30 July, 2009

Refrections from a New Land - Part One

I've been in Germany - in my new life - now for 3 weeks and have began to notice things more. I think the first few days/week was a combination of shock ("OH. MY. GOD. I'm in Germany!!!") and de-stressing, so i didn't really take in much.
But things have calmed down a lot now, and I've actually started thinking about things again & be more aware about me & my surroundings.

Here are a few things i've observed in the last week or so:
  • I'm more Japanese than British. People ask me about the differences between things here & in England and i can't answer. I have no idea how things are in England. I can compare with Japan - I know Japan. But England/Britain? For example, I don't know the current TV shows; I don't even know how many TV channels there are anymore. It's weird being British, but not really British.
  • Despite all the complaints we all make/made in Japan about the lack of English, Germany is the same (but different). In Japan, communication skills are severely lacking & you'd be hard pushed to find someone in offical-dom who actually speaks any English. Saying that, all the forms & official papers are (in the most part) bilingual. Germany is the complete opposite. The majority of people here have an amazing level of English, however all the official bits and pieces are in German only; which is very challenging when you have to fill out forms or find out where to go or what to ask for. Even the website for the city office is only in German. This has made grateful for the limited English in Japanese officialdom - something i never ever thought i would grateful for!
  • Everything starts later here. I guess in Japan (well, the kanto area, at least) most people are reliant upon public transport and/or live hours away. That means parties & the like usually start around 7pm and finish by 11 or 12. Here, nothing really gets started till around 10pm. And when i was in Britain, it wasn't any different because the pubs all closed at 11pm. Not sure how things are in other European countries. Not even sure about licensing laws here - everything seems to be open all the time...
  • I love Summer Time. I like the fact that it's still light at 9pm. I like that it doesn't get truly dark until around 10:30pm. And i like that there are lots of bars & cafes where you can sit outside in the evening. Always associated open air cafe culture with France & Italy, but it's also a big thing here in Stuttgart. Lovely.
  • The beer isn't served as cold as i expected. I'm used to drinking ice cold beer (as i said before, i am more japanese than british...), but here it's more 'cool' than 'cold'. K explained that it's so you can actually taste the beer & only shitty beer should be served ice cold. Not too sure about this - am too used to drinking it cold, but i am sure with some training, I'll be able to adapt...
  • The really fast autobahn isn't as fast as I'd been led to believe. Yes, it is true that the autobahn has no speed limit - but not for all of it. Some speed limits makes sense; ie near junctions or really windy (in both senses of the word) bits. However, there are others that don't. For example, there are speed limits because of the old road surface; which is OK in itself. However, a few kilometres down the road, there'll be another speed limit because of a NEW road surface. Go figure. AND there are a lot of road works. So, as an example, from K's hometown (Mülheim) to here (Stuttgart) is about 400km. Of that, i would guess around half (if that) has no speed limit. Kind of defeats the point of not having a speed limit when you have to drive at 60 to 100kph half the time.

And those are some of the things i've noticed. Bear in mind that these are the observations of a complete newbie & i may be completely wrong in my assumptions, but this whole living-in-Germany thing is a work in progress & there are going to be some mistakes along the way.

I have been uploading photos to Facebook, so go have a look there for Stuttgart piccies. If you're not on Facebook (or not my friend on FB) yet, here's the link for my photo album

21 July, 2009


Last weekend, I made the 5-hour trek across Germany to the Melt! festival.
I know, on the grand scale of things, that 5 hours isn't the furthest distance, but me it seemed FAR. But it was well worth the journey to (the former) East Germany.
Now, I'm not a festival pro at all; i've only been to Summer Sonic and I don't think the Yokohama Jug Band Festival counts... But Melt! was held in an extremely cool location (Ferropolis); an old open cast coal mine, with all the huge machines still standing there. What was even cooler was that they had HUGE disco balls hanging off them. It was extremely impressinve at night, with these massive machines towering over everything, with spotlights lighting them up. Very very cool.
On a scale of festivals, Melt! is one of the smaller european ones, with around 20,000 people. Still, that's enough to make a party, but not be too many people. It was a really good atmosphere, and despite the disappointing weather (rain, wind, thunder, lightning, with random periods of sunshine), the partying didn't really stop; although some acts early Saturday morning had to be cancelled because the ground got too wet/flooded.

