My Asian Mom

I squeezed past a middle-aged woman, making my way to my seat on my flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok. Som toh, Khmer for “sorry” or “excuse me”, I said, and she quickly informed me that she was Thai and not, in fact Cambodian.

Damn. Strike one for still not being able to tell the two apart.

Strike two came when she told me that in fact, she was an American citizen now and not even Thai anymore.

Lucky for me, there was no strike three. By the end of the hour-long plane ride, she had invited me to stay with her in the hotel room she had booked — free of charge. Mind you, this woman could have been my mother; for all intents and purposes over the next three days, she was.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m fairly Caucasian. I’ve never had an Asian mother (go figure), nor are any of my relatives from “The East”, unless we’re talking east coast USA. I had no idea what to expect from this small, fierce woman who had decided it was her personal mission to welcome me to Bangkok.

Through Ubon (for that was the name of my adoptive mother) I quickly learned the hierarchical state of things in Thailand. She would give stern orders to waiters and taxi drivers who scurried to carry out her every demand. Her 5-foot frame somehow commanded an astounding amount of respect from anyone behind a counter. And for some unfathomable reason, everyone in the tourism/hotel/service industry seemed to think she was actually my mother, despite the (obvious) discrepancies in appearance.

(Not the Emerald Buddha)

That’s not to say that I didn’t do my usual gingery thing and go wandering off on my own. I highly recommend the Grand Palace and its Emerald Buddha (which is disappointingly made of jade and not emerald). The optical assault of colors, patterns, mirrors, and the tinkling of bells made for a surreal atmosphere that almost made up for the fact that the palace grounds were overrun with large groups of Russian tourists. A 5-hour afternoon bike and boat excursion with Co van Kessel Bangkok Tours was also well worth the short flirtation with death by hellish traffic before reaching quieter, lush suburbs of Bangkok.

Solo-Ginger day was followed by a mother-daughter day of intense shopping in the city — where you can buy literally everything and that in 50 different colors, styles, shapes, with googly eyes or polka dots — you name it, Bangkok has it. I escaped without a huge dent in my wallet, but learned an uncomfortable bit of cultural information. You see, whether in a hotel, a shop, or a restaurant, the Thai employees gave me the distinct feeling that they were serving us. Not just waiting on us or helping us, but serving, as in “thou art higher than I on the social ladder, oh noble one”.

I have no problem accepting generosity from warmhearted givers, or even being spoiled by people who care about me (or in Ubon’s case, by a complete stranger). It was, however, unsettling to be treated as if I were somehow better than they were. After consulting my Asian mom about this cultural difference, I realized Ubon was used to it. It was simply a question of money, again the issue of ‘have’ vs. ‘have-not’.

The discomfort was temporary, however, as I was looking forward to the tranquil atmosphere of Wat Prayong…the temple where I spent a week as a Buddhist nun. Keep an eye out for the next post on meditation, monks and “My Asian Dad”, for yes,  I managed to be adopted again…

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Wanted: Eurojob for schlagfertige Dame

Thought of the day: it’s an oddly refreshing feeling when the contents of your life fit into a three-piece luggage set.

Only three days of Fulbright ETA work left, most of which will be spent celebrating the end of the school year. If there’s one thing to learn about Germans it’s that they (like my fellow Badgers) have a strict “work hard/play really, really hard” mentality. Once tasks are checked off the to-do list, it’s time to party!

After Kyra, Rick and I held a good-bye party this past Saturday I was left feeling a little peculiar as I’m the one “staying behind”. Having to repeat the fact that no, I’m not flying back to the states just yet, and yes, I do want to live in Europe for at least another year (or two…or three) made me start honing my plans for the next few months. Here’s the run-down of my itinerary as I have it planned so far:

June 19-July 8: trip through Spain and some of western France. Tentative destinations: Madrid, Sevilla, Algeciras, Gibraltar, Tangier, Granada, Valencia, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Bordeaux, La Rochelle.

July 8-August 30: au pair work in Frankfurt

August 30-October 28: trip to Indochina, i.e. Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam (and Malaysia as well, theoretically).

October 29-? Mystery.

During the summer I’ll have time to find a job that ideally will start in November of this year. I can easily see myself working as a representative for an international company in ______ (insert any large European city in English/German/French-speaking Europe).

