invariably Mobutu would take his million to Belgium or France to shop and splurge. Among many diseases that are endemic to Congo such as ‘sleeping sickness’, the new one coined by Mobutu himself was ‘Zairean sickness’ meaning  gross corruption and theft. Zaire was a kleptocracy – the people in power literally shopped around the world with government funds.

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Rumble in the Jungle : Mobutu hosted this great event in Boxing History

In 32 years of despotic rule, its well known that he made more kilometres of air strips than roads. He believed that if he needed to go to people he would fly to them by his private planes, and it was convenient that Congo regions remained isolated and fragmented.

I was amazed to See …
Settled in Kinshasa, I began my work as a Military Staff Officer and did a few roles before i settled down as Training Officer incharge of educating the new arrivals in the nuances of Congolese culture and history. I really loved the part. One of the films that i recommended for everyone to watch when working in this part of Africa was – the hair raising account of Tutsi genocide in Terry George’s 2004 film ‘Rwanda Hotel’. I happen to see the film in the very first week of my arrival in Kinshasa – and well i had tears in my eyes. I learnt a great deal about the history and people of Congo overtime – each passing day my empathy for common man would grow.

After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which a million Rwandans were killed within 100 days, some 1.2 million Rwandese Hutus, called Interahamwes, fled to the Kivu regions of formerly Zaïre. A rebellion began in Kivus in 1996, pitting the forces led by Laurent Désiré Kabila against the army of President Mobutu. Kabila’s forces, aided by Rwanda and Uganda, took the capital city of Kinshasa in 1997.  In the wake of this take over, Mobutu saw this fate and fled the country. A few months later he died in Morocco suffering from prostrate cancer.

In keeping with the past precedence, for the 5th time, Kabila changed name of country to Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As hitherto fore,  there was no improvement in the plight of common man – poor, hungry and exploited. A curse that refused to go away, since the sinister greed of King Leopold II dawned on these innocent lands.

You live by the Gun, you die by the Gun. Laurent Kabila was assassinated by a child soldier from among his bodyguards in 2001 – it is still a mystery as to who orchestrated this murder and why! Eight days later according to Kabila’s last wishes, his son Joseph Kabila succeeded as President and remains the head of state till this day. This time around the new head of state decided to do other things than changing the name of state.

I had spent almost 4 months by now. One thing that hurt me the most was the plight of women in Congo. One incident is etched deep in my memory.

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BONOBOS (Pan paniscus), FEMALE PLAYING IN THE GRASS, ABC SANCTUARY, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

The United Nation Headquarters had a club and a cafe which hosted Happy Hours on all Saturdays. This was a good place to exchange notes with other departments of UN and the visiting Military observers from faraway sites. The cafe would usually serve local beers – Scoll, Singa or Primus beer and Gin & tonic, till 9 pm. Post this social meet up, the crowd would fade away to various night clubs for some more live music and food. I found the local musicians very talented  – playing jazz, country or hippy music. We also got a chance to hear some local African music which was different – rhythmic and very peppy.

After one such happy hour Saturday, i was sipping my Martini, sitting with UN friends in a road side bar.  A nice live country band was playing. The lively environment was suddenly shattered when we saw a large man dragging a semi-clad woman on the road by her hair, yelling, kicking and punching her up in the open street. The music stopped and the traffic came to halt. I was aghast at this scene and plight of the woman. To my surprise my UN friends, who had come earlier to mission, were not surprised at this. One of them told me it was a common thing – and the treatment of women is worse in deeper parts of Congo. The hotel staff went out and  finally asked the couple to leave and the music began to play again. I get shivers when i think of those times.

There were over 50 UN military observation sites who would do a daily reporting of political and military happenings in various parts of Congo. In the absence of roads, these isolated posts could be approached only by helicopters and planes. It was a big challenge to staff, supply and manage them. It was not uncommon for local conflicts to spread to UN military observers premises and sometimes the Military Observers had to be evacuated overnight in face of a conflict. But most of these UN sites in hinterland were wonderful places providing deep insight into the life in the bush. Agriculture, mining and poaching rare animals are common.

