2019/09/23 Back to T-Day!

Back in the old days, when I was living in France, we had this regular meeting called "T-Day", which stands for "Translation Day" (a rather bland name, which our flatmate Maria came up with). What we do was fairly simple: We pick up random phrases, usually from this page, and translate them into the language your were interested in. Then a native speaker (yes, it requires a learner and a native speaker at the session) corrects them. This was a brilliant method for someone who knows the syntax and the grammar, but cannot yet start speaking in the language.

Düsseldorf being not quite an intellectual city, and the languages spoken by the people surrounding me being quite complicated (Hindi, Arabic etc.), I was almost giving up the hope of organizing T-Days in Düsseldorf. But then I met Gülkaiyr from Kyrgyzstan, who was willing to do it with me in Russian. And since it makes already sense for a T-Day to take place if there's two people, I guess I'm gonna try it out in the coming weeks, maybe a bit with the hope that there'll be others who'd be interested (also in other languages, like Persian or Spanish for example). Let's see what's gonna happen. By the way, the first two photos were taken 3 years ago in my old flat. There were really quite a few languages being learnt by a few people at that time.

My Russian has by the way a rather weird background: there was a friend of mine, Jeremy, that I met when I first started living there. Jeremy was Jewish and lived in Israel for quite some time. You might know that the Jews living in Russia during the Soviet era now mostly live in Israel, so that there's quite a significant portion of population which speaks Russian. Since Jeremy didn't speak Russian but had a few Russian speaking friends, he always wanted to start learning Russian, but didn't want to do so all alone. I was a good friend of his, and so he asked me whether I was interested in learning Russian. I wasn't. I mean, at that time learning Russian appeared to me a completely random activity, like why shouldn't I walk on the Champs Élysées backwards or eat spaghetti with a spoon. But then I thought since Jeremy was a good friend of mine, we're gonna start together. Well, two weeks later he gave up. I didn't. With no clear reason in mind, giving up was not an option for me.

But then I visited quite a few post-Soviet countries after this, where I found out that people still speak Russian, even though in the Western media Russian is very often presented as an obsolete language in the post-Soviet countries. And I discovered a few Soviet film directors like Leonid Gaidai. And so, to this day, my interest in the Russian language and culture has grown to quite a certain extent. It's so weird to think about how it all started.

2019/09/16 Running a full marathon

There's this thing called "Weltkulturerbelauf" in Bamberg, which roughly translates to "World Heritage Run". This takes place every two years and every now and then I join the run. The very first time I joined was in 2005, when I was a high school student. When my host mother talked about it, I actually didn't understand what she was talking about. And if you give an ambiguous answer, Murphy knows what you're about to do. In my case, I signed up for the half marathon, which was the longest distance offered in this event. Half marathon is obviously very long for a high school student. And I had a miserable run, as expected. But it was not all bad, since I never forgot this sensation of misery, which made me run regularly after that. When I went back there 10 years later, I achieved a brilliant run with 1h 40min or something (I don't really remember). The point is, I made it, that's honorable. But look, we call it a "half" marathon. Just as much as you cannot possibly be half a man, you can't live with the notion of "half" marathon.

With this in mind, I signed up for a full marathon later that year, with very little preparation. Half marathon was already so easy for me, how could it be so difficult for twice the distance? I was wrong. Indeed, up to the half point, I did a good job, but then I could feel my body starting crumble. I slowed down, and then walked. The second half was almost entirely about walking for me. That was just as miserable as 10 years ago.

And this year, I decided to take on that challenge one more time, with slightly more preparation ('smile'). I just didn't think about the fact that I cannot run a lot in the spring because of the hay fever. But then, during the three-week crash course I talked about in the last post, I ran pretty much every day. And this Saturday (yesterday), I ran a half marathon on my own. And it was easy!

There were a few things that I learned after I started running seriously. Firstly, I had trouble sleeping in for some time before I started running. I was not sure why, since I had been having a peaceful and healthy life without particular concerns in my environment. But then I started sleeping extremely well after I started running. Indeed, I used to run more frequently. It just became somewhat annoying since I moved to the city center of Düsseldorf, where there's no green area in the neighborhood. I ran twice a week at work, but apparently this was not enough for my sleep quality. Now it feels like I go to bed and wake up instantaneously, even though indeed 8 hours fly away in between.

