Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reflections on a Decade: The 2000s

As a reminder that the decade is going to be over in less than 20 days, let's review what this decade was like.

We started off with Y2K (hooray! We all survived! And the coming of Web 2.0 has made it possible for me to write this and share it with you!) and then there was the whole Napster shenanigans, two elections in the United States that left many people scratching their heads, 9/11, iPods and Apple took over the world, a lot of political stuff I don't really feel like getting into, the blur of the mid-2000s, and ok, let's bring it up to now: a black man was elected to the highest office in the United States, we have one of the biggest recessions in recent decades and global warming is on the rise. looks like this decade for me could be summed up into two categories: politics and technology. I know I glossed over a LOT of stuff, but just pick up any news magazine and I'm sure it'll go into it for you. Let's move on to the less serious stuff, shall we?

I've picked out 20 albums of the 2000s that are significant for me for some reason or another. Here they are with just a sentence or two about why they're on this list:

20 Albums of the 2000s

1. 'N Sync - No Strings Attached (2000) - I was 15. End of story.

2. The Living End - Roll On (2000) - My penpal introduced me to The Living End with this album. I just loved the mix of rockabilly and punk music together and have been a fan ever since.

3. The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious (2000) - For me, "Hate to Say I Told You So" was really catchy and the album was a return of rock the way it should be: loud, fuzzy guitars that are fun to dance to. Not only that, I was impressed with the matching suits.

4. Weezer - The Green Album (2001) - It took Weezer long enough to put out an album after 1996's Pinkerton. I liked this album when it came out; I'll admit it. A bit pop-y in comparison to Pinkerton, but hey, Weezer was back!

5. Flogging Molly - Drunken Lullabies (2002) - By far, Flogging Molly's best album. I think I had gone to the Vans Warped Tour in 2002 and they played stuff off Drunken Lullabies. It was perfect for that and it still hasn't lost its charm.

6. The Donnas - Spend the Night (2002) - Three words: "Take It Off." Not to mention this was The Donnas' breakout album, but it was really fantastic seeing a girl punk band I could see myself relating to if I hadn't been a teenager (aka awkward).

7. OK Go - OK Go (2002) - OK Go's debut album. Most people would pick their album Oh No since they made it big with "Here it Goes Again," but I discovered OK Go with their self-titled and no, I'm not just saying that, I really did. I immediately fell in love with the album because it was fun, catchy, danceable, and smart.

8. Kylie Minogue - Fever (2002) - There are so many good songs on this album: "Come into my World," "In Your Eyes," "Love at First Sight," and of course, "Can't Get You Outta My Head."

9. The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (2002) - I just remember seeing the video for "Fell in Love with a Girl" and thinking it was the coolest video in a long time. This reconfirmed my belief that loud, fuzzy guitars were back (see above, #3, The Hives' Veni Vidi Vicious).

10. Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf (2002) - Dave Grohl was the guest drummer on this album, I think. I loved the bass line for "No One Knows." Also the video for "Go with the Flow" was pretty awesome.

11. Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) - Two albums at once?! Why not. There were 3 songs in particular that will never, ever get old, even 6 years later: "Hey Ya!," "The Way You Move," and "Roses."

12. Ratatat - Ratatat (2003) - I saw Ratatat perform on Middlebury's campus. They played this album in its entirety in about an hour. And they played it again. And again. Mostly because everyone was so into it. It was a ton of fun and the best was free! (And before everyone on campus started listening to it so the show wasn't overrun.)

13. Green Day - American Idiot (2004) - Ok, so their album Warning came out in 2000 and I had liked it. It was different. But American Idiot was just a completely new level. Who else could've pulled off a punk rock opera other than Green Day? And that is exactly why this album is on this list.

14. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand (2004) - Fun, danceable, catchy rock. And if music could be described as "sexy," yes, this album is definitely sexy. This album still hasn't gotten old and I remember comparing it to The Strokes' Room on Fire. To say the least, Franz Ferdinand is such a better album and they're such a better band. Hence why I still like them.

15. Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway (2004) - Kelly Clarkson is probably my guilty pleasure of the decade and this album had a lot of really good songs on it. "Since U Been Gone" is probably my favorite.

16. Foo Fighters - In Your Honor (2005) - Admittedly I couldn't decide which FF album from this decade should go on here, especially considering that their best is still The Colour and the Shape (which came out in '97). So I just arbitrarily picked In Your Honor because it's got two CDs, the slow stuff and the fast stuff. However, FF have put out some really great music in the last 10 years.

17. Wir Sind Helden - Von hier an blind (2005) - This was the first German album I purchased living in Germany. Alex and I first heard "Nur ein Wort" in a Berlin Dunkin' Donuts in Zoologischer Garten and we turned to each other, agreeing simultaneously that the song was super catchy. It defined my year abroad.

18. The Killers - Sam's Town (2006) - In comparison to their debut album Hot Fuss, Sam's Town is just a fantastic record because it works as an idea. I'm not even sure it was a concept album, but that's what I got from it. It's a lot tighter than their first release and they really seemed to fine-tune their presence with it.

19. Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006) - Another fantastic pop album. I don't even really know what to say, except I find myself listening to this every once in awhile.

20. Radiohead - In Rainbows (2007) - This isn't on here for its content; rather, In Rainbows is significant because it was the first album to be released on the internet by the band themselves and then people were allowed to choose how much they wanted to pay for it. Even nothing. Good job Radiohead for trying to change the digital music industry.

It seems like after 2007, there wasn't anything significant on my list. That's not true; there are some bands I would've liked to put on, but hey, I needed to keep this list short. On the other hand, everything released after 2007 that would be on this list are just other albums from artists already on here.

As for movies, I can't really make a list because I don't own a lot movies from the last few years and it's not as easy to look at as my music in iTunes. (Yay sorting by year.) However, I think for me the most significant movie(s) this decade has to be The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I don't think I've met anyone that hasn't seen these movies.

On a more personal note, this decade is probably the first that I can remember in its entirety. I remember exactly where I was and whom I was with when I rang in the new millenium. This decade, I got both my high school and bachelor degrees, started working on my master's, and have lived in Germany for a total of three years. In essence, I've become what some may consider an adult, which is a bit strange to think about.

Who knows what will happen in the next decade, but I do have my guesses....Let's get ready for the 10s!!! (teens? tens? How will we even say them?)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Soundtrack 2009

As the end of the year draws near, a lot of reflection is usually done. My sister Tracie wrote an entry on her blog of the same title and I thought it a good idea. I haven't made a yearly soundtrack since I left college, but I got inspired from my sister's entry. So here are some songs that represent 2009 for me:

1. Franz Ferdinand "Ulysses" - This song kept me going on the S-bahn platform at 6:30 in the morning quite often when it first came out. I had been anticipating the release of their album "Tonight: Franz Ferdinand" and it didn't disappoint. Not to mention that I won tickets for their show in November and I was so excited to hear this live.

2. The Living End "Hey Hey Disbeliever" - The Living End came on tour to Europe and their album White Noise was finally released over here (still hasn't been released in the U.S. to my knowledge). Too bad I didn't see them on their second go around, but I gave up that opportunity to save money for Paul McCartney. (More on that in a bit) But The Living End was still amazing live, though I hadn't seen them in quite a bit. This song just rocks.

