“So Berlin”


Berlin looks so innocent sometimes. But it never stops being synonym for something out of the ordinary. It’s the excuse for being different. “It’s so Berlin,” one would say, when something is off.

One of the first few things I got to know about Berlin was the booming start up scene. It was full of young freelancers meeting over coffee at St Oberholz, planning their next entrepreneurial move, making jokes at the big corporate world. The big multi-national corporations are the inefficient, money-wasting yet money-hungry group of people. It was the snub that basically said, they book plane tickets, we book buses. Where buses was the cool one.

I’m not that extreme, but I’ve to give in that I’ve started taking that mindset a little. Since living in Berlin, I’ve never thought less of fancy bars. Those are where the fancily dressed people with pearl necklaces go to. This is my start-up snub.

But recently I got to know someone who was a social snub. The moment the answer “I work in a small start-up” escaped my mouth after she asked what I do for a living, she had already placed me into a drawer, as they say in German. She has me fully stereotyped as she snorted and said that she already know how to identify people like me. Those young guys with their beard, with their pool tables in their offices.

Foosball table, I corrected her. But hang on, I hadn’t even explained what I do. I’m not a programmer, I’m not a designer. Why am I getting stereotyped before saying anything else?

Maybe I deserved it for being a start-up snub. But I don’t put people into boxes from the type of company one works in. And my husband works for a corporate, but I’m still in love with him.

Still, this sort of behaviour would be termed “so berlin”. I’m not sure if there’s a place anywhere else in the world where a substantial group of people spent more time defending refugees, and saying things like people should spend more time helping people, and still be completely against religion. I think that summed her up quite accurately, at least.



Start-Up Snob

Apparently, since I started working this month, I’ve not only my ability to type normally on my macbook, with the regular international keyboard (I work on a German keyboard at work), I’ve also grown really fond with the start-up culture, and thereby becoming a snob.

My previous full-time employment was at a large company with over 15,000 employees worldwide, with a brand name everybody knows. My current company is officially about 2.5 years old and is projected to break even this summer. It’s very strange, very amusing but very fascinating. I thoroughly enjoy seeing increasing success just within these three weeks of being there!

H works at a huge company, so they have a budget for everything. While currently enjoying his two weeks off from accumulated overtime (Start-uppers be laughing at this), he told me about his dinner event with his department that would take place tonight.

H: So we can’t have dinner together tonight.

I: Oh ok. Hmm I feel like we haven’t cooked for a while. I miss cooking.

H: We’ll be cooking tonight.

I: Really? At a colleague’s place?

H: No, at a cooking studio.

I: (snortles) Big companies.

Am I right?!

Holiday Jobs

I recently ended my month-long stint, which got me to thinking – I’ve done quite an interesting variety of holiday jobs.

I’ve a great deal of respect for people in really any occupation, mostly because I’ve done some weird stuff myself, and I think it’s important to have gone through them to understand.

  • Parents’ Event (semester break)

In my first ever, I helped out at a bank’s event, which invited the overzealous parents among its customer database to take their kids along to a talk. This talk was by a guy who was made famous, because he devised strategies for kids to remember things better, and thereby do better at school.

  • Stick-on Bras (semester break)

A cousin also had a business dealing with stick-on bras. I helped load/unload the products as I followed her around to departmental stores selling them to the team and ensuring they were well-displayed. At 15 or any age, this is weird.

  • Tea ladies (a random weekend)

Sometime later, a friend and I were at an expo as tea ladies. We had to serve tea to a bunch of hotshots in the conference rooms of this mega expo. We also served a batch of tea without realizing that the water was in fact not hot at all.

  • Tuition

As a person who hated having tuition in her younger days, I ended up tutoring a total of 3 kids in 4 years. Not sure how I did it but I did it!

  • Customer Service (the long break before university began)

Then the new terminal of our beloved airport opened. I was stationed at the visitor center to answer all sorts of questions and meet all sorts of travellers. Some yelled at me because somebody somewhere was mean to them, some wanted to tip me and upon rejection decided to write in a feedback form that I deserved thrice what I was paid. (I didn’t receive a pay raise.)