Another thing I learned was this thing called hitting the wall, which roughly describes the phenomenon that your body stops working all of a sudden. This is because the body can store only a limited amount of energy, and if the fuel is entirely gone, it stops functioning (quite naturally). Not only theoretically, but also from literature I knew this phenomenon, but I didn't think that it ever applies to me. The surprise for me was actually how little energy is available: it's only something like 1,500 kcal, which means if you run 20 km, it's gone. So your body might well be prepared, but you won't make it till the end if you don't refuel, just like a car. This was probably what happened when I ran a full marathon last time.

So, the preparation is still going on. The marathon will take place on Oct. 13 (cf. this page). It would be amazing if I could make it below 4h, but I'd still be proud of myself if I can run till the end this time.

2019/09/09 Back in Düsseldorf

I was thinking about updating the English version as well, but in the last three weeks, I was literally updating the Japanese version every day and didn't have enough time for other things. Really a pity that I didn't do the same in German or English, since the stuff was really extremely interesting. In short, my vacation was about being a tutor for Japanese high school exchange students for three weeks, who were to start their exchange year in every corner of Germany. This was my third time (after 2014 and 2016). And this year, initially I only accepted it because they didn't have enough people applying for it.

The fact that there's this course is a brilliant thing, as it allows them to have the first contact with Germany in a rather friendly environment, where they'd have fellow Japanese exchange students and teachers who speak Japanese (which, of course is not limited to Japanese students, but other courses are simply elsewhere). But not only this, since they can have more profound reflection on the metaphysics of every aspect that is pertinent to having a successful exchange year, i.e. they thought about things like "family" or "friends" or other stuff and how to (re-)define it, since not only they'll have a new family, but also they'll most likely discover new/different points in family in Germany. And for this, it is essential to have thought about the very fundament of what "family" is.

This aspect, however, was something that cannot be straightforwardly made clear to the students. So, what usually happens is that they think it's merely a language course. This misunderstanding itself is not a problem, as long as they believe what they're doing is meaningful. I'm pretty sure that we didn't derail, but every time I get the feeling I'm fairly close to making them lose confidence in me. It's true that the orientation course was extremely difficult to gauge in contrast to the German language lessens (which they got from another teacher), which is not quite what people from Japan are familiar with. And certainly you won't get a clear answer from them if you ask them sometime in the future what they did in the course.

But maybe all my concerns didn't really matter: we had excellent three weeks, which we enjoyed in the extreme (it was so clearly visible that the students had a hard time accepting it'd be over after three weeks), which was of paramount importance, but then I also truly learned a lot of things.

I might be a horrible person to put it this way, but in my vacation last year, in which I cycled over the Alps with Jen, I had the feeling that I was simply wasting time and money. Two years ago as well, when I was hiking with Mina. In both cases, what I did every day was to count the number of remaining days, only to find out in my despair that I was not going back to Düsseldorf immediately. And these were not quite a conventional vacation either (e.g. spending a week on a beach in Barcelona), which would have killed me anyway. Yet no form of vacation thrills me these days, probably since my bicycle trip to Japan, except for this crash course that I did this year, even though it was already the third time.

When I first did it five years ago, I thought it was because I wanted to see what I was like before everything started, i.e. before my first arrival in Germany, in order to recognize all the valuable steps that I made over the years since then. This was indeed interesting, but it became clear to me that this was only partially the reason. The real motivation is that I just find it amazing to work with people who believe that there's a bright future in front of them. And these exchange students happen to be the ones.

I'm not Saint Exupéry, but I often wonder how the adults can have so boring lives. As children they must have looked forward to a thrilling future. Once they grow up, they stop doing so, even though there's no intrinsic obligation to not do it anymore. I find it even more horrifying, that these people might be educating the younger generation. In essence, they might be telling the children to work hard, while not being able to propose anything better than the absurd reality they are living in. So, from the pedagogical point of view, I'm pretty sure I'm a horrible teacher. Yet, I can tell how meaningful the achievements that they are striving for are, and the future that they are dreaming of is just as exciting. Isn't it great that these exchange students listen to you with sparkling eyes?

