23 September, 2014

Learning to Drive in Denmark

Around 15 years old, driving on a family camping trip
I took my first driving license when I was fourteen. My mom took me over to Nampa High very early in the mornings before school, and I sat in a class with other fourteen to sixteen year olds to learn the theory of driving. Some mornings I would drive with an instructor in a car with two other kids I didn't know. They swore a lot, but that's beside the point, which is that I got my license.

If I want to drive here in Denmark, which I do, I am required to exchange my US license for a Danish one by way of passing a driving test. I could simply take the test and hope for the best, but a failure and consequent retaking is expensive. Therefore, I have signed up for some theory classes to improve my chances of passing the test the first time.

Once again, then, I find myself sitting in a class with other students, non-Danish speakers of all nationalities, to learn the theory of driving in Denmark. We sit at narrow wooden tables that are covered in doodles and swear words in a third-floor room above the pedestrian street. There is a small fridge full of Coke. A few students are only exchanging licenses from their home countries, but the majority are taking licenses and learning to drive for the first time. A high percentage of the students, including previous license holders, have already taken and failed the test at least once. 

Our instructor is a kind man and true advocate for foreigners trying to pass the test. As the test is visual with audio, it used to be that you had to bring your own translator. Now they actually provide the audio in English, but those who are not proficient enough still struggle with the speed and terminology. The instructor is not allowed to preview the actual tests, so he does his best to anticipate and prepare us accordingly. 

I've attended several classes now, and I don't think I could have passed without any study. The different signage and rules combined with the British terminology make it just confusing enough to invite failure. Terms such as 'shark's teeth', 'give way right', 'standard of the carriageway', and 'built-up area' were all missing from my lexicon. I hope that knowing I have 'absolute give way duty' when I cross a 'pavement' or 'cobbles' will help me pass my test. 

Now I'm off to ride my bike. 

13 September, 2014

We go to Cambodia: Catchup #2

Late in the day at Angkor Wat
Viking Man and I had talked for a long time about going to Vietnam, and in March 2012 we finally had a chance to go. I spent months meticulously researching the trip. I came up with a grand scheme that consisted of going from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and all the stops in between by boat, bus, and rail. It was a dream trip that would take at least two weeks.

Then we changed our minds and went to Cambodia. I didn't do any meticulous research, I made no reservations, there was no grand scheme. We flew to Phnom Penh with backpacks and a Lonely Planet.

'Can you take us here?' we asked a taxi driver at the airport, pointing to a hotel from the guide book. He took us there.

It was fully booked. Another place had one night available, and one night available at a sister hotel. So we stayed two nights in Phnom Penh. We spent our time at the National Museum, the S21 Genocide Museum, and some local markets. We skipped the Royal Palace for lack of appropriate attire.

'Can you get us bus tickets to Siem Reap?' we asked our hotel. They got us bus tickets, so we went to Siem Reap.

'Can you take us here?' we asked a tuk tuk driver, pointing to a hotel from the guide book. The hotel had availability for two nights. So we stayed two nights in Siem Reap and went to Angkor Wat, of course.

'Maybe we should go to the beach now,' we said to each other. So we booked a local flight to Sihanoukville and took a very bumpy tuk tuk ride out to the end of Otres Beach where we stayed for two nights in a bungalow.

'Can you get us bus tickets to Phnom Penh?' we asked our hotel. They got us bus tickets, and we returned to Phnom Penh. We stayed one more night before our return flight to Singapore.

I have nothing but good things to say about Cambodia. The people were gracious and friendly, the food was fantastic, the sights were remarkable. I loved this trip.

Tips for traveling in Cambodia:
  • In Phnom Penh, stay at the Blue Lime or one of it's sister properties.
  • The Genocide Museum is absolutely chilling but worth the visit.
  • Unless you really love temples, one day at Angkor Wat is suitably mind-blowing.
  • Do not charge excitedly into Bayon Temple and lose track of your partner's whereabouts! 
  • When traveling by bus, do not put your backpack in the baggage hold next to a moped and an ancient styrofoam cooler box full of fish on ice. 
  • Go with the flow and travel around--Cambodia has a lot to offer.

