28 Feb 2010

Skyline

It has got to be one of the most beautiful urban vistas in the world. Ever since I first visited Hong Kong, I am captivated by the vistas of Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and the tip of the Kowloon peninsula. The contrast is between the man-made architectural wonders, one skyscaper more extravagant than the other, and nature's stunning setting of lush green hills and a sliver of South China sea. Add to this the frequently changing weather, from clear blue to low-passing clouds or sudden downpours, and you have a very versatile combination.

This weekend, which I passed yet again in the former British colony, saw me admire this skyline from multiple angles. For my first night, I redeemed a free night award at the Grand Hyatt, attached to the HK Convention & Exhibition Centre, and was offered a room with a harbor view over to the Kowloon side. The next morning, I relocated to familiar Starwood ground in form of the Sheraton, directly opposite the Hyatt in Tsim Sha Tsui. I would be hard pressed to say which view I liked better, but I don't think I will ever tire of gazing at the nighttime lightshow before going to bed, and opening the curtains in the morning to see the Star Ferry go by.

Probably the most unusual, and definitely the most breathtaking view of the harbor presented itself on Saturday, as I climbed the last steps of the Wilson Trail's second stage, arriving on a summit high above Quarry Bay. Ever since a Swiss friend introduced me to the idea, I have started taking hikes in Hong Kong's hinterland on every visit. Unbeknownst to most tourists, a wide network of hiking trails criss-crosses the hilly countryside of the city-state, offering a surprising and all together different perspective on the destination. Having previously hiked on Lamma and Lantau islands, as well as in the New Territories, it was definitely the turn of the pièce de résistance, Hong Kong island itself. I set out on the south side near Stanley, and made my way steep uphill in the humid but foggy air, across multiple hills and past shrines, old British bunkers and grim-looking joggers. Four hours and 2.9 liters of drinking water later, I reached the panoramic viewpoint during a moment of almost clear vision. Solemn, serene and imposing, it was well worth all the effort, and gave me the excuse I needed to tuck into afternoon tea at another posh hotel in the late afternoon.

Writing these lines moments before boarding my flight back to Canada, I am happy to say that hiking in Hong Kong provides lasting memories. For me, they are not just in the form of pictures, but also in sore legs and blisters...

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20 Feb 2010

Wanderlust

Every now and then, a hearty dose of continent hopping works wonders to cure the itch for travel, appropriately called Reisefieber in German. Barely having returned from my little European jaunt, I have already left home yet again, this time heading straight north... and then down again on the other side of the North Pole. And before I knew it, I found myself in the lobby of a wonderful, welcoming and well-located hotel, taking a plunge in the whirlpool overlooking Wic.. ah, no, Victoria Harbour. My wanderlust will see me travel on tomorrow, but I'll return to Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities the world over, next weekend. At which point I then intend to take the "wanderlust" rather more literally.

With so much travel in such a short time, things can eventually fade into one big fuzzy memory, given the general state of transition and jetlag. That would be a shame though, for I still value and cherish every single trip I get to take. Therefore, both to help my own failing memory and potentially for your reading pleasure, I have complied a few trip notes specifc to last week's Lufthansa flights. They are a far cry from the elaborate and illustrated trip reports that set the standards on Flyertalk.com, but it was the best I could do for now. You see, my time here is precious, and the shopping list at some of my favorite fashion retailers is long. And that's before we start talking about the food... Waiter!

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12 Feb 2010

Rubber ducky

Each religion has its treasured relics. They are icons and incarnations of the beliefs, the hopes and aspirations associated with the faith in question. One of the relics of my religion of choice is a rubber ducky. Not just any ordinary bathroom accessory, mind you, but a rather particular bird in mustard yellow, with "Lufthansa First Class Terminal" tatooed across its chest (well, duck breast, really). It has been featured in a recent Condé Nast article about my tribe, entitled "The Triumph of the Air Warriors". And today, I've hunted one down.

I am typing these lines from a comfy recliner leather seat in that famed luxury space in Frankfurt, having arrived this morning in First Class from Houston, and continuing on to London if the weather permits. Snow has been wreaking havoc on my travel plans so far, first forcing me to avoid New York as an overnight stop, and now requiring me to avoid Munich on my way to London, where I am hoping to meet up with friends for a few short days.

