2019/03/30 Weekend trip to Cochem!
Finally winter is over! And accordingly, it makes totally sense to be outside over a weekend, like this one, where we went to Cochem, which had been planned for quite some time now; it was exactly one year ago today that we were supposed to be in Cochem. At that time, I couldn't get enough people, so I simply cancelled the event altogether. It was rather fortunate, since the weather on that weekend turned out to be horrible. This time, I made the event public sometime in February, and within 24 hours all the 20 spots that I had offered were gone (which was constrained by the number of beds that I had booked at the youth hostel). I added four beds right away, but then they were also gone quickly. With the expectations so high, the weather also did really well: clear blue sky with temperature going up to 20 °. Who would have thought that it becomes so nice all of a sudden?
There's been a long discussion over whether it makes actually sense to go somewhere over a weekend, mainly because we can anyway go hiking within a region where we can travel for free, so why should we be paying money to hike elsewhere. Nevertheless, this idea has attracted quite a number of people. Now, after having organized it several times, I'm still not entirely sure to be able to answer this question. But still it is a sort of experience that will teach me something.
I guess there were five couples in the group, which made up a significant portion. The origin of at least two couples was the hiking events, which makes me feel somewhat proud of myself. In my old apartment in France, I wouldn't say there was no couple that came together, but it almost never happened, even though there were a very high number of people coming regularly. So by the time I was leaving France, I didn't think about this possibility anymore. Now, over the course of numerous hikes, I don't know how many couples have been formed. It's true that most of them stop joining us, but there are some of them who continue. And I'm looking forward to how things are going to evolve for them.
March 30 in the morning. Quite obviously I was the very last person to arrive at the station. Despite some delays that fell upon some of other people, they all managed to arrive in time. And quite obviously, things didn't go well from Düsseldorf onwards. The very first train got a delay of more than half 40 min. Then, according to German Railway, we were supposed to miss the connection at Koblenz. However, when we arrived at Koblenz the next train was not only not there, but the train before that had not yet arrived, even though there was no update on the app. No idea what was going on, and no idea why we still somehow managed to arrive at Pommern, where we started hiking, on time.
The river Moselle goes through a valley that connects Koblenz and Trier. So, not so surprisingly, we had go climb up a hill. The problem was we were following Jan, who's overly motivated in this kind of stuff. And somehow he was not too fast for us to give up the hope to follow him. In the end, we were walking up this hill with an unusually high tempo, after which we were essentially done. And not so surprisingly, some people fell quite far behind. Well, this was probably also partially because there were some people who didn't join on the hike very often recently. And quite obviously they didn't know what kind of trouble they were diving into.
This being said, the view over the Moselle was just amazing. It might have been just as good around Traben-Trarbach two years ago, but probably because of the weather it didn't appear as spectacular as this time.
There's one thing I did, even though I didn't want to. Among the 24 people who signed up, I made the number of boys and girls mulplications of 4, so that they don't have to mix in the rooms at the youth hostel. This is because I saw a clear separation when we went to Traben-Trarbach and Trier (Ahrweiler probably as well, but I don't remember). This time, despite my consideration, they obviously didn't care about that. Now I wonder why I had to think about it in the first place.
There's a castle in Cochem, which apparently is a tourist attraction. Since it was right next to the city center, I was vaguely thinking we could go there before or after dinner. The plan perfectly collapsed, probably because everyone was exhausted at the end of the day. And so after the dinner, almost everyone went to bed. I played settlers of Catan at the youth hostel with some people, but not long past midnight. We were like good kids.
And accordingly, we all got up quite early next day, despite the time change (from winter time to summer time). It was probably the first time for me that I didn't have a hangover after the first day on a weekend hike.
After the breakfast, Hernán and Christina directly went back to Düsseldorf (or rather Essen in their case). Obviously the first day was too much to them. Many of the remaining people didn't think about doing the entire hike today, although we all did in the end.
Jan left the group for different reason. This allowed us to go slowly on the second day. We were having breaks whenever we could. This Moselsteig being a well establisshed hiking trail, it was not difficult to find places to stay.
It was just as hot as the first day, with less wind though. It felt like we were hiking in summer. Hard to imagine that it's gonna much hotter by then. But then, we could feel the extremely cold water in the river at some point. Right, it's not so far yet. The summer is still coming.
The highlight of the second day was the Eltz castle. This is a particularly famous castle, even though there are quite a few castles in this area. This one was apparently not destroyed during the war. And so apparently the one that you can see is indeed the original one. Today, there was one fun fact about this castle: it is open from April 1 till autumn. Today being March 31, it was the very last day. Actually, I did it on purpose, because the entrance to this castle is not free, which implies that there is a full programme inside. And my experience tells me that it is extremely difficult to combine different full activities (like hiking and visiting a museum). So, I preferred it to be closed. Besides, I guess anyway it is just as beautiful as from outside. Why should we pay money to something that doesn't have an additional value.
By the time we reached the station, we were quite exhausted, but again since I didn't drink that much on the first day, I managed it better than on other weekend trips, although it was rather stressful to arrive in Düsseldorf at 8pm. So next weekend trip will be in Rurberg. Hope to see you there!
2019/03/24 100th hike: Schloss Burg and Müngsten bridge!
There's this central idea in materials designing called "free energy", which essentially describes what kind of state a material would take at a given temperature. By calculating this value, we can essentially say whether the material would have certain properties or not. The calculation of free energy is strenuous, extremely. But what is truly strenuous is to get a desired free energy, which would have the properties that we look for and wouldn't have the ones that we don't want. As a matter of fact, we can hardly control the free energy, but still we know that the free energy of a certain material is the consequence of how we made the material. So, in the end, what we do does matter. And this is the very reason that we, scientists, exist.
Through the lens of a materials scientist, the order of the world is very much like the free energy. We can hardly control it, even though we know it is the consequence of what each of us does.
It is actually quite tempting to grab a simpler solution, like forcing people to do something according to one's preferences. And there are numerous examples in human history for this. As we today know, not only it often doesn't work, but it might even produce the exact opposite of what people wanted.
But "doing something simple" doesn't have to be always stupid things; people may take beautiful photos to become famous on Instagram, or they may learn a programming language because programming brings money. These are examples where the goal of the cause is clearly defined. But we have also plenty of examples in the society, like the invention of physics or music, where the result of certain action was not the consequence of the intention. This might be actually interesting.
