Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Reason As To Why I Left My Warm, New Apartment Today To Go For A Walk While It Was Snowing

In case you're not in the loop, I live in Kiel, Germany. I've been here for a little under six months, and I am still not used to typing on a German keyboard. So, although I will of course proof-read this before posting it, gimme a break on the typos, please.

So, yes, as I was saying, I live in Kiel. Northen Germany (or Southern Denmark, depending on perspectives...). It has plenty of nice things, abundant awesome things, and quite a few simply awe-inspiring things. One of the latter, is that during the II World War, Kiel was a much desired target for complete destruction, since the vast majority (and the best) U-Boot (submarines) were built here. By the time Germany signed the peace treaty (I am mildly paraphrasing what really happened... I can imagine Joe and Julie, the History majors, frowing and rolling their eyes at me), Kiel was only the shadow of what one could call a city. It was destroyed. Torn apart. It was no longer a city. But the Germans, being the first-worlders that they are, re-built the city so that only 20 years after the war, Kiel could "rise up from the ashes", quite literally, and be the great U-Boot-building-city it had once been.

Kiel is, therefore, only about 40 years old. This Kiel, the one I live in. Though the city was founded in 1242, nonthing but pictures and memories remain of that city.

During the WWII bombings, as both History majors and WWII-movie-watchers know, the reason so many bombs were launched was because so many of them did not go off, did not explode. The airplanes had to release as many bombs as possible in a way to almost "guarantee" that at least one would make contact with the target and, well, terminate it.

So many bombs did not go off.

Sooooo many.

As time went by, and the bombs did not explode, they kind of blended in to the landscape--grass grew around them, trees grew around them; then Man came and built roads, and buildings, and neighborhoods ON TOP of them. You see, nature = around; mankind = on top. WTF?

A group of Germans has devoted all their efforts to find these old, undetonated bombs, and bring them into a secure environment, where they can be safely detonated without anyone being harmed.

One of those bombs is under my new house.

And that is the reason why I left my warm, new apartment today to go for a walk while it was snowing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Things the Germans say...

It's been 6 months here. Six months of winter. That's all the Germans have--winter. Don't let them fool you: they will speak of myths and legends, fairy tales if you ask me, of some weird thing called spring, and then comes the completely unfathomable tall-tale of summer, which makes unicorns seem like normal, everyday boring stuff.

But there are other things they Germans say. Things so cute, or so weird, or so plain interesting, that make me pleased to have enjoyed their winter, with sunrise at 9 a.m. and sunset at 4 p.m., and during this "daylight" time, no sun. How can you have a sunrise when no sun rises? Anyway. That is totally not the point. Not today. Not now.

When I met with my German friends, Isa and Chrissy, in Barranquilla in May of last year, I think what they were most surprised with was our waking-up attitude. I used to sing them the song my mom used to sing to me (we sing it to each other every once in a while, still), which loosely translated is something like,

Every morning 
[my city] (I said Barranquilla, but really you can insert almost any city name. I use "Kiel" when I feel like singing some mornings... alone... in the dark...)
wakes up, 
we're going to have a great day! 
Together, we will walk along with the warm sun, 
smiling always at life! 
Stay with us and yell, 
I'm going to have a great day today!

And just singing this little song, their days (and mine) began with a smile. Maybe they were making fun of me, maybe they really liked the song--who knows. But they were smiling, which was my point. They told me that the Germans were very different. I didn't believe it until I heard it for myself on TV (and everything you hear on TV must be true). When the Germans get up, they say Guten morgen, liebe Sorgen: good morning, sweet worries. What's that all about? Who wants to wake up to concerns? No no no. I have to talk to Angie and teach her our song. But then, I also need some help from the Sun-god, because I cannot sing about walking along with the wam sun without sun. Hmm. Maybe I should greet my concerns in the morning.

But then, after I tired myself of making fun of the Germans and their Sorgen, I learned something else that the Germans say. When the Germans say good-bye, like a real farewell, not a "see you later, alligator", but a real white-handkerchief-waving-in-the-air-filled-with-tears kinda good-bye, like a heartfelt "so long", they wish you a full life. They say, Leb wohl. I think that's lovely. It's the best way to close a conversation and offer that last glimpse of the other, that last wave of the hand, that last tear falling, that last kiss blown into the air, that last wish--that last wish, which makes it all good: Leb wohl, live a full life. What more can one ask in a farewell, than the wish for nothing smaller than a full life. And I like the philosophy behind it: they are not wishing you a happy life, they are not wishing you a lucky life, they are not wishing you only good things. Because a full life has to have ups and downs. Otherwise, how will you be able to recognize that you have, in fact, lived a full life, when all you have had is happiness and luck and good things? No, no, no. The Germans know better. They know that you need a bit of sorrow, so that when the time comes you will be able to tell apart the happy tears from the sad ones. They know that you need a little bit of bad luck, so that you will work even harder to accomplish your dreams. They know that you need to go through some trials and tribulations, so that you will be able to tell apart the people who really love you from those who just use you.

