Uzbekistan

A friend of mine told me last year that he and his family is planning a holiday in Uzbekistan, I thought about it for one second, asked if I could join, they said yes, so here I am.

Thats right, a country thats starts with U and is not the US. Situated in the middle of Asia, Uzbekistan is a former Soviet-Union state which received independence in 1990 and then went the way of many of these states, meaning they had a leader (Islam Karimow) who ruled the country with a hard hand, leaving little room for freedom of the person. If you want you may call these leaders dictators (I sure would), but keep in mind that this perspective is western-centric. But ok, this is no political text so here´s a fun fact about Uzbekistan: it is one of only two countries in the world which has no access to an ocean and is surrounded by countries which also have none, meaning you have to cross two borders to see some seawaves; the other country is Lichtenstein, which is even more unknown and solely exists to serve as a tax haven in the middle of Europe.

I flew from Berlin via Istanbul and my first conclusion from this trip is that I now officially dislike flying. I was never fond of it before but the waiting and sitting around airports and then being cramped into a can with hundreds of other people, it just annoys me. Sure, I can read a book or listen to music, but I can imagine a thousand more pleasant locations to do this. Also, everything is overpriced on airports. And yes, of course theres the environmental aspect (sorry Greta). Also tourists rate pretty low on my list of groups of people I feel comfortable among, somewhere between businessman (which is maybe the second most groups on airports and plans) and drunken football fans. Most of them are ok of course, minding their own business, some are even nice to talk to, but some are arrogant, selfish, with a me-comes-first attitude, these guys who always have to be first at check-in and then take forever to take their f… seats in the plane. I don want to hear their stories (but have to because of the cramped locations), I don´t care where they´re going to or coming from, I want to have them out of my sight, I don´t want to spend time in their vicinity. I´d rather take a one day trainride or a weeklong motorbike trip than a one hour flight. Of course, some locations can only be reached by plane in a reasonable time but next time, I´ll fly business class to have at least some peace and also to pay a more reasonable price, because flying in my opinion is way too cheap and by that I mean that it should cost 5 or 10 times as much (Hello Greta).

Ok, this will be the only ranting part of this text, I promise, just wanted to get it off my chest and it also fits my terrible mood at the end of the flight. So lets start with something useful, shall we.

Tashkent

I arrived at 3 in the morning and fortunately got picked up at the airport and brought to the hotel but then had trouble sleeping so half the day was lost. In the afternoon I joined on the tour through the city, we saw a huge food bazaar, where each foodgroup has its own area (bread, fruits,meat etc.), different smells every 20 metres, but compared to other bazaars I´ve seen much more relaxed. In general people here are kind of reserved, friendly, open, relaxed, haven´t seen any trouble or experienced any nuisance. I´d compare it with an eastern european city but Tashkent has its own touch.

So we took a stroll around town, next day too, visited the zoo (didn´t like that one but I´m not an expert and am also not fond of zoos) and I´m kind of impressed by Tashkent, large open streets, lots of green, buildings that combine the very old, the old and the modern.

Had a very interesting talk today about the history and current situation of Uzbeskistan, the stuff you´ll never learn from wikipedia etc.

The state of Uzbekistan exists since the middle of the 19th century, when all the Khanates. Khanates and Emirates have been the governmental structure till then, both meaning that there was a ruler who had its own small kingdom, the difference being that a Khan is a direct descendant from Dshingis Khan who apparently had a lot of wives and therefore countless of offspring and the males and their offspring were allowed to rule over their designated part of land. Emirs basically had the same power but were no descendants. And there were lots of wars between these kingdoms so I guess that the unification had kind of an relieving effect of the people, their culture, arts etc. A prominent person in the history of almost all central-asia is Timur Tamerlan who conquered a huge area. But ok, for more history, well you know where to find it.

Another interesting thing which got solved by the conversation is that although Uzbekistan has a 90% muslim population and you´d expect it to look like e.g. Iran, the city picture is a different one, I haven´t seen any mosque or a lot of people wearing typical cloth (it will be different in Samarkand and Buchara I think). This is because in the Soviet-Union religion was ‘prohibited’ and people had to perform their customs in secret. After the collapse of the SU in 1990 things were mostly kept as they are and the funding of prayer houses was still difficult to impossible. In Uzbekistan this has led to tensions and even very violent outbreaks in the Fergana Valley were fundamentalists have been opposing this and were trying to form their own state in the state with everything that muslim fundamentalism brings with it.

The most encouraging fact that I got to know though is that after Karimows death and the takeover of the new president Mirzioyew Uzbekistan has become or is on the fast way to democracy. Freedom of speech, freedom of art, economical freedom and so on are all more or less guaranteed. Uzbekistan is opening up to the whole world and does not restrict itself to doing business only with the Russians, the US, the EU or China alone, no, everybody is invited to come here, invest here, people here are curious to see what everybody has to offer. And I wager a bet here: In ten years from now on Usbekistan will be among the top 10 countries which have increased the status on the Human Development Index during this time.