05 September, 2014

The Weather Is My Nemesis and Cashew Cheese

Monkey Baby and Viking Man walk in the rain
I just lived through the coldest August I've ever experienced. My fight with the weather is a big sign that Integration is still struggling to gain a point against Denmark. I do not see myself EVER accepting that wearing a down jacket and gloves in the middle of August is normal. On the up side, I can cycle into town wearing full rain gear and rubber boots and not feel like a complete loon. The Monkey obviously has not lived long enough to know any better, for she actually seems to like the cold and rain.

Fortunately for my sanity, September has been kind with blue skies and lovely warm afternoons.

Language class is finally falling into a routine, and my relationship with the Danish language is turning into one of alternating love and hate. I love studying. I love discussing points of grammar. I love being part of this little group in which we are all fighting for the same thing. But I hate speaking. I hate being misunderstood, hate having to repeat myself, hate not yet knowing how to say what I want to say. I hate the feeling that people are just waiting for me to 'become Danish'.

I went into a Middle Eastern grocery the other day. It was packed floor to high ceiling with spices, specialities, and imported goods of a great variety. Every spare surface and corner had been utilized. It was cramped and colorful and chaotic, and I was surprised by how comforting I found it. It was so--not Danish. It was the feeling of Asia, which I will admit to missing on occasion.

So it then felt very surreal to interact with the Middle Eastern employees in Danish. Talk about worlds colliding. But I successfully found out the price per/kg of sweet potatoes, that lemons were three for something, and that I should purchase cashews from the bulk boxes at the register.

Speaking of cashews, I fail to see how anyone can convince themselves that they are in any way a passable replacement for cheese. Just google 'cashews as cheese' and you will see it's actually quite a thing.

Anyway, the other night I decided to make raw 'alfredo' sauce served over zucchini noodles. 'I can honestly say that I like this alfredo sauce more than standard alfredo sauce. HONEST!' gushed the recipe author. My feelings about it were not quite as effusive. I failed to pick up on the cheesy, creamy, 'oh so alfredoey' aspect of it that was being sold to me. It was more like cashew hummus, which is actually how I think I'll use the leftovers. But we did like the zucchini noodles.

Now I need to get out and enjoy the sun while I can.

11 August, 2014

Denmark-1, Integration-0

After four years of wearing shorts and tank tops every single day, my ability to assess weather and dress accordingly leaves much to be desired. Denmark is especially tricky. It's not out of the question for the weather to change by the hour, or even the minute. Today I decided to give the weather the benefit of the doubt, which I really shouldn't have.

After class I did some shopping at Nørreport then left to find black sky and pouring rain. I went back in to kill some time in the book store, then left again five minutes later to find the sun shining. So strange. At least I hadn't wasted more time looking at the selection of English books which consisted of Twilight, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey, and the new Dan Brown.

Speaking of class and wasted time... I kind of knew the first day back might be a little chaotic, but that didn't make it any less annoying to me that we did zero studying.

To make up for it, I went down Nørregade to the walk-up grill and made myself order lunch in Danish, a scenario I find absolutely terrifying. First of all, I had to interact with other people in the queue as there was some confusion over who was next. Then after I placed my order, the lady asked me to choose a kind of bread for my sandwich, to which I replied, 'Nej tak (no thank you).' Immediately realizing my mistake and growing more horrified by the second, I chose a bread and moved over to pay. In a final slap to the face, the lady switched to English to ask if I wanted takeaway, leaving me to wonder why I even tried Danish in the first place.

Yes, I want takeaway. And a paper bag for my head, please. 

Yes, I use words like 'queue'. 

When Monkey Baby got home, she ran all the way from the car to the house yelling 'Mama' at top volume.

That right there is worth all the points in the world.