In London, for as much as work as I did finding Swissness at Sainsbury’s, M & S, and Waitrose (I deliberately shun Tesco as much as I can, and I never do Aldi, Lidl, or the like), I found only limited Swissness when it came to dairy products. I was a regular Onken yoghurt consumer, but as it had German roots, I wanted to look for something “more authentically Swiss”. And the only Swiss yoghurt you got were at Whole Foods, from a local dairy in Bischofszell (or thereabouts), Canton of St Gallen. You could easily forget what Waitrose passed off as its Number 1 choice for chocolate — I as a Swiss feel quite insulted that we weren’t picked (but the choice was made pre-Brexit, so they could always reconsider!).
For Beijing, by no means are they cheap (apart from the occasional sale), but if it’s something that won’t kill you, I’m going for it at all costs. ▶
You’re seeing a black-and-white copy of the first part of my Swiss visa on my old, and now expired, Chinese passport. That was what I used to come to the Alpine republic. When I left for Beijing in 2000, I left Zürich Airport with the classic red booklet — the Swiss passport. The Swiss cross of worldwide fame was no longer restricted to a classical Wappe; it had taken over the entire cover of the passport.
Switzerland has given me so much for my past 12 years there. The country still continues to be part of what I do, day in, day out. Not sold? Here’s what it gave me… ▶
I cannot think of a more exciting place to take centre stage in than the city of Beijing. And I cannot think of a better way of pulling this off than with all the elements of Swissness.
You see, Switzerland is now such a big element of me that I simply cannot be myself without being Swiss. First things straight, I have a Swiss passport. This red booklet is a design classic and opens the gates to around 170 countries and territories — no visas needed! It also is one of Europe’s most multilingual passports, and there’s also a lot of “cantonal elements of Swissness”: on the first 26 pages intended for visas and stamps are printed the iconic buildings of every Swiss canton. The one that’s closest to me? The Wasserkirche of Zürich, just by the Limmatquai.
In the same canton, Zürich, I went to international school for just around a decade. The Inter-Community School gave me my first stage to perform on — things got off to a start when I read along with a fellow student, on a stage, in front of the microphone, a poem in French. Stage fright instantly disappeared, and my trek and path to bigger-still stages began in Switzerland, 20 years ago. (That’s why I call it “Stage Swissness” — made in Switzerland!) Equally 20 years ago, also in Switzerland, I coded my first HTML page that would eventually be one of only three websites to make it to the “wider” Internet — as a student page of the school on the Internet.
To not to be Swiss is impossible chez moi. ▶
I have to admit, I’ve mixed feelings when it came to the Gemeindesaal (or Community Hall, a “mini” City Town Hall of sorts) in Zumikon, Switzerland. It remained to me a lesser-favourite part of Zumikon, the place I went to school in Switzerland, for a fair bit of time — simply because we sat exams there — and it was rather scary. A grand hall for upwards of 500, converted to a hall of around 200-300 students sitting exams!
However, the whole thing changed on 14 December 1996. I remembered an audience that almost filled the entire hall — parents, kids, everyone, as everyone joined our school for an afternoon of performances just in time for the festive period. On a conservative count, I figured there were at least 200; more recently, I was told this figure could have been upwards of 500. ▶
Rumantsch is that mysterious, hidden language that only “comes to” if you take a look at a Swiss passport or ID card. On the last line of the inside back cover of our passport, where you might “usually” expect English, you get this instead…
Quest passport cuntegna in chip da datas electronic. Il passaport sto vegnir tractà cun quità e na dastga betg vegnir faudà, sturschi, donnegià u exponì a champs electromagnetics ferms. Mintga perdita dal passport sto vegnir annunziada al proxim post da polizia. In passport ch’è puspè vegni chattà na dastga betg pli vegnir utilisà.
I see you utterly confused! This is Rumantsch Grischun. ▶
The average gearstick in a car — and as in which gear you select — will decide how fast your motorised monster will go — or in which way, rather. It is close to suicidal to suddenly yank it into reverse — especially if your car is in a higher gear. Not only do you risk ruining your car’s hardware, you yourself are at risk as well!
