William van Tongeren's Minimalism

release time:January 16th,2018

William van Tongeren, or 董威廉 (Chinese name), is from the Netherlands. He speaks six languages: Dutch, English, German, French, Japanese, and Chinese. Leiden University, where he studied as an undergraduate, established its Department of East Asian Languages as early as 1874, and is home to the second-largest Chinese library across Europe. Later, he pursued his graduate studies in business administration at the University of Rotterdam. He is currently chief representative of the Netherlands Business Support Office in Chengdu, and has lived in this city for nearly two years.


It is mostly not until April that spring comes to Chengdu. When William van Tongeren came to Chengdu in March 2016 amidst damp, cold air, he tightened his jacket. Early spring was colder than expected. He had only a backpack. Such a simple outfit had nothing to do with prior prediction of weather. He decided to continue with his minimalism in Chengdu.

William's office is just opposite Tianfu Square, facing the statue of Chairman Mao waving towards the south. A computer is lifted up high by the lift-tray on his desk. He likes to stand while working, which not only avoids idleness but also affords him a glimpse of this rapidly changing city during an interval between thoughts.

He is very fluent in Chinese and soft-spoken. When it comes to Chengdu's uniqueness, "ear picking" was blurted out from William's mouth. "I believe many foreigners would think this is special,"  he said. Concerning delicacies, William likes to eat Feichang (pig's large intestines served as food). He had his first taste of Feichang in a Kuanzhai Alley street-side restaurant, and his favorite Feichang restaurant is in Shuangliu. "The notion that foreigners do not eat offal is not entirely correct. In many parts of Europe, they eat such offal as liver or blood sausages." William said: "In the past, there was a shortage of food sources and people opted for the economical. Now people have a lot to choose from, so they begin to throw things away."

Valuing "NO NEED"

The constant abandonment of old things is the result of the perpetual acquisition of new ones, a process which in most cases is unnecessary.

William's girlfriend is a local. They met each other through work. She once wanted to buy him a new coat, but William "lacking a sense of romance," said, "I already have one coat, and one is enough." For William, a small quantity of quality life necessities is enough for him. Despite the passing of time, his personal belongings did not become obsolete objects in his storage boxes. They were either sold or given away. He does not like to possess things, or, according to William, be possessed by things.

"As the country gets richer, people buy more stuff. Some buy big houses and fill them with objects. They believe things will give them a sense of happiness. In fact, they don't." Happiness, as William interprets it, is the freedom to manage time. Rather than spending three or four hours on the daily commute, William would rent a small but relatively more expensive apartment near the company, so that he will not be gnawed at by time, even though, to many, it may not seem "cost-effective".

"More and more people are beginning to value needing less. For example, you do not really need a monthly income of twenty thousand; you can choose to spend more time on other things. If you want to learn, you can learn freely; if you want to work, you can work freely; if you want to spend more time with your family and friends, you can..."

Innovation is finding new ways of using things 

"Economic development inevitably involves the manufacture of products that require resources and the consumption of products that ultimately turn into garbage. After the new general election of 2017, the Netherlands strengthened cooperation between the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Environment to step up the promotion of a green economy." The world has entered a FMCG era, but "sustainability" is becoming a target in national development. William is currently assisting a Dutch stroller company in looking for a plant site in Chengdu. The company adopts a production-scheme recycling products that the growth of children has rendered unusable, such as strollers, and transforming them into new products—tricycles.

Innovation and environmental protection are progressing in parallel, yet innovation did not start from scratch. "The various elements of our lives come from all over the world." William said, "Cocoa beans from Central America or West Africa are shipped to the Netherlands by sea, and then processed into chocolates by specialized Belgian factories. Perhaps the countries of origin have no idea at all that the finished products would dazzle the whole world."

In William's opinion, the impressive, innovative and lively environment of Chengdu has to do with the character of Chengdu people - open to new ideas and willing to learn. "When you're curious, you learn a lot; and curiosity leads to innovation."

Excerpted from HELLO Chengdu February&March Issue

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