I caught up with my colleagues today in the morning, and they were all surprised that I was in Switzerland last week. I didn’t tell any of them that I was going to be in Switzerland the week of Thanksgiving; I just told them that I’d be working remotely.
“When you Slacked me and told me that you were in Geneva, I thought, ‘she’s in Switzerland?!’ But then for a second, I kept wondering if there was some city domestically that was also Geneva that I just wasn’t sure about,” my colleague said while laughing. I guess she was probably thinking of those odd cities like Melbourne in Florida or Paris in Texas. Another colleague, who spent last week in Rio and who I gave extensive Rio tips to, said she was shocked I didn’t tell her I was taking an international trip. “Why didn’t you say anything about that?” she exclaimed to me.
I guess outside of one or two trips each year, I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve stopped sharing where I am going unless colleagues explicitly ask me. It’s not that I don’t want to share or talk about it; I love talking about travel and things I’ve seen and what I am planning to do. It’s more that I just don’t like to deal with the negative or passive aggressive responses I get, which range anywhere from, “How do you get any work done?” to “How do you have time to take vacations?” to “Wow, your fiance must do really well for himself! (which is a very passive aggressive way of implying that there is absolutely no way I’d be able to afford this travel all by myself on my own salary, which frankly, is wrong).”
Part of life, as I am slowly and painfully learning, is that I cannot share everything I want to share with others and expect them to be happy for me or care or be anywhere as enthusiastic as I am about whatever it is. A lot of resentment, anger, and jealousy is everywhere, and part of my goal is to limit my exposure to that as much as possible, especially with people who I don’t care about at all.
We got to the Zurich airport this morning, and I was anticipating a nice, relaxing morning at the airport lounge complete with a warm breakfast and some nice Swiss milk before boarding our flight. Little did I know that not only was it not even an American Airlines specific lounge, it was some sub par third-party lounge that had no hot food at all until 11:30 (way past our time in the lounge), gave complimentary Wi-Fi for only up to one hour (then, you’d be kicked off the network and forced to pay), and barely had edible bread to eat. The only things I really enjoyed were the Swiss pineapple yogurt and the Swiss milk. Everything else was depressing.
When I was feeling my disappointment, I realized that my disappointment in this lounge experience was also the equivalent of my level of elitism now being a frequent flier. When I fly internationally, I now have the expectation that the lounges in other countries will be better because the U.S. lounges, at least for domestic carriers, are always an embarrassment, while the ones operated by international airlines and in other countries are always like walking into a luxurious suite. I guess this just goes to show that we adapt to our environment. I no longer go into lounges wide-eyed and thinking it’s amazing just because it’s a lounge that I have access to.
Today, we met up with our former colleague and friend at Efficient Frontier here in Zurich. It’s always incredible to think about where life takes us in just a handful of years. We were all colleagues then in our own respective relationships. In the last seven years, all three of those relationships have dissolved. She moved to Chicago, then to Shanghai, and finally to Zurich. Chris and I have been at five companies collectively since then, and somehow we got together, became engaged, and are planning a wedding for this coming March. She ended her long distance relationship from 2008, met a guy through a friend in Shanghai who happened to be Chinese American in Shanghai, had two weddings, and gave birth to a son who will be turning two just days after Christmas next month. She had no idea we even got together, but she seemed really excited and happy for us to be together. We’re all a little different than we were in 2008, but so much has changed in our lives since then. The one thing that has remained consistent is that more or less, we are still connected and have a level of affection for one another. I hope we will be able to meet again sometime soon. Distance makes staying in touch and remaining friends harder, but it always feels warm and fuzzy when you meet up after a long period of not seeing each other, and you still feel the same level of comfort as you did the last time you saw this person.
We spent the day exploring the beautiful capital city of Bern, complete with a visit to the rosengarten to see the sweeping view of this well preserved city, Einstein’s apartment, and Zentrum Paul Klee. In the evening, we took the train from Bern to Basel, where we wandered through several of its ornate Christmas markets that are reputed to be the best in Switzerland. The Christmas markets there were quite buzzing, with huge crowds and lots of happy people drinking their gluwein and other alcoholic spiced drinks.
As we drank gluwein out of our little 2015 Basel boot mugs, Chris lamented how the Union Square holiday market was sorely lacking, not just in the goods being sold but also in the alcohol area. There actually is an area where you can drink at the holiday market there, but it’s roped off and you have to stay within that area to consume your alcoholic beverage. “That sucks,” Chris sneered. He insisted the whole glory of these Christmas markets in Europe is that you can freely wander around the markets with your alcoholic beverage and not have to worry about going over some dumb border line. We even noticed kids who were clearly under the legal drinking age serving us our mulled wine. That would definitely never happen anywhere back home.
