Hey, check out what I saw graffitied on the wall the other day:
A Tibetan flag! Pretty ballsy for China, right? Psyche! I wasn't in China. I was in Berlin, visiting my sister Mary, pictured here with her Teutonic boyfriend Leander:
By sheer coincidence, my other sister June was visiting her sister in Berlin, too. Here is the exact moment we realized we both have the same sister:
Just kidding; that's dumb. Also, I can't believe I put this photo on the internet. Both of us had just gotten off our respective transoceanic flights when it was taken, so we're not looking too hot. Fun fact: June and I each traveled 6 times zones in opposite directions to meet Mary in Berlin, making us potentially the worst jetlag roommates ever. Thankfully, this issue was solved with a little help from melatonin, the only drug approved by my mother (oh wait: coffee). But not approved, surprisingly, by the government of Germany. Don't tell anyone I brought it to Berlin: It's illegal!
I said "surprisingly" because it is legal in Berlin to walk down the street with an open container of alcohol. Which of course I had to do just to say I did:
Actually, this is legal in China too, though besides the one time my tutee's mother served me a tallboy of Budweiser which I couldn't finish and had to chug on the way to the bus, I've never made use of that provision. I live in the central business district of Guangzhou; where am I going to walk to or from with a beer in my hand? In Berlin, though, you can't even gingerly toss a cat and not hit a cool café/bar, the kind of establishment that spends all day hammering together an awning so its patrons can have a brew outside while they watch the World Cup without sun glare (it gets dark around 11pm), the kind of place that gives out free iced coffees when they accidentally make too many:
The kind of place that Jon and I travel 30 minutes by subway just to hang out at. Yes, yes; I know most urban Chinese are too busy feeding their families, breaking their backs on cement bags and selling toner cartridges to kick back with a Tuesday brunch beer. But all I'm saying is, let them taste some of this hefeweizen...
and maybe they'll change their minds! No but for real; it was delicious. Like a cream soda made of beer.
Here's a list of things that I never considered to be quintessentially Berliny but now think of as inseparable from the city thanks to my short time there:
- fuzz (white allergenic fluff floating virtually everywhere; hard to photograph though)
- huge dogs (well-behaved man-eaters)
- dreadlocked lesbians
- bike lanes (they're part of the sidewalk, not the road, and people really use them, hardcore)
- Turkish people (never seen so many Turkish babies in my life. Speaking of, I think it's time we rethink the saying "work like a Turk". Unless I've missed the boat and the phrase now means "work observably no more or less diligently than members of any other ethnic group", I think we should stop saying it. Oh, you already have? Perfect!)
- awesome wood and metal children's playgrounds that would have been bulldozed and replaced with doubleplusunfun low plastic "safe" versions in the States about ten years ago:
I did not happen to spot any Turkish lesbians with dreadlocks, in case anyone was wondering. But then again, I wasn't really looking.
You can browse the rest of my photos below:
Another piece of evidence in my case that Berlin is the polar opposite of Guangzhou is that the linguistic relationship between me and strangers was suddenly and completely reversed. Suddenly I was the one embarrassed not to be speaking their language. See, here's what the average Chinese stranger thinks as they watch my mouth begin to open in slow motion:
"Oh shit oh shit oh shit I knew I shouldn't have lied on my resume when I said I had fluent English because now there's a white person here and he's going to speak some gibberish at me and I'm going to look stupid and the manager's going to have to come and then oh hey this guy speaks Chinese WHEW!"
Now here are my thoughts every single time I approached a stranger in Berlin, once again in slow motion:
"Oh shit oh shit oh shit I don't speak German at all this Lonely Planet guide is worthless what if this lady gives me an answer that's not in the book what's German for 'ten' again I really should have tried harder to learn some common phrases before I came why should I expect everyone to speak my native language everywhere I oh hey she speaks English WHEW!"
Turns out they have to learn it in school. Chinese people do too, but I imagine it's a little easier to retain for the Germans.
Finally, let me just say that I thought at first there might be a shred of Asian pop culture influence in Berlin when I saw this sweet museum along the canal:
Incredibly, though, the inside had absolutely nothing to do with Dance Dance Revolution. Just something about a wall and a bunch of Commies. Talk about false advertising!
(yes, that's me DDR-ing there, and a salty Bronx cheer to whoever wants to tell me that diagonal steps only count in the Korean spin-off Pump It Up: I KNOW)