Airport of Mind

Traveller in a world of thoughts

Hello November! or It’s Already Half Way Over

Hello November, that went fast! I didn’t expect you until in a bit, but, swooosh, you’re already here and remind me that my time in Canada is fairly limited, quite unfortunately. Isn’t strange to undergo a complete change of mind from a rather reluctant and struggling stance in the first couple weeks to a very relaxed and confident attitude? Maybe it’s the fate of the traveler to face struggles and to find ways to get more comfortable with oneself. I certainly did because at one point I deliberately decided to enjoy myself and the time I have the chance to be in Vancouver to the fullest — in my and not someone else’s way. But it’s not that, I also met wonderful people, made great friends and hopefully strengthened existing ones. Eventually it all boils down to the people which surround and care about you. Appealing to Adam Smith and to his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, he didn’t come up with the following insight into human nature out of nowhere:

Humanity does not desire to be great, but to be beloved.

The “Theory of Moral Sentiments” is one of Smith’s great works, which I really enjoyed reading. We were covering it in my “History of Philosophy and Economics” class, next up is the “Wealth of Nations”, his magnum opus.

Since I’m on a tight schedule to pick up my girlfriend from the airport in just a bit, let me throw in and summarise some tidbits of my experiences and on-going observations with some bullet points (not necessary the tool a good writer, but whatever):

  • School (or rather university) is fun and most of all interesting, but I feel the on-going workload is indeed higher. In general it occurs to me that quantity is more valued but the expectations in terms of quality for each assignment are less. But I might as well be biased or too less informed. In any way, I’m glad that I’m not taking a full workload because that’s really keeping you busy to an extent which is just not something I’d like be when I’m on exchange. There’s always than school to explore and to learn.
  • This is a random change of topic, but: hell, you smell a lot of weed when walking through Vancouver. The authorities are quite lenient in terms of Marijuana, so it’s not too rare to see people on the street with joints. Probably more likely than with cigarettes which almost seem to be banned from the public altogether.
  • I might have emphasised it already but let me do it again: it rains a lot in Vancouver. This is due to Vancouver’s unique setting, also being in a former rainforest region. Strangely the rain here bugs me less than in Germany and doesn’t make me feel being locked in at home or anything. Maybe there’s indeed no bad weather, instead there’s just inappropriate gear. A waterproof raincoat and possibly a rain cover for your backpack is considered a must-have in Vancouver.
  • One aspect I really like about this city is how commercial and residential areas are so intertwined and not so much separated. Obviously, I’m not necessarily taking about the very heart of commercial downtown, but there are quite a few areas with great, often independent stores where you just have turn on a corner and you’re immediately in a fine residential area. I don’t feel able to judge if that’s a particular quality of Vancouver, but I find it very comforting, just because it emphasises how businesses are embedded in communities and are essentially driven by normal people. Maybe it gives hindsight to a stronger entrepreneurship spirit too, but that’s just a guess.
  • I recently had to pick up a friend from Vancouver’s Airport YVR and I once again realised it’s probably the greatest airport in the world. Due to the mostly carpeted floor the overall noise is just way lower than you’d expect it from an airport. It’s also full of First Nations art objects which gives it a nice, welcoming touch. Obviously, YVR couldn’t handle the masses of people like Frankfurt’s airport does, it’s eventually a small one. It recently got voted for being one of the world’s best airports to sleep in! Certainly something Frankfurt can’t compete with.

I’ll try to continue this list at another point. Until then, enjoy the latest additions to my Instagram profile, I just came home from trip to Whistler and took some really nice photos. Take care!

A Weekend in Seattle

On the first weekend of October three friends and I set for Seattle. Having briefly written about it in the last post, I’m not going add much today — except for some pictures which I finally uploaded to Instagram this week. Thus this post is more of a curating thing, putting the pictures into context. Seattle is definitely worth a visit and has a couple nice places worth checking out, say the Elliot Bay Book Company on 10th Avenue and the surrounding, really cool indie shops (I got a leather sleeve for my computer by Brenthaven, a local bag design company). Yet, I’m sure (and the fierce competition for jobs proves me right) that Vancouver is still the much better place to live.

Gorgeous High School building in Seattle.

The Catholic Church in downtown Seattle.

Interesting architecture in downtown Seattle!

Waterfront Seattle.

Sunset over Seattle and its Public Market.

Tuum Est! Vancouver, In and Around.

Fast forward from the last post on September 10 to today, almost four weeks later. A new spirit has embraced me and I’m back on track for thoroughly enjoying life in this incredible city, named after British captain George Vancouver who explored a good part of the northwestern Pacific Coast of North America (but this just as a side note). Unlike I expected but as my mother accurately predicted (what is it that mothers have a such a good instinct for such things?) it took me around four weeks to really get comfortable with the new environment in all its facets. Strongly connected to that I (re)learned a valuable lesson in relying on intuition, and, foremost, in patience. Strangely, the world is not constituted as all those “feel good” story make us believe, friends and subsequent great memories don’t just fall from the sky like rain drops. Instead it takes time and effort to establish friendships, making great experiences possible. And you know, that’s okay. By adhering to patience and keeping the eyes and ears open, I was able to make peace with myself, enabling me to enjoy just being with myself in the same way as I do like company. I feel lucky that I was able to work on me in that way because it gives me a great deal of personal freedom and independence which I thoroughly enjoy. To a considerable extent life is truly how UBC’s motto “tuum est” suggests — it is up to you. It is up to you what to draw from it, how to make the most from it!

