Monday, January 20, 2020

A Shaggy Dog Story--And a Cautionary Tale!

I moved to Nürnberg for the summer. I rented a newly-remodeled apartment in the Old Town, the historic district, in March so I would be sure of an interesting, good, place to live. However....that is not what happened.

May 29th
On my way to the place Patrick sent me a text telling me that the apartment had been water damaged but that I could go to a bigger, nicer place, closer to the center of town, and sent me the address. I texted back OK and sent the new address to the movers.

It was not "nicer." It was one extra floor up, old, dirty, did not have the promised wash machine, and had no parking. Also, he did not meet me there as he had promised. I opened the key box and was very disappointed--even the hallways were filthy! When the movers came, two women, the 4th floor was almost too much! (Patrick had offered to come and help unload--he didn't.)

May 30th
The next day I tried to figure out parking and realized I needed a resident's permit or face being fined/towed--another thing that was different. When I returned from the office, a young lady was standing outside the building looking at the key box.

It turns out that she manages the apartments for Patrick's FATHER. Patrick, the person who listed the apartment online, OWNS NOTHING! He uses the pictures of the newly-remodeled flat on Air BnB to scam people, putting bogus availability dates! Furthermore, the flat where I was was booked all summer long with various groups. The young lady let me know that Patrick is a trouble maker and this isn't the first time he'd done something like that! She promised to go to her boss, Herr Lederer, and ask him what to do.

May 31-June 1
Meanwhile, I'd arrived a week before my work started to prepare so I continued to unpack and prepare to teach my university classes. She returned a couple of days later with the "perfect" solution. I was to move to another place, not far from the city center. I asked to see it.

Another dirty apartment building! Too far away from the city center to walk, the whole point of my first rental. It seems Herr Lederer is a slum lord. The "laundry room" in the basement was filthy with broken machines. It was clear that the apartment, full of spiders, was being kitted out with bed, new linens, apartment-sized refrig., TV, and furniture from IKEA. I told the young woman I would go there temporarily but I couldn't stay there! She was at her wit's end. I also said that Herr Lederer needed to move me there.

June 2-9th
Meanwhile, I found a hotel where I could live for my first week of classes, with parking, breakfast, in Old Town. I took what I needed and left. 900+€ later, I moved out and spent the weekend away, visiting my former landlords and celebrating Karl's 80th birthday.

Table for 11, 5 full tables in all!

I had found a serviced apartment (BRERA) just outside the Old city walls but had to pay 1550€ and find my own parking, as it turned out, 700 m. away in a city lot. Herr Lederer sent his people and moved me in on June 12th. He said he was on holiday and promised to repay me yesterday, the day he would be back.  I have twice requested his email so I could send him a PayPal invoice but he has ignored that. Now that the agency is involved--and very concerned, contacting me several times/day, I expect things to happen very quickly!

Climate change?
Germans are highly energy conscious. Also, they, like the Canadians have always said, "Why do we need air conditioning? It's only hot here a few days a year!" That is no longer true. My apartment is not air-conditioned and sits on the sun side of the street, getting hotter and hotter. The managers have brought in a new fan and installed sun-blocking shades. It already feels better in here.

Much, Much later--and much has happened!
It is now 2020, just, and I plan to post some pictures and write a much-needed update to this! Apologies to my readers.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Two Countries Later--It's about time!

I returned to Okinawa, to the apartment I had so enjoyed before and, by a strange fluke, based on the strangeness of UMUC scheduling, was able to stay put for over a year! Of course, the fact is that the longer a popular professor is in place, the more students will sign up for her classes. It doesn't seem to make much difference to the administration, however. The craziness of moving one English/Writing prof out so you can move another one in, doesn't make any sense to us faculty--financially or professionally--but, in hiring, they sell "the experience." It was really comfortable for me to return to Okinawa and saved on my emotional and physical stress too. My Japanese, however, did not improve one whit. The likelihood of being transferred to Europe destoryed my motivation, I must say!