Now the course is over, so is my vacation of this year. But the feeling I get is qualitatively different from the vacations of the recent years: I've done something meaningful, while having fully enjoyed it. The exchange students are gonna stay in Germany for a year and I'm pretty sure that I'm gonna see them during their stay in Germany. I really look forward to their development.

2019/08/04 Verpflichtungserklärung and Alfredo's departure

You must have realized I stopped writing about the hikes on this page some time ago, mainly because my hiking page took over this role at the beginning of this year and it made no sense for me to report the same thing here. So now I stop copying the title and use it as my personal diary, which used to be the case before. I don't understand how my personal scribbling could possibly be interesting to anyone, but this text will continue being publicly available.

If you know me personally, you might know that I cycled from France to Japan a few years ago. And if you know me very well, you might also know that I was stuck in Iran for a few months during this travel, where I stayed with one Iranian family most of the time. And whether you know me well or not, you certainly don't know that we're still in close contact since then. Since my visit at that time, I was thinking about inviting someone from the family to Europe, although the plan somewhat turned realistic only after I visited them at the end of the year 2018. The problem at that time was that my visa had already expired, which made me an illegal immigrant. The great thing is of course as you can see in a recent post, I continued being illegal for 8 months following the expiration. You don't have to be a drug dealer or live under a bridge to be an illegal immigrant. You can very well be a doctor in theoretical physics and entitled to the honorable illegal immigrant status, although the significant difference is probably that I was proudly being so.

Anyway, the point is that now I got my visa thanks to the young lady from the newly established international office at the Max Planck institute (whose life must have been reduced by an important amount because of my case), which now allows me to invite people from abroad. Great.

For someone from Iran, there are two categories to apply for a short stay visa: visit or tourism. In the case of visit, there's an official application form called Verpflichtungserklärung, which roughly translates to declaration of responsibility. As the name suggests, you declare that you take all the responsibilities, from financial issues to this person's departure from Germany. I guess the most important thing is that the invitee leaves the country. And quite often for Iranians, this is the argument from the German government when their visa application is rejected. In short, they have to have a good reason to go back to Iran, like there's a wife/husband/children or they are about to finish their study etc. Sounds difficult, doesn't it? It apparently really is, as most of the Iranians that I talked to lately told me that they had at least one application rejected recently.

Anyway, we have to give it a try. Well, signing this document is easy, but the difficult thing is to reach this point in the first place, going through the entire German administration...

Wednesday morning, I went to the city hall. There was already a horrifying line of people waiting at the foreign office, which was a different one from where I got my visa. And I quickly learned that I was in a wrong place. Great. They told me that I have to get an appointment in the internet. Hold on, there's a problem here: There's exact the same enquiry page for the visa application, which is as we now know is a ghost page. So for the one purpose we must not use the website and for the other we must use the website? That sounds fantastic.

There was another reason that made me less excited about it: I had actually checked the website before I went to the city hall in the previous evening. There, I saw that the appointment can be arranged only towards the end of August, which would be too late, since Noshad (whom I'm inviting from Iran) got an appointment at the German embassy in Tehran on Aug. 19. So I was desperate when I was thrown out there. But still somehow I decided to take a look at the page, and found out that there was one free slot only half an hour later. Miracle occurred at the city of Düsseldorf! And a positive one!

The staff who took my application was very friendly, though they usually are, as long as they are not doing some dully messy work (e.g. processing a visa of someone who didn't have one for 8 months). He was telling me how nice and polite Japanese people are. Well, it's nice to know that Japanese people are nice, but is it possible to invite Iranian people? Apparently it's an entirely different story: lately almost all applications are rejected, for no specific reason. He told me that it is extremely important to make sure that there is absolutely no mistake in the application. So I really had to look at each and every character several times. After having neglegted my own visa for more than 8 months while laughing about it, I really had to be serious this time. I'm living in a controversial world.

So much for the story of the declaration of responsibility. Right after that I sent it off by post. Now we all have to hope that it's gonna arrive in Iran at some point.

