Where do I go when room 204 doesn't show up for class?
Okay. Wehner World Wrap Up. I've been really quiet this past week, and I apologize to any conerned parties. This is the first message going out to "the list" (as its called in my address book) so I hope this works...
Its been about a week... and I should point out that things have just been down-right boring, so don't expect great silliness or anything even remotely comical in this. Oh well. On with the show.
That whole weekend, I pretty much did nothing. I did a wee bit of shopping, trying not to starve to death, but otherwise, I just tried avoiding contact with the outside world. Saturday, I went up to Kaufland and bought some cooking materials. I bought a pan and a big spoon and a tupperware jar and some Chicken soup (its actually, "Noodle Soup with Chicken Meat"), Ravioli ("Pasta Soup with Meat Sauce") and Spaghetti with meatballs ("Spaghetti with Meat Pieces") and a can opener and some fruit juice and some chocolate bars (they had a special display, and they looked pretty good... and they were!) and a Scotch-Brite sponge and some dish-washing soap.
You probably don't realize how hard it is to distinguish between many different kinds of soaps until you try to do it in another country. Think about it. The only reason I know that Mr. Clean cleans the floor, is because I've seen commercials where the lady mops up and Mr. Clean's in the floor winking up at her. And since international copyright laws are weird, there's really no guarantee that "Herr Klean" is the same as "Mr. Clean." [I've seen Rice Krispies with a Bee Mascot (Cheerios in the States), Cheerios with a Tiger (Frosted Flakes) and Honey Smacks with a weird little alien.]
So, that took some time, but all I got all that straightened out and had some good chicken soup for lunch. Then I tried to do my laundry. I had put the maximum mileage on my towels without a cleaning. They must be cleaned before I use them again. After four hours of playing with knobs (not straight-thru, cumulative) I determined that the washing machine was broke. I'm going to try one of the other buildings today, or I'll be going "Ukranian" all this week.
("going Ukranian" was a cute inside joke us Americans came up with during the language course. You've probably heard rumors about Europeans hygiene standards being ... a little different than Americans? The Ukranians in our group exemplified this quite nicely. We all went on a trip to Berlin for a weekend, and the Ukranians' baggage could _NOT_ possibly have held a complete change of clothes. Not even half that, really.)
I did manage to get some stuff sorted out that weekend. After some lengthy conversations with various sources (parents), I am indeed coming home for Christmas! I don't have any of the perticulars, but I should soon. The plan, at present, is that I will be returning home on or around the 20th of December, and returning to Mittweida in the neighborhood of the 3rd of January. Elizabeth (girlfriend) will be visiting the Wehners for New Year's, and that will be quite nice.
So, Monday I couldn't find my class in time, and it didn't matter, because I didn't really understand much, anywho. I just sorta stared, and occasionally scribbled things on my paper. I haven't decided yet whether I should be taking notes in German or in English. I guess they'll be in both for awhile. Hmmmm.
Tuesday was much worse. It started late Monday night. I was really _almost_, like just on that little brink right before he big plunge, asleep when the phone rang. Although, it took me several rings to determine it was the phone. I figured it might be Liz, because I'd suggested she call me, earlier in an email. I figured it might be Mom or Dad, because they'd been calling a lot at weird (to me) hours. I figured it might be someone else. I figured I was tired.
I wondered how long it would ring before it quit. Like, I seriously thought it might be a fun game. Anywho, it wasn't stopping and I was starting to think it might be serious, so I started moving.
And it quit ringing.
So, I crawled back into bed.
Of course, it started ringing again. I waited to make sure it wasn't just a mistake, but it kept ringing, so I got up and answered it. It was Liz! I was happy to talk to her - but things weren't going well for her, so I felt sad because I wasn't really able to help. After a little conversation, she hung up. I was still kinda sad, and I was feeling tired, so I crawled back into bed.
Two seconds after I pulled the covers around my face, the phone rings again. Still kind of worried about Liz, I scrambled fast for the phone. It wasn't Liz.
It was my friend Miriam's French and [maybe] a little English speaking Father. He says, "Excuse me. Excuse me?" I said, "Yes?" He says, "This is Joshua?" I said, "Unh-hunh." I didn't know it was him, yet. "Joshua, this Miriam's Father. Excuse me, call you late. Miriams were should call us tonight?" I said, "Oh." He said, "Excuse me, call you late, but we worry." They had asked me when they were here for my phone number, so they could reach me in case of emergency. I didn't realize what their definition of emergency would be. I was also really tired. And a little groggy. He said, "Were you sleep?" I said, "Um. Yeah. Miriam was here a little while ago. She went to movies. She probably still there. Maybe?" He said, "Oh! Excuse me. Okay. Thank you." And hung up.