The Germans. Ah. They are so witty. Maybe one does need to go through two World Wars and many, many centuries to think the way they do. Maybe we (my mom and I) try to dismiss our Sorgen too early in the morning, pretending they are not there. The Germans face them, head on, first thing in the morning. Like trying to say, "Dude, what's up. Here we are. Come and get us." Come and get us. They have no fear. They have no angst. They are Germans. They've gone through things I cannot even  begin to imagine--especially because the city I live in today, Kiel, was founded before my entire continent was discovered.

Maybe the Germans look at me and think I am naïve. Maybe the Germans listen to me and envy my naivete a little. Maybe they see me as one sees a younger brother or sister, thinking, "Ah, darling, you will soon wake up and smell the coffee..."


So far, I will continue to sing my song, and pray that this thing the Germans dare to call summer comes along quickly enough, so that I may write a retraction and say, Yes, Yes! The Germans DO have summer! And so that my song about walking alongside the warm sun might be true--if only for the few minutes the sun will last. Ah, there you have it: My very own Sorgen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Toilet Tail (For Kat & Dave)

I have a couple of friends--Kathi & David--who have a very particular sense of humor. Toilets, for instance, make them pee their pants with laughter. It has something to do with a you-just-had-to-be-there story about Kat and Dave going to a hotel, and Kat not finding the bathroom in the hotel room. I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now. But every time they need or want to do something funny--which is quite often--, they use toilet humor. Like, the day I met Dave (mind you, at this moment, back in 200...1? 2? I did not like Kathi very much. And she did not like me much either. We had aweful nicknames for each other. I was "Miss All-That-And-A-Bag-Of-Chips" --code name for my arrogance and my need to do everything I could possibly do on campus, on my own--, and she was the "Conservative Frigid Bitch" --code name for her being conservative, frigid, and well, a not-so-nice-person. Well, it was late afternoon one day, we were both in The Bell Ringer office, and I really wanted to go home, but I did not want to have to walk home --God forbid someone walk in Augusta-- and my roommate could only pick me up until past midnight. Kathi's husband was downstairs waiting for her, and she offered me a ride. Which was weird. Must I repeat what we secretly called each other? But she was kind and polite and mature, and I was desperate. So I said yes... on our way down the stairs to where Dave was parked, she said they were going out for dinner at The Pizza Joint, which had just about the most delicious pizza, only outdone by Papa John's. So, I said yes. Which was weird. Really. But I met Dave and--ok, end parenthesis), he had bought a little plastic toilet that spoke. It was hilarious, he said. I found it weird, and a little yucky. The flushing sound and all... But then I heard the story, politely laughed, ate my pizza, and got a ride home.

Apparently, this toilet joke has reached higher levels of Pranking with another couple friends of theirs. That's all cool and all, but it remains a you-just-had-to-be-there kinda joke. So Kat & Dave and their friends exchange toilet joke stuff all the time. The bathrooms in Kat & Dave's house are filled with interesting junk. Some cute, some funny, some just WTF-were-you-thinking kinda junk. But it's all in good humor, I guess.

I give this huge introduction because after this incident with Dave and the talking plastic toilet that made flushing sounds, I have acquired a certain... um... appreciation, so to say, for toilets. I analyze them, I study them, and I grade them. My scale is private, and confusing, and completely senseless. But it's mine.

After I left the States and flew to Thailand (that was a Monday in May 2005), I missed Kathi, and David, and AMERICAN TOILETS. You see, regardless of whether or not American toilets were funny, interesting, boring, clean, dirty, big or small, they were regular toilets. Just like the ones we have in Colombia. A normal toilet where you sit, you do your business (hoping that everything comes out alright!), flush, and go away. Thailand... not so much.

I experienced three different Thai toilets: The petite-yet-normal-chair-style toilet, the flush-it-on-your-own toilet, and the WTF-is-a-toilet toilet.

