Posted: July 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: thoughts, travel, vacation | No Comments »

I have been going to vacation in France every year since 2010 (I skipped last year because I was temporarily living in Malaysia). Every year the annual summer vacation has consisted in going for a two-week holiday, a part of which is spent in Paris and the other part somewhere in Côte d’Azur. It is usually my only holiday outside of Estonia and only non-professional related travel that I undertake. South of France is a cliché and bourgeois thing to do, but I love it nevertheless. The hot sun is usually tempered by the Mistral wind and the Mediterranean create a special kind of atmosphere. I find the food wonderful and people relaxed.

In Côte d’Azur, I usually avoid the big tourist destinations like Nice, Cannes or Saint Tropez, preferring to stay in places frequented mostly by the French themselves, such as Toulon or Saint Raphaël. It is a different, slow and carefree life.

It has also happened that I have timed my stays so that they have included the the events taking place in France, including the Bastille Day celebration. This is always a big celebration, because it goes to the heart of the French Republican and enlightenment values. The storming of the Bastille was the symbol of the French Revolution, which eventually changed the world profoundly, by replacing hereditary absolute monarchy with parliamentary democracy. The main principles of the French Revolution were written into the 1789 Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, which was, together with the US Bill of Rights, the main inspiration for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the following acceptance of universal global human rights.

The evening of last Thursday when the Bastille day fireworks (feu d’artifice) at the Promenade des Anglais was going to take place was not an unusual one. Even though I had not seen the fireworks in Nice before, it is always a spectacular thing (especially in Paris, involving the Tour Eiffel). It happened so that Nice was the endpoint of the vacation, so I stayed there for a few days and went to see the fireworks and found a place to see it near the La Negresco hotel on the promenade. The fireworks lasted for about 20 minutes and started a few minutes after 10pm. It was a long and a bit nervous wait, as the wind was gathering speed and one could see the thunder and rain some distance away near the Nice airport (a spectacle of its own). Even though the fireworks were to be followed by a number of concerts on the promenade, I retreated to the hotel, fearing to get wet as the wind became stronger.

In the end what happened was that there was no rain, but instead terrible news about a white van hitting people. At first I thought this was a terrible accident of some sorts, but as the death toll rose, it became clear that it had not been. Many people who were among the happy crowd on the promenade had by now died and many were fighting for their life.

The next morning Nice was very quiet. When passing a fire station I saw a man approaching a fireman and starting to cry. Flags were tied with black bows and TV showed a line formed at the blood donation bank. On Saturday, the Promenade des Anglais was filled with dozens of TV camera crew trucks with satellite dishes and some memorials full of flowers, surrounded by mourners. But there were also sunbathers and people going about their daily life.

I had not been so close to terrorist acts before, but this shows how lucky I am. It is something that has been and will be with us sadly.

Fortunately we are not helpless against terrorism and can do things minimise its occurrence. It is a combination of four main factors:

  1. fight radicalisation and provide counter-narratives, fight exclusion and discrimination, engage communities and in this way to reduce the risk that an individual takes violent action;
  2. find out about possible attacks by intelligence analysis, gathering and sharing (without targeting whole populations as this works against the above point);
  3. work to block financing and support channels for terrorism, control access to guns and harmful materials, find ways to protect infrastructure;
  4. plan for what happens when a terrorist act takes place: rapid response, communication, etc.

Point 1 is the most challenging one as terrorist acts also cause radicalisation of the general public. This means that there is more support for extreme and populist voices and knee-jerk, over-the-top reactions to placate public mood for revenge will create more, rather than less radicalisation. McCauley and Moskalenko call this Jujitsu Politics.

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The uniqueness of Yogyakarta

Posted: September 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: cool, diversity, human rights, thoughts, travel | No Comments »

I have just returned from a brief trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia (better known as Jogja locally), which was interesting in many ways.

