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Europe current locationOkay. I lied. No pictures. But I have a really good excuse!

When I awoke this morning, I became suddenly aware of a gigantic problem. My arms were stiff, sore, and wouldn’t bend very well. Man, sucks to start working out after a long time off. I had to roll myself out of bed and into the shower, all the while working with my arms to get them able to bend as much as possible. I got them generally working okay quickly, but I couldn’t regain my full range of motion. Shampooing was hard today! I managed to get on my clothes without too much difficulty, but straightening the collar was still kind of a pain. I grabbed my backpack, camera bag, and tripod, since I had planned on taking pictures, then walked down to the car. I made sure and did my dishes before I left with the hand towels as well, as I didn’t want them to do them again.

I drove around front and parked in the driveway again. I think this is going to be common practice until someone tells me I can’t do it. No one seems to move that early in the morning though, and even if they do, there should be enough room for them to get out. There’s *always* a driverless taxi parked there anyway, day or night. I dropped off my key and went to breakfast. I gathered my morning muesli and just as I was getting sausage and juice, I saw Annie, a woman who works in the building back in Austin. I’d seen her a number of times here at work as well (she happened to come over at the same time I guess), and she invited me over to eat with her and the man she was sitting with. I dropped off my plates, retrieved my things from the first table, and returned to sit with Annie and the other man, Tom.

“Tom, Marc speaks Japanese fluently. That’s why it’s so weird that he showed up just now,” Annie said. I looked at her, confused.

“Annie’s kind of a cut-up around the office,” Tom told me, “and I asked her to teach me Japanese and all Japanese culture before Friday.” Apparently Tom, who works for the same company as the one I’m working with, is going to Japan on business for the first time on Friday, and he wanted some tips on Japanese business practices. Talk about jealousy on my part! How cool would that be – go to Germany one week and Japan the next? I quickly gave him some tips on Japanese culture and some business Japanese, like don’t put their business cards in your back pocket.

“But…what if I have a wallet?” he asked.

“Don’t put them in your wallet,” I said. He had already taken a Japanese business culture class, so he actually knew quite a bit. I was impressed that he knew as much as he did, and that he remembered it all. He did relay a funny story though.

“The first time I met the Japanese group I’m working with, I was trying very hard to do all the right things. However, I stood a little too close to someone I was meeting, and when we bowed, we banged heads.” That actually happens a lot, but it was still funny to hear it from someone who’d had it happen to them firsthand. Annie asked, as a woman with no pockets, where should she put the business cards? That was a toughie.

“Well, just hold them in your hands until you get done. Unfortunately, you’ll also be carrying your own, so you’ll have about 50 cards by the time you’re done!” I said, apologetically. About then, another Austin visitor arrived, Andrew, who seemed to speak very good German. Time had grown short, so I didn’t get to speak with him very much. He did mention he was going to try and go to an Italian restaurant tomorrow night, and I wondered if I could tag along, although I didn’t ask. Annie left for the plant first, then me. As I left, I took Tom’s card and said I’d email him when I got to the office so that he’d have my contact information. He had his contact information in Japanese on the opposite side of his card. I was jealous.

As I drove to work, I noticed a really cool looking farmhouse that I want to stop and take a picture of. I’m really kind of annoyed I can’t take more pictures, but it’s really hard; it’s dark as soon as I get out, and while I can get flash pictures and long exposures, a lot of these I’d like to get in the daylight. This might be more of a problem in Finland of the Never-Rising Sun. I planned to come back here if I get out early. I wouldn’t be able to test in the afternoon, so I figured I’d have time to take pictures today.

The room has suddenly become super crowded, and I mean craziness. When I first arrived, it was just three of us, then four, now we’re up to 7 or 8 people all trying to work in the same area. The way the room is laid out, there are two long tables in parallel with a space between for cords and power strips. The power strips are all but full now, and trying to find somewhere to plug in my laptop is a task that involves cunning, a steady hand, good balance, and fear of electrocution. I feel like I’m in Mission: Impossible, and tiptoeing my way in between the cords and 220V outlets trying desperately not to set off the alarms that will bring the guards crashing into the room. I’ve already shocked myself once with the little adapters for German plugs, so I’m really careful now when I pull them out. I located a 1.5 x 1.5 foot square space with enough room for my laptop and a cup of coffee, but had to immediately go down and test, as we had a reservation at 8am. This was to be a busy day with everything packed densely together, and a meeting to boot.

