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Japanese Cats are Stranger

March 13th, 2012 No comments

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this in my journal yet, but there’s a construction project going on in the lot right next to my apartment building, just outside my window. For the first five months after I moved in it was an abandoned gas station, which made for a superbly quiet neighbor. Starting in January, however, all of that changed. The first couple of weeks were all demolition, and in addition to the loudness of the smashing, drilling, and beeping, it also felt like we were getting ten earthquakes a minute. Things at least quieted down a little bit after that as they laid out the foundation for the new building, but since they started building that a couple of weeks ago it’s gone back to constant noise.Next door.

I’d received notification of the project via a piece of paper passed through my mail-slot a couple of weeks before it began, but I hadn’t known what it was until the demolition started and I went back to give it a second look. Because the kanji for “construction” is very simple (工) I was able to tell that’s what it’s about, and because reading dates is easy I was able to discern that the project was supposed to last from January to April. I figured four months isn’t too bad, and knowing that there’s probably just one month left keeps me from losing my mind whenever I’m home. It mostly takes place while I’m at work anyway, though these guys work straight through dusk and I still hear them hammering for awhile even after it’s completely dark. I don’t begrudge them though—they’re working very hard and I want them to finish as soon as possible.

It also helps that I went through a much worse situation in Hannover. Shortly after I changed my apartment there, the building across the street from me underwent some kind of re-touching of the outside, replacing the brick exterior with solid concrete. This doesn’t seem like nearly as large a task as demolishing and constructing an entirely new building, but the project lasted almost 8 months and seemed to consist of nothing but loud and inconsistent drilling with no rhyme or reason to when it took place other than it always seemed to start up when I was attempting to take a nap. I didn’t work straight through the day then like I did now, so those 8 months were excruciating. When I returned home one day to find the scaffolding finally gone and the work complete, it felt like the happiest day of my life. So the current project is much easier to deal with.

Still, it’s a strong motivator to get out of the house for as long as possible on days off. Because Saturday was graduation, we had Monday off school. After jogging and eating lunch, I took my bike out for the standard ride to the beach. I would have gone regardless of the construction, but the construction definitely motivated me to take my time and not get home in a hurry.

Two unusual things happened on my trip. The first was an earthquake, which is certainly nothing unusual in itself but for the fact that I felt it while riding my bike. Earthquakes are much more perceptible on upper floors of buildings than they are directly on the ground, especially when you’re moving. Because tremors happen so frequently I know I must have been riding during a few, but I never knew for certain. Occasionally while riding I’d feel suddenly off-balance but I could always correct it quickly enough and I could never tell whether it was the ground, the wind, or just me naturally losing balance. This time I could feel my tires shifting with the ground, being knocked toward the side of the road. But still it wasn’t much of a big one, as I was able to maintain balance and keep riding through the remaining second of the quake.

The next thing wasn’t just unusual but downright weird. I cycled right by two cats standing on the side of the road and staring at each other. The fact that I rode right by them—two feet away at the most—and they didn’t so much as flinch, peaked my curiosity and I stopped a little bit further down the road to turn and observe them.

It was the strangest cat behavior I’ve ever seen. There was a black cat and a brown cat on some concrete blocks above a concrete gutter on the side of the road which was now filled with water thanks to the recent heavy rainfall. They were virtually immobile, their faces inches apart, staring at each other and softly growling. Every now and then the black cat would growl a little louder and advance slightly close to the brown cat, who was slowly inching away. Maybe it’s the anime I’ve been watching, but the idea popped in my head that these cats were some kind of reincarnated souls of samurai warriors now settling a score, and while the altercation wasn’t physical there was some hidden exchange of powers in the growling.

I also considered it might be some kind of omen, something I was meant to see and ponder like in a Japanese folk-tale. I could just picture a character in such a story describing this scene to his peers in an attempt to discern its meaning. As I was in no hurry, I decided to stay and watch until something happened, as perhaps there was some kind of meaning to be found here.

I watched for a good ten minutes, during which time only two cars and one cyclist came by, but the cats seemed impervious to any outside distraction. The black cat kept slowly advancing and the brown cat kept slowly backing away until they were on a thinner and higher block of concrete, at which point they suddenly pounced at each other with a loud hiss and tumbled together into the freezing cold gutter water. Together they leaped out of the water and onto the road, where they proceeded to stand completely still—like statues—for a solid two minutes. I noticed the black cat was injured, its neck was bleeding slightly, but I don’t know if that injury had been there before. Both cats stood completely still until another car came and shook them out of their stupor. The black cat then started walking away in my direction, until it noticed me and ran off. The brown cat took the spot that the two had been on before, and after waiting one additional minute I’d decided that was probably the end of the drama.