Lilli and Karl discuss an old flyer
Finally, in August, I was able to relocate in the European division and began teaching in Germany that month. There is much less administrative support in Europe. I'm not sure why. Faculty have formed a closed FB group where they ask each other questions and about all sorts of things--purchasing cars, finding apartments all over Europe, administrative puzzles, and so on. However, I found the lovely apartment I have lived in since September. It is spacious, costs less than 1000€ with the Internet and all utilities included. But, that's not the best thing! Let me introduce you to Lili and Karl, my Vermietere (Landlords). Lili now calls me her "Schwester" (sister). She says she's never had a sister and now she does. They live "oben," above me in a big old farm compound with a courtyard that is already being re-beautified for spring. I am frequently invited up for coffee or even lunches, their big meal of the day. They have made a huge difference in my German since neither of them speaks English. But I also very comfortable here and they have gone out of their way to do many things they know I might like--such as clearing out the picnic area so I can park my car there in the winter. Lili does the cleaning which, she says is her "duty" but I rather think she doesn't trust anyone to clean like she does and, from what I can see, she is right. We live on the main street of a little town near Ramstein and my front door is barely 3 feet from traffic. She cleans the steps, the windows, and the door because the exhaust discoloration makes her crazy!

This month, when I left for a week to visit my mum in Nebraska, Lili said she was sad and lonely. It was too quiet. Generally, when she needs to tell me something, she knocks and immediately says, "Ich komme" as she walks in. That might make some people nuts but I live alone and it's usually fine.

The house is a large, old farmhouse with a courtyard, a huge vegetable garden, a large cellar, a very old stone grain mill, and other out buildings. Unfortunately, Karl was just taken to the hospital tonight and Lilli and I discussed the fact that at 80, he should probably slow down, get someplace smaller. I've never seen Lilli so close to tears. I feel sad for them if it comes to that. They love this place, all the flowers, fruits, berries, vines, vegetables. As you can see, the courtyard is beautiful.
My "granny" car, a good, solid Mercedes,
capable of handling the rigors of the Autobahn.


I am sure some of my friends have questions about my speed on the Autobahn. There are not that many places, where I drive, that the speed is unlimited. When it is, I do about 100 mph, 160 kph in daylight and 140 kph in the dark. There can be absolutely no inattention at that top speed, of course. Approaching slower traffic from behind comes much more quickly. No wonder car inspections here are such a big deal. Older cars like mine must be tested every year to meet German road standards. Good brakes are essential, as are good eyes. My assessment of road safety in Germany is that it is safer than it is probably anywhere else. The safeguards are numerous. The warnings in and around work zones are longer and the space allotted the workers, greater. Speed cameras, not police cars are usually the methods speeders are caught, tickets arriving in the mail. Most can spot the cameras right away but I've never seen even one! It seems to me that of the hour and a quarter it takes me to get to Wiesbaden every working day, only 30 minutes, at the very most, is unregulated for one reason or another and when it is, the speeds are quite a bit slower than in the US.

I returned after hmmm...let's say, several? years (more than 30) to my study of German when I came. I really enjoyed it and managed to quickly remember much I'd lost. After 2 semesters however, I had to take a break. Prepositions and the grammatical rules around them caused a pause. I plan to pick up where I left off in the summer, while I'm in Nürnberg when I'm teaching only 3 days a week. Today, Lilli invited me up for coffee and cake with their long-time friends. I was able to hold my own and realized, I'd learned more than I'd thought, a real accomplishment.

For people who've followed this blog awhile, you will know that I have discussed ideas of service here before. German ideas in this area are similar. I teach business writing sometimes where we talk about "tone" in writing. There are certainly no worries about this in the German culture. Like it, lump it, or forget it! When I first moved in, I had terrible problems with the wireless connection downstairs. My German does not include a bunch of technical words and I was so sure that it was the company's fault if only I could communicate with them what the problems were! However, there is a sweet neighbor who has fairly good English. Even she was swearing before it was over. In the meantime, I was driving to the air base to sit for hours in the cafe lounge where the Internet is stable and reliable, one of the few places I know. The situation between my neighbor and Vodafone became so rancorous that the company just cut off our service entirely (not that I noticed, of course)! It was a month + of calls to the company that produced nothing until finally, they scheduled a technician to come with the dire warning that we would Pay, Pay, Pay if it was not their issue. Imagine their huge surprise when they discovered that they'd given us a router, one they'd purchased from another company, that was not configured for their company! Hmmph!

There are wonderful things too, of course. I went to three Weinachstmarkts, yes three! And drank Gluhwein at each one. There is a medieval one in a castle in Lichtenberg that was a great deal of fun, one in a little town next to ours, and our teeny-tiny cute one a few blocks away. Each one was jam-packed, filled with crafts, food, and music. In Weilerbach, the choral group sang American pop from the 60s-70s, which was a bit of an anomaly.

