Sunday, June 28, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
A warning that this post is a bit morbid, but I can't stop thinking about it. I'm talking about flight 447 'disappearing' between Brazil and Paris. It also doesn't help that I was watching the National Geographic show Air Emergency.
Where the problem begins is that for whatever reason, I always seem to make the world's problems my own. I dwell on them, I over think them, and I'm often told that I'm a bit too compassionate. I still don't think that's possible.
Plane wrecks are very controversial to discuss and they make people very uneasy, even despite the very low percentages of their actual occurrence. According to statistics there's a 1:5 chance of dying from heart disease, a 1:100 chance of dying in a car accident, and a 1:20,000 chance of dying in a plane wreck. (Numbers always seem to fluctuate from year-to-year according to who is analyzing things, and from where, but even so, the odds are pretty huge.) Of course the closer you look the more correlations you can find, as Stefan says, 'if you are massaging the numbers'.
Tomorrow I will be flying back to Munich alone. I'm truly not a nervous flyer - if anything I go into things thinking 'whatever happens, happens'. I have such a happy life and of course I want to continue living it, but I am recently reminded just how much is out of my hands, which is why I go with the laid back 'whatever happens, happens' approach.
In 2003, I was in an emergency landing. It sounds much more dramatic than it was, but I was traveling alone and it was my first trip to Europe. Our plane was losing gasoline over the Atlantic Ocean and then we were told we'd be turning around and heading to Amsterdam for the night. The pilot had to dump an insane amount of gasoline to get down to landing weight and we could see it being dumped from the wings. Many of the passengers began talking and trying to comfort each other. I still remember the woman next to me telling me about her animal skull collection. Seriously bizarre. Once we arrived it was mentioned we may use the same plane to depart later that night, which people were adamantly opposed to. Several of the flight attendants were really not that great at staying calm, even despite their training. That always struck me as odd.
After graduating college I decided that I would considering becoming a flight attendant myself, especially if it meant being able to visit Stefan more frequently or being able to have him meet me in far away locales. Another perk was up to 90% off fares and instant upgrades when available. That was pretty convincing.
I saw an ad in the newspaper and I went to the interviews. After sailing past the others I was chosen from about 100 people for training. Before I knew it I had an inside look at the flight industry. There was a lot of interesting information - including each and every flight attendant must carry a small confidential book with information regarding every procedure, even down to how you should handle 'VIP' customers. Your book needs to be updated at all times and the pages are not to be simply stuck in, but they are to be filed properly and you may be periodically checked or fined if it is not up to date.
The most interesting topic discussed was also the most important - safety. I was incredibly shocked to see some of the images, like the one in this article that say it's safest to pick a seat towards the back of the plane and on an aisle. (I also check seatguru for more information on specific airlines and types of planes.)
Some of my Mom's words of wisdom were reiterated - like wearing closed toe shoes and being aware of where the exits are before something happens. Then there were other things that I learned in training. For example, it's best to actually count the seats that it takes to get to an exit, because in a smoked filled plane you may not be able to see. Or if someone gets stuck in one of the lavatories you can help them escape by flipping a panel and opening the door.
When I was in London this year I was super excited to find 'Outliers: The Story of Success' the newest Malcolm Gladwell book, on sale. I promptly bought it and read through it in about 2 days. I highly suggest reading all of his books. They give you so much to ponder. In the latest there were a number of intriguing topics, including one about Harlan, Kentucky, where I helped build a house one summer in high school, and the most fascinating was chapter number 7 - The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.
It suggests 7 human errors happen before a catastrophe and most often they are errors in communication. Considering English is the language of the air traffic control, it's often a second language for many pilots. Even in using English as a common language, there are small nuances that aren't always picked up on between cultures and there are major differences in how people challenging authority figures and how it is done.
So why didn't I go through with becoming a flight attendant?
There were the sorority like aspects of getting sized up each and every day. Our outfits had to be very precise. We were required to wear a black belt with pants and jewelry was permitted, but there was a limit to number of earrings and accessories. There were even regulation bags and purses, which we would be required to carry.
I quickly learned I was the only one to have graduated college and one of few that had a passport prior to training, which was another requirement. We were holed up in a hotel, close to the airport, and there really wasn't anything for us to do besides learn the material and get to know our 'flight class', which sounds easy enough.
We had a driver who would take us to the grocery at a designated time and he told us, flat out, that most of us wouldn't stick with this lifestyle for an entire year. I still remember going to a dinner with the other ladies one night with a young woman who had been working as a flight attendant for a couple years. She promptly told us how as soon as we were in the union we could carry whatever purse we wanted and how she loved using beauty appointments as a tax deduction. She also said her father helped to support her, because the pay was that bad.
