Ying at the Alster, Hamburg

What a difference a year makes

As I write this, I marvel at the fact that it has been so long since I last sat in front of this Macbook, to write something-anything, without being interrupted. In the living room of our new apartment (new no longer!), my five and a half month old baby girl is vigorously shaking her rattle under the watchful eyes of her father. Outside, the winter sun glowers dimly. The view from our bedroom is no longer of scattered stand alone houses surrounded by well-tended gardens but of other apartments with windows darkened with blinds.

The floors needed to be vacuumed and mopped, picture frames needed to be dusted, dirty pots lay piled up in the sink—there are a million things to be done yet there’s only two of us and we have to make hard choices. Someone has to watch lil C while one of us get to do something else. Today, I chose writing this post over household chores. It’s about time. This post has been long overdue. Too many things have happened ever since my last post and I can’t wait to share them with you, dear readers. If this post doesn’t get out by the end of this year, I’m afraid it never will.

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SOMETIME IN OCTOBER 2018…

A few days after I published my last post, I went to Hamburg for a job interview. It was not the only job interview I have attended but it was one that I felt most positive about. While the job scope required me to speak both German and English, the interview was conducted primarily in German. Everything that I’d written in my previous post about learning German have served me well in my interview. I felt powerful and confident, despite the whole idea of doing a job interview in a language that I’d learnt not too long ago was still somewhat daunting.

Hamburg has always tempted me with its ancient maritime history, its multicultural enclaves and the fact that there are busses instead of trams. For some reason, I’m not a big fan of trams. After visiting Hamburg once, both Chris and I knew that Hamburg would be the city we would move to. Over the other popular choices that expats typically tend to flock to, cities like Berlin, Munich, Cologne or Frankfurt, Hamburg somehow spoke to the sailor in me.

And as Law of Attraction would have it, I not only got the job whose product I am most passionate about (one of the most legendary windjammers afloat), I also managed to move to my favourite city in Germany.

It was a huge deal of course. The job hunt for someone like me–non-linear CV, Jane of all trades, communications graduate, English copywriter- has been incredibly difficult in Germany. If I had listened to my dad and went on to study IT or engineering, life would have been easier. I might have probably needed to just learn German and I’d be on my way.

For a communications graduate, I knew that I’d never be able to go back to doing what I was good in doing:writing. English speaking and writing jobs are scarce and the job market is very competitive. You’re up against native English speakers with years of experience. The only other way around it is to find a job in German but one that also requires English communication skills. When the job ad surfaced on indeed.com, I knew that I’d to give it a go. In the end, I wasn’t sure what made my future employers to take me under their wings. I am pretty certain it wasn’t my extensive experience in sales or my gift of gab in German. Could it just be the fact that I’d really wanted the job and communicated it to the universe, and the universe listened in and decided to helped me out?

With a full-time job lined up in a new city up north, the end of 2018 paved way for monumental life changes–the kind that I’d been seeking since I moved to Germany three years ago. The whole idea was to learn German for a year, get a job and then live happily ever after. Learning German and getting a job took longer than expected but nonetheless, it did happen. And when those boxes were checked, living happily ever after suddenly arrived at a breakneck speed.

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A BABY? RIGHT NOW?

Life certainly has its way of reminding me that nothing is really ever under my control. If it were up to me, I’d say, give me another two years before I revisit the idea of starting a family. But the universe always had something up her sleeve.

A few weeks shy of starting my job, I discovered that we were about to have a new addition to our family. Of course, Chris and I were both overjoyed at the prospect. We’d always wanted to grow our family of two, but the timing was never right. This time, the timing was far more inconvenient, given that I was about to start a new job and didn’t even know where we’d be living yet.

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Nine months was not really much time for an ex-travelling junkie to get used to the idea of pregnancy and motherhood. It’s not just about giving birth to another human being but also being responsible for his or her well-being for the rest for their lives. Interestingly, I was never the one who dreamt about the wedding of her life and then a house overflowing with kids. In my childhood, books had always kept me busy instead of dolls. So what do I know about motherhood and parenting? Absolutely zilch. Isn’t that insane?

Nonetheless, I knew I wanted to become a mother. Or at least I hope, I’ll become like my mother—the best mother I know. She passed away unfortunately when I was 18 years old and I was left with going into motherhood without a clear idea of what that entails. For someone who enjoys travelling without a map, being a parent without a map somehow scared the bejesus out of me. It wasn’t one of the things that you could just show up and YOLO.

