Monday, August 31, 2009

Looking Forward, Part II

Forgot to mention the impending arrival of one Darren Seeman, cousin of mine and purveyor-of-many-comments-on-Nick's-blog. We welcome him to Hamburg for his first ever trip to Europe! I think he comes Sept 10 or 11. Should be awesome...we have lots of ideas of where to take him, and many fine German brews will be consumed (wanna babysit dude? haha just kiddin)

Also, I forgot to mention our Czech friend Martina (SORRY MARTINA!!!)...I hope we can see her, too, before too long...I know she would want to meet Mayzie, and we havent seen her since 2002.

Here is a good pic of Jenna in Hamburg Rathausplatz...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Summer Twilight

I hope summer is not over yet, but this weekend was all rain and clouds. There is a large, open park near us where they had some huge swinging structures and zip lines. We attempted to fly a kite that we bought recently here, but the winds were not constant enough, or the kite is too cheap. Probobly the latter. Today we went to a neighboring town called Luneburg, but the rain drove us back to the train after 1 hour of wandering in the cold and rain. I have a monthly discounted train pass through work that allows me to ride all the trains in Hamburg, and on the weekends the family is free, so for 40euro a month, its a great deal. The busses and trains here are super efficient, of course.

Life has slowed down a bit and we are getting more into a routine. Most days after work are taking walks, eating some cheap dinner (had some great Turkish food in Altona, and found a frozen yoghurt joint, and we had a real BURRITO this week!), going for bike rides, and watching movies after Mayzie goes to bed. Work is going well, its busy and the people I work with are nice. This week I had some MORE Airbus really is ridiculous how many training sessions they put you through...just waiting for the "How to Properly Use the Bathroom Facilities" 3 day training seminar. I met a couple guys from China, a guy from Kazakhstan, and another from India. I think the thing I like most about being here, is that I feel closer to the world. Closer to other cultures and different persepectives.

Mayzie started her kindergarten on friday. The place is up by our apartment that we will be moving into in October, a 30 minute drive from home now. So Jenna will be doing that everyday until we are moved closer. Mayzie seemed to enjoy it--she is in the Elephant group, and Jenna was planning on being there with her for her first day in the new environment, but Mayzie settled in quickly and Jenna left after 30 minutes. Most kids are 3-4 years old.

We attempted to sign up for our language classes, which start Spet 7, but all classes are full, so we will have to wait until November. Gotta be on the ball in the big city, I guess. So that sucks, but it gives us more free time, so its OK. Oskar is doing good with our friend Lena...we were going to go see him, but we agreed that he may be depressed if we had to leave him again...guess it took him a few days to be normal, so I think thats the best decision. We are enjoying our freedom, I must admit. It is much easier to go out, or on the train, without worrying about Oskar.

Should have my payraise come through on the September 1 paycheck, so we are looking forward to some extra cash flow. It has been very tight here, which makes it even harder, since there are tons of things we would like to do and buy. We shall see if anything changes.

Looking forward to a week in Holland/Belgium in late September, and a week in England in October for our good friend Michael Tomlinson's wedding. Cant believe we have been here 8 months and not seen the Tomlinsons, or my friend Radim in the Czech Republic. Hopefully we can see him soon, too.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bathing in the Baltic

Rested our bike-sore buttocks on sunday and headed out of town with the car, to the northeast of Hamburg....destination Schwerin. On the drive there we passed the former border into East Germany, in place from 1945-1990. So this was our first visit to the East so far on this trip. Schwerin is a beautiful little town, which has a castle that sits on an island, surrounded by lakes and a harbor. We toured around the grounds, and had a picnic...too cheap to go in the palace...more old furniture and paintings of people we dont know, so it was easy to pass up. We have seen too many damn palaces and castles for it to make much of an impression anymore haha. Its the outside of these places that are more intriguing, anyway (watchout--all cheap asses have justification ready!).

Just 30 minutes north of Schwerin is the Baltic Sea, so we headed up there to check out a German beach getaway. We came across a beach on the island of Poel, just outside Wismar. Heres a map...

View Larger Map
It was a blast. Before we knew it, Mayzie was naked just like all the other kids in this water, nothing but a tube to keep her decent.