The petite-yet-normal-chair-style toilet: It's like the one you sit in (if you live in the States, or in Colombia), but smaller. Like, any person slightly 10 kilos (or 5 pounds) overweight, would find their fat behind dripping all over the seat. It's not that the hole is particularly small, that seemed average to me (not that I have ever actually taken measurements), but the seat was just made for anorexic models or young children. I felt like saying, "Listen, Thai people, where I come from, women have curves, and BUTTS! And we need for our butts to fit on the seat..." But, alas, that was just in my mind. Had I had a Blog back then, you could bet I would have written more than one entry about it. But I could not complain much, because it worked just like a "normal" toilet does. Which I found to be wonderful, after the first time I traveled somewhere and had to use--

The flush-it-on-your-own toilet: It's your average Thai toilet (with the petite seat) but beside the toilet you have a big bucket filled with water, and a small container. After you've done your business, you pour water into the toilet, and you pour, and you pour, and you pour, and you continue to pour, until, at some moment, the "stuff" chooses to go away. I don't think I have to elaborate much more on this one--you can imagine the smell, the sight, the UGH! But that was like a Paradise Toilet when I was introduced to--

The WTF-is-a-toilet toilet: We went to an beach one time, the beautiful, amazing, hidden, magical Ko Chang. We rented the tree-house, and of course it had no toilet (it barely had electricity... but it had plenty of mice!), and we had to use the public toilet. The "public" part was no trouble, because only 5 people worked there (and one of them was an English chick), and we were no more than 20 guests, all "gringo"-looking: white, tall, light-colored eyes... Anyway. That was all cool, and I really learned to go to the bathroom anywhere after my third week in Thailand, so I went into this bathroom with no doubts. Only to run back outside and hold it until I had an option. You see, I would have said "a better option", but you can't have better when you have nothing at all. This little room had a toilet--the ceramic chair thingy--but no water, no toilet paper, no bucket, no nothing. It was over a big hole in the ground and that was that. I don't really have to elaborate on the stench...

I thought Thailand was the worst toilet-experience ever, but then I had the bright idea of visiting Korea. Except for the toilet experiences, everything about Korea was awesome (thanks, Julie-Bitch!). I remember Julie and I were riding the train from somewhere to elsewhere, and I had to go pee. Julie wished me luck. I thought it was a joke. When I got to the bathroom, I saw a big metallic box, about 1 m high (Americans, pull out your converters, I'm not doing this for you!), and as wide as the whole room (which was a little bit bigger than an airplane bathroom; no, a lot bigger, like the handicapped toilet stall, really). On the top of this box, was a toilet-seat-like seat. I figured I would not sit (girls sqwat), but I found it very hard to, um, aim properly. The seat was too high, and the train was moving and--WTF was that about? I finished, sorta, and went back to Julie, who was almost jumping up and down with excitement. "How was it?" she asked. "How was what?" I asked back. "How did you pee?" Well, Julie and I are very good friends, and I know she's into TMI, but that was WAY over the line. I gave her a look and she asked "How did you sit in order to pee?" And I told her. She laughed. She laughed so loud. It was like the best joke ever for her.

Well, you see, the Koreans have a different idea of a toilet. For them, I guess, the idea of a ceramic toilet chair, like mine, is just absurd, when all you really need is the hole--not even the seat. So I was supposed to climb that box, sqwat, and do my business there. Over a hole. On a moving train. But I thought that was only in this train, in this particular case. Nooo... we went to a Club that night, and I (again) had to pee. Julie showed me the direction of the bathroom and begged me not to sit. I looked at her like she had just begged me not to eat a raw tomato. I went to the bathroom, stood in line (apparently, it's a world-wide thing that girls take longer in the bathroom than boys, and that they must go in packs, and that there is always a line at the girls' bathroom's door), and when my turn came, I entered my stall and saw a hole in the ground. Again. Since you never sit, there is a button in the floor which you press with your foot to flush.


Being back in the States after my far-east-Asian experience, back in Dave & Kat's house, I was happy that their toilet humor was about normal, Western toilets.

Now I live in Germany. I figured that, aside from the food, I really would have nothing to worry about. But today I went to the bathroom in my new home and saw that the toilet is not a normal, Western toilet. OMG. Not again. I don't know how to describe it, so I won't. I will tell you that it flushes (I mean, you won't need a bucket of water), that the seat is average-butt-size, that it is a chair-style toilet... but, OMG. You just have to come pee in my apartment to see what I mean.

I know it may not be the nicest, sweetest, bestest, most politest thing to say, but it is the most honestest: Kathi, David, every time I go to the bathroom in my new home, I will think of you.

I miss you guys.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The German Do-It-Yourself Culture

The Germans think they can do everything on their own. I'm not referring to the country in general. Germany, we all know, can in fact do everything on its own. Or, how many countries do you know of that can lose a war, and less than 50 years later be a world power? As in awe as I am of the country and its leaders and its people, I did not refer to them. I meant the normal, everyday, average German. They think they can do everything on their own. And what sucks--or what is amazing, really--is that they can do everything on their own.

You see, we're moving into a new apartment in a couple of weeks. When we looked at the apartment back in November and decided that that was to be our new home in the new year, it looked perfect to us. But the owners said they would have the apartment renovated before we moved in. Excellent, I thought. I get a brand new life in a brand new year in a brand new apartment in a brand new country--with the same old boyfriend. Something old, something new... I need to get something blue! I could imagine the team of carpenters, plumbers, painters, decorators and such going in and out of the apartment, fixing every little detail in our new home, so that when we moved in, we would have the feeling of a real new apartment.

