Hiking in Sormiou – enjoying life in a work-life balance

Passing a small port at the of a 2-hour hike

The internet has opened up a wealth of information and knowledge at our fingertips – when was the last time you used a Yellow or White Pages? At the same time this information superhighway has made it easier for us to communicate. Think about it. Email, chat, messaging, skype, facebook, twitter has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. It’s crazy to think that in most people’s life-time we’ve seen a drastic change in how we interact with the world and how the world interacts with us.

Amazing texture

BUT – Has technology made us more efficient and effective at work or at home? According to Tim Ferriss, technology is the cure and the disease for a work-life balance. In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, he says that everyone can work four hours a week and be more efficient and effective in their job while having the rest of the time to focus on personal pursuits – he says that he only works four hours a week and makes more money in a month than in a year in his previous jobs.

Looking down to the amazing colors of Sormiou

I’m only in the first half of the book and what he says about technology is true – being able to work online can help us be anywhere in the world, but things like checking and replying to email is one of the biggest problems to being efficient and effective at work. In the latest chapter I’m reading Tim suggests accomplishing two priorities a day, and to check email only twice a day. I tried this last week and it was surprising how much I could get done without being distracted. I did get comments like “Did you read my email?”, but then again if every email is really “priority”, can you ever focus and get your own work done? The best thing I’ve read so far is his philosophy on happiness… it’s not money (although it helps) that leads to happiness – it’s about doing something that you want to do and not letting boredom lead your life.

What They Teach You at Harvard Business School.

Can you believe we’re already a quarter of the way through 2011? That means it’ll be six months since I first landed in a still balmy Geneva spring morning. Where does the time go? Speaking of time, how long does it take to make friends and build a social network? Of course there’s the online kind where a lot of time is spent on (re)connecting with family and friends. But what about the good-ol-fashion “hey, you wanna go for a movie or something?” type where you actually meet new and interesting people?

Check out this interesting TED talk about the hidden influence of social networks and how your location in the network might impact your life in ways you don’t even know. He throws a lot of numbers and technical details around, but the overall idea is fascinating.

In a place like Geneva, where it’s rumored that there’s more foreigners (i.e. non-Swiss and definitely non-Genevois) than locals, you’d think the international vibe would make it easy to find new people to hang out with. Surprisingly though, it’s a little bit more difficult than you think for both French and non-French speakers. There’s a couple of online social network places where people can find things to do with people that have similar interests (i.e. Glocals and InterNations), but building connections beyond one-off activities takes a surprisingly long time. Maybe because of the transient nature of the city, the fact that it’s a hub to many destinations in Europe where people jet-set on weekends, or just because it’s so damn expensive in the city that most people tend to avoid living in the city limits if they can afford to.

There’s definitely a draw to the city with many of the big international organizations headquartered here and lots and lots of banks. The city is oozing with money… and there’s no end to the high-fashion, fast cars, and opulent attitudes. Maybe that’s why I picked up this book to read to see if having an MBA would improve my quality of life. It’s an interesting read into one of the most prestigious universities in the world and one that churns out high-profile politicians, bankers, CEOs and the like. The author writes about his experiences with the program, the professors, and the student personalities at Harvard Business School, and the kind of stress, reflection, and tribulations of someone going through a mid-life crisis. It’s a fun and easy read that still makes you think about the underlying social and economic forces that shape the world we live in today. After reading this book, I’m convinced that it’s actions and attitudes that shape/make a person and not what they’ve studied, especially when it comes to business and corporate/financial responsibility.

Living in a grey period – enjoying the black and the white

I was just visiting my blog and realized that it’s been about a month since I last wrote something. Well, let’s see, what’s been happening? For one thing, we went to a cooking class last night to learn a few French dishes. If you’re in Geneva and want to go to a cooking course, check out Katrépices. They have lunch, afternoon and evening classes. Book early as many classes fill up!

Here’s the menu. The menu sounds better in French, but whether in English or French, the taste was amazing.

  1. Gravlax de saumon, daïkon & mangue, vinaigrette ciboulette crémeuse – Dill-rice vinegar marinated salmon sashimi and mango-carrot-radish salad with a chive vinaigrette
  2. Cuisse de canard braisée aux chicons et rutabaga confits – Roasted duck and sesasonal vegetables, truffle-oil infused mashed potatoes topped with a port reduction sauce
  3. Gratin d’ananas & gingembre, sorbet banane au sirop de vanille – Caramelized ginger and pineapple topped with baked custard and homemade banana sorbet

Rather than bore you with the finer details of the past month, here are some photos:

The port of Sanary looking from the town tower
Chinese New Year in Toulon with some suprisingly decent Chinese red wine!
Studio photography class with a photogenic model - this reminds me of MJ.
This was really interesting shot I took while the model with preparing for another barrage of photos

No snow = no skiing

You can’t be in Switzerland without going skiing. That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past few months, but when it hasn’t snowed for over 5 weeks, it’s hardly tempting to go up to the mountains. But then again there are other reasons to get out to the mountains… three things come to mind – fresh air, surreal scenery, and exercise. The weather has been fantastic – the sun has been shining for the last few weeks and the temperatures have been bearable for outdoor exploration. So a couple weeks back we decided to take advantage of the weather and go for a hike around Saint Cergues, about an hour by train away from Geneva. It was nice to experience mountain-life in Switzerland, but it’s still winter and most of our 4-hour walk was trying to maneuver around icy paths and slippery slopes.

