Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Blog Makeover

This blog isn't empty, but posting has obviously slowed down a bit recently.

Reason being, as much as I love the current coffee-stained layout, I feel that it would be more visually appealing and would be easier to read with a new one. This month has been fairly busy, so it's likely the entire month will be a sort of hiatus dedicated to letting me implement a new layout and work on writing interesting posts.

Feedback on both posts and layout is, of course, very welcome.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kato's First Haunted House

Let it be said up front that I don't do scary. I love surprises and roller coasters, but I'm a total wimp when it comes to traditionally-scary stuff like blood and scary movies. I'm so much of a wimp that I a) can't even look at someone else's paper cut and b)had to stop watching Ghost Rider in the first ten minutes.

But it happened the the first-ever haunted house on campus took place in the boy's dorm, and Lee-sister needed someone to go with because she had friends who were taking part. It took place in the boys' dorm, you had had to go into the suites of rooms, then back out again. At some points it might have been the intention that you were so scared you would run out. I'm not entirely sure.

*Silent creepy man points into first suite*
Me: Lee, I can't see. Can you see?
Lee: I think that's the point.
Girl in creepy makeup: *Silently walks right into me trying to stare me down
Me: Nice mascara.
Girl: *Looks askance*

Girl in next suite: SCREEEEEAAAAAAM
Lee and Me: Our ears are bleeding, if that was your goal.


Guide to next floor carrying lamp: *Walks quickly*
Me: There is a real fear that I will slip and kill myself because I cannot see the stairs anymore, Mr. Quickfeet. Do you want another exhibit, huh? Do you?

Fake blood on the closed-in maze walls that is not dry: We like your fancy coat!
Me: Crap.

Man with chainsaw:
Lee and Me: *walks*
Man with chainsaw: Man, they weren't even scared.

Chainsaw Man gave up after ten feet of rrrrrwwwwww-ing two inches from our backs, and his comment made everything worth it.

It was a well-put-together event, and I'm pretty sure that people who have normal brains reacted the way they were supposed to because I heard a lot of screaming and giggling and at least once group just screamed and ran down the hallway without even getting to the parts where they actually try to scare you.

And that's how I learned that Kayt > haunted houses.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How I Almost Blew Up My Car, But Not Really

Technically, I didn't have a "first car," in the sense that the Roadrunner belonged to my parents and was mainly designated the "college car"--i.e., for use by the children in college. On the other hand, I was the only kid in college, and watching my sister drive it when I was home on breaks was an exercise in self-restraint because my precious is in the hands of another.

The Roadrunner, so named because of its pathetically wimpy "meep meep"-sounding horn, was a 2002 Toyota Corolla. Prior to its acquisition, I was of the strong opinion that I would prefer to drive a minivan (which I learned to drive in) for the rest of my life. That went out the window when I discovered the tighter turn radius made a three-point turn into no more than two points.

The Roadrunner was awesome. My school was an 11-hour drive from home, more than 1300 miles round-trip, and I could get nearly 40 mpg on the freeway for most of that. Gas milage, quickness, room for had only one downside: it ate oil faster than college students eat, well, anything. It didn't leak, but I was having to put in two quarts a month, at least, and made sure I did about a week or so before one of the breaks my freshman year.

Something that doesn't seem related, but really is: I can be very forgetful. For most things, I keep a planner and so life doesn't generally go awry, because the planner keeps track of definite things AND things that are only a possibility AND how to do everything associated with them.

So it's once again time to trek home. Over 600 miles, but I make it. The car is used for normal around-town trips, and it's several days later that I notice it's starting to smell funky. Dangerously funky, in a burned kind of way. I'm afraid that driving five miles from the craft store will be time enough for the engine to blow up and kill me.

Ready to duck and cover if this somehow sets off an explosion, I open the hood.

And discover the oil cap sitting on top of the engine while everything surrounding it is covered in a fine layer of black.

I've been driving around for two weeks without a cap on the oil.

