Archive for the ‘Philosophical’ Category

From Tokyo with Love

I’ve been rereading the post I wrote more than three years ago when moving away from Amsterdam. And again I am battling with my possessions. First of all, I am proud to say that this time, I have not accumulated any of the things I complained about last time: no blank notepads, extra pens or liters of shower gel are coming with me. I have even been on a book buying moratorium since the beginning of this year (what is a bit annoying is that a bunch of unread books I had shipped over from Amsterdam were shipped back unread as well, but in the meantime I had bought and read a ton of new books).
Moving is always a good opportunity to evaluate one’s stuff and to purge the unneeded. Most of our possessions have a purely utilitarian aspect and we leave them behind without regrets. But I have to admit that we are leaving with more stuff than we came with. The good news is that I don’t regret it. I was completely taken in by the Japanese sense of esthetics and the beauty of many everyday objects. Did I mention I love Japanese pottery and fabrics and just about anything made of bamboo? I am crazy for bamboo. (more…)


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This at least is the opinion of Fabrice, the hitchhiking Frenchman we met on the minibus to Tomsk. And he has a point here. Customer service is equal to zero. Their way of doing business mainly consists in trying to cheat tourists out of their money and with so much inflexibility that they even risk to lose their customers completely, see the example of the minibus in Novosibirsk trying to collect more passengers and in the process risking to lose the existing ones.
In restaurants it is not better. In Tomsk, we were trying to have dinner at Foodmaster, a hip place. When we arrived, there were no free tables, and instead of telling us to sit a moment and look for a table that was likely to be available soon, they looked at us as if saying “Why are you still standing around here? Can’t you see we’re full, leave already.” The very same happened to us at the Sushi place next door. And at “Mixer”, a fast food restaurant displaying a menu of hamburgers and cheeseburgers, they explained me that they didn’t have any hamburgers at all. No excuse me or obliging smiles either.
Another oddity of Russian transactions is the “pay now”. For many things, they expect payment before the service is performed (which might also reflect on the local payment morale). Hotels, room service, baggage room, etc.
The idea that accommodating the customer’s wishes would lead to better business opportunities somehow has not arrived here yet. Even if the service itself is performed impeccably, their way of dealing with the customers often strikes me as unfriendly. We were wondering whether the local business mentality is a remnant of the communist regime, but we’ve not yet found a good answer.

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So we finally managed to gather all our belongings in Zürich, where they will stay for the time being. For people like us, who move every two to three years, it’s important to travel lightly. Otherwise moving becomes even more of a headache than it is in any case. Domenico did a good job at this, after all, he was able move all he owns in one big go by train. For me, it took two major moves by train and several suitcases that had been moved in the course of the last year already (not counting the two boxes that had to remain on my office mate’s cupboard in Amsterdam). And this, after having given away about everything except books and clothes!
True, compared to people who move with a big truck, this is still light. But having to lug it around on trains convinced me that it was really not as light as it could (should) have been. Going through my things piece by piece when packing, I kept thinking “now what did I have to buy this for??”. You see it, you like it, and bang – you bought it, and even though it’s perfectly useless, it keeps following you around. Either you keep dragging it with you (and yes, I have brought some things from Zürich to Berlin, then Munich, then Amsterdam and now back to Zürich without seriously using them ever) or then you are forced to throw away something perfectly good. Otherwise, you have to go through the trouble of finding a new owner.
Whenever I have to move again, I decide a few months before not to buy useless things anymore. No, never to buy such things anymore at all.
Not to enter a bookstore before having read at least a part of all the other books I already own.
And then this hamstering urge. Everyone has his own weak spot. As physicists, our main work instruments are paper and pencil. Every conference provides a free notebook and pens. Every physics institute has a cupboard full of them freely accessible to its members. Let me make it short. Among the two of us, we collected three dozens of blank notebooks and writing pads. I shall not take any more notebooks before using up these! No matter how nice the paper and how tempting they are! The writing utensils we own easily number a hundred.
But that’s not the only thing. We also managed to accumulate several liters of shower gel among ourselves. Why don’t I just use stuff up before buying it new? Is this the famous consumer mentality?
Next time I move, I will finally do it right. I will not accumulate this huge amount of stuff. You will see.

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