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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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.

Happy Holidays

Posted: December 24th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: cool, personal, vacation | No Comments »

Happy Holidays to everyone from me. I hope everyone can use the holidays for something they have been meaning to do for a long time, but were not able to, because of work. I also hope that you not only can relax your body, but recharge your mind with magic and goodwill for the next year.

I am spending Christmas with my family, as usual. We just finished another several hours of playing the Settlers of Catan with the expansion pack Cities and Knights of Catan, which my mother won. I also got some nice presents which I was able to pick myself, including a very nice new silk bathrobe.

16 years from restoration of independece of Estonia

Posted: August 21st, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Estonia, vacation | No Comments »

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of Estonia’s restoration of independence. It is a funny holiday, as people tend not to celebrate it too much (it only became a national holiday some years ago). Perhaps it is because it is too soon, perhaps because certain politicians could gain a lot from being associated with this holiday (and other politicians do not like this). I do not think it has the same worth in the eyes of the people as 24 February (next year will be the 90th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia). It is anyway quite silly to celebrate to independence days.

I celebrated the holiday with a cycling trip in Kõrvemaa with some people from the university. The weather was nice and the trip was great as well. I am not really the outdoorsy type, but I liked that event a lot.


Posted: July 9th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: berlin, vacation | No Comments »

I have now been in Berlinsince Thursday. I was at the EYP 20 Years of National Committees Celebration, which was a quite nice event. I am a little bit frustrated now because my dear laptop (the KariBook) was stolen during the evening and now I have to go through some trouble to extract all my info from backups and get a new laptop.

I am returning on Tuesday and intend to use today for shopping.