I was wrong just for one little, tiny thing: there was no team. I got a few pictures one day, in which I saw the owners of the apartment doing everything themselves. Mr. Owner is an engineer, and although I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever about his carpentry/plumbing/painting/general revonation abilities, I did feel terribly bad. Mrs. Owner is a Therapist, and I could not imagine her enjoying the hard work, although I did not have doubts about her abilities either. When they got married, they decided to buy a house and completely renovate it. Crazy people, these Germans. Why can't you buy a house and like it the way it is?

The apartment was perfect when we first saw it... but, nooooo. They had to renovate it. We could have covered the torn wallpaper with the sofa, or with a chair... but nooooo. The had to remove the wallpaper completely and re-paint. There was nothing wrong with the dirty carpet in the bedroom, but noooo. They had to remove it and place a new wooden floor.

Don't get me wrong: I'm in no way complaining. But must they really do it all themselves? What about generating employment? What about hiring a team of helpers? They did get helpers--but they weren't precisely hired, so to speak. Their youngest son helps often... and even Honey and I went there a couple of times to help. The first three or four minutes of work were super cool. I felt handy, useful, able. But at the fifth minute, my hands started to hurt, and I realized I had not done more than a half a meter of work... Then, every thirty seconds, I looked out the window and asked myself, Why aren't we in Colombia, where we can hire people to do this and not go broke? And, also, I need to talk to my mom about giving retroactive payment to our painter, because painting is hard work!

I learned all about this "do-it-yourself" culture in the US. I remember when our Landlady told Pearl and me that we could paint the house any color we wanted. That was fun... for like 5 minutes. I also remember the day Pearl bought a computer desk, and it came in little pieces in a box. Now, I'm quite skilled at building these thingies... but that does not mean I like to do it. Come on: I played Handball with Inga. I can do anything now. I'm invincible.

(I'm also a little lazy, and really don't like to have to do a lot of stuff...)

Our new apartment is looking awesome. It will be a bit empty for a while, because we don't have much furniture. But it will be our first home together. That is definitely worth the extra minute of hard work! And as much as I like the hire-someone-to-do-it-for-you culture, I have to admit I feel a certain sense of accomplishment: Every time I look at that little piece of the big wall in the living room, I will know that was my work. And every time I look at the windowsill in the kitchen (and I see all the mistakes I made while painting), I will know that was my idea or "art". And every time I go to bed, I will look at the walls and say, I helped do this. Of course, by "help" I mean I stood where I did not bother and made decisions like, "The wooden panels need to be in a north-south direction" and "no, we don't have to paint the ceiling, but OK, we can do it." It's the little things that matter, you know?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The first one from 2011

Another year. Why are we always amazed at this? It's not like time has moved faster or slower. It's not like it hasn't happened before. 365 days have gone by, and so we have a reason to party. That seems really random. Who thought that up? "Hey, whatcha say, that every 365 days we make a huge party?" And then some other dude (high on who-knows-what) said, "Dude, yeah... but let's make an even BIGGER party on the 366th day every four years--yeah!" Like the whole one year, twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days thingy was not complicated enough.

A friend of mine recently said that she finds it just a tad absurd--but fascinatingly interesting--that more than half of the world celebrates the "new year" on December 31st, when every year begins at a different time for all of us.

Our first year begins on the first anniversary of our birthday--or do you really mean to say that my little cousin Alejandro's life, born on the 18 of December two years ago, can really be measured 14 days after his birth? And my year should begin on July 14th. But then again, my new life began on August 31st, so that should be my celebration.

You see? We all have different times at which something life-changing has occurred. Yet we choose to adapt to the world culture and celebrate on December 31st. Even the Thais celebrate December 31st, although that day has absolutely no significance to them. It's super.

I guess the world needs things to make us feel one. Like soccer. I don't find the sport interesting in the slightest bit. But I do love the feeling the sport brings to me. I feel like part of a crowd, like part of the world. During a soccer game, we are not our country, we are not our flag, we are not our skin color. For 90 minutes we are a team running from one court to the other to score a goal. We are a People. We are The People.

I don't know what 2011 will bring. I've been reading things I wrote years ago (Thailand seems like a whole lifetime away, now), and I am happy to see how much I've grown and changed since then. I am also pleased to see how good of a writer I was (and continue to be). My ego and high self esteem have not changed much, obviously.

I will share with you the wish another friend wished for me: I wish some of your dreams come true, but not all of them, so that you may still continue to dream.

And, as the Germans say, Guten Rutsch! Have a great slide into the new year.

My slide has been cool so far. And I have already begun dreaming my new dreams.