The sand was sandy, the water was pretty cold, so we just hung out on shore and watched Mayzie. There were tons of naked kids, kids peeing freely in the shallow water, which was kinda disgusting but kinda cool, in a west coast hippy kinda way. Many people were just changing their clothes right on the beach, no barriers or anything, so much T&A was on display. The Germans have invented this interesting beach chair thing, called the Strandkorb (beach basket). It is basically a little shed that unfolds and becomes a covered lounge for 2.

After exiting the water we had the obligatory fish and chips and ice cream. The weather was perfect--75 degrees or so and partial clouds. I know Mayzie would like to spend more time at the beach, so maybe we will hit another one this weekend...this time on the North Sea coast...sounds damn cold!

Horizontal Hamburg

Our bikes arrived safely from Stuttgart last week, so on friday, we went out to the warehouse to pick them up. Riding the train and bus out there, we were way out of town. But after hopping on the bikes and heading in the general direction of home, the pavement melted under our rubber tires. This place is FLAT. Within an hour, we arrived back to our flat (Flat in Flat town). It really is an ease around here. Bikes are seperated from most major roads with red bricks, and sign posting is generally very good.

That pic shows (from left) the street, the parked cars, the bike path, and the pedestrian area. People are very conscious of the bikes and are rarely in the path, so its smooth sialing as long as the traffic lights dont slow you down. You can easily cover the whole city in less than an hour, and it is great to see all the people out on to the Netherlands, this is the most I have seen, and is certainly the flattest place we have ever lived.

On Saturday, we took a ride from our place, down the canals, into the center of town. We rode by the double walled security up the ass American embassey, we saw a traditional German parade in the city center, had a picnic in a Japanese style garden, encountered some psychedelic Mali-an jam band playing at an African festival, came across a Ska/Punk street fair, watched a hot air balloon take off from a park, and had Lebanese food for dinner. All without even trying. We had no idea any of this was going on. Thats what happens in a big, busy city, I guess. Still cant believe the differences to Stuttgart.

Rode my bike to work today...felt great to be back in the saddle. Took less time than the bus and train, even though I got lost. We need a map, for sure...none of these roads are straight! Flat maybe, but not straight.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bharat Matrimony

Warning, this is epic, but I really wanted to write about this...

I was in Airbus training all last week, and my computer partner was an Indian guy named Lakshi. For the first 2 days, we didnt say much to eachother...I learned he was from a town in Southern India called Salem, near Bangalore, he had been in Germany for 3 years, and is getting married in January. I asked him of some good Indian restaurants in Hamburg, and of his one year spent in Toulouse, France. He had nothing good to say of either. And my deutsch skills are better after 8 months than his 3 I gathered from his information that he is here to make as much money as possible. In my American curiosity and small talk leanings (bordering obnoxiousness, I hope not!) I asked him what he was doing with all of his money. His mom had been an IT teacher in India for 30 years and he is helping her start and run a college in Salem. Starting a college seems weird to us, but I guess there are many people needing IT and engineering education in that area, so it is monetarily worth all the beuracracy to get it going. He said they had 400 students already. This guy is 27. One morning he asked me "What is the proper response to the greeting 'Whats Up?' ? I googled it and could only find 'Nothing Much' that right?" I tried to answer that one without laughing too much. I asked him about his fiancee, and the real story began. First he wouldnt tell me about how he met this girl--I wasnt sure if he thought that I thought that the Indian way of relationships was ridiculous, or if he was embarrased because of the way he met her. Either way, he delayed, and after I asked him again, we found a block of time at lunch for him to tell his tale.

I have known many Indian people in my life, and was fairly versed in their ways...the culture, the food, the arranged marriages, and all that. But Lakshi's story and his life took me off guard. The best part was how willing he was to tell me all of this and open up to me. I get the feeling that he doesnt talk about it very much, and was willing to spill all the details to a westerner who doesnt care about all the things that an Indian would judge him by.

Southern India is a traditional place, and this guy plays by all of the rules. People get married between 24 and 28. Any older and you are too old to marry. There are some days every month that are considered auspicious dates (for mainly astrological reasons), and are to be avoided for a wedding day. There must be a calender somewhere of auspicious days. If you were born on a certain day, you were considered a "Manglik" and it would be wise for you to find a mate that is also a Mankglik, as a single Manglik marriage is not balanced.

