Les Contre-Sujet in the National Library of Malta

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 (Panasonic Lumix, DMC-TZ81, Leica DC Vario-ELMAR, 1:3.3-6.4/4.3-129 ASPH).

An inside view of the National Library of Malta.

An inside view of the National Library of Malta.

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. 

Les Contre-Sujet (Photo from their website on 14.01.2018)

Les Contre-Sujet (Photo from their website on 14.01.2018)

Kalkara from a birdview

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. 

"Self-determination" means not just "self" but also "determination"

With the New Year just starting, the first colleagues, students and friends are already disillusioned by failing on their resolutions. A lot I hear, is a plain lack of personal operational efficiency. Strangely, those who are working in shifts or highly regulated or confined environments seem to have less of a problem. They are generally better than "the creative class" in making something out of their working day and their "spare time". For those who have control over their time, I am sure having a schedule also helps. Below I share the one which works for me. Of course, not every day can be taken orthodox. But I also would not regard a diversion a failure. If necessary, I am anyway always happy to make Saturday an additional working day (for myself, not for others). There are quite a few elements in there, which I learned about at Secondary School when we talked about the daily routine of Benjamin Franklin (which I also added a the end of this blogpost). And this was in history class - just a reminder for those who think history classes are not useful. There was a time you could actually learn something from a US President.

What I think is important to have every day is a "Tagwerk" (or "Tagewerk"). Sorry, this is German, but I don't know how to translate it. I looked into some dictionaries, but did not find them getting the point. It is originally the unit of land a farmer can plough from sunrise to sunset. Obviously, this is different by season, technology applied and other factors. But whatever it is, it's good to look back on something you have achieved at the end of the day. 

The daily schedule I like. There are some elements of Benjamin Franklin in there (please refer to below).

There are a few things which might be also useful to keep in mind, mainly to keep control of your time. First of all, don't waste it. Be careful, when people demand "flexibility". Sure, be flexible when necessary, but not as a result of bad planning of others. Freeze your calendar for the coming week, each Friday. If you have not received the documents needed for a meeting on Friday noon time, then cancel the meeting. Not wasting your own time, is one thing. But not letting others waste it, is equally important. I am not talking about the flexibility which is needed in a crisis. I am talking about people creating such crisis. Also, dump those which don't deliver on their word and which have ineffektive communication. 

There are a few points you might be missing in my list. For example commuting. Well, unless the commute is an interesting journey in itself, or I do it by bicycle to have some extra exercise, I simply don't do it. I could not think putting myself into a crowded subway or even worse - a car - and push myself through a rush hour. I like traveling, but also I am not very keen on "business trips". If I have to go somewhere, I try to stay at least the whole week. I do like having dinner in good company, and this can also be people I work with. But "Business Dinners" I am really not very fond of. I found it in Moscow very nice, that instead of going to dinner together, we just had a small meal, and went to the ballet. 

So, I hope you don't dispair with your 2018 resolutions, already on day 9. I am personally quite lucky, because my birthday is on January 8th. So, I have my personal start of the year normally in calendar week 2. That gives me a chance to recalibrate, if needed. But normally it isn't.

The daily routine of Benjamin Franklin.

There will be sunshine after rain

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.

The Middle Rhine Valley is a very narrow passage and gives the river not much lateral space to expand. Flooded pedestrian tunnel in Assmannshausen (Germany). The sign says: "To the ships" (07.01.2018)

The Middle Rhine Valley is a very narrow passage and gives the river not much lateral space to expand. Flooded pedestrian tunnel in Assmannshausen (Germany). The sign says: "To the ships" (07.01.2018)

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Huawei in Mongolia

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.

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Welcome 2018

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. 

New Year hike to Grosser Feldberg (Taunus) and the Geophysics Research Station there.

New Year hike to Grosser Feldberg (Taunus) and the Geophysics Research Station there.

Christmas Eve in Frankfurt

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. 

Alte Oper (Old Opera) in Frankfurt. Nobody around.

Alte Oper (Old Opera) in Frankfurt. Nobody around.

Café Laumer, Frankfurt Westend. You can still sit outside. 

Café Laumer, Frankfurt Westend. You can still sit outside. 

Connecting the dots

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.

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Train along the Rhine river: Frankfurt - Bonn - Frankfurt

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. 

These were the trains of the German Railway when I started taking this route. Today already much more modern (Nostalgiekarte, Ansichtskarte Nr. 73)

These were the trains of the German Railway when I started taking this route. Today already much more modern (Nostalgiekarte, Ansichtskarte Nr. 73)

Malta stopover

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. 

