CH-6003 Luzern, Switzerland
Another year is drawing to a close. I hope the past year has been a joyful and successful one for all of you. For myself, it's been a good year, highlighted, as you'll read, by many interesting trips and other fun activities with Sandra.
The start of the year included taking part in the Engadin cross-country ski marathon in March. This was my second attempt at the 42km race, this time in warm conditions with soft snow. As a consequence, my result suffered by a half-hour compared to last year. In spite of this, my ranking improved, though I had hoped to see that the elite skiers were equivalently slowed down. Alas no, they finished only seconds behind last year's time. The reason for my improved ranking was simply that this year many more people took part. After the ski marathon Sandra and I joined two of my cousins for a week's skiing in Tignes, France. We had hoped to get more relatives, including some from Australia, to join us, but distance and schedules were too difficult.
This year's attempt to visit Viet Nam failed again. They had more floods and so we decided to go somewhere dry instead: the Middle East. We ended up making three separate trips, visiting Dubai, Jordan and Oman. The Dubai trip was at the start of May. This was my first time in the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, it was hot, and surprisingly, for me anyway, was the high humidity near the coast. Inland it was hotter still, up to 45C (113F), but it's dry heat. Dubai is an interesting mix of old and new. The city has old-style markets including the famous gold and spice markets, the rest is skyscrapers and modern office buildings. We also made one trip inland through the desert to Hatta and al-Ain.
Jordan was more interesting historically. There we saw the ruins of the Roman city Jerash, followed by two days at the Dead Sea. As guidebooks recommend, we had a brief swim and took pictures. What the guidebooks don't say is that when you enter the salt water, any scratch or cut starts to sting, so don't shave before you swim. The water is so salty it feels oily. The high point of the trip was Petra, the ancient Nabataean city of stone. The buildings and temples there are carved out of the living rock and the erosion over the ages had made some of them look like they are melting. Petra is the most amazing place I have ever seen. There are so many artifacts buried there, that the modern part of Petra has an archeologist that accompanies the road repair crews when they dig a hole in the street.
Oman was fascinating. With relatively few tourists, it's a wonderful place to travel. It has a surprisingly modern infrastructure, but thanks to its wise Sultan, has managed to retain its traditional culture and charm. The land itself is beautiful, mainly desert with small rocky ridges. Here and there one finds an oasis filled with date palms topped by an old fortification, often beautifully restored. We spent most of our time in Mosqat and the surrounding environs, which included making a number of visits to the Suq (market) of Mutrah, where one can buy frankincense and other strange things. We also visited the forts at Jebrin and Rustaq and went south to Sur and the Wahiba Sands. On all three trips I was impressed at how different the Middle Eastern countries and cultures are from each other. Also impressive was the genuine warmth and friendliness of everybody we met, particularly in Jordan, where even the police welcomed us.
We had an extended family gathering in France this year, occasioned by the marriage of my cousin Catherine to a Frenchman, Laurent. True to form for this side of the family (Why make things easy?), this took part in a remote village in southwestern France during the height of the fuel strikes and protests. In spite of the many difficulties, the guests managed to arrive, many from America and Asia, were both Catherine and Laurent have lived. My uncle estimated that over a half- million air miles were earned travelling two and from the event, which would have been the best wedding gift. The wedding itself was a big success and it was fun to see all the uncles, aunts and cousins again.
I had another reunion this year: I met up with Dai, a school friend, whom I've known since we were eight years old. We lost contact in the early eighties, but I found him again on the Internet. Dai now lives in Seattle and was quite surprised to receive my initial e-mail. Since then we've kept in contact and we finally met up in Paris last November. It was amazing to see him again and more amazing was that we just could sit down and talk, as if we had just seen each other last week. Dai has given me e-mail addresses of other school friends, so if you're one of them, watch out.
Since I arrived in Switzerland I've been active with the local alumni club of my alma mater, MIT, serving as secretary and president over a period of eight years. Through this group I've met some of my best friends here. More recently, I've taken a minor role in the founding of the Swiss chapter of the MIT Enterprise Forum. Our aim is to promote Swiss entrepreneurship, primarily in the high technology sector. This year I was asked to be the organizer and moderator for our most recent event, a video presentation from MIT followed by a panel discussion with two start-up companies. Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be much more effort than I expected but was a great experience nevertheless.
With only a year's delay, I've created a home page. There is actual content now, which includes photographs from recent trips. There's still more to do, so stay tuned. Work-wise, things are great. I'm still consulting and taking an active part in the Internet revolution. I'm now a fully-fledged Java hacker. My main project is the creation of a generic e-business engine, with a business partner on a speculative basis. For the tech-heads, more details are available on my home page.
I'll close by sending you my best wishes for the holiday season and the coming year. Thanks for last year's cards, letters and photographs. I look forward to hearing from you all again this year.