Monday, August 27, 2012

There she goes

I ordered a java chip and the cashier asked for my name so she can write it on the cup. I hate it when people screw up my real name by throwing in an 'a' or an 'n' too many so I decided to go for a dubiously generic English name: "It's John."

She looked at me with a slight frown and a twisted smile. "Going for something simpler for me to write down, are you? Well, John is easier to write than, say, Yoaojukulonyihua," she retorted.

"Wait.... How do you know my real name?" I said, trying to be cheeky. And all the baristas burst out laughing.

I usually love making strangers laugh. But not today. Somehow their collective laughing was muted by my own thoughts. The sunny city of Hamburg was full of people, but none of whom actually mattered to me. It might as well have been empty and gloomy, it might as well have been the apocalypse.

During the journey back home, I let Bill Withers mock me on repeat on my iPod.

"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone..."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cut the middleman! Cut the mothereffing middleman!

We've all seen how in recent years, bookstores have been going under one by one like dominoes. Even giants like Borders aren't immune to the attack of online bookstores.

As much as I love reading and would love to support the paperback industry, I'm still a prudent buyer or in modern terms, a cheapskate. I was wandering around in a bookstore in Hamburg two weeks ago when I saw a copy of Moby Dick retailing at 8 euros. The book came out such a long time ago that a Buddhist could have been reborn 3 times since the first edition, so it doesn't really make sense for it to be so ridiculously expensive. So I looked up on Amazon and bought a used copy of the novel. It cost me 1.76 euros with free shipping, and it was delivered to my office desk the next day. And the book is in mint condition and could pass for a new one if it wasn't for this small stamp indicating it had belonged to a library somewhere.

It's a no-brainer, really. You pay a fraction of a book's retail price with just 3 clicks, like literally 3 mind-blowingly simple movements of your index finger, and you wake up the next morning with the book on your doorstep. Sometimes, going to a physical bookstore to buy a novel is like saying, "No, I don't want to pay 3 euros for a large pizza and have it delivered free of charge to my house. I want to go to Pizza Hut to pick up the pizza myself, and pay 4 times as much. I insist."

As if the low price and the speedy delivery hadnt't sufficed, Amazon decided to go all out to kiss my ass by giving me a card that allows free 30-day trial of its new online streaming services from which I can download all kinds of movies and TV series at no cost. It's like getting cheap pizza, having it delivered for free, and on top of that they give you 45000 DVD or Blu-Ray quality movies to choose from in case you need to watch something while enjoying the delicious pizza.

Sometimes it really puzzles me how Amazon makes money, but I don't care as long as I benefit from its heavenly system.

This all being said, I bought a new copy of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (an amazing read, by the way, I'll review it in another post) at the same Hamburg bookstore and that set me back 14 euros. But that was only because I needed something to read on the train and bus ride back home.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Unavoidable Nazi Talk

The first day I arrived in Germany, it dawned on me that I would be living and working among the people whose grandparents were involved in the most atrocious war ideology ever inflicted on man - Nazism. That very day I asked myself, how much time will have passed before I have a Nazi conversation with a German?

The answer to that is 3 weeks. I just had my first serious Nazi talk last night, with my roommate's girlfriend who incidentally is tall, white and blonde. The Egeria of the Aryan ideals. I jokingly told her she could easily have been on one of Hitler's propaganda posters. She took the joke well but she told me that in her younger years when she first learnt about Nazism, she felt somewhat guilty and self-conscious, so much so that she coloured her hair dark brown.

All the Jews fled Germany during and after the war, so she'd never really met a Jew before. Then she went to New York for some time where she met some Jewish people. She wanted so much to make them like her, it was as if she was being apologetic about what the people three generations before her had done. The fact that the war was not that long a time ago made her feel like she was still carrying the burden of the horrendous crime and it's up to her generation to make up for it.

So I asked her, what is the hardest thing to live with, knowing what had happened during the war. She looked at me and said, "It's knowing that your grandparents were involved in the war and that they might have been Nazis themselves. We don't really talk about it, but growing up as Germans during the war, the propaganda would get to you and you would somehow believe it. How can you not support and cheer the movement that claims your race is the best race?"

It's not really a taboo subject in Germany today. In fact, they talk so much about it in class that people are getting sick of it, and many insist that people stop giving too much focus on it and move on. According to her, they talk about it not only in German and history class, but also in biology. This is due to the fact that many biological experiments were done on the Jews held captive.

However, it's still a somewhat taboo topic in the German homes and it's especially sticky when the grandparents are around. Grandchildren in other countries all around the world grow up with the misfortune of having to hear their grandparents boast about their contributions during the war. Germans kids, however, never get to hear fascinating war anecdotes from their grannies. It's as if the elders wanted to erase that from memory (and even history, if possible) and one of the first steps to do that is by not speaking about it. It's only been 70 years ago, and a lot of German grandparents today were soldiers for the SS. They had all been brainwashed about the Master Race ideology before joining the army, so it wouldn't be shocking if some of them still have remnants of that ideology in them. Hence it's best for the grandchildren not to ask where their grandparents stood during the war, because it could open a nasty can of worms.

