Sunday, July 17, 2011

Google Translate is my best friend

Six weeks in Singapore went by in a blur of studying (for P), weekend trips, and dim sum. I blinked, and then it was time to leave. We said goodbye to Asia with a long weekend in the Perhentian islands in Malaysia (see below) and packed our bags for Berlin.

Part III of our 2011 adventure has us living in Berlin for July and August, during P's supposed "summer vacation" as he has a paid internship with Groupon. Although we were tempted to spend the summer travelling like many of P's classmates, the opportunity to finally make money this year (imagine that!) and to live in Germany (which both of us have always wanted to try) was too good to refuse!

So far, we are loving it! We are renting an apartment from a friend of a friend of P's work colleague, and it is simple and beautiful, with high ceilings, a small terrace and a fully stocked kitchen (FINALLY!). It is in the heart of Prenzlauer berg, which seems to be a pretty well-to-do area with millions of coffee shops, restaurants, parks, a beer garten and a twice-weekly organic market!! The only downside so far is that we are on the fifth and top floor of our apartment building and there are no elevators. This means climbing 84 steps (yes, we counted) every time we get home. I can make it to the fourth floor without collapsing, but the last leg is a doozy.

The more I find out about Berlin, the better my impression gets! For instance, we can recycle everything! Our building has an amazing number of bins for sorting garbage, and even compost! I am so impressed. Take that, Singapore! (in Singapore there wasn't even recycling for paper and I cried the first time I had to throw a cereal box in the garbage). Also, most things in the grocery store are organic and local - just a normal everyday corner store - no Whole Foods anywhere! AND they're cheap! Groceries in Berlin are half the price of groceries in Fontainebleau and I am shocked how far a euro will go. The best example may be ice cream.  In Fonty, we were lucky to find un petit boule for 3 euros; in Paris, 5 euros, minimum. In Berlin, a kugel (scoop) is 60 euro cents!!!! zwei kugeln are 1,20! Things like this make my day. (Side note: is it weird that my German vocabulary only extends as far as ice cream flavours? Literally, I am lost reading street signs, or anything in the markets, but take me to an ice cream shop and I can order like a champ).

So, I guess maybe some of you are interested in what P has been up to....! His third period in Singapore was INTENSE. I think I mentioned that for the month of May, I saw him for maybe 20 minutes a day. Luckily, things eased up in June and he had more time for sightseeing and some great weekend travel. His courses were mostly electives that semester and so he was eager to do work with courses that he chose himself (corporate finance, negotiations, real estate, international political anaylisis, dynamic pricing and management, project management, and macroeconomics in a global economy) and only had exams in the two core courses. We were both ready when it was time to leave Singapore, and P especially was looking forward to a summer "break" - no school meant free time in the evenings and on weekends! Unfortunately, his new office in Berlin was less than prepared for his arrival, and the first few days of work were frustratingly disorganized. On top of that, the work is done entirely in German, which is some extra added stress! It's been about two weeks now and P is much happier there. His role is mostly analytical, and since the Berlin office is the headquarters for all of Europe, he gets a pretty interesting perspective. He still works long-ish hours (9am to 8pm), but the days are long here (it gets dark around 10:30/11pm) and the weekends are still lavishly work-free! We are renting a car for the summer and have spent our first two weekends exploring the sites and suburbs of Berlin, taking in a few museums, castles, and parks. P also has quite a few road trips in mind for the remaining weekends, including yesterday's jaunt to Hamburg.

I will also just say that listening to P speak German is sooooooo cute!! Though his vocab is still growing, he can express himself fully and I often need to rely on him to translate just about everything. Most people around our age speak English fluently, but I have been surprised by the number of people who don't speak any at all, and so sometimes this can be a bit of a road block. This is why I love Google.

With thesis deadlines all summer, I have been taking advantage of the many coffee shops and the serenity of our apartment to write like crazy. Not knowing anyone in Berlin has served the purpose of allowing me absolutely no distractions, so I'm getting farther this month than I have all year (oops!). Most of my days are spent working, exploring the neigbourhood, going to midwife appointments, and cooking/baking. Next week I am starting a beginners German class to take advantage of this amazing opportunity of living in Berlin. I don't have any high hopes for fluency in my two week course, but if I can come out of it able to pronounce Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgaben-übertragungsgesetz, i will be satisfied.

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