Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Observations about life’ Category

Lion fountain in Vörösmarty tér, Budapest

Lion fountain in Vörösmarty tér, Budapest

Keleti (Eastern) railway station in Budapest has been much in the news lately thanks to the Hungarian government’s flip-flop position on the passage of refugees (who, having fled homes made unsafe by war, paid smugglers and risked drowning, have lost nearly everything) seeking to find asylum in the European Union. As a portion of the total population of the countries they come from, these crowds are small (most of Syria’s refugees are in other part of Syria or in camps in neighbouring states such as Lebanon and Jordan), but there has been no co-ordinated attempt to process those who have travelled to Europe.

Keleti station was also where I found myself arriving to in 1987 on a train from Vienna Westbahnhof, at the start of what turned out to be an 18 year separation from my country of origin. In my own head, I fancied myself something like the like the narrator in Christopher Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains, and I don’t think flying in to Hungary would have had the same impact. Trains are less generic than planes, and terminus stations inject you in to the heart of the city. On the way they give you sneak previews of back gardens, back bedrooms (and the lives that must go on in them) and the state of people’s fences and side streets forces you to contrast with how they look on the other side of the border.

On a train you inhale the country from behind glass before you step down onto the platform and into the crowd. For me, it was simply exotic to see people going about their daily business. Many in uniform (nearly all Hungarian conscripts, a few Russian officers), others dragging many heavy bags with bags taking “goods” to sell in one of the city’s markets, and a few tourists and visitors, like me. The atmosphere further enhanced by the (to me) by the odd-smelling tobacco smoke and even odder smelling fumes from some of the cheaper motor cars in the streets outside. Plus, of course, the exotic further destinations on offer…. Moscow, Bucharest, Berlin, Athens.

You didn’t have to be in Hungary too long for it to be impressed upon you, with both pride and worry, that Hungary is just one of those countries on transit routes in and out of Europe. Whether Hungary itself was in or out of Europe was never answerable, not completely. The rhetoric from the Hungarian authorities in English toward the EU may fairly be paraphrased as “this is just us imposing the EU’s own regulations on the registration of refugees”. But the script in-country appears to be darker; the language and tone is more about exclusion and the protection of ‘heritage’.

Here are a few recent Orban quotes, just on the topic of immigration (taken from this blog posting on The Orange Files):

 

********

“Economic immigration is a bad thing in Europe. It shouldn’t be seen as something that is of any use at all, because it just brings difficulty and danger to the European person. This is why immigration must be stopped. This is the Hungarian viewpoint.” January 11, 2015, speaking to Hungarian Television reporter while in Paris to attend the Republican Marches against terrorism (source in Hungarian).

“At the same time, one must make it very definitely clear that we will not permit—at least as long as I am the prime minister and as long is this government exists—it will not happen that Hungary becomes the target of immigrants.” January 11, 2015, speaking to Hungarian Television reporter while in Paris to attend the Republican Marches against terrorism (source in Hungarian).

“We do not want to see among us significant minorities that possess different cultural characteristics and background than us. We would like to preserve Hungary as Hungary.” January 11, 2015, speaking to Hungarian Television reporter while in Paris to attend the Republican Marches against terrorism (source in Hungarian).

“We do not want a multicultural society.” February 5, 2015, during interview with the German dailyFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (source in Hungarian).

“We want no more people to come. Those who are here, go home!” May 8, 2015, speaking about the refugee camp in Debrecen, the largest in Hungary (source in Hungarian).

“This camp must not be developed, but closed and those who live in it sent home!” May 8, 2015, speaking about the refugee camp in Debrecen, the largest in Hungary (source in Hungarian). 

“We would like it if Europe would continue to belong to the Europeans.” May 19, 2015, speaking during a European Parliament plenary-session debate regarding the Orbán government’s stance on immigration and the death penalty (source in Hungarian).