At 11:50 we set off to the cafeteria for lunch again. As I walked in, I noticed they had real espresso/cappuccino machines there, and I think perhaps I’ll get one of these at some point. The automatic machines they have here for coffee are not so good, but free. They’re actually identical to the ones in Austin we’d used when we were in training, outside of the lack of disposable cups. They don’t use disposable cups at all here, and in the new cafeteria they even have real silverware. I really like this way of thinking. I try to reuse all the Styrofoam they have at the office in Austin as much as possible. For lunch this time I got a “Fit” turkey feta pastry and rice with sauce, plus a cup of cream of chicken soup. As I checked out, the woman asked me what I knew to mean, “Is that regular or mineral water?” but as usual I didn’t know how to answer. I think my brain panicked. She asked again in German, “Is it mineral water?” and in my mental disorientation, I answered.

“Hai,” I said. Yes. I answered her in *Japanese*. Fortunately, I had nodded when I did it, so she understood what I meant. I walked off, chuckling to myself about the lunacy of it all. It took me a moment to locate everyone I was working with in the crowded cafeteria area, but they flagged me down. We ate with less conversation today, but partially because what they did say, they said in German today. I was busy stuffing my face with the really good spinach-feta-turkey thing, so I was pretty quiet too. I told them about my little language flub, and Rene affirmed what she was asking.

“They have two kinds of water, one kind that is free, and another that is not free,” he told me. I nodded. I had noticed some glass cases around the walls of the room, but they were all empty. I asked about these, and we all agreed they were probably going to put displays about current company products. We dropped off our trays on the little conveyor belt for dirty dishes, then headed back to the konferensraum to pick up our coats for a walk.

I have finally learned my first real phrase in German. As we walked, I asked Rayko and Rene how you would say, “Please give me my room key.” Rayko wrote it down for me in the room, and I read it.

“Geben sie mir bitte meinen schlüssel.”

“Very good!” he told me, and I practiced a time or two more. “You really sound like a German.” I explained that I have a knack for accents, and it’s relatively easy for me to mimic the sounds I hear. This is a problem for me in Japan, where on the phone people think I’m Japanese and sometimes they speak too quickly for me to discern what they’re saying. A gift and a curse. We walked out of the building, all the while with me asking the air for my room key. As we walked, Rayko told me that he’d looked for my Skype username last night, and in the process came across my website. He had read some of the travel logs, asked about fencing (to which I’d given him a long explanation of the history of the politics in the UT Fencing Club), and my car. He said that in the US, many people really want European or Japanese cars, but here in Europe everyone wanted an American car. He said the new Mustang is really cool, and you can’t get a car here with the same specs except for twice the price. They’re just hard to get here. He wants one of those, or better yet a 60’s Mustang. “One day,” he said. I told him a lot of Americans have that same dream. When I got back to the room, I emailed Tom and asked if they went to the Italian place if I could go with them. I got an immediate Out of Office AutoReply, stating that he was in Germany and then Aizu [Aizu-Wakamatsu, Japan] for two weeks and probably wouldn’t get his mail very often. Again, jealous.

The day finished faster than I’d expected, and even though I’d planned on leaving at 4, I didn’t get out until 5:30. I was trying to find travel plans, and knew that the Internet connection at the hotel was bogus. I looked up T-Mobile hotspots, but the list isn’t helpful since I don’t know where any of the places are. I did find a hotel near the city center in Berlin I’m going to make reservations at, but was waiting to hear back from Hena about whether she can meet me in Frankfurt on the 29th. If I can, that would be cool, if not, I’m going to stay in Finland with Anj for an extra day. I also tried to find the WalMart here in Dresden, but as it turns out it’s actually 20 minutes south of Dresden proper, and we’re up north from there. Rene said it takes about an hour to get there. Not worth it, I decided. Janice says she knows where to get SIM cards, and I was hinting at going to get one today, but she didn’t get the hint. It’s not that much of a rush, but I’d like to have one before Berlin, and that’s coming soon.

