The German Maibaum Tradition

The thrill of living in a new country is always unparalleled. Once you get a hit of this drug called travelling, you’d never really get tired of the highs it brings you. When you invest time and effort in getting past the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, the battle with unfamiliarity, the feeling of being a stranger, you will have a bucketload of endless discoveries to make. And there is no joy more fulfilling than that.

Germany has been similar to me in terms of the journey I make in every new country that I live in, but the familiarity of the process of learning – be it a new language or a local tradition you had never heard about, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

One of the most heartwarming traditions here (to me), is the Mai Baum. I went to bed on the night of the 31st, and when I woke up on the 1st of May, there were birch trees in every other garden decorated with colourful crepe paper, and a bright red wooden heart with a lady’s name on it.

I later found out that Maibaum is a tradition going back to the 16th century, and that I had just witnessed the 21st-century version of it. In the modern-day version of it, a man in love with a woman buys a birch tree, decorates it and writes her name on her heart, and then has to wait till the lady (and her family) are asleep before leaving it in her balcony or garden. They have to then guard it overnight so that other men in love with her or just mischief makers who are looking to make a quick buck steal it from where it is.

I heard that in the countryside, it gets a bit more exciting. The boy has to not only buy a tree without raising suspicion, and decorate it so no one sees it, he has to also sneak up to her roof overnight and place it there. If he is so unlucky so as to have his tree taken hostage, he has to buy it again from the treenapers!

The exciting part of it being brought to the present day is that now even girls can participate in this tradition. Every 4 years, it is the girl’s turn!

Do you have a labour day celebration like this where you’re from? I’d love to hear about it!

Hello From Deutschland

A winter sunset in Köln

I have been keeping my move under wraps for many months – partly so as not to jinx it, and partly because I was so sure I would fail. But it has happened, and I am here.

My work situation had become unbearable, and while Bangkok was great and I loved that big city, it became quickly apparent that what both of us were looking for was a bit more stability. I never thought I’d be the one to say it, seeing as I moved countries every 2 years previously. However, it just struck me that there is more to life than being a slave to a corporate during my young and best years.

The result is this gamble.

I don’t really have a job, I’m not really a student, and I can’t really tell what the next year will look like. But, I am free from a job that affected my mental and physical health, I am closer to my partner’s family, and closer to my niece, the apple of my eye.

And while winter like this is something to get used to, I am now in a unique position to consider extraordinary what most people in the blogosphere consider normal. It’s interesting to watch people’s reactions when I call something regular “exotic”.

Like this warm reception I received when I first landed here.

For those who often look at social media feeds and wonder at the big adventure that is my life, I have this to say – it isn’t. It’s gut-wrenching and soul-crushing, you don’t really get to see the blood, sweat and tears that go behind a big move. It isn’t easy, it isn’t fairy-tale like. I have had to take big risks and giant leaps. But if there’s one piece of unsolicited advice I can give you, it is this – take those risks.  You will look back on those gambles as the best times in your life.

Budget Travel – Parks

I went from travelling to England at Rs. 80 to a Pound in 2013 and Rs. 105 to a pound in 2015 so you can imagine just how quickly my savings wiped out and just why currency rates are so important to me. I am not high maintenance and I went to Tanzania with $1000 and made it work for a year (I didn’t earn a single buck when I was there). Luckily for me, I earn quite the good wage now so I’m no longer worried about the Rupee vs the World. However, till the boy gets his first pay-check, we’re living off 1 wage and this causes similar budget constraints that feel way too familiar for me.

Instead of letting that ruin our weekend fun, I remembered a trick I picked up while in the land they call Great. The sheer delight of lying in parks and doing nothing, it’s under-rated. I never realised the value of parks, having so few of them in Bangalore within easy reach. It took me the shock of seeing  shirtless old men (they come out in hoardes when the sun is out) to realise the joy of having grass under your feet. The only difference between them and me, apart from the obvious reasons, was that I enjoyed sitting under the shade of the tree while they basked proudly under the sun.

Here, everyone was in the shade so I didn’t feel like a total weirdo. A couple of cold drinks and we were set for a nice, relaxing evening in the park. And rather than wax on about how peaceful it was and how the breeze just blew the right away, I will let these photos do the talking. After the park, we went to the water garden at Em Quartier (the poshest mall in the world!). We had spectacular views of the Bangkok Skyline as well. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Benchasiri Park of Bangkok (Directions: Get off at the Phrom Phong BTS station et voila!) and The Water Garden at Em Quartier (Directions: Right opposite the park) Budget – 35 Baht for two drinks.

