Magnificent

Look, Tsolmo, Guy Garvey of Elbow wrote a song about you!

Well… of course, he had something personal in mind, and who knows what that is. But that first verse and the chorus (not so much the second verse, though) really touch me!

This is where, this is where the bottle lands
Where all the biggest questions meet
With little feet stood in the sand

This is where the echoes swell to nothing on the tide
And where a tiny pair of hands
Finds a sea-worn piece of glass
And sets it as a sapphire in her mind

And there she stands
Throwing both her arms around the world
The world that doesn’t even know
How much it needs this little girl

It’s all gonna be magnificent, she says
It’s all gonna be magnificent

You have to know that my grandparents – your greatgrandparents – live near Hamburg at the river Elbe which is so wide there that it has beaches. As a child, I played there for many hours, watching the ships entering and leaving the harbour of Hamburg, so amazed and overwhelmed by the huge carriers and cargo vessels that I threw myself into the sand. I found stones and sometimes little shells, trash and all kinds of items washed onto the shore by the waves. This image and the memories of the great times I had there all come up when listening to this song. This jaunty happiness, dreaming of a cruise on one of those ships, fighting pirates, discovering treasures full of gemstones… and imagining, almost hoping, that those colourful sea-worn pieces of glass actually ARE gemstones! So, now, I see you standing on that beach, carefree, playing with an empty bottle, and all your thoughts circle around is whether it is possible to stop the waves from rolling in by smashing them with this bottle (“where all the biggest questions meet”). No job, no homework (yet), no bills, no complicated relationships, just this small world full of curiosity and an untamable urge to discover. And your mind will be imaginative and creative, with a blue round piece of glass just as precious as a sapphire. And in this natural state of joy, you want to hug the world that is so great and beautiful and good! It’s all gonna be magnificent! Try to keep this light-hearted optimism as long as you can! How much the world needs you, I can tell! This bundle of love and joy that you are! And if not “the world”, then at least “my world”… Only complete WITH you! I love you, Tsolmo!

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Sand

Apparently, we don’t have a TV at home – but you don’t care, yet, because you don’t even know, yet, what a TV is. Television is a technology in the field of mass media. In the 1960s it entered almost every household in Germany, other European countries, the USA, Japan, and many other countries, soon ubiquitous all around the globe. It presented moving pictures which was regarded as a huge advancement compared to the other major mass media forms in place, the radio and the newspaper. Why, then, don’t we have one now? To be sure, we consciously and wholeheartedly decided not to have one. To explain that, I’d like to share a story with you:

A professor stood before his Philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty bucket and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the bucket was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a jar of pebbles and poured them into the bucket. He shook it lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open spaces between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the bucket was full. They agreed it was. The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the bucket and of course filled up everything else. He then asked once more if it was full. The students responded with an unanimous yes. The professor then produced a cup of tea from under the table and proceeded to pour the entire content into the bucket, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed.

Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this bucket represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends, your favourite passions – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff. If you put the sand into the bucket first,” he continued, ” there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner dancing. Play another match chess. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.” After a few moments of silence in the classroom, one of the students raised his hand and inquired what the tea represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of tea.”

This story is about priorities and about our important and useful ability to step back and reflect on our life, the decisions we make and the options we choose. On the one side, it is good to realise what our golf balls are, because only then are we able to lead a mindful and fulfilled life. On the other side, it is of the same significance to identify and eliminate all the sand! And I can tell you, what we call “progress”, especially the technological one, produces more and more sand, time killers that lure our weak and opportunistic minds to choose them. My standard example for “sand” in this respect is TV. To put it straight: 98% (roughly) of what is transmitted via TV channels is nonsensical, meaningless, stupidifying, dull bullshit (this will probably be the only time you will ever read this word from me here). Yes, there is informative News. Luckily, nowadays, we have more diverse and alternative sources for News, especially via internet. Yes, there are interesting documentaries and educational shows. These are either the remaining 2%, or they turn out to be much less valuable than other sources of knowledge and learning. And, yes, sometimes it is simply entertaining and funny, for example in form of good movies, live concerts, cultural shows, etc. Again, there are better sources for that. When you read a book, your imagination creates the visual impression from the words you are receiving. In your mind, a creative sense-making takes place. When you watch TV, your mind is much less creative and by far less challenged to “make sense” of what it perceives. Besides, culture and arts should also be consumed “directly”, not through a TV screen. Moreover, TV consumption is unhealthy both for body (sitting around, blue light screen) and psyche. This last point deserves more attention and explanation.

The major problem I have with TV consumption is that in the vast majority of cases it doesn’t challenge our intellect, emotional and empathic skills, creativity, thoughtfulness and practical skills. The severe lack of self-fulfilment that goes along with watching TV leaves us behind with the inherent feeling of emptiness (not in the Buddhist sense), of having wasted time, and of stagnation. If you are already “empty” (like most of the people in “modern” countries), you might not even get aware of it. But if you grow into a mindful, creative, curious and active person that seeks self-fulfilment, you will probably choose to watch TV only when there is really nothing else to do (which means: never). When you delve into a book, create an artwork, practice a musical instrument, exhaust yourself with sports, socialise with friends, play in the sun or explore nature, I promise you will always feel “better” than after watching TV. Of course, it is not about always doing something “smart” or meaningful, there must be time for relaxing and low-level entertainment. But then, I imply, it is still about “making choices”, and the TV gives you only an illusion of choice, as Roger Waters wrote in The Wall in 1979: “I got 13 channels of shit on the TV to choose from.” As mentioned above, today, there are much more sources of all sorts of information and entertainment. We don’t need a TV to choose interesting movies, informative documentaries or comedy.

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The problem is: TV is a “simple” way to pass time. Same as alcohol is a simple way to cover sadness. Or as smoking is a simple way to deal with insecurity and nervousness. Or as chocolate is a simple way of self-reward. It is a temptation, a welcome counter-pole to the stressful and difficult “daily life” with school, job, conflict-solving, standing one’s ground and fulfilling one’s desires. People choose TV because they are tired. And because vegging in front of the TV doesn’t require any brain cells. What these people obviously didn’t experience is the power of a passion (a hobby, for example) or of interpersonal quality time (playing with children, meaningful conversation with close friends or the partner) to serve as a huge source of energy. In the terms of the story: sand sucks your energy out, while golf balls deliver energy to you! Even after a long workday, and especially when you are tired. You just need to get your ass up! In Buddhist terms: Watching TV is suffering (dhuka) in the sense that you give in to your deluded desires and your resistance to challenges. Our (your parents’) decision not to have a TV is motivated by the attempt to eliminate all sources of unhappiness and suffering. Instead, we (your Mom and I) play cards almost every night before going to sleep. This simple card game is as “stupid” and non-challenging as a TV show, but we look at each other, talk to each other while playing, interact (at least more than in front of a TV screen) and have fun “in our way” (instead of in a way dictated by a technological device). My vision of the future is a family life full of activities like this, outdoor activities whenever the weather allows it, and playing games, playing music, create or build something together, whenever we prefer staying inside.

I am totally aware that my aversion against TV is highly exaggerated and for many people even offensive. Of course, not everybody who watches TV from time to time is an idiot! But it is, as always, a matter of balance and – most of all –  a matter of mindfulness and conscious choice! For now, since you are still a baby, we decided not to expose you to TV consumption or any other form of “staring at a screen”. So far, you obviously grow into a curious, active, healthy, energetic, cognitively very skilled girl! Therefore, I believe, it is not the worst choice!

