Rolling Over

You know what they say…a rolling stone gathers no moss.

This decidedly moss-free blog can now be found at (*drum roll*) my new personal website!

gingerkern.com

You can find all the old Ginger in Germany (Again) posts as well as new posts there from now on, as I’ll keep up with blogging via my new site. Bookmark it, come on over, check out my projects and send your feedback my way!

Huge shout-out to my web programmer (and smashtastic best friend) Chelsea Tredupp. Need a freelance project done quickly and well? She’s the dame to do it.

Thanks for reading…catch you on the flip side…

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 😉

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…

Revisiting the City of Lights

Paris. There really is nothing like it…something new every time you experience it…

and with that, I’ll leave you with a lazy Friday evening picture post. If you like them and want to see the rest, all you have to do is click here. Enjoy!

Sacre Coeur close-up
You-know-what
Ossuary in the catacombs
Catacombs city carving
Garden near Notre Dame
Louvre by sunset
Tree wisdom at Jim Morrison's grave

Baby steps.

Let’s just get one thing clear: kids are crazy.

After five weeks of taking care of a 15-month-old, the idea of ever having children has taken a harsh beating. There are just too many ways those small human beings willingly, if unknowingly, try to hurt themselves. I’m glad I missed the first year of Anabella’s life…though the sleep/eat/change diaper/play routine hasn’t really changed much since then.

The good times

“Hallo attacks” — These happen to Anabella without warning. Most likely to occur on a subway or train. The word “hello” is said loudly, in rapid succession, with the presumed intent of attracting as much attention from her stoic fellow passengers of the Deutsche Bahn and/or SBahn. Attacks can last up to five minutes, until said passengers have managed to ignore her and she tires of attempting to make social contact with such asocial human beings, or until she has won over a feeble-hearted German. Hallo is also commonly said when departing the aforementioned train, as the attacks seem to disregard the changing social context of travel.

Animal abuse — A constant struggle between feline and child, the family cat is often subjected to the grabby hands of his younger ‘sister’. The usual order of things:

1. Anabella is bored. She spots her target, Sir Henry, typically deep in cat-dream-state.
2. Chuckling menacingly, she approaches her target. Sir Henry is unfazed and twitches his tail teasingly.
3. Hands outstretched, she bays a warning “Aiiii”, unfortunately missing the fact that it’s supposed to mean “gently”. (All attempts to teach her the proper way to pet a cat have been futile). Sir Henry remains asleep, though an ear might rotate slightly at the sound of his predator’s voice.
4. She grabs full-force, latching onto fur, and pulls out two tufts of black hair. Sir Henry is roused, twists around quickly and bites or scratches his attacker.
5. Crying ensues, the cat is scolded for defending himself, the concept of “Ai machen” (being gentle) is reiterated.

Repeat.

(Note: with luck, I’m able to intervene before the poor cat loses another chunk of hair…Anabella is damn quick, though, but it’s amusing to watch how she acts around him).

Toddler terrors — Over the past week, she’s learned to walk. I have to admit that it was sort of amazing, seeing this little girl that’s been crawling the whole time I’ve known her push herself up to stand on two feet and go for it. Rather wobbly at first, I think that by the time their next au pair arrives she’ll be a regular Godzilla around the house.

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A piece of advice for anyone considering being an au pair — you’ll probably get along with the kid, but before you move to another country, make absolutely sure that you get along with the parents.

They should essentially let you have your own life, i.e. not impose rules on your social comings and goings outside of your work hours (regardless of if you’re a live-in au pair), and should definitely not treat you like a servant when it comes to chores/cooking unless previously agreed on. My luck held out and my host parents have been extremely respectful and accommodating, letting me have guests whenever I want and generally keeping out of my personal life. I had the advantage of actually being able to meet the family before I decided to work for them, but if you can’t visit them personally, at least make sure to skype two or three times to make sure there’s some “family chemistry” you feel positive about being a part of.

In any case, it’s been a good experience and I’ve learned enough from it to feel ready to move on to the next thing…namely, vacation!

Shortest game ever.

I waited a grand total of two days before I got the phone call. Starting in mid-October, you can find me designing and producing all sorts of publications (similar to the one below) at the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt, Germany.

This means, of course, that more blog material is to come, as Ginger will still be in Germany…if all goes well, for a solid two years.

But wait! you say, Isn’t Ginger supposed to be in Cambodia/Thailand until the end of October?

True. I have no time-turner, nor can I teleport (yet), so I’ll be adjusting my travel plans and flying back to Europe three weeks earlier than originally planned, cutting my Asian adventure from 8 weeks to 5. Still, not too shabby.

Back to the present…though I know you’re still ogling Bill Gates on that beautiful magazine cover…

I’m a big fan of side projects. Work is work, but when work is fun, work isn’t work. Right? Well, this next opportunity seems especially well-suited to me: I’ll be translating a transcript for a humorous audiobook aimed specifically at getting Americans to learn German and I’ll likely also be doing the voice-over for one of the characters in the book. Freelancing is fun, what can I say?

Now if I could just find a snazzy, inexpensive, conveniently located place to live in Frankfurt…

The Waiting Game.

Au pair work is going well, really, it’s a breeze.  The important thing is to find a family who is accommodating and flexible, and one who doesn’t view you as a servant. I’ve been lucky to find a bilingual family using GreatAuPair.com and I would recommend the website to anyone looking for au pair work anywhere in the world.

The pros outweigh the cons: I have 20 hours of “work” per week for this seven-week period, for which I am paid Germany’s standard 260 Euro per month, plus insurance, all food and travel expenses and I naturally don’t pay anything for rent either. It’s a perfect arrangement that has allowed me to dedicate plenty of time to my real priority — the Great European Job Search.

This journey is a sort of one I hope leads me to … well … Germany. Frankfurt would be ideal. I’ve been grateful for my contacts who have helped me already to polish up a German CV and revise my American resumé to fit a more European CV style. I’m currently playing the waiting game, as I’ve already had one interview for a position that fits me very well. Press your thumbs and/or cross your fingers for me, please?

The spare time has also been enough to fill with more private English conversation lessons, which I’ve been enjoying as it means I get paid generously, tax-free, for doing something I do anyway: speak my native language. Otherwise, I have few updates (and I’m sorry that this post is more housekeeping than anything culturally interesting). My prep work for Cambodia and Thailand is still going on, having already had two of three rabies shots and a typhoid vaccination as well (all great fun, I assure you).

I’m going to Paris in a few weeks for one last European hurrah before the expected chaos of Cam/Thai takes over for a while, but other than that my travels have been slowing down. Instead, I’ve taken the time to discover and rediscover a few excellent dance clubs in Frankfurt (Cocoon and Living XXL), done a bit more travel writing that is in the process towards publication, and read four wonderful books — The Kite Runner and the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

Right now Sir Henry — that’s the family cat — is nuzzling me very intensely, so I think I’ll let him have a bit of affection for the time being…stay well!