Ying on babymoon in Mallorca

Plus with a new job and moving into a new city made it all the more stressful and scarier. It meant leaving behind all the support networks and familiar comfort sources that I’d so painstakingly build over the years. I had after all carved something for myself in the village. I knew who to turn to if I needed a rant, the best cafes for a cozy conversation, the walking trails through the forest if I needed to clear my head and those neighbours that lived below us, I have even found a do a star jump in the hallway without upsetting them. I’d learned the scent of pine trees, memorised bus timetables to the next village, know which times to not go grocery shopping and was friendly with the neighbourhood Vietnamese snack bar owners.

Gone were the days where I all I had to do was just cancel the lease and change my residential address to somewhere else. London, Melbourne, Perth–the world was my oyster and all I needed was my passport and my backpack. Now I needed more than just a backpack. Although we lived minimally, there were still portable kitchen islands and bed linen to transport. Downsizing from a 5 room apartment to a 2 room one is a Herculean task. Apart from logistics, an impending baby means we needed a gynaecologist, a midwife and a possible hospital where I will deliver in.

The morning was still pitch black when I walked to the bus stop on the first day of work. The wind was howling, the rain slammed down the tarmac like it was throwing a tantrum. Soaked and shivering in my carefully picked out work attire, I was seconds away from hyperventilating. Oh dear lord. Is this how it’s always going to be in Hamburg?

It was too much, too soon. And didn’t they say, stress would affect the growing foetus?

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But of course, just like everything else, with enough time, living in Hamburg grew on us. It was nice to be able to walk everywhere or just take the subway or busses into city centre. It was nice to have an Asian grocery store, a few malls and a neighbourhood library that has English books within walking distance. I started to enjoy going to work and catching up with gossip with my colleagues at the office’s pantry.

There is also a large Malaysian and Singaporean community whose meet ups and parties always involve lots of home cooked food. There are also new found friendships with other mothers which I befriended from Hamburg Mothers Facebook group. All these coffee dates and ease of making new connections wouldn’t have been possible in the village I was living in.

Slowly but surely, we gained a strong foothold in Hamburg.

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Driving back to Hermsdorf for Christmas this year was something else. Our car was packed with a stroller, a bouncer, a suitcase that held more clothes and other stuff which my baby girl needs rather than our stuff. We had to consider things we never considered before, like timing the drive to lil C’s bedtime so that she would sleep instead of cry through the entire journey.

Christmas came and went. My husband and I took turns bouncing our girl on our laps while shovelling down Christmas lunch as fast as we could. Presents were opened before we tucked lil C to bed. She cackled with laughter as usual during her bedtime routine. This little person is already bringing so much joy and meaning to our tiny family.

Celebrating our first Christmas together with little C

In two weeks, we will travel together for the first time as a family of three. Lil C’s passport is now neatly tucked in our travel wallet alongside ours. We will travel back to Malaysia for Chinese New Year and short jaunt around Singapore and Bali for side trips. There are hotels to be booked, clothes to be packed and itineraries to be planned. I get all anxious thinking about it but yet so terribly excited.

By the end of today, the old will give way to the new. 2019 was about transitions: from freelancing to a full time job, from a village resident to a city dweller, from a wife to a mother.

Tiny Wanderer and her baby

And I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds for our little family.

Happy 2020 everyone!

What Learning German Taught Me

The much awaited envelope arrived in the post. The address stamp confirmed my suspicions.

With my hands shaking, I tore it open, half-terrified to discover what I might find. Whatever that’s in there could make or break me. I’ve not felt this way since the time I got my SPM results (High-School leaving examination to the uninitiated).

The paper felt thicker this time. My eyes quickly scanned to the grade given and relief washed over me as it dawned on me: “This is it! No more German-language exams for me again. Ever!” I finally passed my TELC C1 Hochschule exam!! The operative word here is finally. Why?

Because I’ve failed it once before.

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Camping with friends in Germany

How I Spend Summers In Germany

The fabulous thing about living in Germany is that I get to experience nature changing with every season. Summers in Germany are the best. There’s always so much going on here. Summer brings out the best in Germans. With more sunshine and warmth, they are cheerier and in a better mood. They spend more time outdoors. In towns and cities everywhere, you’ll see people sitting in ice-cream cafes or in parks, licking colourful ice-cream cones. It’s not just the Instagram generation doing it, it’s literally everyone.

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food at Bendemeer Food Centre

My German in-laws in Southeast Asia (Part 1)

Sometime last year….

 

“The dinner at the restaurant was phwoar…horrible!” I shuddered at the thought of our dinner last night with some friends at an Asian restaurant nearby. “Don’t know how people can stomach that junk,” I said when my in-laws asked us how our dinner went over our weekly Sunday lunch.

