Lost in Translation: are we meant to transcend language?

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What would humanity look like if humans did not use language to communicate? What if we possessed a more advanced, let’s say telepathic way to communicate information through images?

I recently watched  Lost in Translation again, one of my favourite films of all time. For those who have not seen it, Lost In Translation is a delightful journey through Japan’s urban culture and traditional imagery. But what makes the film truly great is the way it uses its spectacular photography to surpass dialogue.  In fact, the whole movie is a demonstration of how awkward,  inadequate and redundant verbal communication is compared to image. The sophistication of the vernacular is demystified and reduced to mere incoherent utterances and comical mishaps . Throughout the film there is a persistent communication fail that leads to the gradual deconstruction-the death- of language.

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Powerful images effortlessly replace words. Communication in Lost in Translation resembles telepathy, or if you prefer, a  soul connection than allows instant knowledge without employing words. The two protagonists do not connect so much with speech (which has the habit of bringing unwanted aspects of their personal lives into their present reality) but rather by surrendering to their surroundings, almost transcending time.

There is somehow the instant knowledge that their surroundings depend on their inner truth. The couple creates their own external reality, whose chaos is a reflexion of their own inner chaos.

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Undoubtedly, communication through image requires a new perception of reality, and a new purpose. Instant access to an image would mean instant access to the purpose and the intention behind it. This requires honesty and truth, both of which are obstructed by the formalities of language. An image is clear. “One picture is worth a thousand words.”

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An image is non linear. By this I mean that it encompasses information that is absorbed in  random order, and in diverse ways. Indeed, we use a different part of our brains to process an image than we do for speech and language. An image doesn’t require a  logical or moral response. Instead we “feel” or even experience the image’s message as a whole, and as a type of encoded hologram. (hologram: greek word holos (whole) and gramma (message).) We can have a psychological, mental or spiritual response instead of a logical response. But in order to achieve this, one would also need to develop a form of telepathy.

Lost in Translation is a great example of communicating through images, and accessing information through visual stimuli instead of a narrated storyline. Hyper-urbanised , futuristic Tokyo is the ideal backdrop, offering a glimpse of what communication will look like once humanity moves past the Age of Reason.

A trip to Oslo and how Norway compares with Sweden

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Last weekend I made my virgin trip in the Norwegian capital Oslo. In my mind I expected to see a mini version of Stockholm: beautiful high arched older buildings in the heart of the city and in the outskirts gigantic highrises, mainly 70s housing projects of the Million House Programme.
Instead I encountered completely different scenery. My first impression was that nature and urban space seemed to co-exist in balance with each other. During our train journey from the airport to the city I could see small communities here and there existing in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature.
Exploring the city later, I realized that Oslo is filled with neo modern architecture which often uses elements of Feng Shui.
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Residential area art

Residential area art


The presence of water is meant to incorporate natural elements into this brand new community

The presence of water is meant to incorporate natural elements into this brand new community. In this pic Skywalker and little Alia strolling by the water


Feng Shui?

Feng Shui anyone?

So my impressions when comparing Oslo to Stockholm are:

As I just said the city is an oasis of architectural projects that you normally would not expect to see in a place that small (the population of Norway is half of Sweden). In this sense you get to see buildings that stand out, instead of buildings that(like in a place like conformity loving Sweden) all look the same. Generally there was the impression of a more European sense of individuality and uniqueness so unlike Sweden where you strongly feel you should either adopt the ways of the north or die.
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Oslo is more expensive that Stockholm ( at least 20%). Yes, I know we are talking about one of the richest countries in the world. I was amazed when on two occasions the waiter in the place we had dinner appeared to be expecting us to leave a tip. I am sure he earned a huge salary, was fully insured and received something like 2 months of paid holiday leave from his job. (ok I am exaggerating a bit but he surely must suspect that many of the tourists he serves food to are poorer than him. This weird thought struck me after waiting in the queue at a Trip Advisor endorsed restaurant and chatting with two American ladies behind me, who after learning that I am Greek they bluntly observed how expensive this restaurant must be for me. I was too polite to make the same observation about them. )

Norwegian people are friendly and smile to strangers. This is a first in Scandinavia. In Stockholm smiling or talking to strangers makes you a loony. (as it does back home but for slightly different reasons, you are supposed to assault them instead or at least give them angry looks). The people we met seemed so genuinely kind and helpful, even people who looked like they had immigrant backgrounds (and thus kinda expect them to look glum and reserved) seemed chatty and relaxed and spoke to us. (On one occasion in a Middle Eastern supermarket four different people came and spoke to or stroked our baby.) In general people looked happy, there I said it. Also Norwegians had something that I cannot explain well in words, a kind of positive vibe. (Except from that mean security woman at the airport on my way back who declared I was chosen for a random security check and gave me the most intrusive, hostile hands search, she even put her nasty hands in my jeans).