“Now they are calling us to account because we don’t argue in the questionnaires that you have to like immigrants. After all of this, why should we like them?”  June 5, 2015, speaking with regard to the government’s National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism on pro-government state-run Kossuth Radio (source in Hungarian).

“There is no political persecution in either Serbia, Macedonia or Greece. Thus those who arrive here have come from countries where they don’t qualify as refugees. They don’t have to flee from there, thus I would like to make it clear that everybody, regardless of why they left their homeland, is a subsistence immigrant (megélhetési bevándorló) once they arrive in Hungary, because they could have stayed in Serbia as well.” June 5, 2015, speaking with regard to the government’s National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism on pro-government state-run Kossuth Radio (source in Hungarian).

“There is no chance, we are going to send you back. This continent will not be your homeland, you have your own homeland, this is our homeland, we built it. We will gladly work together with you, we have our laws, respect them if you want to come here, which also has its own regulations. But it is impossible that you run across our fences and our borders in a way that violates the law.” July 3, 2015, on what to say to migrants who intend to enter Hungary illegally (source in Hungarian).

******

Today even the Pope spoke out on this issue (Orban makes much of his immigration policy on defending Christian values). The BBC reported Pope Francis urging “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe” to take in a family. The absurdity of the FIDESZ position is brought further into focus by the fact that many Hungarians have themselves had to flee as refugees in the last 100 years, and that the key event in the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall was the presence in makeshift camps in Hungary of thousands of East Germans, who also wanted only to cross the border.

IMG_0166

Back in 1987 on my own journey, I was being met by the manager of the language school I had been brought in to teach at, so I spent all of 10 minutes at Keleti, and not down to the huge subterranean concourse area of newspaper sellers, fast-food and pastry shops, and people warily selling all sorts of cheap goods. The type of welcome that the Syrian and Afghan refugees have encountered in recent months and, in particular, days in Budapest has veered from levels of volunteer warmth and empathy on a par with what we are seeing in many German and Austrian cities (locals offering food, water, shelter and care, and government agencies acting compassionately to offer aid) down to rather low, state-condoned purgatory and authoritarian and heavy-handed marshalling.

All the while Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, seems have been using the opportunity to make himself politically popular at home by adopting Donald Trumpian levels of political incorrectness abroad.

The test of democracy is not whether you can vote someone like this in, but whether you can vote them out. If not, then plenty of normal and decent Hungarians may also start voting with their feet.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

 

the statue in the Peace Park. one hand poioignantly pointing to the sky, the other spread in calming peaceful gesture

  

a lone visitor in thought

  

Ground zero, a day after the attack

   We are in Nagasaki. You cannot visit this city and not go to the hypocentre,  the place where  the plutonium weapon dropped by the United States was exploded 500 meters above the ground. The place is roughly 3km north of the city centre and they have built a moving and well thought-through museum nearby. There is also a still, calm and solemn memorial hall with underground vault, and a peace park, both dedicated to the memory of those who died in the first terrible seconds (75,000) or soon after (another 75,000) from fire, injury, radiation and so on. In the hall of remembrance, over 166,000 names are now stored in an elegant glass column.

I suspect there are a number of places in the world synonymous with human tragedy and foolishness. It is part of our being a member of the human race that we make  the effort and take the time, if we can, to visit and understand at close proximity what went on, and why. Yad Vashem, NYC Ground Zero, the WW1 battlefields, Auschwitz, I guess there are are other such names and places around the world. 

What hit home for me here in Nagasaki were two aspects:

  1. The cold, hard timeline of American military planning. They had decided to use the atom bomb on Japan in the summer of 1944, and had drawn up many shortlisted targets, including Kyoto and Tokyo. Nagasaki had made it on to their list because it had been relatively unscathed in bombing raids. This meant that they could gather more data on the effects of an atomic device on a civilian population. That is how brutal the war had become. Nagasaki had not been the primary target of this second device (which indicates that the aim was to use it come what may), but cloud cover meant that Kokura was spared. 
  2. The other thing was personal testimonies of the survivors (Japanese, mainly, but also Koreans and Allied POWs) and the personal possessions of those who persished.  You have to stand right under where the detonation was, and look up, to imagine…

Read Full Post »

We passed by this temple while on the Philosophers walk, a tranquil path leading along the foot of the hills on the eastern idea of Kyoto. It leads to the Silver Temple at Ginkakuji, but when we saw the crowds there we turned back to visit this hidden gem instead.