So, my musical highlights (in alphabetical order) :
Bloc Party. Last time i saw them play was in 2005 when they came to Japan to promote their first album. Was really interesting to see how they've changed over time - a lot more interaction with the audience & a way longer set (well, guess they have 3 albums' worth now...)
Bodi Bill. K introduced me to this German band a while back, and i really like them. Don't know how to describe their music; they play around with genres a bit - start off with soft electronica then veer into techno. Great live performance too.
Bonaparte. It was 3am, and K & me wanted somehwere warm, so we stumbled into the tent, sat down & then Bonaparte erupted. Have no idea how they had so much energy at time in the morning, but wow. Definitely a band i want to find out more about.
Mediengruppe Telekommander. This was a band that K wanted to see but i didn't know. Again, i can't really explain what kind of music they played - sure K will correct me, but the closest i can describe it is as German Beastie Boys. Very very bouncy & K was bouncing for hours afterwards.
Wedding Present. K really dislikes this band, but he humoured me & came and watched them. 'How kind!', I hear you cry. Well, yeah, until he spent the rest of the time slagging them off. Very nearly killed him. Luckily, he saw i has murder in my eyes, and shut up until the gig ended. Was kind of sad though for me. I've liked the Weddoes since the early 90s and at that time they were headliners of festivals. At Melt!, they had a 7.30pm time slot for 30 minutes & there was a really small crowd.

And that's it. Wow. We didn't really see much, did we?
Other highlights included dancing outside at the Techno stage for most of Sarurday afternoon,
smiling a lot,
getting on a bus that didn't take us back to the camping ground but back to the techno stage,
meeting people from all over Europe (OK, well, Germans (of course), loads of Brits, a surprising number of Irish, lots of crazy Dutch people, some Spaniards & a Romanian),
falling asleep to the sound of rain,
waking up and realising we'd missed a huge storm & managed to stay dry,
meeting a group of English girls who were all called Helen,
K meeting a really odd German who was also called Kevin,
pea soup,
smiling even more,
and glitter balls.

The only real downer of the weekend was waiting in line for toilets. Why - wherever you go in the world with a crowd - are there NEVER enough girls' toilets?? Oh, and Metronomy cancelled.

So, a fabulous weekend was had by The German & me.

And, K - thank you! xx

15 July, 2009

The (Limbo) New Life

I have been in Germany now for just over a week, and am feeling good.

But i have to admit to being in state of limbo. My life right now is really an "in between" life.
And no, I don't feel stuck between two countries or two lives, not at all. I am fully embracing this new life with both hands. I'm happy here; Europe in summer is a lovely place to be.

But things ARE in limbo.

The day i arrived, The German got confirmation that he would, indeed, be allowed to take 3 months off (September - November). So we ARE going travelling! Yippee!

However, this also means that there isn't much point job hunting. It's only 6 weeks away, and i couldn't really get a job & then quit. Saying that, I have successfully postponed a couple of job interviews until December.

It also means a postponement of us finding our own place - not much point paying rent on a place for 3 months when we're not even there. So we're living in a room in a shared flat. Luckily the flatmates are all lovely people (all university students and about 10 years younger than me!!)

Therefore, this means, i have 6 weeks of being the ultra hausfrau; cooking, washing & sporadic cleaning. Am really hoping that The German doesn't get too comfortable with this life though...
Don't know how long this joy of being a hausfrau will last, but for the moment, it's cool. It's just nice to be living a really slow life. No more rush hour trains, no more early mornings, no more officedom. And I have to admit that there is some satisfaction in taking care of my man, not very Women's Lib of me, but hey, it was my choice!

And for excitement, this weekend K & me and the flatmates are going to Melt! Festival. Believe it or not, this will be first proper festival experience (can't really count Summer Sonic, as I went home in the evenings....) Am *really* excited about that. The tickets were a present from K to welcome me to Germany & for me to allow him on a crazy boys' festival weekend next month. If this is what i get when he goes away, there's absolutely no worries - he can go away whenever he likes...just not too often.

Not much else on the horizon though. Going back to Mülheim (K's hometown) for a weekend or two. Also need to register with the local council. It's so lovely being an EU citizen - no paperwork or anything. Just need to register my address. That's all
Also need to renew my passport; it runs out in December, so won't be able to enter most countries while we're travelling. For some reason, there must be 6 months remaining on your passport before you enter most countries, even though they only give visas for upto 3 months. Means that your passport isn't really valid for 10 years, just 9 and a half. All a bit cheeky, methinks.
And, if possible, i want to join a German course. Definitely needs to get some language skills here.