The food was more expensive but it was better. We tried everything, from the expensive to the middle eastern pizza. The bad was much better than the bad in Stockholm and the good was top marks. Whoever says that Norway has no variety of food in the supermarkets because it is not a member of the EU speaks nonsense. We went two times in two different markets and the variety of things like fruits and veg was the same as Sweden. (In the middle Eastern supermarket it was much better in fact.)
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Alcohol is not sold in the supermarkets. Exactly like Sweden’s Systembolaget, there was a special governmentally owned chain that sold anything over 4% of alcohol. Shame, it make you suspect that this sunny fun loving culture transforms into snow covered red eyed monsters in the Winter strolling through the streets in the darkness of the day in search for comfort booze.

We were blessed with excellent weather so maybe that was also a crucial factor shaping the positive experience.

The city center was filled with happy crowds and even a day after the bank holiday it still felt completely like a holiday. (No business looking people walking around and offices were empty, I am best guessing EVERYONE had informally taken the day off, ha!). The parks in the city center were filled with artists and several choirs who performed for people.

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An interesting fact about working in Norway that I found out recently: There is a compulsory unpaid 4 week summer shutdown in July as everyone is supposed to be away on holidays. The staff is however encouraged to save money by having a part of their salary withheld during the year especially to cater for this month.
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Which one prevails?Urban space or nature?

Which prevails more: Urban space or nature?

To be fair with Sweden there seems to be many lifestyle similarities between the two countries from the info I get from expat blogs about Norway. The majority of expats complain about the same things that almost all expat here complain about: They never make local friends as locals sticks to their high school friends, in the workplace people avoid confrontation and instead take problems directly to the boss, and generally people shun initiative and individuality.

So is it a favorite holiday destination? Definitely. I would visit Oslo again if I had the chance in the future and I would make sure to pick a warm month of the year so that I could enjoy this beautiful city one more time.
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My First Day in Beijing-The Kindness of Strangers

I spent Winter 2007 in Beijing and that was my virgin journey to Asia too. One Sunday afternoon I boarded an Air China flight from London to Beijing, half drunk and not sure what I was doing. You see, I had this brilliant idea to buy the friend who drove me to the airport a couple of drinks to thank him for the ride. He was Russian; he could take a bit of drunk driving, but it turns out I couldn’t handle the intercontinental check in intoxicated. I was ordered by the airline to remove the extra luggage weight to avoid a hefty fee and in my blurry rush ( I was going to miss my flight apparently) I misplaced my ipod, books and all survival related gadgets, only to find myself half an hour later sitting lonely and confused in a ready to take off plane for the other side of the world. Still under the spell of white wine, I started crying.

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The purpose of my trip was to improve my Mandarin language skills by taking a 3 month 7 hours per day intensive language course. Having already completed a one year Mandarin language course in London, I thought the knowledge in my Mandarin textbooks would be good enough to give me a sense of familiarity, but when I landed in Beijing 10 hours later, all jet lagged and flustered I felt like I had landed on another planet. Nothing I saw or experienced felt familiar in any way. Until then China was for me images picked up from Bruce Lee’s action movies, a combination of stereotyped China Town aesthetics with the occasional traditional architectural elements of pagodas here and there. I expected to see compact and “Europeanized” Hong Kong (which at the time I had never visited). Instead I found myself in a vast, chaotic smoggy megacity that at the time resembled an endless construction site: Highway after highway that connected eerily identical gated communities of residential towers, sprawled in a bare treeless land and keeping a very unfriendly distance from each other. The background noise night and day (and I mean all night) was that of construction drilling and sawing as new towers and gated communities sprang up.

View from my apartment, 27th floor

View from my apartment, 27th floor

As I was dropped by my airport guide at a spacious studio apartment on the 27th floor of one of these towers, dizzy and dehydrated, I had the disconcerting feeling that I had just landed in hell. I had no idea where and how to initiate my Chinese living experience as literally everything felt completely alien. For a person like me who had spent all her life in compact European cities, this was like exploring a new planet.

I remember walking outside, walking past the military dressed guards and seeing a big loitering crowd standing at the edge of the highway, watching. A young man approached me and spoke to me in Mandarin. I realized that unlike a listening exercise at my language school, his accent was hard to grasp and I could not understand what he was saying. I told him I needed to find a bank and a supermarket. He said he could drive me to both. I was so exhausted, muddled and my mouth burning with dehydration (the apartment had no water) that I went with him in his car. The man did as he said, took me to a cash point and waited until I got money and then he drove me to what it looked like a shopping mall. “The supermarket is here” he said and dropped me there. In my confusion and unspeakable relief to see a Carrefour in front of me, I forgot to ask him if he was a taxi driver and if he wanted money. He did not ask for any money though and just drove away.