Yesterday Lilli asked me to go with her to tend the flowers on her mother's grave. The small cemetery is full of carefully tended gardens cut into the middle of the large marble slabs. 

Lilli, tending her mother's grave

  Fasching, like Mardi Gras, only it lasts longer, is a very big deal. In the larger cities, the costumes and parades are elaborate. Cologne, for example is known for their Fasching celebrations. Lilli and Karl attended the local gathering at the Burgerhalle.

At 11:00 pm. 
View at Sunday brunch.

One of my first excursions was a weekend trip to Paris, a little more than 1.5 hours away by train. Since my colleagues had never been, Maria was determined to see everything! After a 12-hour day and, according to my iPhone, 14 flights of stairs, up and down to the Metro, I almost felt ill. The next morning as my colleagues left early for the Louvre, I took my time, made my way to the Louvre for brunch, and enjoyed my coffee right in front of the I. M. Pei pyramid. I finally felt human. We traveled back home in the early evening.

My Paris buddies.
A former colleague from Lithuania, living in Berlin, wanted to take a grand tour of Romanesque monasteries, convents, and churches in Burgundy. She planned the whole trip, chose the B&Bs/Hotels, and we took my car. I was excited about getting to see places that had figured so large in Hildegard of Bingen's correspondence but I wouldn't have thought of wandering around eastern France by myself. Thank goodness for Google maps, without which I would be lost on a daily basis. We made the rounds of the Romanesque Abbeys, monasteries, and cathedrals in the area within about 3 days ending our tour in Strasbourg at the wonderful Gothic cathedral in the center of the city. 
Abbey of Fonténay

After visiting this abbey for awhile, we drove to St. Rémy-Martin to find our B&B. The town is quite small and yet we drove around and around with our GPS telling us we were very close. There was no sign but for the warning of the dog--and there was no dog either. The owners live in Paris and open this guest house on the weekends.

At breakfast we met a charming lady whose English was excellent and had a lovely chat with her at breakfast the next morning.

Dinner that night was in a Michelin-recommended restaurant and, of course, it was excellent!
I forget the name of the place but there was a sign in French

warning us about the dog.

Strasbourg Cathedral

We did get to the huge Cathedral and monastery restoration in Cluny. The restoration work there will be ongoing for a very, very long time. 

Overall, I am enjoying my time in Germany very much including the fact that getting back to the States to see family and friends takes half the time and money it did from Japan. 

I confess that this much has already taken me a week and a half of writing and locating photos. I am going to post this and consider shorter posts, more frequently, in the future....I hope!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Okinawa in the Winter


I arrived back here on the 14th of January, having left Nebraska and the States on the 12th. However, de-icing took so long in Chicago that there was no chance of making the Tokyo connection. By the time we arrived, United's agents were at baggage collection, waiting with our hotel accommodations, meal vouchers, and shuttle bus. The number of Americans returning after the Christmas holidays was more than the number of Okinawan-Japanese. I was so exhausted by that time that as soon as I saw that the tap water was safe to drink, I didn't bother with the meal voucher for dinner. It was time to shower, wash out and start drying some clothing, easier than unpacking and packing for an early flight the next morning. I thought I was rather loaded down, bringing back some teaching materials and a few warm things but that was nothing compared with the solo mom and 2 young children, stroller, bags, luggage.  Her husband had remained in the States for some training and she returned by herself. Together, with two luggage carts and two tiny children we walked about 3/4 mile between terminals in the cold but the sack lunch/breakfast the hotel provided wasn't bad and by the time we arrived in Okinawa,  I was very, very grateful to be home.

It has been cold, rainy, and cloudy since returning. I realize that this is weather most of you would be happy to have but our tropical homes, cement block, are made to be cool, not insulated against the cold. Thus, here I am, attempting to get warm, indoors! The temperature has dipped into the 30s F and frost was reported somewhere on the island. What happened to our tropical island? Is Jamaica this cold?

The term has gone well, despite the constant driving--Mondays and Wednesdays to the south for 45+ minutes or more and Tuesdays and Thursdays up the toll road to the north for about the same length of time though the distance is further. Driving here has it's challenges and can be stressful. I have taken listening to books to help me stay calm. For sure the news wasn't the answer!

I have enjoyed the "only" 2 classes, one of Writing 101 and the other, a writing-literature mid-level class, both small. Over the Christmas break, I asked a friend, a writing specialist prof. to help me get a grip on my marking issues. She did and I can report that for the first weekend in too-many-to-count I have had the time to update this blog and rest. (Thank you Marty!)