Lakshi met his future wife on the internet. He was embarrased of this, but stated right away that it is becoming more popular to do it this way. Traditional methods include parents finding you a family friend to marry, or hiring an agency to find you a match. There are many websites catered to Indians looking for a match. The one he used is this one. You should check it out. Search criteria is crazy to me....along with the standards (age, sex, marital status) is Caste/Division, sub-caste, family values, astrological information, education, annual income, body type, complexion and manglik status. All modern internet drop down menus and tick boxes. Please read some of the descriptions. Many of them plain.."need a good natured man" etc etc, many of them written by parents "she is smart, intelligent, and excels at everything she does", and most simple..."I need a man who is caring and loyal."

Onto Lakshi's story...he went on the website in March, to start looking for a sounded like his family had been hoping for some action, since he was getting older now. After putting in all of his criteria and wants, the list of available girls shrank from thousands to around 40. Out of these 40, he discussed each and every one with his mother, his father, and his brother. Together, they all agreed on one, and he emailed her. It is custom to not respond within a day or two, but Lakshi had no reply from the girl after 1 week. He later found out that the girl he emailed had only the day before put her profile on the site, and had been propositioned 23 times. He emailed her again after the week, saying things like "I would appreciate it if you would not post your profile if you are not serious about getting married," stuff like that. I guess she liked his agressivness and go getting-ness, so she emailed him back, and they began corresponding. The girls mom did not like this one bit, since they did not want their only daughter moving to Germany. So the emails stopped, but only to begin a few days later. Lakshi was relieved...this is the girl he wanted! The emailed and chatted online for 1 month...slowly falling in love with eachother. Again, after 1 month, the emails and chats stopped. The girl was going behind the back of her mother this whole time! Like a Bollywood movie. Around this time, one of Lakshi's friends in India told him that people were asking about him, asking all his friends if he was a good person, if his character was that of an upstanding citizen. The girls brother had asked frineds, who asked frineds, who finally asked Lakshi's frineds. All of the reports were good (one bad remark and it would have been over), so the brother went to the mom to tell her of his findings. The mom was still appprehensive of sending her daughter to Germany, but agreed to meet Lakshi's parents before she gave her approval. So the parents got together, and got on very well together. Its all about an alliance...the whole family is getting married, basically. Now the mother let her talk freely to Lakshi. They continued to chat for another month, before Lakshi went over to India to meet her in person.

Soon after flying back home, he gathered with his family and headed to a local temple. It is tradition to first meet the girl you will marry in a temple. The families gathered and the two finally set eyes on eachother. Giggles and blushing and awkwardness were displayed. They do not touch eachother....just say hi amongst the family and go to dinner with everyone. Lakshi was in town for only one week, and during this time, was alone with the girl for only one date...they saw a movie and walked around a mall. The other days, they were together, but with family all around. One time Lakshi was showing his girl some pictures on the computer and he brushed up against her accidentally. Her mother saw this and chewed the girl out. I guess on their date, they actually held hands! Thats like 3rd base for us.

So he is back in Germany now, awaiting another visit to India in September, whiuch will be an engagement ceremony. There are lots and lots of celebrations in India, and the engagment party is almost as big as the wedding itself, which will only have 500 people in it. This is the most important date in all of theri lives. The divorce rate is basically zero in India, it just doesnt happen. All families involved are shamed, bride or grooms fathers could lose jobs because of it, and it is virtually impossible to re-marry. I asked if people tried to hide it if they got divorced, but he said there are detective agencies setup to find out about this, if you are suspicious. Lakshi told me of his fiancees friends who was going out with someone that the parents did not approve of--wrong caste, wrong religion, doenst matter if they are nice people or not. Of course that helps, but it is a marriage of like people. Anyway, the dad of this girl told her he would kill himself if she did not break up with this lover. Of course, he probobly would not really do it, but to shame your father is the worst thing you can do. These girls are coddled and raised to be a respectable wife, to have a perfect wedding, they are smothered all their lives for this day. It is for the parents more than the kids.

So we started talking about our systems of marriage..him not touching his future wife before a wedding, 8 months after meeting her online, versus our 5 years of going out, having sex, living with eachother before getting married. Ours is as strange to him as his is to me. He thinks the US lacks respect for marriage, and he has a point. But to have the family pressure and the expectations piled on to provide and to not dissapoint would be too much for my western ness. Family is so much more important to them than it is for us..we are raised to be independent and free and to do what we want. Lakshi learned to swim last year and never played sports..he was raised to be an IT guy since he was 10 years old. From my eyes, the Indian cultuer is assembly linig people, same as their exported goods. Of course, he is not sad about it or anything, this is how life is for him. It is natural. He wants nothing more than to live back in India and start a family. Living in Germany and France is just for the money. I am just as freekish. "Are there not any jobs in the USA?" why else would anyone come over here, but for work, and to make money. He is very surprised when I told him I quit my well paying job and brought my whole family over here, basically so that we could travel, not really caring about work too much. This is crazy talk to him.