So, why not doing something new without having a particular goal, but consistently. At least as long as the cause is not particularly negative, you'll end up with something acceptable.
I guess this was not very different from what it was like when I started organizing hikes. In fact, I didn't even plan to do it every week. It was only because I wanted to lower the number of participants in each event that I did it every week, so that people don't have to come every week. As you already know, this assumption was rather wrong; it was apparently because it took every Sunday that people stuck to the events, signing up whenever they had time on Sunday. Still, my assumption was not entirely wrong, as there was hardly anyone who joined several hikes in a row. So there's certainly no one who joined more than 50 times, and probably not even 30 times.
Over time, I got different goals following my ideals. The hikes were the perfect place for me to try out new ideas, because it represented a smaller version of human society, in which things do not go according to rules and order, but individual understanding of good and bad, each of which coalesced into the macroscopic nature of this group. Just as much as the movement of each atom determines the temperature of a system, the overall character of this group consisted in the contribution of each person. And this worked. There was a free energy minimum, to which we wanted to converge.
Yet, I must say it is still not the end, as there are still certain aspects of the group that I'd like to change, and the dynamics of the group will certainly not allow us to be the same forever. At each stage of this continuous evolution, we will certainly find the right way to go, and this process will make me learn new things.
I still don't like the idea of measuring success by numbers, because often I get the feeling that numbers undermine something more humane. But this was still probably a moment to celebrate. So, 100 hikes, probably covering a distance that will allow us to go up to Russia. And of course, it's not over. Cheers to the next 100 sessions.
2019/03/17 Hiking from Duisburg to Ratingen
Artificial Intelligence. You must heard people speaking of this quite often in the recent years. Since I'm a scientist in theoretical physics (even though I'm not often associated with that here), which inherently brings me closer to this topic, I know how it works to a certain extent. And maybe more importantly, how it doesn't work.
Last Wednesday marked the beginning of this festival called "Hi, Robot" organized by tanzhaus-nrw, in which various artists present their works in relation with robots. And the inauguration of this festival was given to the musician Keiichiro Shibuya, whose robot "Alter 3" was to conduct an orchestra. And for some reason our orchestra was invited to this performance.
Here comes the first problem: the composer, Mr Shibuya, is certainly a composer, but he doesn't know much about orchestral music. And it is a very common misunderstanding of those who don't know much about orchestral music that the conductor is creating music at a concert. This is actually extremely wrong. In fact, the major part of a conductor's job is create the music before the concert. At the concert, the conductor is not much more than a metronome. And this robot, Alter 3, actually does not give any instructions to the performers, and so during the rehearsals all the instructions were given by Mr Shibuya, which makes the robot already quite useless.
Then, also we learned at some point that there was no artificial intelligence installed on this robot, although this was what I was anyway expecting. As a matter of fact, "artificial intelligence" is an extremely broad term, which is often overstated. So if there's any element which points to artificial intelligence, people employ this term, even though it's usually not comparable with the human intelligence. In this sense, at least they were honest with what it was, although if there's no element at all, there's no way to speak of artificial intelligence altogether...
And here comes the worst part of the story: this robot was supposed to conduct, and we were supposed to see the rhythm and everything. However, in reality it was virtually impossible to feel the rhythm, so that the first player of each instrument got ear buds through which they hear the sound of metronome, which ultimately made the use of robot entirely superfluous. What's more, the algorithm which makes the robot hear our music and change the rhythm accordingly was obviously not functioning well, so that the metronome was not ticking regularly. So in the end, what we were seeing was a broken metronome with extravagant movements with no musical output, which is anyway itself useless because it didn't contribute to the creation of the music at all in the rehearsals. The only one positive thing about this whole story might have been the fact that they did not claim to have used artificial intelligence.
In the end, it wasn't quite surprising to see horrible reviews on this page and this page, even though in Japan people want to believe there was a big success in Düsseldorf, as it can be seen in this article.
At the same time, it was a great opportunity to think specifically about what makes a good conductor, because a robot will not learn to become a good one, as long as we don't understand it ourselves. Furthermore, it was also nice to realize that a real human conductor won't be replaced by a robot in the near future, just as much as musicians probably are not going to be replaced either.
While we were giving this concert, it was extremely cold outside. And it was rainy. Actually, after the horrible weekend last week, the weather simply never recovered. For this weekend, it was also predicted to be rainy, which turned out to be rather wrong, but still it visibly affected the number of participants in the hike. However, as you might know, next week we'll have the 100th hike. So I was probably rather lucky that the 100th session was not today's hike, which may have been the case depending on the definition of "one" hike. Furthermore, apparently the weather in Duisburg was much better than in Düsseldorf today.
There's one thing that I've known for quite some time but still find rather interesting: when the terrain is completely flat, like today at Duisburg, it is actually also quite tiring. So for a best performance it's apparently better to have a bit of up and down. Along with the change of landscapes, it is one factor that makes a hike more strenuous or less.
Finally after a few weeks we could have a break outside. The weather got pretty bad for some time, but spring is certainly coming. It's the season I've been looking forward to for some time.
2019/03/10 Hiking around Schwelm!
One of the biggest lessons of my bicycle trip from France to Japan is that it's only when death is palpable that the sensation of living means something distinctive. Today, even though the experience was not nearly as monumental as at that time, it reminded me of this feeling. And so, there was no snow storm this year in contrast to last year, but this one was just as memorable as that one.
Last Monday, on the main carnival day, I went to Belgium with a few people from my orchestra, partly because I was a simple carnival refugee partly because rain was announced for that day. The weather forecast turned out to be fairly wrong. Anyway, we saw a relatively stable week concerning the weather. Coincidentally, I also gave a presentation about my new model to describe a physical phenomenon called internal friction, which was positively accepted by my colleagues. A lot of people came to the movie session, the pizzas were great and first of all, spring is coming. It seemed like I was diving into a great Sunday.
Also at work, I read this great article about the split of Elsevier and the university of California. Elsevier is a huge for-profit scientific journal company which has been making a huge amount of money out of science. Now, after Max-Planck-Society and the university of California took a great decision to make science available to everyone, I'm pretty sure that we'll be having a brighter future for scientists and ordinary people alike.