3. Green Day "Horseshoes and Handgrenades" - I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that Green Day's audience gets younger and younger while I get older. I was disappointed that they didn't play this song when I saw them, in addition to the fact that they didn't sing "Welcome to Paradise." (C'mon, Green Day!) I'm not sure I would say the album 21st Century Breakdown was a highlight of this year, though I had been excited for the album's release. There was certainly better music released, but Green Day's music has developed into a style that's definitely better for arena shows. And they definitely are a good arena show.

4. Katy Perry "Hot n Cold" - Yup, a pop song. This song for me was really infectious. The link I put up is to a Twilight parody with "Hot n Cold" in it. It's pretty hilarious. I'm by no means a Twilight fan (actually, far from it. I hate it), but somehow the song is super-fitting. "Hot n Cold" was also everywhere here for awhile.

5. Calexico "The Crystal Frontier (Widescreen Version)" - Ok, this song is old. And yes, I saw Calexico in October 2008. Doesn't matter. This song is just pure awesomeness and it was on my iPod on repeat.

Besides these five songs, this song was actually dominated by The Beatles. Sure, their last recorded album, Abbey Road, was released 40 years ago, but this year was almost like 1995-1996 when the Anthology was released. For one, the digital remasters were released. Admittedly, I haven't heard them yet except for Abbey Road and Let it Be (which I bought separately since they were released only in stereo) because they're waiting for me at home in the U.S. unopened, so I can't tell you if they're good or not. But there were so many reviews about them that it was as if new Beatles albums had been released. According to some, these remastered CDs were like experiencing the albums for the first time. The Beatles: Rock Band was also released, but I haven't bought it nor played it out of fear that it will destroy my perception of the music. Maybe we'll see about that in the future.

In addition to the remastered CDs' release, I went to Liverpool, home of the Fab Four. And finally, I'll be seeing Paul McCartney in a week in the Köln Arena. So besides the five songs above, I'd have to add these particular songs:

6. The Beatles "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" - I think this medley is just amazing, especially because The Beatles knew that this was the last album they would record together. It's a pretty good ending, isn't it? (Ok, if you don't count "Her Majesty.")

7. The Beatles "Maggie Mae" - Until I went to Liverpool, I didn't realize how this song is sung with their Scouser accent. I think I have a better appreciation for it because of my trip.

8. Paul McCartney "Only Mama Knows" - Because I'm seeing Paul next week, I bought his album Memory Almost Full. When it first came out, I was originally against it because it was released through Starbucks, but after a first listen, I actually really liked it. I'm pretty sure he'll be playing this song next week, so to say the least, I'm excited.

I cannot wait to hear the mono remastered CDs when I get home in a week and a half.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Liverpool, England: A Pilgrimage

Liverpool. Liverpool? I needed to get out of Germany (sometimes it happens) and having been to London several times before, Liverpool seemed perfect. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge Beatles fan. Christian had to go to Munich for a few days for work, so going by myself seemed ideal; I wouldn't have to drag anyone only vaguely interested around with me doing Beatles-related stuff. Plus, I had been to London so many times before, but I had never seen any other parts of England. Lastly, I just wanted some time by myself (again, sometimes it happens).

I spent a little less than 72 hours in the city on the River Mersey, but I did everything I could, whether or not it related to the Beatles. I really loved Albert Dock; it's so beautiful and just cool. It doesn't exude an air of poshness (for crying out loud, it was a dock used for industry), but somehow it's very elegant, tranquil, and charming. The restaurants there are surprisingly very affordable, the Tate Liverpool is free, as are the other museums. And I just absolutely adore the red brick stone with the black paneled windows. It would be really fantastic to live there, though I can only wonder how much apartments there cost. The Liverpool Cathedral is the fifth largest in the world (depending on the criteria, because it could actually be the largest and one of the longest) and when you enter it, it's really breathtaking how huge it is. I thought it was far more impressive than the Cologne Cathedral and it's much brighter, too.

Slightly north of Albert Dock are the Three Graces at the Pier Head (the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building, and Port of Liverpool Building). They're also really very impressive and make for a gorgeous skyline, albeit completely different than the towering skylines of New York and Hong Kong. And that's the thing: Liverpool isn't a big city, but it's incredibly pleasant, laid back, and has a lot of personality. It's a mix of old (Three Graces, Albert Dock, Liverpool Cathedral, little English houses) with the super modern (Liverpool ONE, Chavasse Park, new developments) and the people are really super friendly, though if you come across someone with a really thick Scouse accent, it's a bit harder to understand. I certainly heard some people that reminded me of Brad Pitt's character in Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels. However, when I've been alone in London, people seemed to pity me or think it was weird. Not so in Liverpool. Nobody seemed to think twice of it, though they were first surprised. Maybe it's because they get so many crazy Beatles fans coming by themselves, ha.

On Wednesday, I took a Fab Four Taxi Tour thinking that because I was by myself, they'd probably stick me with a group of two or three other people. Nope. I got a private tour all by myself! My tour guide, Alan, picked me up at my hotel at exactly the time I had requested and we drove all over the city. He was extraordinarily knowledgeable and informative and not just about Beatles things. We talked about how the city was a European City of Culture last year, how it changed a lot of things (real estate prices, for example), what the city is really like. We went everywhere: John, Paul, George, and Ringo's childhood homes, Brian Epstein's apartment where he let John & Cynthia stay after they married, Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, the place where John & Paul met for the first time...It was really a pilgrimage of sorts for any Beatles fan and it really gives you a new perspective.

After the tour, I did the Beatles Story Museum, which long story short, is not worth it if you're a hardcore fan. Nothing new was presented. Afterward, I went to the Cavern Club. The original Cavern Club was torn down years ago, but a few doors down is another Cavern Club that recreates the original. Admittedly, it was a bit strange to go alone and have a beer by myself since it was the first time I've ever been to a bar without anyone, but I chatted to a guy old enough to be my dad who worked for the Conservation Society (or something along those lines...preserving buildings in Liverpool). He was also alone, but seemed to have had a bit much to drink. But the anonymity of talking to a complete stranger and leaving it at that is one of the thrills of traveling alone...these acquaintances you make for about an hour or two and leave it at that.

However, being in the Cavern Club, or a reproduction of the original, was really exciting. I could just imagine how sweaty, stuffy, smoky, and loud it must've been. Sitting in the corner, I could imagine the Beatles on stage as the Quarry Men with a gaggle of girls in front of them, screaming their support and encouragement. Today, there's no smoking allowed (as in all English bars) and the place is filled with mostly picture-taking tourists eager, like me, to experience what it must've been like. Instead of the Beatles (or Quarry Men) on stage, there was a John Lennon impersonator dressed with the "New York City" shirt and "granny glasses" singing Beatles and Lennon songs acoustically. He did a pretty good job and looked the part, except for the fact that he had a beer gut and was a little heavier than John ever was (at least based on pictures I've seen, even in comparison to his "fat Elvis phase" during the filming of Help!.) Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and being with oodles of other Beatles fans belting out tunes and drinking beer.