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Message found under the rock

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.

The cover of the letter I left on Mount Stenhouse, found and photographed by Alex Leung

The cover of the letter I left on Mount Stenhouse, found and photographed by Alex Leung

"Mein Viertel" in Frankfurt

"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.

Bockenheimer Depot - Now a Theatre at Bockenheimer Warte, just beside the Goethe University Library.

Bockenheimer Depot - Now a Theatre at Bockenheimer Warte, just beside the Goethe University Library.

A residential road leading to the European Central Bank, close to the Main river.

A residential road leading to the European Central Bank, close to the Main river.

The former watchtower at Bockenheimer Warte.

The former watchtower at Bockenheimer Warte.

Frankfurt Christmas Market 2017

Frankfurt Christmas Market 2017

New Year Resolution 2018

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:

  1. Never apply for EU research funding. Even you get it, it is such an administrative nightmare. 
  2. Travel only with hand luggage. Everything else is not traveling, it's logistics. Wallets are just for people who can't manage their pockets.
  3. Delete PowerPoint from your computer.
  4. 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.
  5. 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".
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.
  8. 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. 
  9. 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. 
  10. Blacklist the "reply to all clickers"

Turning the last page

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.

My passport stamp at Port Lockroy from November 16th, 2011

My passport stamp at Port Lockroy from November 16th, 2011

Back to production mode

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.

Opposite the Senkenbermuseum (Frankfurt, Bockenheim)

Opposite the Senkenbermuseum (Frankfurt, Bockenheim)

Farewell from my Central Habitat

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. 

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Hong Kong in my stormy days

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. 

Waiting for my boat (Hong Kong Central ferry piers)

Waiting for my boat (Hong Kong Central ferry piers)

Typhoon debris

Typhoon debris

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Typhhon debris and stray dogs.

Typhhon debris and stray dogs.

View from the island I should perhaps have never left.

View from the island I should perhaps have never left.

Hong Kong's flower

Hong Kong's flower

Everything is small in Hong Kong. Even the pleasures.

Everything is small in Hong Kong. Even the pleasures.

Sok Kwu Wan

Sok Kwu Wan

Teamwork of a fishing old couple

Teamwork of a fishing old couple

Family outing

Family outing

Mobile flower shop in Yung Shue Wan

Mobile flower shop in Yung Shue Wan

My former hardware store

My former hardware store

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Upper Deck  Star Ferry

Upper Deck  Star Ferry

My address for 2 months

My address for 2 months

Way to the Annex Building of The Helena May

Way to the Annex Building of The Helena May

Hong Kong building standards

Hong Kong building standards

Crossing on Garden Road.

Crossing on Garden Road.

Beware of the nerds

You remember them from your University days? These people who would do your homework, tutor you for your exam, come over to repair your water heater, open the door when you locked yourself out, fix your computer, your bike, your car? They would give you their lunch boxes, lent you their books which they never reminded you to give them back, and they returned your overdue books to the library paying your penalty for it, without ever mentioning it. They were useful, resourceful and friendly. But they were also a bit exhausting to deal with. They invited you to museums, the theatre, a lecture, and they cook at home instead of going to a restaurant. 

And what did you call them when gossiping with your friends? Nerd, weird, gay ...? And what did the nerds do then? They perhaps made a better lunch box and shared it again. Not for some religious belief, but because they already understood why you are doing that. And they did not mind. This made them even weirder in your eyes. Usually, with graduation, these people disappeared. They choose different paths. But be aware, you might see them again. 

Nerds are one of the strongest "secret societies" you can imagine. They are everywhere. They may be the chairman of your company or running your R&D department. They may be sitting in front of you, next time you pitch for funding of your company. Or perhaps they are your doctor when you are sick. Perhaps they run the theatre you go, the museum you bring your kids. They may be the painter you like or the owner of the patent you need. Nerds learn how to adapt over time. They are not that easy to recognize later in life. They have no special way to shake hands or secret riddles to identify to each other. But when you find a real breakthrough technology, product, service or thought somewhere, then follow the signs. It is very likely they will guide you to somebody whose book you still have somewhere. It is still time to return it, by the way. Never too late. 

