A former criminal once told me that it was possible to make money – a lot of money – from crime and not be caught. But only if you had an aim. And most criminals, he claimed, are aimless.
“It’s like gambling,” he told me. “People get addicted to gambling and they may make a load of money, but they throw it all away because they don’t know when to stop. If you have an aim to make £100,000 or even £1 million, you could probably make that. But then you’ve got to stop. If you don’t have a specific number as your target, if you don’t stop, if you just keep going, then eventually, if you’re a criminal, you get caught and, if you’re a gambler, you lose what you’ve won. Because the odds are increasingly against you.”
I do not think I ever had a career aim. I found it more interesting to take things as they came along. As a result, at parties, I have never been able to coherently answer that inevitable question: “So what is it you actually do, John?”
Someone also told me, “You should achieve everything you want to achieve by the time you reach the age of 40,” though, sadly, they suggested this to me after I had passed the appropriate age.
I was once told: “John, your CV has no focus.”
I took this as no bad thing.
Better to die in the gutter with multiple memories than to live in bored comfort and regret unexplored avenues.
I have always thought the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” was a rather attractive prospect.
I am writing this blog in longhand on a British Airways 747 flight from Beijing to London. I will re-type it all out onto a computer when I return to the UK and will post it on my blog later tonight. I took no computer, no iPad and no mobile phone on my trip to North Korea. I am not that mad.
North Korea does not allow foreigners to bring into their fine, tightly-controlled country any mobile phones or any electronic device containing GPS. China is not that paranoid but, of course, blocks access to not only Facebook, Twitter and other Western social networking sites but also to all the main Western blogging sites. This blog of mine (hosted by WordPress) alas cannot be read in China. Their loss.
As I write this in longhand on the 747, I am 2 hours 45 minutes into a 10 hour 45 minutes flight back to the UK.
According to the electronic in-flight map on the seat-back in front of me, we are just approaching a set of white cartoon mountains.
Aha!, I just wrote in longhand, this must mean we are just about to fly over Tibet. But now a wider map shows me we are flying westwards somewhere between Irkutsk in Siberia in the north and Ulan Bator in Mongolia the south.
Just south of both those cities on the very small map is the Chinese city of Chongqing.
At Beijing Airport this morning, I unexpectedly bumped into Ben, who had been in the group I went to North Korea with last week.
He told me that, last night, when another member of the group Googled “Chongqing”, it came up with nothing. The name seemed to have been blocked by the Chinese authorities. An entire city temporarily wiped from existence, presumably because they did not want people in China researching beyond the Party line on the on-going Bo Xilai scandal which, to me, seems less of a scandal and more of a future thriller movie plot.
Ben told me that, even before he went to North Korea, he had started keeping a diary.
“You should write a blog,” I told him.
“I don’t think my life is that interesting,” he said.
“What are you doing when you get back to Britain?” I asked him.
“I’m thinking,” he said, “of starting up an internet radio station… My uncle used to be a weather man and wants to do the night shift.”
It is good to have an aim.
China seems to know where it wants to go and is getting there.
North Korea is perhaps like a floundering gambler with no target. It has changed little since I first went there in 1986. Except for the small matter of mobile phones, presumed ICBM tests and the possession of nuclear bombs.
“Do not treat us as children” was the North Korean reaction when the US complained about their recent rocket launch. That is always a good rule-of-thumb, I think, when dealing with people who have nuclear bombs and a volatile diplomatic tendency towards brinksmanship.
On landing at Heathrow Airport in London late this afternoon, I picked up a copy of the i newspaper. It contained a small piece claiming that the official North Korean website was built using a template which cost just $15 – less than £10.
Typical propaganda in the Western media, trying to belittle the great land of the supreme leader Kim Jung-un.
The business page of North Korea’s website says the country “will become in the next years the most important hub for trading in North-East Asia” and promises that workers there “will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained”. It also says the country has “a government with solid security and a very stable political system, without corruption”.
In the circumstances, I would just like to state my undying admiration for North Korea’s 28 or 29 year old (opinions vary) supreme leader Kim Jung-un.
I think it is better to be safe and cover all angles.
We live in interesting times.
On its website, the North Korean government is currently offering “an exclusive business trip” to the country from 11th August to 18th August 2012. They say they will “facilitate visit to factories and meetings with commerce officials in charge of your professional area. All passports are invited to apply except for: U.S.A., Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Japan due to special protocol in bilateral relations. The number of visitors is limited to 10.”
Now THAT is a trip I would like to go on.
The website adds: “Participants will be accompanied during the entire visit.”