The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

Things I Do Not Have

Most fellow nomads and other species of minimalists proudly advertise how few things they have, and how great those few things are. I also have just a few possessions, most of which are not as great as they should be, but I believe it would be far more interesting to enumerate the things I do not and cannot have. A not entirely comprehensive list is as follows.

I do not have nail scissors. My belongings fit into a small cabin bag, so I never check in anything when flying. I had high-quality, blunt-tipped, flight-approved nail scissors, but then a horrible monster of a woman confiscated it at the budget airport in Kuala Lumpur. The thing was damn difficult to get, and I put up a protest, which made her all the more adamant in her desire to confiscate. Note that technically even pointy nail scissors are allowed in most jurisdictions, but airport security personnel seldom bother to read regulations. If they were able to read, they would not work at an airport after all. I was forced to make a transition to nail clippers, which give an irritating clipping sound, and distribute the clipped nail in a stochastic fashion. Once even my nail clippers were eyed suspiciously in Togo.

A Malaysian island seen from a Malaysian island

Your nail scissors will be confiscated in this country.

I do not have a knife. A knife would be extremely useful in stabbing my enemies, slicing carrots, and spreading hummus on my bread. Again, airport security personnel would freak out on seeing one, although a knife is arguably more useful in hijacking a plane than blunt-tipped nail scissors.

I do not have a Noble prize. This one is truly annoying. I always have to explain why I do not have one:

  1. I am devoid of talent.
  2. Mathematicians do not get Nobel prizes: the sweatheart of Alfred Nobel was seduced by a mathematician, hence the old man hated our guts.

I do not have more than three undies. Enough said.

I do not have dress shoes. When I find a lady to woo, I have to show up for the date in my minimalist, environment-friendly, vegan barefoot shoes, which certainly do not help me wooing. I am not saying that a fancy shoe will woo, but it certainly helps fine-tuning the non-Markovian decision function involved in the process.

I do not have an address. While intangible, most people assume I have one. I do not. Every time I fill in an arrival form, I cook up something vaguely funny to enter under ‘Home address’.

A slum in Nairobi

The residents of this estate do have an address.

I do not have liquids in containers larger than 100ml. The cabin luggage restrictions say that you cannot take liquids and gels in excess of 100ml of volume each. This regulation has several implicit assumptions: containers always state their own volume, the statement is always true, and the intellectual capabilities of airport security have evolved to the level that they can read a decimal number consisting of more than one digit. None of these assumptions is necessarily true.

I do not have a platinum credit card. Academic jobs imply poverty. My bank even removed my title from my latest Visa card, citing “fraud protection.” Banks just do not like academics.

I do not have a portable nuclear plant. That would be insanely useful, especially if the fuel rods were not controlled by liquid or gel, but by solid matter, so I could put it in my cabin luggage. The strange truth is that internet access is easier to obtain than electricity. As long as you have the lousiest signal on your phone, you can connect, but electricity is much harder to come by in, say, the Peruvian mountains. If I had a portable nuclear reactor, I could literally work from anywhere on the surface of this planet. The optimism of the 1960s fuelled ideas like toasters powered by nuclear batteries. Then a few explosions here and there suddenly deterred people from this avenue of generating electricity. If your phone had just a tiny grain of uranium, you would never have to charge it. Think of that.

Reactor Four at Chernobyl

Fine, this one blew up, but that does not mean that my laptop should not run on its built-in nuclear reactor.

I do not have an iron. The lack of an iron makes ironing my shirts stunningly complicated.

Sometimes I have sunglasses. Sunglasses are incompatible with my bag. They simply disappear after a while. Then it takes a few months till I get new ones.

Apart from the above, I rarely miss anything I do not already have. My bag weights nine kilos when fully packed, and I live quite comfortably from the contents. This makes me a minimalist by contemporary Western standards, but I cannot overlook the fact that the vast majority of human kind has far fewer possessions than me. Historically it has even been more true. A hundred years ago people did not have their own personal graveyard of electronics or heaps of clothes they never wore. Yet, they were getting along well, going about with their life, deceiving, copulating, murdering, abusing, and being mediocre. Not much has changed, only the volume and weight of our possessions. If only I could iron my shirts with my phone.


  1. Angeline Ng says:

    But what you have far outweigh what you don’t have.

    1. Peter Peter says:

      As long as I can borrow an iron…

  2. Angeline Ng says:

    I’ll get you one for christmas.