The only thing I hated about Liverpool was the fashion. I'm not sure if this is just in Liverpool or if it's taking over England, but dear God, the 80s are back in full force. I saw sequined dresses with big shoulders, neon colors like nowhere else, animal prints in non-animal print colors (for example, green zebra stripes, dark blue leopard print), blazers with a horrible cut, girls wearing their hair big and with bows in them (I kid you not), horrible colored make-up that is very heavy, big t-shirts being worn with only leggings with stirrups. I went shopping thinking I could find some interesting clothing, and interesting is a word you could use to describe the fashion, but I would describe it more as "vomit-inducing." I really hate 80s fashion. I really hate animal prints (especially leopard print). I really hate neon. And so, sorry, Liverpool, but I hate the fashion at the moment. Terrible.

However, I know I'll be back in Liverpool someday. It's such a lovely city and the people are so open. Plus, I still need to go to the Casbah Coffee Club and see where John, George, and Pete Best decorated it and played there as the Quarry Men (Paul included of course). However, for the non-Beatles fans, Liverpool is a much more affordable city than London and has a lot to offer in terms of shopping, eating, and site-seeing. Well, the shopping options are there, but the fashion is something else entirely. Hopefully that'll change. Otherwise, it was a well-needed break from Germany.

And here are a few other pictures that I though were relevant for the trip or that I liked, though you can see them all on my Flickr set:

The walkway on Albert Dock along the Mersey in black & white

A statue of Billy Fury, another famous Scouser, at sunset on Albert Dock

Me at Strawberry Field, or what remains of it

The place where John & Paul met for the first time.
A plaque on the wall commemorates the event that changed history.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Visiting the Troops in Landstuhl Medical Center

Although I've lived here for three years already, there's always something new to experience, even if it has to do with my own country. On July 18, I went down to Kaiserslautern with some fellow members of the Democrats Abroad to visit the soldiers in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. We wanted to do it to show them our appreciation for their sacrifices and hard work that they've done, plus it's always fun to spend the day with some fellow Americans.

Nine of us went down and I was the only one who had ever been on an American base before (I found this strange, but then again, I never know what to expect from people anymore). I think it might've came as a surprise that security is so tight even for American civilians trying to get on base. Our guide, Staff Sergeant Griffin, had been on call because a plane full of soldiers had arrived earlier in the morning at 1 a.m. By the time we got to the base at around 1:30 p.m, she was obviously exhausted but nonetheless cheerful and informative.

We got a basic but in-depth introduction from a Navy Sergeant Griffin (no relation to our guide) who informed us of the inner workings of the Landstuhl Medical Center. To my astonishment, the majority of soldiers are not there due to "battle injuries" (gun shot wounds, being burned after an explosion, etc.), but because they got sick on their deployment or because they have regular every day injuries (breaking an arm playing football, dropping a pan of hot oil or something while cooking, etc.). Landstuhl is also the first stop for anyone "down range," that is, in Iraq or Afghanistan, though people stationed in other parts of the world (the Balkans, eastern Europe, Africa) may also end up there. If soldiers are well enough to be transferred, they won't stay in Landstuhl long; the majority only stay for two or three days up to fourteen days and then are brought to hospitals in the States. If they recover (from illness, for example), however, they will be sent back to their place of deployment.

We then got a tour of the facility itself and it's no different from any other hospital you would see in the U.S. They even have a maternity ward! OK, maybe there were a few obvious differences, like the fact that many of the people walking around have some sort of camouflage clothing on. Even some of the doctors and nurses worked in camo-scrubs. Additionally, there were some signs that were in both German and English, but for the most part, it's not super noticeable. The hospital also didn't have a very hospital-y smell to it and frankly I don't know why that is. But the cafeteria served American food, there was a convenience store with American goods, even the vending machines only accepted dollars. (We actually had to ask Staff Sergeant Griffin if she had any extra dollar bills since none of us had any on us and some people were dying to get to the Reese's Pieces.)

The highlight though was being able to talk to some of the patients. I had the opportunity to speak with two soldiers: an older man suffering from pancreatitis and a young 19-year-old suffering from pneumonia. Both had been stationed in Afghanistan; the former had been in Landstuhl only a few days and could barely get any sort of food or water in his system and the latter had just arrived the morning we got there. What was really interesting was that both soldiers were really sad, even disappointed, that they couldn't be in Afghanistan. They felt that they were actually helping the people there and making a difference. The first soldier's job was to help locals get electricity (I think) and the second searched for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Though the jobs were quite different, both soldiers believed that they were helping improve lives in Afghanistan little by little and that the media's portrayal of the situation focused too heavily on the negative. And they're right: why couldn't the media focus more on the positive aspects? The obvious answer is that nobody cares about good news and that it doesn't sell; however, I think it would really give people a different perspective of things if we got these personal stories out there.

The soldiers seemed to be appreciative of our visit and bringing them (German) chocolate and toiletries seemed to brighten them up a little bit. We also thanked the nursing staff for all that they do and they were really excited to get some chocolate as well. It was truly a perspective-changing experience to know that soldiers aren't going there for mostly battle wounds at the moment; the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are not nearly as bad as we think they are. The soldiers were also just glad to know that there were people in the outside world thinking of them and that they haven't just been forgotten (especially since the withdrawl of American troops from Iraqi cities). I think it's really important for their morale to know that and it's quite obvious from the fact that everyone who was there when President Obama visited in June was completely pumped to talk about the experience. It wasn't even when he had been in Germany when he went to Buchenwald with Angela Merkel; it was a separate visit with no media, no cameras, not even the remotest hint of planning. It was simply just to visit the troops and say thanks. And because of the way it happened, I think it really made an impact on the soldiers.

Besides visiting soldiers who were confined to the wards, we also had the opportunity to visit a little building run by the USO. There, soldiers who could move around and get around on their own could watch movies, play on XBoxes or Wiis, play cards, cook, check their email, video record themselves reading a book to their children, read books, or call home. Essentially, it's to make the soldiers feel a little closer to home while being away. We donated a poker set and the volunteers were so excited because they could now hold a Texas Hold 'Em tournament with more people. It was really wonderful to see what the USO does for our troops to make them as comfortable as possible, so if you want to do something for our troops, check what the USO needs...they always could use something!

The last thing I want to say about the Landstuhl visit is that it really did change a lot of our perspectives. The wars (missions, jobs, whatever you want to call it) in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from over and there's a lot of work still to be done. Though the events don't make really big headlines like they used to, we can't forget that people are still over there risking their lives trying to improve the lives of others. Normally I don't like being super political with my blog, but I think it's something we really need to be more aware of.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Free Music: The Rheinkultur Festival in Bonn

July 4th weekend was the Rheinkultur Festival in Bonn, which is one of the biggest free open air festivals in Germany. If you want to see a full list of bands, you can see it here. I went with Christian, his friend Nils and his brother Titus and met up with Felix, Claudia, and Freddie. Because the festival was free, the crowd was an incredibly colorful motley of people: parents with their baby carriages (no joke), teenagers, older people, punks, wiggas, skaters, hipsters, techno enthusiasts, etc. Additionally, people were more willing to spend money on beer and food, as well as not staying for the entire length of the festival. It was probably very good exposure for any of the bands that don't have a huge following and probably just plain fun for any of the more popular bands. The only band I actually knew was No Use for a Name and we didn't actually stay for them since we needed to drive back to Düsseldorf. For a free all-day music festival, I had a few observations.

