Okay, so I kind of disappeared into a black blogging hole of festive holidays, traveling, jet lag and catching up with Nanjing friends for a while there – but I am back, for now, and happy to report that my Germany travels were a fruitful endeavor in a number of ways (apart from putting me off from ever wanting to take a bus to go anywhere in my life ever again).
In the end, I spent a total of 78 hrs, i.e. three full days and eight hours of my 16-day holiday on the road in almost every type of vehicle the human mind has invented so far. But it was so worth it, in many ways.
To begin with, of course there is a number of things you sorely miss when moving away from your country of origin to another place; especially one as radically different as China. So I have compiled a list of all the things I love about being in Germany (and some I could do without, but more on that later).
1. The Air
I know, I know…pollution, that old potato. But yes, the contrast between Nanjing, where the PM levels frequently reach the “even cockroaches would not want to live in this mess”-level and the 7000 people strong town in Germany is staggering. I was sleepy throughout my entire stay and in the beginning, I swear I felt a little dizzy from all the oxygen in the air. I had to stand next to our car exhaust and inhale some fumes to make myself feel more normal. Not kidding, ask my mum.
Hands down one of THE major excitements for me was taking a bath in an actual bathtub. Since a large majority, especially less modern, Chinese flats do not have a bathtub, taking baths has become a luxury, something I get to do every half year when I am able to stay in a fancy hotel. In those cases, it wouldn’t even matter if Donnie Yen were doing a meet n’ greet downstairs, I am going to take my bath; even if it’s 3am after lots of drinking at a business banquet and I am realistically putting my life at danger from falling into a drunken stupor and drowning in the tub. Hence, constant availability of a bath option in Germany has now become one of the highlights of my visits.
3. Scheduled Buses
Because humongous rush hour traffic jams aren’t really a thing in small to mid-sized German towns, and also Germans have a penchant for being super efficient, their bus schedule is timed to a T and actually adhered to. If the bus is set to arrive at 10.37am it will be there on the dot, not a second late or early. It’s beautiful.
Such a refreshing change compared to my regular 303 bus in Nanjing that sees three vehicles of the same number arrive within 3 minutes of each other and then there is a bus draught for the next 30 to 40 minutes. I hate that 303 bus with a passion…
4. Warm rooms
Okay, aside from the bath this is the second big luxury I miss most. Since insulation seems to be a myth to most local construction companies, something they’ve heard about but don’t actually think exists, the buildings do not retain heat. While this is not only a waste of resources, it also means as soon as you turn your air on off, the flat goes cold within an hour.
Yes, you read correctly. Air con. To add to the pain, the Southern parts of China, which are “mild” in winter compared with the North (whoever said that should check a dictionary for the meaning of the word “mild”), are generally not equipped with gas heating because if they were, the energy consumption in this country would rise to a horrific and completely unsustainable level. Instead of a heating, households have an air conditioning system that blows hot air in their faces. As long as you sit still in the stream of hot air you are fine, but dare move an inch outside of the heat stream and your limbs might fall off.
That is not to say there are no heaters available; however, electric heaters drive up your bill into ludicrous heights, aside from having a worryingly frequent tendency to suffer from short circuits and simply explode.
The most common coping mechanism for the indoor cold is to sleep in full costume, thick jogging trousers, multiple layers of shirts, sweaters and fleece jackets and finally, during the worst months, a face-hat that covers the entire face and neck (since for some reason the tip of my big Laowai nose always gets frosty first).
So, in summary, there is nothing I love more than a constant flow of warmth radiating from my non-exploding, reasonably priced German heating system.
5. The Christmas Market
Okay, this is a very seasonal one, granted, but it just had to be included. There is nothing the German’s are better at than Christmas markets (well, the Austrians are pretty good too, so let’s say it’s a German language speaker talent). Walking through the stalls selling mulled wine with an addition of alcohol from amaretto to rum to keep you extra warm, any type of greasy unhealthy food from France, to Northern Germany and down to Switzerland, fruit skewers coated in chocolate, sheep’s wool hats, slippers and rugs, and a huge array of Christmas presents, is just the best Christmas experience ever.
I am particularly spoilt because the Christmas Market in Frankfurt is about 2km long, which I am still convinced is probably a record, and it had the best and biggest carousel. So every year for Christmas we would push ourselves through the masses (although I am talking about German masses here, tss…amateurs) to our favourite food stalls and then I would get a ride on the carousel. Up to this day you can put me onto one of those rotating machines of delight and fairy dust and I will instantly revert to my 5-year old self.
Did I mention, I LOVE Christmas Markets!
As I can see now this list is rather lengthy, so I will be breaking this into two entries. Watc out for Part Two, coming soon to a digital screen near you.