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Lower Highland Gorillas, Photo Credits to 

Courtesy of Mahlatini Luxury Safari 

In between these conflicts there is a beautiful world that exists in the distant jungles, living in harmony with the nature. Like its mineral resources Congo is also blessed with abundant and unique wild life. The oldest national park in Africa is the Congo’s Virunga National Park. It is home to rare mountain gorillas, lions, white rhino and elephants. The great apes, such as the bonobos and the eastern lowland gorillas, can be found only in Congo.  We had a UN run radio station called Radio OKAPI. Okapi is an animal found only in Congo and looks like a cross between Giraffe and Zebra. All these unique species are endangered due to pollution, deforestation, and bush-meat trade. It’s possible that some or all of these creatures – may not be seen in a decade.

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Okapi – a unique cross between Zebra & Giraffe

Come to think of it, after over 100 years of internal strife and misery, United Nations was a good thing to happen. UN came to Congo in April 2001, to put in place the Transition Government led by Joseph Kabila. The fist mission was called MONUC ( french acronym for United Nations Mission in Congo) and it was mandated to establish the rule of law and conduct first free and fair elections, which happened in 2006. By this time I had finished my one year of work with MONUC, but i continued to follow the happenings in Congo quite closely.

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While the factional rebellions in Eastern Congo continues to disturb the return of peace, the UN in 2010 changed the mandate of MONUC to MONUSCO – ( french acronym for United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo). There is a stable situation in many regions of the country, but eastern part continues to be the Achilles heel – plagued by recurrent waves of  armed conflict, chronic humanitarian crises and serious human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence.

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Hinterland is dotted with Private Armies

Congo is the most ambitious and largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, with over 21,000 soldiers from approximately 50 different countries. The mission now has more teeth in terms of an Intervention Brigade ( ex Indian Army) located in Eastern Congo with an aim to control the warring factions with the use of force, if need be.

Since 1998, in the so called World War of Africa, over 5 million civilians have died,  30,000 child soldiers are serving with armed groups, rape has increased seventeen fold and natural resources continue to fuel the conflict rather than progress & development. In a capitalist world which eulogises ‘Greed is Good’, Congo remains a gruesome reminder of the humanitarian suffering from Man’s inhumanity to Man.

Exploitation to the Bone … the People lost all hopes …
As part of Military Observers routine, we would often go out on fact finding missions and that would reveal to us more than anything else about the people and their lives in Bush. One thing that strikes squarely in the face the widest possible divide between Haves and Have-Nots. The abject poverty – no access to safe water, no regular source of food, no fresh milk – no roads, electricity, medical, health and hygiene. Almost 80% people in a village or settlement have not been beyond 5 kilometres from the village periphery.

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Hope in the wilderness

The local pubs were frequented by young girls garishly dressed as if to solicit customers and ever ready to shake their bodies to earn a bottle of “Sucre”(meaning sugar)- a common word for a soft drink or soda.  And nine out of ten times, that is all the food or drink they would have in a couple of days. It was really very sorry state of affairs.

Sundays were good days – i would spend time reading, go to local market and may be chat with locals in my broken french. One such morning i was reading in my lawns and my security guard came with a local person wanting to sell a baby chimp in a small wicker cage. I was aghast at seeing the baby chimp – completely dazed and nervous. I am told that it if they are to snatch a baby chimp from its mother – it is impossible to do it without killing the mother. And this man told me that i could have the chimp as a pet,  for a mere 50 USD. This was very disturbing to see the baby chimp in a deep traumatised state and it was incessantly urinating. I refused to buy it and told them to give it back to its mother, or leave it in jungle, to which they smiled and told me that its mother was dead. I asked my guard – as to what would be the fate of this baby chimp if no one buys it.  To my horror I came to know that if the chimp is not sold, they would eventually eat it for a meal.

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Refugees in their own land

In some of these villages deep in bush, village kids would invariably chase our patrol cars asking for “Mai”, meaning water in local language. Drinking water for the UN staff was bottled from a local plant established for the specific purpose of producing safe drinking water. Local water had heavy iron content and was usually reddish brown in colour. In fact in the bush the beer was a safer choice as compared to water both in terms of quality, cost and availability. Just imagine – how opposite the life has turned out for the common man in bush. The social fabric and mundane life appeared so unnatural to me – and they have a lifetime to spend that way.

At times I used to feel Congo has problem of plenty. Huge natural resources, water reserves, river and jungles. The earth was fertile and Congo river carried enough water to support the lifeline and transportation. This easy availability of resources probably made then lazy and not wanting to work or toil.

