29 May 2011


"Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin", I still have a suitcase in Berlin, is the title of a famous German song. If only it were so easy. As I type this, my belongings are spread over three countries, on three continents, and I plan to visit each of them over the next three weeks.

The logistics of temporarily moving to one place, while maintaining primary residence in another and a pied-à-terre in a third are pretty daunting. First of all, which suitcase should go where? (Thanks to the TSA's silly rules, only the two of my bags are approved for travel through the US to Chile.) Then, what to fill the bags with? How many shirts go in each bag? Where will I require more formal, where more casual dress? How many pairs of underwear per country? Does this left sock in Canada match this right one in Switzerland? Which shoes will I need where? What type of adapter will which gadget need to work in each country? When, and where, will I have an opportunity to wash stuff? Who deserves which gift, from where, in what place? And, crucially, how can I make sure that my personal supply of chocolate is never interrupted?

Fortunately, Chile is heading into winter while the other two places are gearing up for summer, so that at least there is no competition for the tuque and winter coat right now. But then again, maybe I'll take a side trip to a Chilean beach resort in the north, or even Easter Island? So perhaps bring shorts and sandals after all? Or should I join my boss and go skiing in the Andes? Nah, those ski pants just don't fit in.

Any way I spin it, I'll be schlepping a lot of luggage to and fro over the next few weeks. Inevitably, I'll be having too much of some stuff, while sorely missing other items. I'll be trying to keep track of what I put where. And I'll be surprised to find things in the country I least expect it to be in. Of course, all of this is assuming that my baggage follows wherever I go. Should some airline, somewhere along the way, decide to send my bags on a different trajectory from their organizationally challenged owner, the logistical fun will reach entirely new heights. So maybe better stuff a few essentials into the carry-on trolley. Oh, but wait - which one? Aaargh!

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15 May 2011


Life sometimes unfolds in serendipitous ways. My off-the-cuff decision to spend a summer in Montréal to learn French turned out to be a key factor in my eventual moving there. And now, the other such immersion stay I've undertaken, in Argentina and Chile, leads into an extended stay in the latter.

Thanks to a work assignment requiring an on-site project manager, the Chilean capital will host me for about five months starting in June, and the knowledge of having volunteered for this opportunity fills me to equal measure with excitement and anxiousness. After all, while I feel comfortable with the topics of the workday, I have spent far less time assessing life outside the office at the foot of the Andes than I did in Montréal before deciding to move there.

Fortunately, my assignment currently gives me the opportunity to spend a week in Santiago before actually settling in, with an aim to get to know both the people and project I'll be working for, as well as the city itself. And so far, I am impressed. Shiny glass + steel office buildings, filled with smartly dressed professionals sipping their cortados while tapping on their iPads, enormous shopping malls with every convenience one could wish for, an efficient subway far more modern than Montréals, and streets that feel both quiet and clean for Latin American standards make this seem a very liveable city. My forays have helped tick off some key checkboxes (Functioning ATM: check. - Locall cell phone: check. - Dry cleaner: check. - Alfajores con dulce de leche: check. ) although some others (public indoor pool: fail. - Fresh non-UHT milk: fail. - Affordable supplies of Swiss chocolate: fail.) will likely mean a temporary change of lifestyle. All of this is part of the deal, as will be living through a (mild) Southern Hemisphere winter during my assignment, before returning to Canada just in time for their cold season.

Going through my "city discovery" to-do list this weekend, I was surprised by the degree of routine I appear to have developed. After London and Montréal, this is the third city I will make "mine" in just over two years, and in the process I seem to have learned to cover my bases. But I've also added reference points: Santiago sports the diverse neighbourhoods and large parks of Montréal, and the stunning snow-capped backdrop of Zurich. And yet it is far away from both of these places, and the friends I have made in them. Moving to Chile means leaving two homes and two social networks behind, so it is comforting to know that my sojourn will be interrupted by several "home visits", as well as hopefully some friends making the trip to Santiago. This way, the next few months will hopefully let me live the best of three worlds!

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3 May 2011


There is no doubt: Architecture is a form of communication. The way a building is designed speaks of its purpose, importance, and quality. It is a token for the power, ambition and not least the imiagination of the people behind it. Since time immemoral, mankind has sought to express itself via the structures it builds. Religious edifices, from ancient Egypt's pyramids to Cambodia's temples and Renaissance Italy's impressive cathedrals, are particularly stunning examples of mankind's determination and efforts.

Today, the grandest designs are arguably no longer reserved for deities. Instead, the 21st century's firm belief in progress and technology is celebrated in magnificient cathedrals of transportation - modern "greenfield" airports. Unlike the overcrowded nations of Europe and tax-deprived governments of North America, the booming economies of Asia have built a good number of these new and megalomaniac air travel hubs over the last two decades. As it happens, my recent junket around the world included a good number of them.

From Renzo Piano's pale-rose and pastel Osaka Kansai, via Sir Norman Foster's dome-roofed Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok and Beijing Terminal 3, to the retro-space-station looks of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, these gigantic, glass-and-steel, light-swept terminals are a testament to the aspirations of their host cities, and mankind's unwavering faith in air transport as an engine for human progress. Built on artificial islands, and drawing heavily on the elate-and-awe effects of wide horizons, large window fronts and sweeping views of the magical flying machines out on the apron, they instill excitement and anticipation in their visitors. Even if you're not as fond of "airworld" as I am, you will be put into travelling mood by these temples of transport.

Every time I step into an airport, that magical aura of airline logos, exotic destinations on the departure board and an international crowd zipping about instantly enchant me - rarely more so than under the roof of Hong Kong's magnificient hub, which has been the pivot of many a memorable trip. So imagine my surprise, and satisfaction, when I discovered that Beijing's Terminal 3, also by Norman Foster, follows the same design lines, except for a color palette changed to hues of red, in a nod to Chinese preferences and the terminal's design theme of "dragon spine". As it emerges from the city's perennial smog haze, its reseblance to the mythical creature's curved back cannot be denied. Inside, it awaits with all the modern conveniences one needs before being catapulted through the skies to destinations in the Middle Kingdom and beyond.

In doing so, it successfully treads the thin line between adhering to international standards of design and terminology, and providing passing travellers with a local flavor. In the same vein, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi charms with beautifully landscaped (albeit seemingly inaccessible) tropical gardens, while little flower pots labled "welcome to KIX", tended by local school kids, attest to the diligence and sense of purpose of the Japanese. Add to this the quintessential Asian efficiency and courtesy (white-gloved security inspectors, anyone?), and passing through these airports becomes an experience as elating and uplifting as a visit to a baroque cathedral may have been centuries ago. Who could doubt the positive effects of globalization and connectivity in such a setting?

Although the midfield terminal at my last stop, the intimately familiar Zurich airport, is by no means dated, it seemed quaint and puny compared to the Asian mega-ports I had just called at. And yet, travelling through ZRH will always remain a unique experience to me: Not just for the fact that friends and family will be waiting beyond the sliding doors, but precisely for the cozy hominess the place exudes. After all, Zurich is the only airport where cowbells and yodeling welcome you on the inter-terminal shuttle, while a blonde Heidi blows you a kiss through the train's window. And so, much like a devout catholic may enjoy the odd visit to St. Peter's before returning to his local chapel, I am touched by the Asian cathedrals of travel. But it is that airfield in Kloten that I will always return to.

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