Monday, July 30, 2012

Luck

I was chatting with a friend about my awesome internship and how I love my office and she said, "Wow, you are so lucky to get this job!" I laughed it off, but I was actually quite vexed by that statement, because after all I've done to get this internship, people still see it as a stroke of luck?

Believe me, this has very little to do with luck. Luck is when you step on a 100 euro bill on the street, or when you are running late to the train station but suddenly your train is running late too. But when you work relentlessly for something, that's no longer a lucky strike.

I've always wanted to work in aerospace, so when I saw this composite convention in Paris a couple of months ago, I decided to skip school and go for it. I perfected my resume, printed out 40 copies (20 in French and 20 in English), and off I went. Each and every of the leading composite manufacturers in the world was there, so I figured there were no better opportunities to drop off some resumes, all the while having small talks with the companies' representatives face-to-face.

I practically combed through each and every stand talking to everyone I saw. I saw my resume being examined before getting put under a pile of newspaper and pamphlets, also known as the day's junk. There's even this Dutch guy who took my resume and when I came back half an hour later, I saw it being used as a coffee coaster. I got rejected by Toray, the world leader of composite materials manufacturer, by a simple head shake. I got turned down by BASF, who told me there weren't any internships available (in other words, "we don't want you.")  Of course, it was not a career fair, so they weren't there to recruit interns. They were selling their products, so I was like a fly in a fancy restaurant. Persona non grata that no one is capable of getting rid of.

Even when I got the job, I was faced with a billion problems. They had to justify why they had to take a non-German intern to the German Employment Centre, and that was a beautiful shitstorm. They asked me to send them all kinds of documents imaginable, from my birth certificate to my SPM result slip all the way to my latest exam results. Hell, I even had to prove that I went to high school in Taiping, and that I had enrolled in a French language programme in AngoulĂȘme (luckily I still keep all my enrollment certificates).

Me being me, of course I decided to crank the difficulty level up a notch: I decided to go travelling with my brother and my friends when all this shitstorm was at its peak. So I had to do everything by e-mail. I needed to look for internet cafés while travelling because I had to print and FedEx urgent documents. I had to ask for help from people at my school through the telephone, and I had to call some people in Germany from wherever I was at that moment. And my phone bills went through the roof! I only learned that I had definitively secured this intern position a week before I came here, so for a whole month I was in a limbo state but I told myself to gamble it because I was already in that deep.

And when I finally thought everything was falling into place, I received an e-mail saying that the room that I had reserved had been let go to someone else. And I only had one week before starting my internship to find a new room in a town I didn't even know. So I had to make a billion phone calls to find a new room, and God knows how lousy my real estate vocabulary is in German so it was really a pain in the ass to discuss rent and the tenant's agreement in German, only to realise half an hour later that I was looking at an unfurnished room that is situated in another city, but the agent insisted that with a car, it'll only take me under two hours to get to work. That stupid bitch alone cost me 40 euros on my phone bill.

So no, it is definitely not a lucky strike that I got this job. Luck can only bring you so far, but you have to do the rest yourself. With a little help from people around me, and a little prayer to God, I made this happen for myself. It might sound cocky to say so, but it pisses me off when people complain about stuff but don't work towards improving it. And whenever others made it, they'd say "That's just luck."




Monday, July 23, 2012

I'm Liking This Country

I thought the Germans were a bunch of cold, unfriendly people. These past week, however, has proven me wrong. They are friendly, warm and smiling people who would go out of their way to help you out.

I'm liking this country already.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Stranger Named Light


           Someone once told me I was too cynical about the world, that I saw bad people and the bad in people everywhere. With all the stuff we see in the news today, how can I not? Of course it’s not my intention to incriminate every stranger I see. I just find it hard to believe that anyone would be nice to you just 'cause, without expecting anything in return or worse, without trying to scam you. As a frequent traveller, I am used to being too prudent and holding my belongings a bit too close to my body lest they get snatched or stolen. I am so used to questioning the intention of every stranger who comes to talk to me and expecting them to want spare change, and I am so used to judging people by the way they dress or talk or walk, that I just can’t seem to enjoy pointless conversation with random people in the street anymore.