First of all, for governance scholars Jogja is quite unique because the Yogyakarta special administrative region is governed by the Sultan of Yogyakarta who is both the hereditary monarch and an executive governor like other heads of regions. During colonial times, the Dutch agreed to have self-government by the Sultan and at the independence of Indonesia it was agreed that the Sultan could continue on as a regional governor. After controversially not appointed as the governor in 1998, the current Sultan, His Majesty Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X was democratically elected as governor in 1998 and in 2012 the Indonesian parliament passed a law that the Sultan of Yogyakarta would also inherit the position of the governor. One can say that this is not democratic, but if the Sultan continues to have output legitimacy based on superior performance, then why to bother with the instability, hassle and cost of elections and adopt a wider concept of democratic governance? It is a credit to the Indonesian system that such traditional governance system can exist within a democratic, predominantly muslim country.

Secondly, Jogja is the centre of education and Javanese/Buddhist/Hindu culture and history. This means a lot of students which creates a special kind of liberal vibrance and a relaxed peaceful atmosphere unlike some of the bigger cities. It is also diverse city and one of the most liberal Muslim cities as the Muslim faith and tradition is mixed with ancient Javanese traditions and Hindu and Buddhist legacies. The flexibility of Islam in accommodating and facilitating other religions side by side is very visible and real in Indonesia (which is also the world’s largest Muslim country) and other countries in South East Asia, including also Malaysia.

My previous knowledge of the place was only based on the Yogyakarta Principles, which were adopted in the meeting of international human rights experts at Gadjah Mada University and which formed the second part of an exhibit on LGBTI tolerance which we brought to Estonia from Poland (see the online gallery).

One month in KL

Posted: August 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: kuala lumpur, travel, vacation | No Comments »

This morning the roaring sounds of accelerating Formula 1 cars were added to the usual construction noise that serves as my wake-up call at my new apartment at the edge of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre area. For the first time, KLCC has been turned into a racing track for three days, with all the hassle and excitement such an event entails. The process of conversion of roads into racing tracks with all the required barriers makes it more difficult to get around in an already quite hectic traffic situation. Hopefully, once the race is over, I am able to also see the city streets without the barricades that are there now.

The city race is pretty exciting thing, but being in KL you almost think that it is normal that these kind of big things happen. Just in the past two weeks, the city hosted the International Olympic Committee to choose Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The last week saw the ASEAN foreign ministers summit with related meetings, with US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini attending. Last week British PM David Cameron held a state visit. Something extraordinary is always happening at KL.

Construction everywhere

At the same time the city moves ahead in its own rhythm: there is a lot of construction going on everywhere you go. The Klang Valley metropolitan area, the centre of which is Kuala Lumpur, is expected to have 10 million residents by 2020, compared to less than 7 million living in the area now. This sets special requirements for transportation and feeds the hunger for new high-rise condominiums, each trying to trump the other with even more extravagant architecture, even greater heights, or even more luxurious amenities.

The multicultural aspects of buildings at KL mean that many hotels and new high-rises lack floor numbers containing the number 4, due to Chinese superstitions related to similarity between the word ‘four’ and death. I probably would not want to live on floor ‘death’ either. In some hotels the Western superstition for avoiding the number 13 is also taken account, but in my high-rise for example there are two 13th floors, 13 and 13A (which is the 14th floor renamed). In the same way, there is no apartment units 4 or 14, just 3A and 13A.

New condos, some of which are far from KLCC, require also new, bigger malls for people to shop, eat, and entertain themselves. The KLCC area is already saturated by different kind of malls, each with a very different look and feel: there are the older, a not so nice ones, and there are shiny new ones. All newer bigger malls have at least a multiplex cinema in them, the Berjaya Times Square shopping mall also has an amusement park with a rollercoaster and a totally sickening Top Spin ride which seemed to never end.

It is difficult to avoid going to malls, because they offer both a refuge from the heat outside, and are also connected to each other so that they offer usually the most direct path from one point to another. Sometimes they are connected to public transport, but many times also not.

Public transport

Malaysia, being one of the more car-centric countries of the world, has been investing a lot in public transportation do combat the increasinlgy frustrating traffic jams. The Monorail line and two light rail transit (LRT) lines are part of RapidKL system. Both of the LRT lines are both fully automated driverless lines and they are being extended, while the Monorail line will also be extended in the future. In addition, a totally new 51km metro rail transit (MRT) line is being constructed with stage one opening the end of next year.