Samarkand

So, on day three we took the train to Samarkand, an old silk road town and once capitol of Timurs empire. The silk road was an ancient trade route from China, India, Eastern Russia to the Near East and Europe and it lasted from way before BC till the 14th, 15th century. Trade was mostly one-directional, spices, fur and of course silk were trade for money and weapons (guess times never changed) but again I´m not an expert and you know where to find more information.

Ok, two days in Samarkand and I´m really impressed now. It is kind of touristy but its not (yet) what another member of our group called ‘disneylandification’, like I´ve seen in other famous spots throughout the world (e.g. Vienna, Rome or some stuff in India). Theres a lot of history here, some impressive islamic architecture. We visited the Mausoleum of Timur and I got some background on him. He was and is the national hero of Usbekistan. Was, because he started his conquering in the late 14th and 15th century from Samarkand and attracted a lot of scientists, prophets and other important people to the area making it one of the cultural centres of the middle asian world. This heroification then took a sharp break after the Russian revolution in 1919 and later the founding of the Soviet-Union. It didn´t fit into the curriculum of the great Soviet-Empire to have local heroes. Only after the breakdown of the SU things changed and Karimov, then president of Usbekistan ‘used’ Timur as a national symbol to fill the void. Timur and his descendants surely left their mark and these can still be seen today.

We visited a museum about the old Samarkand today and I have to correct the history part a bit. Samarkand is actually a lot older. Its roots stem back to 500BC something and for the next 1,500 years it developed into an important and rich town on the silk road with mosques, state of the art houses, sewers etc. In the museum they displayed some ceramics, jewelery and even small glass phioles presumably used for perfume. In 1220 Dshingis Khan and his Horde came and burned the whole city down to the last brick, so heavily that the survivors decided to build the ‘new’ Samarkand in a different place. The ruins of the old town have only been excavated by archeologists in the 19th century. So, back in the 14th and 15th century Samarkand rose to new (in)fame by said Emir Timur Tamerlan who was was more or less a warlord known for his cruelty. It is said for example that he used to built pyramids with the heads of the people from the cities he conquered; when he conquered Baghdad this headcount was supposed to be 70,000… So, ok, the national hero of this country was actually a butcher. From the viewpoint of his people though, a patron of arts, architecture and culture.

So, we´re leaving Samarkand tomorrow, heading for a desert camp where we´ll stay for 3 days and where I hope to shot some night-sky pictures, the tripod is waiting for action. We´re having a great time so far with lots of impressions so its time for some small stuff.

Our traveling group.. We are 10 people, the schoolfriend of mine, his wife, their two kids, the father of the wife and another befriended couple of them also with two kids. The oldest of the kids is 4 years, so this is not the standard holiday, but rather like a funky kindergarten on tour with hilarious and funny moments and the pace is definitely set by the kids. And this is cool all round. Kids are stressful and sometimes I don´t want to be in the parents skin but I admire them. My biggest gain from this trip so far besides all the scenery has been the determination to have own kids. Not that I had it before but the thought has been strengthent somewhat.

Motorbikes.. I have only seen two motorbikes so far and no f… Vespas or motor-rollers, which is really strange. You normally see these everywhere in any big city around the world, especially in Asia, its just the most convenient way to get around fast, but here – no such thing.

Dogs.. Also I haven´t seen any dog, none. You also see at least some of these, either stray or as home animals. Strange.

Food.. The food is great here, lots of meat like in any former SU-state, all cooked well. I especially love Plow and Pelmeni, its Great, as Donald would put it.

Beer.. Ok somehow, the local Sarbast is a good one, the rest so nana.

Nightlife.. You´ll have to ask someone else. I spent the evenings at the hotel talking to my friend whom I see maybe once each year and the evenings when his kids are asleep is the only time he has a free head. Anyways, nightlife I can have back home.

Steppe

So we drove from Samarkand out through grassland and fields to reach our next destination: a jurt-campside far out in the bushlands.

The way was very scenic or at least what I would consider as such. I love being on the road and this very monotonous landscape has something epic, meditative and reminded me of Iceland and especially of Namibia.

On the way I learned from our driver that the ecological disaster of growing cotton has been turned down somewhat during the last years. In the SU Uzbekistan was famous for its huge production of cotton for which the agroengineers took huge amounts of water from the countries biggest two rivers (which led to the drying-out of the Aral Sea, check it out on wiki, its a f… shame) to turn this dry land into cotton fields. So, you see that man-made environmental disasters are not a new thing and are not only a thing of the western world, on the contrary, I´d even say that in communist or socialistic states the ecology is way lower on the political priority list, if not last, than in democratic countries. That is in my opinion due to the obvious fact that in such states its easier to pull through large monstrosities which bring economical gains at any cost (e.g. russian nuclear power plants, the Three Dam project in China or this river detouring here in Uzbekistan) but also because such undertakings are the easy way to even out an otherwise inefficient economical system. Also of course there is no democratic process where scientists or the people have a voice for constructive opposition.

Anyways. The camp was quite unspectacular (compared to Samarkand), more quiet and serene.

We took a small hike into the steppe where we spotted some small wildlife: desert foxes, rabbits, lizards, birds and even tortoises.

