Monday, March 09, 2009

Breathing in

Few months ago, right after my Madrid trip I actually started to write something. I even choose the title: The Drinkers. I even have an explanation for it; “Velázquez’s “The Drinkers” because there was this old man painting it, when we share the space of Room 12 in Prado Museum. He was probably thinking; which stroke Velázquez would apply next?”

And of course, I live among people proud of its beer, although we seldom talk about famous drinkers, like the Absinthe addicted impressionist. Ridiculous me – this is what Europe is all about – beer, wine, cheese, museum, ideologies, revolutions…

So, I try to breathe, and breathing in.

It is rather embarrassing; suddenly I thought a blog without update in six consecutive months is as good as a dead or abandon one. It could be six days, or six weeks? Anyway, I just want to do something before tomorrow.

No doubt, I found new platform, like facebook, to communicate with my friends. I learn how to say "oh there is too much in my head now I need coffee". Or "it’s sunny, let’s go out, stop everything and don’t ask me". Ask yourself. I realized that I am happy not to use the title “The drinkers”, and I wouldn’t want to quit blogging anyway. Moody added my in his facebook Nice-Person list, but I know he is definitely better than nice. Thank you, my friend.

I found new ways to express myself; at the same time trying to get better shots by over-stretching my old faithful. I have an American (United State of..) punch line for it: “We are doing this together, bro.” Then I found scanner to be a wonderful media to make...something out of it. Long after the invention of oil paintings centuries ago, who would imagine? But really, for me, it might make the whole process of getting rid of some stuff easier; stuff like train tickets, metro maps, receipts, museum floor plan, scribbled notes…that I collected throughout my travel.

So, let’s get started ;)

Scaning through: Vienna, Praha, Bratislava, Budapest

Two weeks for Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – in the end you won’t remember much but got yourself whole bunch of train and metro tickets, maps, or 700 koruna fine for processing an over-due 24 hours ticket. Lucky me: I might be in the jail should I have no ticket at all.

Then I remember switching currency like a mad man. Mad because I wanted to keep some notes for sis, who collects foreign currency; but not something worth 50 EUR, nor I want to keep anything more than that is for sis. Then my mind are stuffed with EURO, RM, Kc, Ft…and different conversion rate. I wondered if, like some of my friends said, European life slows me down.

Czech-Slovakia separated in 1993, during the first years of my high school. Then, they start using different currency, but probably not for long: Under the grand vision of European Union, it is more than standardized system of law, foreign policy, freedom of movement, services, goods, whatever.

European learn from each other and settle for better cooperation at even greater speed and depth; not possible without centuries of wars and fight for territory, power, WWI and WWII included? Over time, the Alsace-Lorraine bitterness between German & French actually opens up new possibilities.

They said the new millennium belongs to Asia, especially with the China and India phenomenon. I will think about this again when I exchange EURO for RM, or Yen, or RMB.

Scanning through: Madrid, Toledo

November 2008: Antwerp plunge into winter and everybody is looking for an escape. Before the questions of sustainability, how it relates to climate change and tourism; it was and it is still about lifestyle. Out of all possibility in Europe, there is one impossible: gets in their way enjoying life.

Leaving the strong cold winter wind behind, I embrace the sunny days. I’ve never seen sky that blue, that you hardly need a polarizer. Not that my old faithful can use one – it’s just the right moment to do something together again. (Later – I mean now - I discover the same blue sky in Antwerp, towards the end of winter.)

Like all my travels in Europe so far, I am lucky not to travel just for the sake of tourism. This time, as a participant of Asia-Europe Young Leaders conference, I manage to meet some very unlikely person; someone like Dr. Goh Ban Lee, an academician for 20 years and member of the first (Malaysian) National Economic Consultative Council.

He said the economic plan was brilliant but the implementation, as we witness many years later today, is a disaster. No wonder in 2002, he wrote a new book entitled “Non-Compliance: A Neglected agenda in urban governance”.

For the mayor of Madrid, the future is competition among cities, not countries. They talked enthusiastically about joining Lisbon, Madrid and Milan in one straight bullet-train line. We visited the latest river reinvention project downtown Madrid, given a tour at Toledo, witnessing the coexistence of Muslim, Jews and Christian culture.

