22 December, 2014

Bad Choices and Juleafslutning

Strange weather these days
On Friday morning, not only did I decide not to wear my ski pants, I decided not to pack the ski pants. 

Whatever was I thinking. 

I was thinking that just once I wanted to show up at school without looking like I was dressed for an Arctic expedition. I was thinking that since it was our Christmas party (juleafslutning), I could try to look a little bit nice. I could avoid hat hair by not wearing my hat. I could carry my leather purse instead of my ancient Jansport. I could wear a little mascara. 

These were all bad choices

'Bedraggled raccoon in wet jeans' will probably call up an accurate mental picture of how I looked sitting in the Sprogcentret Christmas service in Holstebro Church. Sogginess aside, it was a lovely service. Sprogcentret students nearly filled the church--there must have been several hundred of us.

Back at the school, I stood against the radiator. We played a gift exchange game and ate pebernødder and brunkager and drank coffee. I dried out and warmed up. Then we carpooled over to the music school for a short orchestra concert by the young people. 

I caught a rain and hail free window in which to ride home.

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.

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. 

10 August, 2014

I have holiday and the Potato Parents visit

During holiday time in Denmark, everything stops. There are no more organized play groups, no more swim classes, no school, no daycare, nothing. I haven't been to language school for six weeks. The Monkey and I have spent a lot of time in the sand box.

On a positive note, the weather for the past few weeks was stunning. It was hot and sunny, and I wore my Singapore clothes. Viking Man started to wilt. I started to feel like a normal person.

In 2006, I moved to Korea for one year. My mom said that if I ended up staying another year, she would visit. I stayed another year. And another. I got married. I moved. It took a baby in 2013 for me to get that visit from her. Then again, the Parents are hemmers and hawers by nature. After my dad's plan to come to Singapore with my mom was thwarted by the stem cell transplant, I wasn't sure they would ever be able to make another decision about visiting. But they did! And they both came! And it was so much fun to show them our life in Denmark. We went to Lønstrup and Skagen, Legoland, Spøttrup Borg, and did some general touring in Holstebro and the surrounding area.

Those two weeks raced by, then we had to say farvel. Monkey Baby looked for Grammy and Grumpa the morning they left, waved and said 'hej hej' when we went in the empty guest room. Boo.

Now the fantastic weather has reverted to normal Danish weather, which means I am cold and Viking Man is no longer in crisis. The Monkey is back in the sand box or on her scooter. Language school resumes on Monday.

I'd better dust off my books.

Photos Album Links:

06 July, 2014

We go to Tokyo: Catchup #1

I was going to skip most of 2012 and 2013, but Viking Man complained.


We went to Tokyo in February 2012 for the Tokyo Marathon. Aside from a visa run to Osaka when we lived in Korea, I hadn't been to Japan since I lived there in 2003-2004, and even then, I hadn't spent much time in Tokyo. So I was excited to go.

The marathon was fun. The Japanese, and runners in general, really know how to do a good costume. Viking Man, not wearing a costume, ran well, and I was able to see him at several points along the course. I wanted to see him finish as well, but as it was quite a trek by train for me to get out to the finish line, I wasn't sure if I would make it by the time he did.

I waited and waited and waited until I thought, 'Surely he wasn't that slow,' and then I went to the reunion area where we had agreed to meet afterwards.

I can tell you right now that we didn't think that one through very well.

Take 36,000 runners, multiply by the number of spectators per runner, minus five or six people who had already left, and you have the finish area. It was vast and overwhelming and teeming with everyone but VM. There were large numbered balloons for our meeting convenience, but we hadn't known about the balloons. So I decided to try a 'wait in one spot' approach. Then I tried a 'walk in a systematic grid' approach. My 'slump dejectedly against a wall' approach yielded nothing.

In a final act of desperation, I flagged down a volunteer who helped me navigate a phone book and pay phone, to no success. She eventually took pity on me and called our hotel on her own cell phone. VM answered the phone in our room. I wasn't sure whether to cry in relief or launch into a tirade about being abandoned. VM sounded genuinely sorry for leaving, but it probably had been the best idea under the circumstances.