I suppose another major reason that we travel is to experience culture and life that we don’t get exposure to back home, and in this specific case, it means being able to drink without boundaries at an innocent Christmas market. Whereas back home, they would be terrified of people doing this, giving alcohol to minors, and people getting drunk, throwing up, and perhaps engaging in lewd conduct, here in Switzerland, everyone is seemingly drinking responsibly and simply enjoying life. Enjoying life seems to be harder in the alcoholic regard back home.
I spent Thanksgiving this year traveling with Chris east on a Swiss rail train from Geneva to Zurich in the morning, then wandering through the old town of Zurich and its Christmas markets through the afternoon and evening. As we walked through this beautiful city, I thought about all the Thanksgivings in my past.
The last time I was home for Thanksgiving was November 2003, my senior year of high school. That seems like a hundred years ago even though it was just 12 years ago. Those were the days when my cousins, Ed, uncle, and I would have a Thanksgiving meal together, mostly prepared by my oldest cousin and me. Some sides would be brought over by my uncle, some crappy leftover food and chips from my second oldest cousin and his wife, who were always in a rush to leave our dinner to go to the wife’s family’s dinner in Vallejo, and a turkey that was painstakingly made by my oldest cousin. For some reason, we never called turkey gravy “gravy,” and instead my cousin insisted on calling it “au jus.” I don’t really get that even until today, but maybe that was his attempt at sounding fancy.
Family Thanksgivings for me are sadly a thing of the past. After I graduated from college and started earning an income where flying cross country to go home during a “peak” season wouldn’t break the bank, I realized I had little desire to go home during that period anyway. We were a broken family. The only reason I ever thought even for a second of going home was because I always felt bad about not seeing Ed that day, and his not having a “family” to have Thanksgiving with. After a while, the cousins stopped getting together, which meant my uncle stopped coming, which finally meant Ed had no one that day. Guilt is pretty much built into our DNA. Before he passed away, I thought, maybe I could go home for Thanksgiving in 2014, or he could come here, and we could have a meal together once again. Well, that never happened. I was too late.
“Experts” always say in those articles about grieving that everyone grieves on their own timeline, that it can take months to years to decades to let go of the regrets you have about things you wish you had done or not done or said or not said to those who have passed. That is all true. It’s hard to think of a major holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas and not think about my brother, which then leads me to wonder what else I could have done to have helped him. It’s futile since nothing will bring him back, but I always think about it anyway. He loved turkey, especially the dark meat, and we both loved the canned cranberry sauce we grew up with. It would be really great to have a Thanksgiving meal with him once again. Now it can only happen in dreams.
This morning, we visited the United Nations Geneva for a tour. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I still haven’t visited the UN in New York for a tour even though I have lived here for over seven years, but at least I can somewhat make up for it by visiting the second largest UN here in Geneva. As we waited for our English tour to begin, I watched as one of the UN employees, who initially sounded like he was French, speak in completely fluent Mandarin Chinese with a Chinese man and woman. They discussed intensely the need to know many languages regardless of what country you are in, as it would always come in handy. And in this case, working at the UN, of course it wouldn’t be surprising to meet people who speak two, three, four, even five languages. I’m sure a number of UN employees could even know all six official UN languages.
It reminded me of one of my colleagues with whom I work closely. One day, we were talking about a lot of random things, and we talked about how even when we are speaking the same language, we can oftentimes misinterpret what the other is saying. Communication is best in person since written word’s tone can so often be misunderstood and misinterpreted, but then if you don’t even speak the same language, it would be even more difficult. “If I had a super power, I’d want to be able to speak every single language,” my colleague said. “Then, I’d be able to communicate with everyone and understand everyone better!”
It would be amazing to speak every single language in the world. But the more I think about it, being able to speak different languages also means that you need to understand all of the cultures that they come from, which is a huge, daunting challenge in itself. You cannot really truly learn an language in a language silo. Colloquialisms that are unique to each language reveal nuances of cultures that we may not consciously think about, but these nuances are key to understanding people who come from cultures different than ours. Learning the language is one step closer to understanding, but learning the culture is the next.
We spent our first full day exploring Switzerland by foot today in Geneva. Despite what a few people have told us regarding their thoughts on Geneva, I really enjoyed it, especially the views from the top of St. Peter’s Cathedral, where you could see Lake Geneva, a view of the entire skyline of the city, and of course, the famous jet d’eau in the middle of the lake.
One place I wanted us to visit was the Patek Philippe Museum, which is a watch museum devoted to the history of Patek Philippe watches and time pieces, and the work and intricacies that go into watch and clock making. I wasn’t sure what I would think of the museum and if it would be more for watch fanatics rather than people like me who just like the way they look and wanted to learn more about the history of watches, but this ended up being one of my favorite things we did in Geneva. We saw the most sophisticated watches I’ve ever seen in my life at this museum, and they show you small videos where you can see the mechanisms that go into each part of a watch and how they control each movement. Each feature, as the exhibit describes, is called a “complication.” Whereas in real life, we think of complications as negative things, in the watch making world, “complications” are another intricate component to a watch that makes the watch more unique and multifacted.
