First off: Happy Birthday, Helvetia! At 721 and counting, you look better than ever before, with your best days still ahead of you.
In nine days’ time, on 10 August 2012, I will have been Swiss for 12 years. That date in 2000 marked for me a day of no return.
Chinese ethnicity binds you to a nation of unparallelled glorious history. We were the ones that made the stuff you now feed into the Xerox machine, and we also invented gunpowder, although we don’t like how this world’s using it at random, in arbitrarily beating up peoples. On more “harmonious” notes, we pioneered the concept of peace and harmony. Confucius advocated for harmony, and even if the past few years didn’t see it realized to perfection, at least China has behind it decades of decent growth, even if that growth came with a few street protests when alien plants decided to build toxic plants in the wrong parts of the country. At night, it’s my Chinese blood that keeps everything up and running, even if I’m off for more train journeys in my dreams.
But Switzerland takes all of this to the next level. While Beijing is desperately trying to outfox the London Underground by moving their trains underground, Zürich has a proud tram system so good, even the Starbucks Zürich mug features these legendary trains. (Even the Peak train on the Hong Kong mug is Swiss — it’s from vonRoll!) The Swiss Federal Railways, even without China’s deluxe high speed lie-flat beds, is about as good as it gets out there on the rails, and the Swiss people are efficient, if not a tad reserved, people. The Swiss are also a nation willing to stand up for themselves, despite their vast intercantonal and multilingual differences. That’s why 721 years ago, the Federal Charter of 1291 came into being. It promised the men of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (now Nidwalden and Obwalden), Switzerland’s first three cantons as a confederation, mutual assistance and defence and established the most fundamental moral principles for the nation.
Switzerland stands for smallness, but also success. It’s not attention-seeking, but it has some of the world’s very best cities. It’s a terrible offence to ask a Swiss how much money he earns every month, but the Swiss are also some of the most affluent people out there. But the Swiss have something better to do than to stock up on, say, LVMH bags; they perfect their land. They stand for precision. Every summer, motorways are done anew, with better road surfaces all part of the regular programme. Road signs are always in pristine condition, and they’ve also picked a world-class font, Frutiger, to make them even more legible. The bit of Motorway A3 from Zürich-West to Cham-West opened just a few years ago, but it was built with Swiss precision. Unlike subway tunnels that fall into themselves just after they’re done, as they are in some lesser lands where GDP is something merely to make “the top” happy, these Swiss tunnels are built to last. And you can sleep happy knowing that their construction was approved, as in many a Swiss issue, the population has to be consulted with, so the disasters in some developing countries where government mansions are invaded by angry locals (because corrupt officers happened to make it easy for alien entities to infiltrate their cities with toxic plans) remain something outside of Swiss boundaries only. Indeed, the Swiss population is a fearsome lot: 100,000 signatures from eligible voters are all that’s needed to even overturn the Federal Constitution! But they are also a rational lot: although they were irrational in what they did with the so-called “minaret ban”, they at least did not stoop so low as to accept the “free beer for all” initiative (which really happened!). Switzerland has its wackier aspects, too: graffiti is ubiquitous, for example, and sometimes nobody obeys the queueing code when the train doors swing wide open (except maybe the tourists!). But Switzerland is a country at peace with itself, in general (despite four languages in one country), and it is far more interested in being a highly respected member of the world community than being some kind of world police. Its products are the stuff of legend, a far cry from the sub-par toys that too often bear the brunt of dumping scandals, and its people are equally up-to-speed as well.
My plan now calls for me to return to this bit of heaven on Earth in two weeks’ time. I owe my country a visit that I’ve procrastinated for too long. My allegiance is with Helvetia, but in particular with the canton of Zürich and the locality of Opfikon. Indeed, it must have been an extremely relaxed naturalization interview (all in Swiss-German!) that made the people in charge of Opfikon satisfied that I’m the kind that it takes to be Swiss. Unlike overseas renegades who care less about their red passport in their hands, I take the Swiss passport that I have as one of the most important IDs I hold, and quite proudly so. It joins the PhD certificate and the eventual teaching certificates, as well as, most importantly, the birth and marriage certificates as one of the most important documents I’ll hold this life.
When I return I will go back to the places that allowed me, a Beijing-born, Swiss-educated multicultural decilingual, to be taught and be inspired. But more importantly, these places will bear new significance to me as a future World Citizen and academic. Building on thirty years of what I’ve learnt and experienced, I have plans to travel the world in search of new knowledge, new experience, and a fuller understanding of the Chinese, the Swiss, and the whole human race, with all its cultures and nationalities. And in everything I do, the connection to Opfikon is permanent with the name of that place forever enshrined in my Swiss passport as my Swiss “Place of Origin” (Heimatort).