Yes, it was a great week. It was only when I saw this whole chain of 90% rain probability that my expectations were smashed apart. But right next to the information about the rain, it was written there was an official warning on gust of wind. This is essentially called "April weather" in Germany (in which you can expect strong wind and a rapidly changing weather) and there's nothing particular about it. At least people are fairly used to this kind of weather.
By the time we arrived at Schwelm, where we started, the storm had a name: "Eberhard". I don't really understand why the storms always get weird names, but at least it shows this one was becoming a serious one.
Until the break, it was just raining. I took my umbrella but due to the wind I didn't really want to use it. It was not really a kind of rain that leaves you fully soaked. When we were having a break in a café at Beyenburg, my clothes were completely dry again.
Things started to become more complicated after the break. The rain had completely stopped; we could almost see the sunlight. However, it started to get seriously windy.
It was when we walked through a field. There were a few extremely tall trees standing along the alley. Really tall ones, which don't really allow you to see the end anymore. There was one moment that I was essentially walking alone, far away from everyone. A strong gush of wind came, and somewhere close to me, intermittent cracking sound could be heard. I couldn't see anything moving, but quickly realized that it was only because the very tree in front of me was falling on me.
A second later, I was standing a few meters away from the tree that fell down with an astounding sound in front of me, making the ground tremble.
Appropriately enough, this made everyone rethink about where to go. We decided to go to the nearby main street as quickly as possible. From there, some people took a taxi to go back to Schwelm, others simply walked up to the train station, since there weren't any trees anymore on the way, although we may have been hurt by the number of branches flying around.
When we arrived at the station, we learned that the trains were not running, not quite surprisingly. Since Denis was anyway to go back home by car, he gave some of us a ride as well.
Sometime late in the evening, I realized that I had received a few messages on WhatsApp; there were still people stranded at Schwelm. After this adventurous day, which actually also consisted of more difficulties than I described here (read more about the hike on this page), I really have to say I was lucky today. I'll certainly bear this mind and look forward to the sessions, hopefully in a more spring-like atmosphere from next week on :)
2019/03/03 Hiking from Dahl to Hohenlimburg!
There's this thing called carnival, which I've already seen two years ago. At that time, I thought it wouldn't be possible to organize hikes or anything else in this period of time, since there are parties going on everywhere in this area. As it turned out, there were quite a few carnival refugees who needed a place to go.
And appropriately enough, there were quite some people coming to the movie session yesterday where we watched a Bollywood movie "Taare Zameen Par". It's been a few weeks that I'm preparing pizza before the movie session now. Of course, I don't ask for money for the pizza. It's like I'm doing it for fun and I'm fine with that. I love cooking, and I really want to know more about making good pizza. And my vegetarian pizza costs also like nothing. The great thing is, yesterday Siga brought some sweets from Egypt and Nikola brought some wine for everyone. Today it was more like a cooking session before the movie session. I also got some iTunes gift cards, which totally makes sense because very often I have to rent a movie at the iTunes store. I'm gonna hope that people naturally get altruistic. And in this international group, I can probably expect to see more interesting stuff before the movie session in the future.
So whether the people are nice or not, it's been a really horrible year so far regarding the weather. Once again, we had a rather sunny week. Now all of a sudden, things changed radically when the weekend started.
Nevertheless, we were something like 15 people today. Some of us were simple carnival refugees, for whom the weather did not really play a role anyway. I was having a Super Mario cap, to look a little like all the others in Düsseldorf. It looked like I was taking a wrong train when everyone else in costume was going out at Düsseldorf central station while I was getting in.
Just like last year, hiking in winter has a different taste. It is more like a mission and I feel more strongly connected to other people. At least that's how I felt at the end of the day. So even though the trail was pretty hard today, it was a good feeling at the end of the day. Well, apparently it's gonna be a good weather next week so I'm gonna look forward to that one.
2019/02/24 Hiking around Essen Stadtwald!
Last week, I had a guest from Japan at my place. He was one of the exchange students that I taught German culture to when they arrived here a few years ago before their one year stay had started. Now, after a few years since they went back to Japan, they reached the age to enter universities. And just as I did, some of them decided to come back to Germany. And he was one of those to do so, and was looking for the right one for him. Even though my role was to teach them the German culture, indeed we did talk a lot about the universities in Germany, or rather, what it means to study.
It's been centuries since the very first universities appeared in the world. They have since been very much institutionalized and systematized, in the way that not only we don't try to define the meaning of "studying", but also we don't even think about the metaphysics of universities. I'm talking about this, because in today's society, universities are often very much superfluous. For example, looking at my subject, physics, there's pretty much nothing that cannot be done outside the university. There are maybe experiments, but anything else can be found in the internet. And I'm very sure that physics is not the only one subject that doesn't really require an institution like universities. Why should people study nevertheless?
It is a great irony that in today's society we need less and less ordinary people; there are so many things that can be done by robots, or other electric appliances. So the fact that the unemployment among youth is record high in many countries today, i.e. isn't it just the manifestation of the new reality that there's with no real ability there's nothing to do anymore?
While throwing these questions. I also quickly realized that what I was saying was actually hardly arriving in his mind. Even if he has to make a decision himself now, he's just 18. Life is maybe sometimes a little bit like a lottery, even though this one decision has a unique consequence (or maybe other way around: the cause of the consequence will be unique). So maybe he just has to start doing something and finds out the rest. At least physics as I know it today is extremely different from what I had imagined. And I know I once wished to study law or medicine (in different periods of time), which I can only imagine I'd hate today, but if I had chosen them, I might have seen them from a completely different perspective. And economics or philosophy, which I today think would have been also good options, did not come to my mind at all when I was choosing the subject to study, although I might have very well hated them as well if I had indeed chosen one of them. So even if I still think much of what is done at universities today is superfluous, this opportunity might be giving people to see things from different angles. And maybe there's nothing more than this that the society wishes us to do.
So, back to the hike: by this time last year, we were more or less hiking in snow in Aprath. I'm certainly not that wrong to assume the weather wouldn't be so good today. Still, seeing what it was like today, I was apparently entirely wrong. It was actually more than warm, since we were being sun burnt. And since I supposed it to be still wintry, I chose this hike around Essen Stadtwald, a perfect city walk in winter when people don't want anything complicated. It was one of those most stressful hikes, which we also had sometime last year at Baldeneysee.
At least at the end of the day, when we came back to Essen Stadtwald and we found out that there was a really nice café there. For the first time this year (and for the first time after quite some time) we sat outside after the hike and enjoyed the weather.
