Europe current locationI awoke on my last full day in Dresden to the howling wind. The wailing was varying in intensity, and I was sure it wasn’t going to be very nice outside. The shower had calmed somehow, and thankfully wasn’t doing much variation. I was able to get out and down to the car very quickly this morning as I didn’t have any dishes to add on to the time. This made me very happy.

The parking situation was however less terrific, and I ended up having to walk almost as far as I would have from the door. Since this was the last non-hectic day I’d get to have it, I brought my EOS with me to get pictures of the cornucopia of muesli, the varied selection of meats, the sausage and egg items, and the bread bar. My breakfast looked beautiful as always. “I’m going to have very difficult time giving this up,” I said to myself as I took a bite of the grains and milk.

I returned to the far off car, and drove to the exit, listening to the Ayumi Hamasaki audio CD I’d made.. As I reached into the pop-out ashtray for the access card, my fingers could locate no such slip of paper. I felt around, not wanting to take my eyes off the concrete walls around me, but still was card-less. I stopped the car and looked, and it wasn’t IN there. Aw, man! And I was going to be early, too. I backed up and was going to run back around the parking loop, but stopped for a moment. I thought maybe it had fallen elsewhere. I looked up a moment later, and someone was behind me again! What *is* it with people always trying to get through where I was stopped? I drove back around to the same parking space and stopped. My guess was correct; I had accidentally slipped the card in the tiny crack behind the ashtray, and it was very difficult to access. I ended up popping it forward slightly off the hinges so that I could fit my fingers inside to retrieve it. Problem solved, and the ashtray popped right back in without effort. Phew.

I got a very nice spot in the parking lot at the plant, as I was twenty minutes early. Even the walk in wasn’t bad, as it had warmed up slightly. Once inside, there was a huge queue at the sign in, and I started to walk up to it. There are two security desks, one in front, and one to the left, where I was headed. I saw the same woman I’d seen pretty much daily for the last two weeks at the first desk, and she was straining her neck to see my badge, which had flipped itself over. I straightened it, and smiled at her.

“Do you have a laptop?” she asked, suddenly.

“Um, yes,” I said, confused, as I was headed to the other desk to sign it in.

“You need to go register it at the security desk and sign in as well,” she told me, as if I’d never been here before. She didn’t recognize me at all! I guess she sees a lot of people. I walked to the desk, signed in, and headed up to the room. I was the first one to arrive, not unexpectedly, so I took a seat and waited for someone to arrive who could let me into the lab downstairs. After 8am, Michel still hadn’t arrived, so when Janice walked in, I asked if she’d mind taking me down. I felt bad, since she’d *just* walked into the room. She didn’t mind and she headed to the other side of the building with me. When we reached the lab, she decided she wanted to know about what I was working on. The login, as usual, was taking twenty minutes as it’s copying a profile from Austin over a slow WAN connection. Janice suggested we go get coffee in the meantime. We walked back across the building together and retrieved some from the automated machine. We returned to the lab, and I demonstrated to her what I was working on. This she found very helpful, and she left a short while later, helpfully taking my empty cappuccino mug with her. I had some issues with the system, and was luckily assisted by Susanto, who is a guy from Austin who has lived here for 6 months. He was able to get things working for me, and I really appreciated his help.

About halfway through my two hour window, a bunch of Japanese guys walked in, obviously fresh off the plane. I knew this immediately, because I’d spent the last two weeks sitting here in Germany listening to everyone speaking German left and right. I’d pick out a word here and there, but generally it was a big communication wall, and I didn’t understand much of anything.

Suddenly, it was like someone had wiped a frosted over window clean. I was able to hear a foreign language, and I could *understand it*. This rush of sudden external information overwhelmed me, and I felt suddenly less far from home. This of course would only work for me, I guess. I listened to them talk, and it was as if I’d been starved of sugar for a really long time and someone had suddenly handed me a bucket of jellybeans. I finished my session, but the Japanese guys had all left, so I wasn’t able to say hello.

I worked on a log back in the room until lunch, and we all walked to the cafeteria. My card had run out of funds yesterday, so Rayko had bought my lunch; today I returned the favor. Pretty much everyone else got the goulash, but I opted for some breakfast sausage-looking items. They weren’t really that close to breakfast sausage in texture or flavor though. I liked them. Dirk’s stomach hadn’t been handling the new cafeteria’s food so well, so he’s gone with the vegetarian selection of the day, some sort of pastry and green beans. As he took his first bite of green beans, he made a yelping noise. “Oh! This dish is loaded with salt,” he said, his face wincing as he chewed. “I don’t think I can eat these.” As he went further into his meal, he finally admitted, “I am not lucky in my choices,” which made us all laugh. Poor Dirk.

Afterwards, we discussed taking a walk, but Michel was concerned about the weather. It wasn’t raining, but he was worried it might start. He was quickly overruled, and we all went out front for the post lunch roam. Michel needed to drop by his car, and we took the “scenic route” around the rear parking lot. Dirk had picked up a rock, and hurled it towards the fence, which was not that far away. His throw went awry, however, and it didn’t make it past the perimeter.

“Don’t try out for the Olympics anytime soon!” I said, digging at him. He laughed as well. Rayko and I got back to car discussions, as we passed a Maserati that looked something like a Skyline from the back. I told him that if I could have any car, it would be an R34 Skyline GT-R VSpec in cartoon blue. “When I win the lottery,” I told him. I also found out Germany has the same “dual-brand” car makes like Acura/Honda or Infiniti/Nissan. There’s some car that you can buy from two different car makers here that is in all senses identical, outside of the name on the back.

