Airport of Mind

Traveller in a world of thoughts
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 :)
Instagram

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.

Football’s Coming Home — To Germany

Great mashup I’ve been listening to throughout the last weeks and very fitting after the thrilling match on Sunday.

Recapturing the World Cup of 2014

“The Management Myth” — Don’t Get an M.B.A., Study Philosophy Instead

Matthew Stewart, former founder of a consulting firm, wrote a fabulous article for The Atlantic in 2006 about his experiences of the value of management education and theory for business practice and success. It is probably one of the articles in the recent months I enjoyed reading most. Having a doctoral degree in philosophy and having been a management consultant for years Steward has a unique insight in the matter and his account on the usefulness of management theory seems to be well founded. And beyond it’s full of wonderful lines, some I like to quote in the following.

On the state of modern management theory and its ever new concepts he writes:

Each new fad calls attention to one virtue or another—first it’s efficiency, then quality, next it’s customer satisfaction, then supplier satisfaction, then self-satisfaction, and finally, at some point, it’s efficiency all over again. If it’s reminiscent of the kind of toothless wisdom offered in self-help literature, that’s because management theory is mostly a subgenre of self-help. Which isn’t to say it’s completely useless. But just as most people are able to lead fulfilling lives without consulting Deepak Chopra, most managers can probably spare themselves an education in management theory.

Having been through a large and diverse pile of management theory tomes Steward summarizes:

[...] Taylor and Mayo carved up the world of management theory. According to my scientific sampling, you can save yourself from reading about 99 percent of all the management literature once you master this dialectic between rationalists and humanists. The Taylorite rationalist says: Be efficient! The Mayo-ist humanist replies: Hey, these are people we’re talking about! [...] Ultimately, it’s just another installment in the ongoing saga of reason and passion [...]. The tragedy, for those who value their reading time, is that Rousseau and Shakespeare said it all much, much better.

To conclude, this has been my favourite paragraph:

The recognition that management theory is a sadly neglected subdiscipline of philosophy began with an experience of déjà vu. As I plowed through my shelfload of bad management books, I beheld a discipline that consists mainly of unverifiable propositions and cryptic anecdotes, is rarely if ever held accountable, and produces an inordinate number of catastrophically bad writers. It was all too familiar. There are, however, at least two crucial differences between philosophers and their wayward cousins. The first and most important is that philosophers are much better at knowing what they don’t know. The second is money. In a sense, management theory is what happens to philosophers when you pay them too much.

And if you’re by now not hooked up for this reading, I really can’t help you.

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