First, each stage was pretty much divided up into genre. The blue stage was probably the most diverse with more mainstream hip-hop and some rock, the red stage mostly appealed to the alternative/punk crowd, the green stage was for jazz enthusiasts (I think...we didn't go), the "Tanzberg" was for techno junkies, and the last little stage was definitely for hip-hop and rap people. Because the stages were divided, the types of people were also quite obviously divided through fashion. For example, the techno stage had all half-naked people dancing around in some sort of trance, whereas the hip-hop stage was pretty much just a bunch of wiggas with their flat-visored baseball caps, oversized t-shirts, and low-hanging pants. I don't want to just describe stereotypes, but really, that's what it was. Additionally, it was also funny because you could almost see or know what drugs were being taken at each stage. The red stage's drug of choice was most likely just alcohol, perhaps with speed, the Tanzberg stage was most certainly ecstasy, and the little hip-hop stage was quite obviously weed. Because the blue stage was the most diverse stage, you couldn't really say one particular group of people hung around there and therefore, the drugs there were also probably a mix.

Another observation is the sheer number of parents that brought small children with them. We definitely saw several baby carriages and parents carrying their kids in their arms. Maybe a stupid question, but seriously, who brings babies and small children to music festivals? I suppose the answer lies in the fact that it was free because otherwise, I would think no parent in their right mind would pay to bring a kid to a music festival. However, despite the fact that it was free, I personally wouldn't want to schlep my kid all over the place on a hot day where there are lots of inebriates. Not only that, I would think it would be tedious bringing a little person around from stage to stage. At some point, I'm sure they will just say they've had enough and you certainly can't force a child to do something like you can force your friend (then again, some friends are like 5-year-olds anyway.)

Oh and my last comment is about the picture above...In Germany, it's actually illegal to jaywalk/cross on red. People will yell sometimes yell at me if I cross the street without waiting, especially if they are a) old people or b) parents with their children. I've gotten old people yelling at me saying that young people are a disgrace to society. With parents, I get that I'm a bad person because I cross and that the kid shouldn't follow what I do. They shouldn't follow what I do anyway because I'm a stranger, though, right? However, in Bonn, they have these signs all over the place: "Nur bei Grün den Kindern zum Vorbild." A rough translation would be, "Only on green. Be a role model for the children." We were all laughing at this because, hey, don't cross on red because it's illegal, just don't cross on red because you should be a role model for kids. These are the things when I think to myself, "Ha ha, I live in Germany. Only in Germany would you find something like this!"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Germans, Concerts, Soccer, & Awkward Silences

Last night I went to see The Living End in the Gloria Theater in Cologne. I've gone to a whole bunch of concerts since living here, but it only occurred to me last night that Germans turn everything into a soccer game. Well, I suppose they turn everything into a soccer game only if there is chanting and large groups of people involved. Certain cheers don't really transfer well from the soccer field (err, football pitch?) to a concert environment. For example, "Olé, olé, olé, olé, olé, olé." I'm sure you've heard it if you've ever seen or been to a soccer game, but seriously, people. How does that cheer work for a band?? It doesn't.

Additionally, Germans love to clap. I may have mentioned this before, but they'll clap to a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. Whether it's your "typical" German music, what's called Schlagermusik (here's a link to an example and you can actually hear the clapping with it), pop music, or in the case of last night, punk, clapping can be heard. Of course, they even clap in sync with each other at soccer games. I don't know what it is, but clapping is everywhere except at the university. Instead of clapping after a lecture is done, students knock on the desks. But back to last night...sure, there are points when the band encourages clapping in sync to the beat, but then other songs where there really isn't a beat to clap to, Germans manage to somehow clap. I've heard the excuse for this is that parents will clap out syllables for their kids to learn new words because German words are so long (like Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung, meaning speed limit, which is actually longer than the longest English word, antidisestablishmentarianism). So, for the word meaning speed limit, they'll clap out "Ge-schwin-di-keits-be-gren-zung." I'm not sure if that has to do with listening to punk music, but sure, why not.

What was also funny about last night that doesn't necessarily have to do with soccer is the crowd itself. It was so strange because every time the Living End would finish a song, people would clap and cheer for about 5 to 10 seconds before stopping completely. And then it'd be kind of quiet while everyone waited for the band to start the next song. I thought this was a little awkward because almost every other I've been to, people will continue clapping and cheering until the next song starts or the band says something. Even the lead singer/guitarist Chris mentioned it, saying the last time they were in Germany, the crowd was a little rowdier and noisier. Funny enough, everyone booed to this comment (I cheered because I was glad that someone said it), but I wanted to say, people, it's your own fault!

I think this might have to do with the fact that Germans are ok with awkward silences. I know as an American, it's kind of weird if you meet someone for the first time and then there's a lull in the conversation. It's almost as if you're saying, "Well, we don't have much to say to each other, so that's why we've run out of things to say. Therefore, we probably won't be great friends." Or in the case of a date, you probably think you've run out of things to say and you're not compatible. So as an American, I thought it was strange last night to have a break in cheering and clapping. It was almost as if the crowd was saying, "You're good, but not good enough for me to keep showing my appreciation for you." However, Germans are ok with awkward silences when you're talking to someone for the first time. They don't really think anything of it. I was thinking that perhaps the audience last night wasn't not appreciative, they just deemed it not necessary to have to exaggerate or anything like that (if that makes sense).

A video of The Living End rocking out.
Not sure if it was improvised, but very awesome nonetheless.

Although I've been here in Germany for almost 3.5 years, there are still things I will never quite get and will still laugh at. I suppose as much as I am well-integrated (or like to think so, at least), there are still things where I'm super American.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Asia Trip Week 3: Singapore

The final leg of our trip was in Singapore where we stayed with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in the heart of the city near River Valley Road. Considering that Beijing had been hardcore culture and Hong Kong hardcore shopping with a touch of culture, Singapore was a week of relaxation and enjoying the sun (which we don't have too much of in the winter in Germany).

The last time I was in Singapore was in 2000 as a 15-year-old that didn't eat much besides typical American cuisine. This time around, I was psyched to try (almost) everything. I still don't eat seafood at all, but we went out with my aunt and uncle to get some Sri Lankan crab and other seafood for Christian. I got some tofu and lamb instead which was also delicious. One day we went out for lunch at a hawker market, which is very typical Singaporean. It's pretty much like a an outdoor food court with a bunch of little food stalls serving various dishes between $3 Sing and $10 Sing (about 1.50€ and 5€). I got some laksa, which is best described as a curry noodle bowl with a coconut milk based soup, but Christian, my aunt, uncle, and their friend Robert got a whole slew of other dishes: oyster omelet, crispy pork, some noodle dish, some sort of sandwich, and Singaporean shaved ice which is a hell of a lot brighter than American shaved ice.