We eat fantastic, have jazz and Flamenco concert, watch Real Madrid lost 3-4 to Real Irun. We did talk about sustainable cities, made a declaration – then I pray for the best of both the mayor and citizens of Madrid – potential host of next Olympic.

When I am done in Prado Museum, I am ready for Caixa Forum; the old man will probably be painting baroque masters for the next 20 years. Hopefully, we both found our own strokes in life.

Scanning through: Dublin, Belfast

I feel blessed to be in Ireland: After months of Dutch classes and walking on the street thinking should I start with Dag, ahoj, or Gutentag? There is a Little Penang on the Dublin street, the architecture landscape change from century old and narrow to colorful and wide. The highway from Dublin to Glencree is not without potholes, and the driver seat is on the right.

Near Belfast, Northern Ireland, we have Chinese take-away prepared by Malaysian. No, the taste is not what I expected; didn’t expect police to stop our bus for ID check, either. The fact is so-called peace talk between Unionist and Nationalist, or Irish and British government for that matter, is still far from concluding. Nobody was killed in Malaysia’s current political havoc, but I just couldn’t convince myself we fair better than them.

Then I remember I work for a peace voluntary movement who can only watch their northern Irish/British counterpart’s deteriorating health, pretty much helplessly. Here you feel strong Irish or British, but not European. But at least in Ireland EURO is common currency - when I shop in Irish Designers or dine in Mao café, I was thinking if the magic of European Union will works here, in the islands.

Scanning through: Paris

Just when I am ready to accept that fact that I will not visit Paris before my flight in April, something opens up for me. Although it still requires great deal of efforts, but I am glad that it all went well in the end. I wanted to thank those who make things easier and harder for me – like the right balance that Paris have had, when I am there.

There I was; first night - getting used to the city and new friends; second night - drinking few shots of Polish vodka with red rose syrup plus few drips of Tabasco (unfortunately it was too much for me) with an old friend; final night - touring Notre Dame with Oneka and Maria. We are freezing, thousands of miles from home, and had a wonderful evening together – what you get when you mix Asian, African and Latin together.

In between the Louvre, Eiffel, Sacre Coeur and UNESCO building were these meetings – again we have reflection on International Voluntary Service (IVS), discuss about differences between theory and practice, profit and non-profit, us and them. It is also about relating our work to current global and capitalist world which are changing way too fast.

Instead of some Korean nuns, it is the Malaysian politician who should sit in front of “The Raft of Medusa”. You really need the right people at the right time, right place. Otherwise it's all futile.

I would love to go back, in details, of those trips; or write more about Antwerp, anything. But breathing out is not as easy as I thought; or if it really matters, this post justifies it. But I want to do a better job back in Malaysia, for sure.

Velázquez’s can be translated into “The Drunks”, because when we drink, chances are we will get drunk. I can’t remember how many times, when asked, I always replied: “No.”

So tonight I can drink to the health of my blogpage: No, not yet!!!

Scanning through: Souvenirs from Paris, covered with metro map with camera pressed on bottom-left


At 11:56 AM, Blogger Pandabonium said...

Wonderful post and scans to share your travels in a nutshell. Cannot help but feel envy for your adventure. I wear a peace button on my cap that someone...oh, you...gave me. 'Glad you are out there spreading it around, the world can use it.
Looking forward to more posts when you are home again.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger HappySurfer said...

What a good read, Low. Your travel collage is one to be envied. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Looking forward to more when you get back.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger The Moody Minstrel said...

Good to see you back here again, Low!

Instead of Europe at a glance, we get Europe at a scan (or three, or four...)

This is a very enjoyable post. It sounds like you've had quite a ride these past months!

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Shernyau said...

yo, seem to be running around eh?

You in town in sept? buzz me in Msn

At 1:33 AM, Blogger gina said...

woaw. interesting point of view concerning so much traveling. I always thought that it was more about the people than about maps and tickets ;) however still interesting to get to know you from this side as well ;)

At 6:15 PM, Blogger HappySurfer said...

Hi Low, are you back in town? How are you? Hope all's well.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Pandabonium said...

Looking forward to you resurfacing with a new post. Perhaps next month in September? Be well.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Pandabonium said...

Well, it's been almost 7 months since "breathing in". Perhaps time for a "breathing out" post? ;^)

Be well.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Pandabonium said...

Happy 2010, Low, wherever you are.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger HappySurfer said...

Hi Low, thought you were going to write from Penang? How are you?


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