2019/02/17 Hiking from Remscheid to Wermelskirchen!
Illegal in Germany.
Believing in the goodness of others is probably not only about optimism. Living or at least hoping to live in such a society must be somehow related to one's wellness as well. Germany might not be the funniest country in the world, but people do things correctly, and you won't be punished for following rules as an ordinary citizen.
This, however, turned out to be fairly wrong.
My story goes back to when I first came to Düsseldorf. Even though I was supposed to get a visa which was valid until the middle of 2019 (till the end of my contract), because of my passport which was to expire towards the end of 2018, I got a visa that was only valid as long as my passport was valid. After having obtained my passport, I immediately applied for an appointment to get a visa extension at the city hall. Now, it's been a few months since then. I haven't got any reply from the city hall. My visa has of course expired. And here I am, I'm an illegal immigrant.
If this had happened accidentally, I wouldn't have written anything here. However, here's the problem: even though the city hall dictates the usage of online application, it is hardly possible to get an appointment in the originally designated way. So some people crash the city hall and wait for hours to get an appointment, others simply wait for a reply in the internet as long as it takes, without being able to go abroad out of fear to not be able to come back in this period. Okay, potentially I could go to the city hall and spend a day there. But it's really now time for me to be brave enough to say this system is wrong. After all, if they want to deport me for not having a visa, I'm more than happy to be a victim. I followed the rules, and if Germany decides to punish someone for this, then I'll rather be proud of having expressed my opinion with good consciousness.
But to be honest, I might be more concerned about the more fundamental issues in Germany, like administration is surely one thing, but here in Germany, the trains are not on time, the internet is extremely slow, the post doesn't deliver, you cannot get any free water, pedestrians are disadvantaged (although this is rather Düsseldorf) etc. etc.... So over time, this new normality has already been installed in people's mind: we don't expect the trains here to be punctual, we don't try to get anything delivered within a day, we do jaywalk in Düsseldorf, and it's probably just a question of time that decent expats are going to be illegal immigrants.
It is certainly not an accident that Germany is a great country today, but I wonder whether people remember that this is otherwise a small country with no natural resource. After having seen many countries, I really want them to believe that it is really extremely easy to make a country fall down a hill within a matter of few years, and how important it is to do basic tasks.
Today, I had to think about it, partly because Noshad wants me to write an invitation letter for her to come to Europe (which I can't without a visa), partly because we went to Wermelskirchen, which happened to be the very first city in Germany where I lived, 15 years ago. So for me, all about Germany started here, in Wermelskirchen. And I was coming back for the first time in 14 years.
And as if the weather was celebrating this moment, it was an endless clear sky with something like 15 °C today. And not quite surprisingly, there were a lot of people, really, a lot. My event alone dwarfed all the other events on couch surfing.
It's been now more than 2 years that we are hiking on weekends. Today, it was really nice to see a lot of new faces, but also people who were there at the beginning like Joachim, who's been with us since the second hike. And Nikola and Andrian who've been with us since the third hike.
Going back to Wermelskirchen was a weird feeling for me. To be honest, I didn't recognize much of the city. But one way or other, this particular city, which once appeared so full of mystery, today is just a small town in North Rhine Westphalia.
Really surprising was the fact that the apartment where I lived was not there anymore. There was a new building in the same spot. Well, that's life. One way or other, I left this city so many years ago. I'd only embrace the big steps that I made since then.
Today, since finally the weather was so good, we had ice creams during the break and after the hike. It looks like finally winter is over. The season is coming.
2019/02/10 Hiking around Herdecke!
So the hiking season is almost coming back now. With a few destinations in mind, I was looking at the calendars of availability at some youth hostels. And one of them, at Cochem, turned out to have exactly one weekend (March 30) in the coming few months available. That's the last day of winter time, which means we'll have one hour less on the 31. Besides I'll be having a conference starting on April 1. Still, since it's been quite some time that we wanted to go to Cochem, I didn't want to miss this opportunity and quickly made a reservation for 20 people. On Wednesday, I put it online. Within 24 hours, all the 20 spots were filled. I remember that our last weekend trip to Trier was not quite popular and we could not find 20 people till the end, so I was unable to believe what just happened this time. Anyway there's a good mixture of all the nationalities, although there are 16 boys and only 4 girls. Well, I'm pretty sure that this is going to change anyway.
This week, since I'm cancelling the Amazon prime contract, I decided to watch all the movies on Amazon. I also announced it in my WhatsApp broadcast, though it might have been a rather bad idea, since people came sporadically and they were somewhat disappointed that there was no one else. In the end, at the regular Saturday movie session there were only 4 people. Maybe I should also mention that some people didn't appear because we watched minority report (or rather: because it was Tom Cruise)
There are a few articles talking about why it rains more often on weekends, for which there are actually also scientific papers. Today, after a more or less stable week, it was the only one rainy day of the week. I mean, statistically speaking it's possible that it rains only on Sunday, but still since I really don't care whether it rains or not on other days, it is outrageous that it rains only on Sunday. Anyway, it did. And I guess we'll have to see it as a low period now to look forward to better times.
More about the hike can be found on this page
2019/02/03 Hiking from Essen Werden to Kupferdreh!
With quite some delay, I got all the stuff that I wanted for the cinema setup this week, which was of course not very surprising regarding the postal service in Germany. Anyway, since I am going to cancel my amazon prime contract in two weeks, I decided to watch all the movies offered only on amazon in the coming two weeks, one per day.
If you don't live in Germany, probably you don't know many movies from Germany, maybe except for Good bye Lenin or The lives of others. Anyway, film industry is certainly not the strongest point in this country. The main problem is that very much all movies are about Nazi Germany, DDR or current social problems (e.g. feminism, racism etc.). To name a few, there are Welcome to Germany, The boy in striped pyjamas, Toni Erdmann or The silent revolution. Just as much as the Hollywood blockbusters, these movies often have very simple good and bad characters together with a very simple moral. That's fine by me, but I guess slowly it is time for Germans to think that this is only one way to make movies.
Yet I'm pretty sure that I won't get much backing with what I'm saying. Here in Germany, people think it's important to educate people. And this is very much symbolized this very often pronounced phrase "People are stupid", which would sound fanatically violent if I translate it into Japanese. German people may be kind, but you can often expect they are thinking you are stupid. So when a problem occurs, whether it's a traffic problem or a misunderstanding during payment etc., you might be despised and insulted. Even though Germany is an extremely good country, I'm sure this is a shortcoming that's preventing it to be an even better country.