Happy Birthday, Tsolmo!

Dear Tsolmo!

Today it is one year ago that you took your first breath on this planet. Today we look back at a year full of splendidness and joy! Seriously! It is amazing how well you developed! You are bigger than all the 12-month-olds around you, you can walk more stable, you can climb down from the couch safely, climb up (!) the play structure in the park and slide down the slide by yourself, and you dance to AC/DC and the Blues Brothers! Since you are 6 weeks old, you sleep all nights through without waking up, except for 5 (five!) nights (out of 320). Your health records mention 2 light fevers – and that’s it! Not even one diarrhoea! You eat and digest everything we feed you, including salmon, goji, kiwi, seaweed, and all other available vegetables, nuts, grains and fruits. You are able to play with one thing for one hour, and you enjoy exploring every corner of our apartment. Also – and that is the fun part – you unpack every shelf and drawer you can open (which forced us to re-organise almost the entire apartment). I guess it is a cycle: You sleep very well, so when you are awake you have strong mental capacities to explore and be active, so you use up all your energy and can sleep well, which supports your mental and physical development for more activity…

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On the Highway to hell (air guitar solo)

Recently, you developed a stronger will. If you want something you can’t reach, and we don’t give it to you, you can get really loud and demanding! How can we find the fine line between supporting your interest and curiosity and letting you experience that your will has limits? I guess, that is the basic question for many parents: Where on the gradual line between spoiling on the one end and frustrating on the other end do we position ourselves by this or that decision? So far, you are obviously a very happy child, with many reasons to laugh and enjoy your own progress. I guess, it means we don’t treat you too wrong. Sometimes I found myself being impatient and sounding a bit too harsh. Will you remember that? Your behaviour, at least, doesn’t mirror it. All in all, you are rather gentle, calm and peaceful (like your mom). Observing your development confirms my constructivist worldview: there is a strong link between your environment and your development! You are not “born as” anything, but all the patterns that form and all your constitution are the result of the experiences you make and how you in your small world construct meaning from it. It is very fascinating to observe all this, so I can say that it is you who makes us (at least me) learn and not vice versa!

Thank you, Tsolmo, for enriching and colouring our life, for bringing endless joy and astonishment, for letting us experience the most precious human trait: unconditional parental love and the unshakable willingness to care and foster. Looking forward to all the wonderful years to come, filled with your “magic”! Happy Birthday, 小魔女!

birthday

Edit:

We just finished a ceremony that is very widespread in Asia: We dressed you in some kind of “Chinese” dress, put you in front of an arrangement of 10 things and let you pick three.  Your choice is said to tell something about your future. I don’t believe in that kind of fortune-telling, but it is fun, anyway! Instead of following standard procedures or even letting an “expert” do it, we chose to do this ritual all by ourselves. The 10 things I chose and their meaning are:

  • a carrot – always enough to eat
  • a Darth Vader – attracted by the dark side
  • a tool (screw driver) – practical skills
  • a pen (calligraphy brush) – knowledge creation ability
  • a book – knowledgeableness (erudition)
  • a musical instrument (ocarina) – creative artistic skills
  • a bottle of liquor – susceptibility for addiction
  • money – material wealth
  • three owls figure (like the three monkeys) – spiritual wisdom
  • a clock – always well organised

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You picked the carrot first. You seemed very satisfied with that one, and it took quite some time to convince you to choose a second item. You took the book. You touched the three owls, but didn’t take it. Other things didn’t attract your attention at all. I think, that is a good result! At least, you didn’t choose the alcohol, the money or Darth Vader (which would be cool, too, anyhow)! For now, we interpret your choice as an affirmative message: We will provide enough food and enough sources of knowledge (for example books) for you until you are able to provide yourself sufficiently with those things! On a prosperous future!

Music for life

Now you are a bit more than 10 months old and can walk more or less freely around our apartment. You started to dance at the age of 5 months (pulling yourself into the standing position at a piece of furniture or in your hulan, luffing up and down by bending your knees) while listening to AC/DC (your favourite: Back in black), Snarky Puppy or other funky and rocking music. When you were three days (!) old you signaled to us that you liked the voice of Norah Jones but not that of Katie Melua. Your affinity to music, however, dates back even further: When we listened to Pink Floyd, Beethoven or some relaxing piano jazz, you jumped for joy inside your Mom’s belly! Music is part of my life, and so it is of yours! That’s why today’s letter is about music.

I got my first drumset in 1988. It was a very old (second hand) Ludwig drumset with a Pearl HiHat with Meinl HiHat Cymbals.

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I had drum lessons from 1992 to 1997 at the “Musikschule (music school) Beckum-Warendorf” with british Jazz drummer James “Jimmie” Sargent. I told him that I want to play in my schools BigBand as soon as possible, so after a few very basic pattern practices I started to learn simple rock and jazz beats. After one year I joined the “Junior BigBand” of my school and the brass orchestra of the music school. Much later my teacher remembered that we left out to practice rudimentary patterns (triples, accents, paradiddles, etc.), so I went back to practice those basics. In addition I had a lesson series on odd time counting (5/4, 7/8, 3/4, 7/4, 9/8, 11/4 measures).

Jimmie was a great teacher, demanding but patient and very helpful! However, after 5 years I realized that every week was the same: I practiced the homework he gave me, presented it to him, he said “Yes, good! Until next time practice the following pages…”, and I did it. In the meantime I had my first own band and we played rock music, I developed my own style. I decided to have no more drum lessons but practice on my own, that is cheaper and doesn’t need a weekly appointment! But before I quit in 1997 I bought a new drumset from Jimmie: He was endorser of Premier, a quite expensive brand, so he recommended “WorldMax”, a daughter of Premier, with excellent ratio of cost and performance. In combination with a few good cymbals and high-quality Remo drumheads the sound was pretty good! I extended the set more and more, for example with a rack to hang all the tomtoms and cymbals on, and with a Tama Iron Cobra double bass drum pedal (the most expensive piece of my set)! My band “no more lund” got some local fame and played on several festivals around Münster. Here is a photo from “Kottenrock” 1999:

drum1999

“no more lund” recorded a CD in 2001! Being in the studio was a great new experience for me! Compared to soccer, if practicing is the training, and gigs are the “league matches”, then making a CD in a studio is like “Champions league”! It feels great to “have something in hand” that I can show to friends, family or future children (you)! We promoted our new album with several gigs. I often took my shirts off during gigs, because the music we played (a kind of progressive rock) required hard work and set free a huge amount of energy. Those are the moments that I love the most about playing music, but it also means that I sweat incredibly much…

I extended my drumset by a set of 8 “octobans”, 6 inch metal tubes with different length, a drum head on one side, the other side open. Now my drumset occupied half of the stages that we played on, and sound technicians desperately scolded me because it was impossible for them to equip my set properly with microphones (or they didn’t have enough microphones). I liked to put all drums and cymbals close together, so that I don’t need to spend so much energy to move around a lot. That was the hell for the soundmen! NML had its biggest gig on the “Krach am Bach” Festival in Beelen in 2005 after recording our second album. In the meantime we developed our style to more sophisticated progressive rock. When we started in 1995 as “The Nameless” we sounded like “Nirvana”. Later as “no more lund” we were heavily inspired by “Rage against the machine”. In the years 2000-2003 our songs reminded people of “The Deftones”. Finally – and that was my favourite – we ended up making music like “Tool” or “Oceansize”. The songs were quite long and had several parts, very dynamic! It was difficult for the audience to dance, because the songs were quite complicated and “odd”, but it was so much fun to play! Especially on a big stage with huge PA system and nice lighting!