That being said, let’s delve a little into how I spent the last weeks. The weekend, which just passed, I’ve been to Seattle with friends and hence also the first time to the US in my life. It’s been a great time, though without expanding too much on that right now I think Vancouver (and probably Canada as a whole) is a much better place to be — despite higher taxes and price levels. One thing which really struck me in Seattle was the traffic in actual downtown. They have a highway cutting through downtown (like, for real!), and the city seemed also to be utterly car-centered, in a way which I’ve never experienced it before. That aside, our group of four people had a great time with a renting a nice apartment on airbnb, and, i.e., having dinner in a German kind-of-biergarten restaurant where I had Paulaner Oktoberfest beer and a pretty good Sauerbraten.

As recognisable on the picture above fall starts to creep in here in Vancouver as well. Nonetheless, we still had a lot of amazing days of great weather. With my newly acquired longboard I took the opportunity to do some rides along Vancouver and it’s seawall. It’s been amazingly beautiful and super fun! Unfortunately I think I overstrained my ankle a bit which is why I had to skip a couple of field hockey trainings (I’m participating in the varsity team’s trainings for fun, three times a week) as well as more rides since approximately a week. Nevertheless, I still didn’t stop to continue exploring the city — there are just to many cool little stores to have a look at, not to mention the many spots from which to enjoy the terrific landscape surrounding Vancouver. As of right now, I’m sitting in UBC’s law library looking through the vast window front on the Pacific and the mountains north of Vancouver. I don’t think that there are many universities in the world which can you provide with such a view. In a nutshell, I’m really grateful being able to spend a few months here to enjoy UBC’s, its great facilities (on which I could easily expand on in a single, long paragraph) and Vancouver likewise. And I’m already hoping for coming back later at some point to actually live here, given that I find a liveable place to live which I can properly afford — a considerable constraint since Vancouver’s housing market is highly competitive in increasing prices as much as possible.

So long, get back for the next post and until that check Instagram!

An Officer and a Spy

A great thriller by Robert Harris I recently enjoyed reading, featuring the very rich historical background of the ‘Dreyfus Affair’ in late 19th century France.

Two Weeks in Vancouver — Some Thoughts and Observations

Barely two weeks have passed and yet it seems to me that enormously more time went by. It feels like a world lays in between those days prior to my departure and today, which is literally true once you consider the distance of over 8000 kilometres. 

Nonetheless, a little over fourteen days is not a huge time span, thus my thoughts and observations are still fresh and genuine, and therefore a lot more fun to share. One just gets used to different environments so fast and you can’t question everything around you the entire time — not even as “part-time philosopher”. First of all I have to emphasise that in regards of weather Vancouver has particularly treated me really well. My Instagram feed actually shows that quite nicely (yes, this is an implicit call on having a look for yourself!).

Usually, so I was told, September and October are splendid months in Vancouver, yet it can be a pretty foggy and rainy time as well. A week ago on “Imagine Day”, when all UBC clubs (over 300) presented themselves to recruit new members, I enjoyed a little appetizer of that. I was thus so soaked that I immediately went to buy a proper rain jacket (almost gore-tex grade) afterwards. You have to face the truth that this is an essential equipment to sustain here. But enough for the weather!

Picking up on with what I closed the last article, the general command of English, I must confess I either underestimated it or had too high expectations towards myself or probably both. It takes more time to get back to the peak of the past than I thought it would and it requires also more effort. In a way it is a lesson in patience and the urge for exercise. Eventually it boils down to the fact that English is easy to learn but hard to master, which is at least my impression. But maybe this also a crucial part of the travelling experience, as one philosopher once put it, that travelling has to be inconvenient and flawed with obstacles to be truly “travelling”.

Turning to my “observations”, which are by no means unique and never stated before, I’d start with the sheer discrepancy of space in North America and Europe. I daresay, that the difference is indeed huge. This is nothing which I wasn’t already aware of earlier, but it has struck more vigorously than ever. The streets, the cars, the dimension of the city and my campus are so much bigger (“bigger than bigger” as Apple would claim). Fun fact: an Audi Q7 which is considered to be a very large car in Germany looks quite reasonable in contrast to those many Dodge Rams etc. which are very popular here. I can also see the point of using the car here so much, because often enough walking really sucks since the ways are considerably long. For instance, I wouldn’t even dare to walk from on end of the campus to the other, it just takes me to long. I’d rather take the bus.

Another thing which made an impression on me is the different use of resources. I feel that North America, being blessed with essential resources like timber, gas and oil (Alberta’s tarsands i.e.), is way easier on resources and does not care as much as Europe about a more or less efficient application. This is obviously a biased and generalised observation, yet sheer number of pickup cars driving around (and I’m sure not everyone actually has a use for the dedicated features of that car category) supports my thesis at least in terms of fuel. The largely popular use of timber for almost everything around the house and many more on the hand makes totally sense for Canada, yet on the other hand it still appears strange to my eyes, being used to see houses built up with stone and concrete. Maybe Canada’s approach is actually more sustainable, who knows.

