with raoul de jong in rotterdam



Q: Let’s start with this question: why don’t you have a smartphone?
R: It’s a big thing, isn’t it? Nowadays it’s almost like making a statement. No, I don’t have a smartphone because I don’t want it to take over my life.
Q: Like everyone else does? It’s a big part of our life.
R: Exactly. I already spend a lot of time on my computer when I’m home. Not only for my work, I’m using Facebook for my personal life as well. Therefore when I leave my house, I don’t want to be bothered by such a thing anymore. I want to be able to experience life as it is, and not be attached to a little machine all the time.
Q: Don’t you find smartphone can be very convenient, like checking practical information, which makes life easier?
R: But I don’t want life to be easier and more predictable. I want life to throw me off the hook sometimes, to surprise me. Without surprise life has no magic. I don’t always need to know what the weather is exactly going to be. It’s fun to be surprised by random sunshine or rain. Or since I can’t check Google  map I have to always ask people for direction, which creates real human contact. Or when I’m sitting on the train I can look around, observe other people, and get bored, probably.

Q: I read somewhere that it’s good to get bored sometimes. Because without boredom we can’t cultivate our imagination.
R: I agree. Imagination is a wonderful thing and people are loosing touch with it because they are too consumed by outside information. And most people are lazy, they like to be fed with information. They don’t want to think for themselves.
Q: We are living in such a strange time, politically and culturally speaking. A lot of people feel so unsettled. There are so much fear, biases, and genuine confusion going on in the world we live in.
R: It reminds me of a book I read from the Austrian author, Stefan Zweig, The world of yesterday. He was witnessing how political machine was using mass indoctrination to prepare people for a world war, and how people were pushed to mass destruction totally obliviously. He was so disillusioned and lost faith in humanity, in the end he killed himself.
Q: I read that book as well. How much faith do you have in humanity? Do you think we are heading to a right direction or a wrong one?
R: Well, I believe that every human being has the potential to be great. Just not a lot of people seem to be using that potential. Right now I wouldn’t say I have much faith in humanity. I’m more pessimistic. A few years ago I jumped on a plane to Shanghai, China, because I heard that’s where the future is. I wanted to see that future with my own eyes. I was staying in this sky high hotel. Every time I watched the world outside from my window, some beautiful centuries old buildings had been destroyed and replaced by a McDonald or a shopping mall. It was sad but at the same time, people seemed very happy. They didn’t seem to realize what they were throwing away. It reminded me so much of the post war period in the West: people started building everything like crazy. We were so obsessed with the idea of new and future, no one wanted to look back, cause the past was trauma. Everyone was traumatized yet full of optimism, which is a paradox in itself. But anyway, Shanghai reminded me of that period in the fifties and sixties in Europe when everyone was excited about the future. It was a happy time, but i know how it ended. I know how little fulfillment all these cars and washing machines and shops and computers have brought us in the end.  I’m afraid China is headed that way as well, plus they have this wonderful combination of capitalism system and communism central control. I don’t want to think about the future too much, but then I probably won’t be part of that future. That’s probably beyond my time.
Q: It’s as if we never really learn. Look at the history and how we have been so destructive, and history repeats itself again and again.
R: But then maybe that’s just how things work themselves out. We are still here. There are still many people with great intelligence and insight, they are still thinking for themselves. It’s not all gloom and doom, thankfully.
Q: No, I still believe there are lots of good in the world. It’s still worth to strive for a better world. It’s worth a fight, certainly.
R: Oh, I might sound pessimistic about humanity, but I’m very optimistic about life in general. Don’t take me wrong.
Q: Life is bigger than humanity.
R: Yes, we are only a small part of the whole thing.
Q: You mentioned without surprise life has no magic.
R: Yes. I’m not a very organized person. Well, certainly I’m organized with my work, to a degree. But overall the best ideas I have with my work come from surprise. I’m always looking for inspiration, true. And in the end I usually find inspiration in unexpected places. Therefore I’m trying to keep my life open to surprises. I don’t want to confine myself too much so that my life becomes totally predictable. Also it’s important to recognize the signs that life sends you so that you won’t miss out on opportunities, which can potentially leads to a place…
Q: …Where the magic happens.
R: That’s right!
Q: But what do you mean by signs?
