Tag Archives: Germany

Rediscovering Germany

Disclaimer: This is a post I wrote about my last return to Germany, almost one year ago. I finally decided to post it, despite its rather negative tone. 

Selective memory is a dangerous thing, isn’t it? Having left my native country Germany nine years ago, and not having had spent a longer amount of time there in almost three years, I had myself convinced that it would be a great idea to move back “home” in the near future.
Yes, I had read all the reports about problems with both right wing radicals and supposed migrants and soaked in the fear mongering, always telling myself it’s the media, no point in taking it seriously.
But take it seriously I probably should have. That is the conclusion I have drawn from my latest visit to the Land of Pretzels, Cars and Kebabs. The day of my arrival, fresh off the airplane, resembled a bucket of ice water being tipped over my head; and not in a “I’m helping raise awareness” kind of way.

In just a short trip that took me through three cities to my final destination, I witnessed fights, altercations or a feeling of being under threat – sometimes all three at once.

Encounters in the Public Space

First off a shouting match between what from their appearance can only be described as probable PEGIDA marchers and the poor conductor, who had pointed out that smoking was not allowed on the platform. In response, a veritable thunderstorm of foul language was unleashed with the conclusion that these specimens announced they could do “whatever the heck they want” to put it mildly. This, so I have been told by a number of old friends during my stay, has become Germany’s new normal. Returning from China in the past usually meant a relaxing and pleasurable experience, with people being rather polite and considerate of others in the public space. It seems incidents such as the above are now not uncommon as the behavior towards other people has changed for the worse.

Cologne New Years’ Aftermath

Next stop Cologne. One hardly has to repeat the events of New Years 2016 that have made the city’s main station infamous. The after effects though are as tangible as they could ever be. There was police everywhere on the premises; you could have cut the tension with a knife. After I asked one lovely policeman for directions to my following destination, he immediately warned me to be on my guard since “there are a lot of thieves especially in the station, and a bag such as yours is particularly easy to grab.”

So I found myself skulking up and down Cologne train station feeling doubly exposed not only due to the easy-to-steal handbag but with a massive and glowing red suitcase that screamed tourist at anyone in a 100m radius. The black one then, next time.

Beggars, Junkies, Alcoholics 

Upon arrival in Bonn, I was about to attempt to purchase an underground ticket, an unnecessarily complex process in the former capital, when something moved at my right elbow. Not registering what was about to happen, I turned to the young man with snake tattoos on his arm and a shaved head with a quizzical look on my face about to ask for help. Now, I cannot say for sure whether this was actually a junky, though he definitely would have fit the description. What surprised me about myself is that such people begging for money was completely normal even when I was growing up in Germany. This is also why train station toilets have blue lights, so said junkies can’t find their veins and shoot up in there; a fact of which I was painfully reminded when I set foot in the local “blue loo”.

At the sight of this stranger however, I was totally thrown. He did then very kindly help me out, but within seconds station security walked up to tell him to stop “harassing” me. He did ask for some money to buy a slice of pizza, even suggesting I can come with him to check he is truly buying food not alcohol. I gave him some change and sent him on his way, musing about how hard it is to fight stereotypical thoughts from entering your mind.

The grand finale to my disconcerting welcome in Germany was the last trip of the day on the underground, where a man in his fifties was barely able to remain slouched upon the platform seating with once again six police men and women gathered around him. Clearly drunk out of his mind, upon being told to get up and leave the station, the man stumbled around so violently he almost ended up on the tracks. After putting on a pair of gloves, one of the police men gingerly tried to lift and steer him, an attempt that desperately failed.

Alcoholism in China

Again, this is not in itself a terribly uncommon sight; especially at German cities’ main stations. But for some reason, it is rare to see a run-down alcoholic on his own in such a state in China. The inebriated might violently stumble around but there will always be friends to support them and get them home – since drinking is such a sociable activity. Generally speaking, it is rare to see an alcoholic homeless man out in the open. Beggars, yes. But these people, most Chinese I spoke to have claimed, are often part of an intricate network, trying to make money, in many cases playing emotional music as they drag themselves through underground carriages trying to look as desperate as possible (which to be honest they often truly are). Alcoholics, on the other hand, often hide in their own homes and are socially sanctioned through a traditional drinking culture closely tied to doing business.

In the end, this was not at all the welcome back I had expected. And it was just the beginning of a row of discussions and revelations in relation to safety, society and employment in Germany, that have given me a lot to think about.