DCF 1.0

DCF 1.0

In 2006 NML split, because all members went to different places to study or work. What a pity! The best band I ever played with! After returning from Asia I played with NML’s bass player’s new band “Exit Illusion”. We recorded an EP and had several gigs in and around Münster. Here are photos and a scheme of my full set:

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I did not always bring my full set to every gig. Sometimes it was also fun to get much out of a little set. The “wild years” in which I tried to drum as strong and “massive” as possible were over in the later 2010s. I tried to focus on “economic” playing, sticking to the groove, with every hit placed thoroughly and with sense. By the way, my idols were Jon Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Ian Paice (Deep Purple) in the early years, and later Billy Cobham (Jazz/Fusion drummer), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and Jack de Johnette (Jazz drummer). When I started my music activities in Taiwan in 2014, I didn’t have my own drumset. After years of Prog Rock in Germany, I played in a “normal” rock band, first, and then in a funk and jazz band with excellent fellow musicians, which pushed my skills to a different level.

Besides drumming, I had piano lessons for half a year in 1998 (enough to play simple songs at home), and I was singing in my school’s choir and as “Alfred” in the “Dance of the Vampires” musical that my school performed. However, drums has always been my favourite.

Why so much music? Why not football or videogaming or collecting stamps? I think, one crucial influence is that of my father who had a huge LP and CD collection, mostly 1970s rock music like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, etc. We were not a “TV family” (the TV was even locked away behond doors in the living room shelf), but the radio was always on, or we sat in the living room listening to loud music (no neighbours in the countryside! big advantage!). Even though my taste of music as a child was terrible (I liked David Hasselhoff and sailor’s chants…), it changed significantly in my early teenages: Triggered by my increasing drumming abilities, I was more and more interested in music that I could play drums to. I took my father’s LPs and CDs and tried to drum to those songs. I was very impressed by the energy of Meat Loaf’s 1993 album “Bat out of hell 2”. In early 1994 I got my first Hifi Stereo system with a CD player. The first CDs I had were gifts from my parents, but in autumn 1995 I bought a CD for the first time. In the record store, I found one with a very artful cover and a red blinking LED: “P.u.l.s.e.” by Pink Floyd.

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I never listened to any song of this band before and the CD was very expensive, 55 DM. But a mysterious driving force made me buy it. My father was very surprised but also interested in it, so we listened to it on his high quality sound system in the living room, and this music blew me away! This music was so intense, so creative, so deep and “floating”! I listened to it around the clock until I could sing all lyrics and notes, even the guitar and piano solos. I also started accompanying it with my drums. Pink Floyd’s “Pulse” is definitely a milestone in the development of my “music career”! From then on I listened to music very consciously. When music was handmade, unusual, creative, covered a large spectrum of sounds (like orchestral works) or had very long songs, then it was interesting for me. Sometimes later I bought CDs of bands that I never heard before, just because there were songs longer than 10 minutes (and actually they were all very good!). Here is my favourite music from 1997:

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Today it looks a bit different, maybe like this:

  1. Tool – No Quarter (Led Zeppelin cover)
  2. Guilt Machine – Season of denial
  3. Katatonia – Forsaker
  4. Snarky Puppy – What about me?
  5. Jethro Tull – Locomotive Breath (from live album “Bursting out”, 1978)
  6. Antonin Dvorak – Symphony No.9, “From the New World”
  7. Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb (live 1994)
  8. Dream Theater – Panic Attack
  9. Haken – Cockroach King
  10. Verbal Delirium – Close to you
  11. Leprous – The Price
  12. Thank you Scientist – Mr. Invisible
  13. Mastodon – The Last Baron
  14. Deep Purple – Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1999 version)
  15. Rainbow – Still I’m sad (from live album “On Stage”, 1997)
  16. Oceansize – No tomorrow
  17. Porcupine Tree – Fear of a blank planet
  18. Katatonia – In the white
  19. Opeth – Baying of the hounds
  20. Herbie Hancock – Cantaloupe Island (from “Parallel Realities, live 1991)
  21. In the Silence – Ever closer
  22. Stanley Clarke & Friends – Stratus (“Live at the Greek”, 1994)
  23. Snarky Puppy – Lingus
  24. Lars Danielsson – Orange market
  25. Phil Collins BigBand – Pick up the pieces
  26. Siena Root – Time will tell
  27. Dredg – Bug eyes
  28. Muse – Feeling good
  29. Evership – Silver Light
  30. Guilt Machine – Twisted Coil

Not only has a lot of great music been produced in the past 20 years. Also, of course, I got in touch with much more interesting music. And, most important, my choice of music became more “conscious” and more “picky”. There are two sides of “music”: consumption of music and playing a musical instrument. I believe that the two evolve in mutual enrichment: Playing a musical instrument is motivated by knowing and appreciating good music, but playing music by oneself also enlarges the “listening capacity”, musical understanding and personal preference impact (I mean, how important it is for you to find your preferences expressed in the music you choose). When you try to master your instrument you almost necessarily have idols and favourite songs that you will like to play. Almost inevitably you select more sophisticated and qualitatively more advanced music. But you can only choose from music you know. The biggest source of musical knowledge is your home (your parents’ choices and radio/TV presence of music) and later your friends. At the same time, you grow up in an environment that provides musical instruments (an e-piano, a Guzheng, a cajon, even a small drumset, your nephew playing Ukulele) and confronts you with people having fun playing those instruments. You listen to Jazz, Rock, Funk, Reggae, classical music, heavy metal, and other handmade music every day since your ears started to send signals to your brain! I am quite sure, sooner or later you will consciously choose to make music a part of your personal daily life. I sometimes joked around, telling my friends that you will be given up for adoption if you decide to listen to HipHop. It won’t be that bad! More important than the actual choice of music is your motivation to choose music that somehow represents your personal preference instead of rather choosing what friends tell you counts as “cool”. Maybe you will like to play music with your old daddy. I will always be ready for that, even if it is HipHop!

Is it “important” for me that you turn towards “music” both as consumer and as player? I would say ‘yes’. I am convinced that playing music is a great support for the development of cognitive skills and creativity. I feel confirmed by many studies and experts’ findings. Insightful books are Daniel Levitin’s “This is your brain on music – The science of a human obsession” (Plume, 2006) and “Music, Neurology, and Neuroscience – Evolution, the musical brain, medical conditions and therapies”, edited by Altenmüller, Boller and Finger (Elsevier, 2015). Youtube has countless videos that explain what happens in the neuronal networks of your brain while playing music: motor activities, memory, the coordination between your senses (listening to what you play, seeing the notesheet or remembering the right notes, comparing the output to your expectation), triggering of emotional states, and all that as parallel continuous processes! Not only is playing music just “fun” in the moment you are doing it, it can also increase your self-confidence, your identification in your teenages, and your feeling of self-fulfillment. In this respect, playing an instrument is much more than just about the music. It is about the quality of life. And since I wish you the highest possible quality of life, I believe that choosing “music” increases the chance to reach that! You have my full support!

Research Portfolio

I am a researcher at University, currently as “Postdoctoral Research Fellow” at National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, Taiwan. I am working on a project entitled “Ethical and Social Implications of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in Taiwan”. Many people are not very familiar with this kind of research. Therefore, I’d like to explain a little more about it.

