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Unremarkable Return

August 29th, 2013 No comments

Compared to last year’s experience, returning to Japan after my summer holiday this year was as dull as it gets, just another routine return home from vacation. It’s been great to start seeing students again, but there’s none of that “oh my god you’re actually back!” wonderfulness I got thanks to my prolonged absence. I’m sure most of them didn’t even know I’d been gone.

The 30-hour journey from Ichenheim to Togane went as smoothly as possible, with just some slight anxiety at the beginning when my first train ran a half-hour behind. I didn’t get to the airport until one hour before departure, but this turned out to be plenty of time anyway. It might have even made it better, as I barely had to wait on line to check-in and pretty much flew by security. I got lucky on the 6-hour flight to Abu Dhabi when the woman sitting next to me got up and never returned to her seat, apparently having found a better one somewhere else. Maybe I smelled bad? If so, good. The layover in Abu Dhabi was only an hour and a half and most of that consisted of getting off the one plane and on to the other, as the airport doesn’t have enough terminals for the planes to connect to and everyone has to be shuttled to and from the planes. I was amused by how extremely lax the security line was—the United Arab Emirates is clearly not too worried about terrorist attacks. Finally, I got lucky again on the 10-hour flight to Narita as nobody was seated next to me at all. I actually managed to sleep for awhile too—maybe a whole 20 minutes of unconsciousness (a new flight record for me!)

It was only 4 p.m. when I got back to Togane, giving me plenty of time to unpack, go for a run, and head to the supermarket to re-stock my refrigerator before settling in for the night.

I stayed up as late as I could—9 p.m.—thinking I’d probably crash for at least 12 hours, but the jet-lag had other plans. I woke up at 2 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep for another five hours. It was early evening in Germany, the time my body got used to being the most awake. I only slept for one more hour after that, new construction projects going on outside my apartment making further sleep impossible. I went for another run, did some more shopping, had lunch, then went back to K-chu at 1 p.m. for two hours of Speech Contest practice.

The jet-lag kept me up for most of last night as well, and I was hurting this morning as I came in at 10:00 a.m.—3 a.m. by my body’s reckoning.

The Speech Contest students did improve while I was away, but I’ve been disappointed by how relatively not-far they’ve come in three weeks. One kid doesn’t even have his whole speech memorized yet. It’s a long speech, okay, but he’s had five weeks and there’s only three more to go. Others are still making the same mistakes they were when I left. I guess it just means I’ve still got plenty of work cut out for me. At least the best student is still performing wonderfully—she’s pretty much ready for the contest already and would probably win if it were held tomorrow.

Next week the semester begins, but it won’t be back to normal. K-chu’s Sports Week is next week, so I’ve got a whole lot of boredom to look forward to as the students prepare for it. At least I’ll have the elementary schools to keep me busy. I’ll use as time preparing those lessons as I can.

All in all, it feels as great to be back as I expected. Just no “second honeymoon” this time. I was gone three weeks but it already feels like I never left.

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Back in Deutschland, week 3

August 25th, 2013 No comments

My last week in Germany was even less “eventful” than the first two, but that’s absolutely fine by me. It was nice to just be back in Ichenheim and spending time with all these people again.

Things here are the same as ever, except that Ralf and Myriam have a baby now. Savio is 21-months old and super cute. He was a bit shy at first but warmed up to me pretty quickly and I’ve had fun playing with him. He’s just starting to talk but it’s all pretty much incomprehensible to me with the baby-dialect on top of the Ichener-dialect which is already hard enough to understand. I was able to get him to say a few Japanese words, but I’m sure they won’t stick, and it’s very unlikely he’ll remember me at all the next time I see him. Such is the case with babies.

I spent the days hanging around, going jogging, bicycling around, and (of course) drinking lots of beer. Dieter and Frederick were working on a house they’re building where my grandmother’s old house used to be. Frederick will live in the downstairs part when it’s finished and rent the upstairs to someone. Ursula had to leave on Thursday to go to a rehabilitation clinic in Davos to treat her psoriasis, so I only got to see her for two days. Myriam and Ralf took holidays on Thursday and Friday so I got to spend a bit of extra time with them. And on Saturday night I went to the birthday party of Dietmar and got to see a whole bunch of people including my Aunt Fannie, Gabi, Marius, Melanie and her new husband Timo.

