The sound of silence

I'm sitting here in a large room in a small town. The room makes no sound, neither does the street.

This after spending the day being in the office, on the crowded train, in the loud restaurant.

Suddenly I'm understanding the meaning of the phrase "deafening silence".

I really do want to break the silence by putting the tv on. Or Spotify. Something, anything.

But I shan't. I shall deal with the sound of silence. Just living with me. I can do this!

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Languages

Languages are a funny thing.

Most of us speak what we are used to, to others who are also used to it. And we take it for granted.

I feel like I can only have two main active languages, from which I can easily reach out for words from, at any one point. In Singapore, I switched easily and freely between English and Mandarin; In Germany, it’s between German and English – and all Chinese words are lost.

And then there are people like the lovely couple I hung out with earlier this week – a Japanese guy and his German girlfriend require some time for further clarifications while conversing with each other in German. Later I asked him if they normally speak Japanese. He quickly said no, they spoke almost always in German. How they’ve dated for a year now baffles me.

Anybody living in a country that is based on a language other than your own native language would know that it actually is exhausting going through a day completely exclusively with the local language. In Berlin, I seem to have a social circle consisting of people, who almost don’t speak English at all or refuse to since they’re terrible in it. We struggle with our German, but it connects us and we understand one another in spite of all the grammatical mistakes and false friends. It feels funny that we are struggling to put our points across, but we – singaporean, japanese, ukrainian, italian, columbian – we communicate in German because English is not an alternative.

Glad the husband speaks English comfortably, otherwise speaking to him alone would exhaust me!

Culture Shock and Living With It

Last weekend I travelled west to Stuttgart for an assessment center, which took place on Monday and Tuesday. Okay, so I didn’t get the job, but it was an amazing experience, where I got to meet lots of like-minded (i.e. business-minded and high-achieving) Germans and just not through S.

It was nice to be reminded that I am also a qualified person, I also seek many high-achieving dreams like these people, and my German was truly conversational. I could understand 95% of the time, and could respond in a way where my grammar was off and on right, but completely understandable. And I didn’t have to nudge S to say, hey what did he just say? Well, he couldn’t be there at that very spot with me, though he did do the big trip with me.

The city was also beautiful and quaint, with (very) German-styled architecture, yet with the view of the mountains and rivers. Apart from that, I would say the city is more similar to Singapore. The cars were fancy, the roads were clean, the people were rich and career-driven.

Returning to Berlin was a little strange. There I was, back in the capital of this country, and then I hunched back and returned into my comfort zone of jeans and sneakers. Then I went to class and met with artists (painters, directors, photographers) and spoke to people 10 years younger than me, or 20 years older than me, with their dreams of making it in Berlin – the fellow jobseekers.

The buildings are grey but the city still sparkled in an unconventional way – and it’s strange to still find it unconventional. It should be conventional now that I see it every day for seven months. It’s the city where rules aren’t rules.

It’s interesting now that I can really foresee living in both cities, it would be perfectly okay. It used to be just a catchphrase, a way to sound cool. I don’t know where I’ll be in a few months. I don’t know where I’ll live in a few years. It depends on so many things – my career for example would play a huge role. But it is a good feeling to truly be at peace with myself and say, it’s true. I can foresee myself living in a different city.

Dune du Pilat

Last week I had several firsts while visiting S. As always, every visit is perfect and there is just so much memory I would love to hold on to for as long as I can.

One of my favourite memory was when we were doing a road trip to Dune du Pilat. The thing is, S plans our road trips and we never figure out where we’re going until we’re about to leave. This trip was planned strictly within a week from departure.

When I arrived, we weren’t sure what we were doing yet. We only started to plan the route on Wednesday, before leaving on Thursday. Seeing that we booked accommodation before leaving, that was already pretty amazing.

And all I had known was that we would spend our Thursday night in Bordeaux and Friday night in Bayonne. I have no clue what else. When we left Bordeaux (which I figured is the next prettiest French city after Paris), we headed to Dune du Pilat. What a magical place that is. I guess the name should’ve given it away, but I had zero expectations whatsoever. To me, that was just a name of a french place.

We took ages to arrive there – there was a gigantic traffic jam as the entire French population headed there because of the public holidays. There was even a rare sight of an ass of a driver cutting in the line of the cars, which made S attempt to turn the car into a batmobile. It’s a good thing he doesn’t drive in Singapore.

While inching forward slowly and getting bored of the radio, we noticed a bunch of restless kids in the car in front of us. One of the boys would occasionally turn around to look at us. After some time, S and the boy built a connection. S began making funny faces while the boy imitated it to his siblings. It was the funniest and cutest thing to watch. Then a good song came on the radio and we both started dancing, and the boy started to dance too. We wondered if they were listening to the same tune!

Eventually we got tired of inching forward bit by bit and parked the car by the side of the road to walk. This built the anticipation further, and by goly wow, we walked quite a distance to get to this magical place – la Dune du Pilat.