As I walked out of the building, I realized it was not only dark outside, but also raining and colder. I pulled out the umbrella I’d bought in Japan, and discovered it was broken. One of the fiberglass rods had snapped, so it was effectively useless now. Dagnabbit. Another thing to buy before I’m walking around in Berlin. I returned to the hotel the normal way, practicing my phrase heavily to get it just right. As I pulled into the hotel driveway, I realized I knew how to say “My name is…” but didn’t know how to say “twenty-four” which is my room number, and what I really needed to get my key. Crrrap. I figured out “Mein raum ist Augustus….” but the room number was something else. I dove into the trunk for my phrasebook, and after a little searching located the numbers. As I stared at the long phrase for the number I realized, while it made sense (‘four and twenty”) there was no way I was going to remember it on the way into the hotel. I gave up.

I approached the counter and used my phrase, trying hard to get the pronunciation correct. Unfortunately I had to switch to English for the room number. He then asked for my name, since he was someone I’d not seen before, and for some reason I responded in English, even though I knew the German phrase for that. Drr… He handed me my key and I went to my room. My arms were still pretty sore, and I had trouble carrying my camera bag along with everything else. Once I got inside, I immediately changed and headed for the gym. If I were clever, I told myself, I’d wear my swimsuit and hit the pool/hot tub when I got done working out. I really didn’t feel like being wet though, so I didn’t. It was definitely colder outside as I walked to the main lobby.

I had seen some people talking to the security desk before going to the pool yesterday as I left the gym, so I wondered if I needed to check in first. I asked the man at the desk about the weight room, and all he did was point me to it. The music was off today, which made for a very boring workout. I was very happy that once I started lifting again, the pain started to decrease, and was replaced with just fatigue. The scale claimed 85 kilos, which means 187 with my heavy shoes on. I didn’t bring any good workout shoes, so I was wearing my hiking boots, as I did yesterday. I figure I’ll gain some again with muscle (hopefully) so I wanted to get a baseline on this scale.

After my workout, I returned to the room and started heating up my soup and remainder of the yummy hot dogs. I watched a little German TV while I set up the laptop and munched on a roll with cheese. Home Improvement was on, in German, along with a weird German Big Brother. This didn’t seem much like Big Brother (not that I watch it in the states, but I know what it is) so much as Fear Factor as a woman was put in protective gear and launched on one of those gigantic cable swings they have at amusement parks through a gigantic pile of flaming boxes. I turned off the TV as my food was ready, and was going to load the 6th episode of 24 from the second season. To my horror, I didn’t have it! I must not have compressed it, or put it in the wrong location. Sunuva… That’s not a series you can miss an episode for. I watched the highlights in the 7th episode and then continued on. So sad, so very sad. I managed to get caught up, I think, but I’ll have to watch it when I get home. My dinner was good as usual, and afterwards, I had some blackberry yogurt, then a bowl of cereal for dessert. I figured my milk will go bad eventually, and I don’t want to waste it. I’m in contention that sausages and yogurt are somehow just all around better in Germany.

I really wanted to watch another episode of 24 (damn cliffhangers), but promised myself I’d get the automatic email script working. I realized, however, I had no documentation for Perl handy, and I don’t know that as well as PHP now. I was proud of myself, though; I managed to get the thing working, and made the necessary modifications to the script I’d already written to handle every error case I could think of. I approach coding from a tester’s standpoint, and I really think that makes my code a little better in the long run. It all seemed to be working, but I ran a few more tests to be sure. While I was doing this I decided even German TV was decent for background noise. I turned on the set and flipped channels a couple of times looking for something interesting….


More naked people. And this time, it wasn’t remotely innocent. I don’t get movie channels or anything for free, so I quickly checked to make sure I’d not accidentally enabled the pay TV channels. Nope, this was standard, perfectly normal, late-night TV (it was after midnight). I realized that they were actually *commercials*, the same phone sex ads you see in the US on late night TV, only these were full of women who were either taking off, or already without, clothes. A short “Sexy Sports Video” came on, which included a writhing woman lying on the ground with a bunch of golf balls, which were the only real tie to the concept of “sports”. I had thought maybe just breasts were okay on German TV, but as it turns out, nothing is technically “forbidden”. However anything below the waist seemed to be very limited and was only shown very briefly or from a long distance. I guess there really is very little they won’t show on German TV. It was interesting to see a disclaimer at some point I was able to translate enough to see that even the commercials were for “persons over the age of 16”.

I shut off the TV (too distracting, heh) and finished up my code so I could get to bed. It was way late, and I was sure I’d be totally dead in the morning.

-- Hik

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