And there’s not much else to say. It may not have been the most interesting vacation of all time, but I certainly enjoyed it. Last year’s vacation was much more “interesting” due to the visa situation, and because of that I had a hard time just enjoying it. I definitely prefer this kind of holiday.

Tomorrow I fly back to Japan. It was nice to get away from that world for awhile, but I’m definitely looking forward to going back.

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Back in Deutschland, week 2

August 20th, 2013 No comments

I’m in Ichenheim again, for the first time in two years. It might as well have only been two weeks for all the noticeable change, except for the one giant difference of there being a 21-month old child here now. Now I’m writing another blog entry from this couch like so many times before, although this one feels like a chore as I’d rather just be relaxing.

There are no interesting stories from my second week of vacation. It’s mostly just been lots of relaxing, drinking delicious beer, eating delicious food, and having interesting or silly conversations. There are hardly even any photos worth posting—it’s mostly just pictures of me and Oliver goofing around while drunk. I’ll just briefly recount what each day consisted of for the sake of the historical archives.

On Saturday we had a little party starting in the late afternoon. Amanda came all the way from Berlin and I got to catch up with her. They also invited a colleague of Oliver named Ma Ren who was a really nice and interesting person I’m glad I got to meet, and a woman named Rune from capoeira who was really nice but didn’t speak much English and tended to steer all discussions in directions I had nothing to contribute to. But that turned out to be somewhat lucky, as I went to bed several hours earlier than most of the others.

The party continued well throughout Sunday, at least for Oliver and me. In spite of his hangover, I was surprised when he opened a beer first thing in the morning, and after breakfast began pouring shots of whiskey into our glasses of tea (though that might have been at my suggestion). We finished off the whole bottle and had one of the maddest Sundays I can remember.

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Oliver needed all of Monday and even a bit of Tuesday to recover, so we just took it easy those days and watched lots of episodes of Game of Thrones. On Wednesday we got everything ready to go for our bicycle tour of Hannover on Thursday, the one thing I most wanted to do while back in Germany. That involved fixing Oliver’s bicycle (we’d already fixed my old bike I’d sold to them when I moved away) and buying a little bike trailer for Buutsch, the dog.

I said we should get up at 9:30 to give ourselves plenty of time to get to Hannover relatively early, but the way Oliver operates made that rather unrealistic. It took forever just to prepare breakfast, clean up, have a shower, pack the car, and finally get going. In Hannover we also had to stop at the house of is friend Kolya who was letting us camp out in his garden house that night. We got the key and headed to the garden house, dropped off our stuff there, had the obligatory beer, and finally got under way at about 4:00 p.m.

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With Buutsch in the little trailer, we made our way to the start of the tour along the river where I used to go jogging. Buutsch hated the trailer and made whimpering noises the whole way. When we were finally at a section of river not too crowded, Oliver let him out and rode with him on the leash ahead. That dog is so full of energy that he ended up pulling Oliver at extreme speeds for the next several kilometers. Oliver had to stop him every now and then just to let me catch up.

The first part of the tour went perfectly. It was dark and cloudy while I would have preferred sunshine, but it was cool to be back in Hannover and to see all the nice parts of it I became so familiar with in my time there. When I’d left I’d hoped to come back and see them again, and now I was finally making that happened.

But after the Herrenhauser Garten and Georgengarten, things started to go wrong. We had to ride through the city a bit to get to the next part of the tour, the Eilenriede (city forest), and there was some construction blocking a part of the route. But Oliver said he knew this area of the city really well and could get us to the Eilenriede without a problem. It turned out he was mistaking it for where he used to live and was completely wrong about where we were, so we ended up going extremely far off course. When we finally checked his iPhone to pinpoint our location, we saw how far we’d gone and because it was starting to rain it seemed like we should just quit and maybe finish the tour the next day. We started to do that and head back to the garden house at Lindener Berg by the most direct route, but Oliver could tell I was upset and decided we should just go to the Eilenriede anyway.

So we got there, found a place to stop and have a beer, but when that was done it was already approaching 7:00 p.m. and I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the tour before dark. So we started heading back to Lindener Berg by way of the Maschsee, and we were able to take a quick detour to the Hiroshima Gedenkhain very quickly so I could get a picture of the plaque explaining it that Lena had accidentally deleted two years ago and promised to get another one but never did.