My research interests are situated between the cornerstones (blue boxes) “Science and Technology”, “Philosophy” and “Society”.

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I understand “Science and Technology” (S&T) as a social, academic and political endeavour that aims at facilitating and supporting the development of artifacts and infrastructures that have the potential to enrich and increase the quality of life. This ranges from “basic research”, applied sciences and engineering to product development and industrial production, covering all enactors and drivers of technological progress. “Philosophy“, from my point of view, is the attempt to reflect on metaphysical, epistemological and ontological questions on the one hand, and to elaborate principles and reasoning strategies for what is “good” and “right” on the other hand. I understand Philosophy as a down-to-earth and highly practical approach rather than a purely intellectual and academic discipline. The “Society” is both target group and study object of my research: the evaluation of the impact of S&T on the society and the societal background of scientific and technological activity on the one hand, and the exploitation of these findings for a socially healthy and sound progress. While “Science” and “Philosophy” can be understood as academic fields, “society” is a term that describes an entity of our lifeworld. On purpose I chose not to call it “Sociology” since I have no educational background in this field, whereas I can call myself “Scientist” (PhD in Chemistry/Nanosciences) and “Ethicist” (Master in Applied Ethics).

How are these three fields connected (green boxes)? Accompanying technological progress (including “science” as its foundation) with research on societal and environmental implications is a matter of “Technology Assessment” (TA). Historically, it developed from a rather technological or economic tool (e.g. analysing the components of a technological artefact concerning their probability to malfunction and risking a loss of the object or harm for someone or something) into a political and sociological tool that aims at taking the “larger picture” of technological development into account. It was highly promoted and extended by the academic field of “Science, Technology and Society” (STS), a sociological discipline. An important precondition is the acceptance of social constructivism as predominant driver of development, instead of technological determinism. The social constructivist approach allows to intervene any development process and guide it into the “right” direction. If progress was deterministic it would be a meaningless endeavour.

In the “Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics” we find this definition:

Technology Assessment (TA) is a scientific interactive and communicative process that aims to contribute to the formation of public and political opinion on societal aspects of science and technology.

Let me explain it a little more detailed. The “object” that TA is working on is “science and technology”. This includes all parts of the development chain, from design and planning via research, fabrication, product development, marketing and sales to consumption, application, and finally disposal and/or recycling. TA understands itself as “accompanying research on societal aspects” of S&T, which include ethical and also legal aspects (all summarized as “ELSI”). Furthermore, it is important to point out that it is an academic discipline that is devoted to scientific methodologies and procedures. Institutional TA can be found at universities or in independent research facilities as well as in the form of “offices” that perform professional TA for governments (e.g. the Office for Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, Büro für Technikfolgenbewertung beim Deutschen Bundestag) or corporations as a kind of science consulting. Bringing together expertise from various fields such as science, industry, politics, social sciences, Philosophy and jurisprudence, its nature is highly interdisciplinary. It is often highlighted that TA is “communicative” because the generation of orientational knowledge  necessarily needs exchange of information among experts, a solution-oriented debate and the communication of conclusions, strategies and/or recommendations to the relevant stakeholders, decision-makers and – in some cases – the general public. The public is both a stakeholder and a target group: Representatives of public interest groups participate in TA processes and debates (e.g. patient groups in medical topics or environmental activists in projects with potential environmental impact); and at the same time the whole effort is undertaken in order to facilitate a socially sound and healthy development. The ultimate goal is the contribution to a sustainable development of society and its environment by creating a knowledge and insight base for efficient governance and policy-making. One extreme viewpoint would be that TA blocks innovation by influencing the decision-making with doubtful concerns and conservative fear-mongering. The other extreme would then be to take TA as an acceptance creator: Convincing the public and politicians that a new technology (e.g. Genetics or Nanotechnology) has great potential benefits, and creating a positive image of this technology in order to unleash its full potential. Certainly, TA is neither of this. From a more balanced point of view, TA aims at serving as an “early warning” against possible side-effects and risks of S&T development on the one hand, and at recognizing potentials and benefits of new technologies and exploring strategies to optimally harvest chances on the other hand.

The role of Philosophy in this approach is mostly manifested as “Ethics“. It means the “study of what is good and/or right” and has a tradition that dates back to the Ancient Greek Philosophers in Europe and Confucius, Laozi and Buddha (as the most prominent representatives) in Asia (6th century BC). It is useful to distinguish descriptive ethics (the study of what certain people or societies believed in certain times, their value systems and worldviews), prescriptive ethics (the “core” of Ethics, elaborating the normative rules we call “morals”) and “meta ethics” (the “ethics of ethics”, reflections on purpose and performance of Ethics). In recent years a new boom of ethics could be observed under the umbrella term “Applied Ethics” (or sometimes “Practical Ethics”). Most prominent examples in this field are bioethics, medical ethics, research ethics, business ethics, profession ethics, media ethics and political ethics.The abovementioned aspects of modern TA approaches such as identifying risks and other problematic concerns, defining what are “benefits” and for whom, classifying and weighing arguments and values, and foreseeing in which way certain decisions might conflict with particular moral values, require a reasonable and strong normative framework within which debates can be held or decisions can be made.  In this respect ethics is a fundamental and crucial element of modern TA concepts such as participatory TA, constructive TA or Parliamentary TA. The role of Ethics in a TA debate is primarily the moderation of the interdisciplinary debate and the identification of argumentation lines, fallacies, contradictions (and similarities), logic or formal mistakes, etc. Different stakeholders speak “different languages” that are coloured and shaped by their respective discipline and professional environment (e.g. when a scientist speaks of “freedom” he might mean something different than the lawyer speaking of “freedom”). An ethicist sorts and interprets the arguments according to the established ethical principles (e.g. deontology, consequentialism, contractarianism, virtue ethics, etc.). Ideally, after a debate in which all viewpoints could be exchanged and discussed, a conclusion can be derived on the basis of a set of values that the group agreed upon. TA doesn’t provide stakeholders and decision-makers with recommendations like “Do A to achieve B.”, but with arguments of the form “If you consider doing A, take into account that B might occur which affects a value C in a certain way.”. The value C can be characterized by one or more of these ethical dimensions, for example principles of justice, responsibility, autonomy, freedom, equality, security, health, etc., the action A is one of the elements in the development chain from scientific research via product development and marketing, regulation and policy-making up to application and consumption. The possible effect B that might occur is either a risk or, when supposed to be “positive”, a benefit. Again, the input from normative sciences (Ethics) is necessary for identifying those risks and benefits by compiling the values that determine if an effect is rather a risk or a benefit.

With the narrower but still wide frame of these areas of S&T research we can go further into detail. I regard my research as a contribution to S&T-related governance and policy-making, providing “orientational knowledge” that helps decision-makers to reflect the important matters of the decisions they are responsible for on a solid knowledge base. A term that is often stressed in this case is “sustainability“. I promote a holistic idea of sustainability that includes not only economic and societal stability and wealth, but also environmental health and global balance. Modern S&T activities have, in many ways, a global character. Not only are the enactors of scientific and technological progress internationally connected in networks and collaborations, but many of the wanted and unwanted effects of technology impact the entire globe rather than a locally confined area of it. This also gives TA and the reflection on ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) a highly intercultural character. Different cultures with different legal systems and different worldviews and value systems might come to different evaluations of risks and benefits, set different priorities in ethical conflicts, or require different measures when defining the implications of “sustainability”.