  • Salad Bar (before commencing full-time employment elsewhere)

As a graduate, I worked at a salad bar. Up until now, I never received weird looks for my holiday jobs but here, I did. I was shredding chicken, serving coffee, making juices. I also received delicious sandwiches and had so much fun.

  • Cafe (while learning German)

Over two years lapsed between the salad bar and cafe stints. This was at the language school I was studying at in Berlin, and turned out to be a great decision. I rehashed my love for making coffee, serving customers and got to practise my German at the same time. Plus it was like I owned the place, so it was just so much freedom. Loved it.

  • Editing (while in Berlin)

I also started editing articles for a friend, who convinced me that I do a great job editing without being a typical snobbish freelance editor.

  • Supermarkets (awaiting my visa)

So my most recent stint was to merchandise for an FMCG firm. For that, I was running from supermarket to supermarket checking out if the outlets did have the list of products, and they were sufficient for the next few days, and they were displayed well and matched the prices and expiry dates weren’t due. I also stocked the items on the display (i.e. the role of a packer) and answered queries to passers-by and lightly encouraged them to try these out (i.e. the role of a promoter).

Interestingly I bumped into someone from the university while at the last stint, and he basically tried to hide that he thought it was ridiculous that I was doing such a job but failed. He looked down on it.

And to be honest, I wouldn’t give any of these experiences back. Because every single one of them taught me something. And they definitely taught me not to be a pig about a fancy office job because their jobs are tough.

Being Replaced

On my birthday last week, my replacement arrived. She shall now be known as R.

If you’re confused, I meant my replacement at work. R joined the department initially to join the team of another. I was undecided on my boss’ response every time I went to her. She told me there isn’t a replacement for me yet. I was frustrated but somehow assured.

And then, swiftly and subtly, there she was. I had to teach R my roles and responsibilities, introduce her to my project, and then I learnt that she would be taking over my desk.

I’m not bitter, because I haven’t been fired. I’m leaving for a greater good. I’m excited for my greater good. I’m dying to go for my greater good.

But have you ever been replaced? It’s a strange feeling. It’s not just my projects but my place in this department as the youngest chick that the old folks find adoring. The chick in the band of brothers who sticks it to them during lunch. I think I’m being replaced everywhere.

It’s a different feeling having an addition and having a replacement. I’m a girl, of course I think this way. I wonder if I’ve left any form of legacy. The band of brothers are happy to have a girl, any girl, to join the lunch crew. Boys.

But they call me ‘bro’. So maybe there’s a slight difference.

I have nothing against R. She does seem nice. I was introduced into this department as a new addition to a team that was expanding. I took over the cubicle that was empty. It was abandoned, and people used to go to it when their computer wasn’t working.

To know that R will take over my cubicle in 2 weeks’ time, and that my cubicle will be scrubbed down till there was no evidence of my working there these past 22 months – it’s surreal.

I look forward to that day. But it sure as well will be bittersweet.

Threat and Politics

(Note: I’ll have less references in German here now, since I’ve started a brand new blog completely in German – http://www.braunekuh.wordpress.com – to better think and write in German. Thanks for tolerating all the German titles so far!)


Where I work, I’ve noticed that people are suddenly insanely friendly and willing to share when one knows that the other is leaving. But why?

I started being in this team since November 2011, and part one of the big news is that I’ve applied for a year off work, which just recently got approved by the bosses. And then I got around to telling one colleague.

Before that happened, we were on work-only talking terms. I’m an open book so most people know about me, my relationship, my travels and stuff. But he was the opposite. He had nothing next to nothing to say about his personal life, which made me feel like perhaps we weren’t close enough for personal matters. Fair enough.

But the moment I told him, he positively changed. He probed more and then told me a lot about his personal life, to a point of mimicking what his girlfriend would say in her tone of voice. I was taken aback and had started to wonder why. We were exactly the same as before, just that I’ve just broken the news to him that I won’t be here for a while, and instantly he tells me things.

I’ve observed this quite a bit in my department actually, since I’ve witnessed three colleagues leave. I don’t understand this phenomenon. Are people threatened by their presence, and therefore are only willing to be friendlier when they know this threat will be removed?

