Sunday, March 9, 2014

The EOC Workshop 2013 (A week of 7-hour sleep: A trip to Passau, Germany)

The journey began with an airport security official at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport telling me that the size of my toothpaste tube exceeded the maximum allowed size! Little did I know that a journey that began with this little inconvenience would become a lifetime memory. I was traveling to the beautiful city of Passau, Germany to participate in the “Economics of Corruption Workshop 2013”. (I would highly recommend this workshop to those who are interested in corruption research.)

It is still not clear to me whether it was fortunate or unfortunate, that I got lost on my way to the Café Duft for a meeting at 7pm after I arrived to Passau at 5pm. Despite being tired of a long journey, I enjoyed walking along unknown pathways built of stone bricks, accompanied by the rhythmic sound of my trolley bag.

After settling down at my accommodation, I rushed to grab a bite! While I was delighted to find my favorite chicken teriyaki Sub, this happiness was short-lived as the cashier refused to accept credit card. The same story was repeated at the McDonald’s next door.

Finally an ATM came to my rescue, and I’m thankful to whatever bank it belonged to, that it didn’t refuse my debit card.

It was about 11pm when I went to bed, not forgetting to set up an alarm for 7:00am in the morning.

Suddenly, I was awake and it was only half past 12. Welcome to the new time zone, damn it jetlag.

I was at the workshop on time for the session. I was disappointed at not finding a water fountain in the university. Later, I found out that water fountain is uncommon in Passau (or may be in entire Germany). Filling up the water bottle from the restroom tap wasn’t very appealing to me (nevertheless, I would do so in coming days)!

You would have to pay for water even in restaurants. I wonder if my ECON 2000 students would ever drink water in such situations – why not substitute water with beer when the opportunity cost of drinking water is so high relative to drinking beer?

We headed out for dinner after the workshop was over at 5:30pm. The city had preserved its old legacy. Most of the restaurants still retained the old fort structure in its construction.
Again, I was in bed by half past eleven.

I was frustrated when the previous night’s story got repeated and the jet lag persisted. The movie Dark Knight gave me company on that dark night.

Fearing that I won’t be able to sleep again, third night I decided to go out partying. By 2am we had already explored half the bars in the city and only two of us (me and my host) were left. We decided to hit to a dance bar.

I was prepared to show my ID at the entrance but to my surprise I wasn’t asked for it. Wow, no ID? Well, in a country where the minimum legal age of drinking beer is 16, probably it wasn’t a wonder. “Well, American teens have something to envy about Germans”, I thought.
In fact you could drink beer inside the university campus. “How cool is that?” I said to myself.

I reached hotel late around 4am. Not wanting to compromise with my professional life, I was at workshop on time next morning.

The party continued next night.  I don’t know why but I was drinking beer after beer, too many for me yet only a few for my German friends. I let myself get drunk anyway. I set a new record for myself that would last only until next night! (I hope these words do not reach my parents, especially from my mom who has high hopes from her eldest son! I have already offered a “bribe” to my brother who might accidently come across this blog post to keep it a secret from our parents.)

The hosts were concerned. They wouldn’t believe me when I told them I wasn’t hopelessly drunk. I don’t blame them. Nobody believes a drunk!

I would believe a drunk, at least from now on.

It was 4:30am when I went to bed that night. Despite that I was on time for the workshop the following morning.

We went to St. Stephen's Cathedral for concert before lunch. This cathedral is renowned for being in the possession of the second largest church pipe organ in the world.

The melodious sound of the organ reinforced my sleepiness!

May be I wasn’t fully awake anyways! During the desperate attempt to fight the sleep, some words started taking the form of sentences inside my head. I will try my best to translate these words from Hindi to English, though I know a translation seldom does justice to the spirit of any literary work.

आसमान से उतरा था कुछ
तैरता हुआ आया था
बादलों के साथ।
कोई रंग नहीं था उसका
भिंगोया नहीं किसी को उसने!

कौंधा था मेरी आँखों में --
वो चमक नहीं था,
गूंजा था मेरे कानों में --
वो गरज़ नहीं था।

सुगंध नहीं था वो
सपना नहीं था
पराया नहीं था
वो अपना नहीं था।

क्या किसी और ने भी देखा उसको,
क्या किसी और ने भी महसूस किया?
क्या किसी और ने भी सुना उसको,
क्या किसी और ने भी स्पर्श किया?

अच्छी तरह से याद है मुझे
पुरे होशो-हवास में था मैं
फिर भी --
क्या सच-मुच चांदनी ने अपनी छटा बिखेरी थी?

Something came down from above the sky,
It came floating
With the clouds
Colorless it was
It didn’t wet anyone.
Sparkled in my eyes
Though it wasn’t light
Echoed in my ears
Though it wasn’t sound.
It wasn’t smell, it wasn’t a dream
It wasn’t someone else’, it wasn’t mine.
Did someone else see it?
Did someone else feel it?
Did someone else hear it?
Did someone else touch it?
I perfectly recall it
I was in control
Still –
Had the moon really showered its light?

By next day, a part of my brain had stopped working. I had hardly slept 7 hours in last 7 days.

I was turning into a zombie. The relief, however, was that I had not reached a stage of biting innocent Germans.

The city was so beautiful that I decided to over-welcome my stay. The organizer of the workshop, Prof. Johann Lambsdorff, was surprised – “This is his first time in Europe and all he wants to see is Passau?”

Sunday afternoon we went for hiking up on the mountains. From the height we could see the congruence point of the three rivers. The rivers were furious for some reason and the city had experienced an extreme flood in March 2013 – the water level in the city reached as high as 12 meters. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned there were no casualties.

It reminded me of floods back home that would claim several lives almost every year.

We walked across the border to enter into Austria.

Yes, the city was very welcoming to me right from the beginning. A stranger in the train greeted me with a “welcome” after knowing it was my first time in Europe. Another stranger helped me find my hostel. A girl living in the next room offered me her cellphone charger.  A student walked me to the location of the workshop. The hosts who happily agreed to show me around the city on a working day after the workshop was over.

While coming back, I missed the train even though I was waiting at the platform for past half hour. The city didn’t want me to leave. I didn’t want to leave the city either.

I wasn’t very happy during the journey back to Baton Rouge.

However, once I set foot on Baton Rouge land, I felt myself filled with a new energy. I was back to my second home.

This is the city that had surprised me with a cute stranger saying “hello” to me while I was walking down the road during my initial days.

This city has seen me at my best and shared my happiness. This city has seen me at my worst and gave me the strength to overcome them.

The trip was a pleasant amusing experience of a new culture (remember the water incident, the beer incident and the hiking hospitality), it got me closer to myself in certain ways.  

I still flutter and can’t get the lines straight with a girl.  Now I know what my mom means when she wonders how I deal with people around me, how would I survive in this not-so-simple world?

Most importantly the city made me realize that deep down somewhere “it” is still alive; that I am still vulnerable to falling in love.


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