Here – and this is the central theme of my research interest (red circle) – the interculturality aspect takes a significant turn: I believe that there is no (one) “global” solution for the conflicts and problems that go along with the development of S&T under the paradigm of uncertainty and post-positivism. Instead, it is important to look into the social and cultural specificities of the particular cultural realm. Embedding political decision-making on S&T-related issues, fed by TA and related knowledge sources, into the context of worldviews, mentalities and the “social reality” of a particular “society” (e.g. a nation, or a union of nations like the EU) can contribute positively to the goal of sustainability. The principles and ideas that are exploited for the ethical evaluation of human attitude, behaviour and activity (we can also say: the metaphysical foundations of morality) vary from culture to culture with the “Western” (European, North American) one as the predominant and the “Asian” as the second most prominent. Currently, the “non-western world” is confronted with both the effects of (characteristically western) S&T progress and their (also predominantly western) political and legal frameworks. However, the values and worldviews that underlie governance principles as well as laws and regulations – in some but not all cases – collide with different value settings in those non-western countries. Culturally specific ethical and societal foundations and their application in S&T policy surely facilitate a more sustainable development than the inconsiderate copy of methodologies, principles, guidelines, etc. of another culture.

I’d like to specify my research interests further by outlining my particular competences and expertise (purple boxes). The scientific field that I am most familiar with is Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies since I did (lab) research in that field (nanostructured surface patterning by soft lithography). I also feel familiar with closely related fields such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, and energy-related matters. In the field of “Applied Ethics” I focus on science ethics and more society-focused technology ethics, but also medical ethics and bioethics if required. My contribution to TA comes from the side of accompanying ELSI studies rather than the “technical” sociological methodology. The cultural realm that I know most of and that I currently focus on is East and South-East Asia, in particular Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan (“Confucian societies”) and those influenced by Buddhism. Therefore, I acquired knowledge in Buddhist Ethics, its foundations and applications. As pointed out before, I put a focus on the specificities of particular cultures in a global comparison of cultural realms. This is an endeavour of “comparative philosophy” that analyses schools of thought and sets them into perspective to others, by this enabling the international and intercultural communication of knowledge, insights and ideas.

About your father

Autobiographical notes are not easy to write! Too big is the danger of falsifying facts, romanticising the past, whitewashing incidents and exaggerating the one or the other thing. However, you might feel like it is important to know my “background story” that makes it easier to understand why I think like this or that. I will try to be as precise as possible without going too deep into detail. And, of course, I won’t publish some delicate private stories on the internet…

I entered this world on October 9th in 1981. After two years in a small town my family moved to the countryside. We had no agriculture, just a few animals (cats, dog, chicken, horses, sometimes ducks, geese and for a short time even goats, sheep and three pigs). So much space for me! And so many things to explore! I grew up with the nature. I learned a lot about trees, flowers and animals. And I loved them! I was playing outside everyday, I never cared about the weather. I love sunshine same as snow or thunderstorm (oh, thunderstorm even is my favourite weather!). From 1985 to 1988 I went to the kindergarten and in 1988 I entered the primary school. I didn’t have many friends there. I was invited by other classmates for their birthday partys, I invited them for mine, sometimes we met and played together… But I was never the “dominant” part in class. Maybe living in the countryside was the reason why I was often playing on my own. But there was an advantage to live in the countryside: There was so much space, so many things to do.

My youth was just very usual. I entered Gymnasium, the German secondary school type that permits to study at University afterwards. From time to time I fell in love with a girl, but I was too shy to ask her. I found out that I like to play drums and entered the school’s BigBand. I took part in a scientific competition for young pupil and was member of the pupil’s council. I learned three foreign languages: English (nine years), Latin (five years) and French (two years). French I learned voluntarily, I think this was the only mistake I made in school. A little bit later I found out that I prefer the natural sciences. The last three years are called “Oberstufe” (upper grade), this was the best time of all! I could select my subjects, and I mainly chose natural sciences like chemistry, biology and mathematics. I also had “Music education”, which was very important! I got really good marks in music, because I learned to play musical instruments (drums and piano). So my average mark at the end of school was quite good. The language subjects were not so good, but music and chemistry gave me a good final grade!

Here are some “lessons learned” from my teenage years:

  • People are evil.
    I was bullied a lot at the age of 13,14,15… My classmates made fun of me living in the countryside, making bad jokes about being a farmer. I can’t blame my friends because they probably never realised they were bullying me, but I started to hate everyone! My intraverted and rather anxious personality and my lack of self-confidence made me escape even more into my own world, playing on my own, even starting my own country (“Pannonia”) in which I was the King, in which I made the rules. But ever since I can’t get along easily with “dominant” outgoing and extraverted people. Still today I often feel shy, insecure and want to hide when facing people that are “too strong” and dominant. These incidents back in the days mark the first step in developing serious misanthropy.
  • Mankind as a failure
    Inspired by a book called “Trial and error: Mankind – a failure of Nature” written by German Anthropologist Theo Löbsack I felt confirmed in my anti-human viewpoint at the delicate age of 16. The book states that the human race is condemned to die out because of its “excessive organ”, the brain. We developed technology, ethics, medicine, social systems, etc., which in the long run lead to a weakening of mankind. I hope mankind disappears as soon as possible, before destroying earth more! It would be the best for the planet! Mankind is like a plague, like a virus for this planet! Finally the planet will get rid of it. And it will be painful for mankind!
    I often asked myself: How can I think so terrible about mankind and at the same time just lead an ordinary human life? I talked about mankind as if I was not part of it. Finally I came to the conclusion that it is OK to see things from two points of view: Regarding “mankind” as the sum of all humans, without any individuals, and regarding myself as an individual that has to make its own way among all the others. For a while I felt very guilty and unhappy, but I think it is just part of evolution. Mankind had to develop into that, and we will leave that planet as soon as we have gone too far! And no one will ever cry any tear about us! Sad but true!
  • Emotional intelligence
    My first girlfriend was a very emotional person who often lost temper and freaked out even because of little things. She claimed it “human” to live out anger whenever it came up, and that I am weird because I obviously suppress my anger and other emotions. I tried to control my negative emotions, because I realised that they always have only bad effects: anger made other people also angry or sad, sadness made me feel powerless, greed or envy made me do evil deeds. Also in my family I learned: be considerate! Do not make everything with too much emotion, but think about it first. In my opinion “emotional” is not the opposite of “rational”. Emotion and ratio always work together. But emotion is faster, so people do “emotional” deeds and it seems they did not think (ratio) about consequences or the effect of their action. Having “emotional intelligence” means to have a high self-awareness, the ability of self-management, but also empathy and social awareness. I think all these things can be trained – and should be trained. They are essential for good physical and mental health, for having good relationships and for leading a good life with a peaceful soul.

Since Chemistry was my favourite subject at school I decided to study Chemistry at University. I entered Münster University, because it was close to my hometown and I can continue my bands that I had for many years. I lived in a “community” with my old school friend Jonas (we know each other since 1992), that means we lived together in an apartment, one room for each of us, sharing kitchen and bathroom. I really enjoyed having my own space, experiencing all aspects of a students life (Party, drinking, hanging out with friends, playing music… oh, and sometimes study…), and learning more about chemistry. I got the Diploma degree after successfully finishing several lab courses, exams, a semester in Korea and a really great time with new “lessons learned”!