So, that is the life i am leading. I will have 5 months off from reality. FIVE WHOLE MONTHS!
Am really looking forward to travelling with K. As yet, we haven't really done any concrete planning. However, Asia seems the top choice; name the Philippinnes swiftly followed by Indonesia & Cambodia. Am also hoping that we will be able to hit Australia too.

This is a good life so far. I have absolutely no regrets about making the choice to be here with the German.

08 July, 2009

A Modern Day Tanabata Story

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Star Girl lived in a country far far away seperated from Star Boy by mountains, oceans & an annoying 7-hour time difference.

The distance proved too much for Star Girl & Star Boy, so Star Girl decided to travel across the skies to find Star Boy & live a new life with him.

On 6th July, Star Girl embarked on her journey; flying to Star Boy across the skies, travelling over mountains, continents & leaving behind a life. Star Girl was so happy to be on her way to Star Boy. The skies were clear and she was on her way. The universe was smiling.

But the universe wasn't smiling for very long.
Star Girl got to her transit point. The point in her own country (aka the dreaded Terminal 5) where she would change vessels and continue her journey.
And then skies opened. Thunder & Lightning & heavy clouds blocked her path to Star Boy.
Star Girl spent hours & hours & hours in the dreaded Terminal 5.
Emotional hours - was it just a delay? PLEASE let it be just a delay.
At first the news was hopeful - just a two hour delay until she could take to the skies again.
But then the news changed to bad. There would be no vessels for her to board that evening.
Star Girl would not be meeting Star Boy.

So, Star Girl got her bags, got befriended by some two girls who took pity on Star Girl's tears, and waited in line after line: the re-ticketing line, the hotel coupon line then the hotel shuttle bus line. 3 hours later, Star Girl was in a hotel; nearer to Star Boy, but feeling so far away.

Then 7th July - Tanabata Day - came.
Would the skies have cleared enough for Star Girl to reach her new home?
With antrepidation & nervousness, Star Girl went back to the dreaded Terminal 5. She checked in with her new friends - everything seemed OK. The skies seemed clear - no sunshine, but no thunder.
Star Girl boarded her new vessel to carry her to Star Boy & 90 minutes later, she was in the arms of Star Boy.
The universe had smiled upon Star Girl & Star Boy & finally let them be together.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the original Tanabata story, go here

04 July, 2009

The Worst is OVER!

The last few days have been some of the most stressful days in my life.
But i survived. I had numerous mini-meltdowns, but i got through it all.
I successfully moved out of my place, got my stuff shipped, had all the furniture taken away & came out of it all feeling a huge sense of freedom.

I know i'd been stressed, but i didn't realise how much until everything was over & i arrived here in Kurihama chez Michael & Shingo. When i got here, i finally felt free. I don't have anything to worry about - just getting to the airport on Monday morning. That's it. No boxes. No cubic metres. No packing. No moving companies. It's all done!

Still, there's a huge sense of dis-belief. Am i really doing this? Am I really going to Germany? Am i really going to leave Japan? YES! I AM!
1 week ago, moving was something that made my stomach clench & my appetite die
6 months ago, it seemed like a insurmountable mountain.
2 years ago, me leaving Japan was something i could not imagine or foresee.

And look where i am now. Wow.

Amazing where life leads us.

The only downer - and it's a huge one - has been the goodbyes. Have not been enjoying them at all. Guess that's only natural. Kind of weird though because usually i'm the one who's staying & my friends are leaving. And you know what? Despite the goodbyes being bloody hard, i think being left is so much harder than leaving. Of course it's hard saying goodbye, and I've had a lot - and the hardest goodbyes are yet to come - but i'm so excited about moving forward. That's not to say i won't miss Japan. Of course i will. But i am really excited about my new European life.

But yes. Enough random thoughts.

This will be, most likely, my last post from Japan.

So, Japan, thank you for being one the most fascinating & frustrating friends - always around me. I grew up here, and became me here. Japan will always be with me.

My J-friends. My one regret is that Metropolis life is too crazy that i couldn't have spent more time with you all. You've all been important to me in many different ways. Some of you have been my sounding boards, some of you have been my shoulder to cry on, some of you have been my slice of home, some of you have opened my eyes to the world, some of you have been my drinking buddies. And some of you have been all of the above.
So, for that, thank you. I'll miss you all, but this is NOT the end. I'll definitely be back with The German for a visit at some point. And you'll always be welcome in Germany.

And failing that, you can always read about my new German adventures here.

Going to stop writing now, before i make myself cry....