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When we got to the Maschsee we discovered it was Maschseefest, so it was extremely crowded and we didn’t get too close. In the three years I lived there I never went to Maschseefest, and this made the 4th time I blew it off. Nothing about it looked fun other than the beer, and you could get that anywhere.

We headed back around the Rathaus—also really cool to see in person again—then by my old flat in Calenberger Neustadt so I could see that again. After that we stopped at my favorite Döner Kebab shop to pick up some dinner, then back up to Lindener Berg.

Kolya wanted to come hang out with us there for a bit, and he met us on our cycles on the way back. For the next few hours we hung out with him at his garden house, which turned out to be the most pleasant part of the day. He’s a really nice and interesting guy and he’s interested in Japan so it was great to talk with him. He suggested that he and Oliver come visit me in Japan next year, though I think the odds of that are still very doubtful.

He left us on our own for the night, and we slept in until 11:30 and didn’t get everything packed an underway until an hour later. Oliver didn’t want to ride anymore—his bike saddle hurt his ass too much—but I wanted to finish the tour. We decided to split up and meet somewhere around the Maschsee at 2:00. That gave me plenty of time to head back to the river and ride around the places we hadn’t gone the previous day. It was the nicest part of Hannover (the last territory I’d discovered after moving there) and the day was sunny and much nicer than the previous day. I didn’t have to worry about the dog, and I could put on some music and just get in the zone I used to get it when cycling around while I lived there. That was extremely pleasant, and made up for the previous day’s disappointments.

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We drove back to Delmenhorst at 2:00 and after getting stuck in traffic finally arrived back at almost 5:00 (normally it shouldn’t take more than 1:30), and had another easy night.

On Saturday we drove to Emsland in the afternoon to visit Oliver’s daughters and his 8-month old grandson Finn. I haven’t seen his daughter Nele in two years or Ronja in nearly four. Ronja was 16 the last time I saw her and is now a 20-year-old mother, so she looks twice as old as last time. Nele was 15 and is now 17 so doesn’t look too different. Finn is a cute little baby who seems pretty well-behaved. While the girls were getting ready for their evening plans, Oliver and I took Finn to a nearby lake and played with him for a little while, the first time I’ve played with a baby in as long as I can remember. After that we went back and gave the girls a ride to wherever they were going for the evening, then headed back to Delmenhorst.

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We stopped at the liquor store to pick up some beer, and I bought a bottle of whiskey on a whim, expecting to sip on it casually throughout the next day. Apparently, Oliver got another thing in mind after I bought it, and we ended up finishing off the whole bottle that night, with just a little help from Lena. We were up until 4:30 in the morning going mad, and were both glad to have one more night of that in what will probably be a very long while.

All we did on Sunday was relax and recuperate, and maybe walk Buutsch a few times. But we went to bed pretty early that night and got up at 8:00 the next morning to be able to have breakfast and get me to the train station to catch my 9:53 departure. I said a nice goodbye to both of them and the dog, and boarded the train to the next part of my vacation.

It’s only been a day and I miss them already, but I think two weeks was about enough time. My friendship with Oliver and Lena is one of the strongest I’ve ever made in my life, so it’s important to see them when I can. It may not have been the most interesting or eventful two weeks of vacation-time I’ve ever spent, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Back in Deutschland, week 1

August 10th, 2013 No comments

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It’s been a pleasantly uneventful week. Oliver and Lena were working every day, and I spent my days doing all the typical stuff I normally do that doesn’t depend on physical location. Jogging, studying Japanese, e-mailing, watching internet entertainment, and so on. The only difference is that I’ve got to walk the dog twice a day. Also, I’m taking full advantage of the food I can get here but not Japan—in addition to things like chocolate, I ate döner kebab for lunch four out of the last five days.

Oliver got home in the afternoon and we’d usually start drinking then, just hanging out and relaxing until evening when Lena would get home. Then we’d have dinner, go for one last walk with the dog, and go to sleep. Now that Oliver has a week of vacation there should start to be more worth writing about.