 

“Really? But people like going there,” said my mother-in-law looking surprised. My in-laws’ idea of Asian food is limited to sushi, fried noodles and fried crispy duck over a steaming plate of rice with mixed vegetables on the side.  “Can the food really be so bad?”

 

Na klar. Wait till you come to Malaysia and I’ll show you the REAL deal,” I promised.

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Learning German in Jena

An epic guide: German Language Visa application to learn German in Germany*

*For Malaysians

For the life of me, if I don’t know why you’d want to learn German in the first place. It’s difficult (trust me, it is), it takes forever to master and it’ll take you a lifetime before you could pass off as a German native speaker. However, if you’re doing it out of love, for a university programme, or if you’re just plain masochistic, well then, where else would you rather learn German but in Germany? I don’t need to extol here the benefits of learning the language at the country of its origin and embracing the experience of living abroad so I’ll just get on right to how to go about applying for the German Language Visa.

 

First of all, if you find a programme that could be completed in three months, you could just sign up and learn it on a regular “tourist visa”. For Malaysians, we could enter and stay within the EU/Schengen zone  for 90 days within 180 days without a visa. Which means, you have 90 days to remain and travel freely within the Schengen area.

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Hamburg Lion King Theatre

What’s it like to watch Disney’s Lion King Musical in Hamburg

Chasing unconventional experiences is what I love best when travelling.

 

If you’ve an opportunity to do something different or unusual, you should always go for it.

 

The beauty of saying yes to a spontaneous and unusual experience somewhere foreign is always so much more memorable than going through a checklist of sightseeing spots. Like our attempt to catch a midnight movie in a cinema in Batam (but failed, because we fell asleep out of exhaustion in the hotel), watching the Valentine’s Day opera in Riga, and now, watching a famous Disney’s Lion King in Hamburg. In German.

 

Of course, this wasn’t as unplanned as the rest. The tickets to the musical was after all our wedding gift from our friends. But they must have known us well, to have gifted us with such a precious opportunity to do something completely different. I mean, they could have just bought us a kitchen appliance or simply cash, but no, these geniuses had other plans.

 

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weekend in hamburg tiny wanderer

A weekend (and a mini honeymoon) in Hamburg

I’ve got a confession to make.

Chris and I finally tied the knot in April and held the reception in August this year. I thought I’ll just mention it in passing just because someday, I intend to write about our wedding in Germany. But not today. 

 

ANYWAY

 

due to large wedding expenses (it was already a backpacker budget!) and preparation, we couldn’t travel as often as we did the years before. We didn’t take our usual 2-week summer vacation like most Germans would. And the traveller in me withered up and almost died. What, no travelling? How could you do this to me?!

So when it was finally over and done with (with only thank you cards to send out now), we heaved a sigh of relief. While all I wanted to do is to crawl onto the couch and watch Netflix for a 100 days straight, there was a gift of travel waiting for us.

 

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doing the weinmeile along the Saale-Unstrut

Walking and drinking on the the Weinmeile

…AND SOME OBSERVATIONS

I’m not entirely an outdoorsy person no matter how much Chris tries to turn me into one. My favourite pastime is curling up with a glass wine and a good book, not huffing and puffing away riding a bicycle against a mean slope. That’s more like up Chris’ alley or just about any Germans (in all stereotypical sense). I do admire the tenacity and faith of walkers of the Camino and Pacific Crest Trail, and how walking all the 800km of them would be an excellent way to not only experience nature but also to train your mind and body. But at this point of writing and in all honesty, I prefer reading about them than embarking the arduous journey.

 

In other words, I’m just your typical lazy city girl.

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tiny wanderer in Germany

A Year in Germany (Part One)

Usually friends find it hard to keep up with my whereabouts when I was still clinging on tightly to my identity as a nomad. Texts and emails that start with, “Where are you now, Ying?” are not unusual. It was always fun,and privileged to say the least, to come up with a different answer each day. Yes, last week I was in Dubrovnik and today I’m in Ajaccio—life rocks as a traveller. Traipsing from places to places had defined me. While others had labels like “The Career Woman”, “The Fun One”, “The Doctor”, I was simply called “The Wanderer”. That suited me just fine.

But these days, my answer to the question above is less exotic. I’ve been answering ‘Germany’ for a better part of the year.

Yes, The Wanderer have been living in Germany for a year. And a little bit more. Apart from a handful of short road trips (I consider 2 days to 2 weeks short), I have been a true resident of the quiet Hermsdorf.

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