Fahrrad fahren (to ride a bicycle)

I’ve started a new thing recently. I’ve started to cycle to work.

Where I’m from, there are only several types of people on a bicycle:

  • Anybody if the bicycle is in a park where cycling is leisure
  • Kids cycling to school
  • Older folks cycling their grandchildren to school/childcare
  • Foreign maids who are cycling to go grocery shopping
  • Foreign talent who are cycling to their nearby offices

So cue a girl in office attire and flats who clearly looks local – on a bicycle – to work. I’ll admit I haven’t seen one of those myself. Personally I don’t think it’s a big deal, but it’s been terrible because it only made me more conscious of how bicycle-unfriendly this city is (cyclists don’t have the right of way on the roads or pedestrian paths, and they don’t have their own designated cycling paths!), but amazing because it gives me the buzz that work doesn’t.

Basically I’ve been trying to create my own buzz since work hasn’t been giving me a buzz. (Today was a much better day though.)

I’m also restricted in attire as I’ve only limited number of top-pants combinations, and I’ve to wear the same pair of flats more often than I’d like to. I’ve also been teased to death by my colleagues.

Again – where I’m from, it’s neither seen as smart nor cool to cycle to work.

Nevertheless, the advantages far outweigh the issues. For instance, I hadn’t realized how much I’m saving in terms of bus fare. I’ve realized that it takes about 50-60% of the time needed compared to public transport. I’ve been feeling amazingly refreshed and awake when I arrive in the office. (Also doesn’t hurt that S thinks it’s sexy being sporty and eco-conscious. Clearly he’s not from here.)

How else has it changed me? It’s become sheer torture waiting for public transport. Thankfully I’ve got a good book to read that I’m bringing around on the days I’m not cycling to work.

This makes me think of a song…

I want to ride my bicycle!

Work and extra work

I suppose I’m thankful for my current job for several things.

I came into it with no concrete job description. It was made up along the way. It was probably unintentional that so many little responsibilities fell into my lap along the way.

Truth be told, I often feel isolated in my department. We work individually because of the nature of the job. Some days I feel happier because more people are talking to me, fulfilling my need for human interaction.

But with these little responsibilities, I get to see the world outside of my tiny department. And I’m thankful for it.

It’s so easy, fashionable even, to term them extra-curricular, be unhappy about the unnecessary additional workload, meetings, deadlines. It’s so easy to shirk them, say it’s the lowest of my priorities – go away, try to get it out of your hands.

But in actual fact, I’m so glad I get to know more people through this. I’m glad to be tasked these little things.

This must sound really bizarre.
(And evidently brings up an issue of job fit!)


There it is – a brand new year.

I would love to say “Whoa. Where did the time go?” But I think this year didn’t exactly zoom by. It did feel like a year ago that I did the annual reflection.

That’s not to say the year wasn’t eventful. It was, and that’s also why at this very point, it feels extremely far from the events of last year.

  • Career

Can’t believe I’ve stuck with my job all this time. As a product of the new generation, it’s safe to call it an achievement to have it made it past a year of being with the same company. I think I’ve grown through it, the ability to separate emotions from business, networking internally, dealing with external vendors, being now called a “bro” by my lunch group, etc. There are greater responsibilities now, and there is a greater comfort level where I’m sitting now – and that comes with slight fear and knowing that there’s still a lot of room to grow – maybe within the role, maybe within the company, but also maybe out of this city I call home.

  • Family

I lost a loved one at the start of the year. Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten how things were with her around but sometimes I dream of her and her indirect ways of showing approval for the things I do. Sometimes I feel so sorry for her, for leaving behind a broken extended family that only held up with her presence. The extended family is definitely screwed up, but I’m keeping my nuclear family close, and I think we had a pretty good year.