There are only a few things worth noting right now. First, it’s interesting to be back in a country where everyone mistakenly assumed you’re one of them. In Japan, everyone knows I’m a foreigner. In America, everyone correctly assumes I’m American. But in Germany, people incorrectly assume I’m German, a feeling I lived with for three years but which is more interesting now that I’ve got the Japan experience to compare it to.

The climate is also something special. It’s not as hot here as America, and not as humid as Japan. It’s about as pleasant as an August could be, and being outside brings back all kinds of intangible feelings I used to experience every day. It’s like there’s this aura of every place you go, and I’m very much feeling the whole northern German aura just as it was when I lived here.

Finally, as pleasant as it is to be back, I have no sadness or any kind of regretful feelings about leaving. It was great to live here when I did, but I’m much happier in my current life situation. Not just because of my job, but I really prefer the Japanese culture as well. I plan to write a detailed comparison of life in the two countries, but I’ll say right now that if I had to spend the rest of my life in one of the two, I’d pick Japan. I’m glad I’ve got another two weeks here, but I’ll still be glad to go back.

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Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Circumnavigation

August 4th, 2013 No comments

I’m back in the country where I spent three of the last five years of my life. It feels like it’s finally the start of my vacation, but it also feels a bit like coming home.

My last week in Japan before the flight was somewhat eventful. On Saturday I attempted to have a karaoke party with a bunch of friends but nobody could make it, so it ended up just being me, Kim, and Enam going out for drinks, with Ben joining us for a little while. I haven’t seen him since the rice planting, but he’s finished his work for JET and is on his way back to the states, so it was nice of him to come say goodbye. And on Thursday, the last night before my flight, Stephen came into town and a few of us went out for an early dinner of okonomiyaki and then took the train down to onjuku beach to join a bunch of other ALTs to watch the annual fireworks festival they have there. That was a lot of fun, and the perfect way to spend my last night in Japan before vacation.

Friday and Saturday were epic. It started like any other day. I got up, went jogging, had breakfast, went to work (speech contest stuff), but when that was over the focus shifted to the daunting objective of moving my physical body halfway around the globe to Germany. I finished packing, cleaned my apartment, emptied the refrigerator and unplugged everything, checked and re-checked and checked again to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, then headed off on the long long 9-leg journey.

Leg 1 was the standard walk from my apartment to the Togane train station. Leg 2 was Togane to Chiba. Leg 3 was Chiba to Narita Airport.

When I got there it was 3 out of 9 legs finished. It was like I was a third of the way there already!

Of course, Leg 4 was a considerable distance farther than Narita from Chiba. That was the 10-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, which took off at 10:30 p.m. in Japan and landed at 3:30 a.m. in the UAE. I flew all the way over China and India and landed for the first time on the soil of a Middle Eastern country, but it was dark the whole time so I couldn’t see anything other than the occasional lights from cities.

The layover in Abu Dhabi was six hours total, with the next plane not taking off until 9:30. My first experience in a Muslim country wasn’t exactly an awesome one. It was mostly just like any other airport, only with most of the amenities tucked into “lounges” you had to pay the equivalent of 45 euros to enter. They sounded nice—unlimited drinks, internet, showers, and whatnot—but I wasn’t going to drop 45 euros on that. Other than that, the only major difference between this airport and any other was that there were a lot more men in madrassas and women in burkas walking around.

Although I will say that the airline of Abu Dhabi—Etihad Airways—was definitely the best airline I’ve ever taken. Between all the on-demand entertainment, power outlets in every seat, meal menus even for coach passengers, and excellent service, it rose to number one in my ranks right away.

Leg 5 was not Etihad airways but Berlin Air. I felt like I was in Germany already from the moment I boarded the plane, as while the Narita-Abu Dhabi flight had been a wide mixture of cultures with just about half-Japanese, there were no Japanese on the flight from Abu Dhabi to Düsseldorf and I’d say I good 80% of the passengers were German. The flight attendants were German, and while their service was perfectly adequate it just couldn’t compare to the friendliness and enthusiasm of the previous flight’s mostly Japanese crew. Customer service is one cultural area in which Germany and Japan could not be farther apart.

Although that flight was only 7 hours, it felt longer than the previous flight because at that point I was already quite sick of travelling and just wanted the journey to be over. At least it was daytime and I could look out the window. We flew over Iraq, so that was cool, although there was nothing to see but sand and small cities.