There was one more important occurrence around my life this week: Alfredo moved out. If you know me personally in Düsseldorf or if you've been following my blog, you certainly know that I had this flatmate Alfredo for exactly two years. The problem he had been facing was essentially his salary, since he was earning not even half of what I am earning. Finally he and his boss agreed that he'd work from Spain, where things are significantly cheaper and he can also live at his parents' place, so that pretty much the same amount of money he'd earn would be enough for the living.

So for both him and his boss, it was essentially a win-win situation. The biggest loser was --- me. As you might know, I've really appreciated his cooperative stance and openness, especially regarding the fact that I sincerely enjoyed all the nonsense we've created together. It's hard to believe that I'd come back home and not start speaking Spanish. Well, that's life. This experience makes me also recognize there are things that I actually appreciate, without being aware of them. Let's see how things are gonna evolve now.

2019/07/28 Hiking from Wuppertal-Vohwinkel to Velbert-Neviges!

So and here I am again, after two weeks of absence. Quite a few things happened in these two weeks that it feels like it was actually much more than that.

First of all, the very reason that there was no hiking event last week was this thing called couch surfing global event in Traben-Trarbach. I had seen this event quite some time ago, and finally I managed to join them for the first time. The idea is fairly close to the camping weekends that I organize, but in a very different dimension. The main organizer, Floh, actually grew up in Traben-Trarbach, so that he had a good idea of how the infrastructure works in the city and had some contacts to people in important functionalities (e.g. firefighters, police etc.). And there's this area right next to an airfield, which is probably not meant to be a campsite, but is still used as such. This one was already the 13th session, so it's been going on at least so many years. Quite obviously, it grew over time as well, so that the organizers apparently create the framework, whereas individual events are offered almost randomly, starting from yoga, massage to wine tasting or room escape, and much more. This is what I think a good event should look like. In particular, the events I've been organizing, especially the BBQ events, are too centralized. There's maybe something I can learn from them.

Floh does the stuff pretty much the same way as I do. He's of course the organizer, but he kept a low profile most of the time. I must say, compared to many other events, where organizers control everything, I preferred my style anyway, but this time looking at what Floh does, I can confirm from the perspective of a participant that this is a better style. It's also probably much more sustainable than having an authoritarian organizer.

The infrastructure was impressively well organized. There were a fridge lorry, a toilet wagon, a sauna etc. In my case anyway it's not possible to organize a location, so it doesn't really come into question, but it would be interesting to know how to do this kind of stuff. Maybe some time in the future, if I find a good location, maybe this is going to come into question in the end.

It is quite interesting to see the effect of organizing something like this in 13 consecutive years on couch surfing. As you might have heard me saying, couch surfing is not quite a popular platform anymore, most certainly not among young people. So it looked very much like the young people of a decade ago are still joining the event, so that most of the people were in their late 30s, or maybe even above. And they looked very much like they were still trying to enjoy the event as they did a decade ago, while bringing their children, some of whom are probably products of this camp. So there was a party in the evening every day, but the music was very much like the one that you could hear more than a decade ago. I had the feeling that I time slipped to my early days at the university.

I failed to mention it, but actually I went there with Zaman, for whom it was also the first time, but apparently he knew some people there (although I did, as well, from the hikes). He and I had very different approaches: he was actively talking to virtually everyone he came across, while I joined a conversation only whenever I happened to be in a conversation. Looking at what he was doing, I was wondering whether it's not exhausting to introduce himself whenever he sees a new person, especially since there were 100 or 200 people joining this event. But again, this gave me an insight into how to treat newbies. At least until now I often wondered whether I should actively talk to the people at the hike. But I guess if I'm joining a new event, I'm fairly okay with not being actively talked to. I might find it even exhausting if everyone tries to talk to me, which has anyway been my view so far as an organizer, but this time I saw that it is the same as a participant as well.

So because of this exhaustion, but also the temperature, I didn't stay until Sunday. I took a train on Saturday in the evening and went back to Düsseldorf.

I sometimes wonder if I'm the only one person who feels this slight sadness when a great vacation goes to an end over an extended weekend. This time, when I was on the train, I was feeling like this. It's not because I'm sad about coming back to my daily life (which I adore by the way), but somehow the interruption becomes so significant that it crosses some sort of line, and I get the feeling of being in a surreal situation, in which I'm neither on vacation nor in my daily life. Anyway, this is how I felt when I was coming back to Düsseldorf. I guess it was good to have a day off as buffer.