Each evening they put up a fire and a local musician performed some traditional songs. Quite interesting. Unfortunately one of the concepts of the owners seems to be to get visitors drunk so there was a bottle of vodka on each dinner table and the other guests made heavy use of it. So after the traditional music part there was disco with drunken people and I ha.. Ok, no ranting, I promised. My nighttime activity was set anyway to trying some star-sky photography and I am quite content with the result although I think theres room for improvement. And either I´m blind or unlucky but there was no milky way visible which would have produced more spectacular results. But hey, we´re born to learn and improve, so see you next time stars with better equipment [for the techies: The best lens for this would be a wide-angle or even better a fisheye with a high aperture rating, something like a 12mm/f1.8. My widest is only a 24mm/f4, so I can improve on that. For taking “static” star pictures you open up the aperture, raise the ISO and set time to max 15s, or even better use a tracking system, I can also improve on that. For “startrail” pictures like below, its the opposite, close the aperture, low ISO and time is the only limitation to the length of the trails. With the same amount of time, the further away from the north star, the longer the trails are.]

It´s our third day here as I´m writing this and today I took a day off, the others have gone swimming to a lake but I stayed here to relax, read, write, slowing down, this is a holiday after all, and tomorrow we´ll be going to Buchara, another city bustling with activity and stuff to do. Looking at the night-sky for hours and being in this monumental landscape gets me into a meditative mood and I´m loading my subconscious batteries. It´s impossible to write down all the things circulating in my head, but here´s some piece of philosophy:

During all my travels I realized many things and especially this one: We are all the same. Some are stubborn, some are angry, some are kind, some do bad things, there are egoist, there are helpful ones, we have different skin colors, are from all parts of this planets, some even seem outworldish, we believe in different gods, some believe in nothing, some are born into safety, most are born poor, some have to fight, some die young, others get old, some get fat, others stay sleek for several reasons – but these and countless more are only superficialities. Deep down inside we are all the same, we want to laugh, seek company, love, want to do something useful, raise kids, have a roof to sleep safe under, we share all those basic needs and wants. This sounds sentimental and esoteric and yes, it is, but in my eyes this is the fundamental glue that makes us human, that keeps us together and is for me, the starting point when thinking about humanity as a whole. It may not seem like it but we are all the same.

(just a quick disclaimer: This thought is inspired by Evan McGregor who elaborates on this during his trip around the world on a motorbike when he and his crew were making rest in a yurt camp in Mongolia as can be seen in the documentary “A long way round” which I love but which is very special. And ok, to be very open now, I have to admit that this was the only time I cried during a movie, I think he does too, because this is a fundamental truth coming to light, a divine moment and I am dead sure that I´m not the only one who feels this way.) Peace.

Buchara

Ok, last stage and after taking the tour around town today I already have enough. Buchara is, like Samarkand, an old silk-road merchant town and has seen less destruction and war during its 3,000 years of history than Samarkand or at least was rebuilt more often so that today here you see more intact impressive buildings (mostly mosques and madrasses (a madras is a quran school)) than in Samarkand, there is even a huge and beautiful minaret from the 12th century.

But anyways, the merchant character of the town seems to be the defining thing here and each and everywhere somebody is selling something and its also more touristy. There is more to see here than in Samarkand but honestly, the buildings (and the shops) are very generic and I can´t really remember which madras/mosques/caravansery/trade house was built by whom and when. Ok, the same accounts somehow for Samarkand but there the sights were more individual and the feel was much more laid back. Also in Buchara a lot of construction is taking place, even as I´m writing this there is noise from downstairs where they are cutting stones and its half past 6. Also our hotel room is small and dingy, the opposite of our spacious yurt. It has a nice rooftop though where I slept one night, the singing birds and the sun waking me up.

[small addendum: I´m two weeks back home now and my postcards haven´t arrived… I gave them to our hotel guy, he said it´d be no problem and now I´m really pissed… Especially because I found out an hour after I gave it to him that the post office was more or less around the corner. Ok, life is an ever-learning process: if you want to have sincerity about something then do it yourself… Anyways, I normally don´t tell names but in this case the bad stuff piles up: So please don´t go to Rizo Boutique when your in Buchara.]

But ok, I don´t want to complain but rather suck things in for 2 more days here.

The last 2 days in Buchara went as expected, took some more photos but the scorching sun did its best to make my head feel like chewing gum. I´m not built for this climate. And also sucking things in only goes smoothly if the sponge in the head is not saturated and in my case it was already dripping. But I won´t complain, everything went fine. The same can be said about the trainride and so I´m sitting at the airport now waiting 6 hours before my flight leaves, I need to time this better next time, but I cigarettes and cola will get me through.

Ok, final chapter. Time for some small stuff again.

Money.. The currency here is Sum and the exchange rate is something like 9,000 Sum for a Euro. So, if you want to be a millionaire you have to exchange 120€ and you´re set. Uzbekistan is a very cheap country, our meal bills for 10 people never exceeded 350,000 Sum and we ate good, pack of cigarettes is around 8,500, beer in a bar 15,000, entrance to sights about 10,000. Getting money here works only via Visa Card or exchange, I brought some Euros and Dollers here, exchanged these and got by fine.