There was probably absolutely no point to that whatsoever, but perhaps it was a sign from the kami that I won’t fully understand until the meaning comes to me in a dream or something.

Anyway, I finished the journey to the beach only to find more strangeness there. A group of soldiers was up on the little look-out tower near the virtually empty parking lot. I have no idea what they were doing, but I didn’t stick around to observe them too long. I just walked some distance to a river-mouth I’ve taken to trekking to recently, as it’s a particularly lovely spot. I spent some time there, soaking in what little sun decided to peak from behind the clouds, then headed back to the parking-lot area where a new group of soldiers was heading up the tower.

There was a couple there with a tiny baby, sticking out quite sorely due to their non-Japanese appearance. The woman looked half-Japanese but the man was clearly a westerner. We couldn’t help but notice each other, and the woman and I involuntarily smiled at each other when we noticed ourselves noticing.

I figured I might as well say hello, and I asked them where they were from—France—and whether they spoke English—they did. I asked them if they had any idea what was going on with the soldiers and they said they had no idea, but lots of strange things happen in Japan.

The couple—Regis and Junko—were there for a month to visit her parents. It was their third time visiting Japan together, but Regis has lived all over Asia as a website designer. He said that Japan was definitely the best Asian country, but South Korea was pretty good too and I could make a lot more money teaching English there, almost double what I do now. It’s not that I’d never considered making Korea my next country of residence, but somehow in the midst of that conversation it felt clearer than ever that this is my next logical move.

They were a really nice couple and we had a nice chat, comparing our impressions of Japan as well as Europe. They actually knew where Hannover was but have never been to Germany because like most French people, Regis doesn’t like Germans. He’d never been to America but Junko had been to New York for a week, and we compared our impressions of that city too. She really liked it, and he wants to go too someday. They encouraged me to travel around Japan more, which I fully intend to do once I get some money saved. That could take a while, but I intend to be here for a while.

As for the soldiers, we could never figure out what they were up to, but our best guess was that it was some kind of survey taking place at the 1-year-later mark of the earthquake and tsunami, the anniversary of which was on Sunday. He remarked about how the Japanese are very strange, and I told him about the cats. “Didn’t you know that Japanese cats are stranger than normal cats?” he asked jokingly. “I didn’t before but I do now,” I told him.

After that pleasant little encounter I headed home, getting back at about five o’clock, which meant just a little over one more hour of construction noise before peace and quiet returned.

Back at school today, I’ve yet to really feel the absence of the third-graders, but I’ll be spending most of my time in the teacher’s room anyway. I have only one lesson today which is already over, and now I don’t have any more until Thursday when I only have two. It’s going to be long week with lots of time to kill, which gives me plenty of time to write detailed descriptions of the behavior of cats.

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Goodbye, Hannover

July 14th, 2011 No comments

neues Rathaus Hannover

This will be my last journal entry from Hannover. In a few minutes, Lena will swing by to say goodbye to me, and at around 2:00 Oliver will come to help me put the finishing touches on my packing and throwing stuff away. When that’s done we’ll be driving to Dortmund where Oliver knows a guy who knows of a good place to camp, and we’ll either spend the night camping outside or in the apartment of Oliver’s friend. The next morning we’ll head from there to nearby Düsseldorf, from where my plane will take me back to America and the next chapter of my life.

I’ve spent the last few days living pretty much like I always have, spending lots of time in my box but heading out frequently for errands, jogging, or cycling. On Tuesday evening I went out for a little farewell dinner with Amanda, Tom (the guy from Atlanta), and Lena. We’d thought that would be the last time I’d see Lena but when we finished eating she said she didn’t want to say goodbye that night and would make sure to see me on Thursday. That goodbye will probably happen before I finish this entry [it did, and was very sad].

Once Lena and Tom had gone, Amanda kept buying us rounds of beer and we ended up staying there until extremely late at night, getting drunk to the point where I was loose-lipped enough to get into a discussion of my sexual issues, and she was insisting that we go to a sex-worker and get my virginity taken that night so it wouldn’t be such a big deal to me anymore. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t even consider it, but it was kind of tempting at that level of drunkenness. Still, no amount of drunkenness would be enough to get me to throw my virginity away on a prostitute—sex with someone who’s only doing it for business has no appeal to me whatsoever, and since I’m perfectly content in my long-term virginity (except for a few highly unfortunate side-effects), that’s just not something I was willing to do.