My roommate is Swiss, and his grandfather was also in the Army during the war. He had to guard the Swiss border against the Nazis. And he is not one to mince his words, because when my roommate brought his German girlfriend back to his home in Switzerland, his grandpa said, "You're dating a German girl? How do you know that she's not a Nazi?" 

She took it pretty hard, especially because she has absolutely nothing to do with the whole thing, but it's her generation who has to pay the price. The WWII might have ended in 1945, but then there was the Cold War that lasted until 1991. The Berlin Wall had been erected to separate East and West Germany because according to the East, the West still was not clean from Nazism even after the war. To this day, it's still regarded as one of the last bastions of the big war, and it only fell in 1990. So it's not any wonder that it's the German kids of this era who have to clean up the mess.

Germany is a very technologically-advanced nation. It sits among the wealthiest states in the world, and is exemplary in a lot of fields. In the Euro crisis of today, Germany is almost single-handedly carrying the whole zone on its back to prevent its collapse. The German efficiency needs no introduction, and its free education system can put a lot of countries to shame. Despite all this, the Germans opt to remain low-key and walk on eggshells during world summits, maybe because the world still hasn't forgotten about what they did during the war.

I listened to the whole story with a troubled mind. We condemn the Nazis for inflicting the terrible Master Race idea to the whole world, but in a quaint country somewhere in Southeast Asia, there's still a system where a self- appointed Master Race rules a country, and people are still qualified by their origins and creed. During the war, the Jews had official papers that identified them as non-Aryans. In this quaint Asian country, people are identified as 'indigenous' or 'non-indigenous' on official papers, with special treatments for the 'indigenous' people. It's like living in a parallel world where Nazism is dead, but its main ideas are still being upheld.

Germany might have closed their history book regarding racism, but some other countries are still writing theirs.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

If you hate your job, then don't read this post.

Because I love my job. I didn't really know how much I love it until 5 minutes ago when I was browsing the internet and suddenly thought, "I wish Monday would come faster so I can go to work."

I still remember the last job I had four years ago which was cleaning and inspecting parts of high speed trains, and it sucked. Every morning of every day I'd wake up saying, "It's six a.m. already?? But I just went to bed 10 seconds ago!" and dragged my feet to the bathroom which was not an easy task because it always felt like someone put 2-tonne shackles on them.

But now, every morning I go to work singing "Take the shackles off my feet so I can daaaaaanceee.."

My job is awesome.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Growing Up

I miss being young.

Sometimes at work, I feel like people are all so grown up that I find myself being a little boy again. The average age of my colleagues is somewhere in the vicinity of 32, and I might possibly be the youngest, but I've always thought of age as just a number. When you're an adult, you can't be that different from a guy who's ten years older than you.

Boy was I wrong.

In my university, people talk of their boyfriends/girlfriends in a fling-y kind of way, like they don't know where it's going but they don't really care. At work, however, people talk very affectionately of their girlfriends (most of my colleagues are men) and they're at a point in their lives where they need to take the next big step which is either getting married or having kids. Yesterday I was telling a guy about how I plan to travel around Germany during my free time and he said, "You're so lucky to be young. I remember at your age, I went to the tanning place almost every week, I partied a lot, I travelled whenever I felt like it. I even shaved regularly. And now everyday it's work, every night it's sleeping early at 10pm, and every weekend is spent with my girlfriend who lives in Frankfurt and who's starting to ask me when we're getting married. And my razor doesn't recognize me anymore."

One time I was in a car with another colleague who didn't look a day after 23 but who turned out to be 31. He told me he lived with his girlfriend and they just moved into a big house with four bedrooms. I jokingly said, "4 bedrooms? Are you guys planning to have kids or what?" He looked at me, in all seriousness, and said, "Yeah, we're planning to have at least two kids. I want to have more, but my girlfriend is the one who's going to carry them so she'll have the final word on how many kids we should have." Wow.

Since my town is really small, I always wonder what people do on the weekends. I asked this one guy with whom I always speak English because he lived in the States for a couple of years so his English is pretty good. He said, " On the weekends? Oh, I do a lot of carpentry because I love building my own furniture. This weekend I'm going to build a coffee table because my girlfriend thinks the one that we currently have is too small."

Building furniture sounds really grown up to me.

And today, we played beach volleyball after work and the smallest thing I did would be rewarded with a round of, "Good job!" or "Schön!" ("Nice!") or "Gut gesehen!". They only did that to me, maybe because I'm the new, shy intern and they thought I needed some pick-me-up so I could loosen up a bit, but it really made me feel like a little boy surrounded by adults who cheered him just because he managed to avoid colouring over the lines with his crayons.

I miss the days at uni when someone goes to the bathroom for more than 10 minutes and when he comes back, everybody will be like, "How big was your submarine?" or "Did you repaint the bathroom walls with your explosive diarrhea?" or "You sure you did a thorough job wiping your ass? Because now the whole class smells like shit."

Now, whenever someone disappears to the bathroom a bit longer than the time needed for peeing, no one really cares. I'm probably the only one there thinking, "He probably just gave birth to a big, brown and spiral stinky baby," and giggled in front of my computer.

Yeah, growing up is no fun.