German efficiency demystified

Efficiency makes stupid. That's why I am sometimes puzzled what to respond when people praise "German efficiency" and even ask me for advice. Yes, I happen to be German, and I do get a lot of things done. But this is not because of a magic spell or culture, but mainly because I don't waste time. I have seen some statistics that people waste on average 4 hours a day. So if you want to improve your efficiency, it's a no-brainer just to stop that. Typical time-wasting activities are social media, commuting, socializing with meaningless people ("networking"), business dinners ... and the like. If you feel, you have to do some of it for social conformity, then here comes another time waster: caring what other people think. 

The next thing to eliminate is everything counterproductive. For example, I remember when staying in the City (of London), there was a pub just outside the apartment. From Friday afternoon white color workers started to drink excessively and far beyond enjoyment to get over the work week with far too long hours. They felt that they deserve it, and continued until a hangover took them down usually on Sunday mornings. Like this, they ruined weekend after weekend and made their work week even more miserable. The only adventure they could talk about on Mondays was how bad it was on Sunday. It is not clear to me, why many people "reward" themselves with activities which make things worse, or actively engage in other counterproductive activities. Again a no-brainer: making things worse does neither make you more efficient nor happier.

Just with these two measures, there are already 5 x 4 hours plus the 32 hour weekend (excluding sleep time), equals 52 hours saved. That's more than a full headcount in operational terms. And this is without applying technology, doing coaching, listening to a guru, or getting a self-help book. Just putting two no-brainers together is more than enough.

Now, let's take the next step and eliminate all the bullshit (going to useless meetings, nonsense communication, information overload, business travel): easily 2 hours a day saved, without even doing any process change or blaming your own inefficiency on the organization you work in. If you think the organization makes you inefficient, often it is not the organization itself. It is a few inefficient people. Those who are late, or don't even turn up, don't deliver to specs, and just waste other people's time. All you can do here is: dump them. Some of them may really have a problem and need support. Then have a second look and be forgiving. But dump the Divas, assholes, and psychopaths. And finally, when technology comes into play used effectively for administrative tasks, we should get down to a 4 hour "work day" without dropping anything relevant.

This was very much the budget view. But further, we have to think about the "work day" as a concept altogether and whether time is the right dimension to relate to. I believe ideas like "work-life-balance" are confusing a lot of people because they imply that there is a difference between work and life. That might be correct when you work on an assembly line or in a coal mine. And even there it does not have to be. I have absolutely no idea how much time I spend on what and I only count hours sometimes for billing purposes. I also don't care about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators, for those of you who are not into the jargon). Everything which makes the difference between doing something good or bad is beyond KPIs anyway. And doing a good job is very important. Producing bad quality is not just betraying others, but also a big waste of time for yourself. It will catch up with you. It's like the often misunderstood 80/20 rule. The 20 % will kill you later if you stop there. The rule I like is 101/-1. Do things today, which save you time and resources tomorrow. 

So, now that we have all this time saved, what do we do with it? We don't want to become stupid, right? Perhaps, here comes what "German efficiency" really is about: go home, spend time with your real friends, seek inspiration, train your skills, participate in cultural life, read books, invent new things. And then make the best machines in the world. Make the best cars. Do outstanding research. Create knowledge and IP (Intellectual Property). Not because, you want to be "competitive", but because you like it. Or be a poet or philosopher. Just because you like rhyming and thinking. Make music. Paint. I think, the real trick is to devote your life to something you love doing. And then do it. 

"I have seen the truth and it doesn't make sense"

rOobin Golestan one day told us: "I have seen the truth and it doesn't make sense". From that day on, I knew he was up against Igor, the brain tumor (he gave it that name). Now rOobin is gone for one more time, off to look for the truth. This time he will have to tell us in another world what he found out. Yesterday, Igor won. It is never that somebody dies and the other one doesn't. It is just that somebody goes first. rOobin is leaving behind his wife, two small children, his family, and his friends. And rOobin was a great friend. We have lost one of the most creative spirits among us. I know, rOobin would have loved it if I crack a joke now. But I can't. I feel deep sorrow for all those who miss him dearly. And I miss him a lot myself. Take good care rOobin. The world is less bright now. I still remember the first scooter rides through the Hutongs in Beijing, the meetings we sat through, the laughs we had (the loud ones and the suppressed ones), your stories inspiring our world travel plans, the vegetarian pizza in Essen, your new side business in Munich. Nothing is forgotten, and nothing will be.

Roobin Golestan (second from the right, then still with wild curly hair) among us, at the last day of my photo exhibition in Beijing.

Roobin Golestan (second from the right, then still with wild curly hair) among us, at the last day of my photo exhibition in Beijing.

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