18 March 2009

Nächster Halt/Next Stop: Vienna

It's been so long since I've blogged that I probably should apologise to my faithful readers literally following from around the globe! It's also been ages since I've last visited Vienna (June 2008!) so that I'm actually enjoying my stay, probably for the first time really.

In actual terms, I'm referring to things like the joys of efficient public transport (despite major construction work on key stations) and the beauty of riding on a light cutting edge green train (separated recycling bins, probably efficient energy consumption) of solid craftsmanship where you don't even feel or hear it moving. Where the seats still look as clean and new as ever, even after maybe ten years of use because no-one thinks of putting their feet on them (or they think about it but don't do it). Or the freedom to leave my bag on the bench in the station (with my money in it) while waiting for the train to throw something into the bin two metres away. In London you'd probably a) have people look at you with suspicion and cause an evacuation of the whole station or b) have it stolen by the time you come back five seconds later.

It is also refreshing to hear Austrian German again, even though it always first strikes me as a bit odd after being exposed to English for so long. Imagine a taster taking a neutralising sniff of coffee in between to smell the next test item with a "fresh nose". People "gengan zum Oazt" (high German: gehen zum Arzt = go to the doctor) because they are "schasaugat" (lit. fart-sighted, sic!). If Austrian doctors were as "outspoken" (Victorian euphemism for outright rude) as their NHS counterparts, they'd probably tell their patients to "rutsch mir doch den Buckel runter!" (Slide down my hunchback! = Get lost because I don't care!)

Other than that Vienna's charm on me can be attributed to the general absence of alcoholics, teenage amateur gangsters cum mothers, Asian scumbags, British scumbags, hotpants, petty criminals, brickhouses, wheat flour, urban pollution and the average SOAS student. I also appreciate the daily fully operational underground system of the Wiener Linien. London currently resembles a professional athlete with multiple organ failure, as with three or more lines daily or bi-daily suspended. And for this you pay £1000/£650 a year for 408 km!!! Austria charges 400€ (101€ for students domiciled in Vienna) a year for 70km. The system is well-maintained and I'd say 98% reliable!

London as a city is going South now on several fronts which is a pity really. Speaking of Olympics, let's just hope that 2012 brings in more money than it costs, else I fear revolt. By that time, I have hopefully left the gravitational orbit of London in lightspeed in order to shoot for the moon. It is likely I will simmer somewhere under the Asian sun with the noble (?) pretext of contributing to development while actually knowlingly or unknowingly making it worse.

Kaiserschmarrn Blues (after Kaisermühlen Blues, a TV series revolving around the tenants of a council estate in a particular part in Vienna which happens to surround the UN):
I remember the time I tried to explain to an English person what a Kaiserschmarrn is. "It is like a pancake except once it is set, you destroy it!" - "Why???" - "Just so." That woman shook her head in disbelief at such an obviously mindless idea. I wonder what she'd say if I try to explain why people in Austria eat Scheiterhaufen (funeral pyre or stake in English) or Mohr im Hemd (Moor in shirt). Then again, eating "Spotted Dick" does not exactly give them any highground.

Being back in Austria means I can take my pick of precious local stuff, such as the self-made Kaiserschmarrn by Martina's mum which we devoured with some (less local) fairtrade & organic: Umbu marmelade, Banana-Passion Fruit marmelade (both from development shops in Vienna) and some pickled samples of self-imported Umbu compote (the Umbu fruit has an intriguing taste similar to figs!). The most awesome part about this is that Martina used to do an internship with the cooperative in Brazil that produces them and has seen the different stages of production and work units in the region! It must be so weird and such a luxury at the same time to see something in the shelves and to know exactly where it comes from!

By the way, I recently saw a most interesting and enlightening documentary about coffee. It's called "Black Gold" and follows an Ethiopian passionate coffee trader around his work in the country and abroad to get a fair deal for his cooperative. Check out the trailer on the vibrant official website here (try out the coffee calculator!). This documentary sparked my idea to actually go down there and "follow the trail of coffee", in my opinion an excellent way of combining my passion for coffee with my need to learn more about global trade in primary goods. While people know that I'm ultimately an Asia person, I think it is important to see at least one African country - on a Development Studies agenda, I've been to Africa before as a child - and to stay open-minded and aware of areas - thematically, regionally - that are (not yet!) of equal level of interest to you for you never know what will happen in the future.