Despite the fact that ten more minutes driving home will probably not do that much more harm, all things considered (re: 11-hour drive home), this calls for a minor freak out in the craft store parking lot the involves lots and lots of paper towels from the store's bathroom and calling my dad on the phone, because dads fix everything.

When I was reassured that so long as the car had enough oil (it did, though it ate it like a speed demon soon after) and I'd cleaned up what I could (there were not enough paper towels in the world), then the smell would linger but it was just the excess oil burning off and was harmless. Yes, harmless. Yes, that means no harm. It's safe to drive and will absolutely not blow up, Kayto, you are fine and stop being a wimp.

And that's when I started checking every gauge on my car obsessively forever after.

The moral of the story is obvious: even if your car is awesome, it will still find ways to mess with you because cars are like cats that way. They even start with the same two letters.

Also like some cats, the Roadrunner came to an untimely, crunchy end, but that's a different story.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Is this the real life?

♫ Is this just fantasy? Too much homework to escape from realityyyy. ♪

And that's why, in a nutshell, I completely disappeared for a couple weeks. For the week and a half before my fall break, I had something due every day, and a couple things sprung on me at the last second (note to professors: assigning four essays two days before they're due is not going to garner you the best-written results, especially if it's midterm season. Just sayin').

Luckily that's over now so I can continue to furnish you with videos made by people of questionable sanity because it's time for Friday Ephemera!

Sit through the entire thing. I promise it's worth it.

And then you have two variations of the same thing:

Personally, the second is my favorite, because nothing can beat the sight of "pikachu" riding the "pidgey" near the end.

It wasn't intentional, but these all ended up being about Pokemon, which admittedly has some epic (interpret as you will) fan videos. Are there any I've missed?

Monday, September 26, 2011

In the Latest News, Newspapers Have Issues

Newspapers. Apparently they're dying, but I love them--there's just something about being able to hold something physical to read and not have to deal with the computer acting up that I love.

At the start of last year, I had barely begun to drown in homework. I was in a journalism class, and we had to get a subscription. Sweet, a reason for me to have daily reading material! So on a Friday, I mosied on over to the newspaper's website and found the convenient "subscription link." Awesomely, the paper wants to give me a gift for subscribing (wooo, $10 gift card to Kroger! College students love food!), so I fill in all the info and that's that.

Except that I never get a paper. So on Monday, I check the website and again and call the number provided, only to be faced with:

"Hello, thank you for calling Louisiana Options in Long-Term Care..."

Thanks, newspaper people, but I'm not quite there yet. Maybe after I graduate college?

I also live in Tennessee, but that's a minor detail.

It takes forever to find a correctly-listed phone number somewhere online. When I finally get ahold of a customer service person who sounds so much like an automated voice that I mistake her for one (oops), I find out that I do not, in fact have a subscription. Actually, there's no record of me anywhere. We start working on fixing this, until I remember that being credit card-less means my father has to pay, so there's another call to make.

"Remember to tell them I live in G Dorm," I tell him. "G Dorm. I can't find a street address for it, so make sure they know the name."

Soon, I have email confirmation! I can only dream of the comics and event notices I'll get soon, and also maybe the news, too.

Tuesday: No paper.

Wednesday: find paper in mailbox, located in a completely different building and also not accessible to non-school employees.

Thursday: No paper.

Friday: Call customer service again and get the most friendly, perky man in the entire universe. He confirms my address, which is correct except for the fact that they having me living in the boy's dorm on the other side of campus. I have no idea how that happened--my father does, actually, know exactly what dorm I live in, since he's had things delivered before, so this is a newspaper error. They refund money for the days I didn't get the paper, so no harm done, right?

It's nearly 5pm when I call, so he lets me know that this info might not be processed and if I don't get papers over the weekend, to be sure to call him back on Monday, you hear?

Please accept these cookies for being awesome, Mr. Happy Customer Service Man.

Saturday: No paper.