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A Love Letter to my Chinese Mother-In-Law

Looking back at some of my posts, I realise that most the quirky anecdotes and the weird stuff tends to involve her, my MIL. That might give the impression that we don’t get along but that’s actually not the fact at all. The main reason that most of my funny and weird China stories, such as rearranging wardrobes, happen with her, is simply because she is the Chinese person I am closest to and spend the most time with. Mr Li doesn’t count, as his long time in the West and my terrible influence have turned him into as much a confused culturally non-identifiable mashed potato as I am. After five years of having him in my life, and thus her by association, I have come to learn a few things about her in relation to other Chinese mothers-in-law that make me thank my lucky star that she is indeed the MIL I ended up with. So, here we are. My love letter to my MIL:

Being Supportive of us Dating

To start off, I have to say cudos to my MIL for never once suggesting to my husband that dating a foreigner was something bad. I know a few other WWAMs, such as Jocelyn, whose potential parents-in-law had misgivings about their son dating a Western woman, since we stereotypically tend to be seen as “loose” and heartless monsters who will abandon their duty to look after their parents. My MIL was never anything but welcoming to me, even when I could be a total bitch when I was struggling with culture shock.

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The day we got our certificate

A Strong Woman to Look Up To

I think one of the things that I really appreciate about her is the fact that she is a business woman, who owns her own kindergarten. In a country, where still the ideal role of a woman is to take care of the family members, young and old, it is rare to find a woman who has such a successful career, and a family. Actually, being a divorced woman in rural China in the 90s – that’s some pretty tough stuff –  and she has been through some really intense shit in her life. But she came out of the other end a strong and successful woman, a total trail blazer. I have only two words for that: Absolute Awesomeness.

Giving us Space

I find one of the common worries of dating Chinese men can be the fact that many Chinese family members, particularly the mother, struggle with the concept of personal space in the way we Westerners think of it. Most Chinese parents expect their sons to live in the same city as them, many even on the same street or (scary thought) under the same roof. However, this, from what I hear and experience myself, can lead to conflict very quickly, as two strong headed women from two different cultures often tend to have clashing opinions. Our husbands, the poor sods stuck in the middle, are often not outstanding at managing these cross-cultural issues either. I’m therefore incredibly glad that my MIL is accepting of the fact that we won’t be moving to Inner Mongolia and have our own lives.

Not Pressing Us on Children

While the rest of the family is a different story, I am incredibly lucky since my MIL doesn’t put pressure on me to have child. This is very uncommon in China, and I think it has to do with the fact that my husband’s parents are divorced. Maybe she wants to see if we can make it last? Who knows. All I know is that all I get from her in terms of procreational pressure is the occasional “Doesn’t your husband look cute with his little niece.” Thanks MIL, I really do appreciate it.

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After marriage pressure comes…baby pressure!

Being OK with Us Moving Back to Europe

This is a big one. Many Chinese parents I know of, and more so those with sons, are heavily opposed to the idea of their child moving to another continent, because “who will take care of me in old age?” So the fact that my MIL is totally on board with the idea of us returning to Europe at some stage (mainly for breathable air) is not a given. She went to Germany for the first time this summer and overall seemed to quite enjoy it. There is of course a possibility that she would like to join us in Europe but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

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Home sweet home.

Almost Always Picking My Side in Fights

This is a really interesting one. From the beginning, when Mr. Li and I tend to go at each other, I’d say 90% of the time my MIL would be the one to talk him down and who picks my side. Especially in the beginning of our relationship she was the reason we didn’t break up many, many times. I have actually had to force myself not to call her to knock some sense into him when we have had the occasional fight. This has been a massive help to me, since I am aware that especially when it comes to cultural conflict, it’s an easy thing for the Chinese relatives to gang up on the foreign partner. It’s probably the same the other way around. So her being able to see my side is something I really appreciate about her.

Spoiling Me

Yeah, I have to say, my MIL tends to spoil me rotten. She will always buy things that I don’t ask for and often even feels the need, when she buys endless stuff for Mr Li, to buy me something too so I don’t feel left out. She will go out of her way to make me comfortable and constantly feed me food, if I let her. When you are in a country far away from your own mum, it does feel nice every now and then to be showered by such affection.

