Thursday, September 23, 2010
Flying overnight from the U.S. to Europe is both one of my favorite and least favorite things to do. Because I can never get to sleep on a plane, the flight just takes me from one part of the day to the next, though the second part is a completely different day. Then you have to make it through the rest of that day without going to sleep, or your sleep-schedule is going to be messed up for days. So by the end of the second day you still remember the things that happened in the first as though it were the same day. It can be pretty tough on you both mentally and physically, but there’s something very fun about it too.
The beginning of the first day was about as mundane as it gets, though enjoyable. My mother took me to Wal-Mart to buy a bunch of things before I left, a generous offer I was glad to take her up on. We then had lunch at a nearby diner before returning home so I could finish packing and we’d head to the airport.
I said goodbye to that house once again, and we drove about half-way to New York to meet my dad who was coming from work. We drove the rest of the way to JFK, which meant once again crossing the Verrazano Bridge onto Long Island, and I commented that I’ve never crossed that bridge so often within one short period.
My parents waited on line with me as I checked in, then bid me farewell before I got in line for security. The rest of the airport experience was about as typical as it gets, waiting around until boarding and then waiting around until take-off.
The flight itself was similarly unremarkable, the only annoyance being a group of three German girls sitting next to me who somehow never ran out of things to yap about through the entire 7-hour flight. Even when they finally turned down the cabin lights so people could get some shut-eye, the girls kept yapping (I’m pretty sure they were the only people talking on the whole plane) for nearly an hour.
At some point it became Friday, September 24, 2010. By the time the girls finally shut up and I was just about ready to successfully pass out for the first time ever on an airplane, the cabin lights came on again and we were all told to wake up because they were serving breakfast.
They’d just served dinner about an hour and a half beforehand, because some turbulence had forced them to delay the meal (which also shortened the lights-out time). I wasn’t even hungry enough to eat again, and I was surprised that everyone else did. I tried to relax a little more before the landing but before I knew it we were descending and my ears were in horrible pain. When we landed, I managed to pop my left ear but the right ear remained clogged for the rest of the day and the days that followed.
Going through customs was quick and painless. Upon taking my American passport, the guy asked me how long my visit would be. I said I live here and work here, which was good enough for him and he let me through. No one checked my luggage either.
Once I got my luggage I hopped on the SkyTrain over to the train station and boarded the next ICE train which stopped in Hannover. I was almost able to fall asleep on the two-and-a-half hour train ride, but not quite. We got to Hannover at about 11:30 and I took a cab back to my flat, experiencing the very weird feeling of looking at the city as my true home. For the rest of the day, I’d be comparing it to the first day I arrived in Hannover when everything had been new and alien and I felt so strange and out of place. This was so much different—now I know the city as intimately as I know the back-roads I used to drive on all the time to deliver pizza.
When I got home I forced a quick journal entry out, then began the annoying-but-necessary process of going shopping. Looking back on my first day in Hannover, when I just stopped at a corner shop and picked up about €5 worth of groceries. Now I knew exactly where to shop and I bought about €50. I also stopped at the electronics store Conrad to buy another plug-adapter for the second lap-top I brought back from America, an old one that I figured I could still make good use of.
I was very tired and cranky by the time I finished the shopping, but at least now I could just enjoy the rest of the day. I did that and got on my bike to ride around. It was cold and cloudy, quite the juxtaposition from warm and sunny New York but appropriate enough for Germany. My entire disposition changed and that bike-ride became the most enjoyable experience of the day by far.
Again I couldn’t help but think back to that first day in Hannover when I could barely get from my flat to downtown, but now I’m so familiar with the city that I can improvise my way around all these different bike-paths and always know exactly where I am. I also made sure I rode across a little pedestrian-bridge I’m kind of fond of (for some reason I get sentimentally attached to bridges quite easily) and made sure to appreciate the coolness of the fact that I was riding across this little bridge on the same “day” (in my mind at least) that I’d driven across the Verrazano.
The most profound thought that occurred to me was that during my time in America nearly every experience was the result of other people’s decisions—where they ended up living, when they had time to see me, etc.—but in Germany nearly every aspect of my life is the result of my own decisions—from the furniture in my flat to the areas I like to ride my bike to simply the fact that I decided to come to Hannover in the first place. In America I exist in a world constructed by others. In Hannover, I’m in my own domain.
In a funny little parallel to my first day in Hannover two years ago, the plug adapter I bought for the lap-top apparently didn’t work for the 3-prong type of plug this lap-top needed. So just like the first day when I kept going back and forth between my apartment and Conrad to get all the electronic stuff sorted out, I rode back to Conrad again to pick up the right kind of adapter.
It wasn’t really until evening when I settled in to watch my downloaded entertainment from the news podcasts to the TV shows that things really started to feel like they were back to normal. I made it all the way to 9:00 before turning in, having only a few moments to reflect on what a long and varied two-days-in-one it had been, and how odd a feeling it was to have left my old home to return to my new home to discover that the new one actually feels more like “home”.
It’s been almost a week since the flight now, and it’s taken about as long to get back to the same basic head-space I was in before leaving. Things felt very different during that whole first weekend and even the first couple of days of work, but now that my first week back is almost over it’s starting to feel like it did before I left.
Looking back on those three weeks, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever had as much of a learning experience jam-packed into such a small period of time as that. Seeing America through whole new eyes and reflecting on myself and how I’ve changed throughout the last two years—the differences have never been more striking. I could see them when I was in America but now that some time has passed it’s even easier to discern exactly what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.
Now I’m even more motivated to go to Japan, as living there for a couple of years will almost definitely be an even greater learning experience. I’m just not very eager to leave this home to start a new one.