I WAS LOOKING FOR FREEDOM – 10 Questions to Noel Lau, an inspiring man

I met Noel more than 10 years ago, in the desert of Wadi Rum, in Jordany.

I was doing an amazing peace hugging travel project (travel around mediterranean sea giving free hugs). He was travelling and thinking if leaving Spain for South America.
We met again in 2015 in Colombia, where we spent more time together, and later in L’Havana discovering the magic of Cuba.

Noel is an inspiring man.
He was born in Malaysia, where he followed the “normal” path of life of Asian society, fulfilling what his family and community expect from him. But on the verge of turning 30, with a budding corporate career, he felt empty, living a unsatisfacted life.
Noel quit his job, gave up everything and cut all unnecessary ties. In 2004 he left home with a small backpack. He worked as barista in London, English teacher in Spain, street artist in Colombia, etc. But he also scaled the Great Wall of China, dived in the Red Sea, walked the ancient pilgrimage road in Spain, conquered Machu Picchu.

I decided to interview him for my italian blog, www.giordanoruini.com “Liberate”.

Hola Noel.

1) What made you decide to leave the security of your work and your nation and embark on a nomadic life?
I left Malaysia in 2004 when I was 30 years old. I had a budding corporate career as a trainer for a 5 star international hotel but I wasn’t happy. I felt like a robot just going through routine day in and day out. I was looking for more. I was looking for freedom. Ever since I was a kid, I had dreamed about traveling the world so I decided to quit my job, to sell of everything and leave. I also wanted to discover myself, who I am without my culture, my education, my conditioning telling me who I should be. I knew I was gay ever since I was quite young, but I had never accepted it because my religion told me that it’s a sin and my culture told me that it’s unnatural and unacceptable. So I really wanted to find out who I am without all these conditionings, without walls confining me to be like this or like that. I wanted to breakdown those walls and be free, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. So I set out first to deconstruct my identity, then build it from experience I learned from the road.

2) How many countries did you visit? Which places love / loved most and why?
I stopped counting, but I think I have been to around 60 countries. I had wonderful memories when I lived in Spain for 3 years and Colombia for almost 2 years. So I really like these 2 countries, not so much because they had a lot of things to see but because of my experiences there. But in recent years, I have been falling in love with Taiwan and Japan. These are the 2 countries I would like to spend more time in for the next few years of my life.

3) Is there a particular travel experience that you remember with joy?
Walking the Camino de Santiago. I have done it twice. The first time I did it in 2005, it changed my life completely. As I said earlier, when I started my travel I wanted to breakaway and to find out who I am. Walking the Camino de Santiago for 37 days gave me the chance to think, to question everything: who am I? why am I here? why do I do this? why do I behave like this? etc. And through the magic of the Camino, I learn to let go of the old identity, all the emotional and religious baggage, and I was truly free for the first time to be who I am. I was so free, I felt so much peace and bliss on the Camino. It was an empowering experience. Even until today, I still draw strength from that when I feel down or challenged.

4) Often it’s fear that makes us to stay in the state we are in, even if it’s  bad. Have you ever been afraid not to make it? To go back? To not survive?
For the first 7 years after I left home, I had never felt afraid. I trusted the universe to take care of me – When you follow your destiny, the universe conspires to help you. And I always believe in that. Even when I moved from London to Madrid I only had less than 100euro, I didn’t speak Spanish and I didn’t have a job. But I trusted in the universe taking care of me. And within weeks I found a job and found friends who helped me by letting me sleep in his couch. Then when I returned to Malaysia for the first time in 2011, being surrounded by people who only know their secured life and living well within their comfort zone, I began to feel fear. Because their fear was projected onto me, and being in this kind of environment I was affected by it. My family and friends were worried for me, and I started to worry too. So I became depressed, until I realised that this wasn’t me. I learned meditation that helped me to get out from that miserable and depressed state. I started traveling again, and embraced my alien status within the society. I stopped wanting to fit in or for them to understand me, and it was liberating! A lot of people are fearful to leave their comfort zone, their security. Security is just an illusion and comfort zone is a prison.

5) Have you ever been in danger?
Yes, many times. In Colombia, I was robbed at knife point twice and faced a knife wielding drug cartel once. But I won’t exchange that for a “safe” life working in an office and tied down by mortgages. I have lived my life fully these 13 plus years. I have lived my dream. I have experienced life to its fullest and I have known inner peace and bliss beyond measure. So if my life ends today I don’t have any regret. I am ready.

6) How do you make your living?
Finding jobs whenever I need money. I’ve worked in bars, restaurants, cafes, etc. I’ve also taught English, Chinese and worked as interpreter. I started writing a few years ago and have written a few biographies for people. In recent years, I also started doing tours, bringing people on tours focused on a more local experience.

7) Many of us had dreamed sometimes: “Now I let go everything and I leave” but few do it. What advice do you have for those who want to give up everything and leave?
It is not easy to let go and just leave. Do it step by step, let go of something small, then bigger. For example, if you want to quit your job to travel, first let go of spending money on extravagant things: fancy dinners, movies, etc. this money saved will go into your travel fund. Then let go of routine, instead of driving, take public transport, etc. Making these small changes on a daily basis will help you to let go when the time comes. The hardest is the first step, but after that it gets easier. For me, when my misery became so unbearable that the only way to save myself was by letting go, it was natural that I let go. But the act of letting go is not a one time thing, it’s continuous and I am constantly being given lessons on letting go. I thought I had let go of my family expectations on me when I first left, but each time I come back and face my family, I have to once again let go when they project their expectations on me.

8) Have you ever been in Italy? What impressions did you get from this country?
Yes, I’ve been to Italy in 2004. I traveled for about a month through Italy. I really liked it, especially the food. I also like its history and architecture. My favorite place was Assisi. Growing up a Catholic I had always had a special love for St. Francis of Assisi, so when I got there and saw his crypt, I cried. I felt like I had finally met my “friend”. I would love to go back and see more of it and learn more about its people and culture.

9) The subtitles of this blog is “liberation tools”? Did you ever find some liberation tools that you would recommend to others?
Being mindful and having a minimalist lifestyle are tools of liberation for me. Being mindful and being present frees me from the worrying about the future, about what would be and just be in the present. Having a minimalist lifestyle frees me from many material things, and when you free yourself from physical objects, you also free yourself from their hold on you emotionally and psychologically; you don’t need things to be happy.

10) Do you feel a free person? What does it mean for you to be free?
To some extend I do feel like a free person. I don’t need to play the game society has set out, I am free from some of its obligations and restrictions. But as long as we are living in a physical body tied to a physical world, we can never be truly free. We still need to make money to buy food to sustain our body. But as long as our spirit feels free, that’s the most important thing.

-Noel’s Blog:   http://wander2nowhere.com

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