Montag, 24. April 2017

Cambridge, UK, April 2017



It’s a reasonably sunny day. The museum town of Cambridge, which exhales the thirst for education and the quest for knowledge from every pore, is bustling with life. Well-dressed-and-groomed students mix with tourists of varied origins and families on a Sunday outing. Everyone has time, part of what makes for such a stark contrast with London 2 days earlier. 

I sit in front of a small café right opposite King’s College Chapel, enjoy the rays of sun and a cappuccino and wonder whether the elder gentleman at the next table might not be an incredibly famous professor, perhaps the man behind a major scientific break-through. I wouldn’t be surprised, after having learned that the pub where we went for a pint last night is the very same location where Watson and Crick celebrated the discovery of the DNA molecule, and that Stephen Hawking is still teaching right down the street at the Department of Theoretical Physics. 

It’s an impressive town, beautiful and slightly amusing, seemingly very much at ease living inside its own bubble while having the eyes of the scientific world on it at the same time. 




Montag, 8. August 2016

St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada; August 2016

Newfoundland is a rough place. I visit in August, the height of summer. Granted, there is 1 sunny day, when temperatures soar to 25° C. For the rest of the week though, it is rainy, chilly and unpleasant. Hard to imagine winter here.
By the way. It is not "NewFOUNDland", but "NEWfunlan". People from here are "Newfies", and the native alcohol is called Screech. If you want to become a true local, you should get yourself "screeched in": say a poem in incomprehensible Newfie dialect ("Say something from here"); eat a piece of SPAM ("Eat something from here"); have a shot of Screech ("Drink something from here"), and, the best part, kiss a frozen cod ("Kiss something from here"). Did I do it? This will stay my secret for eternity...

Some more impressions:
Jetlag-induced early rise: Sunrise over Memorial University, St. John's
 
Newfoundland, home of the puffin, the cutest thing since birds came sliced


I settled in quite quickly, and soon ran a local business.

Downtown St. John's
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky...

Man and the sea, an old story


Humpback whale right next to the boat


...and gone
Puffins, this time for real
See you later!

This unassuming piece of land is Cape Spear, North America's most easternmost point.
Whales, seabirds and fishermen all feeding on the same, finger-long little fish, which congregates here in summer by the millions to spawn

Oh, the colors!

Some more little boxes

Why hello there! Blast from the past.


Last sunlight on the campus and Signal Hill, where the first transatlantic radio signal was received. So long...
 

Freitag, 3. Juni 2016

Zanzibar, June 2016

Last night in  Zanzibar. Last night of our large conference. It's gotten late, and only a scattered group of my colleagues and some of the event's participants are left at the dinner tables near the pool side, overlooking the sea. The band is playing something more upbeat, we all start dancing. One of the quite senior, very well respected participants takes the microphone and sings a capella. We have all had a few drinks already. After this, the band starts to pack up. We are disappointed, and with all our charms, convince them to continue. Now they really turn on the heat, we shake everything we got, our group is as diverse as our dance styles, originating from Kenya, Morocco, Cameroon, Madagascar, Germany and so on. After 3 songs, we request yet another encore, and they play "Hakuna Matata", which we have all learned is the "inofficial national anthem". We dance in a circle , pairs of 2 people move to the center and have hip shaking competitions. When the music is finished for good, some of us just look at each other, remove our watches, and with a running start, jump into the pool. One after the other, people join us in the water, each displaying their personal jumping style, under lots of splashing, laughing and cheering. The music continues in the pool as we start singing. As we get cold, we come out of the pool, and give big, hearty hugs to the only one of us who hadn't jumped, making sure he gets properly wet after all.

Samstag, 5. März 2016

Beijing, China, March 2016



Homesick

“Homesick…cuz I no longer know…where home is…”

Fantastic – switching on a random playlist, this is exactly the song to lift me up, as I am lying on the bed in a hotel room like a million others, somewhere in a city in China.

I vaguely remember that song and the feeling of melancholy, right in the heart, that it used to cause me at some point….and trying to see through the mist in my memory – when was that? I guess I have just been away from home and anything familiar one too many times, I can’t remember when the realization that “I no longer know where home is” still pinched in a way that it hurt noticeably. Now, that realization is just a faint echo of a pain that has lost its sharpness. I am reaching a point where I stop wondering where home is.


Connected

It is rare to meet someone from North Korea – one of the reasons why I was curious about this workshop in Beijing, to which a North Korean delegation had been invited. Amongst them was a young woman, around my age. I thought about her a lot throughout the week. What is it like to be her, in a country where people get brainwashed from birth on, and have little contact with the outside world? Was this her first time abroad? What went on in her mind, and to what extent did the exposure to more “international”, more liberal ideas and concepts in the workshop trigger new, forbidden thoughts? Here we were together in that hotel for a few days, her and I, our paths briefly crossing, where our lives, our opportunities, our aspirations and thoughts so far must have been vastly different.

I would have done a lot for a chance to connect with her, but it was hard to find an opportunity. At the beginning of the week, the 6 North Koreans moved around as a solid block, and quickly disappeared after each meal. They seemed to never smile. On the last evening, however, they had apparently warmed up a bit. I saw the young woman standing in the lobby. She said something to her colleagues, raised her arms as if to reach for something, smiling. That image will stay in mind.

The morning after the workshop, I entered the hotel and met the North Koreans one more time, as they were about to head to the airport. The young woman and I exchanged a few sentences; she thanked me for my role in the workshop – a connection, even if a brief one, in the end.