P.S. There are turtles and moustachioed fish in the murky water. They, apparently, like bread and corn puffs.

Turtles in Benchasiri Park, Bangkok
See? Turtles
Benchasiri Park Bangkok
The aforementioned park
Em Quartier
A giant dog terrorizing puny humans! (Art Installation at Em Quartier)
Em Quartier Bangkok
Sheep Seats (Art Installation at Em Quartier)
Em Quartier Bangkok
Side profile of Giant Dog 🙂
Em Quartier Bangkol
Inside the World’s Poshest Mall, Em Quartier!
Benchasiri Park, Bangkok
Benchasiri Park and the view of Em Quartier from the park!
Water Garden, Em Quartier
View of the Park from Em Quartier
Bangkok BTS
Bangkok Skyline and BTS
Em Quartier
The Water Garden
Bangkok
Bangkok Skyline
Em Quartier
Art Installation at Em Quartier
Benchasiri Park
Selfie Time!

We spent the rest of the evening in the pool – which, if you’re renting a condo in Bangkok is part of the deal = FREE! YAY! Hope you’ve had a great weekend as well!

Packing Essentials – Things You Should Never Leave Home Without

I am a great advocate of packing light and making do with bare necessities because let’s face it, if you wanted to travel to another country to experience all the things you love at home (re: McDonalds), then you might as well stay home. To be fair, I make it a point to try the local KFC meal just because. This is what it looks like in Bangkok.

KFC Thailand
(Expert’s note: When they say spicy, they really, really, really MEAN IT!)

Jokes aside (but seriously, the word ‘Spicy’ in a meal is a warning, not a description!), there are somethings that you should carry with you no matter how large or small your luggage space is. It has helped turn travels into journeys into unforgettable adventures and the best part of it all is that they are ABSOLUTELY FREE!

In no particular order, I give you my packing essential list.

Packing Essential #1 – An Open Mind

Bucket Cocktails

Shady Bars

Right alongside your handy travel adapter (even though being phoneless can have great perks!), bring an open mind. There will be times when you are called on to drink cocktails from shady bars in buckets, there will be times you will have to drive on the other side of the road, times when out of sheer hunger you will say yes to the man selling roasted scorpions. These make great icebreakers when you’re on your next adventure but mostly you will remember having the time of your life!

Packing Essential #2 – Patience

Zanzibar

If you don’t have an annoying sibling, find an annoying friend or go stand in the queue at Nilgiris (a supermarket that just can’t bill your products without also making you wait for 500 hours) in India. It will help you develop this great thing called Patience which is also free but you won’t believe the things it will help teach you. That delayed sky-train ride, those long hours being lost in translation, those cancelled flights, those times a terminal becomes your second home – these are things that help you live a realistic day-to-day life in a foreign country. It could lead you to holidays you never planned for – like an island trip to Zanzibar or breath-taking views because walking through dangerous hills was your only chance out. When you aren’t trying to follow in Bill Murray’s footsteps, life happens to you.

Packing Essential #3 – Greetings 101

I have always been the kind who doesn’t read much about the place or its culture till I am actually smack in the middle of living it. It is not always a good idea. There’s always a chance that somebody speaks English and will help you out, but it could just as easily go the other way. If you are like me, just observe the words that are being said in greetings. Saying hello is a big deal in all cultures and even if you speak no more than the word for ‘whats up?’, you will find your journey that much more easy because of it. It gives off the impression that you are trying (which, of course you are) and it helps you make friends with the locals which can lead to even more moments you won’t soon forget. Find a way to bond and if you can get them to smile (or laugh) back at you, you are set!

Packing Essential #4 – Manners

Tanzanian Kids

While not all rituals seem logical to you, when in a foreign country, it is good to practice your manners. They do things different two streets down from where my parents stay and yet, when I’m in their neighbourhood, I respect their way. As a guest, it is your duty to be mindful of what goes and what doesn’t. Keep your eyes open and read body language where you can. Take your shoes off where you need to, cover up where it is expected, and stand up for the anthem even if it is in the cinema. At the end of the day, good manners will take you where your money won’t go.