Singaporean shaved ice

Some stalls at the hawker market

One day we also went out for high tea at the Shangri-La Hotel. I think I had been there 9 years ago on my second trip to Singapore, but again, I was more keen this time around to try different foods. My aunt said that you could definitely see signs of the recession because the buffet there was scaled back a bit. Additionally, there weren't very many people there in general, whereas a year or two ago, it would've been packed.

We did some typical tourist things for Singapore: the Night Safari, the Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, a day at the beach on Sentosa Island. The Night Safari was probably a highlight because we saw tons of animals prowling around. The last time I had been to the Night Safari was back in 1994 when it had just opened. I remember Lannie and I were more fascinated by the geckos at the tram stations than any of the animals because a lot of the animals weren't actually visible (kind of like the dinosaurs on the dinosaur tour in Jurassic Park). Fifteen years later, the Night Safari really has expanded a lot and there were animals everywhere. I also really liked how they urge visitors to be mindful of wildlife and how they are trying to get people aware of threatened and endangered animals. I think Jurong Bird Park also expanded in comparison to the first time we were there 15 years ago, and again, the park is done really well and for the most part, the animals have enough free range or run around free (er, fly around).

It was a nice week being able to relax and enjoy the sun and recharge our batteries. We also did a little shopping (more like Christian did), went to the movies and saw Fanboys, and basically, enjoyed our last week of vacation. Though it was my third time visiting, I still think I couldn't live in Singapore because of the climate. It's still hot and humid and probably will always be and it's just not my favorite climate at all. If you want to see more pictures from Singapore, you can see them as a Flickr set here. (And there are a lot of food pictures!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Asia Trip Week 2: Hong Kong, China

I've been really terrible about updating my blog about what happened on our Asia trip...but here's what happened in Hong Kong:

We stayed with my friend Derek (who I think I actually starting talking to more post-college than during) in the heart of the city, Causeway Bay. The first impression of Hong Kong was that it is definitely more westernized than Beijing and the people are more, well, sophisticated. I got the feeling that the majority of women there only wear heels and rarely wear flats and definitely not sneakers (even ones that might be considered "fashionable" like Converses). Derek's guess was that the women are short and therefore feel like they need to compensate for their height deficiency. Additionally, the women are just plain fashionable and I felt out of place in skinny jeans and a black t-shirt, which in most other places is just kind of neutral. Not in Hong Kong. The men there aren't noticeably different than in western countries, but in comparison to Beijing, men weren't spitting on the floor everywhere. Lastly, in terms of sophistication, everyone there has the newest, sickest, most modern cell phones possible. Christian and I thought that cell phones there are more of a status symbol than anywhere here in Germany. The iPhone is everywhere and most likely all are cracked, but cell phone technology seemed more prevalent in HK than it did in Beijing.

I really liked Hong Kong because I felt like it was one of the few places on Earth where I felt like I truly fit in, in terms of way of life. It's this strange mix of Chinese and Western culture and the majority of Hong Kong people speak a mix of Cantonese and English. So if I didn't know a word in Cantonese while speaking it, I just threw it out in English, but people didn't hesitate or give me a second look. The attitude was more, "Sure, whatever, I get what you're saying." For example, we got ice cream at Ben & Jerry's and I know how to say, "I want one..." but I didn't know how to read or say the flavor (coffee, coffee, buzz, buzz, buzz). I just said, "Ngoh yiu yut goh coffee, coffee, buzz, buzz, buzz." And it worked. (And I apologize if my Romanization makes no sense to anyone who can actually read the Romanization of Cantonese.)

The symbol of Hong Kong at a flower show in Victoria Park

Additionally, I started picking up words and phrases really quickly and making connections between things I had never done before. For example, everywhere you go, there are warnings to mind the gap, mind your head, mind the wet floor, etc. In Cantonese, they just say "siu sum" which I always thought to mean "be careful," which it does. However, translated literally, it means "little heart" and I hadn't associated the words "siu" with little and "sum" with heart (which is also the same "sum" as in "dim sum"), even though I know both "siu" and "sum." I'm not sure if my explanation makes any sense whatsoever, but I've never thought about what "siu sum" literally meant. I guess the best way to explain it is the word "Frühstück" for Germans. It means breakfast, but the two words "früh" and "Stück" mean "early thing," but Germans never think of it as an "early thing," just as "breakfast."

In terms of tourism, Hong Kong doesn't have nearly as many historical and cultural sites as Beijing. Notable things were the Victoria Peak (where all the British colonists went when the heat got unbearable because it's cooler there), the Tian Tan Buddha run by the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, and some of old colonial buildings leftover from the British. A lot of people say that the New York skyline is impressive and don't get me wrong, it is, but the Hong Kong skyline keeps on going for what seems like forever. We went up to the Peak at night and the skyline is really a sight to see. There aren't really words for it, so I'm just posting a picture.

We also went to HK Disneyland (which is also out on Lantau Island) for a day because I've been to the two in the U.S. and the one in Tokyo, so I figured, hey, I just need to go to Euro Disney and HK Disney to have been to all of them. The park was rather small and we did it in a half day, but it was still fun and just nice to be able to not really do anything super intense. I actually convinced Christian to ride Space Mountain (which is more modern than the Space Mountain in Orlando). He doesn't like roller coasters at all and when we got off, his hands were shaking and he just kept saying, "Nope, I am NOT going on it again!" HK Disneyland is definitely more for little kids than it is for people of all ages like Disneyworld in Orlando and I don't think I'd go back.

The main thing to do in Hong Kong, however, is shopping. Hong Kong people love to shop and an attestation to this is the copious amount of malls and stores. We did a good amount of shopping ourselves in some outlets out in Tung Chung, around Causeway Bay, and the Times Square Bazaar. When we went to the Times Square Bazaar, there was an outlet sale of Diane von Fürstenberg and Kate Spade stuff, so I got some really good deals on some DvF dresses. However, there were these "bazaar" sales all over for HK. We also went to one for "young fashion," where they had stuff like Miss Sixty and Carhartt (the fashionable stuff) for cheap. If you ever go to Hong Kong, you just need to look out for signs for them.

The Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak

The other thing to do in Hong Kong is eat. We had dim sum a lot because it's not readily available here in Germany, plus it's fun just to see the carts go by and order what you want. There were some restaurants where you have to order everything on a piece of paper and it'll be brought out, which for me was sometimes difficult because I can't read anything. I know in one restaurant I told the waiter in Cantonese that I can't read Chinese and he laughed in his puzzlement. That day, Christian was also sick and didn't eat anything, so I ate three little plates of the dim sum and 3/4 of a noodle dish by myself. The same waiter proceeded to tell me he was super impressed about how much I ate and wondering why Christian wasn't eating. He asked if he was a picky Westerner, to which I told him what was wrong. And all in Cantonese. Again, I was impressed about how much I could say and understand.