But I had to give Amanda credit for at least trying to help me out, and coming closer than anyone else has. It was a bittersweet farewell when I hugged her goodbye and she rode her bike away, then I stumbled back towards my apartment just as the rain began to fall heavily. I waited in a doorway of a building for it to let up, dozed off for awhile, then got back up and headed home as the sun began to rise.

I had to suffer through the after-effects for most of yesterday, so unfortunately I didn’t squeeze as much appreciation out of Hannover on my last full day here than I would have liked, but the weather was terrible anyway so all I did was go for one last bike ride in the morning.

But after the sun had gone down last night, the power went off in the whole city. One of the things I always found interesting about Germany was that in all the years I’ve spent here (almost 4 if you include my exchange-student year) was that I’d never experienced a single power-blackout. I’m not sure if this one was weather-related or simply the result of an overloaded grid due to the fact that those nuclear reactors aren’t running anymore (that would make my E.ON students very happy) but the fact that the very first blackout I’ve experienced in Germany came on my very last night in Hannover was a bit of a noteworthy coincidence. Of course I went outside and walked around to get a feel for it, heading through the train station (my last time there) and to the Raschplatz on the other side, which is the first place I had to go when I first arrived in Hannover about three years ago. That feels simultaneously like yesterday and a million years ago.

And this morning I went for one final jog down along the river and for a brief time next to the Maschsee, fully aware the whole time that I wouldn’t be seeing any of these lovely, familiar areas again for quite some time. I can hardly believe that my life here is over.

I’ll leave reflecting on my time here as a whole for another day, as right now I’m focused on the logistical nightmare of getting me and all my stuff back across the ocean. For now I’ll just leave you with some pictures of Hannover I took recently, most from the top of the Rathaus and a few from just walking or cycling around.

It’s been a joy, Hannover. Bis zum nächsten Mal!

From the top of the Rathaus. Towards my street.

Marktkirche Maschteich

Maschsee AWD Arena

Aegidientorplatz Stadthalle

 Eilenriede Deutsche Bahn

Hiroshima Gedenkhain This is in one of Hannover's loveliest parks.

My favorite spot in the Eilenriede. Moments made for living in the moment.

Maschsee at sunset. As far north along the river as you can go by bike.

My street. Auf wiedersehen.

The Last Season Change

April 3rd, 2011 No comments

No major events have happened recently, but I think it might be a good time to just write a quick overview of where everything in my life stands at the moment.

I’ve now spent three winters in Hannover, and with the first day of temperatures higher than 20°C yesterday it seems that my last one is officially over. A cold I got last weekend gave way to hay-fever yesterday, and now I’ve got a few weeks or months of itchy eyes and runny noses to look forward to. I love the spring, but it doesn’t come without a price.

Because yesterday was the last completely nice and sunny day they’ve forecasted for awhile, I knew I had to take advantage but I also knew that every single person in the city would have the same idea. I went cycling like usual, but I made sure to get out as early in the day as possible to beat the afternoon crowds. For the first time since the Fall I did a complete cycle-tour of Hannover’s nicest areas, a two-and-a-half hour giant closed loop that takes me up the river, through the park, through the forest, and back around to the area around the Maschsee before heading up the river again. It was fantastic, and for the first time this year I noticed the trees beginning to sprout new leaves. In a couple of weeks all signs of winter will be gone, and if all goes according to plan I won’t see those trees in their leafless state again.

Unfortunately, the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan has cast a shadow of doubt over the whole plan to go there this summer, but right now I’m operating under the assumption that it’s still going to happen. I wrote to Interac, the company that hired me, the week the disaster occurred and they told me that nothing has changed with regard to my situation, but of course you never know. Every time I watch the news I hear some new horror story about radiation and potential nuclear catastrophe, and it’s a constant source of uncertainty.

Many people think I’m crazy to still want to go there given the situation, but I just hope those people’s perceptions are as warped by the media as mine. Interac told me that less than 10% of their business was affected by the tsunami, that Japan is a big country. They probably won’t place me near the disaster area, but I don’t even care if where I go was affected. I just want to be there instead of looking at things from afar and wondering if it will affect me. I even feel bad that with all the devastation there and with all those poor people who’ve lost everything, I’m more worried about my own situation. Had I been there when it happened, there might have been something I could do in the aftermath to help. But from here all I can do is wait and hope they get the situation under control. I’ve also got to face the fact that the Japan I’d been trying to go to has now been altered, and that now the only Japan I’ll ever know is post-tsunami Japan.

But I try not to think too much about that as I continue to get ready. I won’t have to do anything until next month when they will presumably finally tell me where I’m going, but in the mean-time I make time to study Japanese every day, which I still can’t believe how much I’m enjoying. I’ve also learned Spanish and German, but for some reason Japanese is by far the most fun language I’ve ever studied. The writing is one reason—who doesn’t love ひらがな and カタカナ?—but the words themselves are just so fun to say: “I’m typing this on my konpyuutaa which sits on my teeburu.” Even if I don’t wind up getting to live in Japan, I think I’ll go on learning the language.