One of the most ornate watches, in addition to of course showing the time, also depicted Moses knocking rocks with a big stick, which would then release water. One mechanism controlled Moses moving his arms to hit the rocks. Another mechanism controlled the water flowing. An additional one controlled people around him drinking the water. And if that wasn’t enough, there were even more mechanisms on the exact same pocket watch that controlled what looked like angels moving around.
Another peculiar thing I learned at the museum was that in the 1600-1700s, it was very posh for the well-to-do in Europe to have little pocket watches custom designed and hand-painted to depict nude women either touching themselves or touching each other. I wonder if these people actually used these for masturbation purposes. It’s amazing how times have changed if this is the case because I never would have thought to use a pocket watch for that purpose.
After an uncomfortable overnight flight in economy class, we landed in Zurich this morning and boarded a scenic train going west towards Geneva. We chose the Golden Pass panoramic route, which is definitely not the fastest route to Geneva, but the most scenic given its path that is literally through mountains, streams, little waterfalls, sleepy and snowy mountain villages, and endless little ponds and big lakes.
Two years ago when we spent our Thanksgiving week in Germany, we did one of the most memorable museum visits I’ve ever done and went to the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, which is the biggest model railroad in the world. Miniatur Wunderland has some of the most life-like models of different parts of the world, including Switzerland. The Switzerland exhibit depicts trains coming in and out of mountains and riding along the edges of them. It’s quite ominous when you watch the little miniature trains seemingly scaling mountains. But as I found out today, this depiction is 100 percent real and accurate. There were moments riding the train today when it felt like we were on the edge of mountains and any second, we could have slid off the tracks and fallen to our deaths. But no, this didn’t happen. The Swiss rails are reliable and incredibly safe, and we had the most beautiful views during our entire train ride, which lasted pretty much the entire day. After a while, we realized it was too silly to keep snapping photos, and we put our phones and cameras down and just enjoyed the views for what they were.
Oftentimes when you see photos of cities and countries in postcards, you often think that a lot of photo editing was probably done, especially when it comes to depictions of sunsets, sunrises, and mountains. With Switzerland, it seems that everything here is fitting of a “postcard” image. Riding along the Golden Pass train and walking through its cities and towns feels like you are going through a real life postcard, except you know that this is real life in front of your eyes, and this is not made up or Photoshopped. It’s just that gorgeous here.
Shortly after the attacks in Paris, I read an article about how Madonna almost cancelled one of her concerts out of respect for those who were affected by the Paris attacks. Instead, she decided to move forward with the performance, stating that that is what the terrorists want us to do — stop performing, stop singing, stop going out to eat and dance and see theater and enjoy life. They want us to live in fear, she said, and that is not what we will do. We will move forward with our lives and enjoy life because we deserve that. I watched a video of her saying all this in stage, and she delivered this speech in the midst of tears and visible pain and empathy for Paris and all who died. It was really moving to watch.
She’s right. They want us to be afraid and stop living the lives we want. That’s why my mom told me to stop flying and going out at night. She is scared by the terrorism and is falling for what they want us to do. It’s okay to be afraid. But it’s not okay to let our fear paralyze us. A life lived in fear is really no life at all. I always think about the quote I used during my welcoming speech at my middle school commencement that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” We need to live the lives we want to live, not a life controlled by fear of others or forces out of our control.
Not to be morbid, but say one day I were to die during my travels or in flight somewhere. At least I would have died doing and experiencing something I loved.
Today, we went to my semi new friend’s birthday brunch, where we learned that she is four months pregnant with her second child, which will be a girl. At the brunch were a number of new parents with babies who were anywhere from two years to three- or four-months old. This was an adult brunch, so the babies were left at home with either their other parents or grandparents.
As I am about to enter my thirties, I realize that friends I inevitably will end up making will be pregnant, have children, and already be well past the stage of being single, or engaged and getting married and planning weddings. We sat at brunch and listened to three different parents discussing their lack of sleep, parenting and babies how-to books and the techniques they were learning. I tried to follow along and show interest, but the more I listened, the more ill I felt. Is this really my future — having babies and discussing over two hours the ins and outs of experimenting on different “get your baby to sleep quickly” methods? I sympathize with their lack of sleep and desire to seek advice and tips from the others. I think every parent needs some sort of official or unofficial support group to get through parenthood, especially when the babies are so young that they can’t communicate their feelings with you.
The funny and fitting thing was that when we came home, Chris turned on Everybody Loves Raymond, and the episode was when Debra and Raymond go out to celebrate an anniversary, and they realize they have absolutely nothing to talk about other than their kids. That’s really one of my absolute nightmares, that I will turn into one of those parents who can only talk about her kids. I even hear new parents say that and catch themselves blabbering on and on about their own kids. I admire even more parents who have young children and are able to keep an active social life and career and have opinions and activities outside of parenting and children. It’s literally a very, very full calendar for them.