It was about this time that my body decided it felt like being awake. Completely awake. I put the phone back on the hook, and crawled into bed. AND could NOT get to sleep. I just sat and stared into space, and would not fall asleep. I finally walked over and set my alarm clock forward an hour, because I just wasn't getting anywhere. I did finally get to sleep, though, and I woke up and went to class...
... or tried to, anyway. I was supposed to go to room 11-204. All the buildings here have long boring names (named after three or four people, usually) but they are more widely referred to by number. The main building is number 1. Rooms on the ground floor, for example, would be 1-012. And so on. Its a nice pattern. Engineering classes are often in buildings 1, 5, 9 and sometimes 11. All the Engineering Prof.s have offices in building 11, and I'd been there before to talk to one of them. So, I sort of knew where I was going. I was coming from a different direction, though, so I left with a little extra time.
I found the building just fine. There was a guy about 50 yards ahead of me, apparently going the same place, so I just kinda followed him for awhile, occasionally glancing at my map. So, I found the building, and walked up the requisite flights of stairs, until I got the "second" floor. I was on a small square landing, with four doors, two on each side, and a glass door straight ahead.
I tried the first door on my left. It had a sign on it which said, "Entry to 201 - 202, 212-218". I said, "That's not 204." I tried the next door on my left. It had a sign which said, "Room 203." I said, "That not 204." I tried the other side. First door said, "Men's WC". WC means Restroom. That's not a classroom. Next door said, "Entry to 205-211, 219-222".
I walked around the little circle again, crossing off numbers in my head. Yup, I says, there's no 204. I decided to see what was on the other side of the glass door. Its a really long hall-way, with another set of stairs and an elevator door. Above the elevator, there's a sign which says, "<-- Haus 11 | Haus 9 -->". Just to check, I walked a little bit down, and it turns out the hallway IS a link between the two buildings. So, that's not 11-204 over there, I decide.
I go back to the little landing. Circle it again. Still no 204. I decide that its possible this room exists between floors, so I decide to check the "third" floor. Nope, no special 204s here. Just a bunch of 300s. So, I try the "first" floor. Again, nothing but a bunch of 100s.
I'm now significantly late for class. I decide to try out the hall-way doors. I walk down each hallway, checking the numbers on each of the doors. No 204. I'm now really late for class. I decide to go walk over to the International Office and see if they maybe know where this room is. After a little walk, I find out no one's home in the International Office.
So, I went home. Feeling somewhat stupid, confused and a lot lost, I read a novel I picked up in England. I can now say that I failed to attend a class solely because the room FAILED TO EXIST. Isn't that cool? I mean, I've heard some good excuses before, but this isn't even a joke, this is real. Weird, hunh?
Oh well. I still don't know if there's supposed to be a room 204 or not. I had another class there the next day which I also didn't make it to. Oh well.
So, I did make it to one of the classes on Wednesday. It turns out to be like a Recitation class, for one of the classes I didn't make it to the week before. I didn't know that. I didn't know that they'd gotten an assignment sheet in the last lecture class. I also didn't know that the whole purpose of the class I was in on Wednesday would be to discuss ways to solve those problems on the assignment sheet.
I also didn't have a clue what they were talking about. It had a lot to do with wave propagation, but I just barely understood that in _English_. So, as this guy's talking, I'm thinking, "I need to change my schedule. This is too hard for me. I'm in the wrong room, or something. I need to change my schedule," and, oh yeah, occasionally trying to jot down a formula.
I'm _kinda_ following along. Like, I was able to understand that they were talking about a wave, but the Prof was mumbling a little, and his handwriting was really sloppy, so I wasn't really understanding what they were doing. I did understand when he finished discussing problem three and moved on to four, that was clear. He wrote a (4) on the board, with a circle around it. Then he scribbled some chicken scratch after that, and mumbled some more.
Then he points at me.
And stops talking. I'm guessing this is some sort of question, directed at me. I shake my head like I mean, "No." very slightly. Somebody else starts to say something, and the Prof cuts him off. He mumbles something again, and points to me.
I say, "Ich weiß nicht." Which is darn good German for "I don't know." He said something that I sorta could tell was mocking me. I said it again. He mocked me again, and said something like, "What is there to understand?" At this point, he walks over to my desk. He says something about, "What have you been doing all this time?" I was tempted to answer, "Thinking about how to get out of here before something embarassing like this?" but I couldn't think that fast. I showed him my notebook.
He pointed to an equation I'd scribbled out, and said it was important. He said he wasn't going on until I gave him what he wanted. I sort of read the equation out loud, screwing up the pronunciation of a couple letters. Letters are hard to remember to pronounce correctly.
So, he goes back up to the board, and scribbles a little more. I still have no idea what he's doing. He mumbles something else, and again points at me.
I shake my head "No." again, this time with a little more emphasis.
