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!
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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!
I haven’t hosted Adam here before, but he is THE BOY that I keep talking about. Show him some love.
Time stretches back in the form of memories, highlights, edited collections of things we choose to retain. If you had just 500 words to talk about about the last 5 years what would you choose to include, what would you omit, what would you not even be able to recall? How do we select what memories are worthy?
I’d remember first and foremost meeting you, I’d recall with film like quality the first time our eyes met, our first conversation about the beer you were drinking. I’d remember shutting ourselves in as a storm raged outside, the tranquility we’d feel in shutting the world out. I’d remember following Stephen down remote coastal paths, as if on a voyage of discovery. I’d remember our first place together and how hard it was to get here to this point, sitting here now thinking of the last 5 years. I’d remember falling in love.
If I had to pick one unifying factor that encapsulated the last five years it would be travel and expanding horizons. When I went to Cyprus in 2010 I hadn’t been abroad for 10 years, since then I have been on a 3,000 mile European road trip that took in 9 countries, visited my sister when she worked in Germany, been to Spain twice, to Slovakia for my brothers stag do, spent a week in Bangkok and visited India twice before eventually relocating here in 2014. I always thought I had an adventurous spirit buried inside me that wanted to get out and see the world, and now here I am living in India, 5 years ago i’d have found that impossible to imagine.
My family has changed a lot over the last 5 years. The older generation, who were the rocks for so long have found themselves more reliant on the support of the young as time inevitably began to take its toll. In 2011 my Granddad died, I don’t use the words lightly but he was a great man, constantly supportive, always kind, always putting himself second to our needs. I draw inspiration from his memory as I try to make my way in what can sometimes be a vastly confusing world.
In July 2014 my younger brother got married. I think i’ll look back on the memories of that time as some of my fondest. Everyone important to me in one place, wonderful weather and true happiness, something that shouldn’t be underestimated in life, something that can be all too fleeting.
I’d look back to the 2010 version of me and tell him not to give up, that there are new experiences and unimaginable things ahead, that what perhaps seemed like a dreary existence wasn’t going to last forever. I’ve never been one for 5 year plans or planning the minutiae of my life, sometimes I have thought it has been to my detriment. But as I look back across the last 5 years i’m glad I just allowed things to happen, because allowing things to happen can take you to places you never imagined.
The lovely Wilhelmina Upton (you should ask her why she calls herself that) from Lazy Happy Bored Happy Sad has been amazingly nice about writing for me for the holiday. You may know her from my rants in the previous post. Since I don’t have the luxury of travelling right now, I often let my mind wander, especially during big holidays, to places I haven’t yet been. I wonder about culture and traditions and which one I can adopt for the year. This is Willie’s story of what usually happens in her neck of the woods.
I think I’ve’ve never even believed in Santa. Not really. Not even as a little kid. The thing is, growing up in Germany, Christmas gets confusing, or so I think, at least. First there is Nikolaustag on December 6th. He traditionally brings small presents to children. When I was growing up, it was mostly Christmas cookies, nuts and oranges or clementines. These days people give real presents because everything needs to be bigger and more all the time, always.
Then comes the actual Christmas. Depending on your family’s tradition and partly where you live in Germany, you either get your presents on the eve of the 24th – as in my family – or the morning of the 25th. If this is not confusing enough, just give me a second. Santa isn’t the one bringing your presents! Again, depending on your family’s tradition, the so-called Christkind (child of Christ) brings presents instead of Santa. So what was I supposed to believe in? At grandma’s the Christkind brought presents, at home it was Santa. With these confusing alternatives Mini!Me knew there wasn’t some magical, mythical creature bringing my presents.
While it is nice to get gifts, I’m terrible at writing wish lists because the things I want most in life are not material. This doesn’t mean I don’t want more books, a new lens for my camera, a new camera and so on, only that these things do not really count. They may fill a void inside me for a hot second, maybe two if I’m lucky but having things and stuff doesn’t equal being loved and seeing love reflected in the world. Some people may confuse it with the joy of material things at first but it really is not the same.
Maybe I am the odd one out though because I crave love like a black hole craves matter. Does this even make sense? Let me try to explain. I can be the loneliest person when I’m surrounded by an abundance of other people because they are usually not the right people. Not for me. It’s as if I don’t belong anywhere specific. I am either too shy or too forthcoming and direct; never part enough of the socio-economic construct I find myself in. Not German enough at times but nothing else as well. Most days my head doesn’t even think in the language it lives in. When it snows, my head speaks Swedish, most other times it’s English while I live in rural Germany. I either feel dumb or too intelligent for the people I’m with. I’m never anywhere really except on the internet. Which in return is a made up place. It’s beautiful but not completely real.
As a teenager there was nothing I hated more than seeing consumerism around Christmas. Well maybe my father but that’s a whole other story. You couldn’t go to the mall because EVERYONE was there starting late November. The escalators were full of people, trying to find the one right gift for their loved ones. While I do get that gift giving is a way of expressing your love or appreciation of a certain person, it never sat completely right with me. It still does not. When my uncle asks me what I want for Christmas, I get dumbfounded every year; wishing he would stop asking, mostly because I’m an adult and he doesn’t have to give me anything anymore. I name a book, or a cheap DVD box set of some series I watch just to make him shut up. Of course I am by far immune to the joy of unwrapping gifts or even giving them. I do it, but I feel like we sometimes forget the scope of it all, wanting more and more. Personally, I like to give cookies or other home baked goods as gifts because they were made with love and care and in my opinion say a lot more than some generic thing I bought on Amazon. (Don’t hate me Amazon, you’re still my favourite of all the online shops, k?!)
What do I really want for Christmas, you might ask. – Seeing my Grandma happy and without pain. Knowing my friends are happy, safe and with loved ones. I want racism, misogyny, genocide, homicide and violence in general to end. I want us all to get along and talk things out instead of trying to bomb each other senseless. I want someone to hold my hand while singing Christmas carols. I want to love and be loved back. Instead I will spend the evening of the 24th watching my two younger cousins unwrap their many presents only to see them disappointed because it’s not what they wanted, or not as much or some other stupid thing.
PS: I hope I didn’t ruin all your Christmas feels with this post. I swear, I’m usually no grinch.
Thank you SO much for writing for me. For all of you, Merry Christmas. Let go and have fun. And if you’re wondering where in the world Santa is this year, you can return the favour by watching him as he sleeps!