Being Pretty Cool to Travel With

I think this is the funniest one in a way. After Mr Li and I got married in China last year, I went on a 2-week honeymoon not with him but with my MIL. He was working as usual, the workaholic. And it was actually pretty awesome. She never travelled much in the past but is now in a phase of her life where she is really enjoying exploring the world. And so I know that if I ever want to travel to a cool place and my hubs is busy, I can just ask her if she wants to go. And actually, she is as active as I am, so she is totally down for a busy schedule and looking at loads of places, as opposed to my little couch potato of a husband ;P

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Our MIL-DIL Honeymoon at Qinghai Lake

So, yes, while at times certain elements about Chinese culture drive me insane, I have to admit that overall I have been incredibly lucky with my MIL. She’s definitely not what you’d call a traditional Chinese mother-in-law!

2016 Review – Weddings, Traveling & Moving

So, as the last couple of weeks of this crazy year are whizzing past, I figured it was time to take stock in my annual review.

Let’s start with the not so pleasing aspects of this year.

Blogging

Not very content with my blogging this year. Couldn’t say why exactly but I have been much less active and need and want to get back on track. There are a few new projects in the works for 2017, so I’m hoping to write and create much more content in the coming year.

Losing Stuff

I have to say 2016 has been absolute horror for my personal possessions. I am a clumsy person in general but never ever have I lost items on the scale that I have this past year. I am very much considering getting my head checked since I have been losing items literally every single week, from my metro card, which was linked to a public bike account, and caused a lot of hassle, to quite a few personal items of mine that I am still upset about and haven’t been able to admit to the people involved. I won’t recount here which they were because a) too painful and b) too embarrassing. Getting my scatter brain under control is a major project for next year.

So let’s move on to the more pleasurable parts of 2016.

First Time Skiing

Yes, CNY of 2016 has been the first time in my life that I went skiing. The same goes for Mr Li. And that from a former ice skater, I hang my head in shame, and secretly kick myself for waiting this long to try it. It. Is. So. Much. Fun. Even Mr Li, who is seldom over enthused with anything besides computer code (yepp, I’m an IT widow), couldn’t get enough.

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Look at meeeeeeeee

Weekly WWAM Lunch

Following on from a few fun group activities with WWAMs (AMWF) in Beijing, I met two great women who incidentally work in the same area as me. As a result we started a weekly lunch routine, which has become the highlight of most of my weeks, especially the more arduous ones. Thanks to you two ladies for constantly putting up with my big gob.

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Yumm

German Wedding 

I need to say a massive, massive thank you to my awesome mummy, who single handedly organized the German wedding, including email instructions that could have been a strategic army action plan. All I had to do for my wedding really was pick a location, a colour, the food (most important of all!!) and show up. I’m so glad we had the German wedding since it was an opportunity to show Mr Li (and MIL) what a real Western wedding looks like. It was small and I loved every second! Big fat fank you mum for organizing my favourite day of 2016! And of course huge thanks to all the friends and family who made the trek into the hidden depths of the Black Forest to be with us on this occasion!

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Ever the elegant munchkin bride
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There’s a story behind the shoes…I’ll tell it someday.

More Work Travel

I definitely traveled more for work as the year progressed and got to go to some pretty cool places such as the Tibetan plateau of Sichuan, as well as a short trip back to Nanjing. I got to work on some amazing topics from China’s space programme to marriage pressure and pandas. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the day I’m so grateful for the people I get to meet and the places I get to see.

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Fresh air in Sichuan

Xiamen Trip

FINALLY, after 4.5 years of begging and moaning and complaining I managed to drag Mr Li to Xiamen, my absolute favourite city in all of China. I am happy to report that at least on the topic of this beautiful island we agree – it’s the best place ever!

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Can I move here please?

New flat

Oh yes, one of the big changes this year was our move from the Northern part of Beijing to a slightly more Southern area. It was bitter sweet since I had to say good bye to our cat army, a group of wild cats who moved into our garden as we started feeding them and soon multiplied to about 10 little rascals. Just staring at them eat was such a stress reliever and it broke my heart to leave them. Only binge cat-watching on Insta keeps me sane now. But we exchanged our over priced slightly tuhao (garishly luxurious) but tiny flat in the north to a two bedroom in an older compound down south and I couldn’t be happier. Mainly because of the  walk-in wardrobe, that I now call my own.