But that flight was notable for one very significant landmark in my life. The farthest east I ever went in Europe was Prague. When this flight flew past Prague on its way to Germany, I’d officially crossed every line of longitude on the globe. It took about four years and there was all kinds of hopping back and forth in between, but now I have officially circumnavigated the planet! That was always one of my lifelong goals—to join the club that Magellan started.

It felt great when the plane touched the ground and I knew the flying was over, but unfortunately the travelling was far from over. I’d accidentally bought a train ticket from the Düsseldorf main station as opposed to the airport station, so once I’d gone through customs (which took all of ten seconds) and got my luggage, I had to wait on line at the airport train station to change my ticket. Some of the legs would be altered and I’d arrive an hour later than planned, but there were still 4 legs left to go.

Leg 6 was a short hop from the Düsseldorf airport to Duisberg. After the stress of the ticket situation, I calmed down quite significantly once I was on that regional train. The reality of being back in Germany finally sunk in, as it felt like just a few weeks ago that riding this exact kind of train was routine.

After a 30-minute wait in Duisberg, the longest rail-leg of the journey began. Leg 7 was a 2-hour ride from Duisberg to Bremen on an InterCity train, the kind I used to take every week from Hannover to Helmstedt. Although I was beyond sick and tired of travelling at that point and just couldn’t wait for it to be over, Leg 7 turned out to be the most pleasant leg of the trip. It was a beautiful day and as the train raced through the countryside all kinds of pleasant memories about all the great times I had in this country kept coming back to me. I’m about to acquire 3 more weeks of such memories.

Leg 8 was the final solo-leg of the journey, so the last one that felt like a leg at all. It was on a packed regional train full of crying kids and people with body odor, but luckily the trip from Bremen to the town of Delmenhorst where Oliver and Lena live was only about 15 minutes. As soon as the LED-screen read “Nächste: Delmenhorst” I felt a wave of relief wash over me. It had been a long way since Togane, but I was finally coming to my destination.

I got a bit worried when I didn’t see Oliver at the station. I’d turned on my iPhone’s data roaming momentarily when I knew I’d be late to send him a Facebook message informing him, but I had no way of knowing if he got it until I turned the data roaming back on and saw he confirmed the message. So where was he?

I waited out in front of the station for a few minutes, hoping he was just running behind and would drive up any minute, but soon enough he emerged from the station, I dropped my things, and we had a nice warm embrace, two great friends overjoyed to see each other after two years apart.

Leg 9 barely felt like part of the journey at all. I chatted with Oliver as he made the five-minute drive to the house where he and Lena now live. But when he pulled into the driveway and parked the car, it definitely felt fantastic that it was over. The entire journey from start to finish had taken a total of 32 hours.

I’d already been awake for 41 hours at that point, having only dozed off a few times here and there on the flight, but I was up for at least another 6 hanging out with Oliver and Lena and the dog Buutsch. It was wonderful to be back with them again, and although it had been two years and they’re living in a different place now, it might as well have only been two weeks.

They filled me in on what they’re doing now and I told them what I’m up to as well as all sorts of things about Japanese culture. Later we took the dog for a walk. After that I went to sleep, my epic 47-hour day finally over.

I slept really well and woke up today at 7:30 as though there were no jet-lag at all. Today is Sunday and we’re just going to relax, make a little tour of Delmenhorst, drink lots of delicious beer and eat lots of delicious food. It should be a pretty excellent day.

As for the week, Oliver and Lena have to work so it’ll just be me and the dog for most of the day, but that’s no problem at all for me. Next weekend Amanda will be coming over so I’m really looking forward to that. Things are likely to get a bit crazy. And the following week Oliver was able to take off from work so we’ll do a few fun things like camp out at the East See and drive to Hannover with a couple of bikes to spend the day doing my old bicycle tour there, which I’m also really looking forward to. After that it’s off to Ichenheim for a week of Ichenheim enjoyment, and then back to Japan.

When I passed through immigration at Narita airport this time, the woman checked my alien registration card and told me I have to be back before September or my visa will expire. Well, I’ll be back on August 27th, so that works for me. I’m not even thinking about the return trip now, but after what happened last year it’s quite nice to be completely secure in knowing that when the vacation is over, I can go back.

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