reverse culture shock


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i had met so many Germans on my travels that i figured by the time i actually went to Germany there would be no one there, but shortly after arriving at Berlin’s Tegal Airport i realized that i could not have been more wrong.  turns out Germany is full of Germans, but that’s not even the weird part.  the weird part was that suddenly for the first time in a very very very long time i was not completely surrounded by Asians.  after spending more than a year straight in mostly rural Asian communities i had become well accustomed to my continuous celebrity status.  day after day i had been approached by extremely curious and excitable individuals all wanting to ask me the same five questions and practice their English in the process – “where are you from?… what do you do?… are you married?… where is your family?… would you like to come to my home?” and every time i would answer them respectfully – “United States… i’m a traveler… no… far far away… sure, why not.”  now here in the western world, engaging in social interaction takes real effort.  here, one is not awarded immediate celebrity status upon entering an establishment simply based on the color of their skin.  here, things are as they *should* be and in that i feel relieved but the transition is a difficult one all the same.

Berlin is a very happening place and among my most favorite cities in the world.  it’s a sprawling city full of art and music with an extremely relaxing vibe.  the people here exhibit very little pretense and seem generally happy to be alive.  it has been over a decade since my last visit.  it impressed me then and it impresses me now.  i really couldn’t have chosen a better place to nurse the brunt of my culture shock.

needless to say, this sudden transition from Asia to Europe is somewhat of a drastic one.  one that marks a new chapter in my travels.  as of today, i’ll be temporarily retiring my tourist hat and replacing it with a slightly more sentimental one.  during my year in Asia i have managed to forge many important friendships with fellow travelers, many of which come from Germany and Switzerland.  today is as good a day as any to put Asia on the back-burner and couch surf my way across Europe in good company.

the first people i intended to visit were Stefan and Matthias whom i had met in Myanmar.  unfortunately, they were out of town that week but to my joyful surprise left me keys to their adorable apartment and a fresh carton of eggs.

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ten hours of jet-lag recovery and half-a-dozen eggs later it was on to my next order of business as well as my main reason for coming to Berlin – to reunite once again with my long-time American friend Nathan.  i found him and Alicia standing on the curb outside the coffee shop engaged in laughter.  Nathan+friends live and work in Switzerland and have just arrived here to get a five-day dose of Berlin’s infamous electronic music scene while getting as little sleep as possible.  being a DJ himself, Nathan is well connected in the music scene and was able to introduce me to the many gems of Berlin.  night after night we became nocturnal creatures of constant motion.

though people do it, most people can’t actually dance for five days straight.  especially people like me who require some sleep from time to time as well as an easy glass of red wine.  enter Christina – a dear friend i had met a month prior on Palawan Island in the Philippines.  she took the train up from Leipzig to visit me.  i was extremely happy to see her again in this different context.  her presence also added some needed balance to my Berlin experience.  one evening at a chill bar we sipped our easy wine and reminisced.  our bartender – a warm-heart named Melissa who had a thirst for modern dance, befriended us and engaged in our travel-talk until the sun came up.

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after which, we closed the bar and headed to the streets for a dancing lesson.  and just like that, my intended break from dancing turned right back into dancing.  this time, not to electro-beats but rather to chirping birds and joyous laughter.  waltzing morphed into tango and then tango morphed into what Melissa referred to as “contact improvisation”.

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dancing with the bartender 101

my five-day-long day in Berlin had come to an end all too soon but my twelve hour road trip to French-Switzerland was about to begin.  along the way we gave Christina a ride back to her home in Leipzig where we enjoyed some pasta and MarioKart before our long journey into the country i would end up calling home for the next two months.

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