Weddings, Weddings, Weddings

2016 truly has been a year of weddings, and funny enough majorly WWAM weddings. Three of them in total, and I loved every single one of them. Most people don’t enjoy weddings in China since it means giving Hongbao (red envelopes) and spending money, but for me there just is nothing like a good wedding. Especially cross-cultural ones, where you tend to get the best out of both worlds. They can be pretty stressful, as I found out, but they are so worth it!

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A year of cross-cultural weddings

So overall, while the world around my seems to be going to shambles, looking at this past year I think it’s been a pretty good run. How has yours been?

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy new year and the best of luck in 2017. I hope I’ll see you there!

Welcome to Germany?

Selective memory is a dangerous thing, isn’t it? Having left my native country Germany nine years ago, and not having had spent a longer amount of time there in almost three years, I had myself convinced that it would be a great idea to move back “home” in the near future.

I had read many reports about problems with both right wing radicals and supposed migrants and soaked in the fear mongering, always telling myself it’s the media, no point in taking it seriously.

But take it seriously I probably should have. That is the conclusion I have drawn from my latest visit to the Land of Pretzels, Cars and Kebabs. The day of my arrival, fresh off the airplane, resembled a bucket of ice water being tipped over my head; and not in a “I’m helping raise awareness” kind of way.

In just a short trip that took me through three cities to my final destination, I witnessed fights, altercations or a feeling of being under threat – sometimes all three at once.

Public Fighting

First off a shouting match between what from their appearance can only be described as probable PEGIDA marchers and the poor conductor, who had pointed out that smoking was not allowed on the platform. In response, a veritable thunderstorm of foul language was unleashed with the conclusion that these specimens announced they could do “whatever the heck they want” to put it mildly. This, so I have been told by a number of old friends during my stay, has become Germany’s new normal. Returning from China in the past usually meant a relaxing and pleasurable experience, with people being rather polite and considerate of others in the public space. It seems incidents such as the above are now not uncommon as the behaviour towards other people appears to have changed for the worse.

Cologne New Years’ Aftermath

Next stop Cologne. One hardly has to repeat the events of New Years that have made the city’s main station infamous. The after effects though are as tangible as they could ever be. There was police everywhere on the premises; you could have cut the tension with a knife. After I asked one lovely policeman for directions to my following destination, he immediately warned me to be on my guard since “there are a lot of thieves especially in the station, and a bag such as yours is particularly easy to grab.”

So I found myself skulking up and down Cologne train station feeling doubly exposed not only due to the easy-to-steal handbag but with a massive and glowing red suitcase that screamed tourist at anyone within a 100m radius. The dark one then, next time.

Junkies, Beggars, Alcoholics 

Upon arrival in Bonn, I was about to attempt to purchase an underground ticket, an unnecessarily complex process in the former capital, when something moved at my right elbow. Not registering what was about to happen, I turned to the young man with snake tattoos on his arm and a shaved head with a quizzical look on my face about to ask for help. Now, I cannot say for sure whether this was actually a junky, though he definitely would have fit the description. What surprised me about myself is that such people begging for money was completely normal even when I was growing up in Germany. This is also why train station toilets have blue lights, so said junkies can’t find their veins and shoot up in there; a fact of which I was painfully reminded when I set foot in the local “blue loo”.

At the sight of this stranger however, I was totally thrown. He did very kindly help me out, but within seconds station security walked up to tell him to stop “harassing” me. He did ask for some money to buy a slice of pizza, even suggesting I can come with him to check he is truly buying food not alcohol. I gave him some change and sent him on his way. He did earn it after all. And he made me contemplate how easily our minds jump to conclusions and stereotypes. If that isn’t worth 70p, nothing is.

The grand finale to the disconcerting welcome to Germany though was the last trip of the day on the underground, where a man in his fifties was barely able to remain slouched upon the platform seating with once again six police men and women gathered around him. Clearly drunk out of his mind, upon being told to get up and leave the station, the man stumbled around so violently he almost ended up on the tracks. After putting on a pair of gloves, one of the police men gingerly tried to lift and steer him, an attempt that desperately failed.

Alcoholism in China and Germany

Again, this is not in itself a terribly uncommon sight; especially at German cities’ main stations. But for some reason, it is rare to see a run down alcoholic on his own in such a state in China. The inebriated might violently stumble around but there will always be friends to support them and get them home – since drinking is such a sociable activity. Generally speaking, I would argue it is rare to see an alcoholic homeless man out in the open. Beggars, yes. But these people are often part of an intricate network, trying to make money, in many cases playing emotional music as they drag themselves through underground carriages trying to look as desperate as possible (which to be fair they truly are). Alcoholics often hide in their own homes and are socially sanctioned through a traditional drinking culture.