  • Emotional Intelligence revisited
    My second girlfriend was the opposite of the first one in this respect: She seemed to be completely emotionless, like a stone or a block of ice. It was much easier with her, she never got angry. When we quarreled we simply discussed about what happened or what is wrong. And we came to a conclusion very fast. We always used our brains when quarreling, finding arguments, listening to the other, trying to understand the other and finally find an agreement (= solve the problem). This is the advantage of being emotionless. But on the other hand she also never showed joy or happiness. She seemed to be callous or even apathetical. It was very difficult to make her smile or even laugh. Or people might say, she was not so natural… Always controlling herself, never “letting herself go”. As I said: with negative emotions this is very useful, but not with positive ones. This was my first time experiencing that the best way is usually the middle way between two extremes.
  • To have or to be, that is the question
    Erich Fromm taught me a lot about these two different life approaches. Having lifestyle, which is found in industrialised countries, is based on possession or ownership, Being lifestyle – as an example the Asian countries are mentioned – is based on self-development, finding the own abilities and strong points and lead a life in agreement with the environment. Three examples:

    • Loving someone in the Having-style takes love as a “thing” that you can “have”, but that you can also lose. “Love” is there, but it can vanish, so that the partnership is always at danger. Lovers might stick to “love” as a concept. “Being-style love” doesn’t waste time on such aspects, it is enjoyed in the moment, the two lovers “are” (or become) the love.
    • In Western medicine a disease is often regarded as a disturbing factor that came in from outside and must be taken and removed. Eastern medicine regards the disease as a momentary part of the patient and must be transformed instead of removed.
    • Studying in the having-lifestyle mainly means memorizing (having knowledge), whereas studying in being-style means growing by making the learned a part of oneself.
  • No life without Music
    When I was 12 years old I was a nobody. I was shy and weak. People in school treated me like a fool and I never raised my voice against that. But then I learned to play the drums and I was really good! Someday I noticed that there is something I can do better than everyone else at this school! I had no reason to hide or to act shy. Drumming made me strong, I got a lot of self-confidence. Still I identify myself with music! It is my most passionate hobby. Next to playing drums I also learned to play Piano a little, and if there is no instrument I just sing. I will make music all my life! I hope I can motivate you and your future siblings to play musical instruments! I would play together with you as a family band!
  • The peaceful warrior
    A book by Dan Millman changed my life! The key message is: whatever you do, do it HERE and NOW, with all your concentration and an aware mind. Don’t let anything distract you, especially eliminate all your attachments that give you the illusion of controlling the uncontrollable. Inspired by his “peaceful warrior” I started to think a lot about my life. I identified so many attachments and unhealthy patterns in my life! First I started to take more care of my body and lost 20 kg of weight by changing my eating habits and going swimming regularly. Then I tried to transform my mind by practicing a positive attitude towards life: Don’t talk negatively, don’t see negative aspects in something, but appreciate beauty and harmony. It was very obvious to me that this book explains the ideas of Buddhism applied to daily life aspects, even though it doesn’t use the term “Buddhism” a single time! It was my first time to get in touch with that philosophy and since then I learned a lot more about Buddhism. I must say, my life is better since then! I think I found a way to LEAD my life (instead of only existing…).
  • Exit the Matrix
    I began to understand the deep meaning of the “Matrix” movie trilogy in which all people live in a “Matrix” generated by computer programs to create the illusion of a free world whereas in reality the people are exploited by machines that rule the world. There are so many hints to Buddhist philosophy in those movies: Our mind construes the world by interpreting perceptions according to previous experiences and shaped patterns. It should be our goal to free ourselves from this mental prison and see the reality. The “hero” in the movie, Neo, tries to do that by fighting against the agents (the Matrix elements that keep us trapped in it), which doesn’t bring him any further. Finally he succeeds by stopping fighting. When there is no fight, the concept of an “opponent” looses its meaning. The peaceful warrior is always the winner. This topic kept me thinking for many years. I will write more about it in a separate article.

My second girlfriend was a german-born Korean. Through her family I learned a little about that Asian country, but since she knew nearly nothing about her roots I decided to study one semester in Korea – a good chance to get to know that country. I successfully applied for a DAAD (German academic exchange service) scholar ship to do two practical courses in a material science lab and a biochemistry lab at Seoul National University. A few weeks before I left Germany that girlfriend broke up and revealed that she already had a new boyfriend. That was a shock, but after a while in Korea my heart was healed. It was simply too exciting to explore this beautiful culture with its friendly people, the delicious food, the unique traditions and stunning modernity, so that I forgot about my Ex quickly. I had wonderful six months there, made many good friends, travelled around the whole country, played music in clubs in Seoul, learned to work from 8am to long after midnight, and found a “second home”. Since then I was in Korea 5 times and will probably always come back once in a while!

The research I did for my Diploma thesis and during my PhD course, Microcontact Printing, can be explained in analogy to “potato printing” from the Kindergarten: Potatoes are cut into two halfs and on the inside a pattern is cut with a knife. Then, colour is put on it and printed onto paper. I did the same, but with a little difference. Instead of potatoes I took polymer stamps. The pattern on the stamps is in the nanometer scale, very very small. The eye can not see the pattern, I have to use special microscopes to make it visible. The “ink” is not paint, but a solution of molecules. And the “paper” is not real paper but glass with special other molecules on the surface. The molecules on the stamp and on the glass undergo a chemical reaction. With this method I can pattern a surface in a certain way. There are many applications in medicine, nanotechnology, industry (for example car coatings…) or life science. In my first project I investigated which molecules I can print and which are not so good. So first I have to synthesize these molecules. I prefer the printing and investigation work. I detect the patterns by fluorescence. The ink molecules glow red or blue in a fluorescence microscope. In another project I printed Carbon Nanotubes with special electronic properties in order to fabricate a field effect transistor.

My institute at Münster University had a collaboration with Nagoya University in Japan and I was participating in that. It included a 6-months-stay in Japan, working in the labs of Prof. Shinohara (the carbon nanotube project). I found that Japan is very different from Korea. People here are extremely polite, but a little superficial and not as heartful and friendly as Korean. The whole country is very superficial and totally money-oriented. The majority of people is not interested in anything (people have no hobbies, don’t talk about politics, never complain, just work, eat and sleep) and never talk about personal things, even not with close friends or family members. Of course there are many good sides, for example excellent food, very beautiful cultural items and historical spots, and high safety wherever you go. But the six months made it very clear to me: I will spend my future rather in Korea and definitely NOT in Japan!

Philosophy has always been one of my interests, especially its “application” to daily life aspects. My daily work raised many philosophical, especially ethical questions. Next to some fundamental issues about the theory of science (What does it mean to “observe”, to “do experiments”, to assume certain theories of matter and how to interpret results?) I was highly interested in ethical and social implications of Nanotechnology, because I saw many problems arising from it. Before I followed the debate on genetic engineering, which was very emotional and caused the wide public to refuse it. But Nanotechnology had very similar characteristics: It has a high uncertainty because many nanosized particles can’t be seen and can’t be found after releasing them (for example in medical, cosmetic or food products). For sure it has benefits, but there are also risks. How can benefits and risks be balanced? How can they be predicted and controlled? Which role does the researcher play, what is his responsibility, if he has any at all? Together with an Amercian Professor I started a side project on this topic, developing and carrying out a “Seminar on ethical and social implications of scientific research”.