As for Germany, I’ve only got three and a half months left, and not much to do in that time. I’ll be going to Ichenheim one last time for Rheinfest, and there are two Roger Waters concerts to go to but those are the only definite plans. I’d thought I would try and make it to Rome once before I leave Europe, but I’ve decided for a number of reasons it would be wise to forego that trip and save my money for other things.

My friend Luke from college is currently travelling around the world (he’s keeping a pretty good blog-record of it, which you can check out here) and if all goes according to plan he should come out and visit me this summer before I head back to the states. I finish teaching in June and I’ll have the first two weeks of July free to travel around and basically give one last goodbye to Germany before I embark on the next chapter of my life.

Assuming nothing goes wrong and it really happens, it’s going to be the most unique chapter of my life so far, and potentially the most interesting. It’s also going to be a lot more difficult than the one I’m in now—I’ll have to work longer and harder than I have to under my current job-situation—but I have a feeling the work is going to be more rewarding, as I’ll be teaching actual schoolchildren instead of business people who are either too old to learn well or already speak perfect English and just want to practice. Instead of a few lessons a day and then a bunch of free time, I’ll be occupied nearly all day every day except weekends and holidays, like being back in school myself. But that should be very interesting—I always anticipated being a public schoolteacher at some point in my life, but I never guessed that it would first be in Japan.

Until then I’ve just got to try and not let this time fly by as quickly as it has already this year, and make sure to appreciate what I have while I still have it. I can’t say these past three years have been my proudest—I would have liked to have become more social, met more people, improved my German more, etc.—but I’ve certainly enjoyed them. It’s almost felt like a three-year-long vacation.

But all vacations must come to an end, and if I had to spend another year here I’d probably go insane. I wasn’t built to spend so much time in one place—there’s a wind in my soul that makes me want to keep moving and keep accumulating new experiences. The fact that I have such a hard time connecting with other people and that it’s impossible for me to get a girlfriend are both advantages in terms of being able to live this kind of life, so I’d better take advantage. I hope I make more friends in Japan than I did in Germany, though the friendships I have forged here with Oliver and Lena are invaluable and will probably last a lifetime. As for women—I stand ready to be the only Westerner to live for years in Japan without ever getting a Japanese girlfriend. It’s not that I’m going to try and avoid that—I haven’t deliberately avoided it here either—but life just has a way of preventing that from happening for me. But like I said, I can make that work to my advantage.

And those are all the random life-situation-related thoughts that are floating around my mind at this point in time. This is where things stood at the beginning of Spring 2011, as I round the final stretch of my time in Germany.

Recent Activities / Future Plans

October 14th, 2010 No comments

When I first got to Hannover and for nearly the entire first year I was here, I used to write personal journal entries about nearly everything I did, even if it was just going for a walk somewhere. I stopped writing those kinds of entries when these things had become enough of a routine that I ceased to think them interesting enough to be worth writing about.

Recently I’ve done a few things that back then I would definitely have written about right away, but these days I barely find them noteworthy. Since returning from America I’ve gone to Celle to visit Oliver (the first weekend in October), went to Quiz Night at the Dublin Inn with Frank, the boss of Planeo, Amanda, and a few other teachers including an American guy named Ron who seems really nice and who won major points in my book for quoting lyrics from The Final Cut without knowing I’m also a huge Roger Waters fan.

And this past weekend I took a long five-hour bicycle tour to every nice area of the city including the river and park where I go jogging most often, the city forest, the Maschsee, and the area just to the south of the Maschsee—the Ricklinger Kiesteiche—formerly referred to in this journal as the “New Territory”. I even stopped at a Middle Ages festival that was going on in the Georgengarten (a.k.a. “Marry Poppins Park”) because I had plenty of time and thought it would be worth checking out. It was about a 2 out of 10 on the coolness scale though, and I only spent 30 minutes there, most of it watching a dressed-up woman perform a version of Der Frosch Prinz (Frog Prince) using kids and fathers from the crowd. I was the only person there in my 20s—almost everyone else was either over 40 or under 14.

The weather was extremely beautiful—I fucking love October—and it felt like the whole city was out enjoying it. Riding from beautiful area to beautiful area throughout the afternoon gave me the best feel for the city that I think I’ve ever got in a single day. I’ll definitely be doing that same tour again if we get another nice day before the winter weather really kicks in.