He says that this should be very easy. Okay, so I'm an idiot, I'm thinking, now _leave_me_alone_. He comes over near me again, and gets right up in my face. He mumbles again, and points to the chicken scratch on the board. I start stammering, "I don't understand. I don't know. I'm an American. I speak barely any German. I don't understand you."
I thought that would get me off the hook. Not even close. He goes, "SO WHAT? This doesn't have anything to do with German?!" Sure, only in the sense that I don't have a clue what you keep saying, I thought. He starts talking about whatever it was again, and he's ennunciating _real_ well this time. He wants to know the frequency given the period. He wrote the period on the board. Its one milisecond. The equation he'd wanted was the equation relating frequency and period. I did the math real quick, and blurted out "One kiliherz?" And he FINALLY went away.
He turned out kinda nice after that episode. He said once that if the the "foreign language" was hard, and I had trouble understanding, I should just ask. I wanted to tell him that it was the _material_ I wasn't understanding, but I decided not. Then we got to one part of the problem where filling in a table was involved, and he sat down beside me and walked me through part of it. I screwed up a couple of letters again (they say "p" as "pay" and π as "pee" here) and I had my calculator in degrees instead of radians (how was I supposed to know what he wanted?) but I got the table figured out.
I pretty much sat through the rest of the class sheepishly staring at the floor, ceiling, notebook paper... anything but the Professor. As soon as I could get out, I bolted out of the room, dodging a couple of smirks. I decided that I desperately needed to change my schedule.
I looked a my schedule, and wrote on top of all but one class in big letters, "WAY TOO HARD". That freed up my schedule for the rest of the week. I realized that part of my problem is the little things they just assume you know. And they aren't things they teach you in a language course. It works similarly for English, too.
For example, I looked up "divide" in the dictionary and it gives the word, "teilen" which made a lot of sense (I'd heard it more or less before). Except, when this Prof. was trying to help me with the formula, he kept saying "durch" for division. "Durch" means "through". Okay, I figured, we do stuff like that in English too. "Plus" becomes "and", "multiply" becomes "times"... but the weird thing was that "13 durch 7" means 13/7, not 7/13, as I kept doing it.
So, I've decided I need to take maybe some low-level courses. Some introductory type things, this semester, and maybe move up a level or two next semester. That's the plan, anywho.
I did have an interesting discussion with my roommate, Stephan, that evening over dinner, though. He brought home a copy of the Ken Starr report and wanted to know what us Americans thought about it. I told him I didn't know about most Americans, but I gave him my opinion. He wanted to know a lot, like whether I thought Clinton was guilty, what should happen, and why... He had some pretty detailed questions.
So, I figured turn-about was fair play, so I asked him what Germans thought. He said he thought Clinton had done a good enough job with the economy and should be left alone. He made some comments about wishing Clinton would work on the German economy (Sachsen's unemployment rate is around 22%). I asked him what he thought of the recent German election (Germans recently turned 16 year reigning Helmut "Cabbage Head" Kohl out on his ear, and rang in Gerhard Schroeder as the new head dude.) He had a funny answer, it was, "Eh."
I asked him to elaborate. He says, "Yeah, I guess Schroeder is better than Kohl, sure, but I don't like the Greens. They worry me." The Greens is Germany's environmentalist party. Schroeder only has power because his party combined to form a Coalition with The Greens. Stephan is worried what The Greens will do with their part of the Coalition.
On Friday, the washing machine was finally working, so I got to wash my towels, finally. They were getting a might bit disgusting and slimy by that point, so it was good timing. Anybody know why towels get dirty anyhow? All I use 'em for is drying off after I've cleaned myself... How is it they get so slimy?
... the only other interesting notes might concern my other shopping experiences. For one thing, Germans are absolutely anti-change. As in coins. And it annoys the ladies of Kaufland that I have not gone to any great lengths to provide them with exact change. They always ask me if I have exact change, and I always say no, and then they always look at like I'm a Communist or something. So, I've started carrying exact change with me. I don't get Communist stares anymore.
I went several times to Kaufland on Friday. Its interesting. German supermarkets don't give you bags. There's no body to bag for you, anyway. If you need a bag, you can buy one, but most bring their own basket / back-pack / bag from home. I've been shopping with my back-pack, but it has a somewhat limited capacity, so I always have to shop in segments. Its a good thing Kaufland is close to home.
Anywho, I'd been trying to decide whether I needed new shoes, and they had some on sale. The problem was, I had no idea what my German shoe-size was, and their display wasn't the kind where you can try them on. They were also selling shoe-insoles, though, so I came up with what I think was a pretty nifty plan to inconspicuously determine my German shoe-size without trying any shoes on.