It’s interesting to hear people going for hikes or roaming the mountains quite often (i.e. randonnée in French). With well-marked trails, books, and maps to help the beginner to advance hiker, it’s worth a trip to the countryside… a very different experience than in Canada where outdoor life is more untamed.

A new year, a new set…

2011 started off with a big bang in a Copacabana-style new year’s party and new resolutions. Going skiing was one of them for me given that I haven’t been to a snow-capped mountain in over 5 years. I was hoping to go after coming back from France for the holidays, but unfortunately the weather has turned for the “worse”… having a lot of sun for the winter isn’t so much the problem. It’s been the mild temperatures and rain. Instead of hopping on a bus to the nearest mountain, we decided to visit the infamous Evian in France – you know, the place for the “water”. An hour away from Geneva by train, we went to visit an interesting exhibition on animals in photography. The town’s waterfront is surprisingly like Vancouver, and it’s also a jumping-off point for skiing in the French Alps. Here are my first photos for 2011…

Scary sculptures along the waterfront… kinda creepy.

Looking towards the Hotel de Ville and the Palais Lumière where they had the photo exhibition.

Free bags for dog poop! The sign of a wealthy community?

The photo exhibition…

happy 2011

A lot changes in one year and this year was not any different. A year ago today, I was waking up in Timor-Leste soaking in the sun, heat and humidity in one of the world’s poorest countries. A year later, here I am waking up in another strange and exotic place in the south of France looking out the window at the temperate landscape of the Mediterranean. 2010 was a whirlwind tour hopping from one country to another, exchanging beach wear for polar wear, and over-indulging on delicious food with excellent company… and to top it off, I became a husband. A lot has changed in one year and I hope 2011 will bring even more luck, adventure, and happiness for everyone.

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The highlight of Geneva’s winter

A few photos from the past month… In Geneva, the highlight of the year is the Escalade, a one-week event to commemorate and celebrate an important part of Geneva’s history. One of the main events is a 7km run around Geneva’s old town of It usually takes place in the second week of December. This year winter came early and so there was a ton of snow around the city. Beautiful yet it caused a bit of havoc in the city and they were thinking of canceling the Escalade, because of the icy conditions for the runners. But on the day of the event, the sun shone through and the city work hard to de-ice the streets. Even though the temperature never went above 0C, it was a great time to walk around Geneva and enjoy a hot chocolate or vin chaud.

The sky was super blue and the steam and heat from chimneys were silently serene.

Trudging through the snow wasn’t high on people’s lists, but the big snow fall was over in time for the weekend festivities.

This will probably my last set of photos before the new year unless something amazing happens and I’m lucky enough to have my camera with me… Merry Christmas!

Bazaar Bonanza

Every year the UN Women’s Guild in Geneva holds a bazaar to raise funds for children and showcases flavors and products from around the world. Since it was my first UNWG bazaar I was excited to take my camera to capture some of the moments. What I didn’t realize was how popular and busy the event was. The bazaar took place over three floors of the convention area. The 2nd floor was where the food was served and it was PACKED! so much so that it was almost impossible to navigate through all the hungry people – we actually had to take backroom corridors to escape the munching mob. Overall, a great experience and intro into the international and diverse community of the UN in Geneva.  Visit the UN Women’s Guild website to find out more about this charitable group and what they do.

The Return of Euro-Work

Geneva. This is where I’ll be for the next 6 months. International development work especially with the United Nations is generally sporadic and short-term – that’s why I’ve been moving around a lot these past few years. I finally made it back to Europe – in 2005, I spent almost half a year in Eastern Europe with a week stopover in Geneva. Even after spending a week in the city five years ago, the cityscape is still familiar albeit a little fuzzy.

I came right at the cusp of the changing of the seasons… most of the first few days were great in the city. 20+ degrees with clear blue skies… I took advantage of it by walking around different parts of the city. But now in the latter half of the week, it’s been raining and the air seems to be signaling the first signs of autumn. It’s still great to be able to walk on the street and take things slow, which the city is quite catered to. Nothing is open beyond 9pm (and that’s only on Thursday)… most shops and stores close by 6pm from Monday to Saturday. It you have any errands to run, forget about Sunday… everything shuts down. I guess if God rested on Sunday, so should Geneva – but I think this is also quite common in France and other parts of Western Europe.

So now the pressure is on to find a place to live for the next 6 months so I can focus on other things (i.e. work, skiing, visiting other parts of Switzerland).

Perpsectives from August

It’s been a busy August so far. First, there’s getting use to being married, then there’ the traveling, moving around, settling-in, and adjusting to a new culture/country.  I’ve been exposed to an overflow of visions, perspectives, colours, cultures, people, and thoughts. One things is for sure, life is a surprise – when you think you know what you’re doing, life throws you a twist to keep you on your feet. There’s still one more week left in August, which should bring some more surprises. In the meantime, here are some “perspectives” from the first three weeks.