Spring is trying to make its break through in Malta. That means very changeable weather and also quite a bit of the well needed rain. We will be happy about it when the summer kicks in, as the water table is rising. I walked to the Marsaxlokk fish market along the coast from Kalkara. It takes about three hours one way, and is a very nice walk. I like the food section of the market, and of course specially the choices of fresh catch. Even Malta is in the Mediterranean, and you would think there should be supply of fresh food everywhere, there are in fact not many choices. One is the Marsaxlokk market on Sundays and then there is the farmer's market in Ta Qali and a small one in Birgu. Strangely the common food culture in Malta is very "English", even the traditional Maltese cuisine is excellent. My Sunday was filled with all together a 7 hours hike to get a fish back home, and all of it (hike and fish) was very nice.
I am in Malta since a while again, where I am hiding in my cave - writing reports, and preparing lectures. So far I only came out for sports, meeting friends and strolling a bit around. I also joined the Malta Photographic Society, and put my newly repaired first generation Fujifilm X100 back into action. It is great to learn new things there and meet fellow photographers which cover the whole spectrum from committed amateurs to professionals. Further, I tried a few events of "Valletta 2018" in which Malta is hosting the European Capital of Culture. Though, except a fun (but chaotic) opening there is not much going on yet (?). It is also low season now, so perhaps it will still pick up. I just hope it does not go like last year's EU Presidency, which was kind of a joke in the end. Still, the streets are more lively than last winter and even the rainstorm the night before yesterday hindered the street carnival a bit, the mood is high and the parties keep going. So, perhaps that's what a culture capital should be like anyways.
Frankfurt's University Quarter is mostly Bockenheim. Then there is the "Westend", which has offices of mostly financial institutions, advisory services and upscale residential developments. This connects to the Alte Oper (Old Opera House). There is a new Opera House also, which is more suitable for all the technology which modern stages have. But the Old Opera also has an amazing programme. Then specially the University area is lively and has numerous small theatres and stages.
From Malta, Gozo island and Sicily are always nice escapes. As I needed a break from going through files and evaluating construction projects related to China's "One Belt, one Road" initiative, Gozo was a nice weekend destination. At the same time, was the opening of "Valletta 2018", the capital of Malta hosting the European Cultural Capital. I heard, it was spectacular. But personally I appreciate more the programme that follows than the launching ceremony. So, I opted for Gozo while many came to Valletta. It was a windy weekend, up to 8 Beaufort. So, I could only fly my drone once, before the storm caught up. I am really amazed about the camera stabilisier in the DJI Spark. Have a look below: this was already quite shaky, but the drone still produces clear pictures. Furthermore, I really enjoyed excellent seafood in Xlendi and a visit to Our Lady of Ta' Pinu Basilica in Gharb, which I have not been to before.
Today I had the rare opportunity to take a photo of my favorite work space in Malta: the National Library in Valletta. Normally, photography is strictly forbidden. But today, I did not go for work, but for pleasure, to attend a concert of the Malta Baroque Festival. So, I was not facing the librarian on duty - who is a wonderful person, helpful with any question you may have, but very strictly implementing the rules on weekdays for everybody's benefit. Today, on Sunday, I could turn to the security guard and ask: "It is so pretty. May I take a photo?" And I was answered proudly: "Okay. Quick!" So, that's the snapshot you see below.
The concert itself was a real pleasure, excellently performed and guided through. The ensemble was Les Contre-Sujet and they played mainly German Baroque composers (with one exception). I took the liberty to link in a photo of them from their website (below), as this illustrates nicely the spirit they brought to these prestigious halls. I strongly suggest you have a look yourself and hope you have the chance to see and hear them performing. They even kept their humour when the Maltese version of Humpapa Music blended in from the street. I really liked it. The ensemble performing was Samuel Rotsztejn, Koji Yoda, Maya Enokida, Eric Tinkerhess and Takahisa Aida.
It was windy the first two days I arrived back to Kalkara, and there was the long awaited rain or which the island needs every drop. Still I took my DJI Spark drone and flew it in the breeze, cutting a few clips together with Camtasia. This is the production software I am going to use for my online statistics tutorials. It does need a bit of practice. But flying the drone in the wind needs more.
We had quite a bit of rain in the Rhine river capturing area, and also temperatures were with 6 - 8 Celsius very mild and well above zero, up into higher regions. That means snow is melting quickly, and as the Rhine river drains a large part of the Northern Alps this adds to the water flow. Today, I did my Sunday hike on the Eastern part of the river, and came down to it around Bingen. It is high, but does not look catastrophic - like it has been many times before. Forecast is predicting falling levels from tomorrow.