R: For example, when my dog died a few years ago, it really hit me. I know it’s not a huge deal for lots of people when it comes to the death of a dog, but it was for me. He was my best friend, and my baby, really. On his funeral I made a promise to him that I would do those things we wouldn’t have chance to do together anymore, like traveling. My dog loves travel and he always wanted to go with me. Just when I was reading those lines all the candles were out, it was totally out of the blue. I was surprised but didn’t take it seriously then. A few month later I decided to take it as a sign and took on a journey, just as I promised my dog on his funeral. I walked all the way from Rotterdam to Marseille, the south of France. My mother lives there. It took me 3 month. And that trip became a book. I got so much ideas and so much experience that I had to write a book. Looking back I could say my dog was sending me a sign. He wants me to go take that trip and turn it into a book. I owe that to him.
Q: I think it’s a beautiful way to pay tribute to someone who means so much to you. It’s also a way to grieve, heal, and move on with life. I think it makes a lot of sense to do it. But a lot of people will think it’s superstitious to take it as a sign.
R: It’s a choice you make. I can choose to say, this means nothing. It’s not a sign. And I’m stuck in my old pattern of seeing and doing things. Or how about I choose to take it as a sign? And act upon it? What will be the consequence? In this case I wrote a book about the experience. Something wonderful certainly has happened.
Q: I aways think life is about taking chances. All I need to to is get out in the world, take everything there is, and that’s the only way things could happen. Things only happen to people who take chance, or, the sign.
R: Yes, and to people who don’t take things for granted. I always remember how happy I was as a child. Children generally don’t take things for granted. Everything could be a little wonder to them. A friend of mine told me when he was little, he could stare at a leaf for so long, there was so much details and he wondered if he was the only one who sees the world that way. He felt like maybe he was living in a different reality.
Q: I remember the similar feeling too. I lived so much in my imagination back then. The world was a place full of wonder and my 12th birthday was a very sad one, cause I didn’t want my childhood to end.
R: I also looked forward to growing up. As a grown-up, you finally have a say in your own life. You can make decisions for yourself, and you can take care of yourself, and know how to deal with the world. There’s freedom and power to be an adult.
Q: But we lose our imagination along the way. At least most grown-ups live in a regimented, totally unimaginative world with rules, clichés and routines.
R: You don’t have to live like that. Again it’s a choice you have to make. As I said I’m not very optimistic about humanity. I believe most people don’t think for themselves. They have been indoctrinated by authorities and they accept that, even just subconsciously. When you don’t think for yourself you also lose touch with the chances that life signals to you, which I call the sign. Just the other day when you asked me for this interview, I said yes because I think this is maybe a sign, I decided to take it, no matter where it might lead me. That’s life. I want to give life a chance. I want to be open and not closed off so life can happen. I believe life takes care of you when you give it a chance.
Q: Just as when we were 6 we saw lots of wonder in life, even just on a piece of leaf.  As we grow older indoctrination kicks in and start to dictate our world. We become products of society. We think we know a lot more than when we were 6, but maybe that’s the other way around. If we stop seeing life as a wonder no knowledge can make us wise. Maybe the only way to grow is to slowly regain the pure consciousness we had when we were 6. Maybe life is a full circle after all.
R: Yes, when you are just being conscious and experience life as exactly it is, when you don’t try to control it or define it or add meaning to it, life reveals itself to you. Just like time. Time is a man made concept. When you are truly experiencing life time stops existing. There is no time. You don’t feel it anymore. And that’s when the magic happens.


Raoul de Jong 

Writer, filmmaker, dancer and bon vivant. He traveled at 19 for four months alone through Africa. For twenty-four months he survived New York with fifty dollar in his pocket. He made items for Cafe de Liefde for de VPRO and wrote and directed his own show Iedereen Kan Dansen for Villa Achterwerk. He wrote columns for Spunk, NRC Handelsblad, nrc.next, IS and Het Parool. And has published five books:Het leven is verschrikkulluk, Stink Negroes, It’s amaaazing! and Miracoloso. With Stink Negroes he won the Dick Scherpenzeel Prize.

His most recent book De Grootsheid van het Al (nominated for the Bob den Uyl Price in 2014 and for Best Book Rotterdam 2015) was published at the Busy Bee. About his walking trip, with no training, no tomtom, but with a smile, from his front door in Rotterdam to his mother in Marseille.

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