Many of the women had work large carriers and after 9-11 when they had been downsized. Finally things were picking up and they could go back to the jobs they once enjoyed. One woman spoke of her ex-husband, who was coincidentally German, and how she didn't get anything in the divorce. Another women spoke about her children, who she never saw. It made me wonder what the point was.
The class was divided up into seniority according to who was the oldest and who had the most experience. The women who had been flight attendants said that's why so many of the international flight attendants are older women - they keep their jobs for eons, because they finally get paid decent money and the hours are more manageable. Speaking additional languages also helps.
Slowly things for me began to unravel. I would have to live in one of 4 cities, and although I could designate which I found most desirable the chances of needing to move were very high, despite the pay not being equal. Everyone who was more senior would have their choice fulfilled first. Typically people end up in what they call a 'crash pad', which are often in hotels or sometimes a shared apartment. The thought of having tons of random people coming and going really wasn't appealing.
There is a limit to how many hours you can work each month due to constantly being in cabin pressure, but often times you'd have to be on-call, so you had to be no further than one hour away with your bag packed and ready to go. There was an upfront investment for uniforms and the required luggage and handbags. We were told how the polyester dresses were the most effortless, because you could wash them in the hotel sink and it would be dry by morning.
Being on the road, or in the skies I should say, sounds exciting. The longer training went on the more I saw what kind of characters I would be interacting with and staying in random hotels with around the US. Everyone talked about their promiscuous lifestyles and pilot boyfriends or the womanizing men they would encounter. Everything lost it's appeal. The thought of being holed up with these people was my breaking point. I prefer to stay on the tourist side of things - don't they say 'keep your work life and your home life separate'? Maybe that's just an adage that I've picked up from being in Germany too long.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I am having a fantastic time learning my new camera. So far I am very impressed with its capabilities.
I know that Nikon's are seen as cameras designed by photographers for photographers and Canon's are seen as cameras designed by engineers for photographers, however I've had so much luck with Olympus.
They were the first to incorporate the super macro function into their cameras. I always love to look closer and see the intricate details, so this is now essential for me.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
It's always nice to be home for holidays and to celebrate with people as opposed to sending a card or a surprise.
Thanks to my Dad for his inquisitive, carefree, and adventurous spirit. I know I'm a lucky girl to have such a fantastic father.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Things are starting to really come together for our trip this fall and suddenly all of those small planning details become reality. I'm starting to analyze all of the intricacies, especially since there are things that I could only buy in the US.
Among my concerns:
Familiar medications -
I plan to bring things from the US for a large variety of ailments. I'm crossing my fingers that our over the counter medications are legal to take into other countries. I'll at least have things in Germany and then we can figure it out from there.
The obvious choice is bringing a laptop and downloading thousands of photos from our journey, but that's more baggage and expensive heavy baggage at that. I planned to take several extra memory cards and then I was searching high and low for another back up solution. If you are in a similar predicament, or don't want to haul a computer, there is the Foci Photo Safe II. The reviews are fantastic, however I am hesitant because I would constantly question if they really are stored or if it malfunctioned.
Instead, I bought a 9" (super tiny) 'net book' that has 160GB of memory, as well as internet and a webcam, which will help us stay in touch with family if and when we have internet.
I finally decided on a camera, which was a gift from Stefan. I will still use my trusty Olympus stylus verve, but I also got the recently discontinued Olympus SP-565UZ, which has the super macro function that I love, as well as a 20x zoom. It's compact and very sophisticated without the bulk of extra lenses.
Something else that I had never seen are USB charging batteries. They also can be recharged in a NiMH charger. We can charge them in the net book or in a wall adapter.
How exactly do we pack for months? I have a feeling we will be bringing a lot of hi-tech vaporwick clothing that dries quickly and can be washed in a sink. Since we will be traversing various climates we also have issues in figuring that out.
The websites that I have been reading recommend ExOfficio underwear over and over. Their slogan is '17 countries, 6 weeks, 1 pair of underwear'. We decided to go with more than one pair, but it will cut some of our essential bulk and be quick to clean and dry.
Rather than assuming towels will be available everywhere we go, I also purchased several Aquis Microfiber towels.
If you are also planning an extended trip, I suggest reading Travel Independent. It's been such an incredible resource.
I'll do my best to detail our preparation. We're still working on our itinerary, but I can promise it will be a once in a lifetime adventure.
(images courtesy of Olympus + USB Cell)
Monday, June 15, 2009
Being home I quickly realize how much I have changed. While it's fantastic to see friends and familiar faces, I see how different our worlds are. It's not always easy being between two cultures and not quite knowing my place in either one.
Sometimes I walk a fine line of not wanting to disappoint my parents in being too happy in Munich, despite the fact I know they want me to be happy. I like to think I have a knack for focusing on the positive and seeing the bright side of things and living in Munich is no different. The prospect that I could stay there for a longer amount of time or forever is daunting to them. At times it's daunting to me as well. I get the itch for something new and different, despite knowing the quality of life will be tough to match.
