Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Noble House

One of the best novels I've read these days is James Clavell's Noble House, part of Clavell's mighty Asian Saga. A sequel to Tai Pan, the book describes the turmoils of a Hong Kong company during a week in 1963.

If you take the challenge, you'll get a massive adventure trip, plunging right into an amazingly complex world of Chinese business, old intrigues, pirates, opium, Soviet spies and British intelligence. Clavell is a master in depicting Chinese business culture, tensions between East and West, epic tragedies, love, life and fate, while never letting down the tension.

"As Hong Kong itself becomes the deadly playground of the CIA, the KGB and the People's Republic of China, rival tai-pans, seeking revenge for blood feuds over a century old, gather for the kill..."

While the book is epic, the 1988 TV series (with Pierce Brosnan as Ian Struan) is no less brilliant.

Here's the opening scene, the ritual handing over of power - from tai-pan, to tai-pan:


Saturday, 9 March 2013

Perm

When I came to the city of Perm, I couldn't believe my eyes. Some of the buses were from my home region in Germany, Baden-Württemberg:


Baden-Württemberg bewegt was (Baden-Württemberg is moving things). And even the citizens of Perm.

 


Know what is typical for Baden-Württemberg? First they invent the car, and then they use public transport.

I liked Perm. Somehow, the city was a cosy mix of an old Russian merchant town, and Soviet architecture. 



 

 


On a square, a group that was calling itself "National Anarchists" was protesting against conscription, closely watched by the police.



Perm is also a city of poets. Every now and then on a street corner, you could see some poetry, written on a wall:


                                                   Пусть ты пока мне только снишься,
                                                   но знаю точно я:
                                                   в реальной жизни воплотишься,
                                                   моя любовь, мечта моя...

  
                                                    Жизнь - это школа, где на переменах 
                                                    поэты пишут стихи на стенах.
                                                    Последний звонок прозвенит для других.
                                                    Кончится жизнь, но не кончится стих.

In the evening, I met a couple of railway workers that were staying at the same hostel as I did. One of them was a former member of Russia's special forces (Spetsnaz), a veteran of the first Chechen war. He wanted to offer me his pistol (a Tokarev TT from 1948), but as you can see from the picture, I was not fully at ease with the gun in my hands (I'm not such a big fan of guns, especially if they seem to be able to work). 



The next morning after breakfast, I met another railway worker, Sergei. He was a friendly fellow, and we went for a long walk through the city.


From the bridge over the river Kama, we had a look at the town. Surprisingly, the river was not fully frozen, although temperatures were around -20 C, and there was an icy wind. Probably Perm has a particulary capable chemical industry. 



Walking along, we came across frozen factories, a monastery, and Perm's old railway station (Perm I). 




Then a powerful snowstorm started. Soon, the whole city disappeared in a white whirlwind.




Later on, when I was on my way back to the railway station to catch my train, the sun was shining again. It had been a nice day.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Suzdal

Last week, I was in the Russian town of Suzdal, to participate in the 2nd Russian Economic Congress:


Sometimes, conferences can be incredibly boring, but this one was a nice surprise.

Many interesting people talked about many interesting things. I particluarly liked a talk by Grigory Yavlinsky, a Russian economist who wrote the famous 500 days programme in 1990, and who also for a long time was head of the liberal Yabloko party. The guy could talk, and what he said was interesting to listen to!

But the best thing about the conference was its location. Suzdal is one of those places where you think time has stopped. It still very much looks like an old Russian town from the Middle Ages:

 

In a way, the town with its old churches and babuchkas was very much removed from the talks about econometric specifications, heteroscedasticity and sample selection bias that were going on in the nearby conference centre.



Walking through the town, I had to think about the music of the Russian ensemble Sirin, upon which I had come some years ago. Their old Russian songs somehow fitted the place very well (below are King of Heaven and Early on a Sunday):






 Some of the street scenes looked like out of Dr. Zhivago:



And in the evening, one could take beautiful sunset pictures.