During my stay in Hong Kong I lost my Huawei phone, which was the immediate successor of my good old Nokia and also my entré into the world of "Smartphones". Wonderful machine: 2 SIM cards, 8 GB memory, long battery life, gorilla glass display. And with all that, it was incredibly cheap. I was very sad when I lost it. I replaced it with a Nokia 8, which is a very good phone too - even I would not call it a phone, but a pocket computer with a telecom function. It does all I need: buys me train and flight tickets, Skype, Car2Go, WeChat, payment ... But now I saw that my Huawei might be alive. It tried logging in from Mongolia on October 30th. How exciting! My compliments to the one who hacked it. That was not easy. We should offer you a job. But I don't think you need one. Well done. Keep up the good work.
There you are, 2018. I was expecting you. I learned some lessons from your predecessor. How about yourself? Looking for trouble? I am ready. I tell you something: you will be dead on December 31st. And I will still be around. If then you were a good year, I will cherish your memory. If not, I will forget about you, like I forgot about 2017. I know you don't care. Neither do I. Counting your days. Ready? - One.
I truly have not seen a major city as empty, as Frankfurt on Christmas Eve. Only a few Chinese were running around looking desperately for luxury shops. The few others were on their way to see their family and loved ones. And there was the atmosphere of preparation for something important to come. I had an extra piece of cake in Café Laumer. Then went to the Museum of Applied Art to see the Jil Sander exhibition, which I liked. Merry Christmas.
During the EU Presidency of Malta, I had the privilege to talk about Chinese ODI (Outbound Direct Investment) into Europe. Many of my expectations on regulatory changes in China have been confirmed so far (from springtime to December). And now it can be expected that Chinese overseas investment will be focussing more efficiently on supporting key goals. And one of these initiatives, connecting a lot of dots, is "One Belt one Road" - also known as "The New Silk Road". It consists of a marine and terrestrial trade route and a development corridor. Especially the land-based connection is extremely challenging. Now, we all know the dots (well, some of us). But what about the "places in between" - as Rory Stewart may have put it? I am not Immanuel Kant, who tried explaining the world from his little room in Königsberg without leaving the city. And I am for sure not a philosopher either. Now many are talking about the "New Silk Road" without ever having left their offices: bankers, investment consultants - the usual suspects. I don't say they are wrong. But everybody who has worked and traveled in these regions, knows that you can't explain the world with Google Earth. So, what is really happening with investments, infrastructure, construction, and economic and social implications? What are the facts, and what are the opinions? Time to get the pencil sharpened and on the road again.
I often take the train along the Rhine from Frankfurt to Bonn and back. It is not the fastest, but the most beautiful connection. Most people take the fast InterCity Express which goes on a more linear track. They don't have the time I have. My trick is, that I get up at 5 a.m. That's why I have the time. I love that route because it is my home. And I have not been home for a long time.
Tonight, a man with a large empty suitcase passed by to collect the empty deposit bottles, which he can refund against cash. He was well mannered and polite. When the conductor came and asked for his ticket, the man just continued without response. So, the conductor performed his duty, correctly but he was not doing right. I asked the conductor to take a seat beside me, which he did. Then I requested him to agree that the man got on the train the station before and will get off the next one and that I will pay for his ticket. I also asked him, whether he could turn a blind eye to it if the bottle collector would not get off the next station, but continue to a place of his convenience. We don't want to drop a poor man somewhere on the Rhine river at night, right? It was very quiet, just between the two of us. The conductor calculated the fare, took out his private wallet and paid for the man's ticket himself. Then he took 50 Euro and put it discreetly into the hand of the stowaway passenger, said "Merry Christmas" and walked on. I continued watching through the window the forest and the river passing by in the dark. And I decided never to complain about the delays of the German Railway anymore. There are great people working in that company.
My stopover in Malta was very short, and my apologies to friends and colleagues for not catching up personally. But I will be back very soon so that we can gather in style. This time there were too many profane things to fix: internet access, a new SIM card since I lost my phone in China, dishwasher and the like. As you know these simple things take a lot more time in Malta than in other places. So time flew. Also, after being immersed in buzzing Hong Kong for two months, it also was a pleasure just to stroll along the rocky coast and watch the waves just by myself.
In November 2016 I left a student feedback pack and a letter on the South of Lamma Island, behind Mount Stenhouse (click here for previous blogpost). Two months later, in January 2017, an expedition of students from the Master in International Management of Tilburg University made an attempt to reach the location. They came very close, but needed to abort (rightly so) due to the risk of getting caught in the jungle in the dark. Now, in December 2017, I am happy to receive news from to me unknown fellow hikers in Hong Kong: the letter was found. Both, the fact that they climbed up there and secondly that they had sharp eyes (finding a hidden letter under a rock), makes me think they are nice people. Thanks for mailing back, and I hope we can join for a hike one day when I am back in Hong Kong. Inspired by this, when the currents around the Maltese Island are heading towards the Libyan coast, and the winds are Northerlies, I will also launch a message in a bottle. How anachronistic in the world of instant social media. But it's just nicer.