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A local dance troupe …

There is no regulation or control over the outflow of  mineral wealth that was being siphoned off form the country. Literally anyone could hire or charter land a single engine or medium sized plane, buy some gold or uncut diamonds and fly out of the air space. The bigger companies have done that for over 70 years now – no duties, no tax paying, no control.  Though this point may be controversial, but if i correctly remember, the total length of navigable roads in 2004  was 1675 kms as against some 300 plus airstrips in mostly mineral rich hubs. No wonder, some if Congo DRC’s eastern neighbours were biggest exporters of Diamonds, while they did not possess even one Diamond mine. One great free for all smuggling mafia operated all over the bush.

The Presidential Cavalcade was the most feared convoy on the roads. It was popular that if some one was found on road walking while the presidential convoy passed – they would be shot dead. These stories were deeply embedded in their psyche – and even when our patrol cars would pass on roads, the locals would wildly drop their stuff on the road and run to the woods to hide. They would only come back to road once we were gone.  The populace in general was having very low self esteem possibly due to centuries of exploitation at the hands of the slave masters earlier and later the colonial powers.

‘Blood Diamonds’ and ‘Conflict Minerals’
Interestingly these terms were both coined in the context of Central African war zone. For over a century, many have benefited from the loot of Congo’s natural resources – starting with King Leopold’s greed about slaves, ivory and rubber to the Western world’s greed of amassing mineral resources cheaply sourced from Congo conflict zone. It sounds like a curse – DRC, one of the most resource-rich country on the planet, continues to have miserably poor plight of common man. Tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold are “conflict minerals.” Armed groups use the profits from illegal sale of these minerals to fuel violence. So much is not right, and so much more time it will take for a normalcy to return in a common man’s life. I retuned back in 2005, the strife and conflict continued and I feel deeply saddened when i think of those times.
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One of the copper mines – Problem of Plenty

Back to the metaphor in the Heart of Darkness.
In the end, the protagonist Marlow, realises that this civilised world is an illusion – deep within, like Kurtz, man remains an uncivilised savage, that reveals in the deep Jungles of Africa, where there are no civilised society watch over one’s behaviour. The savage instinct and unbridled greed to be God, rich and powerful easily reveals itself. The moral illusion created by various powers of the civilised world about doing good to Congo has remained a curse of misery.

Congo is one odd case where “MORE is LESS”

 

Mike’s Notes : 12 Dos in Bhutan

Hi Friends, Welcome back to my Blog .. this time its Bhutan on the platter … If you are a ‘nature lover’, and looking for an off-beat break from your mundane, hum bugging life, we…

Source: Mike’s Notes : 12 Dos in Bhutan

Mike’s Notes : 12 Dos in Bhutan

Hi Friends,

Welcome back to my Blog .. this time its Bhutan on the platter …

If you are a ‘nature lover’, and looking for an off-beat break from your mundane, hum bugging life, well go spend some time in most preserved nation in the World – the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan or the Last Shangri-La. Also known to be a kingdom of Happiness, or that of Thunder Dragon, they really focus on GNH – Gross National Happiness index rather than GDP. It is an awesome place to go and spend a laid back family vacation.

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No GDP Please, we all finally need HAPPINESS

A lot depends on how much time you could take out for yourself. A one week tour of West Bhutan (most popular) OR a two week tour of whole Bhutan ( my recommendation) would be a HAPPY thing to do. Its nature abound – and can literally be done the whole year around except monsoon months from June to September.

Having done lots and lots of Bhutan, i have some recommendations to make. If you are in Bhutan, I would recommend that you must not miss the 12 things that i am now going to list for you.

1. Taktsang Monastery, Paro – Going to Tigers’ Nest in Bhutan is like going to Taj Mahal in India. It is an amazing wonder how this Monastery got made in the first place – atop a vertical cliff overhang  …the complex was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup caves where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century.

Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is the prime deity of the country. Paro Taktsang is best known for the thirteen Taktsang or “tiger lair” caves in which he meditated. Trekking to Tiger’s Nest is a nice half day spent – and a big tick on any travelers’ bucket list.

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Taktsang Monastery Paro

2. Great Buddha Dordenma, Thimpu – While at Thimpu, the is a must go and spend some time.  It is a gigantic 169 feet, Shakyamuni Buddha statue.  The construction was completed on September 25th 2015 in the Thimpu, celebrating their 60th anniversary of fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk. The complex is still being finished with the help of engineers from Japan. It claims to be the 8th wonder of the world – when completed. You also get some very good panoramic views of Himalayas and Thimpu valley from here.