Criminality.. I´d consider Uzbekistan to be a very safe country for travelling, but of course: not doing stupid things applies. I tend to be a bit on the naïve side on this, meaning I leave caution aside from time to time, but so far almost everything went fine (only had a real shitty situation in Namibia but thats a different story). Our host in Buchara told us that the punishment for even small criminal acts like pickpocketing are very, very severe (first time: fine, second time: prison) so I think this has an effect.

Language.. Local languages are Usbek, Kazakh, Tadsckik and everybody understands Russian. In our group I was the only non-russian speaker (even one of the kids could speak it) and honestly it would have been impossible for me to arrange things like they went and difficult to get around. It is possible but speaking russian is a major boost.

Every holiday has come to an end and its the perfect timing in this case. 2 weeks have been enough to see all the touristy sights, our desert stay could have been one day longer and Buchara one less but ok, thats complaining on a high level. I may need one week or more to digest everything, read some more history and yes, this text is still without photos and my counter is at 1,000 so I´ll need two or three evenings to wrap this up.

Before going on this trip and I also wrote it at the beginning, I thought that Uzbekistan is an unremarkable country and of course this is wrong, because this whole area here (I´d also include Tajikistan, Kirgisia and Kazaksthan) is full of history which is mostly unknown to us westerners and in parts also difficult to understand. History goes hand in hand with mentality, religion and mindsets of their people and there surely are differences (actually, according to my schoolfriend and travel companion who studied history the local history is also mostly unknown to western historians or, to put it better, ungraspable because of these mindset differences), despite the we´re-all-the-same. But again, I´m not an expert, an anthropologist could tell you more and in an understandable way.

Ok, now finally the last words, some advice if you also want to visit:

.. read into the history before you come here (if you´re interested in it of course). The sights here are not very well explained and the museums we visited are very basic to put it mildly. We had guides on our tour but the quality varied. So, if you don´t want to overwhelmed by facts, persons, historical dates take some time to get at least an overview (and thank me later)

.. best season to visit? Forget everything from May to August, the heat will be unbearable. Also, because of the continental climate, the winter can be really harsh. So, I guess March, April, September and October may be the best months but I´m not sure about rain periods.

.. language. As I wrote above, speaking russian helps a lot.

And before I forget, there are motorbikes and dogs in Uzbekistan. 🙂

Dashiell Hammett – Red Harvest

Dashiell Hammett has become one of my favourite authors in only two books, love on the first read if you like. He wrote detective stories in the 20´s and 30´s of the 20th century and is considered the founding father of the hard-boiled detective novel. In this niché category of novels the protagonist is an ambivanlent private detective who has to and will solve a more or less complicated case and people will die on the way. Also these stories include femme fatales, corrupt cops, lots of drinking, shady gangsters, murder and fast-paced action. As I would put it, these are dark Sherlock Holmes stories on speed and exchanging the snobbishness and gentlemanness with starightforwardness and violence. And what can I say, I love this stuff.
I got into him because my favourite sci-fi author Richard Morgan claims him to be one of his incluences and now I know where he got the inspiration for his main characters from.
His most famous story is “The Maltese Falcon” where private detective Sam Spade solves a mystery about some valuable artifact on which said shady persons take a lot of interest in.

But this story is topped by “Red Harvest” which is an absolutely hilarious book.
Anyone knows the movie “Last man standing” with Bruce Willis? If you like the movie then this is a must read. A nameless detective comes into a small town only to find his contractor dead. Turns out he was the son of the old grandfather of this town who got himself embroiled with some gangsters which now more or less control everything. So the detective is hired to clean up and he does this by playing all sides being friend and false friend to everybody. The story itself is quite complex with around 30 to 40 people being involved and its very difficult to find logical flaws because of this complexity. But anyways, if there are any, you wouldn´t notice because the story always goes on and on without time to take a breath. Top notch storytelling. Highly recommended.

Daniel Suarez – Change Agent

Daniel Suarez is IMHO the best and most important contemporary science fiction author.

His books all deal with relevant tech topics and their consequences on the future of mankind, nothing more, nothing less. Reading his books is not like ‚oh, that was nice entertainment – next‘ but rather ‚Daniel, thats a rather fictinous story you spun there, but it´s still fiction. Or not? Could such things eventually happen?‘

His first book, „Deamon“ deals with an AI influencing the real world, „Freedom“ a follow-up to that. „Kill Decision“ is about autonomous drones and is scary as hell. In „Influx“ scientists which discover breakthrough technologies are adbucted by a secret organization.

All books share the same action-paced, story-driven style, the stories itself make sense and are conclusive. His character development is not the best and the reader should not expect much poetry, this suffers from his action-focused style, giving the books a certain B-movie pulpy feel, so it´s more cheeseburger than dry-aged rib-eye slowly grilled, he surely doesn´t play in the same league as William Gibson or Thomas Pychon. I surely like his style though.