We also went out to Macao (also spelled Macau) on our last day. It was really crowded leaving HK and went by boat. The ride was about an hour and once we got to Macao, we had to go through Macanese customs. All I can say is: What a pain. We waited in line for an hour and had to deal with mainland Chinese shoving everyone and getting into fights with the Hong Kongers about who was in line first, etc. Once we got to the city, we went to see São Paulo's Cathedral (or the remains of it) and the old Portuguese fortress at the top of the hill. But other than that, the only other thing to see in Macao are the casinos (useless for us since we don't gamble). The city isn't exactly what I would say pretty. There are corners where there is a clear mainland European influence as opposed to Hong Kong and everyone has a scooter like a Vespa, but really, Hong Kong is much better and more interesting.

I think all in all, Hong Kong is definitely a place where I can imagine living and definitely more so than Beijing. It's a high-paced city like New York and we were lucky to have good weather. It's not overly expensive (though in comparison to say, Berlin, it is), the quality of life is good, and it has a lot to offer for the people who live there. Here are more of my Hong Kong/Macao pictures on my Flickr page.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Asia Trip Week 1: Beijing, China

During the month of March, Christian and I took a three week vacation to Asia and the first stop was in Beijing, China. Rather than detailing everything we did since that can be found on Wikipedia, I'm just going to write my impressions of each place. In Beijing, we stayed with my friend Zach from college, which was really great since he was able to show us places where we wouldn't normally go and ordered very local dishes. The first thing he actually did was give us a roll of toilet paper, saying, "First rule of living in Beijing: Always have a roll of toilet paper with you. You're going to need it and you'll be grateful that you have it." This wound up being very, very true and we were thankful that he had given us the tip. Many of the public restrooms don't have toilet paper in them at all, even at some of the more touristy spots.

Our first day was mostly dealing with bureaucracy and getting the correct paperwork to register at the local police station, saying that we were residing with a friend for a week. All visitors to China are required to do it, but if you stay at a hotel, the hotel usually does it for you. Afterward, we walked around a little bit around his neighborhood where there are a lot of embassies, as well as Russian businesses. It was interesting because where he lives is almost like Little Russia; the Russians are the biggest minority in Beijing and all of their businesses have Cyrillic writing on them. We decided to take the first day easy since we were jet lagged, but it was also good just to get a sense of what the city is like.

The next day, we woke up early and went out to get breakfast with Zach. He got us these things called "jian bang," which was a crepe-like thing with (maybe) hoisin and a spicy sauce on it, a crunchy bread thing, an egg, some sort of seeds, and cilantro all freshly made and wrapped up for a mere 6 RMB for the two of us, about 0.60€. It was so delicious and cheap that we ate this almost every morning and realized that Zach was right: eating out in China is so cheap that it's not worth it to cook for yourself. The three of us could go out and eat a full, well-made meal for about 100 RMB (about 10.80€) and that would be considered on the expensive side. Most of the time when we ate with Zach, it definitely cost less than 100 kuai (that's like saying "bucks" or "quid" in China) and we of course had no qualms about it.

The highlight of being in Beijing was probably Wednesday when we went on a hiking tour with the Beijing Hikers to the Great Wall, Jiankou to Mutianyu. Zach works for the company and suggested we do it, even if the tour was rated a level 4 (more difficult). I had brought my running sneakers for the occasion, and man, was I glad! We started out in a small village, hiked up the side of a mountain (or extraordinarily steep hill) where we had some great views of the surrounding area, and finally reached the Great Wall that was about 1100 meters above sea level. The part of the Wall where we began was completely unrestored, overgrown, and wild with trees and grass poking up between the crumbling bricks. After taking a break at a lookout, we hiked along the Wall to a part called Ox Horn's Ridge that was super steep, almost a 90º angle, then had to climb down the ridge. To say the least, it was good that we had hiking sticks from the Beijing Hikers, though they weren't much use on the way down because the steps were worn away and it was more helpful grabbing onto sides of the crumbling Wall (I slipped and fell on my butt). At some point, we finally reached a restored part of the Wall called Mutianyu which made things a lot easier, though there were still tons of stairs to climb down.

Along the restored parts, there were locals selling drinks to tourists, consistently asking, "Beer? Coke? You want drink?" One man stopped us, asking where we were from, and Zach, as tour guide, conversed with him. The old man asked specifically where Christian's from and laughed upon finding out he is German. He said that Christian looked too "stupid" ("saw" in Chinese) to be American like the rest of us there at the moment because he didn't look like he would vote for Bush. It turned out that the old man was a Bush supporter because he believed Bush did a lot of good things for China, whereas Obama wouldn't be good for the country. So to him, Christian didn't look smart enough to vote for Bush.

By the end of the 12 kilometer (8 mile) hike, our legs were tired and we were hungry for lunch. Everyone paid to take the tobaggan down the mountain, which was super fun. I tried to make a video of part of the way down, but at the same time, I didn't want to be so involved making the video that I would miss the ride. Afterwards, we took a short bus ride to a small restaurant still in the countryside where we had everything pre-ordered for us. Though the restaurant was outside and very unassuming, the food was great (not to mentioned included in the price of the tour). I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Beijing to do a hike with the Beijing Hikers because it was something we wouldn't do normally and we saw things we wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Other than that, Beijing is at times a modern time city where it's a free-for-all with traffic, but at the same time, still sort of backwards. Then again, "backwards" is a bit subjective. For example, I had been told that little kids run around with slits in their pants so that they can urinate and defecate easily in the street when necessary. I thought this couldn't be true, but we saw this in action at the Summer Palace when a little boy with said slit was allowed to pee on a tree in the middle of the path. Additionally, squat toilets are common, which I have no problem with. It's when there is no privacy between the holes in the ground that's problematic. Even worse is when there are stalls with doors on them and then women pay no regard to the doors, squatting down and going. I was appalled that this actually happened, but their attitude towards this sort of privacy is completely indifferent.

Beijing is also very polluted and we were lucky to have good weather while there. There were one or two days when we couldn't see buildings in front of us because of the smog, but when we looked directly up, the sky was blue. The day we went to the Forbidden City was incredibly windy, which made visibility very clear, but also the day was really, really cold. I got a bit of a sore throat from the air, as well as a rash from the undrinkable water. Though it sounds much worse than it really was, it's apparently normal when people move to Beijing and get a throat infection within the first month of living there. All in all, however, the city was definitely incredible to visit and there is so much cultural stuff to see. The food was great and cheap, the people friendly (though they tended to laugh once they figured out I couldn't speak Mandarin), the public transportation easy, and in general, the city was also cheap by western standards.

And, as I said earlier and because people often say that a picture is worth a thousand words, you can check out the 365 pictures from Beijing I took as a set on my Flickr account.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Wetten, Dass...The Ultimate TV Show

Anyone who's ever talked to me about German television has heard of Wetten, dass... You can read about the first time I saw it here. Long story short: It's this crazy show with weird talents that celebrities bet on and it's on once a month. It's also the most popular TV show in German speaking countries here in Europe. I've been applying to get tickets for the show ever since I got back to Germany with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program, even if the show was being taped in cities like Mannheim or Leipzig, where I have no connections.