Later when we compared notes about which costumed runners we had seen (Full Suit and Tie Guy, Hello Kitty Ninja, Tokyo Tower, Barefoot Jesus) and when we had seen them, we came to the conclusion that I probably hadn't made it to the finish line in time. Moral of the story: always choose a numbered balloon.

Some of the highlights:

Our hotel was in this vibrant area, just up the street from the pulsating Shibuya Crossing.

Edo Tokyo Museum
I spent an entire morning in this massive edifice housing the city's history while VM worked in the Tokyo Office.

This was a charming area with traditional shopping streets and a beautiful temple.

Tsukiji Fish Market
One of things on VM's wish list, he convinced me to get up at a ridiculous hour so we could see the market at its freshest. I'll admit that it was worth it. Giant tuna!

Meiji Shrine
The shrine had gorgeous cypress gates, and we saw a wedding procession.

Roppongi Hills/Mori Art Museum/Roof Deck
First we went to Tokyo Tower but changed our minds (possibly because of the price?) and continued walking to Roppongi Hills. Tickets for the roof deck at Mori Tower came with free access to the museum (and vice versa, so win-win for both of us), and we could see Tokyo Tower from there which ended up being better anyway.

26 June, 2014

Mother's Day and Memories of Korea

Jeju, March 2008
In February/March 2008, Viking Man went to Jeju-do, Korea on business and I joined him later in a last minute decision. It was a beautiful and unique trip and a fitting way to say goodbye to Korea (see the original post). Ever since, we have regretted not buying ourselves a souvenir dolharubang, a mushroom-like statue made from the porous volcanic rock of the island.

This Mother's Day, Viking Man announced a cryptic present he said I would never be able to guess. When two large crates showed up in the carport last week, I was still stumped. I have to admit that I was pretty stunned to see a giant dolharubang when we hacked open the first crate! Six years and three countries later, we have our Jeju souvenirs.

The packing slip declared each crate to be 400 kg. With one stacked on the other, it looked like a good chance that we now had a pair of decorative crates for the carport. Even my handy Viking had to think this one through for a couple of days. Today, he was finally able to execute 'Plan D', in which he rented a chain hoist, pried a board out of the carport ceiling, manipulated a couple of straps around the statue, then lifted it like it was nothing. The bottom crate followed easily. A quick jaunt on the dolly, and they are now guarding our house and garden.

Thanks to our friend Ho in Korea for arranging the shipment, and happy Mother's Day to me.

23 June, 2014

We move to Denmark, and I start Language School

I still have a monkey eating my brain. I've asked her to stop, but she just laughs and throws a handful of squashed brains on the floor. Darn you, Monkey Baby.

I originally started this blog so family and friends could keep up with what I was doing when I moved to Korea. To date, my years in Korea have been my best blogging years. China's disapproval of free speech slowed me down, and I've never really recovered.  Whether or not to continue is always a question, but I'm going to give it a go. We've moved yet again, so I have decided to continue documenting my life as it goes 'here, there, and everywhere'.

We moved to Denmark, by the way. It's windy and cold. People are nice but reserved. I ride a bike and am still trying to figure out what life here is all about. Eight years in Asia did nothing to prepare me for life in Scandinavia.

In May, my application for social registration was finally approved. I am now under obligation to 'integrate'. I have a case worker who is in charge of my integration program, and I have to check in with her now and then to assess how things are going.

In order to retain permission to stay, I have to pass several language tests. They are not hard, but I've enrolled at the language school all the same. It's a good way to meet people, it gives me something to do, I'll acquire a skill, and it's free. Good deal all around.

The school has more than 500 students from more than 60 countries. Study is broken down into three different education levels, each with six modules. I have started in module one of the third and highest education level. As of now, I have four classmates who come from Syria, Ukraine, Hungary, and Ghana.

Last Thursday, all the education three modules went on a field trip to Himmelbjerget (Sky Mountain) and the Asger Jorn Museum in Silkeborg. At 482 feet, Himmelbjerget is one of the highest points in Denmark. We 'hiked' to the top and enjoyed the view in spite of a biting wind. The museum was interesting though slightly tedious as I maybe understood 5% of what the docent was saying. Thanks to one of my classmates for the photos. Some blockhead forgot to put the memory card back in my camera.