"Mein Viertel" means my quarter, and refers to the immediate surroundings of your home in a city. For me, it also refers to where I know the people I meet on the street, where I go to the market, buy groceries and have my post office. It also includes a few broader landmarks which I relate to. Here a few snapshots of my quarter in Frankfurt am Main.
It's that time of the year again to define a New Year Resolution. For me it's getting harder every year. I already do exercise, eat healthily, and have no physical indicators to improve. Also, I am well tempered, have an extremely low environmental footprint, and pretty minimum consumption habits. These, and others, all derive from Prussian Virtues anyways, which I mostly stick to by my cultural heritage. I am already too perfect to have just a simple list. So, from year to year, my resolution becomes more experimental and I build it on what I learned from the year and is worth a reminder. The result for 2018 is as follows:
- Never apply for EU research funding. Even you get it, it is such an administrative nightmare.
- Travel only with hand luggage. Everything else is not traveling, it's logistics. Wallets are just for people who can't manage their pockets.
- Delete PowerPoint from your computer.
- Never use lifts or escalators. It's lazy, boring, stuffy, and makes you feel like being a package on a conveyor belt. Leave them to the people in need. If there is no staircase to walk up, ask them to come down.
- Never go to events where a dress code is written in the invitation. If the host thinks such guidance is needed, then either he is expecting rather uncivilized folks to come or is insulting his guests before they even arrive. Just write back: "... I have nothing to wear".
- Reduce the use of English. Sure, it has its applications in administration, business, and programming of computers. But why speak code to a human being when there is another choice? Speak French to ladies, and if they don't understand you, it's probably not worth talking to them anyways.
- Never go to meetings. I don't mean, not meeting people. And some of these meetings are required by law or memorandum of association, and of course, then they are an obligation. But these "meetings" where nobody else knows what's going on, and they come for a social gathering or tribal role play. Just don't go there.
- Immediately walk away if somebody puts a mobile phone on the table during a meal. If it is a lady, still call her a taxi home. But let her pay the bill.
- Drop people who do not deliver on their word. I wasted a lot of time and resources in 2017 by doing my part, but others just didn't do theirs. Often, this becomes a chain reaction. I am especially sorry for cases, where I actually introduced others to these losers, where feasible initiatives came to a halt.
- Blacklist the "reply to all clickers"
Always when a passport is full, turning the last page is a nostalgic event ending a life passage. Visas are a modern form of "racism" in my view and sometimes quite a nuisance. But they are also a nice souvenir punched or glued into my little red booklet which accompanied me through so many parts of the world in recent years. Now it is not just full but also falling apart, and my repairs caused recently suspicion at the Hong Kong immigration, reminding me kindly that this may not be regarded as a valid travel document anymore in other places. So it's time for a new one. I have many exotic visas in my collection. But one stamp is very special. It is not from entering a country. It was punched in my passport in Port Lockroy, Antarctica, upon landing with a Zodiac from a Russian Ice Breaker - on November 16th, 2011. They say that all people who cannot get a hold of the earth. slide down the planet and meet down there in Antarctica. Time to go back then. New passport is in the making.
Good to be back to Germany. The Universities of Hong Kong are nice places to hang out, and I really liked my time at The University of Hong Kong this autumn. Its the best season, and it also gave me the chance to catch up with friends. But the city: even I appreciate it as a market place, the dullness of the trader's culture takes its toll after a few weeks. The more now I enjoy to be back to Germany. Strolling around Frankfurt University and switching back to "production mode". My resolution is now not to work on weekends anymore. So time for the museum, the theatre and the cinema. But its really cold. Christmas is coming. Snow on the first Advent Sunday. Perfect.
After 2 months in Hong Kong, it is time to say goodbye. But I will be back. This time I spent my time in Central which was a new habitat. I lived in The Helena May Building, though most of my time stayed in the annex, as in the main common areas I could not blend in with the furniture and felt unable to comply with the long list of what not to do. I think it needs more of a colonial spirit or upper-class aspiration for that to really appreciate the full range of it. What I will miss is the Lee Wing Kee flower shop, my friends and, the monkeys in the zoo and my running trail in Hong Kong Park.
Life has not treated me very well in 2017. And so, I am happy just bringing the year into a soft landing at its end. The drama reached another climax when I must have dropped unconscious swimming in the South China Sea a few weeks ago. I made the whole trip to "the other side" and back with an unknown duration of cardiac arrest and I am grateful to the person who rescued me and the emergency team. I am a tough cookie. I was never on "sick leave" in my life. And it would have been embarrassing to call in sick the first time with a death certificate. Still pulled through all my obligations but took life easy in between those. This came to me as another surprise of the things which can suddenly happen to you.