I finally got tickets for last night's show here in Düsseldorf, where the guests were Jennifer Aniston & Owen Wilson promoting Marley & Me, Boris Becker and on-and-off-girlfriend Lilly Kerssenberger, the Oscar winner for best animated short Jochen Alexander Freydank, and German actors Heike Makatsch, Andrea Sawatzki, and Heino Ferch. The musical guests were some band called Reamonn, German comedian Hape Kerkeling as his (female) singer-character Uschi Blum, Duffy, and Oasis. Christian and I had seats in the third from last row, but I was nonetheless super excited to be there.

The first bet was a woman who said she could recognize which of her 30 dogs was drinking from a bowl solely from the noise the dog makes when drinking. She only had to name five dogs, but Owen Wilson said she wouldn't be able to do it. Because she could, he had to eat a dog biscuit and split it with Jennifer Aniston. She kept insisting, "But I said she could do it!" Host Thomas Gottschalk's reply was simply, "Well, you're a team, so too bad, you have to eat the half." Only on German television could you get an American celebrity to do something like that! The entire time that the two were there, Jennifer Aniston kept looking around in disbelief (like the most American celebrities do when on Wetten, dass...) At one point, Thomas Gottschalk actually just said to her, "See? This is what we do on German television...every week!" To say the least, she looked shocked, confused, and in disbelief. It was pretty amusing.

The highlight of the night had to definitely be the Außenwette (outside bet), which was held on one of the runways at the Düsseldorf Airport. The bet was that while a man rode his motorcycle on the back wheel, his partner could change the front tire. I've been watching the show for about three years and I have to say, this had to be the best outdoor bet that I've ever seen. Check out the video:

The motorcycle weighed around 400 kilograms if I recall correctly and to say the least, definitely one of the most dangerous bets I've ever seen.

If you want to see the highlights of the show, you can go to the ZDF Wetten, dass... site. The show lasted three hours, though it's usually only scheduled for two. It was certainly a good time, but considering the cost of the tickets (30€ per person) how early we had to get to the Messe where they were taping and then the show time itself, I don't think I would go again.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Karneval: Round 3

In a way, holidays are a good way of keeping track of how long I've lived here in Germany. This past weekend was my third Karneval, though admittedly I don't think my first one will ever be topped. I also finally bought a costume (flight attendant), so I guess it will be my costume for years to come if I end up staying here in the area longer.

To say the least, Karneval has certainly lost its appeal to me. It's not as exciting as it was the first time around and in fact, I actually think it's really stressful having to get dressed up and party for five days straight. (I guess this is perhaps a sign of getting older, as well.) Oddly enough, I still don't know any songs except for Viva Colonia, which is actually only sung in Köln. It'd be practically blasphemous to play that here in Düsseldorf (imagine someone screaming about how great the Yankees are in front of Fenway Park in Boston when the Yankees aren't playing). However, it's nice now that I actually live here because if I get fed up with the drunken costumed crowds, I can come home by myself and be left in peace.

Though I didn't really celebrate Karneval last year, I have definitely noticed a change between my first one and this year. Some of our friends, Christian, and I stood at the same Platz that we did three years ago, but it was much quieter this year. There wasn't nearly as much singing and there weren't any speakers blasting traditional Karneval music. As a joke, I said, "Ha, it might be due to the recession," but then I thought about it, and perhaps that really is a reason. In Germany, if you want to play music in a public space (ie: a club, in the street), you actually have to pay for the rights to the music. If you don't, you may end up paying huge fines. I'm not exactly sure how the law works and how they check it, but I could imagine that with the economy the way it is, whoever usually sponsors the music might not have been able to afford it this year.

Another difference is attitudes towards American politics. Three years ago, we were in the middle of President Bush's second term and to say the least, he was not seen in a positive light. Here's a picture from 3 years ago that I also posted on my first blog entry about Karneval:
As you can see, President Bush is depicted as an ape holding a sign that says "Evolution ist eine Irrlehre," or "Evolution is heresy." Obviously, this was making fun of Bush's association with the religious movement in the U.S. and the desire to teach creationism in our public schools. It doesn't help that Bush is shown as something that hasn't evolved. (As a disclaimer, this does not reflect my political views whatsoever, I'm just giving my analysis of it.)

This year, I wasn't expecting anything different. I was actually thinking that there would be a float mocking Obama, whether for his appointment choices and the tax problems that his appointees have had, or for the stimulus package. To be honest, that's probably a little too deep into American politics, but I wasn't disappointed; this float was in the parade:
What a difference, right? I mean, Obama as an angel with his campaign slogan written on the wings?! Not to mention that there was a smaller angel with the EU flag on it behind Obama with the words, "We too!" on it (You can see a picture of that here). It's as if we're being welcomed back to the world with Obama as our president. But Obama as an angel? I suppose one could say that I'm looking way too much into the meaning of these floats, and I do realize they are supposed to be satirical, but I feel like there is always some truth to it.

On the less analytical side of Karneval, it was more interesting this year because I know more people than the past two years I've celebrated. And when I say "more people," I mean Germans who have celebrated Karneval since their births. It wasn't as if I was an outsider observing this tradition; I was actually there to celebrate with everyone. Though I do have to say it was pretty funny on Thursday night when I went out with Christian and his friends and one of my friends, Alison. Alison had the same flight attendant costume as I did, but just in a different color. We had decided independently that we wanted to be flight attendants, but we got the costumes together. Anyway, it's also really funny because Alison is Filipino by heritage and she's from a town only 15 minutes away from my hometown. When we were in this club/bar, there were guys coming up to us thinking we were alone and trying out pick up lines like, "I like Singapore Airlines!" and "I've been to Hong Kong; it was a great city." It's like, "Uhh, ok, great?" It certainly looked like we were by ourselves since we were dressed up the same and we're both Asian, but honestly, what kind of pick-up lines are those? Oh well. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera on me to take a picture of Alison & me as flight attendants, but I think Alison had her camera, so maybe I'll get the picture from her. But back to the pick-up lines, I guess I will never escape cheesy lines like that one.

If you want to see all my Karneval pictures from this year, you can see them here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Germany & Minorities

With Barack Obama's election in November, many Europeans are asking themselves if their own countries could ever have a minority in the same position. NPR is doing a series on this European self-reflection featuring countries like France, Italy, and Germany. You can read or listen to the story about German minorities here, which I would also like to add my insight from my own experience.

One person featured in the story, the son of a German mother and an African-American father, said, "White Germans do not perceive themselves as racist at all. The idea is there are no other races in Germany. Germany is a monoracial country so we can't be racist..." To a point, I have to agree with this comment. Germans really don't perceive themselves as racist and do not quite understand the concept of "cultural (in)sensitivity" the way Americans do. The events of World War II have created an attitude of atonement, accepting what happened, and trying to come to terms with it. Perhaps this is why Germans do not see what is racist; they see what happened in the past and that they are trying to learn from it. This is all with the best intentions in mind, but perhaps this is why Germans "do not perceive themselves as racist."