My sense of independence makes things worse. I am the biggest control freak and my trust issues make it hard for me to depend on anyone. As a kid, I was accustomed to broken promises and I was no stranger to being disappointed, so much so that I told myself that when I grew up, I had to do everything myself in order to avoid disappointment. Unable to rely on people, it gets hard for me to make new friends or to just take people’s words for anything - double checking is my second nature.               

So yesterday when I arrived in Stade, Germany for my summer internship, I had everything meticulously planned. I had an appointment with my potential landlord and I knew exactly which bus I was going to take and at what time. Everything went pretty well. The house was clean and fully furnished, and the rent is cheap. The place is also a daycare centre by day, so it’s full of kids when I arrived. In a small northern German town full of blond, blue eyed people, I stand out like a sore thumb and children look at me as if they’ve never seen a brown Asian guy before. Some kids came up to me and asked me if I spoke German. Some others just looked at me silently and followed my every step with the corner of their eyes. Some told me stories about their holiday plans, and some others asked me to play football with them. I forgot how adorable kids can be. My landlord told them I could also speak French, so they were pretty excited about that and asked me if I could teach them during their summer break.

That was the moment I told myself, “Well, strangers aren’t that bad.”

On the way back from the house to the train station, a German lady started talking to me in the bus. She wondered why I chose Stade out of all the places in Germany. I told her I didn’t, Stade chose me. This is where all the heavyweights in the aerospace industry decided to set up camp, so it’s not like I had a choice. I told her I was waiting for a positive response from my landlord and that I was going to spend the night at a youth hostel. She looked at me and said, “That hostel is going to cost you 30 euros! I have a comfortable couch at home and you can sleep there tonight.”

I was very skeptical. I was a foreigner, we didn’t know each other at all, and she was a frail middle-aged woman so she couldn’t possibly defend herself if I ever decided to do her harm. I would never invite a stranger into my home, so I can’t imagine why a stranger would invite me to theirs. Of course, I have this angelic face people just fall in love with, but that doesn’t guarantee I won’t pin her down to the floor, strangle her and steal all her jewelry.

I hesitated to accept the offer. My suspicious nature told me to politely decline. The problem is, I am independent but I am also a cheapskate freeloader. Why would I pay 30 euros if I can sleep comfortably and have a nice home-cooked dinner for free? Even if she had bad intentions, looking at her small stature, I was certain I could take her down with my pinky finger. So I said yes.

And that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She turned out to be extremely nice. She made me veggie noodles and carrot spring rolls for dinner. She also gave me a bag of chips while she was cooking in case I felt hungry. We ate cherries she just plucked from her friend’s garden, and she let me use her internet. She was just being this all around nice person I had never met before and that shook me to the core. I grew up convinced that there are no genuinely nice people out there anymore, and now I have this very friendly, nice German lady who gave me food and a roof to sleep under without expecting anything in return. She also called all her friends to ask them if they had any extra room in their houses, in case I didn’t get the room at the daycare centre. She left for work at 7 this morning, and she already prepared me breakfast consisting of bread, cheese, milk and apple juice.          

Now I’m in the train, on the way to Hannover to see some friends, but I’m still baffled by the niceness of this lady. I used to hate people. Now I see that there’s no reason to be skeptical about everything and everyone, because we can be pleasantly surprised at how nice strangers can be. As independent as I thought I had to be, my whole belief system just got shaken by this surreal Blanche DuBois moment I just had – we all need to depend on the kindness of strangers sometimes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

That furry little bastard

Lately I've been hearing mouse noises in the walls of my room. Yes you read that right: IN the walls. I guess this is a hipster mouse, you know, because running on the ceiling is too mainstream. This building is really old, so the walls probably have a million tiny holes due to many years of rewiring and whatnot. A mouse can crawl through a hole the size of a pencil and it can chew through anything safe for metal. So it wouldn't be shocking if there really were a mouse in my walls (writing 'a mouse' is wishful thinking as I really don't want there to be lots of them, I hate critters.)

I had this problem 2 years ago when we just moved in, but we put some traps about the apartment and we also had a cat for a while so we thought we had gotten rid of it. But now the mouse is back, and I bet with a vengeance, as it's starting to make a lot of noise while scurrying around in the wall at night. Sometimes I hear it scratching on a spot really near me as if saying "Do you hear this? You can't see me, but I'm scratching right next to you. It's me, The Great Mouse, killing you slowly." Suffice to say, this bastard is a brazen rodent.