Of course, there would have been much more simple routes to get to London. But they would not have been as rewarding to my mileage account (and my waistline, I am tempted to think). And they would not have provided me with an opportunity for this duck hunt, either! So indeed, I am combining the enjoyable with the useful on this trip, which has become a veritable "mileage run" while all the same giving me a chance to meet with friends I cherish.

If you would excuse me now, my ride to the next aircraft is waiting...

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6 Feb 2010

Anticipation

How do you measure anticipation? For the approaching Vancouver Olympic Games, a thermometer may not be the appropriate tool, as it would remain firmly below zero even with the opening ceremony a mere six days away. Clearly, things must be heating up by now - or so we are made to believe. But realistically, here in Montréal, some 3'700km from the Olympic Flame, people don't seem to have warmed much to the event. The section at the Bay department store where the official Olympic clothing line is sold was not exactly bustling with activity when I checked it out a few days ago, and media coverage so far was rather muted - with a short outburst of excitement when Canada's roster for the hockey tournament was announced.

Apart from that, the francophones seem to care, if at all, about the degree of recognition and application of the official language of the Olympic Movement, le français. There is a bigwig, going by the grandiose title of "Grand Témoin de la Francophonie aux Jeux Olympiques d’hiver de Vancouver", who is supposed to enforce the proper use of language during the event. He even got to meet with Canada's Governor General. Of course, the role is too politically sensitive to be assigned to just any fierce separatist Québecois, who would probably raise many a ruckus. So instead, a grandstanding but ultimately harmless retired politician from a certain neutral country was picked. (Apparently, they have run out of jobs at the UN...)

In ROC (Rest Of Canada, should you wonder) however, exicitement about the upcoming sports fest seems to be mounting, the farther west, the more. In Vancouver, they use a countdown clock, which obviously jives with the Swiss mindset as well. When I took a picture of it on my visit in early 2008, little did I know that I would live in the host country by the time the games open. And when I moved to this country, little did I know that I'd spend a grand total of three days in Canada while the games are on. The rest of the time will see me in places where they know winter sports from hearsay at best.

And yet I am merry - in anticipation of red rose service, afternoon tea, dim sum and Cathay Delight. Or, as Olympians would say: Being there is everything.

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1 Feb 2010

You can say you to me

They are admittedly old jokes. Helmut Kohl declaring to US President Bush "you can say you to me", or a terrified French President Mitterrand during a choppy helicopter ride, crying out to Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi "on est perdu!", to which the graduate of Primarschule Kandersteg happily responds "freut mich, ich bin Dölf".

But they do point to a real issue. Both German and French have a formal and an informal style of addressing somebody, the use of which is dictated by complicated implicit social codes. English, on the other hand, has done away with such subtleties a long time ago. This makes introductions and conversations in English much less political, and is probably the reason behind the more casual first name basis so prevalent in English-speaking corporate culture. People brought up amidst the social pitfalls of Goethe's and Voltaire's language revel the liberties of expressing themselves in English.

And then there's crunchtime. In my case, the moment of truth came yesterday, in a most unlikely location: As I was stepping into the changing rooms of my local pool, there were lots of daddies getting their sons dressed (Sunday morning is family time, meaning that by the time I get there in the afternoon, there's even more need for chlorine in the pool). Picking a locker, I exchanged a few English words of courtesy with the mid-forties dad drying off his son there, when I suddenly noticed that he was talking to his toddler in Swiss German. Intrigued, I eavesdropped for a while, but eventually succumbed to the typical expat habit that I had lambasted as annoying and provincial so many times in the past. Still, I just had to out myself as a compatriot!

I made a friendly remark in dialect to the boy, which earned me a blank stare from him but the immediate attention and a smile from his father. "Oh, also Swiss?" he asked. "Yes", was my reply, already noticing the awkwardness of the situation. "Been here for long?" The conversation went on for another two or three pseudo-phrases, with tensions mounting by the second, but let's face it: You can only omit personal pronouns for so long. We had to make a decision: Would we be Sie or Du?

I rescued myself into gesturing at the boy and resorting to the indiscriminate plural Ihr, to which my counterpart flinched and responded with a phrase that started with Sie and ended in Dir. My answer was no less clumsy. We stared at each other for a second, and then simultaneously burst out into laughter. You can say you to me!

P.S. The Economist has recently published a wonderful article on the subject.

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