Luckily for me though, this belief of "people are stupid" is not widely shared among people in higher levels in social hierarchy. If I take the example of Prof. Neugebauer, the director of our institute, I don't have to be afraid of asking any stupid question, just as much as any group leader in the institute. When I go over to the administration, however, things start to become more complicated, although it is still better than outside the institute. This inverse correlation between the contempt for other people and the social status is very much other way around in France, which makes my life in Germany somewhat easier than in France, at least while I stay at my work place.
It's been now 2 years since I started organizing hikes on Sundays. And as if the weather was celebrating this moment, it was a clear sunny day today. And since today's trail turned out to go through places where people turn up on weekends, we were probably rather lucky that we did it in winter. Still, we could see quite some people on the way enjoying their Sunday. Perfect weather to fill my photo stock for the CS banner photos, although only the ones that should be used in winter, since there was quite some snow lying. I don't understand why there's so much snow in Essen and nothing in Düsseldorf.
With me talking very much only about movies, I was talking mostly with people who watch a lot of movies. For some reason, Indians are the ones who know the most movies. But then this often leads to Bollywood movies, which I don't know at all. Then the conversation converges. I've been having this perfect flow for quite some time now. Maybe it's time for me to get in touch with Bollywood movies.
It was the first time that our hike ended at Kupferdreh. This unknown place has actually quite a few cafés, one of which (that we crashed) was right in front of the market place and everyone inside was very friendly with us, which is not quite obvious since we sometimes get even insulted for being so noisy. A really good reason to come back here at some point :)
2019/01/27 Hiking around Gennebreck!
So here's what happened: last Wednesday, I was drinking at home with my flatmate, Alfredo. We were talking about home cinema. In this flow, I bought a projector (EPSON), sound system (Samsung) and a screen. Here in Germany, Amazon prime makes zero sense, because the postal service stopped working properly since the privatization. And not quite surprisingly, the sound system which was supposed to arrive the next day did not arrive (apparently it's gonna be there sometime next week). When the screen arrived yesterday (Saturday), no one was at home. Luckily, the projector still arrived in the last moment. So we had a movie session with a projector yesterday, although the sound system really has to be improved. And I must say, even though our TV screen is certainly not small, it is a whole different experience. I go to the movies regularly, but now probably there's no need anymore for me, especially since it is so expensive in the cinema, in the order of 10 €. Since the projector was 1,500 € (yes it is a really good one), I have to watch 150 movies for that to make sense (lest I make people pay :D). I'm not a big Hollywood fun, but we really have to watch a blockbuster now. Anyway, I'm gonna look forward to the future developments.
The horrible thing about the German winter is the weather. After a very nice Sunday last week, we saw a horrible weather today again. And it was cold. Really cold. And for the first time after quite some time (maybe for the first time since the second hike two years ago) we were less than 10 people, although I'm rather surprised to see anyone at all.
Here's really weird thing about Germany. Here the people don't really mind bad weather. And so, today a grand majority was German. There's also a saying in Germany: "There's no bad weather, only bad clothes". This is probably true, but it still doesn't mean you can enjoy hiking in any weather... And I was the only one having an umbrella. Recently I heard from the Japanese people here there was pretty much no umbrella at all before (so they had to bring umbrellas from Japan). It was only after Chernobyl that the umbrellas were introduced. Still today, it is fairly uncommon to carry an umbrella in this country. Well, looking at people holding an umbrella while cycling in Japan, it is indeed sometimes better not to carry an umbrella. But am I the only one who doesn't have anything around the head?
So since the majority was German, we spoke almost only German today, which made me sorry for Soheyla, who didn't speak German (without whom I'd have had to pay for the ticket today). Germans do speak good English, but in this group it's getting more and more German recently, which is actually great compared to two years ago when expats desperately looked for locals to speak German with.
Today, there was this one guy, Julian, who lives in Bochum, but actually comes from Gennebreck. His kind parents offered their place for a break today, which was actually a great action because in fact I hadn't realized before Julian pointed out that the restaurant I had spotted was open only in the evening. So in this horrible weather we'd have had to stay outside to have a break. We were probably rather lucky that there weren't so many people today in the end.
There was a piano in the living room. It's not so common to learn music in Germany (at least not as common as in Japan), so it's rather rare to find a piano at someone's place. In this massive German house, my "summer" (Joe Hisaishi) produced so much echo that I had the feeling I was playing an organ with sloppy keys.
After the break, we were only 6 people remaining, though we have already been 3 after one break some time in the past, so compared to this, this was maybe not that bad.
2019/01/20 Hiking from Haan to Erkrath!
The Brexit deal was rejected by the British parliament this week.
Quite obviously, there's a discrepancy between what the British government is trying to make the people believe (which might be actually very close to what the people really believe) and what the reality for them look like. The Brexit negotiation in reality is not a negotiation, in the sense that the European governments (i.e. all EU governments except for the UK) simply present what they want. Whether the British government accepts it is not quite relevant. The reason is quite clear: here in Europe, it doesn't matter which social layer you ask, from populist followers to intellectuals, everyone dislikes Brexit. So for the national governments there's nothing else to do than keep the hardest stance on Brexit, because if the British government accepts the deal, it's all fine. If not, still the people will support the government for not conceding to Brexit. In the UK, the matter is of course much more complicated, since from the beginning only a small fraction of the population supported Brexit. And in the continuous range of what Brexit is going to look like, it is not quite surprising that they cannot agree on one framework. So in this sense, Jeremy Corbyn is very welcome to table a motion of no confidence, but the shear incompetence he's been referring to will come back to him just as hard.
Today in the morning, right before the hiking, I was reading a newspaper in the DB lounge. On its front page, it was written "island of losers". This is probably a fairly pertinent description as all three options (cancelling Brexit; getting a deal with EU; no deal Brexit) seem impossible and unrealistic, from all political, economical and ideological point of view. Today, I kind of wonder whether the UK has ever made any meaningful decision since the end of WWII, also when I see Tony Blair and John Major criticizing Theresa May, all of whom made the image of the UK more ridiculous.