In the end, this was not at all the welcome back I had expected. And it was just the beginning of a row of discussions and revelations in relation to safety, society and employment in Germany, that have given me a lot to think and – more importantly – write about.

Cologne Attacks; Chinese Pragmatism vs German Idealism

“Told you so, told you so.” That is the chorus I am hearing these days in the aftermath of the Cologne attacks. Be it online or talking to Mr. Li, to many Chinese people it seems what happened there was just a matter of time, since Germany opened its borders allowing “all kinds” of people to come in.

“It’s because we come from a developing country”, believes Mr. Li. “We know how bad people can be when they are surrounded by poverty and misery like that. You guys in Europe are so idealistic because you have such a great standard of living.”

Is it really as simple as that? Many a time in China I have found that people are much more pragmatic and the “better-you-than-me” mentality still prevails. The general lack of compassion for strangers has often been criticized with the countless cases of hit-and-run victims who did not receive help by passers-by. Yet, at the same time, arguably it is this type of thinking is result of historical factors designed to ensure self-protection and survival in a rough environment.

Maybe I am naïve and idealistic. In the end, if you have to chose between life or principles, wouldn’t it be foolish to pick the latter? Or would it be heroic?

For the first few days, the Cologne incident left me utterly speechless. I didn’t know what to think. I felt worried about the changes my home country is going through, I felt enraged that these men would even dare to act like this, on such a large scale as well, irrespective from where they are from or how they came to be in Germany.

I still believe that opening our borders was the right thing to do. I still know that I should not condemn the many for the actions of a few. Well, I guess you can’t call 1000 a few anymore can you? Luckily, the outrage expressed by Arab social media users is very helpful in putting things into perspective. But the attacks not just in Cologne, but also two other German cities on New Years have made me ponder my standpoint.

PC is over; there need to be consequences

No, I still don’t think that Merkel was wrong to save all these people, even if some of them might not have deserved it.

What I do think is that the perpetrators must feel the full force of the law. The gloves need to come off. I think it is unacceptable that the police tried to actively stop the information that there were Syrians and asylum seekers among the attackers from getting out because of the “political climate”. It’s a sad truth that needs confronting. I don’t want to hear any arguments of “cultural differences” or “lack of knowledge of local customs”. If a country gives you an inch, you don’t take its women. Germany has saved these men’s lives and this is the way its people are thanked? Talk about ungrateful.

What’s worse, two of the people arrested were found with notes that had been translated from Arabic; aside from reading “I want to have sex with you”, they also announced “I will kill you”. In what world is that a cultural difference?

These people need to be deported. There are no if’s and but’s, there is simply no discussion. Yes, their lives might be in danger if they return to the war zone, but they had their chance and they made the decision to destroy their opportunity at a peaceful life.

Of course Germany’s bureaucratic wheels, its PC-ness and its “original sin” mentality will all stand in the way of this move. I’ll say one thing; China would handle this without batting an eye.

Germany needs to stop letting historical obligation push it down like this. Any psychological debt has long been paid. Enough is enough. How can German tax payers expect to pay to put such individuals into a German prison? That is simply asking too much. And it tells other potential aggressors this: “Hey, come to Germany, they’ll save your life, let you grope their women and then put you up in a prison with three meals a day and no need to work.” It’s a land of paradise.

Angela Merkel, I think you are an amazing woman and I think you have shown much strength and compassion by opening the borders but now you also need to be strong enough to say “no”. Otherwise you make Germany look foolish and put its citizens at further risk.

No one is asking the women in Cologne

Aside from the question on what to do next, I found this article by DW very to the point. It points out how the whole debate in Germany to no one’s surprise has been focusing on the refugee crisis. What it is ignoring completely is the women who experienced these horrendous acts of aggression. At least the BBC is giving them a voice; kudos. But yes, Germany, why are you again forgetting about the actual problem of sexual assault?

Cologne mayor Reker’s comment perfectly sums up exactly what is wrong in the whole discussion of sexual violence towards women. Her suggestion of a “code of conduct” that women only travel in groups and keep an “arm’s length” from strangers was met with much ridicule but actually it is shocking that she, a woman herself, would push the responsibility to the victims and suggest they should limit themselves in their freedom. Stop the slut shaming, woman, this is the 21st century!