What he does incredibly well is world-building. His worlds are full with technologies which are in development in the real world or could be invented in the future. For example in „Deamon“ HUDs are a common thing; the book was written at a time when Google Glass was a mere speck on the horizon. In „Change Agent“ genetic alterations are common, in the real world, well you know the discussions about designer babies from China… His books are full of that and he casually mentions such technolgies, he doesn´t even rub it in. It´s just great. This gives him a very inventive (you could even say prophetic) touch, his books are thought-provoking and go beyond the stories. He shows a could-be world with all the positive and negative consequences on society, human development, politics etc. and in my opinion this is what sciene-fiction is about (at least the ‚real-world‘ science fiction, for the ‚Star Wars‘ science-fiction other rules apply): to show the dangers and benefits of technology, bring it on the radar and start a discussion about it.

„Change Agent“ is his best book beside „Deamon“ book, I think. The topic is gene-editing and he thinks it beyond eradicating inheritable diseases or attribute enhancement via embryo editing, in fact these things are common in the world he creates.

The story centres about a criminal organization which developed a way to … Sorry, no spoilers today. I want you to read it. In fact, I´d say that with „Change Agent“ there is now no way round Suarez when it comes to contemporary sci-fi. This one and „Deamon“ are must-reads if you´re into it. No excuses. You can thank me in 30 years when you´ll say about a technology: ‚I´ve read about this some years ago. Where was that? In the newspaper? No. a company brochure? No. Ah, now I remember – it was in a Suarez book.‘

Charles C. Mann – The wizard and the prophet

Excellent book, but only for specific readers.

And no, it not a fantasy novel. (By the way, my favourite fantasy book is – sorry for being conventional – ‚Lord of the rings‘. Although I have to admit that fantasy is not my most read genre, maybe because of Grandmaster Tolkien…)

Charles C. Mann is journalist and author and did some thorough research for this one. It is a mix of 2 autobiographies, science, philosophy and politics and circles around one question: How can humanity provide food for 10 million people in 2050?

He does not give an answer to this question but rather shows the approach from two opposite school of thoughts. On the one hand we have the ‚wizards‘, the agroscientists, which believe that this problem can only be solved by raising the efficiency of agriculture. On the other hand we have the ‚prophets‘, the environmentalists, who say that humanity has to reduce consumption and generally speaking has to make the world a more ‚green‘ place.

To delve deeper into these two contradictory approaches he autobiographs two exemplary, relatively unknown persons: Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, the former being the ‚father‘ of agroscience, the latter being the ‚father‘ of environmentalism (well, in the eyes of Mann of course, but he may not be far off). So the first part of the book is about the life of these two men, from childhood to death with an emphasis on how they found their believes and grew into their fields of study. And these two stories alone would make excellent books. Mann seriously has a hand for writing.

The second part explains the scientific backgrounds for the schools of thoughts, never losing touch with Borlaug and Vogt and also details the political, environmental and economic influences on the topic of environmentalism. I think you may find flaws in some of the facts and argumentation chains but overall this also would make a very good book on the topic.

If there is one thing I would critizise it is that the book is in parts dry and stiff to read. Overall it is exemplary for illuminating all aspects of one of the most important question mankind has to solve. As I said, he doesn´t answer the question, he doesn´t take sides (which is another excellent feature of this book). The question of how to feed the world may be far off the normal lives we all live (like climate change) but if you want to have an understanding not only of the scientific framework but also where the mindsets of protagonists from both sides come from – this is the book you have to read, no doubt.


Paulette Jiles – News of the world

Good book which can be considered as a contemporary, small, western-like story.

Paulette Jiles has a vivid writing style immersing the reader into the world. You can almost smell the horses in the little towns, see the inscriptions on the weapons used and feel the heat or rain while reading.

Storywise its on the classical western side (old man and young girl travel through dangers), a bit too harmless and short for my taste, but well, not everything has to be an epic orgy.

It may sound strange but I´d say that if western movies or books are not your thing give this one a chance, it´s a nice, smooth book. If you´re a hobby Clint-Eastwood it´s maybe not you thing because of shallowness.

Vernor Vinge – A fire upon the deep

Are you in for some old-school sci-fi?
Written at the beginning of the 90s by mathematician Vernor Vinge „A fire upon the deep“ can be put into the subcategory „Space Opera“ and is a well-written book – I definetly enjoyed reading it. Vinge doesn´t put emphasis on developing concepts of high-technology, has no direct, raw spelling, doesn´t create superheroes or supervillains – no, he tells a story set in a sci-fi environment which encompasses the large (a mysterious power about to destroy the whole universe and a small motley crew fighting to prevent this) and the small (the story of two children being stranded on a medieval world of dog-like creatures… seriously!) scope. Actually this is a book I´d rather recommend for children aged 12+ than for adults to read because reading it spurs your imagination, two of the main characters are children and it is urging you to read on. Also it doesn´t contain much violence (and definetly no brutal hardcore shit), no sex scenes – actually, if I put it on a meta-level regarding these two plus storytelling abilities, character conceptualization and scope of the story I´d compare it to „Lord of the rings“. No, seriously, the setting may be completely different, it doesn´t contain a truckload of characters or even author-created languages but still – it sucks you in, telling an interesting story… Good book.