Exactly at that time I found an offer from the Philosophy department of my university: a Master course in Applied Ethics! That was perfect for me to switch the direction of my career a little: away from “pure science” to “talking about science” and governing science. I saw a gap between science and Philosophy and wanted to become a bridge between the two. In that course I learned a lot about medical ethics, bioethics, media ethics, political ethics, science ethics and concepts of justice, autonomy, freedom, dignity, responsibility, etc. I learned to use the ideas of Aristoteles, Sokrates, Plato, Kant, Mill, Hobbes, Rawls or Singer to evaluate special phenomena, incidents or dilemmas ethically. And most important: I learned how to read and write! Philosophical texts are very different from other texts. Every single word needs to be read or written carefully, high precision in the details is very important! After two years I finished the course with a Master thesis on “Ethical implications of artificially intelligent machines with decision-making ability”.

My third girlfriend was Korean (student in Germany). I found she was perfect for me because she was the middle way between the first two: controlled emotional, but healthily rational. We had a lot of harmony! Just one thing made us disagree over and over again: she was deeply religious, a “fundamental Christian”, as she called herself. She was “married to Jesus” and took the Bible as the ultimate truth, word by word. She believed the Earth is 6000 years old and created by God in 7 days, as described in the Bible. No room for interpretation. For me as a Scientist and Philosopher it was unacceptable to use “religion” and “truth” in one sentence! I spent a lot of efforts on eliminating all dogmas (I mean, beliefs that can’t be further reasoned) from my worldview. As a teenager I called myself “atheist”, but in the meantime I found that I am rather an agnostic: I just don’t know if there is a “God”, but it also doesn’t really matter. My most plausible explanation: God stands for the principle of basic harmony, the driving force of the universe. Buddhists call it “love”, Daoists “Dao”, Muslim “Allah” and Christians “God”. Believing can be a strong source of inner peace, hope, inspiration and balance! But I define “religion” as “belief plus politics”. Church exploited mankind over centuries in order to have power and wealth. What people need is faith and knowledge! But religion makes people blind and keeps them small and stupid. Without religion peoples’ faith would be more pure and peaceful!

The combination of a PhD in Chemistry (with research in a Nanotechnology field) and a Master in Applied Ethics gave me a job at the “European Academy for Research on Implications of Scientific and Technological Developments”, a technology assessment institution in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany. I was involved in a large research project of the European Union with 15 partners (universities, hospitals, companies) researching on “Nanoparticles for early diagnosis of Arthritis”. My task was to do “accompanying research” on the ethical and social aspects of Nanomedicine (using Nanosized materials for medical applications). Our work was quite political: the final report was taken by the EU as help and orientation for making useful regulations for this new field of technology. That is what this job is good for: Help shaping the future in a way that risks are minimized and peoples’ benefits are maximized. First, it needs to be defined what is “good” for people, values have to be pointed out. Then, the current and near-future development have to be analysed in order to identify aspects that violate or endanger those values. Controversial debates are unavoidable, of course, because every stakeholder has different interests and viewpoints! The main task of an ethicist is to “moderate” the discussion, to sort and classify arguments, to point out errors and unlogic statements in argumentations, and to bring different opinions to one conclusion.

For my new job I moved to Bonn. I found a nice apartment with a kitchen, a bathroom, two rooms (living room and bedroom) and a balcony. Here I could live out my third hobby (after playing music and cooking/baking): constructing furniture and decorating my home, making it a nice and homy place. I built a multifunctional bed with many features, a decorative shelf structuring the living room, chose the wall pictures and other decorations carefully by colour (mainly red, combining well with white walls and black furniture), installed comfortable lighting and put many plants and flowers everywhere. Especially a well-equipped and well-organized clean kitchen is important to me! In this respect I might be typically German: The “home” is the center of my life, here I can be myself, be creative and let my mind fly around freely (another hint that I am intraverted). That apartment in Bonn was so far my most comfortable living place…

My girlfriend (the religious one) was psychology student. I often helped her to write homeworks or her Bachelor and Master thesis, and we talked about psychological topics often. I was more and more interested in understanding the mechanisms of “mind”. In Biochemistry I learned the molecular basis of how the human body works, the “chemistry” of perceptions and of thinking. Psychology added a new “flavour” to it by trying to answer the question “why?”. Before my reflections on “emotional intelligence” or “Matrix” had psychological elements, but they were very amateurish. I learned a lot from my girlfriend and got many new insights into the “inner structure” of people, the effect and usefulness of emotions, the connections between environment and mental health, etc. By discussing with her (a strong dualist) I was more convinced of a monistic worldview. I am by far not professional psychologist, but I am sure that on my list of “majors I would have studied if not chemistry” psychology is on top! Followed by anthropology (the american understanding of it) and architecture…

After the failed third relationship I threw myself more than ever into studying Buddhism and its healing effect on body and mind. I blamed Christianity for “destroying” my partnership and wanted to prove to myself that Buddha’s philosophy is much more efficient in leading to happiness and inner peace than the Bible! After months of studying theoretically I found that I can only make progress when I apply the findings and practice actively. I decided to spend all my annual vacation for a trip to Korea to do a “templestay”: Four weeks in a Buddhist temple, living like a monk, meditating, chanting, bowing, having vegan meals, cleaning the body, purifying the soul, clearing the mind. The temple I chose for it (Golgulsa) had a specialty: it is headquarter of Sunmudo, a traditional Korean form of martial arts, that I had to practice three hours per day. This time was really intense, very helpful, a great source of inspirations and one of the best things I ever did in my life. But I also learned this: I am not a Buddhist! In the western world we often underestimate that Buddhism is mainly this: a religion! The templestay didn’t make me more religious but intensified my interest in the philosophical and psychological aspects of Buddha’s teachings.

The templestay experience changed my mind about many things. I identified so many “unhealthy” things in my life! But most of all I started to question my way of life. First I felt very happy with my change from the lab to the office desk, but I began to doubt that this job is the right thing for me. After all this institute was a kind of “company” with interests that I had to follow. But I wanted to do research! I wanted to publish my findings and write articles with my own arguments and viewpoints, convincing other people. I wanted to be free and indipendent! I can reach that goal only with an academic career at universities. After thinking thoroughly about it, I decided to quit my job and look for a postdoc job in Korea! I had the plan to find such a job first, but then a Korean friend came up with an unusual idea: Her friend is headmonk in a small new temple that is still under construction, I could stay there and help building it as long as I don’t have a job yet. With high confidence I quit my job, sold all my stuff (except a few personal things and my musical instruments), quit all contracts, left my apartment and Germany towards Korea…

This second templestay in the middle of nowhere deepened my insights into Buddha’s teaching, but more from the perspective of religious practice which – as you know – is not so much my interest. My attempts to find an academic scholar as collaborator for my postdoctoral project failed, mostly because South Korea wasn’t open for reflections on science ethics and social implications. After three months my visitor visa expired and I had to leave the country for a trip. Therefore, I visited my friend in Taiwan in September 2013. I didn’t know much about Taiwan at that time and assumed it must be like China (the mainland). During that visit I noticed that it is very different: more developed, more “civilized”, with everything available that is necessary to maintain a good lifestyle (e.g. doctors, well equiped supermarkets, public transport, a certain degree of freedom). I also felt welcome after meeting a Professor at a University in Taichung who didn’t hesitate to host me as a postdoc in his institute. A few months later I moved entirely from Korea to Taiwan.