Switzerland has just less than a year to see if it can come to an agreement, of sorts, with Brussels — on the thorny issue of freedom of movement for EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens. Much of this depends right now on how the UK will vote on the contentious issue of Brexit. And yet, a new people’s initiative, RASA, proposes an immediate yank into reverse for the Swiss constitution’s Article 121a, which is the point of contention — by scrubbing it out of the constitution itself. It would be no less than be a Swiss version of the US Constitution’s article on Prohibition, to be struck out. It’s really no different to yanking the stick from 5th to reverse, just as Bern blindly finds a way to realise Article 121a. ▶
Just yesterday, I had left the Starbucks not far from central Oxford and was headed to the town hall, apparently for “lunch”. Tracy got me into a room in the town hall, which was to be used in the afternoon for an event we would take part in. She asked me to come to the lectern for a photo opp. (You like doing that and giving speeches all the time!, she said, so on I went to “the set”. There was also virtually no-one else there, and it would be at least a full hour until the event would be underway, so we had plenty of time.)
I thought about using this pic (look at this great shot, my wife said to me) so to tell you all about a key shift in my life as I prepare for what’s next my end, career-wise. Now Tracy and I had just finished a few weeks where we consulted one other for solid plans. I myself am putting behind unpredictable times and have a fresh new vision, but also am true to that age-old adage — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I have to say she is far more optimistic than I dared imagine — and both of us were also realistic. ▶
I have been taking trains for pretty much as long as I can remember. I remember quite clearly I was onboard a train in northeastern Switzerland, in second class, along with other members of the Chinese communities, in either 1989 or 1990.
In school, I quit the school bus service and instead, got myself multiride tickets between home and school. In high school, I got myself annual nationwide season tickets, known as the SBB GA travelcard (Generalabonnement). I wanted to spend some extra time on trains to get my homework perfected, so I was lucky enough to get a first class edition of the travel pass. This also meant I had weekends when I could travel onboard any train in Switzerland for as long as I wanted to. It also meant I had a front-row seat to Switzerland’s new ICN pendular train (when it came onto the rails on 28 May 2000) and the Coop shopping coach (a nice concept, unfortunately slightly flawed — as you had the train go at pretty high speeds, making the shopping more like tight-rope walking!).
When I returned to China in 2000, the whole national railway system there was completely different. You had virtually no freedom of travel: you were booked onto a specific seat on a designate train, and because I wasn’t up for this, I gave up trains in China for 8 full years. However, I was able to talk myself onto trying a train on 01 August 2008 — a Swiss day that had Chinese elements, for the world’s first-ever 350 km/h (217 mph) train service opened up on a day that was both Swiss National Day and military day in China. ▶
You will note I am all for Swissness in everything I do. Indeed: Attributes with positive connotations, which include fairness, precision, reliability, political stability, nature-ness, precision, and cleanliness, should be summarised and be marketed overseas as something that is typical of Switzerland. (That’s if you take it from the German Wikipedia!)
My challenge every time I head onstage is how to either host an event or make a talk in such a way that the audience feel like it’s done with Swiss quality. This is particularly big for me, because having travelled to so many different places, one does really see the difference between Switzerland and the rest of the world. There are also the tiny bits and bobs that so define the country that you simply miss when you’re beyond the border.
Having myself been frustrated at times with “things from other places” that might not work the way you wanted them to, I felt it was important to give the audience an evening where everything simply worked like clockwork. I’ve been adding elements from Switzerland in such a way that I’d be happy as a member of the audience myself, and my idea is if I tested the waters with high standards, you as the audience should enjoy the show as well! ▶
If teachers around the People’s Republic are writing to their heads, requesting time off to explore the world, they could easily do it in more style. There’s also a thing about sticking a UnionPay sticker in a shop in Luzern, and actually trying to understand the culture of the cardholder. All of this leaves incredibly little room left for the wrong carriages on the wrong tracks — be that one that involves the Chinese, Americans, or Swiss. ▶