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Giant Buddha – the 8th Wonder in making!

3. Motithang Takin Preserve, Thimpu – Here is another unique thing – this time a no-where to be found animal – the TAKIN. Its an animal with head of a goat and body of a cow – and is found only in Bhutan. The myth about its creation goes like this – A Tibetan saint also called Mad Lama – Drukpa Kunley, after eating a goat and a cow for a meal – took the head of the goat and fixed it to the bone skeleton of the cow and uttered abracadabra magic words – and this animal came to life – which had the head of a goat and the body of a cow. Well thats what you see only in Bhutan. It sure is the National animal of Bhutan.

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National Animal of Bhutan – the Takin

4. Thimphu Chorten. It is a stupa, built in 1974 to honor the third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928–1972). Next to Tigers Nest, it probably is the most visible religious landmark in Bhutan. This stupa is unique as it does not enshrine human remains. Only the Druk Gyalpo’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor. When he was alive, Jigme Dorji wanted to build a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha.

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Thimpu Chorten

5. Dochula Pass & 108 Chortens – As we begin to go East we reach Dochula pass that connects Thimphu and Punaka valleys. At the pass, the Druk Wangyal Khang Zhang Chortens are red-band , 108 in numbers, built under the patronage of the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. These are called chortens of victory, built as a memorial in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 – a battle against Assamese insurgents – ULFA. It  marks the victory of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck who dislodged the rebels from their 30 camps in Bhutanese territory.

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108 Memorial Chortens at Dochula Pass

6. Temple of Chimi Lakhang, Punaka – Here is an interesting thing coming up as we enter Punaka valley.  This temple is located on a round hillock and was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, after the site was blessed by  the maverick saint Drukpa Kunley – the “Divine Madman”. In founding the site it is said that Lama Kunley subdued a demon of Dochu La and trapped it in a rock at the location close to where the chorten now stands.

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Chimi Lakhang Temple – houses of Phallus

7. Legacy of the Divine Madman & Phalluses. Drukpa Kunley – the “Divine Madman” had unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humour and outrageous behaviour, which amounted to being bizarre, shocking and with sexual overtones. He advocated phallus symbols as paintings on walls and flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the eves. You would see them everywhere ..

Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.

The Chimi Lakhang monastery has the original wooden Phallus that Kunley brought from Tibet. A 10 inch wooden phallus ornate with a silver handle and used to bless people who visit the monastery on pilgrimage, particularly women seeking blessings to beget children.

8. Punakha Dzong.  This is the most beautiful of all Dzongs in Bhutan, and is located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers in the Punakha–Wangdue valley. The fortress is also called Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong – meaning very awesome dzong – “the palace of great happiness or bliss”.

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Punaka Dzong in spring time …

The dzong houses the sacred relics of Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the sacred remains of Ngawang Namgyal. Punakha Dzong was the administrative centre and the seat of the Government of Bhutan until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu.

9. Phobjikha Valley & Gangtey Monastery. The Phobjikha or Gangteng Valley is a large U-shaped glacial valley, named after the impressive Gangtey Monastery of Nyingma Sect in Central Bhutan.  This is one of the very few places in the World where the graceful black necked cranes arrive from from Tibet and visit the valley during the winter season to roost. On arrival in the Phobjikha Valley in the last week of October, the black-necked cranes circle the Gangtey Monastery three times and also repeat the process while returning back to Tibet.

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Phobjikha Valley & the Black Necked Cranes … pic from Internet

10. Bumthang Valley and Red Panda Beer Factory. As  we move east we get into a land full of nature and forests. Bumthang valley is a typical deeper Bhutan place where agriculture has been a mainstay since ages – buckwheat, honey, cheese is what they grow. Bumthang has an air strip and there are smaller planes that land here thrice a week from Paro. Bumthang literally means a beautiful field or land of beautiful women.

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Jakhar Dzong in Bumthang

Another interesting place to visit is Red Panda micro brewery – owned by a swiss national Mr. Maurer, and they make excellent unfiltered, weiss beer. You would get a good round of the plant and a bottle of beer to sample.