Driving on the toll road, most drivers exceed the speed limit by over 20 kph, traveling at 100 kph. However, that is only a bit more than 60 mph. The reason it feels so very unsafe here is that I'm convinced my fellow drivers still believe they are on kamikaze missions. Why else would they zoom in and out of lanes, even when a cautionary sign denoting a construction zone looms? And this has nothing to do with the fact that we drive on the left here. (Because everything else is backwards on the steering column, the "Okinawa Wave" is the windshield wipers going in full sunlight rather than the turn signal. So embarrassing!) I have never seen motorbikes on the toll road but they are endemic to every other road and the rules simply do not apply to them. They thread themselves between fast-moving multiple lanes of heavy traffic so they can be ahead of everyone else when the traffic light turns. Being granted a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) license includes dire warnings of what happens should you injure or worse, one of these daredevils. Apparently, much more than hospital costs are involved. Any income lost, the amount depending on whether the victim was the sole breadwinner, must be paid and should the victim die, his/her potential lifetime income is included in damages to be paid. So, as annoying as they are, I make sure they have whatever space they want to claim on the road.

Yes, I have been told I will be in Europe beginning on August 1. As most know, it was my first preference though I have had some great experiences here in Japan and Korea and been privileged some sights, sounds, and cultural education I have appreciated. I have no Korean to remember but do have some basic Japanese phrases that have kept me on the right side of polite. Here, in short paragraphs are the things I will miss (and some I won't!)

Japanese politeness
This could actually be a lengthy section if I went into detail about each and every common practice that is considered correct for avoiding the behavior of a cultural clod! I will miss many of these little niceties.

  • Money--The giving and receiving of money, bills, credit cards is a matter of great importance and is only, ever done with both hands. This is tricky for Westerners who are always attempting to carry more than they can hold, never mind attempting to have both hands free. The other challenge is that when approaching the toll booth, with a real person, one must twist in the driver's seat to get both hands out the window at the same time, or at least appear to be trying. This is accompanied, always with a slight head bow, when seated, or torso+head bow when standing. 
  • Driving--Drivers will zoom forward into what will become an obviously blocked lane and then jump the line to get back into the open lane. You must let them. One set of rude behaviors is not repaid with another. Construction zone signs include one with a worker, in hardhat, bowing, as if asking permission for the inconvenience of needing to slow down, block a lane, or whatever else bothers you about the zone.
  • Recycling--Detailed descriptions of exactly what and how each category must be recycled in full-color brochures--are provided tenants. I have heard dreadful stories of Americans having their recycling refused and so it is with some trepidation (and in the dead of night, around midnight) that I take the elevator downstairs to leave my recycling and trash in the little covered area out front that is, otherwise, spic and span. This includes all milk, cream, etc cartons that have been soaked open and laid flat with the plastic spouts trimmed out, tied together in a neat parcel; all paper and boxes bundled together in a parcel and tied with string; #1 plastics in a clear, plastic bag; glass in another clear, plastic bag; cans in another, and burnable trash in a clear bag with red printing denoting the area of the island where it was collected. Unburnable, non-recyclables are put in another plastic bag. Of course, when it is raining, as it has almost every day since January 14th, paper recycling is out of the question. Thus, last Monday evening, with everything prepared, representing several week's worth, I stuffed myself and parcels and bags of "this and that" into the elevator, praying that none of my fellow apartment dwellers, who are so proper, and who would never think of putting the trash out much before the the trucks actually arrive in the early morning, wouldn't see me. 
I will miss the Seoul Arts Center but not kimchee or the smell of it. 

UMUC has created the Collegiate Traveling Faculty in order to be adept and agile, matching faculty to military movements throughout the world. I do not know, really, where I will end up next year. Europe and the chance to attempt more than minimal communication, as well as the opportunity to see my many friends who live there, the lower expense and shorter time of getting back to the States would be great, of course. 

I am apologizing for the lack of photos. I rarely get out but, in 3 weeks, during my week off, I plan to take one of the many tours provided by guides and bus companies that work with the military bases. The reason for that is that my car needs to go back into the shop...again! I've never had so much trouble communicating basic information! More than $700 later, and 3 trips to 2 different mechanics, it is again lurching (or creeping) forward during acceleration. One never knows. It idles so roughly I think it's going to shut down altogether! This time, I'm going to get my brother-in-law to give me the best words he can for describing this issue and send it to a professional translator. The car, a Honda Air-Wave is literally "lost in translation."

