Monday, December 17, 2007

Europe in pictures: 84 - 125

The following series of pictures takes us through the rest of the Switzerland leg of my trip and onto the train that will eventually drop me off at Colmar, France.

A quick recap: I arrived in Switzerland's Interlaken Ost Station a bit after midnight, the 12:00 that straddled the 6th and the 7th. The following day (and the photos you see below are a continuation of that same day, the 7th) was fairly hectic-- early breakfast, a small, brief lunch in Fribourg (no pics of that, alas), then back to Interlaken for laundry and an afternoon stroll (interrupted by a desperate afternoon shit) while the clothes were tumble drying at the local self-service laundromat run by Frau Cobwebs. Below, we document the remainder of the 7th and the morning of the 8th, when I took the train going straight from Interlaken West to Colmar.

Below, 2 pics: a swan, which seems to have forgotten to fly south for the winter. Interlaken plays host to swans all year round, it seems; my brother and I saw them (along with mallard ducks) when we hiked around Lake Brienz in 1991. What fascinated me about this particular swan was the way it was holding its wings. Very sci-fi, very Romulan Warbird (albeit upside-down).

A view of part of the path I followed during my stroll:

The next few shots are from back at the Korean guy's restaurant. God help me, I was still hungry, so I opted for a very early dinner (I'd end up having a second, more involved dinner later on-- you'll see) and bought my phone card. The guy running the place, who may or may not be Mr. Hong himself (I never asked), speaks Korean and English, but not French or German, despite having lived in Switzerland for 13 years and having spent a few years in France as well. He has at least one son, who is fairly Westernized, having grown up in Europe. The owner obviously had mixed feelings about how his son's attitudes differed from the Korean norm, but at the same time, he also made it clear that he, too, had been changed by his long experience abroad. This became obvious when we broached the topic of religion.

Our conversation picked up momentum once a small group of Korean guys left the restaurant. The owner took my order for sweet-sour chicken, kimchi, and Coke (a way-overpriced 22 Swiss francs, or close to $20, US, at current exchange rates), and while he alternated between cooking my meal and prying apart some roasted chickens, he told me about himself, his experiences in Europe, his family life, and his religious background.*

This latter was very unorthodox. He started off as mu-gyo, i.e., one with no "church" or religious affiliation (I hesitate to translate mu-gyo as "atheist," because I'm not sure it's the same thing at all). Eventually, he dipped into the study and practice of several major religions-- religious Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. His studies in those religions continue to this day, he says, though I wasn't quite sure I understood how he was juggling everything in his head. A Buddhist monk told him that he (the restaurant owner) would be ready to start meditation next year. I wondered about this, too (why not start now?), but kept silent. My impression was that the owner was most appreciative of Buddhism and the wisdom of Confucius, both of whom he has employed as rhetorical weapons in conversation with the occasional Korean pastor who has dropped into his place. "I've told them things that made them shocked!" he said proudly. "If I were still in Korea, talking the way I do now, I'd be beaten to death on the street!"

I can't remember everything the owner told me, nor am I sure I understood even half of what he was saying, but I was attentive when the conversation was winding down and he offered me his Three Nuggets of Wisdom, advice he says he's given to every visitor who's willing to listen. Those Three Nuggets were:

1. Drop your attachments. (He meant this in a Buddhist sense, so I understood immediately.)

2. When deciding something, never take too long. The reason not to take too long is that, in most cases, indecisiveness is simply the needless prolongation of suffering. Strangely enough, despite having visited many different countries and having heard pearls of wisdom while in each one, I don't think I've ever heard this one before.

3. Don't wish for what can't happen. The example the owner gave-- he had to repeat it for me in English because I wasn't sure I understood him the first time in Korean-- was this: Imagine you hate my guts because I've somehow done you wrong. At this point you think to yourself, "I wish that guy were dead." Now-- does simply wishing it make it so? Of course it doesn't! You're just wasting energy. I asked if this was a different way of saying "Don't try to control what can't be controlled." He said no; that's not exactly what he's trying to say. I turned it over in my head a few moments, then nodded as if I understood.

Anyway, it made for an interesting conversation-- easily my most memorable interaction while in Interlaken.

In the end, I told him, "Be happy!" And left with a smile on my face. After that hit to my budget, my wallet was screaming and clutching its mangled genitals, but I felt the conversation more than made up for the undue expense of the meal.

Below, a look down a street I saw a lot of (Marktgasse?):

A shot from my hotel room:

Above, you see a candle that was on the patio/balcony outside my room. I sat out there and stared meditatively at the dark, hulking mountains. I've always loved mountains for their vastness and their distant silence; there's something comforting yet dangerous about them-- a fact reflected in their actual nature, which can be quite mercurial from our puny human perspective.

Below, a close-up of the book my French papa gave me to read:

I ended up hungry again. Maybe it was all the walking: I walked a lot while in Interlaken, though not in the mountains. Although I was dying for some döner kebab, I stumbled upon a nice-looking Indian place and decided to try it out instead. Again, it was pricey, but the food was was good.

First: some crunchy flatbread with spicy sauces.

Next: veggie samosas before the gutting. I had tried to order the chicken samosas, but was told that the resto was out of them.

Below: a shot of the strawberry lassi I'd ordered.

Below: open samosas. I think, by this point, other patrons were staring at the lone American photographing his food. One American family, sitting nearby, had an obnoxious kid who, upon hearing me order the strawberry lassi, said, "Dad! I wanna strawberry lassi!"

The main dish was a shrimp curry that I poured over perfumed rice. I was a bit disappointed by the stingy quantity (ha ha-- welcome to Europe, fool!), but the taste was memorable. Too bad you weren't there.

A close-up of the bowl of curry:

The following picture, somewhat blurred, tries to capture the elements of the main meal, including the buttered naan that finally arrived:

Now it's the following morning-- the 8th. I'm setting off for Colmar, having gotten my ticket at the station the night before, and having emailed Dominique with my arrival time. The rain was-- dammit-- starting to relent, but the skies were still gray. The following shot is from my room, one final longing look at the scenery.

And this is the final movie from Switzerland: a video of my toilet's impressive flushing capability. Over at the YouTube site, I write in greater detail on the subject. In the video, you can hear me ask you: "Ready for coolness?" At the end of the flush I give a satisfied, "Yeah."

Here are some shots from the station platform at Interlaken West as I was waiting for the EuroCity train that would be taking me straight to Colmar:

The remaining shots of Switzerland were all taken in the first few minutes after getting on the train, which was fairly empty at Interlaken, but which filled up with Alsatian French folks when we pulled into Basel. Lots of whooshing scenery, and if you're wondering what that large body of water is, it's Lake Thun, the lake on Interlaken's west side (Lake Brienz, you'll recall, is off to Interlaken's east).

So enjoy the last series of pics from Switzerland. Next time around, I'll be showing pics from France.

Until next time.

*The man is originally from Taegu. When he was talking to the three Korean guys who were in the resto earlier, he asked where each was from, and when one said "Taegu," he cried, "Taegunom-iya?" I laughed: a Taegu-nom is a joshing way to say "a bastard from Taegu." The particle nom is a swear word depending on context. A mother who uses the term on her children is not swearing, for example, whereas a guy who picks himself up from the ground after being hit and says, "i-nom-saekkiah!" is definitely not saying anything nice.



Unknown said...

Every time I see pics of those small villages, I get homesick...even after all these years. Thanks for the pics, Kevin.

Anonymous said...

Great pics, man. Was it overcast the entire time you were there, though?