So today, obviously winter is not over, but finally we got a clear blue sky. I must say I was really waiting for this weather for quite some time. Since I need a banner photo for each event on CS, which I actually don't have anymore due to bad weathers, I really had to take as many photos as I could. All the banner photos that you're going to see for the upcoming events will probably be coming from this hiking session.
We had a break at Hochdahl, which had a few places for the break. In particular, there was one pizza parlor which was open from 1pm. It was 12:30 when we arrived there. Since they had left tables and chairs, we simply stayed there. It's just, they never appeared, so that we were again using a local installation without permission and payment. On the other hand, probably many of us would have loved to order a cup of coffee or something else in this freezing weather. Especially, it's Sunday noon. Why weren't they working? Difficult to understand how Italians think.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there was a café right nearby, in which the staff were quite the least friendly people you could imagine.
Anyway, it was a lovely region today. Lovely weather, lovely people. Who wants more.
2019/01/13 Hiking at Hagen Rummenohl!
A few months ago, I was having dinner with Cláudia and some other people. She was talking about her birthday party, to which she was inviting quite some people. As far as I knew, her apartment isn't that large. I was wondering how she was planning to put all the people. Well, I quickly found out that it was actually taking place at my place. Good that I was invited as well...
I told everyone that the party would be until midnight, and I also informed my neighbors that it would be so. Cláudia is now 30, which was probably also the average age of the people. Even though we party just as before, with Sangria, cocktails and Latino music, I see that we start always earlier and finish also earlier. Starting at 6pm and ending at midnight is an exact shift of 3 hours from 10 years ago. Let's see if the trend continues...
Despite the party, I was fairly fit this morning when I got up. Ready for a hike in Hagen ... Well, not quite. Not because of the party, but the weather: rainy, not quite surprisingly. Welcome back to Germany. I wish I knew what I was doing.
But I might have wished everyone else knew what they were doing. We were still more than 10 people going hiking today. Today's main problem was probably, it was not cold enough so that the rain did not turn into snow (or from more physical point of view, I should probably say "It was not cold enough for the snow to stay snow while falling from the sky"). Obviously most of those who joined us today were the ones who either did not check the weather forecast or those who simply needed outdoor activities after so many ugly weekends. Still I must say this was really the worst weekend.
We might have lost a few people on the way when the platform was changed at Hagen. At least there were two people who went to the original platform and joined us in the last moment.
Not quite surprisingly, the weather stayed ugly the whole day and the trail was quite challenging. Luckily, there was this small city, Breckerfeld, on the way today, where there was a Vietnamese restaurant. There's one really stupid thing in Germany (among others): water in restaurants is never free. I was told several times that technically you are allowed to get tap water, but in reality this never happens. But the great thing about foreign restaurants in Germany is that they don't really complain even if you have outside stuff. So in the end, while ordering a plate of noodles, I was also drinking my tea at the same time. I mean, from the practical point of view it makes more sense for the restaurant to allow the customers to drink their own drinks, if they then stay and order dishes.
There's this guy, Mehrbod, from Iran, who's still a master student. He looked somewhat puzzled when I paid his lunch. Well, as I've already indicated in the recent post, I'd rather love to make it easier for Iranians here in Germany.
While trying to help Iranians, I don't actively try to help Syrians or Sudanese, which might be frowned upon in Germany. Anyway helping other people is something highly personal and maybe almost self satisfaction. At least it's certainly not what I do depending on whether people praise me or criticize. Yet Iran being a richer country than other conflict zone countries, it might appear illogical that I only help Iranians.
Here in Europe it is quite common to see beggars in the streets and they sometimes ask for some money. It is a very delicate issue and I spent quite some time thinking about what is actually the right thing to do. Whether it makes sense or not from the biological point of view, it is a humane reaction to want to help those people. On the other hand, I won't be able to help all those who are in need for help. Furthermore, I'm not sure if I'm making it better to anyone by doing so. Will they be happier if I help them?
Syrians, Afghans or Sudanese can be recognized as refugees here in Germany. Even if they are not getting a lot of money, they don't have to be worried about being sent back to where they come from. Actually it appears almost absurd to me today when people say they want to help refugees, treating them like sick people. In my eyes, what they need is to be treated as normal people and to be part of the society. I've been praised a few times whenever I was with Ayaz (who is Syrian) for doing what I was doing. Whatever they meant by that, they should know how much I despise them for alienating those who could well be part of this society.
Iranians are different. For the simple reason that their government, which they have certainly never endorsed, doesn't follow the international community, they are treated like renegades around the world. Iran being a safe country they cannot be recognized as refugees here in Germany, let alone receiving financial help from the German government. And so, as soon as their money goes to an end, they have to go back to Iran, even though the pain their government inflicts on them is just as excruciating to their well educated minds.
But maybe the most important thing is this: the fact is, there are a significant number of Iranians in the higher education facilities around the world. And it's surely not exaggerated if I claim a crucial fraction of modern human civilization is attributable to the Iranian people. If we fail to keep their successors, we will certainly undermine a serious part of tomorrow's society.
I can definitely not confront the Iranian government or counteract the inept policies of the US government. But I'm sure that there'll be a day that the world, and particularly Iran, needs the well trained Iranians. My investment is for the future, the one that is certainly going to be brighter for them.
2019/01/06 Hiking from Velbert to Kettwig!
Right before the Christmas vacation, I decided to create an independent website for hiking events. This has been done so far. And here's one more thing I decided to do: I put the general hiking blog to that site as well and here's going to be my personal blog. Both of them will probably be connected by the hikes, but here's more my personal stuff, and on that website. It's new year; new things start happening. Let's see if it's going to work out or not.
When I was booking the flight from Tehran to Düsseldorf, I could not find any of them flying during the day. In the end, I took one that left Tehran around 4am (local time). It was still early in the morning that I arrived in Düsseldorf. Then I organized a movie session with Japanese people from my orchestra on Friday (since Alfredo, my flatmate, is still in Spain), another movie session on Saturday (39 steps, Hitchcock movie, a great one!) and today, I'm going hiking. No wonder it feels like I'm entering a time machine transforming to the future whenever I go to sleep.
I could see I came back to Germany when I saw the weather today: a really indecisive one, with sporadic shower. Yes, we are definitely in Germany in winter.