Another comment is from the son of a German woman and an exchange student from Cameroon, who was born in Leipzig when the East was under Communist rule. He speaks of "rassenschande" or shame of race, and how "having relations with nonwhites — and particularly with blacks — was taboo and considered shameful to a woman's entire family." The story also mentions how "since the fall of communism, an outbreak of racist violence in the former East Germany has made it an area that's too dangerous for minorities, so Eichler won't let his children take school trips there." Luckily, I have not encountered any such problems while I was in Dresden, Leipzig, Weimar, Potsdam, or Berlin, though I can understand the fear of being in the East.

In response to biracial relationships, I can personally say that I haven't had any problems or encountered raised eyebrows. This could be due to the fact that I am Asian-American, the keyword perhaps being "American" and living in the west. However, I have seen other biracial couples here in Düsseldorf, many of them German men with Japanese women. (There are a lot of Japanese here.) I wonder if the stereotype of Asians being hardworking and college-educated has to do with this more accepting attitude of these biracial relationships, or if it has to do with the fact that it's western Germany.

There is also a lack of exposure to other cultures and thus a cultural sensitivity is not learned at school. When I look at Christian's high school yearbook, there are two Korean students (siblings, nonetheless) and perhaps one or two students from Russia, whose names make it obvious that they are not German. I know that as a kid in a very white, mostly Russian-Jewish/Italian-Catholic school, I was taunted with comments like "ching chong ching!" and "Chinese, Japanese, look at these!" I also remember one student slinting his eyes at me in the fifth grade and I went to a teacher visibly upset, who promptly scolded him and told him why that was not acceptable. I'm not so sure this would happen in schools here; the minorities probably just stick together or are invisible. Not only that, most of the teachers are probably German and probably have never dealt with many minorities either, so they themselves don't get P.C.-ness.

I can't speak for the entire U.S. because I'm sure there are places that are not as diverse as my schools were, but I learned being P.C. at a very early age. I know I had to tell Christian once or twice why he upset me with his un-P.C. comments about Asians (mostly regarding the infantile comments about what Asian languages sound like), but the vast majority of Germans don't have someone telling them things like that. I have had to explain black face to Germans and why Americans think it inappropriate (yes, it has to do with our history, but honestly, people painting themselves a different color to represent someone of a different race to me is just an absurd idea, especially when it's done to caricature) and they just don't understand why. During Karneval, I have seen people dress up as "Africans," "Mexicans," and "Asians." I put these terms in quotations because they are stereotypes: the "Africans" will wear black-face and outfits that look like they were made out of some sort of animal skin or plant, "Mexicans" are normally a Mariachi band caricature, sometimes with skin painted brown, and "Asians" with vague Asian clothing and makeup to make them "slantier" eyes. It never ceases to appall me, but Germans see it as being all in good fun and don't really mean anything.

On a slightly different note, the German-Cameroonian mentioned the often asked, "Where are you from?" and the unspoken "When are you going back?" The question "Where are you from?" is also often asked of me in the U.S., and people aren't looking for my answer (New Jersey), rather they should be asking the more fitting, "What is your heritage?" or "Where is your family from?" My first question there would be does that mean people are racist in the U.S.? For me, I just think people need to learn how to phrase their question properly. Here in Germany, people often ask me "Where are you from?" as a "What is your heritage?" question as well and I have had people not believe me that I'm American. They think that I obviously must be from an Asian country. How can I be American? I am not your white nor black American, and those are the only two types of Americans that exist for these people. For these people, understanding that people can be American and not white or black is something they have never considered. Extending this idea to German minorities seems impossible if they can't accept American minorities, doesn't it?

In the end, the question is if Germany will ever be able to elect a minority to chancellor like how the U.S. elected Obama president. My answer: Not in the near future. Racism here is sometimes subtle and sometimes not, but regardless, I really don't see a Turk becoming chancellor in the near-future. There is still even a divide between West Germans and East Germans (Angela Merkel being the first East German elected chancellor). When they can't figure out Germans from Germans, how are they supposed to figure out minorities too?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Happy 2009!

Happy New Year 2009! This was my third Silvester spent here in Germany and it never seems to get old being able to set off fireworks in the city. Christian and I went to Bonn, where his friend Felix and his girlfriend Claudia had a party. It was a small, intimate party where we did raclette for dinner (I ate something like 10 potatoes). Due to my eating tons, I was good to go in terms of alcohol, but also I didn't want to drink too much since we drove back to Düsseldorf. (Christian didn't drink anything and drove, but I hate being in cars with a ton of alcohol in my system.)

What I mostly wanted to blog about was that I finally partook in "Bleigießen," literally "lead casting." It's not actually lead that we cast, but some other sort of cheap metal. It's tradition on New Year's to melt lead (or rather, this cheap metal), then drop the liquid quickly into water. You take the lump of lead (cheap metal) out of the water, examine the shape and its shadow, and using your imagination, determine what it looks like. There's a little booklet with possibilities in it and according to what you think it is, that determines what your year will be like. Obviously it's probably as accurate as a horoscope, but nonetheless, it was a lot of fun. I had always heard of "Bleigießen" but I had never done it before this year. It was also amusing because nobody could decide if we had to do it before or after midnight. Here are some pictures of the Bleigießen:

This is Felix melting his little metal piece over a candle. Mine for some reason seemed to take forever to melt, though there were some others who took longer. At first, everyone was joking that the American couldn't do it correctly and hence the taking forever. Once other people started having difficulties, they didn't say nearly as much.

Claudia is in the background probably examining someone else's piece of metal. We decided to do the Bleigießen after midnight once we got back from setting off fireworks on the Rhein.

Here's me with the finished metal after I melted it and threw it into the cold water. I personally thought it looked like a drumstick from KFC or perhaps a jellyfish. To be honest, I don't remember what we decided it was. Not that that was super important because it's just for fun.

And then here are some pictures from setting off fireworks on the Rhein:

Agnes, Nils, & Grischa look at the firework we set off. Grischa bought a whole pack of fireworks for 6.99€ at the supermarket. Usually supermarkets start selling them right before Christmas and they're up front next to the cash register. I'm not sure if there's an age restriction, but yeah, you can set off fireworks anywhere in the city, though it seemed like the majority of people were on the riverbank.

None of these fireworks are professional. They're all set off by people. And admittedly, most of them are probably drunk. What I find surprising is that not many things seem to get burned down, nor are there many injuries. Granted, you have to be smart about it, but I think because Germans are used to setting off fireworks in the city every new year's, it's not much of a challenge for them.

Here's one of the few pictures that Christian and I took together. We hadn't bought any of our own fireworks, but it wasn't necessary since Grischa and Felix had a bunch. It was kind of cold going outside, but it's not as bad as the time I went to Times Square and waited hours in the cold. What we did was nice and we spent about 45 minutes to an hour outside, which was bearable, but nonetheless it was a relief to get back inside.

Other than that, not much else is going on over here in Germany. I start training for teaching English at Berlitz on January 19th and hopefully I'll be able to get some hours working as a freelancer. I need money and something to do. But other than finding a job, my new year's resolution this year is to keep in better touch with people and if that requires me calling people, well, so be it. I realized nobody ever calls me, so I have to call everyone else. So is life.