Achtung, Achtung. Here comes the part where I ask for your help…

My experience includes public relations, communications, sales, language education, event planning, travel writing, translation and more — I’m now looking for anything that will keep me working in direct contact with people and not sitting mindlessly at a computer for 40 hours a week. Ah yes, and voilà,

my CV/resumé in both English and Deutsch.

If you or someone you know has a job/internship/project/idea that you know I could rock the socks off of, please leave a comment or send me an email (kern.ginger[at]gmail.com).

With that, I’ll just leave you with a substantial “thank you in advance!” and a note that the next blog post will probably be one of those sappy, all-good-things-come-to-an-end sob fests. You have been warned…

Jaded eyes: when returning to touristy roots is a good thing

I sometimes practice ‘metatourism’ for fun, wander around a city and watch the tourists, try to pick out the locals. In London it’s more of a challenge to spot the natives due to how inherently diverse the city is. As soon as you set foot in Zone 1 however, the ratio of cameras to people becomes virtually 1:1 and it’s practically child’s play to identify them. I split my time over the weekend into half-native/half-tourist activities, and relearned how to have fun as a gawking, pointing, photo-snapping tourist.

Days 1 & 2: Couchsurfed at an Englishman’s house 25 minutes from Victoria by tube. Learned the rules of cricket, what Brits mean when they call something a “sticky wicket“, how to give a Hawaiian massage, and contented myself with the fact that my version of porridge is authentic relative to that of the masters of porridge-making. Also: Oyster Card = ♥. I understand the momentary feeling of panic when you reach for it, can’t find it, then realize suddenly it’s just in your other pocket.

Days 3 & 4: Played ‘tourist’ with a friend from uni and her mom, neither of whom had ever been to England (it was even her mom’s first time in Europe)…

Portobello Market: chock-full of tourists. I’m fairly sure the only natives there were the shopkeepers, and half of them aren’t even English-English. My normal reaction would have been to avoid it entirely on a busy shopping day, but Emily and I decided to take the sillier route and dance on street corners, poke fun at somber-looking steel drum players, comment on artsy purses in our best British accents, etc. etc.

Covent Garden: My favorite area from my first trip to London, the theatre district! Also overrun with the average fool ready to part with any amount of money for a cute tea cup or Punch & Judy doll, but home to wonderful pubs & restaurants, cupcakeries, bookshops and plenty of stimulation for a creative mind. Em, her mom, and I shelled out £24 at the Fortune Theatre for a chilling production of The Woman in Black, a ghost story performed as a classic film noir/thriller.

Harrods: Where else could one find a tea which costs five thousand quid per kilo? We spent more time oohing over the pricey oolong than over the designer jewelry and handbags. After darting quickly through the “beauty apothecary” (sorry, all I could think of a magical, Harry Potter-inspired beauty shop) and its consultants standing with perfume bottles in hand, ready to pounce on you as techno music pumped in the background, we made it to the realm of chocolate creations and got slightly high on the heady smells of deliciousness.

King’s Cross: Platform 9 3/4. Finally, after years of waiting, my HP pilgrimage was complete. I reveled in the cliché, the pure tourism of it all when I finally had my moment at the trolley and realized that when it comes to fulfilling childhood dreams, being touristy is the best way to do so!

Bringlish

Port of Entry: Calais border crossing to Dover

English Border Patrol Agent (BPA): Where are you from?
Ginger: America.
BPA: What are you doing in Germany?
Ginger: Teaching for a year at a middle school.
BPA: And what are you teaching, exactly?
Ginger: The American language.
BPA: Oh good, if you’d have said you were teaching them English, then there would have been a real problem! (laughs)

Finally! A government employee with a sense of humor! I had forgotten what that was like…

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Crossing over, on the ferry: ordering food

Ginger: I’ll have a tea, please. (Barista leaves immediately to serve it…) Actually, what kind do you have? (Hoping for green tea…)
Barista: The milk and sugar are just around the corner. (Brings black tea.)
Ginger: (Ah, naturally.) Right, thanks. (Pays £1,40, adds sugar.)

How silly of me to think that there would be a choice

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Dover: reactions, thoughts

Dang, those cliffs really are white.

First bout of homesickness: the harbor, boats, and seagulls make me miss Lake Michigan’s open water terribly. (Never mind the fact that in my notes I wrote harbour).