But the whole time I was thinking of how to write a journal entry about it and make it interesting, but I couldn’t come up with anything. It was a great experience but didn’t easily lend itself to a written narrative. I couldn’t even come up with any interesting observations about the people around town. Just a bunch of Germans doing their thing.

And yesterday I had my Wednesday off and decided to finally go to the Zoo that everyone is raving about. I spent a good three hours there, watching the Gorillas get fed and making sure to be at the new “Yukon Bay” exhibition featuring two massive polar bears that you can watch swimming around form an observation platform half-way under water during feeding time. That was really awesome, but nothing noteworthy beyond that. Again, I was the only person there in my 20s (who wasn’t there with a girlfriend) and felt kind of strange. It was mostly kids, which I thought was strange because it was the middle of a weekday but I just found out today that the students are now on a 2-week holiday. I often found myself paying more attention to all the beautiful girls around than to the actual animals, but I did my best not to let my brain go down that familiar road. I think I’m getting much better in that department, and while I apparently still can’t help but allude to it I no longer feel compelled to waste a lot of words on self-analysis.

So since I’ve made peace with my inner demons and no longer find my day-to-day activities particularly noteworthy, the result is far fewer personal entries than there used to be. On the flip-side, the fact that I’ve been going out and doing things in the real world has drawn my focus away from the political world, and I’ve even lost motivation to write political entries. I’m still doing it but more as an exercise than a genuine desire to. I’ve even gone days at a time without visiting my new website, Revolution Earth, at all. I’m sure once the winter weather settles in and I go back to spending most of my time inside, the political side of my life will pick up steam again, but for right now my heart just isn’t in it.

And that brings me to my plans for what to do after the winter. Obviously I’m quite settled in to Hannover to the point where it no longer feels like an adventure, and I know that as soon as I go to Asia I’ll be overwhelmed with fascinating things to write about. But when I was two-thirds of the way through my bike tour on Sunday, as I rode around the Rathaus on the way to the Maschsee, it occurred to me that I’ve now completely fallen in love with Hannover, and I don’t want to leave just yet. Having a bike has opened up a whole new way of seeing the city, and I want to stay and experience Hannover by bike during the Spring and Summer as well.

If I were to simply wait for a job in Japan as I’ve been planning to do for years now, I’d probably end up waiting another year anyway. But I’m now starting to consider going to a different Asian country instead because Japan seems full. One of my college friends, Myson (who was one of the guys I moved to Santa Barbara with), has been working in Korea for a year or two, and I just got in touch with him to ask him about possibly doing the same program that he did. It looks promising and I’m really considering that, but they’re accepting applications for the Spring right now and I’m not sure I want to go that soon.

Another major factor playing into my decision-making is the fact that a few months ago I bought tickets to see Roger Waters perform The Wall live twice—once in Mannheim and again in Berlin—both shows happening next May. When I bought the tickets I’d assumed I’d be starting teaching in Japan this Fall, and I could easily take a vacation and return to Germany to visit people and see those shows. But if I start working in Korea in the Spring I don’t think it would work to come back to Germany so soon after. Of course I could sell the tickets—probably to Ron the new English teacher—but I wouldn’t want to pass up such a rare opportunity. I’ll never have another chance to see The Wall performed live ever again.

Still, it’s only October and the thought of waiting almost an entire extra year before moving on feels…wrong somehow. I’m not getting any younger and who knows what can happen in a year. Leaving next Spring feels more appropriate.

But I could easily imagine myself taking that route, going to Korea, and realizing very quickly that I was in a much better situation in Hannover and that I could have stayed and enjoyed it awhile longer. I’m enjoying the hell out of my life right now and it almost seems stupid to leave when I know I could go on enjoying it for another year. On top of that, there may be an opening in Japan between now and the time I’d have to apply to Korea, so that’s a major factor as well.

I was up-in-the-air about this before I started writing this entry but now I feel like I’m leaning very heavily in the direction of waiting until next Fall. Nothing like writing to clarify certain things. I guess that unless something unforeseen happens, I really will be here for another year. Which means that for another full year, these personal entries will remain few and far between.

This afternoon I’ll be doing the next thing on my check-list, which is to ride my bike to the Wilhelm-Busch Museum—a small art museum in the Georgengarten—and check out the Gerald Scarfe exhibit they’ve got going on there until October 24. Gerald Scarfe did the animations for the film version of The Wall, so I’m definitely obliged to check that out while I can. I’m documenting it now, before the fact, because it almost certainly won’t be worth an entry of its own.

Perhaps if I’d bought a bike when I first got here, I’d be much more inclined to leave now.

Two Days in One

September 30th, 2010 No comments

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.