Already late and nothing looks familiar

Already late and nothing looks familiar

After doing some shopping, I realized I had absolutely no idea how to get back. I did not even remember what “home” looked like. All the highways looked the same and all the gated communities were completely identical. My airport guide had provided me with a hand drawn map of where I lived. When I asked her for the exact street address, she had replied the place had no official address, just a name. It was already dark outside and I had started feeling panicky when some elderly Chinese couple approached me, “Where are you going”? They asked. I showed them the hand drawn map and they both nodded in recognition. “You are going the wrong way” they said “Your house in the other direction on your right hand side”.
I followed their advice. From the corner of my eye throughout my return home, I could see them walking on the other side of the pavement and silently keeping pace with me, making sure I got home alright.

Inside my Beijing apartment

Inside my Beijing apartment

In the next 3 cold Winter months that followed I got familiar with all the highways, bridges and underpasses of my “neighborhood”. I met lots of Beijing-ners and always made small talk with the taxi driver that drove me home. The conversation always started like that “Ni shi Meiguo ren?” (Are you American?) “Bu shi, Wo shi Xila ren” (No I am Greek). Xila ren! They replied always in astonishment. In the city of 20 million Chinese I was a rare species.

For me Beijing remained overwhelming, stripped of tradition when it came to aesthetics and architecture, but at the same time one of the most original places to experience China. I never really warmed up to its vastness, its impersonal highways and suffused with luxury, sanitized shopping malls, (Golden pillars hosting a paradise of Italian fashion, often accompanied with shocking sanitation facilities) which always contrasted with the loitering crowds and heavy smog outside. Its luxuries served however as a pleasant getaway from its harsh realities.

Tibetan restaurant Beijing

Tibetan restaurant Beijing

There was a lot to be explored, experienced and learnt. Looking back I would not change Beijing for anything. If you could scratch underneath its hard surface there was an incredible energy emanating from that megacity that was transforming, so quickly and miraculously, that its eagerness to move into the Future nurtured my mind and soul. It was inspiring. It was happening and it attracted young people from all over the world thirsty for its energy and vibe, proud to become witnesses to its transformation.

Hong Kong: The Perfect Hybrid Place

Since I first visited Hong Kong back in 2008, I felt like a part of me did a quantum jump and stayed there permanently. Despite my aspirations, it only remained in that parallel universe and did not extend in the Universe I live now: I visit Hong Kong as a tourist, always trying to grasp the essence of its magic.

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For me, Hong Kong’s success lies in its hybrid character: Once a British colony it has been a famous mix of British and Chinese Cultures and later attracted a variety of ethnicities and populations, creating a mosaic of colors, tastes and images. It has been famously branded an Asia World City because of that vibrant, multicultural character. If there is a word that comes in mind when I think of Hong Kong, that word is definitely potential. Walking the steep hilly streets and slopes of the Hong Kong Island you can feel that potential and the energy that comes from its unique landscape and architectural unconventionality. (One of its quirks being the world’s longest outdoor escalator, Central-Mid-Levels, that carries you to the higher levels of the island so you don’t have to climb the steep hill)

Central-Mid-Levels Escalator

Central-Mid-Levels Escalator

Hong Kong residents take pride in the fact that its unique energy comes from using Feng Shui -the Chinese geomancy-, which has shaped the architecture and lifestyle of the city in accordance with the principles of energy flow, health and prosperity. In this sense Hong Kong is futuristic. Not because of its jaw dropping skyline and aesthetics of hyper capitalism, these are only by products of its positive energy flow. It is rather by creating potential and enabling opportunity that it has liberated itself from strong national and political elements.

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When I first stood at Tsim Sha Tsui gazing at Hong Kong Island, an afternoon six years ago, I felt free and overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of potential. It is that rare feeling that comes to you not so often when you feel like new horizons open in front of you, truly a sense of empowerment. You are suddenly inspired, injected with “life shots” as you grow and you expand and feel limitless. It is a feeling similar to falling in love for the first time.

This is more affordable

This is more affordable

That night I was going to sleep in a hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui and a box room that had no windows or natural light. (Very typical is the city’s lack of residential space where people are vertically squashed in overpriced tiny apartments). Even that did not disturb my sense of freedom. Life in Hong Kong is outside and is calling for you to live it, young, free and adventurous.

View from the Peak

View from the Peak

Maybe I will always be in love with Hong Kong and perhaps just like a high school crush it will always be there, beckoning from another universe like another self. Or perhaps I will only be nostalgic of that early summer afternoon I stood in Victoria Harbour gazing at Hong Kong Island, South China Sea between us, Life in front of us to be conquered and lived to its full potential with no regrets, doubts or second thoughts.

View from Victoria Harbour

View from Victoria Harbour