Dirk, Rene, and I walked back to the cafeteria to get coffee when we returned inside. This time I tried out a macchiato, which was more my cup of tea (coffee) than cappuccino. At my reservation at 3, I was actually able to complete what I was in Dresden for, which was a big milestone. I was pleased. As I cleaned up, I struck up a conversation with a lone Japanese guy who had wandered to the back of the lab. In Japanese, I asked him were he was from.

“Japan,” he replied. I almost slapped my forehead.
”Well, yes, I noticed that. Where in Japan are you from?” I then queried, more specifically. He realized his mistake, and said that he was from a city in Kyushu, which I have forgotten. I told him I’d been to Beppu, and he asked if I’d been to any hot springs.
“Suginoi Palace,” I told him, and he knew it; it’s very famous. We talked for a while about Japan (his name was Kiyoshi, I think), where I learned Japanese, and how many times I’d been. About this time I realized that I had been speaking, full speed with no pauses, for about 10 minutes, and hadn’t once stopped to think about what he was saying. It was the most casual, relaxed conversation I’d ever had in Japanese, actually.
“You have the cleanest, most accurate Japanese I’ve ever heard a foreigner speak,” he told me. “Usually, I have to try very hard to understand foreigners, and I ask them to repeat a lot. You I don’t have any trouble with!” he exclaimed, and I waved my hand, shrugging off the comment. This is how they handle compliments – with humility. Inside, however, I was bouncing off the walls. “Really, your Japanese is excellent.”

”I’m not really fluent yet,” I told him, as I say to everyone. I don’t think of myself as fluent at all, since I can’t understand anyone at any time.
“Oh, no you really are fluent! You have the best I’ve every heard,” he said, and I broke with convention and bowed at him. He bowed back.

The conversation was cut short as I had a phone call at 5, and it was already 5:02. I told him why I had to leave, and asked if he’d be around tomorrow. He was going to be, so hopefully I’d get to see him again. We introduced one another in Japanese, using a Japanese introduction, but also used the Western convention of shaking hands. As I backed up to leave, he bowed fully at the waist, completely doubling over! I bowed back, unable to go that far over with my laptop in hand. This continued as I moved in reverse across the lab bowing every foot or so, he returning these bows as we went. It’s kind of a funny thing in Japanese culture, Dave Barry compares this to those little bobbing bird toys that dip their heads into glasses of water. I headed out the door and practically ran upstairs to find Michel.

I dropped into the conference room, but Michel was already elsewhere. I relayed the story, quickly, to Janice and said how it was such a release from hearing German all week. Not that I dislike German, per se, I just don’t understand it! I theorized that I’ve been in “foreign language mode” all week, trying to get the gist of what people were saying, so my brain was easily able to switch into Japanese without difficulty.

I ran down the hallway to meet Michel, and we had our final long-distance conference call with Austin. As we finished, I said I’d see everyone in Austin in a little more than a week, and Michel and I returned to the room. I was really hurrying; I wanted to try and get downtown to get pictures of the buildings. I packed up my stuff and sprinted downstairs; it was already after 5:45.

The woman behind the desk recognized me, in contrast to the other one, and she checked me out from the logs. I hurried outside and –

Rain.

It was absolutely pouring. “Son of a bitch,” I said, pulling my coat up around my ears. I wasn’t even in possession of an umbrella anymore, so the long walk to the car was going to suck. I ran, as best I could, to my Peugeot, which was hard with my heavy backpack and hands in my pockets. I was sure I was going to trip and slide face first across the brick pavement, unable to protect myself due to my tied up hands. I threw my bag inside the car and got in, shuffling my hair with my hands to wipe away the excess water. My backpack was all wet as well, but none of the expensive hardware was near the top. I accepted my inability to take pictures tonight in stride; I was disappointed, but I also had a lot to do tonight. The auto-wipers were doing a terrible job of recognizing the water, and I had to turn them on manual for a moment to get them started. The roads were wet, but not slippery on the way back to hotel. The gas light *finally* came on after two weeks of driving.

I returned to the room and put my stuff aside. I decided to work out and see how the rain was doing. If it got better, I’d go downtown. I used the underground to get to the gym, which was really crowded. Another guy was doing the same workout, and we had real contention for equipment. We weren’t doing exactly the same movements, or even weights, so working in wasn’t an option either. I did manage to finish though, and retuned to the room, feeling good about my easy lifting. I had definitely put on some weight, thanks to two days of good food, but hopefully I’d be able to work this back off.

I passed the first floor on the stairs and looked out. I had resigned myself to not going downtown by now, and I swore again. It didn’t look like it was raining anymore. Fortunately, I opened the door, and water was still coming down. Upstairs, I started dinner and kept an eye on the weather outside as I watched an episode of 24. Even afterwards I could see water breaking the surface of puddles, so at 9:30 I called it, and the idea was officially dead. Oh well.

Dinner was huge as I was trying to finish all the perishables I’d purchased earlier in the week. I left one yogurt, an apple, and milk for the next day, but the remainder I polished off. I even had one big glass of milk with the yogurt I ate for dessert. The cereal and soups I could bring with me.

The final task of the evening was to pack. It went pretty well; I’d not really added any souvenirs or anything, so the bag hadn’t really expanded any. Somehow, though, it didn’t fit as well, and I was really trying to press everything in. I noticed, once I was done, that the cereal was not going to make it, so it ended up in my backpack. I was impressed, it wasn’t late, and I was pretty much ready to walk out the door, outside of the chargers and my toiletries. I made sure my alarm was set, put on background noise with the same episode of 24, and closed my eyes, preparing myself for my last time in Dresden and my afternoon flight to Helsinki.

-- Hik