Grenoble

Took a trip to Grenoble middle of September, all started with an anger and ended up with me owning something I never wanted, so here´s the story.

As I wrote in the Vienna text I wanted to do this by bike as preparation for the Athens trip and because taking long motorbike journeys is my preferred style of doing holidays. I planned the trip to be 4 and a half days long starting Friday after work driving to Stuttgart to stay overnight at a schoolfriends place and continue Saturday to France and return on Tuesday. So I decided to grease the chain of the bike on Thursday evening. Putting oil on the chain is something I too often neglect because I´m a lazy bugger, but actually it makes your bike running more smoothly especially in wet conditions. Ok, to do this you have to put the bike on the main stand to let the rear wheel run free and you have to put the gearbox into neutral – to check if its in neutral one can turn on the ignition shortly – easy peasy. I forgot to turn the ignition off however but said to myself ‘nah, can´t be that bad if it is on for 30 minutes’.

Next morning, me in full gear, everything packed, ready to roll, the bike won´t start – battery empty. For fucks sake Phil, damn you lazy ass. So I called my boss if he can take me to work and was already dwelling on a solution. So we went to a motor shop to buy a new battery, but it seems that every bike needs its special type of battery – next damn, my mood deteriorated even more. Then my boss asks me if I need a car for the trip and it took me 1 second to think about it before I asked him if he was serious (we´ve known each other for 5 months only and I mean he´s a nice and good guy but still, to have this trust in someone is a bit out of the ordinary. I´d have done the same by the way because I´m also a good and nice guy but would never expect this from others.) and since he was sincere it was agreed and my bad mood turned into enthusiasm and my mind started spinning about the different nature that the trip would take but also about the opportunities.

And since every vehicle that belongs to me needs a name, it was pretty much clear on first sight what this one would be called – Orca.

 

So before telling you about the journey here´s some philosophy about the differences between a car and a motorbike.

One of the very obvious advantages of a car is this:

  

You can carry heavy stuff like beer or wine and of course non-alcoholic stuff in ample quantities. I leave it open for guessing which was the the direction of travel.

Another advantage is that you can listen to music and believe me on this journey I made heavy use of this (all in all I spent 30 hours over 4 days and listened through some parts of my library and also to some Greek sagas so if you wanna know something about Ulysses or the war of Troy just ask. Although maybe don´t since I have forgotten most of it by now.). I tried to listen to music once on a motorbike with headphones but never again. The noise from the wind is too loud and you cannot change the volume of the music. Most importantly music is way too distracting, on a motorbike you need to hear whats going on around you, especially in cities, hearing is a very important sometimes life-saving sense on a bike.

And of course when its cold outside or raining, driving shelled is more comfortable. But as I said in the Vienna text, driving through rain has its advantages and I´m pretty much indifferent. But driving through rain for several hours or driving through some heavy downpour can be very, very dangerous. On this journey to Grenoble I had 4 or 5 torrential rain episodes where I was very relieved to sit in a car, on a motorbike this would have been unbearable.

Theres some minor stuff too like driving at high speeds is possible for a longer time, you´re able to drive with other people and have a chat, stopping at scenic views to take quick picture is easier.

But these advantages all get eaten up by the fact that driving a motorbike is way more direct, intense and closer to life as I would put it.

Besides that, cars are slow and sluggish, and when it comes to acceleration you have to come up with a sports car to beat a bike on the traffic lights or when overtaking. Nothing to get carried away I know, just observing the obvious.

Coming back to the trip, I decided to leave 4 am on Saturday to be at Stuttgart for breakfast and then decide if I´ll continue or stay for one day. I did the latter and spend a day at my friends family with their two kids, had some nice chats and watched football with the 5-year-old son, great.

Left on Sunday for the haul to Grenoble, easy peasy, music-listening highway action. Arrived in the evening to have a chat and try some wine. I´m not the big wine expert and am quite determined on the grapes, I basically only drink red wine from Gamay grapes (Beaujolais) or heavy stuff like Syrah or Spanish Tinto, white wine only in summer and the mostly mixed with lemon water. Since I´m German I prefer beer anyway.

Side note: Just today I was thinking about my top 3 beverages, on place 3 we have beer, place 2 is occupied by milk and the winner (with distance) is, well, water. There is no better liquid on this planet than pure, plain water. To add another, a bit morbid anecdote, I tried distilled water once (thats pure H2O without minerals) and if you ever want to taste nothingness this is what you have to drink. So whoever says that tab or mineral water tastes like nothing is wrong. Well, not too far off maybe. Word of caution though: Dont drink more than maybe 50 or 100 ml of distilled water, this shit can kill you, you´ll dry out from the inside (has to do with osmosis in your ingestines).

Man, I´m drifting away. But basically the rest goes like this: I arrived in the evening at my friends place near Grenoble. He lives together with his wife and three kids in a house constantly under construction, theres always something to do. I feel the same about my flat – each year it grips me and then I start to refurbish the kitchen or paint the bathroom.