Packing Essential #5 – Curiosity

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This great characteristic to develop is deadly to cats, or so I hear, but great for us humans. Wanting to know what that particular shrine is, or what is down that colourful street is a great way to discover things that aren’t on a Lonely Planet Guide or on Trip Advisor. Yes, you can see and do and all touristy things that your heart desire, but there is something appealing about finding a canal and pointing and ordering the greatest dish you have ever tasted. Forget the taxi and get on that rickety boat. You never know what treasure you will find on the other side!

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Five Years Time

I’ve had a serious sit down to take stock of the past 5 years. In the same breath, so much has changed and yet so much is the same.

2010 – 2011

Zanzibar

I was in Tanzania mid-2010. I had quit my 7 days a week, 16 hours a day job that I thought was helping me “save the world” and “make a difference”. Oh to be young and naïve. My mental and physical health had deteriorated and in desperation for a change or on a whim (I can’t remember which it was) I decided not to wait for the ‘someday’ and just book my tickets to Tanzania. I decided I’d go there for a few weeks and if nothing worked out, I could just as easily come back. I stayed there nearly a year. I went in blind and made up the next steps as I got there. It is an adventure close to my heart. Being as list-crazy as I am, I managed to list all the things I managed to do while there so I don’t have to rehash an old subject. Read more here.

2012 – 2013

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When I came back from East African adventure, I was so jaded I stayed at home and decided to enjoy just being. When you’re on the go for so long, you crave moments of being rooted. One day turned into two years. I stayed at home, I took care of grammie (which was gratifying and yet very mentally and physically exhausting). For work, I consulted with a few NGOs and conducted workshops, I also took a step towards moving to my dream career of writing. I blogged more, I sought out freelance projects and got lucky to be hired by the Day Zero Project (I still contend it is the best job I have ever had). I went through emotional rollercoasters of a very extreme kind – I lost a mentor (you can read the requiem here) and just the baggage of being someone’s caretaker, of staying at home and never going out pushed me to a whopping 105kgs of weight. When I hit rockbottom and there was nowhere else to go, I decided to get my fitness back on track and also decided to pay for an international trip for my brother.

I know, I know. It isn’t as glamourous as it seems. We went to Malaysia and Singapore and had the time of my life (I had to tag along you see. Make sure my money was being put to good use. Shortly after we came back, I got to see the Taj Mahal which is every bit as beautiful as they say it is.  I felt like I found a fresh lease on life – I suppose you are always optimistic when you are travelling.  I got back home to find myself in the same rut. Something had to be done. I decided to do a drastic – I’m leaving – step like I did with Tanzania. Only this time, we found out the li’l sister was engaged so I made a deal with the parents that I will stay till she got married and then leave the nest (about time too!)

The Baby Pea got married in 2013 and I used that as an excuse to get some more travelling in. After visiting large parts of England, Wales and Scotland (including hunting for Nessie and visiting the mother of all henges!), I saw my dad walk her down the aisle and it was as if the whole world came a full circle. Later that evening, I realized I was falling in love with a guy I had met at her birthday party – that silly guy that turned my life around. Thus started the long distance phase – the phase that was never meant to be.

2014 – 2015

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I started the year with a visit from said silly man. All those people who looked at me like I had cancer when I said we decided to give long distance a try – I wanted to show them that for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, it was working and I was happy. I stayed on at the parents but got a job as a full time writer. We decided as a couple to try India for a while and so Adam moved all the way from England to a third world nation that somehow suits him more than it suits me. He must’ve been an Indian in a previous life. We moved in together which also meant I moved out of home. Despite all the stress of “OMG what will people say” and the many fights that come from it, it has gone very well. While there is still some pressure to get married because I’m “old” and living in – which is a big sin – I have had an amazing 6 months so far. My family has gotten to know him and he’s gotten to know them. We’ve had a couple of family trips and I finally got to spend so much time with my little niece who is (no bias) a complete sweetheart.

Some of the things we’ve done in this phase makes it feel like we’ve lived lifetimes. We met and saw Alt J and Daniel Waples (who was a revelation) in concert (Rudimental played, but meh!), we’ve been to Thailand, to Pondicherry, to Mysore, we watched RCB play live – which was always a big dream for Adam, we saw the little niece grow from a little baby to a restless ‘I need to see and touch and taste everything’ crawling creature. I’ve also been offered a job in Thailand that may see me there by the end of this year. Or maybe not.

Life is every changing but not one minute of it has been boring. I can only wish that the next five years be as full and adventurous as the last five have been. I’m looking forward to every second of it.