It's extremely difficult not to have the answers over something as seemingly simple as where we will live. Most people choose stability in their lives, since we're creatures of comfort and routine, however I find myself going the opposite direction and questioning if that's normal or what is wrong with me. Life abroad isn't easy or straightforward, and at times it can get lonely, but every day is a challenge. I sometimes think that's what makes me thrive and keeps me appreciative of the simple things.
This past weekend was the reunion from my University, which is really a spectacular place. Everyone wanted to talk about life and what they have been doing. They had plenty of questions for me, including where Stefan was. It would have been so much nicer if he was here - everyone missed him and every little detail reminded me of our time together on campus where we met.
These are the people that I shared some of the most wonderful years of my life with, yet things are different. Some are married, some have children, and it's reality that we'll never go back to what we had - living in a neighborhood with our closest friends or staying up all hours of the night to talk with few cares or problems. The lessons I learned are still profound. I still prefer experiences as opposed to things and think time spent with people is the most important gift to give.
I'd rather go to an intimate dinner and share a meaningful conversation than go to a house party and drink cheap beer out of plastic cups or eat cheap pizza late into the night, but for one weekend it's nice to play college again. I love to appreciate our experiences that helped to shape us into who we are.
While I'm home I have the quintessential questions about when I'd be moving back, how well I speak German, or how we can afford to travel to so much. Below the surface there's so much more. The experiences that I've been given, or chosen for that matter, have really shaped me.
Through my German classes I've had to interact with so many cultures and speak with so many people who are facing similar, yet entirely different struggles. That is something most of my American friends have never and will never encounter. I admit that I do find it difficult to talk about world issues with so many people who have no interest in traveling for whatever reason. It's difficult to explain that the world is much larger than their hometown or trying to tell people about my classmates who have come from Iraq or another asylum seeking country without sounding haughty. I love learning from others and I realize I'm often the first American some people have ever met.
It quickly makes me realize that life is full of choices and priorities. My choice has been to share my life with someone I love and to learn about the world by experiencing it first hand. I have an inner need to take life in until it makes me want to cry, but I really wouldn't want it any other way.
The emotional roller coaster of saying hello and goodbye to the people that I love the most will never get easier, but slowly I do consider the fact that's the price I have to pay to be between two cultures. While most of my friends do live in the US, they don't get the privilege to visit friends and family for weeks at a time. It's easier to take things for granted when it's never been any different. That's a luxury that I don't have, but another reason that makes me so sure of my choice in choosing the life that I do. My friends, on the other hand, get to appreciate never having to miss things or to feel slightly misplaced as if they are on the outside looking in.
Everything reiterates how incredibly happy I am and I still feel the same way as when I graduated from college. I'm excited to share my enthusiasm for life with the world and yearn to help others.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Whenever I come to visit my family, I absolutely love sitting in their backyard and listening to the noises or watching the animals (rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks) enjoy their dewey breakfast.
My mom has been having issues with her flower pots. It tends to be the chipmunks that scavenge around, but then she saw this nosy rabbit. Isn't it adorable? I love those tiny legs.
I miss woodland animals. I've only seen one rabbit ever in Munich - right near the US consulate.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Thanks to the power of google earth, I was able to figure out part of my flight path and what exactly I was taking photos of.
Here is a photo of Gola or Oileán Ghabhla, off the coast of Gweedore, Ireland. Evidently this uninhabited island is very popular with rock climbers.
Aren't the colors magnificent?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I'm in Ohio!
I just arrived late last night and I will be here until the 26th for a university reunion and a visit with my family. I'm really looking forward to seeing so many friends - and for once I can travel and see so many people in one place.
Stefan unfortunately had to stay back in Munich, but I am going to do my best to bring him a few surprises and let him know just how much he's missed by everyone here. I'll also do my best to write a few posts while I'm here.
I have to say, being back in the US is always strange and slightly surreal. Especially because I booked my trip on Sunday and was here on Tuesday. I didn't have a lot of time to mentally prepare.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
I've been seeing 'the.' on design sites for a while now... because of their anti-theft lunch bags, however I absolutely love their new framed objects.
Since I don't know that cleaning the vase would be so simple, I think I'd go for the book shelf. It would be so nice in a kitchen for a cookbook or in a little reading area. It's definitely a subliminal conversation starter.
I also love their walls notebook, which can inspire your inner graffiti artist. (Note the typical German Stabilo pens that we all love).
They certainly have a lot of fun design items. If only my birthday was around the corner.
(images courtesy of the.)
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
The past week has been extremely trying and eventful for all the wrong reasons, however I am trying to stay positive.
You know the old saying of life giving you lemons and making lemonade... instead I made cute 'tarte au citron' cakes that look like flowers.
Things can only get better from here (hopefully!).