  • Friends

I don’t think I’ve realised the fragility of friendships until this year. The ability to drift apart through space and time, and the ability to think – ah heck it, it’s too much trouble, and if you don’t care, I don’t care. With the evolution of technology, somehow keeping in touch becomes a greater pain in the butt – how was that possible? I decided to lay off social media like Instagram and Twitter, partly because I didn’t want to know everything about a person before meeting them, and partly because I would like to know what friends would like to tell me in person, i.e. not through the broadcast of social media. This year definitely saw me through the making of several new good friends, the ups and downs of sustaining some old ones, and how the ones with the best fit are gonna stick around through it all, without much effort at all. I’m truly blessed in that area.

  • Love

I remember someone telling me not to give in to the stereotype of long distance relationship being difficult. It’s true that for most of the time, it is easy peasy. I love him, he loves me, one of us is in the wrong city. When we meet, it’s heaven on earth; when we part, it’s hell. There are so many ups and downs in a long distance relationship, god knows my poor cousin had to hear me out so many times. If it isn’t a cyclical moodiness of realizing how far apart we are, it is just insecurity. It’s tough to get a healthy balance of dependence and independence necessary. But at the end of the day, it’s about what works with us, and I think we did a pretty amazing job keeping it going, reigniting the spark every so often, despite – till date – having no expiry of the long distance in sight. But it’s clear we have a similar goal and I’m blessed to have someone love me from 10,000km away.

  • Personal development

Participate in two more 10km run, check. Picking up a new language, check. Picking up a new sport, check. Let my hands go crazy with art and craft, check. Read more books, check. Read the news more, check. Spend less time worrying about what others think of me, check. Travel to new destinations, learn to pack really light, travel alone, check check check.

And for the new year? Apart from the usual blessed and healthy family and friends, I sincerely hope for career enlightenment, at least for the time being. Remaining active physically. Exploring the kitchen more. And cohabiting with the boy.

I’m ready, 2013. Take on me.

Ein Reisegepäck (a luggage)

Today I bought a luggage.

It’s my third present to myself this month. Christmas is becoming a terrible excuse.

And while purchasing a luggage seems insignificant, it is a huge deal to me.

In all my 23 years, I have never bought a luggage before. I have never even bought a backpack before. This symbolized freedom to choose, and freedom to travel. I have felt it, and I have experienced it. But there’s more.

This luggage will arrive at my house on Boxing Day. And from then on, it will lie in my room to serve as a reminder that I should work towards my ideal plan and not settle comfortably where I am just because it’s safe.

It will also serve to remind me of the moments of fearlessness, moments of worry-free certainty – of where I want to be, even if it’s full of risks and uncertainty.

Lastly, it will serve to remind me that I’m a baby step closer to it.

Next up, getting the boy and I a job in the same city.

Being Too Comfortable

A year and a half ago, I knew what I wanted and I was searching for it.

Things didn’t go according to plan, and this became plan B. Then S came along, and plan A became increasingly an ideal plan. Before I knew it, time flew by and the end of 2012 is in my face.

As we await the truth of 21.12.2012, that is whether we all perish or not, I’ve been reminding myself not to get too comfortable with the current situation.

I work in an environment where more than half of my colleagues are anticipating their impending retirement in their positions. We don’t have the best pay but we have really great corporate benefits. I’ve settled down and have a lunch entourage I can always count on to make the days a little better. I always have some people I will IM on a daily basis to make things livelier. I am comfortable with everyone in my department. I have networked reasonably far and wide in this company. Of course there’s always more I can do, I’m not saying I’ve done a perfect job.

But every now and then, especially now, I remind myself to get off my chair, wipe off the dust and evaluate if I’ve been sitting on my ass for too long. A little over a year couldn’t have been too long, but it was never what was planned. And I’ve been talking about wanting the same things for ages. Rereading some information online has made me realize I’ve done it the easy way, found an obstacle and quickly placed it in a KIV (keep in view) corner.

I’ve realized how easy it is to fall into the trap of being too comfortable with what works. I’ve been so comfortable on this chair that when presented with the world as my oyster again, I hesitate. I wonder if it is worth giving up this peace I’ve been having.

And gosh, that was scary. I’m glad I found it every now and then. It, being the conscious effort to get off my chair to take a look around.

I need a different chair. And I need to first get off my ass before I can plonk onto another chair.

And I’m not really talking about chairs.