'In Singapore, When Something Bad Happens, They Just Ban or Silence It. And It Works Well'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: Two globe trotters who have no plans to go home, for different reasons

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Russell Jones.
Russell Jones.Credit: Meged Goznani
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Russell Jones, 35, lives in Singapore; arriving from Geneva

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Geneva?

It was home for seven years, but I’m actually British, from Manchester.

How does a nice kid from Manchester end up in Geneva?

In my 20s, I did everything a person my age is supposed to do. I had a house, a job and a cat – but it wasn’t working for me. Something was out of kilter. And when I was offered a job in Geneva, I took it.

You don’t look like a person who works in a bank.

I actually do work in an international bank, but I’m traveling now, so I am not in my bank “uniform.”

And since then you moved again, to Singapore. How was that?

The first half a year in Geneva was awful. I arrived in November, so everything was gray and terribly cold – and it’s an Englishman who’s saying this, right? And everyone speaks French. I lived there for seven years and I think I never once spoke to anyone in my building, not even on my floor. But that is considered normal in Switzerland. All in all, it’s not easy to connect with the Swiss. They cling to the same friends they had in primary school, and it’s very hard to work your way in.

But in the end you succeeded.

There were many foreigners there, like me, so they became my community. I think of it a little like entering first grade. At first you have to make more of an effort, and maybe you need to tell yourself, “This is not the perfect person for me as a friend, but it might work.” And from that person new acquaintances arise, and more friendships. Today I have a network of friends, almost a family. I have people to visit everywhere I go. In general, from my experience I discovered that many of the things we search for in life, such as friends, are already there – you just have to know how to find them. You can think of every place you get to as the most boring in the world, the most boring country in the world, but it isn’t so. Something is always happening, you just have to make an effort to discover it.

Is Singapore boring?

Not at all. It’s pretty great living there. It’s very different from Europe, of course, not so liberal. There’s only one [political] party there, but when you live there, you realize that actually you might not need more, because the government works just fine. When something bad happens, they just ban or silence it. If there’s a thing with migration, they allow fewer foreigners to enter. It works well. As a person who grew up in a very liberal universe, you don’t always think they are acting rationally, and no one knows how long it will last, but the fact is that it’s working. Ninety percent of the people have jobs, everyone can afford a house, the streets are totally clean, almost sterile, and it’s convenient for anyone who likes to travel, because Australia and the Philippines are not far away.

Sounds perfect.

Not necessarily. Taxes are pretty high, there are lots of fines, gum chewing is not allowed, drinking with a straw is prohibited and there are no exceptions. If eating on public transportation is prohibited, no one will eat there. There is also the feeling that you’re being watched, because there are cameras at every corner, on every street. I’m pretty sure that they have facial recognition systems.

Sounds a bit alien-ish, like the invasion of the body snatchers.

Yes, sometimes it can be like an invasion of your private space, but on the other hand, women can walk around freely without worrying, and you can leave your bag in the train station and come back two hours later, and no one will have touched it.

Do you plan to stay in Singapore?

For now. Life is pleasant there, the weather is good and I can wear shorts a lot, which won’t happen in Manchester. If I ever really settle anywhere, it would be a Caribbean island. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to strike a balance between my personal life and work. I work 12 hours a day.

Don’t you miss home?

At first I missed my family and friends a lot, but then you get that they are there and you are here. I don’t know if my family is okay with it; they’ve never said anything to me. But then I don’t keep up every day, I’m not great at texting – maybe because if I speak to them too much I’ll miss them too much.

Ivan Aguilar Arellana.Credit: Meged Gozani

Ivan Aguilar Arellana, 35; flying to Vietnam

Hello, can I ask where you live?

I am originally from Puebla, in central Mexico, but for the past 17 years I have been traveling. Sometimes I return to Mexico to see my family and friends, and sometimes my feet just get glued to some place and don’t want to move. That happened to me in Vietnam, and I lived there for two years. I am very fond of the Vietnamese, they’re still sort of communists.

So how do you finance a 17-year trip?

I was asked about that by security when I entered Israel, too, and they had a hard time believing me. They asked me where I got the money. I told them I make jewelry. They said, “Are you sure? The money’s from that? It doesn’t sound logical.” It may sound unbelievable, but it’s possible. I work a lot with natural materials like stones, coconuts and leather. Most of my buyers are tourists, but I sell to locals, too. The things I make are one of a kind. Because it’s all handmade and because of the stones, they cost something like $200 per piece.


When people buy my things, I’m happy not only because of the money, I’m happy that they feel something. That’s the value I place on my work, and I feel that if someone is ready to pay that amount, it means they are appreciative of it. I believe it’s a fair act of barter: I need the money, and the buyer feels something special.

Where do you sell your jewelry?

Sometimes on the street, or at festivals, or I find a spot at a party and display my work. Many times people tell me to move, so I do and then I come back. In Europe, sometimes, everything gets confiscated and you have to pay a fine, which is annoying. But with a lifestyle like mine, you take risks all the time. Sometimes you get thrown out of town and sometimes out of the country, because often you don’t have a work permit, so they say, “That’s it, you’re on the next flight out.” It’s not always easy. I travel here and I travel there, and people will say, “Wow, you’ve got it great, you’re always on vacation.” But actually I’m always working. Sometimes I’m in a place and I don’t even have time to see the tourist sites.

Where do you sleep?

I sleep a lot in hostels, sometimes on a friend’s sofa. I have friends everywhere in the world, and if I text them to say I’m coming, they’ll say, “Okay, come on over.”

Was it a conscious decision to wander?

I studied tourism, and I realized then that my soul wants to be on the move, to be free and to create art. Maybe it all started with the help of my mother. She showed me how to make jewelry and how to work with my hands. I love being creative.

Your half-beard is definitely creative.

I believe in duality. Frequently in life, things happen according to the yin and the yang. It has all kinds of names around the world, but the whole thing of duality, which is how I work, that’s the energy. A person can be afraid or not be afraid, the main thing is to be in balance, not high and not low. To be really strong, you need to learn that it’s possible to be in two places at the same time.

In Vietnam and in Mexico, say.

I visit Mexico sometimes, but when I’m there it’s not so easy for me to leave, so I haven’t gone back for three years. Initially, there were times when my family wanted me to get a haircut, work within the system, change my way of dressing, find a job – and when I was away from home they worried and said so, too. It was hard for me, but now the energy has completely changed.

They accept your choice?

They say, “We love you and trust you, and wish you good luck.” They’ve accepted my life for the past 13 years, and that makes me strong. I’m more in contact with my mom, because she worries more, and sometimes asks me, “What’s happening? When are you coming?” And I tell her, “I’m coming, only not now, Mom. Stay positive, I’m on the way.”

Will you stop one day?

Maybe. I was in a place in Vietnam called Phong Nha. There are a lot of rivers and caves there, and it’s all natural. Maybe I could find a quiet place, go into a cave, do art and not come out.

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