Next day I took the Orca for a ride to the Gorges d´Ardeche, a mini mini version of the Grand Canyon. The ride took me through the Vercours mountains, a historically important place (in WW2 the Resistancé formed there or at least provided formidable opposition against the German invaders) and a beautiful and scenic place to drive through as is basically everything that stretches from Grenoble to the south – South France with its ethereal scenic landscape is one of my favorite spots for just driving through and being there.

Anyways, next day I left at 9 am and drove the whole 1,000 kms back to Jena in one ride and arrived midnight. I decided to take the road in France, not the highway. Takes much longer but is way more scenic and this trip was all about driving through beautiful landscapes, letting the mind flow and drift and put eyecandy into the brain.

So here are some pictures from the trip

  

 

 

    

 

 

Vienna

Took a four day trip to Vienna beginning of August. The occasion was that my grandma had her 80th birthday this year and each year she visits an Open-Air-Operette south of Vienna and this year my mother, sister, aunt and uncle decided to join her. I went there by motorbike, 600 kms each way through the Eastern Czech Republic. So, the first part will be a motorbike story, if you don´t want to read (which I don´t recommend) scroll own to till to the first pic and you´ll be fine.

This was my first big drive since two years (the way to Vienna took me 10 hours, the way back 9) and I really enjoyed it, was one of the best things I´ve done this year. Going on a motorbike tour requires you to be at your best, it requires you to function at a very high level for a long time, keep up your concentration, have the skills, endure the weather, make decisions with little time and those are the things I enjoy, this is where I work best (and I´d even say where I excel) and which rewards me with (sometimes unbelievable) highs and experiences. Sure, not all rides are fun, sometimes its just about reaching the goal and push through the shit and on one shitty ride I almost lost my life but most of the tours were very good to extraordinary.

The two rides to Vienna and back were of the latter kind although it was raining at the beginning of each for two hours. So lets talk about rain first. Driving through rain sucks a bit, mostly because it drains your stamina faster. You need an extra bit of concentration especially on curvy roads, you have to drive slower (which is also a good thing because you drive more carefully), of course you´ll get soaked sooner or later and after arriving you´ll need more rest. I´m ambivalent with these conditions though, I like nice weather more thats for sure, but that extra toughness I need to show, pushing the limits – I enjoy that. And there are only few more beautiful sights than a misty forest with a wet road which looks like a mirror and the rain dripping into small ponds, just beauty. Anyways, motorbike driving is an outdoor activity and theres no sense complaining about the weather, if you want it easy drive a car or bus or don´t go at all.

Ok, after two hours of rain the weather got better, on the way back I even had sunshine half the way, and compared to my driving style throughout the last years I was driving faster and better, the skill I acquired is clearly showing. The biggest difference is that my style is more fluent and faster. Minor changes are that I take no prisoners when overtaking (in the past I was more hesitant when there was something slow ahead of me. These days I make decisions faster, am taking a bit more risk, am more decisive), my orientation and map-reading is better and my whole mindset is more evolved. I´m also more laid back when driving through villages (I don´t speed through towns only on road or highways) or having an obstacle in front of me which I can´t overtake on the fly, I just keep my distance and wait for the right occasion. But ok, all in all, I hope I never get stopped by the police because most of the time I´m driving more than is allowed, overtake where it´s not allowed (but safe), my driving style is defensive and doing no harm to anyone, but sometimes outside of the law.

This year I have two more tours coming, one to Grenoble which will be 1000 kms each direction and one to Athens which will be real test with 2500 kms each direction, most of it boring highway through Croatia and Serbia though.

Vienna I found to be overwhelming, flocks of people, classical architecture all over the place, bustling nightlife, everything expensive. I´m not sure about this city, not my favorite travel destination I know that much. I went there in 2009 on a bicycle tour so this was my second visit and this year was the more intensive visit but still, I enjoyed Kiev more for example. Still it is a nice city to stroll around, enjoy some architecture, visit cafes and see lots of people. I visited the Albertina, an art gallery which I think is one of the best. The Hall of the Muses is clearly a highlight, 10 marble statues of intense beauty, first time I saw this I imagined that if I were to become an artist later this life I´d try to create something like this; then I could go to the grave without worries. Just joking.

We went to this operette which was cancelled at half time because of bad weather – it was raining, of course. So, this was a trip where the rain spoiled the three most interesting parts of it, the two drives and the event for which we came. Still, I wasn´t too disappointed by the cancellation, an operette is basically a mixture of an opera and a theater piece, you have a story which is partly performed with dialogues and you have music pieces which are sung in a difficult to understand way. Definetly not my piece of cake, this was most certainly my first and last endeavor into this kind of performance.

The evenings I spent mostly talking with my sister and her boyfriend, one evening we went to the Hard-Rock-Cafe, my first (and maybe also my last) visit, its basically an expensive pub full of tourists, but a good way to get a party or some other night activity started, you´ll find lots of like-minded people there. I canceled this part though because I was to done from sightseeing and walking around.

