Category Archives: Germany

Six Months and One Year

I arrived in Germany six months ago. This is significant because six months is generally my benchmark for how I feel being in a new place. In the past, it has taken me six months to adjust, to feel comfortable, to feel like I know how to live wherever I’ve landed. It was like this in Malaysia, in New York, and during both of my stints in Singapore.

Interestingly, it has not been like this here. I’ve been here six months but I’ve felt right about being here for much longer, right in that the world I am living in makes sense to me. It’s been a while since I’ve known this feeling.

Certainly, it took time. July in particular was a rough month, one of those times I expected but for which there is no way to prepare, and my chest tightens just thinking about it. School started in August, which meant I had a purpose and a schedule, responsibilities and things to do. I met some people, started climbing in earnest again, met some more people. I felt and continue to feel incredibly fortunate.

Time moved. The weather changed. Days and weeks found a rhythm, the weather changed again, life took on a new pace. I learned to let go a little, to walk a little more slowly. I have become more comfortable focusing on walking rather than arriving, being rather than doing. Questions that had once been scary seemed not as scary, and the things that keep me awake at night (I’ve never been good at sleeping) have shifted in form and morphed in time.

The first time a friend said, “Welcome back,” I really was glad to be back. That has been true each time since.

If I’m honest, I am surprised and it’s a lovely feeling.

I had hoped for this, even as I tried not to have expectations. It would be nice to rest for a while.

It has been a year since I knew I was moving to a town in Germany that I needed a map to place. A year since the pressure of finding a job morphed into the anxiety of actually moving. A year since almost everyone, laughing with me, asked, “Are you sure? What are you going to do there?” The comment that reassured me was a simple one: “You’re not really a city girl,” a friend said. “You’re a kopi at the hawker girl. You’ll love it.” (I’m not though I’ve tried; I really am; I think I could.)

One year ago, I couldn’t sleep because of all the silly but critical things that ran through my mind once the big things were decided and then immediately put on hold. I was preoccupied with a concern that, once raised, became a focal point, a representation of simple things that become difficult when life changes. How was I supposed to get a driver’s license?

Where do we go for answers in the modern age? Google. And then down the rabbit hole. Past midnight, of course. (My mum always told us that nothing good happens after midnight, which reverberated in my sore head as I opened tab after tab.) I read this page and then this page.* And then I read them again. I sent a panicked message to a friend and kept reading.

The problem is that my driver’s license is from a US state that does not have reciprocity with Germany. At that time, a year ago, I knew the German words that everyone knows (Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen, Danke) and I knew that there was no way, absolutely no way, that I would be able to pass a written driving theory test in German. Now that I’ve been learning German for a year, I’m a lot more optimistic that this would one day be possible. I have also since learned that this test is available in English, though I don’t know whether this is also the case with the practical exam.

Six months is important in the world of foreign driver’s licenses, which brings us to the present. In many countries, including Germany, you are allowed a foreign driving license for six months. (In Malaysia, by contrast, I owned a car and drove on an International Driving Permit for a year.) I haven’t yet driven here, but I did get very, very lucky. In the end, I converted my US license to a Singapore license because I could easily manage a written test (available in Singapore’s four official languages), photocopy, passport photo, and several fees. Singapore has reciprocity with Germany. More copies, official translation, passport photo, more fees. Give up the Singapore license and collect the German license.

Moral of the story: Always look into the process of getting a driver’s license wherever you happen to live, whether or not you plan to drive. You never know when it will come in handy.

Six months and one year later, and my world has taken on a form I haven’t known. An adventure, they say, a journey. It is and it continues to be.

I have often returned to a line from Coldplay’s “The Scientist”: Nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard. We played it over and over in high school, and it got old to the point where people would leave the room when a certain friend sat down at the piano.

We didn’t know it at the time, but it was right. To live (and this is a verb) a life is not the same as letting life pass by. It is not the same as passively accepting whatever comes because that is what has come. But it is also not about fighting. In many circumstances, though certainly not all, to live is about the attitude and behaviour with which we walk through the world. It is about open-mindedness, curiosity, flexibility, and being part of what exists around us.

Six months and one year later, I can say that it is not easy and sometimes, it really is hard. But I can also say that I am at peace with the choices I have made. This in itself has a been an adventure and continues to be a journey.

*I include the German Way blog not because I get any kickbacks – I do not – but because it was helpful to me and will hopefully be helpful to others.

Dreaming of a . . .

It rained on Christmas Eve (Heiligabend here in Germany).

“Well,” we said, “a white Christmas would have been nice.”

And then the temperature dropped, the rain turned to snow, and the snow stuck.

I haven’t seen snow, real falling snow, in a really long time and I laughed. Outside, I threw my head back and tasted.

It snowed on the way home, late.

I took off a glove, touched the flakes on a bush, tasted.

And there was still snow on Christmas Day (Weihnachten here in Germany).

So I put on my new boots and went outside to play.

In Praise of Wool Socks

I am generally not a warm person. As in, my body is usually rather chilly and I am almost always looking for extra layers. (You’d think, wrongly, that I would be better at planning accordingly.) As far as I know, genetics are to blame for the poor circulation in my hands and feet, which turn white when cold and red when hot. It looks strange and can also be quite physically uncomfortable. (I’m told there’s a name for this but I never remember what it is.) Stranger is the phenomenon by which one of my hands is a normal temperature and the other, usually the one holding the book and not tucked into the blankets, is freezing.

Since returning to a cold climate, I have become reacquainted with the problem of keeping my feet warm, and I’m not sure how I previously managed it. Observation suggests that most people walk around in the winter without being in pain all the time and I spent the earliest cold days hoping to learn their secret. Perhaps, I initially reasoned, I was simply not used to so much walking around in the cold. After all, this is my first winter as a European resident, relying on walking and cycling for transportation regardless of the weather. Getting into a car in North America really doesn’t require too much time outside, and certainly not on the coldest days. But then again, I lived in New York City for a winter and certainly walked there. We had snow that year, too! Or perhaps I am just not as hardy as Germans, who casually do wild things like eat ice cream outdoors in all seasons.

Given my bemusement with the whole situation, you’ll understand why I was shocked when, after I mentioned my cold feet to a few friends, one asked, “Are you wearing wool socks?”

Well no, I wasn’t. I owned one pair and as far as life had led me to believe, they were for hiking. And my ski socks (for skiing) seemed to have vanished (and have since been replaced).

“You should try it,” my friends urged. “It’ll help.”

Who would’ve thought?

Fast forward. Turns out not all socks that look like wool are made of wool and you get what you pay for. Turns out there can be different amounts of wool in wool socks, and that some contain more synthetic materials than others, which may or may not be a bad thing. Turns out thick wool socks fit differently (and not very well) into certain pairs of tight boots. Turns out wool socks keep my feet comfortable enough, though not as warm as I’d been led to believe. (I might need to conduct further trials into my choice of footwear, but maybe that is a project for next winter.)

So I am trying to adapt to winter in Germany: Dress in many layers. Wear wool socks. Always have a scarf. Earmuffs are a good replacement for a hat, but everyone else will be wearing a hat. Children and teenagers never seem cold, even when they should be. Carry a backpack. Ride your bike slowly if it might be icy. Always be prepared to sit outside. Breathe the fresh air. Drink hot tea. Look up at the stars. Enjoy the rare days with sunshine.

Get ready, people keep telling me. Winter only gets colder.

It’s a good thing I have wool socks.

Weimar, Germany – December 2021