Staying on the culinary side of things, I recently was outraged at the sad news that some idiot sold a "Fritzl Schnitz'l" as locals, forced by economic reasons into prostituting themselves for little profit out of "Austria's case of a century", set up tents in front of the court house to entertain the national and international press siege on the provincial capital Sankt Pölten. Luckily, the mayor had more scruples and sense than this greedy exception of a man and after a word to the restaurant owner the sickening dish was off the menu again four hours later, even though I have a feeling that some shameful tabloid reporters (let's not call them journalists) are sorry that they now have to resort to the mayor's wine tasting evening for the press to celebrate St Pölten's 850th anniversary and in an effort to make the region remembered not by some isolated albeit tragic incident but by what it's actually more known for nationally, quality white wine. Thank you Guardian for publishing an ethical and balanced coverage there!

Apart from this episode, I am amazed and happy to have tasted so many delicious things during my stay: My grandparent's Filipino Sinigang na Baboy (to die for!), Vietnamese grilled duck with Nancy, Vanillekipferl (kept by my mum ever since Christmas when they are usually baked!), cooking by five elements by my sister Helga and also Martina's mum (seems to be a spreading trend now in Austria), strawberry tiramisu with Martina and the Omega 3 spree with Kat (Salmon Teriyaki and Salmon Maki) and my mum (Salmon Maki). Tomorrow, I'll also eat Bagel with Rose, another Viennese studying at SOAS. Apparently, the Bagel was invented in Vienna by a Jewish baker who fashioned them after stir-ups (

4 courageous comments!:

Aike said...

So the hero has finally reached the point where she is beginning to appreciate her place of origin... Interesting development! Isn't that what being abroad is about, in the end? Follow the yellow brick road, to the horizon and beyond - only to learn that there's no home like home...

So where in Asia are you going? Vietnam, by any chance? I have made the decision to stay and find a job here in Hoi An. Quite a radical decision, perhaps, but I believe it's the right thing to do at this moment.

More interesting developments: I rode a motorbike today! It was exciting, and it went amazingly well. I had a good teacher now... I also realised what mistake I made the other time.

Let's talk on skype soon!

Kat said...

Wow, I had no idea that the bagel was invented in Vienna... great post, Heidi, btw :). Really enjoyed reading it, especially your account of the wonders of public transport in Vienna - I don't even notice all the advantages ;-).

Heidi said...

Well, it certainly is a consequence of being abroad and a major theme for everyone who has tasted the great outdoors but I'd be reluctant to say it's the point of it. I still have the drive to roam around the globe and would not quite settle down in Austria (or anywhere) yet.

I am wary that Vienna + Heidi might just be viable as a long-distance relationship (as distance makes the heart grow fonder).

Similarly, although I generally enjoy spending time with my family, I still haven't quite figured out if it is like using the moon as slingshot: You fly a couple of elipses in your space shuttle around it, always come really close but the gravitation of the moon drives you further each time. If you stayed in the moon's orbit though that would be mutually exclusive with going for the stars. Now that is a bit of an extreme example. Then again family dynamics are not exactly based on rationality either. Although Austria is my home, I have a strong sense that my future will be elsewhere. It is indeed complicated! For I actually REALLY considered working in Austria as a temporary solution for the first time ever. There's not much around though.

I'm going to KL because I think it's a safe base to start my learning process from. I've already looked at a couple of intriguing organisations I consider but more on that later.

Your wish to stay in Vietnam comes as a surprise, I really should get to digging on your blog! Seems like you're getting hooked by SEA!

Great to hear though that you actually got back on that bike and even enjoyed your moped ride! I wanted to use my aunt's around here myself but it's still stored away for winter break (it actually snowed earlier).

@Kat: Probably because buses in Edinburgh are efficient. Also, it would be quite an achievement to delay on Glasgow's underground system. I've heard certain people describe that going to uni or work in German-speaking countries is boring whereas in London the adventure starts when you leave the house with rolled up sleaves!

Anonymous said...

I laughed a lot about the typical Viennese dialect - it is a long time that I heard it and I am pretty sure that I won't even understand all of that!