You’re the puppet

So we saw a lot of Anti-Trump posters/protest signs at the Christopher Street Day/Cologne Pride weekend last week.

Given this state of the news this week, thought this is more relevant than ever!

The Cologne House Hunt

If I have only one complaint two complaints about Cologne, it’s that people smoke way too much, and the housing market is a complete nightmare. In no other country I’ve moved to have I felt the possiblity of being homeless so keenly!

To spare you the drama, let me just say that I’ve already been lucky enough to find a lovely house right in the middle of old town. Cobblestone streets, old buildings, reading nooks, live sports showings, birds, the river … I can’t really complain!

But getting here has been one psychological nightmare ride full of sleepless nights and anxiety ridden tears. It’s not just the housing market here is so limited or that most houses have been repurposed for students who have no desire to host couples, it’s also that scammers thrive in this situation.

I was approached by many of these with lovely photos of stunningly furnished houses for such reasonable prices you can’t help but respond. If I wasn’t so good at rooting out catfishers (it was literally my job for a while), I’d be a few thousand Euros poorer.

The approach was quite creative. They’d say they were European and had only just bought and furnished the house, but that they’d gotten an unpassable opportunity abroad. So they thought of renting their house out through AirBnb. However, if someone is interested in it long term, they could also do it through the same way.

Now, if you’re deseperate for a house and hear the words AirBnb, you automatically trust that this is legit. But if you’re someone who actually uses airbnb, you suddenly start to smell something dodgy!

I also came across a second scam where they ask you to transfer money through western union. Apparently bank statements are not legit proof you have enough money to pay for a house.

When I asked why a money transfer, this is what they said.

While I hope that no innocent house seeker buys into these thinly veiled scams, it definitely made good conversation starters. And for that, I’m grateful.

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.

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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