It was good to have a day off, also because the real hardship was yet to come: right after I came back, continental Europe experienced record heat, in which we happened to organize an excursion to a nearby city by bike. So in this excruciating heat, we were essentially cycling in the entirely deserted street, just to get to a hotel with no air conditioning. Here, in this hotel, we had 4 days of intensive programming, which was meant to be a fun event, whereas I was dreadfully unmotivated in addition to the heat.

And it was a great honour that we witnessed the election of Boris Johnson as the new prime minister of the UK while we were on the workshop. Right next to this record heat, it was like we were watching a drama in a day.

2019/07/14 Hiking from Hagen-Westerbauer to Heubing!

There's something I don't understand in the modern society.

Over the course of the 20th century, the male privilege was chipped away slowly, which is certainly a good thing, because except for the physical strength, there's apparently nothing that men are better at than women. It is today sheer bizarreness that we still haven't fully solved this problem. Well, this is fine, this is not related to what I don't understand.

While the male privilege was chipped away, there was very little done by the men. In other words, they could have said: "Hey! Let's show them how much better we can be!". This could have brought overall improvements. In reality, they continued sitting back, maybe hoping or thinking that the world would not change.

The fact that one is not as good as one thinks is sometimes a really interesting start, because it leads to very different paths: you reject the fact and continue being as before, you accept it and get along with the reality, or you bring about cause to the fundament and make the reality and your understanding consistent. What we saw so far was a gradual transition from the first possibility to the second, so at the beginning men blindly continued assuming they were "better". This is what I don't understand: how can they accept something that's so obviously wrong?

But I might also be telling that the equality is so natural, without knowing how real it appeared to them decades ago. Regarding this, I might be facing a piece of fact that sneaked up on me without realizing that this is the new reality.

In this sense, it might be worth taking things more seriously, which I might not accept right away, but I'm maybe simply wrong. And if I recognize that I'm wrong, there are maybe things I can do.

In the follow-up of the camping event of two weeks ago, this is how I started feeling these days. Yes, I blamed other people, but now the feeling grows more and more that I am the one who can make it better next time. And next week, I'll be joining the couch surfing global event in Traben-Trarbach. It's gonna be my first step to see how things are being done elsewhere and to bring improvements to myself.

Yes, it's stupid to think about whether men or women are better. As long as I can be a better person, that's all fine :)

2019/07/07 Hiking from Essen to Velbert and Street food and music festival!!

It felt like I was sleeping for a few days after the camping event of last week.

Recently, I installed an app on my phone which works as an alarm, which goes off when I'm in a light sleep, i.e. it listens to me and decides in which moment it should wake me up within a given time frame. This app actually measures the quality of sleep at the same time, and last week after the hike, I reached for the first time 99%. Indeed it felt like I was transported to the morning right after I slept in.

Summer is anyway the season for festivals. At the same time it the end of a school year here, so that there are naturally more parties than usual. A great thing about going hiking regularly is that we encounter so many people, that every weekend there's someone organizing something. One problem is of course, wherever you go, you see essentially the same people. This is more or less what happened when I went to Rohith's graduation party day before yesterday, that I knew most of the faces present there.

There was one girl from Ukraine though, who I thought was a Russian hearing her accent, although I quickly noticed she wasn't, when I started talking about how great the Soviet movies and songs were. Essentially, she started telling me that the ideas of these movies were copied from the US and the songs were of low quality. Well, maybe I should be a bit more careful next time when I see a person with an East Slavic accent.

But of course, this is mostly a political thing. When it came to the substance, she obviously liked the movies that I was talking about. We ended up singing songs from Cheburashka and some Soviet movies.

Then came the hike today, the first one after the camping weekend. Weirdly, no one really talked about the camp, as if they knew that I didn't like it very much.

I must say, I was very happy to do a light hike like today's one after having had so many heavy weekends. Some people were obviously not very happy about it, but for me it was like a short break from the exhaustion accumulating over the weekends. Anyway the street food and music festival was also a lovely place, even though on the last day of this 3-day event, it was more like a family day today. I guess today's hike gave me much energy to look forward to the future sessions.