Additionally there are the two KTM Komuter lines which connect to the suburban areas around KL, as well as the KLIA Transit and KLIA Express lines which connect KL with Kuala Lumpur International Airport that is located 45 kilometres away near the shore. In addition, there are a number of bus lines, including free-of-charge GoKL lines going around the KLCC area (which also have WiFi) and a number of other regular bus lines some of which look really old.

Moving to other areas of Malaysia is usually done by intercity buses, which are comfortable, cheap and reasonably fast means of transport. High speed intercity trains are being introduced as well, with the first one to Penang and the Thai border just opened a few weeks ago, while the construction of a similar link from KL to Johor Bahru and Singapore is expected to start this year. For really faraway places, such as East Malaysia, you have to take the plane.

Getting to know KL

Posted: July 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: kuala lumpur, travel, vacation | No Comments »

I moved to Kuala Lumpur for an academic leave. I sometimes write about my experiences here, but also check out my instagram.

My uberBLACK ride back to Plaza Rah from the restaurant I had wondered to because of the inaccurate address of another restaurant in Yelp took longer than expected yesterday evening. 35 minutes for a little over 2 kilometres means that the traffic at the part of KL I am staying was extraordinaly bad. The driver explained that next week is Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the big holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan, so everybody is shopping for stuff this weekend. Next weekend, during the holidays, the city will be so deserted that I could cross the road without looking both ways, he said.

I have been in KL only three full days, two of which have mostly been spent apartment hunting, because I have to move out of the free accommodation at Plaza Rah provided so kindly by the university I am attending here on Wednesday next week. I finally picked the studio in a building which was closest to the university and although the building had just been finished and there was no furniture in the room yet, the nice real estate agent guy explained that everything will be ready by the time I move in. The building itself is quite something, like most new luxury condos in KL, with a lobby that has an art gallery feel to it. All of the luxury condos have a gym, pool etc as standard, one even had an infinity pool on top of it, offering stunning views of the KLCC skyline while swimming.

I am still getting to know KL, but everything is more close and compact than one would expect from a city of 1,6 million people, but people rarely walk anywhere. It is very hot and if you walk for a while you will become sweaty, so that makes sense. I have been mostly getting around with the monorail and light rail transit (LRT). The monorail is extra cool, because: a) it is not so common; b) it goes through the city centre above the streets, offering great views.

Yesterday I ended up spending half a day at the Bookfest@Malaysia2015 at KL Convention Centre, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. I only visited the English books hall, which was gigantic and where I bought eight books for ca 50 euros, including some about Malaysia. There were also authors speaking, including someone who was billed as the Godfather of Singapore Fashion.

KL makes you feel like you almost live in the future: the monorail, the skyscrapers, the congestion, the commercialism, the diversity of people. It also allows glimpses to the past: there are hawker stalls and small family houses that look beautiful in their wornout state.

tl;dr: KL is cool.

Isaiah Berlin Centenary

Posted: May 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: cool, human rights, law, travel | No Comments »

Next week, I will be in Riga, Latvia, attending the centenary of the birth of Sir Isaiah Berlin as a part of the East-East group of young intellectuals from Eastern Europe. It looks like there is going to be a lot of interesting discussions ahead.

Go to for more information about the events.

Sunday in New Orleans

Posted: January 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: new orleans, travel, united states | No Comments »

Sunday was a more subdued affair due to sudden arrival of colder weather (ca 12 C): Breakfast at Daisy Dukes (I had Cajun Omelet with Hash Browns and Biscuits), a little walk at the Riverside, watched Milk at Canal Place Cinema (Brilliant!), some shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue (bought shoes and pants on sale), had lunch at Mona’s Café and Deli in Faubourg Marigny.

P.S. Funny-named designer discovered at Saks Fifth Avenue: James Perse (perse means ass in Estonian).