The above-mentioned friend is now my wife, and you are the offspring of our love. Therefore, my connection to Taiwan is very strong and, somehow, even sealed by a contract! I call Taiwan “home” for now because it is the place where I reside and live my life, not just visit. Therefore, I try to keep a certain distance that allows me to “observe” and reflect. I don’t “love” Taiwan unconditionally and I don’t hate it totally. Compared to Germany and Korea, my former two “homes”, Taiwan is far less “socially developed”, it has much bigger environmental problems, the education level is low and the historical and political situation is very different. In many respects it would be unfair to compare Taiwan to Germany or Korea, but since Taiwanese regard their Island as a “modern” country it should be possible to face the truth: There is a huge gap! I often find myself cursing at the stupidity of people and wish a volcano would wash this damn island  with all its dirt and scooters and stupid idiots back into the sea. But then I realise that my “problem” lies within myself. I guess, this is the real “Buddhist practice”: the challenge to lead daily life with a mindset of forgiveness, loving-kindness and compassion.

About your name

This letter will be all about your name. Since you are the child of an “intercultural couple” this is more complicated than for other children, and there are a few “stories” about your name.

Chinese and German are very different languages, with different writing systems and also incompatible sound systems. German uses the Latin alphabet (and, more or less, the same pronunciation as the original Latin, not like English), while Chinese has no “letters” at all. Also, German doesn’t use different “tones” like Chinese does. Your Mom and me agreed that it will be almost impossible to find one name for you that is possible in terms of spelling and pronunciation in both German and Chinese. The only options would be names like “Hanna” or “Lina” or something quite simple. Additionally, your Mom (coming from a quite traditional family) insisted on asking a fortune teller for advises on your name according to your “bazi”, your astrological birth signature. Therefore, we agreed that you will have a double name, an “alphabetical” one and a “Chinese” one, plus your family name “Chen” (陳). Legally, you could have my family name, your Mom’s family name, or a double family name of both our names. But since “Mehlich” doesn’t sound good and literally invites for teasing (or even bullying) in German, we decided to give you “Chen” as your family name.

Long before you were planned and made, I thought of naming my future daughter “Tsolmontuya”. When I studied Chemistry I had a Mongolian classmate with that name. I was impressed by its beautiful sound, the warm and feminine character, and its rich and “round” intonation. I imagine a “vagabond”-like lady in a purple cloak riding on a black horse through the Mongolian grasslands with her long black hair flowing in the wind… Also the “short version”, the nickname “Tsolmo”, sounds cute and lovely, but not too girlish or “cheesy”. In Mongolian language, “Tsolmon” is the name for the “Southern Star” (which is actually a planet: Venus) and “Tuya” means “light” or “shining brightly”. After we knew you will be a girl, I suggested this name to your Mom and she didn’t like it first, because it is “too long” for Chinese understanding. But I used a trick: for a few months I talked about this name frequently, in its long and short form, and made her get used to the sound. Finally, she also liked it. Another convincing argument for giving you this name was this: People in Taiwan are used to English names. Most people are so narrow-minded that everything outside of Taiwan is automatically “English” (or “American”). Most German names exist also in English (for example “Sarah”, “Kathrin”, “Elisa”, etc.). But English changes the pronunciation, so that there will always be confusion. The pronunciation of the name Tsolmontuya would be clear, I thought. There is only one way to read it for everyone who can read Latin letters, independent from the mother tongue of the reader (German, English, French, Spanish, whatever). Later I found to my surprise that English-speaking people have difficulties with this name because of the “Ts” in the beginning. I tell them that the first syllable is pronounced like “toll” but with an inserted “s”. The syllable “mon” is clear, “tu” sounds like “two” (maybe English would make it sound like “tew”…), and “ya” should be clear again. To say it clearly: This name is uncommon and mostly unknown in Germany. But since Germany is a very pluralistic and multicultural society, this doesn’t matter at all. I think, this “unique and mysterious” name suits you – an obviously half-asian and quite “exotic” girl – very well! Also, you will have stories to tell to whoever is interested in the origin of your beautiful name.

The Chinese name was – in a way – out of our hands. You were born on February 19th 2016 at 12:37pm. According to Chinese astrology, that is a Yang-Fire-Monkey year, a Yang-Metal-Tiger month, a Yin-Metal-Sheep day and a Yang-Wood-Horse time (or hour). The “name Master” (or “fortune swindler… aehm… teller”) looked at your birth dates and your parents’ dates, and made suggestions. My “Chinese name” 王子洋 (which is NOT my name, I still insist; I just have to use a Chinese name for the inflexible Taiwanese bureaucracy) made also this Master believe that “Wang” (王) could be your family name. When he heard that the options are “Chen” or the German name “Mehlich”, he explained that the whole system doesn’t apply for non-Chinese names – which means to me that it is not “universal” and, therefore, superstitious non-sense. However, his infinitely deep pool of wisdom produced suggestions for the first and second characters of your given name. Your Mom, back home then, took an old book about the meaning and influence of stroke numbers in names onto the person’s fortune and life quality and figured out the “perfect combination”. Among all these, the acceptable ones were “語妍(Yu-Yan)”, “語彤 (Yu-Tong)”, “語韻 (Yu-Yun)”, “詩韻 (Shi-Yun)”, “詩媚 (Shi-Mei)”, “紫媚 (Zi-Mei)” and “紫韻 (Zi-Yun)”. We both liked “紫媚 (Zi-Mei)” the most, by sound and also by meaning (紫 is the colour purple, 媚 is something like “female charme” and part of words like “graceful” or “adorable”, which adds up to my associations with the name “Tsolmontuya”). Names like “Yuyun” or “Shiyun” are simply unpronounceable for German, and “Yutong” sounds like the biggest German cement and concrete producing company. “Zimei” doesn’t even sound too different from “Tsolmo”. However, your Mom found later, that she made a mistake in counting the stroke numbers that are required to write the name. After correcting this error, the new “perfect name” was “麗媚 (Li-Mei)”. I am fine with that name, especially since it includes 麗, the name of one of my best and most beloved friends and your “Godmother” Ren Li. Additionally, it is also easy for German to say it.

To summarise all that: You have two nationalities, and therefore, two passports. The name on your Taiwanese ID and passport will be 陳麗媚, and in the Pinyin transcription on the passport “Chen Li Mei” (or maybe “Li-Mei”, we will see…). There is no space for “Tsolmontuya”. On your German ID and passport it will appear as “Tsolmontuya Limei Chen”, or when it is split as “Vorname (given name): Tsolmontuya Limei; Nachname (family name): Chen”. German can’t print Chinese characters in their official ID documents.

I wonder if you will ever be confused. According to German understanding, one person can have only one name. It makes no sense to have two “official” names (nicknames are a different thing). I thought that your Mom and me once agreed that “Tsolmontuya” will be your actual name, and that we have to choose a “Chinese name” just because the Taiwanese bureaucratic system requires it (the same as in my case). However, it turned out that for your Mom you are 麗媚, and “Tsolmontuya” is your inevitable “alphabetical name”. For other Taiwanese, you are also 陳麗媚, and then they usually ask your “English name” (whatever makes them believe that a Taiwanese-German couple would give an English name to their offspring). However, it is impossible for them to pronounce “Tsolmontuya”. That means, in the first 5-6 years of your life you will be called 陳麗媚 most of the time, and only “Tsolmo” by me. When we live in Germany and you join schools and clubs, etc., I will enroll you under the name “Tsolmontuya”. I am sure, people will call you “Tsolmo” when you introduce yourself as that. If someday you decide to use “Limei” because you like it more or identify yourself more with that name, I will be fine with that. Having two names is, therefore, an advantage: Most people don’t have that choice! And I won’t be disappointed when you disapprove my choice of a name for you. At least, now you know how we chose your name.