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London: reactions, thoughts

*Note — I was 16 the first time I traveled to London with my family. We did the normal touristy stuff and it was excellent.*

Very old English gentlemen who remind me of my grandfather still make me smile to myself. Extra points if they’re smoking a pipe.

Very old English ladies who smell like my grandmother make me tear up, and then smile to myself.

“I laughed until I soiled my breeches.” (Film advertisement on a double decker bus) manages to sound considerably more elegant than “I laughed until I shit my pants”.

First Krispy Kreme in years, £1,20 (1.97 USD) from Tesco. So. Worth. It.

Fish and chips is still damn good — pass the vinegar!

From Metz to Mansaf

From Lyon to Metz, we whizzed past l’opération escargot going down in the lane opposite the direction we were traveling; French truck drivers were stopping traffic, driving only a few kilometers per hour, doing their part to protest the government’s increase of the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 (ohhh la, la).  Luckily, the road to Metz was clear, and in a little over 4.5 hours we were dropped off at the train station.

Again, Rick and I weren’t exactly sure where we would be able to stay that night; another guy named Julien had responded to our CS request, but could only meet up with us after 22:00, so we decided to camp out in the first place with free WiFi we could find: McDonalds.  After a couple hours of checking out CS possibilities and (as a backup plan, hostels in the area), Julien confirmed that we could surf at his place and our two remaining days in France were set.  We chilled with Julien at his extremely nice flat that night, exchanging travel stories and learning about his software job in Luxembourg.

After a wonderful night’s sleep on a very orange couch, Rick and I enjoyed the following day by frolicking (quite literally at times) around the quaint, picturesque streets of Metz.  We honestly hadn’t originally planned on going there, and weren’t expecting it to be as beautiful as it turned out to be!  For my photos, you may delight your eyes here.

We each had quiche lorraine for lunch and continued walking around the city until it was time to have yet another adventure in a French supermarket, searching for chicken andouille, okra, and other fun ingredients for dinner…this time, we had promised to make our CS host gumbo, another southern dish.  Julien really enjoyed what Rick cooked up (I’m simply the sous chef)!

Another good night’s sleep later and Rick and I were off again, but not before being good little CouchSurfers, making sure to leave Julien’s flat spotless in our wake.  We were lucky to find a 16 Euro covoiturage ride from Metz directly to Frankfurt, and left the French-speaking realm the moment we got into our German driver’s car.  It was sort of sad and comforting at the same time to not be speaking French anymore…at least now I’m confident in my conversational French abilities, both in person and on the telephone.  The whole two weeks definitely solidified the idea of Germany as “home”, since France is a very nice place, but not a place I’m completely comfortable in quite yet.

We spent the homestretch from Frankfurt to Gießen in the company of our final rideshare driver, Mahmoud, a Palestinian guy who has been living in Germany for more than ten years.  Rick and I thought we were going to be heading directly home, but after a few minutes of talking about our lives, Islam, and our travels, Mahmoud had invited us to dinner at his Jordanian friend’s apartment and we were off on another culinary adventure…

Apparently mansaf was on the menu for dinner that night, which is as delicious as it is easy to make!  I had had similar yogurt/rice-based dishes before, but never as wonderfully spiced as this.  Mahmoud and his friend (whose name I can’t seem to remember, apologies) showed us every courtesy and engaged us in hours of conversation.  Topics ranged from life in Germany from a foreigner’s standpoint (obviously resulting in very different experiences when you consider our various backgrounds), our perspectives on the “stoic German” stereotype and difficulty in integrating into German society, male-female familial/sexual relations in modern Islamic society, and how silly it is that English tea is called English tea when it is obviously not grown in England.

It was, I suppose, a fittingly interesting and spontaneous ending to an equally interesting and spontaneous trip.  Mahmoud drove us back to Rick’s apartment, we said our good-byes, and planned to invite the two of them for some American cooking in a few weeks.

I’m not really sure how to end this train of Frenchyblogpostings, but I hope they’ve been entertaining to read!  I guess I’ll just have to think of some other new trip to plan since I certainly don’t want my ratings to go down 😉

Thanks to all of our CouchSurfing hosts: Gabriel, Fred/Flore/Pomme, Eléonore/Julien, Erika & roommates, Clément, Cayce, and Julien, as well as to all of the drivers who safely transported us 2.700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and shared their life stories, jokes, food, travel tips, and good vibes with us.  The road trip wouldn’t have been as rich of an experience without you!

À la prochaine!