I've known quite some Iranians in Europe since my bicycle trip. It is true that I know the country of Iran fairly well now. And it is true that I should be able to talk about Iran here. However, the things are seemingly more complicated than that. You must have heard me describing how friendly people are in Iran. However, quite controversially, the Iranians are actually not that nice to themselves. This is something that Iranians are aware of both in Iran and outside (some of them claiming that Iran would be a significantly better country if the Iranians were as nice to themselves as to foreigners), but it is not really clear to anyone why this is so. The problem is, when these Iranians come to Europe, they react to the new circumstances individually differently, presumably because they are foreigners themselves here, or maybe because they find out that foreigners are not treated with the same hospitality as in Iran. So some behave exactly like the ones in Iran, but others become completely different (in our eyes, probably), which makes the first contact relatively difficult. Another problem that makes the matter more complicated for me is that even though the Iranians love foreigners (and especially the ones who are interested in the Iranian culture), they are not quite accustomed to the ones who actually know the country fairly well. Quite often, I'm the very first foreigner who speaks Persian that they met (even if my Persian is crappy), so it varied also quite strongly from person to person how they treat me. Therefore, I usually scale down my knowledge of Iran and the Persian language first, so that Iranians comfortably recognize me as a foreigner. Furthermore, there is also a (relatively small) group of Iranian people, who don't want to be recognized as Iranians. In this case, it's simply the best not to talk about Iran at all.
These were the thoughts that made it difficult for me to talk to our new participant from Iran, Mehrbod. Fortunately, he was a delightful person to talk to. It is rather rare that I get difficulties during hikes anyway though.
This is the first weekend of the year. Since it's been still almost a week, I had hoped that normality had been reinstalled. Not quite the case, unfortunately. There were one café and one hotel on the way, but both of them were closed. For the break, therefore, we simply went to a nearby tennis club, which had a café, actually closed but we still simply stayed there since there were chairs and a large table outside. There were a few passers-by. It is really not the German style that people simply intrude into some place. The thing is, it is fairly common in Germany that people complain even when it's none of their business. However, often they don't say anything when a certain number of people are there, not because they are scared, but probably because it starts looking "official". Those passers-by must have known that the café was closed and we were simply using the installation without permission, but obviously we had crossed the threshold, so no one complained in the end. Only the owner of the tennis club, who appeared when we were about to leave the place, asked us what we were doing. Even so, he didn't say anything more.
We had to roam in the forest on the hill behind Kettwig for quite some time before we finally managed to get down and follow the main street at the end of the day. It was fairly dark. After the Christmas vacation, in which people usually do not move much, it must have been quite tough for most of them. At least for me, this marked the hardest point of the weekend. 2019 is going to be a tough year.
2019/01/01 Iran over Christmas vacation
Happy new year everyone! I hope you all had good holidays. As you might already know, I was in Iran. Yes, Iran. Yes, it's not quite the country that everyone visits over Christmas. There were a few reasons that I wanted to go there now.
Exactly 6 years ago, I was also in Iran (cf. this article). At that time, I was essentially spending the winter there in order to continue cycling towards Central Asia. My greatest luck in that moment was meeting Shadi, who happened to use couch surfing for the first time there. Even though Shadi moved to Sweden, there were still (only a few...) family members in Tehran. Especially Madarbozorg (grandma) was still there. It was already a sufficient reason for me to go back to Tehran. At the same time, I also did not want to stay in Europe during the Christmas vacation, as it is cold, there's no one, dark, everything is closed etc. And visiting a place like Morocco or Thailand is the worst idea, because you'll see tons of German tourists in those areas. Tehran was a perfect place which did not have Christmas and doesn't have a high season either.
These were my personal reasons, but there was one more purpose of my visit this time: to see the effects of the new economic sanctions. At the beginning of this year, one Euro was around 50,000 Rials, which is the Iranian currency. Now, a few months after President Trump announced the re-introduction of the economic sanctions, it floats around 130,000 Rials. As a matter of fact, a similar phenomenon was occurring when I was there 6 years ago. At that time, the memory of the election protests of 2009 was still fresh. The high tensions and the re-election of President Obama gave signs of changes in the Iranian society. This time, with the almost decade old bloody protests and the election of President Trump, I thought the situation might be different.
Here's an interesting fact about the economic sanctions: Their specific target is the nuclear programme of Iran, which is the government's agenda. However, the economic sanctions are, by their nature, imposed on the Iranian citizens. The logic behind it is, if we squeeze the daily lives of Iranian people, they will at some point affect government policies, if not topple the government altogether. Yet, Iran is not a free country, so this logic does not go far beyond an assumption. I am anyway not going to endorse economic sanctions, whether they have effects or not, purely from the ethical point of view. However, if the US American government wants to justify their moves, someone has to see whether their goal is possibly going to be achieved or not. Yes, someone has to see it there. And it might be in my personal interest to escape Christmas in Europe or to see my Iranian family, seeing the effects of economic sanctions is not an option for a nation as a whole imposing those sanctions. Even if the US is certainly not my country, I'd carry the responsibility and I'd see it myself.
December 19, 2018 at Düsseldorf main station. I took the train to Frankfurt offered by Lufthansa which miraculously arrived on time. This system is now called Lufthansa Express Rail, in which the flight company offers one rail trip and flight instead of two connecting flights. The problem was, when I arrived at Frankfurt, I was told I was about to miss the flight, which appeared to me like a reasonable comment, since I was having barely one hour before the departure when I arrived there. In the country where the trains are constantly delayed, I must it was quite a bold decision of the part of Lufthansa. Fortunately, the plane got a delay. It is almost a daily routine in Germany.
A few hours later, I arrived in Tehran. At Tehran airport, there were two gates for the police control: one for Iranians and one for foreigners. The gate for foreigners was obviously used by Iranians who got a foreign passport. According to this Wikipedia article, it is apparently possible for Iranians to have a dual citizenship. Anyway I was most likely the only one pure foreign national. Right next to the never ending line before the Iranians' gate, I was almost sympathizing with those standing there - until I found out that the eVisa approval had to be changed to a real visa.
There is a police station inside the airport, where foreign nationals are supposed to obtain a visa on arrival. According to this Wikipedia article, almost all nationals can get a visa at the airport. This, however, gets complicated if you don't have a hotel booking for the first night. This was something written on the Wikitravel page, but I didn't really check it beforehand. So naively, I put my personal information and the phone numbers of the family members I was about to visit. In this moment, I should have handed in the visa approval, which would have delivered my visa within a minute. I didn't. I was curious about the visa on arrival. I was stupid.