Apparently it’s the tallest sand dune in Europe, and it shifts every year due to the waves crashing onto the shore. It’s 108 metres above sea level, which I climbed on the pure sand with slight difficulty. There was a stretch of staircase clearly made for tourists and we took the sand path next to it. S later taught me that it was easier to step on areas that were already marked by footprints.

When we got to the top, we had an amazing view of the sea, and mind you it was a perfect blue sky this day – the second of the week. We were greeted by cold winds, and we were well underdressed (he in a T-shirt and shorts, me in a cotton dress, and notice how the others were dressed in the picture below). So S sat down and happily made space for me, then wrapped us both with the towel as we laid in the sun enjoying the view. There were paragliders, kiteflyers, couples, families, friends, tourists, etc. It was paradise.

view from the top

Then came the fun part – S brought me to the crest of the dune and said we had to sprint down to descend. I have a slight fear of heights, and this (see below) is basically what you see off the edge of the dune. I was terrified by how steep it was, and fascinated by how people ran down quickly. It also mortified me when I saw people tumbling down but wait a second – they all looked like they were having fun.

view from edge of the crest
view from edge of the crest

So we did it on a count of 3. S sprinted down like it was just a playground for him. My run turned into a jog, which turned into purposeful falls. I slowly realized falling on these soft sand was no problem at all. When I got to the base where S waited patiently, we couldn’t take our eyes off the others who were hopping down, somersaulting, running, sliding, etc. They were couples, kids, families, parents, teenagers, the whole gang.

Finally we peeled our eyes off them and decided to do it again. This time we took the easy way up – the stairs. We got to the top, appreciated one last view from the top, then we ran down. S still went much faster than I did. But I was braver this time. I took large strides, I ran and I ran until I got to the bottom and had to hang on to S to stop the momentum. I was high on adrenaline. It was amazing.

This place was amazing. And it was just one amazing part of the amazing week.

the slope of the dune
the slope of the dune

Wenig ist mehr (less is more)

Wenig ist wirklich mehr.

I find myself following more and more closely to this line these days, there’s so much truth to it, I’m not sure why it isn’t an actual equation.

It works in almost every case I can think of. With fashion, the floral suit from top to toe doesn’t work, but the plain top and floral pants are to die for. Diamonds from top to toe is actually an eyesore, but one sparkly rock on the finger and everyone’s talking!

With friends, it’s the small group discussions that get it going deep. It’s the few that really get you, that really care about what your life has been up to. And not the ones that say “how’s it going” without caring for the answer.

With work, it’s in the emails. I try to keep them short and sweet as much as possible, going straight to the point. I hate lengthy emails that basically tell me one thing. I mean, yes we all care for courtesy but too much is not worth my time.

With love, the fewer hours spent together, the greater it feels when you are actually together. I’m beginning to really see that now. T-91 hours.

Hopefully I can apply that to packing this Friday night. Challenge accepted…

(Errr honey, I’m gonna need to use your toothpaste, soap, towel, t-shirt…)

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!

der Jetlag

Am I really aging?

If you said yes, I would believe you. Just this week I found out that my cholesterol levels were on a high end of a “slightly high” band. Cholesterol is a worry I do not associate with the early 20s.

But in other news, I think I’m facing jetlag, worse than I’ve had before. Maybe age is designing long travels to be increasingly unsuited for me. (I get the hint, damn it!)

Since returning on Tuesday, I’ve had no issues sleeping at appropriate hours (being midnight) until last night. I stayed wide awake till close to 4am.

It’s now 4am and I’m (again) lying in bed, wide awake, for the second night in a row. I’ve been out all day so I don’t know what the problem is. Does my body think it’s still 9pm? Did it take 3 nights to realize I’m back and jetlag should set in?

I’ve tried reading a book. Usually when I’m reading at night, it doesn’t take long before I gather a couple of yawns. Well I do now, but they’re not exactly I’m-gonna-fall-asleep yawns.

How does one get over jetlag – quick?!

die Unsicherheit (the uncertainty)

I had the luxury of waiting to see if I can get confirmed on a flight today.

Oh – and I’m still waiting. The flight is at midnight, and it’s driving me absolutely bonkers. Let me explain.

S is going to drive from him little village in Germany to a cheap hotel near Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport. That would take almost 8 hours but considering that it snowed last night, it should take a little longer.

He will then stay the night and (hopefully) wake up at the ungodly hour that I (hopefully) arrive in the next day.

He is leaving in 60 minutes.

I’ve no idea if I can get on the flight yet due to some weird circumstances. And I’ve to head home in a few minutes to pack (haha – suddenly packing for flights have become an activity to rush through a few hours before, regardless of the destination, duration of travel, temperature of destination, etc). And I’ve to head to the airport to wait it out.

I’ve no idea if I can get on. I’ve about four hours to find out. He’s on his way. I’m sick to my stomach with worry. He has no worries.

If you hear from me again within 24 hours, I’ve probably failed and it would be a good time to send me best wishes and good jokes.

If not, YIPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

2012

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.