Thurs 2.1.01 3:30pm (PST)
Lufthansa has some cool tech. Right now the displays hanging overhead each isle are giving out speed & altitude reading (400mph, 12,000 feet in case you were wondering. 5,657 miles to go, about 9 hours 45 minutes). They've also got these cool zooming maps showing the area the plane is flying over (the plane icon even rotates as the plane banks. I dunno, maybe this is old news... it's new to me).
The sun is setting in the Midwest. Looks like we'll be slipping over Canada & then the southern tip of Greenland.
Scwimmeste unter threm Sitz.
"Life vest under your seat."
Fri 2.2.01 11:10am (Germany)
Flying in there was a fine dusting of snow in the area around Frankfurt. I'm sitting on a bench at track 7 of the DB (German for train?). My ride to Bonn should be here in just under 40 minutes (it's an hour & 40 minute trip). It's so cold I can see my breath.
The station is an amazing mix of concrete, glass & steel. Huge. Even though I'm indoors it's gotta be somewhere between 35-40 degrees. Cars are zipping past outside. A distant female voice is making announcements that are echoing throughout the station (no idea what she's saying. Probably something to the effect my train has been cancelled...)
Fri 2.2.01 5:34pm (Germany)
I've already set my watch to local time, but the clock on my PowerBook reads 8:34am. I think I'm doing pretty well considering the time cha... zzzzzzz....
The train ride up was pretty amazing, running along the Rhine for most of the way. Turns out everything is in Rheinbach, a small town just outside Bonn. Got setup at the apartment w/ no problem. I showered earlier & am beginning to feel human. I'm writing this from the office, a very cool building about a kilometer from the apartment.
Look at me, gone metric.
Sat 2.3.01 1:41pm (Germany)
I'm alone at the office. I arrive yesterday & they've given me keys to everything, it's great.
Speaking of working alone, German toilet paper is, ummm... different. First off, it has 2 colors: pink on the outside, white on the inside. It's heavy, like the paper towels in public restrooms. (Ok, so maybe I'm sharing too much.) But according to the packaging, this stuff has vitamin E on it. In it. Whatever.
I woke up to some kids kicking a soccer ball (in the snow) across the lawn. Every time I heard a sharp smack I knew that frozen ball was making contact with kid face. Ouch.
There are 2 signs across the street from my window: one is a triangular white & red yield-type sign with a person digging a pile of dirt. The text below it reads "Schritt fahren". The other sign is more intriguing. It's a green square with a white edge. In the middle are 4 people (generic Lego people types, shown from the waist up). What's odd is at each corner of the sign is a big white arrow pointing inward towards the figures. I have no idea what the hell this sign is indicating.
Mon 2.5.01 10:00am (Germany)
Went for a long walk yesterday. Most of Rheinbach shuts down over the weekend. I found a couple of cemeteries and, get this, a Chinese restaurant. Gonna have to check that one out more in-depth tonight (the Chinese place). I tried looking over the menu, excited at prospect of Kung Pao anything, only everything's in German.
I'm in the office chugging away on stuff. More later.
Mon 2.5.01 3:05pm (Germany)
So I asked someone in the office about the green sign w/ the people & arrows... they had no clue either. The only thing they figured was that it indicated a carpool/meeting area of some sorts.
Had lunch at a nearby university. I avoided the snitzel at all costs. Turns out mad cow disease is a big thing right now, so basically no one is eating beef. I had the veggie spaghetti & am now listening to a symphony in my lower intestines.
How do you say "Does anyone have any sound-dampening acoustic tile that I can line my pants with?" in German?
Tues 2.6.01 9:45am (Germany)
So I got home from the pub last night after a few nice German brewskies. The housemate was staying at his girlfriend's, so I decided to venture once again into the mystical Freudian phenomenon known as German television. I dunno what was more sacrilegious: watching The Simpsons dubbed in German (with all the craziness of the various voices completely destroyed), or watching in silent disbelief at a dubbed Marx Brothers' flick.
Talk about a humorless vacuum. I think if I'd had about six times as many beers, and if someone had parked a leaking helium truck behind the couch, it might've approached funny. Instead it was slightly surreal, with just a hint of criminal.
(Thankfully, you can all rest assured: Who's the Boss remains unfunny, regardless of language.)
Observation #14: Germans have a "thing" about breakfast. They can't imagine anyone NOT eating it. I tell them I don't normally have breakfast (hello, I have enough problems walking early in the morning, let alone shoving silverware in the general vicinity of mein piehole) and I get this look like I just spoke some smack about David Hasselhof or something. If you truly want to fit in, I suggest you have breakfast.
Speaking of which, I gotta rant here for a moment... what the hell is up with German toasters? Lemme briefly describe them: take your typical (American) toaster, rip off the sides (including the 2 outermost heating panels), then swap out the push down lever & setting knob with a simple on/off switch.
What you basically get is bread on one side, toast on the other. And if you're not standing there watching the process (which is about as exciting as watching paint dry, or newly elected President Bush trying to wing it at the opening speech to a Lesbian Daughters of the Revolution luncheon) then you'd better like carbon toast shingles... I mean, how can a country who's auto engineering prowess is known worldwide, basically know dick about cooking bread?
And one last parting breakfast tip: the orange juice in the red box is a million times better than the stuff in the blue box.
Wed 2.7.01 10:07am (Germany)
Logged 11 hours yesterday. On the way out I was actually told to watch it, I shouldn't work so hard. We need more Germans in Silicon Valley.
Almost 16 years have passed since high school chemistry class, and I finally have a true understanding what "noble gases" are. Noble gases are farts that even though the pressure they're under is redlining to the point of almost ripping you in half in a moist, dark blossom of intestinal rupturing that would send Torquemada begging for his mommy, you still manage to one cheek sneak out the side while teetering atop some snitzel-stained IKEA office chair.
Marc, my housemate, handed me a flyer when we got back to the apartment last night. He mentioned that if I wanted some dinner & didn't feel like cooking I could order some pizza. This guy's known me for less than 72 hours... is it that obvious? There's a 15 DM minimum (about $7.50), and they'll even bring cigarettes.
Yeah, like I'm not already approaching honorary "chimney status" thanks to my noble gases.
Actually, that brings me to another weird German thing: cigarette vending machines. They're more like the machines you'd see in a laundromat than the kind (that used to be) in the back of bars. They're beige & have "Tobaccoland" written across them in thick brown letters. No, the machines themselves aren't that weird, just the placement of them.
You're walking through some quiet neighborhood, the only sound is the crunch of gravel underfoot, when you turn the corner & are greeted with a tobacco machine planted in the grass next to the sidewalk. Y'know, when I'm out power walking, trying to purge the mad cow toxins that German cuisine is most certainly filling me with, burn through the lead weight bread & thick foamed German beer... yeah, the only thing that pushes me that extra kilofuckingmeter is the sweet, pungent smoke of a Zigaretten.
Wed 2.7.01 3:35pm (Germany)
Turns out the toaster in the apartment is from the Mesozoic period (just a bit older than the primordial pudding growing at the bottom of my crisper back in SF...)
I'm laying out a product brochure & all the content is in German. It's kinda weird. Bogus "greek text" I'm used to dealing with, but not this.
"Keine Frage - die mit ein paar Mausklicks erreichbare Menge an Informationen ist in den letzten Jahren rapide gewachsen."
Fri 2.9.01 8:12pm (Germany)
I've decided to begin this entry while waiting for my Chinese dinner. So far the distance between the United States, Germany & China has been, well, farther apart than I ever could've imagined. In fact, I think the International Space Station is closer...
I was worried this place would be closed during my final weekend (it was last week), so I decided it was tonight or bust. I walked in & it was pretty full. I've got my messenger bag strapped across my back, ball cap on & my face is probably red from hoofing it over from the office (it's a trek, trust me).
A petite woman approaches me & I give the universal index finger for "single loser dining in, please..." I'm seated at a window & handed a large laminated menu with a bunch of tacky Chinese crap on the cover, and the name of the place: Tang.
So far, so good.
After scanning through the entire menu, which is in German, I'm happy to notice they've included pictures of the animals at hand: beef, pork, ahhh... sweet, sweet chicken. Friendly fowl. Beautiful bird.
Quickly dropping down the list I'm noticing familiar words: paprika, cashew, chop suey...the Chinese Food Gods have been good to this long distance diner. I put down the menu, eager to eat. The waitress descends.
"Hi, I only speak English, is that a problem?"
"Great," flipping to what's gotta be the appetizer section (it's in the front, the prices are low, and "wan tan" is in the middle of the list).
"Do you have potstickers?"
A moment passes as she's processing the question.
She nods her head disapprovingly, saying "No," and holds her hands wide apart, like she's holding a loaf of bread by each end. Could the potstickers actually be that big?!?
Fine, no problem. One down, it was only the appetizer anyway...
I flip to the chicken page of the menu. I point directly to the picture of the bird & ask in a childlike voice... "Kung Pao?"
Another moment of process. Wait... "Yes."
Right on. Everybody Kung Pao tonight!
But wait... there's trouble in this Peking Paradise... She's not writing anything down. She's watching me, wearing a distant smile, like I've got some neon green piece of broccoli jammed in my teeth. My order is not registering.
Instead, she begins to track my finger, looking to whatever I'm obviously pointing out on the menu. After realizing the disconnect, I drop down to the closest item:
#9 Hühnerbrustfilet mit Cashewnuß
Yes, cashew chicken, close enough. Set me up, sister! Right here. Come to papa.
She writes it down. Oh yes. Cashew chicken is King. She asks,
Oh yes, a drink, beer, good choice. Have I mentioned you're getting a tip more than the gross national product of some third world countries?
I point to a known kickass pils, Kolch, a golden nirvana. Liquid bliss. Entree: check! Beverage: check! And now for the piece de resistance,
"Oh, and can I get some rice?"
Her train of thought derails. It comes screaming off the tracks & slams into the back of her brow. She's blue-screened. I've crossed over into complete jibberish now. She reels back, as if I've proposed another Dukes of Hazzard reunion show.
What?!? I've come so far. Endured so much. I thought I found my salvation in the form of a Chinese restaurant in the middle of a small town in western Germany. I was given the keys to the kingdom, only to realize they've retooled the lock.
Damn that metric system!
The waitress flitters away & I'm left sitting there with my hopes at half mast. So close.
A few minutes go by when a thin pale arm reaches from behind & sets a tall beer on my table. Yeah... I'm gonna need plenty of those. Next thing to come down is a giant white plastic tray with a candle in it. Perched on top is an oblong dish of cashew chicken. At the end is a small rooster/butterfly shape made from some carrot shavings. Simon & Garfunkle muzak is humming along in the background, "The Sound of Silence". Then it arrives...
A bowl of rice.
Heaven, love, & Christmas can never be as white & pure as this bowl of rice looks right now. Perfect. I want to name each grain. I want to marry this rice. Wait a minute, I can marry this rice, I am a minister now.
It's all in front of me: an empty plate, a dish of glistening cashew chicken goodness, & a bowl of rice that puts the "wow!" in "Mao". The foreign chatter of the room melts away as I eye my prize. And it's all there: chicken, cashews, red & green bell peppers, mushrooms, carrots & onions.
All is good.
Actually, I'm eating it as I write this. The flavor is a bit on the bland side, & the sauce is a bit salty, but it's good. Damn good. I'm eating this whole plate of food. I'm licking it clean. I'm going to slide it into my bag, slip away into the night & marry this plate in private.
And after devouring most of it, my humanity is slowly returning. It's like Dorothy opening that black & white door into a world of vibrant color.
What's that?... Oh yes, there are others in here with me. Oh, that's right, they're speaking German. One fellow's voice is so deep it makes Barry White sound like Richard Simmons. If Mount Everest could talk, it would sound like him. It's so deep it might be dangerous to those around him. A lethal larynx.
Ahhhh... and after a few plates of food, a few beers, & a few more Simon & Garfunkle songs, all is good with the universe. Everything comes into focus. I'll be home soon. And even though Tang will be over 5600 miles away, it'll still only be a quick wok...
Sat 2.10.01 10:47am (Germany)
Woke up & decided an egg-cheese sandwich sounded good. I'd bought all the fixin's at the market yesterday morning. I found a skillet in the back of a cabinet... this big plate of iron that could easily be mistaken for Attila the Hun's frisbee. The bottom is a mess of rust & the last meal cooked in it. I spent more time & effort cleaning that thing than I did actually making breakfast. And a part of me knows I didn't get it all.
I think I've ingested at least a car key or two worth of iron this morning. I hope I don't set off the systems at the airport.
Sun 2.11.01 7:00pm (Germany)
Decided to swing by the office for one last post. I though I'd share some final observations:
- Germans drink Coke at room temperature.
- Typing the "@" symbol on a German keyboard is like trying to shoot pool with a rope.
- Streetlights are all on one side of the street.
- If you're going to shower in your tubs, please, install this little thing we Americans call a "showerhead".
- Parking breaks are foreign on this side of the Atlantic.
- As is the notion that leather pants are a Bad Idea.
- And who needs recreational drugs when there's German television?
I'll be entering Bay Area airspace in less than 28 hours. Before I forget... pictures!