The fact is, it is actually not allowed to host a foreigner in Iran, which is an extremely weird rule contrasting the Persian culture. I spent the next 30 min waiting for the police officer to decide whether or not he's going to deliver a visa. Later, I'd find out that I would have been able to get a visa anyway, whether I put a phone number of someone inside Iran or not. I should have known that Noshad, whose number was the only one that I had on my phone, was being harassed over the phone by this police officer while I was waiting.
In the meantime, there was a Chinese trio right next to me who didn't speak English but was trying to get visas just like me. Since they were not quite able to communicate with the police officer, they asked me if I speak Chinese. I said I was Japanese (which was apparently clear to them anyway). Still they continued asking me for help. Who would have thought I'd be being an interpreter of Chinese and English at an airport in Iran.
Anyway, I got my visa in the end and managed to get out of the airport.
At the main entrance, I was inhaling the same air, the unique smell of which was not forgettable. The Tehran airport being in the middle of nowhere, I had to get a taxi. But for this, I had to get money first of all. One guy claiming to be a government worker approached me, telling me I should change money at the official bank of the airport. One Euro for 50,000 Rials. Well, I know that's the official exchange rate. Thank you for reminding me that there are two exchange rates in this country. This, however, helped me find a right taxi driver, because I just had to see who says the correct exchange rate to me. Luckily, I got one very quickly, who took me to the city center for 10 €. Well, you might be interested in knowing that the distance between the airport and the city center is around 40 km. A taxi ride for this distance for 10 €. There's something really wrong about it, right? Still, that's the situation in Iran.
I was welcomed just as warmly as I was 6 years ago. Madarbozorg was just as sprightly as at that time. With Shadi and Omid not there anymore, there was only Noshad remaining who could speak English. Fortunately, I retained much of my Persian since last time (even though I rather lament the little progress...), so it was relatively rare that I was completely lost.
Almost as soon as I arrived in Tehran, I lost my voice. The air pollution hit me so hard that I never fully recovered during my stay in Iran. At the same time, my family told me I should (and not could) stay there. So lovely people I was living with. From changing money to buying a SIM card, they did essentially everything for me. How could I ever daresay I crossed Eurasia all alone...
And so, 6 years went on. While I have been following the situation in Iran closely in the Internet, it was indeed different to look at it directly there. As I've already mentioned above, there was a nation wide protest in 2009, which is almost a decade ago. With Iran having been a well educated civilized country, the violence the government employed at that time seems to have brought a huge shock, that makes such movements unlikely these days. At the same time, it doesn't matter how much Iran is engaged, the Western hemisphere obviously continues disliking this country. This obviously encouraged the people here to go outward, in particular towards Western Europe. I can't remember how many people told me they'd love to go to Germany. Yet, the reality is apparently harsher than I thought: if you now try to make a reservation for a visa application at the German embassy, you get the next appointment in two years. If you are a tourist, it takes less time, but it doesn't allow you to do much.
In the end, the full picture looks like this: The oppressive government persists, the international community dislikes you, and you cannot even get a chance to go away. I could feel a sense of resignation and despair.
Nevertheless, the Iranian hospitality was still strongly there. Wherever I went, I was warmly welcomed. While I was offered a lot of things there, I was wondering how people were looking at the fact that the GDP per capita of Germany is 8 times as high as in Iran. In particular, when they wanted to pay the bill of let's say 1 €, I was wondering how they were looking at the fact that 1 € is nothing for me while it must be roughly as much as 8 € considering the GDP ratio. Certainly you won't be surprised if I tell you that I indeed tried to pay everything for everyone.
The two weeks flew away so quickly, that I had to realize that I visited only 2 cities except for Tehran. Only Esfahan and Ramsar, both of which are fairly touristic cities, even though I didn't see many foreigners anyway. I spent quite some time talking with Madarbozorg, who treated me like her real son. Actually, I have never been asked about my biological parents in Japan. Maybe for Madarbozorg I'm simply her son, which can also be seen from the fact that she doesn't treat me differently from other members of the family. Well, this being said, Madarbozorg anyway treats everyone quite equally...
Speaking of family, I pressed Shadi this time to say I'm a family member, which is an extremely weird thing to do, since they might say they'd welcome me as a family member, but it's not something a guest would ask for. Well, there was a particular reason for me. The reason is this one incident that I did not record when I left their place last time. Actually in the evening of the last day in Tehran, Shadi anded me a banknote of 100 €...
... It's been 6 years since my bicycle trip over Eurasia. In these 6 years, there have been numerous people who asked me whether I have never encountered difficulties, that might have made me give up altogether. While asking this question, they certainly put me in the center of the picture. I sincerely want them to realize that there were a number of people who made me achieve my goal. And when I think of those moments, the very person I come up with first is Shadi, and this scene of her holding the banknote of 100 € with both hands. Not because of its real value, but because in my hesitation to continue, she gave me the final "go" I needed.
Since the end of my trip, especially after Shadi moved to Sweden, I tried several times to offer financial help to her. She'd never accept it. After all, I was more afraid of crossing a line by going too far by continuing to offer it. And if she doesn't give me her bank account there's anyway no possibility for me to deliver it to her (except if I go there directly, which is rather an unwanted option as I know that Shadi works hard everyday and my presence will probably only make it harder for her).
Shadi wouldn't, but then I thought, Noshad might... So before I flew to Iran, I bought a random picture in a frame, behind which I hid a letter and 1,000 €. Then I left their place. On the taxi heading to the airport, I made Shadi say I'm a family member, a statement I needed in order to make them receive it. And they accepted it. With this, my trip went to a peaceful end.
Now actually I'm fearing that it might have made them feel uncomfortable. So in order to make sure that this money won't redefine our relationship (or in order to let the time make them forget about it), I will probably not travel to Iran in the near future.
I wish things had been different. I wish money didn't mean anything and I could visit Madarbozorg just as frequently. I wish I could freely invite all those lovely people who wished to come to Europe. Well, the reality is different, and I only lamented my own uselessness for quite some time. It's true that I cannot make a fundamental change, but still there are the ones who fought their way up to Germany. I don't want anyone to be forced to go back against their will anymore. And now I can contribute to some real changes for them.
So, it's not over yet. Please look forward to the future developments.