I do not apologize that most of the pictures on my phone and computer are those sent to me (or purloined shamelessly off of FaceBook) by my nieces and nephews of their children who are all gorgeous, intelligent, and delightful...of course!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Spring in Seoul, Summer and Fall in Okinawa

Spring in Seoul, Break in the US, and Back to Okinawa...and a Typhoon

Palace musicians, 16th C.
As this post suggests, I have been almost around the world and back since I wrote.  The promised pictures of my peregrinations through South Korea, well, just Seoul and the DMZ and JSA, are below and captioned rather than very much text since I really need to get caught up in a hurry.  Just to orient you to my exact, current location, I am in my old (new, actually) apartment in Okinawa City, waiting out the first typhoon of the season.  This makes my second in one year in this area.  In all the years of living in the tropics growing up I can only remember one direct hit hurricane. The weather these days is certainly extreme!

That was then. Now, we are enjoying mild days in the 70's but strong winds! I have taken to pulling my hair back, military style, having gotten horribly tired of trying to control it or finding it in my face. I guess everyone's gotten tired of it since even the salon likes it.  Of course the "do" is indistinguishable from that of any other military female around here.
Detail of Eaves, Buddhist Temple, Seoul

Lighting Fixture, Buddhist Temple Gift Shop

Geri and the Baby Buddha

Buddhist Temple, Seoul, Front Steps

Panels, Life of The Buddha

Detail, Eaves of The Buddhist Temple

Detail in the Eaves of the Palace Halls

Throne Room 

Ceiling, Palace Throne Room

Palace musicians playing 16th C. traditional instruments.

Royal Casket

Sculpture, Children's game

S. Korean "White House"

Young Women in traditional dress, happy to pose

Main Palace building with a moat?
UN Peacekeepers in the JSA - Joint Security Area, UN, USA, S. Korea, North Korea
North Korean Building, JSA

Standing in the S., Looking to the North

Conference Building, Split, N. and S.

Conference Table, Split, N. & S.

Obviously, the DMZ - De-Militarized Zone. Tunnels from the North into the South have been and are being discovered, regularly

It has taken me many weeks to update this blog! Loading the pictures, organizing them, and the captions...Whine, whine, whine!  I apologize.

Now it is Thanksgiving Week and I am wishing all Americans anywhere a great time of fellowship with friends and family.

I will be back in Nebraska from Dec. 12th-Jan. 12th, visiting mostly with my mum, family, and friends. Our work here is very intense. UMUC gets faculty to sign on and then expects we will be cheerfully accepting of continuous overloads. From a traditional university standpoint, 2 courses at 6 class hours/week in 8 weeks is equal to 4/semester, 16 weeks. My overloads are therefore crushing with so little time  to complete marking that would have been spaced out over 16 weeks and fewer students!

I must say though that my students continue to be a great joy to work with.  I look forward to our times together and respect them so much for the work, class, and family obligations they bear to make better lives for themselves and their children.  Nevertheless, a break will be good! I will remain in Okinawa for the first Spring term, at least.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Cruise and Two Friends

It has been awhile since I actually put a blog together.  I had some great pictures and interesting site visits in S,. Korea but could not get the correct photos uploaded here. I will try at my next break.

Thanks to #MTXConnect, I can stay online anywhere in Europe for a very low cost.  Check them out for your next visit. They'll send you a SIM card--thus the blog update.  

I am getting the chance to spend more time and see new places in Europe I hadn't seen before now. Charlie and I added the Prague pre-cruise extension and enjoyed it very much!  HOWEVER--we have have spent 3 days NOT cruising on the Danube. We have been on board but bussed to the first 2 days of the cruise as the Danube is too low for the ship to sail from Nuremberg to Regensbeurg to Passau. This has meant really long bus rides and truncated times for touring. As of today we are (and have been) where we're supposed to be by the 4th day. In 2013 Europe's flooding was only surpassed by an even greater flood in 1501. Now the drought is so awful they've not experienced anything as dry and hot since the late 1800s.

We will continue on to Melk, Vienna, and Budapest and, when I'm not on my iPad, I will include pictures. Charlie and I are having a wonderful time--both on the trip and together.  I will leave Budapest for Berlin to see a friend from LCC days and from there back home to Okinawa and the start of a new term.