On a small wooden boat offshore of the Maldives, so-called paradise, a tall man in his fifties sat fishing, his face glowing under the sun. A lanky, tanned local boy sat next to him. The man was a tourist, the boy a fishing guide. They sat together for a while.
“Who are you?” the boy asked, breaking the silence “I’m a billionaire,” he replied. “What is a billionaire?” “ A billionaire is a super-rich person.” “What does that mean?” “Do you know Bill Gates?” he asked, to which the boy shook his head. “I expected not. Well, I’m richer than him — the truth is — I’m the richest man in the world.”
They returned to silence. The man released the fish he caught back into the sea, mindful of protecting the environment. The boy didn’t, he prepared a container filled with seawater by his side, placing each fish inside it, aware that each could fetch up to $5 from restaurants on the island.
The man was clearly enjoying the trip, a look of contentment on his face, humming a Frank Sinatra song to himself. The boy couldn’t stop thinking about his guest’s wealth. He thought about his own family, who struggled to put food on the table for generations. His parents and grandparents passed onto him their dreams of becoming wealthy.
“How can I become rich?” he asked the man.
“Well, that’s the billion-dollar question. I’m in a good mood today so I’ll give you some free advice. The three secrets to being rich are: work hard, never give up and never listen to funny people. "
They returned to fishing in silence, the only sound was the waves lapping against the side of the boat. It was a bright, hot day. The sea was so pristine you could see all the way down to the ocean bed brimming with vibrant coral below.
The man had a lot of luck fishing that day. The boy kept thinking about the three secrets. Did he work hard? Well, harder than the other local boys who entertained guests with small talk and cocktails to make larger tips, which he couldn’t stand.
As for the second secret “Never give up”, the boy remembered quitting school in fifth grade. Learning reading, writing was enough to help him speak English with tourists, which was challenging enough. Having been told that you can only become rich through studying, he gave school another shot, but as usual when things became challenging, he gave up.
Finally “Never listen to funny people” was difficult because he was surrounded by them. He considered his parents, teachers and bosses to be funny. While his friends were not, they had little advice. The boy wondered if he had any chance of becoming wealthy.
“What’s the point of being rich?” he asked the man, who was taken aback.
He took a moment to respond, before doing so calmly. “Nobody has ever asked me this before. I think my answer for now would be that I can afford to go fishing in the Maldives, a trip worth thousands of dollars.
“Do you know why it’s paradise for me here? There is no air-con, Internet, news, ads, traffic, office or work. I can walk around barefoot; I don’t even have to wear a watch. I am nobody here. It’s a privilege to leave everything behind. Being carefree is the ultimate joy.” He smiled to himself, entertained by the boy’s question in broken English.
The man returned his fifth fish back into the ocean, while the boy’s container remained empty. “I live in the Maldives. I also fish like you. You are renting this boat for a week, yet I go sea fishing once or twice a month. The rest of the time, I fish at night, which is actually more fun. Why am I not rich? My family is the poorest on the island. Doesn’t that seem unreasonable?”
The man’s smile disappeared. Listening to the boy’s experience made him question if all the stress, sacrifice and risks endured over the last 50 years had been worth it. Did he even need to be a billionaire to go fishing in Maldives? Did being rich provide the freedom to pursue his dream of fishing in paradise? Was it possible that he was poorer than the boy in some ways?
The boy was confused. If people had to spend their lives working hard to become rich, which they would celebrate by fishing in the paradise that is his home, what did it mean? How could he have been raised here and been unhappy? The man had paid thousands of dollars to spend a week fishing on an island he would have paid thousands of dollars to leave. Did he need to start working hard to see the Maldives as paradise? Were the three secrets the man shared the truth, or a joke?
“The book L'art de la Simplicite (The English Edition). by Dominique Loreau (2016), may hold some answers for both the billionaire and the boy in this story.
Enough is enough. When you continue to seek ways to fulfil your desires, it will never feel enough. If you wait for a billion dollars before treating yourself to a trip, or pursuing what you love, you deprive yourself from the chance to cultivate happiness. If you believe money equates to happiness, you may never be fulfilled.
Be at leisure: Life’s ultimate joy comes from being at leisure — drinking, eating, walking or breathing mindfully. Go at your own pace, freely and peacefully, without the need to be rich. Does one need to go fishing in the Maldives to be happy? If the mind is unsettled, happiness is impossible. If you can be at peace with yourself, a fishing trip anywhere will be joyful.
Letting go: Letting go is one of the hardest, yet most important things in life. Our egos can make us slaves to money, possessions, power and fame. If you can let go, you lose nothing and only stand to gain. Meditation is an effective way to practice as it allows us to know our true selves and master our own mind.
Sài Gòn, 9/7/2021
TRẦN HỮU ĐỨC.