Here’s my code of conduct, ladies: go out, live your lives, don’t let misogynists stop you from doing anything you want to do. Oh yes, and bring pepper spray and take some kung fu classes, so you can crush their balls. I beg your pardon for the language. On second thought, I don’t.

 

 

The Dates (Part 4) – The German Wedding

Calendar august wedding China

My Christmas trip to Germany rendered a good many results with regards to the wedding that side of the sea (we are pretty early considering it is not until 2016, but that’s how we roll – we are as enthusiastic about planning as our Chinese counterparts are not; on average Chinese families tend to book their wedding planner about two months before the wedding to throw something together).

I had originally thought of setting the date for May 2016, since our idea at the time was a possible return to Europe in April 2016; however, this was simply another of Mr. Li’s short-lived plans, which tend to change once a week on average (I have simply decided to not take any of his notions seriously until I am actually sitting at the airport headed for Europe).

Therefore it was time for me to make my own plans – given the choice I will always go for a summer celebration as I love the heat. This led us into July. It took about a week for my brain to have an epiphany that 2016 will be my mum’s 65th birthday; and since I have no idea where I will be living at the time, wouldn’t it be great to make sure I got to spend my mums big birthday with her?

After a short discussion we agreed that we can simply combine the two occasions, especially since friends and family who cannot make it to China will hopefully be able to pop by Germany more easily; but they wouldn’t necessarily come twice in a short amount of time. And so it will be July, a few days before my mum’s birthday, that we will have our ultra-special wedding cum birthday party. Damn, we are efficient! *pat on the back for me*

What Drives Me Crazy About Germany

Welcome back to the final part of the “Reflections on Germany” trilogy, as I have spontaneously decided to call it.

The last two posts talked about all the great things Germany has to offer such as bathtubs and internet, but since I do not want to compromise my journalistic integrity, I must strive for objectivity (man, that sounded posh, didn’t it?). Therefore, today I would like to share a few of the things about Germany that drive me absolutely bonkers.

1.The Calories
The number one complaint that I tend to hear from Chinese people who travel in Europe is that the food is so heavy and calorific. I never quite understood what they were on about; until I returned to Germany this Christmas, having spent the past 14 months in China. Following 2 weeks of creamy pasta, cheesy breads, meaty Döner Kebabs, bacon-infused potatoes and so on and so forth, I finally could relate to what my Chinese comrades had been on about. European cuisine is really heavy! After two weeks of attempting to stuff my arteries up as much as possible, I was craving my regular Hefan, a lunch box consisting of 4 different portions of veggies, a few of them with meat and lots and lots of steamed rice. Of course, the fact that I was only home for two weeks and didn’t know when next I shall return did nothing to improve my discipline. Quite the opposite. It’s a terribly dangerous symptom, the “who knows when I will get another chance to eat this” paranoia. Luckily, it only lasts for the duration of the stay, which in this case probably saved me from a heart attack.

German food

2. The Inflexibility
As a major stickler for plans and adherence to them, I never thought I would say this, but I really missed Chinese flexibility. In Germany, a no is a no; come thunder, come rain, come the big lady of the nation, Angie herself. In China however, people are rather flexible. A no never truly means no and if there is nothing to be done via official channels then a bit of underhanded bribery or connections can often do the trick. This also makes Chinese people very effective problem solvers; when they need something or want to achieve a certain outcome, they will think of very creative measures to bend the rules and turn that no into a yes. The thought that there is always a way is very uplifting and liberating, whereas in Germany a no is like running face first into the Great Wall; you shall not pass!

3. The Rules
Slightly related to the inflexibility issue are the rules. Germans love rules. They make rules for making rules, and no doubt about it. Closely linked to German rules is of course the infamous German bureaucracy, of which we have been getting regular kicks in the kidneys since we have begun the process of trying to get married (in China nonetheless). Read more about that fun adventure here.

The thing with German rules is this; we are programmed to actually listen to them. Put on your seat belt, or you will be fined. Yes, sir! Ironically, China probably has far more rules than Germany; just a trip on the metro will confirm this as you listen to about 10 different announcements about letting others exit the vehicle before getting on, no pushing, priority seating and so on and so forth. The difference is that no one ever pays attention to them. I frequently envy the Chinese ability to not perceive rules as anything of interest and simply sidestep them, while I stand at the crossing of ridiculous regulation and ludicrous law watching their taillights disappear in the distance.