The drive back started with rain as mentioned but nevertheless was a pretty nice one and I´m looking forward to the next motorbike frenzy which will take me to Grenoble where I´ll visit an old friend of mine. Next time I will maybe have some pictures of the bike and tell you a bit more about this beauty.

Reversing forced right-handedness III – Experience

Being one month into this now, let me tell you some experiences.

It is amazing how mundane tasks work better with the left hand, be it lighting a match, opening a lock, using cutlery, stick to the rhythm of music or using the left foot as the tact-giver or holding or using something; its amazing. The left is my stronger side, I´m pretty much aware of this now, one month after switching.

The first weeks it felt quite awkward because procedurally and intuitively I´m used to do anything with the right and I had to force myself to do stuff with my left. But now it almost feels natural and everything small and simple works equal or better with the left, I also intuitively use my left in the first place. Writing still is a big problem, it will take me months if not years to switch it and these days I´m not a hundred percent convinced if it will ever happen. This is the biggest task but I´m willing to test myself. What also does not work pretty well is gaming on the computer, it´s too deeply wired. But my gaming career which lasted for more than 20 years now is coming to and end anyways or at least I´m reducing it to a much lower level, don´t have the time these days.

It´s pretty much clear now, I´m a left-hander. This is definitely one of the most important conclusions and experiences I´ve ever had and if only for this moment of clarity it has already been worth considering myself with this stuff. Feels good.

Reversing forced right-handedness II – Science

Before we start: I will not use footnotes or state my sources on every corner, this is not a scientific thesis in the end. Some of the science is not fully researched or there is very little data I have access to, especially when it comes to the topic of forced right-handedness (there is no to little science available on this). Also, the topic of laterality is not a quite common one especially when it comes to influence of handedness on individual characteristics of a person, there are only hints and signs as I´d call it. I have some of it ready though, so if you want to know and do some digging on your own or if you want to test me please do so, I´m always happy to share knowledge, am grateful for confrontation or up for some scientific fighting.

And a last one. I´ll mark important sentences with – at the beginning and end.

Ok? Then lets get this thing on the road.

Construction of the human brain

The stuff that comes now is scientifically backed knowledge, you can start on Wikipedia under ‘brain laterality’ and click through. It´s actually quite interesting how this knowledge was gained, go check it out.

The human brain consists of two hemispheres, a left and a right one (I´ll abbreviate them as LH and RH from now on) which are connected via the corpus callosum, strings of nerve fibers. – The hemispheres are organized counterlateral meaning that stimuli on one side of the body are processed by the opposite hemisphere and that impulses to the muscles are sent from the opposite hemisphere – , this also applies to eyes ans ears (although this is a bit more complicated to explain). Besides these physiological functions the two hemispheres have different specializations and areas of responsibility which cover all tasks that the brain performs: reception, processing, reaction and retrieving stored knowledge. The corpus callosum integrates sensoric inputs and outputs into coherent perception and behavior.

– The most fundamental difference between the two hemispheres is that the LH houses the analytical, logical thinking and works linear, meaning one step after the other, whereas the RH prefers synthetic, integral, holistic thinking which is simultaneous and rich in associations. – From these two very different ways of processing specific functions of each hemisphere can be derived. Apart from that the LH tends towards an optimistic view of the world and vice versa (You also wonder how they find that out? Go exploring and start with “Deglin”, “Geschwind” or “Norman” and “brain damage”).

The centre of speech is normally located in the LH. Practice and science shows that the ability to use speech verbally as a reliable tool is responsible for the development of certain characteristics of a person especially concerning social interactions. To anticipate a bit, this becomes important later because a left-hander who is forced to be a right-hander overuses his LH and the centre of speech can be impeded in its development.

To get a bit closer to the topic, in each person there is a dominant hemisphere and this defines whether you are a right-hander or a left-hander. More precisely, this also (but not with a 100% certainty) extends to feet, eyes and ears, so the correct term would be left- or right-sider, but I´ll stick to -hander. This is an either-or, there is no such thing as a born mixed-hander or born ambidextrous person, people who consider themselves as such are most likely forced right-handers. But I´m not saying that true ambidexterity can´t be achieved, meaning that you can do things with either hand in the same quality as with your strong hand, through training it can be possible, but honestly, whats the point, except for some very special situation and you have to tell me one because I can´t think of any.

Time for a statement, but don´t throw anything at your screen now, keep calm.

Statement: Ambidexterity is not an advantage, it is a handicap, in some cases even a very vicious one because ambidexters think that this puts them above others but in the end they are part of a very sad story.

We are all born with a clear preference for one side of our body and you can do things more precise, more forceful, faster and with lower reaction time with this side only. Time you spend for training the weaker one could have been used for other things and whats much worse than that is that your brain is overused and this WILL impede other functions.

I know that if you consider yourself ambidextrous this is tough to swallow and you may scold me for it but believe me, I´m not talking bullshit here. I´d consider myself ambidextrous to some degree but its all mundane tasks and pretty much worth- or senseless in normal life. But I can cope with this perfectly, it´s all fate and in the past, bla bla.

Next time I´ll talk about domination.