Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Native Land

There's a great sense of joy and accomplishment to be found, while in a foreign land, to be able to live as if you were a native of your host country: to speak as the natives speak, to enjoy what the natives enjoy, to navigate the streets by memory, to hop on or off a bus or tram at will, and to swim and live in its laws and bureaucratics as if it was all nothing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

From the desk at Crissier

The reformation fathers, and among their ranks Cromwell, a known scoundrel and tyrant

A summary of the first week of school:
ONE: Bureaucracy. Course registration last until the end of the second week in school, so people are still free to take up or drop classes as they please. Of course, the professors do not care whether you come for lectures or not, but the most important bits were still covered in the first lecture, so one is in a bit of a rut if he was busy in the first week and has no one in class to whom he can flood questions.

Residence permit is finally settled, on my third try of applying to the Crissier population office.
Bank account with PostFinance is now fully functional. They gave me my account details over the counter, then mailed me a cute calculator device for the e-banking, then mailed me me the e-banking number and password, and then the card, and then the pin, all in separate servings. This is just being extremely safe. In comparison, Nordea mailed me everything at one go, seven days after my application, and in Singapore one could get his card over the counter, and people just looked at you funny if you braced yourself for any more paperwork.

TWO: Courses. Materials semester project, Lithography, Biomaterials, Photovoltaics, Wood, Graph Theory and Numerical Analysis, in this order throughout the week. Textbooks from La Fontaine (bookstore in Swiss Cheese building) and free leisure reading from La Riponne. 

There will be a class presentation and my subject would be on a Swiss pine, though I wondered sometimes if only I could present on a tropical species and talk about a tree species that is closer to heart, like teak or something similar.

THREE: Geneva. We went to Geneva to crash Szu Yu's kitchen for dinner. Before the dinner we scoured the earth for cheap restaurants and chocolatiers and luxury-brand stores that the gang stared hungrily at but never stepped in. The season being winter, we wound up spending much of the afternoon indoors in a glassware and ceramics museum, which had free entrance.

The city was a stronghold of the Swiss reformation. It held a peculiar air, as if the statues of the Reformation fathers are suddenly alerted to my presence and are now glaring judgmentally at this intruding vestige of the old faith all the way across the city. This is in contrast of the feeling one gets when with the Finnish Lutheran fathers' statues (e.g. Agricola), who radiated only apathy.

FOUR: Church. It seems that going to the 8pm mass is a bad idea, whether at the Basilica or at St Francis. So few people were at Saint Francis yesterday that only the side chaplet was open. It so happens that there was a Parish special guy in the service, who instead of offering the Sign of Peace to just the people in the immediate vicinity, offered it to the whole church while the priest waited patiently for him to finish. The priest had an Iberian accent and he seemed almost, at times of weakness or distraction, to lapse back to Spanish or Portuguese or whatever it was that he spoke before he took up French. Mass in English are available once a month in Saint-Sulpice and once a month in Bussigny, rendering people like me wandering, parishless folk.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

From the desk at Ecublens

The (Gallo-Roman) city of Lausanne in ruins

ONE. I have landed at Lausanne on Tuesday last week. I have been feeling zonked and nervous by the long plane ride and the swarthy, menacing disposition of the locals (as compared to that of the Finns, which was merely apathetic). At the train station someone tried to speak to me. He was a beggar who had journeyed many miles from faraway Italy in order to ask two francs from unsuspecting people at the Lausanne Gare. However, I did not have change, and ran away as quickly as I could dragging my luggage.

For my first week, I stayed in the hostel, the one between the Roman ruins of Lousonna and the museum exhibit concerning the ruins. Toilet was in bad shape but breakfasts and public transport were all free, so that was okay.

The heart of activity in this commune is the Riponne. At Riponne there is a square where flea markets selling cheese, vegetables, old books, old hats, etc. sprout Wednesdays and Saturdays. There is a so-called palace built for the public from the money of a Russian prince, housing several museums and a public library. The Basilica is on the other side of the square, undergoing renovations and thereby repelling all but the most hard-headed of tourists (and Catholics).

Branching south of the Riponne in a spidery network are pedestrian streets, along which luxury boutiques, factory outlets, bookstores and Asian supermarkets are implausibly juxtaposed.

Lausanne overlooks the lake Léman. The port is unfortunately named Ouchy, by an accident of orthography. Also overlooking the lake are several sh-tloads of mountain ranges. Yes, we don't just see France from here every day - it looms over us.

TWO. Contact Singapore, the agency under the wing of the ambassador in Geneva, has organised for us two free meals. Their stated mission is to try to get Singaporeans back to work in Singapore... ... ... In any case, free food has always been welcome, and even more vehemently so in these parts.

THREE. Lessons in EPFL. Because I don't know how to enjoy myself, I am now taking a 27 ECTS semester. This includes a project (8 credits) trailblazing in the field of Microscopic Data Analysis. I will be doing something similar in concept to facial recognition, so wish me luck.

FOUR. I am living in Crissier, three communes away from Lausanne. The place sells itself by its peaceful location and peaceful it truly is. It is thankfully 3 km from school but unfortunately 3 billion km from Lausanne. Next to my place is a socio-cultural centre which never seems to be open. There is a view to the north, where there are large expanses of flatland.

FIVE. Snow. I have been doing a survey on snow. I have concluded that snow behaves like a low-temperature ceramic, and all the physical processes in ceramic component manufacturing can be demonstrated with snow. For example, snowballs are best made with fresh snow, which are fine-grained. The making of snowballs is sintering in elevated temperatures and pressures (applied by hand). Late snow exhibits evidence of coarsening and Ostwald ripening. Now the snow are almost all melted, but I still enjoy crunching them around under my boots. I am an immature person. I'm sorry.