I am super stoked that I met this guy...I hope I blew his mind as much as he did mine, but I doubt it, since he is so very happy in his ways that he has blocked out all other new thoughts to creep in. I must admit some enviousness to know that your life is planned out, to know what is next year, and the year after...that would provide a large level of comfort. He would be dishonoring his parents and his culture if he stepped out of line, however, and that is one trait for why I am very thankful to be a Westerner..I can basically do whatever I want... I just have to stay concious of the fact that we are also in a glass prison, except ours is constructed of slightly larger glass panes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Moving Along

We are in a different place now, an environment not so German, a place that smells of youth, not decay. A place certainly more European. In the last week we have had authentic Thai food, and authentic Indian food. There are boutique shops and Hawthorne/NW 23rd style area in Hamburg. We found Bierland, a store full of rare German beers, but even better, a small stock of Belgian beers that I miss very much. There is a world famous redlight district (the Reeperbahn) that gives the city some grit, that we like. We have obtained a video membership (yes, even this can be a challenge), and we hear many languages, including English, spoken everywhere. The small station near our house even announces the stops in English. We met our neighbor downstairs, who's wife is from Wyoming. I bought a soda in the shop yesterday and I motioned for another guy in line to go ahead of me, but he said "no, thankyou, you were here first." He must have heard me speaking to Mayzie. We relaxed on a beach while Mayzie frollicked in the Elbe river. We rented a canoe and paddled around the canals near our apartment.

This is a strange place--still Germany, but not the Germany we know. We have much to learn.

See the link for the latest pictures.

Thick Milk

Hey, I thought it was funny!

Orchideensteig 10b, Hamburg

Here is a video tour of our furnished apartment that we are in until October 1.....hope its not too shaky for you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Life Up North

So, we are up in Hamburg now! Wow, what a whirlwind it has been. I flew back to Stuttgart after work last friday, and headed straight to a going away dinner at our friends Annette and Mattias, who we will miss very much (and of course Mayzie will miss her playdates with Lara Joy). Annette cooked her world famous favorite German dish. Saturday was spent packing up the house...we wore oursleves out doing that. And Sunday, we left the house at 7am, for the drive up here at 4pm! Mayzie and the car did great. We are in a furnished apartment just north of the city center, in a beautiful area called Eppendorf. We are surrounded by trees and the river trail is just out our door. So nice. The only bad thing is that there are no dogs allowed. So we sold Oskar. Just kidding haha. A friend at work, Lena, agreed to watch him for us until we move to our more permanent place, October 1. Mayzie is coping surprisingly well, and we are thankful to not have him here, since taking him to go pee from the 3rd floor, gets tedious, we should know. Lena says he is doing OK...he is a little nervous in the city, but is getting lots of love from her and her boyfriend. Awesome.....but, Lena is making me get dog insurance for him! 80euros a year for who knows what, damn germans love their insurance, but it will be for her peace of mind, I suppose.

Hamburg is not the tradional Germany that we envision. No pretzels, no castles, no biergartens. But it seems more is not as clean, as conservative, and is certainly more cosmopolitan and cultural than Stuttgart. There are a huge variety of restaurants that you would never find in Stuttgart, and the people are younger, trendier, and happier (in a German happy way). I am eager to explore the North of Germany and I am thankful (in a weird way) to know a place in the North as well as I know the South...will help with my perspective and attitude towards the Germany we think we know.

Work is good, my project is interesting and we are busy, so that is a nice feeling. I have met some cool people through work. The public transport up here is really good...through work I have a cheap monthly pass, so I can go anywhere and not have to worry about buying a ticket. It is cheaper to travel around up here. We have a great park near our apartment, too, and we have taken Mayzie there the last 3 nights. I think Jenna likes it better up here, so far, at least. She is going to a knitting get together with American women next week. I hope some friends come out of that...I know she is bored around the apartment. We have to get our Deutsch classes started again and Mayze into kindergarten...all this will come in time.

Maybe things are getting better for us now.....