Saturday in NOLA

Posted: January 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: new orleans, travel | No Comments »

Today: Swamp Tour (my first ride on an airboat!), Lakeside Shopping Centre (yawn), and a bit of nightlife (yeah). 

For nightlife there are two distinct places: glitzy, touristy Bourbon Street and the alternative, hipster Frenchmen Street. Both have live music venues (I don’t think I have ever been in a city where there is so much of live music everywhere in the streets). The difference is that Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is bigger and louder with more people (tourists), but Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny area has better music and more distinctive places to go to (such as d.b.a, Apple Barrel, and a really nice gay boosktore). Both areas are definitely worth checking out. 

New Orleans cannot really be described, it has to be experienced. It is quite unlike any other place I have been to, and I have only scratched the surface of this magnificent, but also deeply dramatic city. Katrina is still in people’s hearts and minds here and I get the feeling that the city and its inhabitants are in the early stages of healing and restoring. There is the spirit and potential, but with the emerging economic problems and growing crime rates, the New Orleans that once existed might never re-emerge. I hope it will, as there is so much spirit, character and culture here worth saving.

P.S. NOLA means New Orleans, Louisiana. It is also referred to as the Big Easy or The Crescent City.

Visiting the Big Easy

Posted: January 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: new orleans, travel, united states | No Comments »

I’ll write here a recap of events from Thursday and Friday.

Thrusday: Breakfast at the Commerce on the corner of Gravier and Camp in the CBD (huge Omlette with Cheddar, served with Grits and Pastries under 5 dollars), walk along the Magazine street to Uptown (lots of small speciality stores and boutiques), took the St. Charles Avenue streetcar back to Canal Street, in the evening had a delicious dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant.

Friday: Walked around French Market and the Shops at Canal Street, visited Café du Monde and the riverfront. Enjoyed live music at the Crazy Lobster near the river.

I added some photos from New Orleans to flickr.

Meresuu Spa

Posted: November 21st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: cool, travel | No Comments »

I was yesterday and today at Meresuu Spa and Hotel in Narva-Jõesuu for a seminar and I really liked the place.

The Spa has all you need for relaxation. There are a number of different pools and saunas and some I really liked. The buffet food was exquisit, the rooms are spacious and included a small minibar filled a few free(!) drinks. There is a nice cafe in the basement.

Highly recommended.

In the pocket (Taskus)

Posted: October 26th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: cool, films, personal, travel | No Comments »

I have been in Tartu yesterday and today. I had quite a lot of spare time, which I mostly spent in the brilliant new shopping and entertainment centre Tasku. I found some great things: the Rahva Raamat bookstore, where I bought two books (in order to learn French I bought Michel Houellebecq‘s “Les Particules élémentaires” and in order to satisfy my abnormal craving for Michael Jackson related information I bought Randy Taraborrelli’s “Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness”. The café at the bookstore, called Cookbook also serves great Chai. Tartu also has Estonia’s only Celio shop, where I bought a fedora and some other things. Celio is great, as it only has clothes for men and those clothes are relatively cheap. If you are after more expensive stuff, the centre also has Pepe Jeans, Levi’s Store, Blend of America, Guess, Esprit and others. There is an Apple authorised reseller iDream as well.

But the best thing about Tasku is the multiplex cinema Cinamon, which has reasonable prices and where I saw 2 great, but diametrically different films. On Saturday I saw “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” which was wonderful, although perhaps for me already a bit too fast-paced. It used the same formula that worked well for the wildly successful made-for-TV previous intalments and it translated into the movie screen rather well. Kenny Ortega is a genius. The songs perhaps could have been a bit better, but on the whole it was great.

Today I saw the Estonian film “Detsembrikuumus (December Heat)“, which I actually liked even more. Estonian films have gone a long way, and I really think the film was brilliantly done and acted. I especially liked Tõnu Kark, but the whole experience was so good. The film is about the attempted Soviet coup in Estonia on 1 December 1924, but there were references also to today’s challenges throughout the film.

I used to dislike Tartu, but now I cannot wait before I can return here. The Tasku centre is a worthy addition to the magic of Tartu.