Friday, September 2, 2011

So here I am--in Heidelberg, Germany--feeling simultaneously like a grown-up and a child, grown-up because I´ve never really lived by myself before (even in college I was just a two hour car drive away from my parents, whom I visited every few weeks), and also childlike because in this different culture, I find so many facets of daily life I take for granted are different, with the differences ranging from subtle to mind-blowing, e.g. my apartment door has a knob on the outside that will not turn, being solely designed for pulling and only coincidentally for confusing Americans. And the most important contributor to my childlike feeling is that the language is very new to me. When I was child (and still learning English as a second language), I would annoy my parents by reading signs aloud, wherever we went. This was especially amusing during car rides, where the frequency of passing signs allowed for continuous English practice. Now, over a decade later, I've found myself engaging in this practice again, though thankfully I've learned to keep most of the speaking in my head.

I've been asked whether I will write a travel blog. The answer is yes, in the sense that I will continue to update this blog with whatever is important to me at the moment, travel experiences included. But I find that I prefer to write about experiences only after they have been filtered by a period of contemplation and consolidation (I am not a live-by-the-senses person).

What am I to say about my first two days in Heidelberg? This place is a tourist stop, college town, bustling science center and historical landmark. I have listened to my housing advisor speak to me in German and English, stopping occasionally to speak with a colleague in Spanish. I have heard German spoken in a Chinese accent for the first time in my life (apparently there is a sizeable population of non-tourist Chinese here). I have sampled a Mexican restaurant's Tostada de Carne Asada, which would be more accurately described as a quasi-Turkish kebab. I have seen not a single bike rack; most riders are content to simply lock the back wheel to the frame, rendering the bike only marginally more difficult to steal. I wonder why Tucson bike thieves don't emigrate here en masse, but the higher cost of nearly everything is surely a deterrent.

I said that I'm not a live-by-the-senses person but that is partly a lie. This experience has happened to me before, when I was three years old, an age where no-one is cerebral as much as they are in-the-moment. At least I remember some moments, like when I fell mute and sat down utterly embarassed during a show-and-tell presentation, or when I learned the word "water" by noting that "wa" means "to dig" in Mandarin, as in: to dig a well. I wish I remembered more from that time, what it was like to be surrounded by a language I did not know, and a culture that was foreign to me.

When I was bidding farewell to my friends, almost every one of them said some variant of "enjoy yourself" or "have fun." I'm not saying that's bad, but why does our culture have such a limited view on the worth of experience? Goodbye, have an *enlightening* time! I wish you the very *strange and paradigm-shifting*! Hey there, what's up and do you use language mostly as a shared script or as a creative medium, and how do you switch between the two modes? What does it mean to be an adult, and is that something you truly want for yourself, or something you just have to accept when you blow out your *somewhat arbitrary number*th candle?

Bis später,

Derek

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