One last thing I recently made my mind up with concerns privacy. I think that North Americans have a largely different conception as Germans do (again, this is highly generalised) which also accounts for the more open attitude towards strangers. When I think in terms of the German privacy conception I imagine everyone being equipped with a kind of considerable, invisible bubble around one’s body which represents one’s private space. Germans usually don’t like unknown people (to interfere with their bubble unless they are specifically invited to do so. On average privacy is considered an important value in Germany, which is also reflected in law, constitution and public debate. I’d even say that use of social media in terms of commitment to share every tiny bit of one’s life is considerably different. North Americans on the other hand either don’t seem to have such a bubble or it is definitely smaller in scale. On average they seem value openness and the willingness to meet, to get to know new people, and to hear their stories more than privacy implications. Assuming this to be a valid thesis can offer one explanation why privacy concerns regarding the excessive use of social media and the behaviour of big players like Facebook and co. seems not so much of an issue here as it is Germany.

So long, it’s bed time for me! 

Have a Peak at (My) Instagram!

Actually I have rejected Instagram for two reason for quite a while: first, I always thought it to be like an awfully hipster thing and second, even if I’d have been okay with that I just didn’t come across enough interesting motifs to get grip on with Instagram. Recently I’ve just dumped these considerations and created a proper account to have a decent place to share my photos at since I tend to have my iPhone a lot more with me than my DSLR. So, I’m inviting you to have a peak and follow me around bit on my tours through Vancouver and UBC :)

First Week Back in Vancouver

View on False Creek and Yaletown.

View on False Creek and Yaletown.

Well, that was it, my first week being back Vancouver. In a way it feels unreal that already a week has passed since I arrived. In the meantime I have picked up on parts of my old life, which I had when I went here to high school. Funnily enough this connection has persisted pretty well. But let me tell you story from the beginning.

Actually, I wanted to go to Edinburgh for a semester abroad to get into the Anglo-Saxon education system for two reasons: to brush my English and to see if this would work for since I’m considering doing my master degree abroad. Unfortunately though I didn’t got the place. Meanwhile I had also applied for the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver where I got through, so I decided to go for it. It was with a bit of mixed feelings though since it’s definitely a commitment for me deciding to be separated from my girlfriend for four straight months. It may sound so little and even though being used to a long-distance relationship before hasn’t not brightened up that promise. A distance of over 8000 kilometres is not something you’d happily overcome just for the sake of a weekend together. Deciding upon that in my age has been hard but right now it feels like the right thing to do.

Torn apart with these considerations, luckily being distracted at some point with an interesting and nice conversation with the person next to me on the plane, I arrived in Vancouver. I have to mention at that point that YVR, Vancouver’s airport, is probably one of the most beautiful airports in the world, just because you feel so comfortable and almost cozy there (everything is laid out with carpet which contributes considerably to that ambiance). That said, I still felt so screwed from inside which is why the warm welcoming I eventually got was so overwhelming. My former photography teacher I had at my Canadian high school and my best friend in high school just waited outside the exits to pick me up. I was just so grateful to have someone basically to go to.

The next days went by on the fly though the first two days were pretty hard, because these are the days when you miss home just awfully. Being able to stay at my former teacher’s house and really feeling to be heartily welcomed helped me overcome those struggles and allowed me to get comfortable with Vancouver once again. It is also lucky for me to stay with here since Vancouver’s housing market isn’t going easy on me, looking for a room within the period of just September to December. I might have approached it wrong in some respects but I truthfully admit expecting it to be easier to find something.

Speaking of expectations, let’s talk about food because this issue drives me mad: it’s so hard to find healthy, nutritious food in North America. Even the cafeterias I’ve yet discovered on the vast campus of UBC mainly consist of franchises like A&W, Starbucks and co. So if you’re into good healthy food it’s definitely challenging over here. Another interesting thing to discover have been the dimensions. Almost everything is just vastly larger. I know, I’ve been used to it 5 years ago, but now it feels even more overwhelming. The campus of my home university would easily fit onto UBC’s campus many, many times. This obviously results in much longer commuting times wherever you’re heading to.

To cover it up as this point, a great and impressive week has just passed and many more are to come, since university is just about to start. I’m most grateful that I still have friends here who care for me. And I’m very confident that this four months stay will really foster my education. Being able to speak English in a real life environment feels great, though I must say that my tongue still often feels sort of twisted, that I’m missing out vocabulary I used to have and that my brain is not working at the  pace as I’d like to have it. But I guess it’ll get sorted out over time. I just have to be patient and ‘brave’ enough to make mistakes and not going too harsh on myself. This is something I’m have to learn and work on.

Is this real life or just fantasy?

After being done with this semester’s exams and seemingly endless sessions in the library (which thanks to a friend were still somewhat and surprisingly bearable!), I can’t help myself asking: Is this the real life or just fantasy?

Ahhhh … Queen. Wonderful music.


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