So I googled the ways you can get rid of the little bastard. I came across sites where people tell stories of their pet mice. Wait, I lose sleep over these nasty creatures and you voluntarily keep them as pets? Mad people... mad people everywhere.

Then I saw this rather helpful article explaining the A-Z of the rodent world and how you can avoid getting infestation in your home. However, I couldn't help but chuckle when I read the line "Once the mouse trapped, you can drive it to a field far from your place and release it there."

How dumb are you? If I caught that furry little bastard that has been making my nighttime a living hell, I wouldn't waste gas and nicely drive it back to mouse Disneyland and release it there just to see it reproduce and come back to my home with its whole family. I love animals, but not those who would stay at my place rent-free, eat my food, and give me rabies and stinky droppings as thank you gifts. And I definitely wouldn't drive them to a place where they can be happy and roam free. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, did the Americans escort them nicely back to Japan? No, they went ape-shit and threw nuclear bombs at the Japs. Now that's how you do vengeance.

If I caught the mouse, I would tie it to a small pole, poke it with needles, and staple its tail to a candle. I'd then burn the candle so the hot wax would run down its tail, all the while spraying its eyes with cooking grease.

Once it is completely blind, I'd make scratching noises and say "Do you hear this? You can't see me, but I'm scratching right next to you. It's me, The Great Human, killing you slowly."

And I'd keep poking that poor rodent with needles until it's dead.


Monday, July 02, 2012

In France, we are very condescending

Like I said before, my resolution this year is to look at the bright side of things and to be more positive. So far, it's been a huge success. I find myself very calm these days. Even when I'm mad, it never lasts for more than an hour, then I'll be back to my chirpy, positive self again. I even tried listening to Justin Bieber to give him a chance, because I realized that the reason I had dismissed him as shit was because it was just uncool for my generation to be listening to Justin Bieber, or to even acknowledge his artistry. I suddenly found that very hypocritical, because Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe is just as shitty, but somehow it's cool to like it. You know what, Carly Rae is signed under Justin Bieber. Suck on that, hypocrites.

So yeah, I've been very positive lately, and I'm starting to like it.

Except for this morning, when I received an e-mail from this French lady (she's kind of a bitch, and every Malaysian student in France knows that) refusing to accept to be the guarantor for my new apartment. Of course, she had the right to say no, but she could have said it nicely. Instead, this is how she worded her mail:

"No, I won't be your guarantor. In France, being a guarantor is a serious matter. So either the owners accept our corporation as a moral person to be your guarantor, or you'll have to look for something else."

She is known to be very frank, and I appreciate that. But I hate the part, "In France, being a guarantor is a serious matter."

To me, that's another way of saying, "I don't know how things are done in your backward country, but in THIS country, being a guarantor is a big deal."

Maybe I'm just looking too much into it, but she could have simply omitted the words 'In France' and the sentence would be "Being a guarantor is a serious matter." Just as effective, and not at all condescending. I imagine her thinking that in Malaysia, we live in bamboo huts and to rent a bamboo hut, tenants and owners just spit on their palms, shake their hands, and have a coconut dance together to seal the deal. No guarantor, no legal papers, no signature. Oh, and the rent is two full-grown chickens, ten betel leaves and a spittoon.

No, lady. We also have to sign a contract, and pay rent in the form of money, and we also need a guarantor. And being a guarantor is also a big deal in our country, or any other country for that matter. Not just in France.

I've actually had this problem before. Once I went to the post office to send some letters and I was in a hurry so I just went to the counter and asked the guy how much it cost to send those letters. The guy looked up at me and said, "In France, we say "bonjour" when meeting people."

I admit that it was my fault for not being polite because I was in a hurry so I completely forgot about social courtesy, but that doesn't mean I come from a country where people pee on each other to say hi. He obviously saw that I wasn't French so he felt compelled to start his sentence with that "In France" bullshit. You know what, mister, France has been voted one of the rudest countries in Europe, so you can take that bonjour up your ass, push it farther upwards, and choke on it. Thank you.


Okay, back to my zen self.