In an earlier post (Adventuring into Entrepreneurship), I had anticipated a memorable trip to the former Eastern Bloc.
And indeed it was.
To begin with, the trip was, in itself, a much-needed respite from a routine that had become all too regimented. Being herded has its advantages.
Bratislava, Slovakia: I didn’t know what to expect. For the first time in an inordinately long while, other than to find out where Slovakia was on the map, I did no research for the trip; not where I wanted to go, see or do. Doing, I knew, was not going to be a problem because it was a fairly packed programme.
There was a great deal of warmth and enthusiasm shown us by the Slovakian delegates. They exuded a certain, “Come on! Let’s go!” vibe, fitting of the theme of the programme, which was “Young Entrepreneurs Series“.
Part of the programme was a community art project, directed by Mr Sun Yu-Li. A large canvas – or many small ones conjoined – was laid in the town square, colourful Slovakian-made bean bags placed around it, and people were invited to add their print to it.
This endeavour reminded me of two things:
One, that there continues to exist a universal language of togetherness and interaction. It didn’t matter if the people painting didn’t know exactly where that canvas would end up or what it was for. The fact that it was there in the town square meant that it was evident what one had to do. Join in and paint. Or just lounge in a bean bag and watch others paint.
The impulse to express one’s self through art is not peculiar to Europe. In Singapore, there is Social Creatives, a not-for-profit arts enterprise that promotes community art, which essentially covers anything from art created by Joe Public and put on display in residential estates, colouring in whole sides of wall on a building, to splashing paint onto large pieces of canvas in the middle of a town square.
The other thing that this canvas brought to mind was that I was in Europe. There’s a smell and feel about Europe that I can only describe as, “You can do this without fear that someone will smack you, ask for ID or think you mad.”
Plus, there were the cobbled streets, the statues at the centre of every fountain at the centre of almost every square, and cathedral after cathedral. Details that make non-Europeans go “oooh” just as the Beijing hutongs, wet markets and ornate temples of Asia might to the rest of the world.
Our Slovak friends also introduced us to Kofola, the local cola, and slivovica (slee-voh-vit-zah), a plum schnapps that’s 52% alcohol and could possibly make one go blind.
Prague, Czech Republic: Things, however, were vastly different in the Czech Republic. I recall seeing only perhaps three delegates, not including speakers. And I somehow didn’t get the chance to say a proper hello to any of them.
Perhaps the venue for the main presentations had something to do with the overall icy feel of the day’s programme. It was held in the Prague City Hall, the insides of which looked like a parliament.
Or perhaps Prague simply is more exposed than Bratislava and this event just didn’t feature highly on anyone’s agenda.
And perhaps this is why a free day of sightseeing was actually rolled into the programme. They knew.
Still, Prague didn’t disappoint; it was as picturesque as people had said, the beer was delicious, and Father Victor from Goa does indeed manage things at the Church of the Infant Jesus of Prague.
Video: Organ grinder, Prague