29 November, 2014

I Can't Escape Black Friday, and the Gloom Settles In

My winter coziness
A week or so ago I went out to Bilka to do some shopping and was horrified to see large posters advertising Black Friday sales. Black Friday. In Denmark. It wasn't just contained to Bilka either. It was everywhere. It has actually become an event here. The black cloud of American retail greed and consumer excess has invaded the peaceful gloom of Scandinavian winter. They could at least have the decency to import Thanksgiving Thursday as well, don't you think?

Speaking of gloom, the sun is currently rising after 8am and setting before 4pm. If it's cloudy, the daylight hours are even shorter. The Danish way of coping is to light lots of candles and create coziness in a variety of ways. I am attempting to do this by decorating for Christmas, playing Christmas music, and baking.

And so life chugs along. Happy Holidays to all.

26 October, 2014

Day of Tests and Police Stations

When I got to school last Monday, my teacher popped into the hallway to ask if I wanted to take the modultest at noon that day. I had planned to take it by the end of October, but I did not feel particularly prepared at that exact moment. After my heart rate returned to normal, I decided that I could probably stumble through it, and why not just get it over with?

It was actually a bit anti-climactic, the test. Out of five pre-prepared topics, I randomly selected to speak about just one. Next, I looked at a picture and asked questions about it for one minute. Both segments went well, so just like that, I moved to module two, no panic necessary.

After class, I had to go to the police station to apply for a re-entry permit for our upcoming trip to New York as I had not yet received my residence card. While I waited for my number to be called, I absently read the declaration of consent on the form I had filled out. The warm feelings from having just passed my modultest cooled slightly on reading that I had consented to 'letting the relevant authorities make enquiries about my entirely private affairs'. Private affairs, sure, but the entirely private ones? Anyway, my residence card came in the post yesterday, so now it's irrelevant.

Then after that, I went to another branch of the police to take my driving theory test. Out of seven students, four of us were taking it for the first time, one for the second, and two for the third. All of us were nervous. The test evaluator called us up one by one to take our forms and check our ID. I also had to give him my temporary driving permit.

'I have to keep this if you don't pass, you know,' he said pointedly. I nodded solemnly. 'But never mind, you'll pass.'

The knot in my stomach persisted through all twenty-five questions. Afterwards in the waiting area, we discussed some of the ambiguities of the test. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I needed twenty correct answers to pass.

The evaluator returned with our tests. He winked as he delivered mine, my little paper driving permit sticking out of the top. Yes! Those of us who passed exchanged oddly enthusiastic hugs of relief for people who hardly knew each other. We commiserated with those who had not passed. One sweet little woman had failed for the third time. 'I think I'm getting worse,' she said, looking crestfallen.

Next on my to-do list: pass the practical driving test, and get through module two.

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.