I put my foot on the ground next to a ceramic tile. The tile was just a millimeter or so larger than my shoe. I pulled one of the insoles (a size 43) off the rack, and casually "dropped" it on the floor, and scooted it with my foot over next to the same ceramic tile. It was a lot smaller than the ceramic tile, so I picked it up and put it back on the rack. I picked up a slightly larger size, and "accidentally" let it fall, too. It was just about right. Unfortunately, that made my shoe size a 46, and they didn't have any size 46 shoes on sale. I got home and found out that there's a little tag in my current pair of shoes that lists my "European" size as a 45.5.
I also decided to buy another set of sheets, because my current set was getting pretty bad, and after not having had a functioning washer for a week or so, I realized I needed a back-up set. I found the rack of bed things at Kaufland. They had matched packages of "bed cloths" and "head kissers". I figured the "bed cloths" were sheets, and the "head kissers" were pillow-cases. I also found a seperate rack of "bed spanners" which graphically illustrated that they were fitted sheets. I bought a tie-dyed "bed cloth and head kisser" pack, and a "bed spanner".
Except, when I got home, I found out that the "bed cloth" isn't really a sheet at all. Its a duvet cover.
I had never heard of a duvet cover before I got here, so don't feel too bad if you haven't either. Its the bedding of choice over here, though. I have yet to see any other kind. A duvet is like a big, fluffy comforter. You have comforters in the states, right? Okay, a duvet cover is kind of like a sheet, except it covers the duvet. The duvet then, just kinda "lays" on your bed.
I'd seen them before at hotels, and I had mixed feelings. On one hand, they seem really easy to make one's bed in the morning, and they seemed to be pretty comfy. On the other hand, I tend to be a little too big for most things here. Usually, my feet and toes hang off the edge of the bed a lot. With normal sheets, tucked in well at the foot of the bed with a little slack, this is okay. With a duvet, though, my toes poke out at the bottom, and they get cold.
Anywho, I now had a duvet cover, and no duvet. And I still needed new sheets. ... I'd been needing a new blanket for awhile, though... So, I decided to go and try to find a duvet.
I remembered having been to a department store in Chemnitz when we'd went there as a group, and I figured they might have this kind of thing. So, Saturday I hopped on a train headed to Chemnitz. That was kind of weird, because only half the trains run on Saturdays, so you have to pay attention to the little @#$% things on the schedules, to see which ones ran when.
Anywho, I got there and just sort of meandered myself in the direction of the department store I remembered. I didn't find it. I did, however, find a _different_ store, of the same name in a different part of the city. Good enough, I figured. I explored their bed and bath floor, and figured out which stuff I could afford. I decided to get a duvet that came bundled with a pillow, only because it was the only duvet that had its own plastic carry-sack, and I needed a way to carry it with me back on the train. But the pillow it came with was a different size than the one I had, so I had to get another package of "head kissers," so I got a two-pack (back-up).
So, I walked all the way back to the train station, hauling with me this giant white, plastic bundle. It almost scraped the ground, as I walked, so I had to hold it up a little, which made me look like I was trying to give it to whoever else walked by. And the little plastic snaps kept coming un-done, so I had to stop periodically and put them back together. I collected at least thirty new weird stares, riding along on the train, with this big white bulge next to me. I did manage to lug it all back here, though, and just about collapse in my room. I must have looked like an idiot.
So, this morning, I woke up and decided to have breakfast. I had bought some honey and some preserves yesterday at Kaufland, so I figured I'd give 'em a shot on some toast. The preserves had been picked at random, and ended up being "black cherry" and were quite good. The honey... the honey is different here. Its a lot more like what you'd imagine Winnie the Pooh pulling out of a tree, I think. Its think, and gooey, and not at all like American honey. Its almost more like mustard, in texture. But it tastes WAY good. Incidentally, the label advertises it as a health food.
Anywho, after breakfast, I decided to give making my bed a shot. I had a few ideas, and I was curious to see how it went. Fellow CWRU-JYA'er Dan Prorok had already told me about his adventures climbing around _in_side the duvet cover, trying to get it to lay right, but I decided I didn't want to go that route.
I laid it all out on my bed, and went to work. I started out by doubling the duvet over once or thrice, until it was a little puddle. Then, I scrunched up the duvet cover like a sock, till only the top few inches were noticeable. I sorta slid that over one end of the duvet, and starting sliding the scrunched up bits of the duvet cover down until I had pretty much the whole thing covered.
It worked out quite well, I think. I laid on top of it for a minute, then decided I should try out the insides for a little while. Its actually - much to my surprise - sufficiently long enough for my feet. I also tried out the new pillow. Its much fluffier than my old one, and I like that.
... so, I washed some dishes and sat down to write this email. You are now up-to-date on Josh's Existence, which is as we speak slowly moving toward being a Real Life.