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Bumthang Brewery makes Red Panda Weiss Beer …

11. Amazing Waterfall at Namling, Mongar.  As we explore the deeper and Eastern Bhutan – we find ourselves in the midst of nature – far far away from civilisation. The forest, mist and mountains create a silent journey with nature as you take the road from Bumthang to Mongar. One place to stop and see is an amazing waterfall may be more than 300 ft high that vaporises before it hits the ground. It is mesmerising to see this waterfall falling from a cliff and turing into fine micro droplets vanishing in thin air – and never hitting the ground.

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Amazing Waterfall at Namling, Monger, East Bhutan

12. Witness One Tsechu Festival.  Finally, if you are fortunate to be on a Bhutan holiday in the times when one of the monastery annual Tsechu is on, Don’t miss it.

Tshechus are large social gatherings, which perform the function of social bonding among people of Dzonkhongs (regions). The Thimpu, Paro and Bumthang tshechus are popular in terms of participation and audience.

The focal point of the tshechus are Cham Dances. These costumed, masked dances typically are depiction of moral fables based on incidents from the life of the 9th century Saint Padmasambhava and other saints.

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Thimphu Tsechu is a grand show, attended by King himself

Padmasambhava organized the first tshechu in Jakhar, Bumthang where the eight manifestations of Padmasambhava were presented through eight forms of dances. These became the traditional Cham dances depicting the glory of Padmasambhava.

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Cham Dance at Thimpu Tsechu

These 12 things would normally be good enough to complete the Bhutan for you. Some more very different thing to do in Bhutan are – pristine trekking, bird watching and monastery tours.

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View from a Trashigang hotel, East Bhutan

Here is another of my Blog if you want to know why Bhutan is Unique- click the link to read more – Bhutan , The Last Shangri-La 

Please feel free to ping if you need any advice … I am just a click or a call away …Until then, signing off ..  Cheers!

Mike
manoj@viktorianz.com | +91-9971119102
Chief Mentor @ Viktorianz

#Himalayan : Day 1 of Test Ride & Reviews

Hey guys,

I am back here with some pretty exciting news – its motorcycling.

This time its about the HIMALAYAN – a new Adventure focused Motorbike from the stable of iconic Royal Enfield. I represent The Outdoor Journal and have the opportunity to ride the bike for a couple of days with 40+ riders from various media houses and review the performance of the bike.

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One of the Royal Enfield trial pictures

I landed in Chandigarh and were then brought up to Timber Trail for a quick bite and then a usual winding road up to Simla, the erstwhile British Summer Capital – twists and turns, traffic blues and some drizzle .. usual Simla highway stuff.

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By evening we were at our hotel in Simla – the ‘Wildflower Hall’, arguably the most unique of the Oberoi’s properties. I did have a quick round of the hotel, which was built 15 years back in colonial style – with library and card rooms, et al.  It definitely takes you back a hundred year – and here its just you, peace, quiet, nature and the understated luxury of hotel.

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I found this one parked just outside the hotel … pretty lean it is ..

Evening was filled with a detailed briefing on the HIMALAYAN – Siddhartha Lal, MD & CEO, Eicher Motors Ltd, Mr Rudratej (Rudy) Singh, President Royal Enfield and Sachin Chavan, Rides and Community – spoke about the bike – philosophy & concept and the routes we would take over next 2 days.

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Rudy’s brief
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Sachin Chavan – the 4 routes …

On the route we would expect a happy mix of metalled roads, broken roads, un-metalled roads and some off-roading. I chose to be on Route 4 for Day One of the test-ride.

I am pretty excited to see how the following claims made by the leadership turns out –

Himalayan is the culmination of Royal Enfield’s 60 years of enduring history in its spiritual home—the Himalayas   …  Large adventure tourers that currently define this category, do not fare well in the Himalayas as they are very heavy, extremely complicated, intimidating and not really designed for this environment. … the Himalayan is a simple and capable go-anywhere motorcycle that will redefine adventure touring in India.” Siddhartha Lal, MD & CEO, Eicher Motors Ltd

Mr Rudratej (Rudy) Singh, President Royal Enfield said,
What excites me about our new motorcycle, is …. It allows both seasoned riders as well as enthusiasts to do more with just one motorcycle. The Himalayan … at the same time opens the roads (pun not intended) to many more people who will get the confidence that they can ride on and off the road less travelled, going beyond their day-to-day commuting needs.”

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Taking the ‘FEEL’ – its nice …

Keep reading for more. I am now off to the ride of day 1.

Cheers and have a good weekend.

Mike Keshwar
http://www.viktorianz.com
manoj@viktorianz.com
+91-9971119102