The Honen-in site dates back to the end of the 17th century but commemorates the life and teaching of a priest called Honenko-Genku (1133-1212), who was interested in how the teachings of the Buddha could be applied to everyone, not just the elite. 

  

roots

  

raked

  

moss

          

Amitha buddha

  

bridge

       

Read Full Post »

The mystery of why you do not see locals in Kyoto eating food while out in public may have been solved. Today, while half-way through tucking into a delicious artisan doughnut in the gardens of the Imperial Palace, a bird of prey swooped down (from the blind side) and deftly grabbed the uneaten portion in its talons, and… I was robbed. 

The hawk in question was a Tombi (below). 

Tombi, or Black Hawk, or doughnut thief!

Luckily, the park had some beautiful trees to make up for the loss. But from now on I will be eating indoors. It turns out that these birds have form in this regard. 

   
    

Read Full Post »

 
In the film Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansen’s character Charlotte is shown travelling by herself on the Shinkansen from Tokyo for a day exploring the temples and gardens of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient and atmospheric former capital city. I’ve always wanted to make the same journey, and now have the opportunity not for a day trip but six nights, and not in a hotel but in a Machiya (a small dwelling house with tatami mats in a densely built up area of the downtown, and not alone as I’m travelling with my wife, Gina.

So, is Kyoto…. different?  For any non-Japanese person visiting Japan, EVERYTHING is different, so this place is no different in that respect. 

But Kyoto does have a different vibe from the various and varied parts of Tokyo that we saw. For one thing, it’s navigable in a way that Tokyo is not. Kyoto is built on grids, encircled by green hills, and with several landmarks to make it easier to know where you are. Much more significantly, it is laid back and calm in a way that perhaps other parts of the country find more of a struggle. We are in a quiet neighbourhood, true, but nowhere does. the city feel hyper (under the surface, of course, it may be) ,…. The locals seem very respectful of your complete inability to know how to behave in a civilised manner. Live and let live (in ignorance, if so wished) personified. 

The temples are impressive, especially the gardens, but it’s the mundane, the side streets, the small shops and the woodland walks (as in the picture) where anything like zen is manifest most strikingly. There is much art and craft here, and every transaction is a complete and full experience.  Even buying a bottle of water is a ceremony that leaves you feeling you have just been a most honoured guest. 

Yes, I could most definitely write a book on personal development here. There is even a route near our house called the Philosopher’s Path!

My haiku….

Kyoto June walk,

pass through woodland in the rain.

Moths meet on the wing

Read Full Post »

I really enjoyed this funny TED talk by New Yorker magazine cartoonist and staffer Bob Mankoff. The point he is making, however, that nothing is funny in and of itself, is precise. And true for all acts that are communicative or informational, including, of course, management.

We are often convinced that a decision is, in and of itself, good or bad, right or wrong, clever or stupid, but these labels only apply to the relationship the decision has with and in context. It is this fundamental and espistemological point where we must begin Personal Development, too.

Read Full Post »

Heathrow 2013

Don’t know why, but these paradoxical thoughts, adapted from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching really tickle my fancy…

Dark Light
Weak Power
Tarnished Purity
Changeable Steadfastness
Obscure Clarity
Unsophisticated Art
Indifferent Love
Childish Wisdom

It’s not just the presentation of opposites – the deliberate placing together of certain ideas sets them up as contrary, but rather than cancel each other, the thought is one that sheds light on the nature of each.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: