Perspective.

*To stay relatively sane, living and working as a non-native in Germany requires a tactical approach. The next series of posts will confront and conquer various challenges that the expat faces in this Land of Deutsch.*

To say that I experience culture shock in Germany would be a lie. Nevertheless, it’s been an interesting 6 weeks being back in a developed country after 5 weeks experiencing 3rd world/developing countries. The reverse culture shock has been considerably more fun to experience compared to the slightly stomach-churning reverse culture shock I feel whenever I go back to the US. It has me feeling a little like a sphinx with a mysterious smile on my face as I float through daily life in Frankfurt…

Visiting Frankfurt? Take a ride up to the top of the Main Tower for a good dose of perspective.

Let’s get this straight: I’m not Buddhist. I’m not enlightened (whatever that means, anyway). I’ve simply been using what I’ve learned in life/in my Buddhism-saturated travels to make my quality of life at “home” better. Perhaps my perspective is one you’ve heard before, if not, read on and employ it if you find it useful.

Float-Above-It Situation #1: Complaining

Here’s a sweeping, widely-known cultural observation for you: Germans like to gripe. Just Google “Germans complaining” and you’ll hit on plenty. From the weather to the not-always-exactly-punctual trains, to legitimate concerns about the Eurozone financial crisis, I got hit with a dark, low-hanging cloud of complaints upon reentry. The sunny Cambodian lifestyle was gone, replaced by lots of mental and actual fog. Bam — everything was serious, everyone had a problem needing to be fixed.

The real fix? Keeping the bird’s-eye view afforded by a few weeks in places that have immediate, life-threatening problems. Cliché, but functional. Why complain about how cold it’s getting in Frankfurt when the flooding in Bangkok just wiped out thousands of peoples’ livelihoods? We’re not just talking pension plans, here. Compare and contrast situations, my dear Germans, and you’ll see — life really isn’t all that bad!

Keeping an optimistic frame of mind does take effort in a country where so many are stuck in how “serious” life is. It’s been a fun little exercise of self-analysis, catching myself every time I get caught in an everyday conversation that has taken a turn to the pessimistic side. Quick solution? Give it perspective. Ask, “Will this matter in two weeks / two months / two years?” and bam! The complaint seems trivial at most. (Why is today a comic strip sound effect day? Don’t ask me). It’s amusing how quickly you can stop a snowballing pity-party by asking a polite variant of “Well, does it really matter?”; if we’re going by positive stereotypes, the highly logical German will realize if a complaint is actually irrelevant and let the issue rest.

Now, this staircase/escalator combination in Phnom Penh could have used the logic of a German engineer...

Perhaps a disclaimer is in order, now that I’ve written these scathingly offensive claims. Let it be known that I do love being in this country, surrounded by these productive, hard-working, intelligent people. I’ll just reserve the right to analyze them as they do me, that friendly American girl with big hair and a damn good German accent 😉

Backtracking to Angkor

Temple time!

2 days was enough time to explore the temples of Angkor, outside of Siem Reap (officially the most touristy place in Cambodia, urgh: the town only exists to provide tourists visiting Angkor a place to sleep/drink/eat and see some Apsara Dancing).

My best friend had flown in from Japan to do some adventuring with me and with our trusty tuktuk driver shuttling us about, Kara and I enjoyed the sunrise at Angkor Wat munching on banana bread, raided tombs (Lara Croft-style), and forded murky rivers to reach mystic temples. Here are some of the best snapshots, but do make the trip yourself — it’s completely worth it, rain or shine!

No worries

Suddenly it was the end of three and a half weeks in Cambodia.

And I still hadn’t posted about countless revelations and happenings. (For instance, that my new best friend is actually an elephant named Sambo).

And I didn’t really care. Why? I guess now, for me, Cambodia = no worries.

“No worries”, the phrase that I found myself using every day, sometimes excessively. This may have been due to the prevalence of Kiwis and citizens of Oz throwing their version of Hakuna Matata around like the rugby balls they so dearly cherish, but “no worries” seemed to be the theme of the trip. Let me be specific: Cambodian way of life is, from my limited observation, more worry- and complaint-free than any society I’ve experienced thus far. Despite incredibly low standards of living, a highly corrupt government (*cough* – did I say that? I meant, long live the king!)…yeah, they’re just happy people.

Call me cliché, but I’ve been brushing up on my Buddhism and we’re getting deep into the part about compassion. Seems like that’s really all there is to it; the Khmer people have that concept down, hardcore. Disregarding the aversion I felt when people jumped out of bushes, hotels, restaurants, garbage cans (well, not really) to try to sell me things, I appreciated that they were doing it with a genuine smile. Can we please import some of those not-necessarily-so-pearly-white grins to Deutschland? Ideally with a dollop of natural friendliness on the side? Mmmm, lecker.

Compassion helps weather storms. Which means no worries at the end of the day. And for me, that meant a whole lot of happy days in Cambodia.

Vicious Cycle

A bike ride through rural Cambodia led by Grasshopper Adventures’ Vicious Cycle Shop turned out to be 70 kilometers of rice paddies, naked children, hundreds of ducks, and sweaty (painful) fun…

The tuktuk ride back to Ramon’s place was well-deserved after returning to the crowded city streets. We were in a humid daze and had lost our butts to a state of numbness, but had gained perspective through glimpses of the rural Cambodian lifestyle.

30 km and we're not even halfway?! Time to stretch...

Capital Senses

Using five senses when experiencing something new: the best way to dive into Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.

See:
It’s hard to miss the stark contrast, PP is 3rd world with obvious touches of development gone wrong. Malls and coffee shops stand empty, no customers to keep them from going bankrupt. Markets, on the other hand, thrive. 1.5 million people, more than half of whom are under the age of 21; young people dominate the streets with their motos. Traffic insanity, colorful houses with shabby paint, decline and new construction projects are neighbors wherever you look.

Smell:
Driving through the grid of streets, savory scents of countless food stands hit you as you zoom past. Turn a corner and you get the unpleasant stench of a black river of sewer water for blocks. Market stands of pungent dried fish, grilled squid, durian fruit and exotic spices simultaneously compete for olfactory attention.

Taste:
Khmer cuisine uses fresh, tasty ingredients that combine into easy meals. Green mango salads, caramel-mango sticky rice, taro root spring rolls, “lake of fire fish”…every single taste bud activated and craving more…

Touch:
Sticky, humid skin, a small burn from the hot moto pipe, refreshing blasts of aircon, the pressure of a blind woman’s shiatsu massage. Folding palm leaves to hold amok, hands pressed together in prayer position to thank someone. Dust from a minor sandstorm irritating your eyes. Rain.

Hear:
Friendly voices: You need moto, madam? Tuktuk? A woman collecting plastic bottles incessantly squeezing  a squeaky rubber horn. Water pounding on roofs, trickling down to spatter pavement. Prerecorded sounds played by food vendors to entice your patronage. A chorus of Hello! Hello!…Small children practicing the only word they know with the blonde barang walking by. Market chatter and moto horns, more rain.

Phnom Penh: first impressions

Within the first 24 hours I’ve learned the “rules of the road” (see below), felt the awkwardness of being a “have” amongst so many have-nots, wound my way through the “Russian market”, haggled for new clothing and enjoyed the combined excellence of Cambodian cuisine (think amok and lok lac) and the company of my good friend Ramon.

Fresh off the plane from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

This ride was considerably less hectic than ones I didn’t record. Figures.

The expat bubble in Phnom Penh is a tangible sphere made more obvious by the perspective I get from behind secure gates of Ramon’s movie house, The Flicks. I look through windows and over balconies into another layer of society, we interact with the Khmer locals whenever we leave the house, but the society doesn’t afford the opportunity of penetrating the bubble as a visitor. Perhaps not even as a child born in Cambodia to expat parents. It makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I haven’t completely wrapped my head around it yet…my thoughts need more time to develop.

For now, I’m looking forward to more $5 yoga classes, $5 45-minute foot massages, $1 meal options that blow your taste buds away, etc. Life inside the bubble is really nice…

The next adventure.

Eurojob

Swanky, affordable apt in Frankfurt ✔
(I’m flat-sharing with a flight attendant, whom I met through the Yahoo! Group Frankfurt-n-Motion, a fabulous resource for expats in Frankfurt).

Life packed up neatly into three-piece suitcase set ✔

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Next up? Fly FRA — BKK, spend the cliché “One Night in Bangkok”, fly BKK — PNH the next day. Make it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in one piece. Relax.

Or not.

I’m nervous to have to rely solely on English, as my knowledge of Khmer is limited to “Hello”, “My name is Ginger”, yes/no, and the numbers 1-5. Between today and when I touch down in Bangkok I’ll get my Thai to be at a similar level or better…please/thank you are high-priority to learn.

The shortlist of things I expect or want to encounter/experience/suffer through/survive/enjoy:

^^ probably my new best friend ^^

-pick exotic fruits from the source
-sweat. a lot.
-ride an elephant, no matter how bumpy the ride
-learn to meditate
-drive a moto
-get cheated
-smile at random people and get smiled back at!

 

 

The long list is, well, a lot longer, but I’ll be using Ginger in Germany (Again) briefly as Ginger in Cambodia/Thailand. Check back for updates, and while you’re at it, keep tabs on my new personal website, www.gingerkern.com, coming soon!