4. The Quiet
Those of you, who have carefully followed my previous post on what I love about Germany might recognize this item. So if that is one of the good things about home, how come it also gets a place on the naughty list? Well, as I discovered upon my return there is such a thing as too much quiet.

While I did enjoy being able to sleep in and all the other luxuries of a noise-free environment, I am now so used to being constantly surrounded by one sound or another (such as the beeping from my neighbours broken door which has been going off every 30 seconds for over three months now; and yes, I informed building management of the issue two days after it started), that utter quiet makes me physically uncomfortable. Such was the case, when we had guests and sat down for dinner. While I did realise the TV was too noisy, and hence switched it off, we progressed to dine in complete silence. No radio talking along in the background, no dancing ayis with their techno-raving ghetto blasters on the square outside, not even any major conversation took place during this meal that very soon started to feel like it would take forever. For a split second I considered whether suddenly starting to scream might help, or just singing some of my favourite tunes as a type of Ersatz radio. But I had to admit that even by my standards that sounded a little bit nuts. Luckily, I was freed from the silent torture after dinner, and not a minute too early – I did almost belt out the chorus for Santa Clause is comin’ to town.

German countrysideWhere did all the dancing ayis go?

And so it comes to an end, my reflection of all the things I love and could do without in Germany. I am hoping to get back on track with more wedding-related talk soon; as you can imagine my stay in the Vaterland triggered quite a few developments in that area.
Bye for now!

What I Love About Germany (Part 1)

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.

Fresh air Germany

2. Baths
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.

German Christmas market chocolate figurines

 

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.

German Christmas market

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.

Night, folks!

German Christmas (Part 3) – Pudong Airport; Futuristic Scanners and Chewing Gum

I DID IT! I actually checked in and got my boarding pass. Can you believe it? I can’t. “Only” took me one and a half hours. I had to stand in line in the queue for the passport control twice because I forgot to fill out that little yellow departure slip; so I had to duck under the dividing belts, earning myself a disapproving look of a security guard, to go and fill it out. Queue was moving along surprisingly speedy though, there is hope yet!

Security check was fascinating, they have this futuristic boarding pass scanner presumably in order to wait for you an extra couple of minutes if you are running a little late. Shanghai is so modern.

On the way to my gate I walk past the duty free store and remember I only spent half of my petty cash on my extravagant dinner, I still have a little money left for a snack. So, drumroll please, … Here is what ¥4 will get you at Shanghai airport:

Chewing gum Shanghai Pudong airport
It was either this or two lollipops. Work out for my face muscles…chewing gum it is. A roll of Mentos was ¥5; there’s that manicured middle finger again. Thanks, Shanghai.

Speaking of fingers, a majority of my gel nails, which last about a day due to the inferior product I got off Taobao, have been peeled off during this trek; my equivalent of nail biting.

Good news is I had my celebratory pee ; best pee of my life. Am considering whether or not to write a Pee Guide to Chinese Toilets.

Finally, I am at the gate. NOTHING CAN STOP ME. Well, if the flight leaves that is.

Frankfurt to Freiburg – Smooth Sailing

As soon as I left Shanghai, the rest of the trek proceeded without incident, further confirming my very unhealthy superstitious obsessions with the city – will be curious to see what happens when I return beginning of January.

Having arrived at Frankfurt airport at 6am, I was looking at a four-hour wait until the departure of my bus to Freiburg. The time went by in the blink of an eye as I wandered through the stores selling German and European sweets, snacks and beverages; squealing with excitement like a five-year old.

Then I managed to hook my phone up to the internet and had a bit if a surf-gasm; the internet outside China is soooo fast! That was exactly what I posted on Facebook, which I had never seen in its latest mobile incarnation, what with the VPN only being able to take you that far.

The rest of the time I simply sat staring at all the people around me from all corners of the world; coming from a rather culturally homogenous surrounding, where you still get excited when you spot a different hair colour among a mass of black, I was not used anymore to the multicultural environment of Germany’s busiest airport.

On my bus trip to Freiburg in the Black Forest, which lasted another four hours, I had a very interesting conversation with Joy, my seat neighbour, a young girl from the Netherlands who grew up in Germany. She even fed me German chocolate, definitely the highlight of the entire trip (although the English breakfast on the airplane was a close second).

After 30 exhausting hours I finally arrived in my parent’s flat, only to fall into an almost 12 hour sleep at 8pm. Yep, that was a silent night, alright!