Sunday: No paper

Monday: Call customer service and end up with a perfectly nice (but not Mr. Happy) lady. She confirms my address...and again, I am living in the boys dorm. Sinful! I try to explain that no, there is no street address for my dorm. It's just "G Dorm." No, you can't get to my door, the paper should be fine if delivered to the front porch. No, really, there is no street address.

Tuesday: Get a voicemail from the poor, confused carrier trying to figure out if my newest address is correct. Gleefully discover a long plastic bag with my name on it, and shoot off an email to the paper saying yes, address is now correct and did I mention how nice it was to get the paper for the first time in nearly a week?.

Not that I was counting, or anything.

Also, still waiting on that Kroger gift card.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Ephemera: Cute Has Never Been So Disturbing Edition

It's time for Friday Ephemera, which looks like it's a bi-weekly posting of things you didn't know were on the internet! Now, I'm a bit rushed lately because school's finally picking up, and I feel the need to make the rest of you as uncomfortable as I am (albeit in a slightly different way).

So first, head on over to Hello Kitty Hell, a blog run by a poor guy whose wife is obsessed with all things Hello Kitty, so he started a blog to chronicle every disturbing Hello Kitty-related item in existence. Some are merely ridiculous (Cheetos. Duct tape. Glasses. Braces.) and some go...farther (scarification. Sex toys. Gas masks. Cocaine pipes). Obviously, many aren't officially-endorsed Kitty products, but the fact remains that someone looked at a septic tank and said, "that would look a lot better with Hello Kitty on it." (Warning, nature of some of the products means it NSFW.)

A confession: I just pulled that site up because I feel bad only showing you a single thing on Friday Ephemera. This is what the entire post is about.

Watch it. Don't stop until the entire thing is done, because there's always something new to see that has no relation to anything! It starts out slow, with Lisa Frank backpacks and Kraft macaroni and cheese, then eases into the faceless large women dancing, and you know you've hit the jackpot when you get to the floating femur.

But don't stop there! Watch now, and we'll throw in FIVE free floating tanks and a computer-generated mustache just for you! Along with a myriad of other things we can't describe here for legal reasons. (All SFW, though. Does that make it worse, or better?)

NSFW: Not safe for work
SFW: Safe for work

Monday, September 19, 2011

What To Expect if We Ever Live Together

The verbal parts of today's post are taken verbatim from real events. This post is sponsored by my very patient roommate, Roomie the Crushinator, who did not write this but I'm pretty sure this is what she was thinking when this ocurred.
I'm sitting at at my computer trying to keep up with the rent from Cityville on Facebook and the crops demanding that I pick them right now. It's a good thing that I don't have class until noon tomorrow--or, technically, today, since it's nearly 1 am and I'm not even tired.

Our room is divided with our desks back-to-back, so I can't see Kayt, but she's been fairly quiet for the last hour. Apparently there's a big test tomorrow and she just now started studying after running around like a chicken with her head cut off squawking about all the other things she has due tomorrow, which apparently she forgot about until right now. Not that I'm surprised.

Marvo the Magician is demanding facilities in my town when I hear signs of life again.

"What do you think Jesus' DNA was like?"

A pause, presumeably to allow me to answer, goes unfilled because I'm still wondering where this came from.

"Like, was it all Mary's DNA with...a Y chromosome or something? Is that even possible?"

...Nope, still bemused.

"Or, I guess since that implies sperm and egg and sex and stuff, did he not share DNA with anyone?"

I venture that in my mind, he probably looked like a male version of Mary. Maybe.

"And what about Adam and Eve?"

I don't know, I tell her. It's 1 am and she has a test she should be studying for. From what I recall of her gripes, it has to do more with a bunch of dead Latin people than with biblical characters.

"Fine," she mutters, leaving me to wonder if she's really the same age I am.


"Hey, C?"

Maybe she's just thinking about our choir class tomorrow...


"If different Christian denominations were embodied and there was a big photo of them all--like a family reunion photograph or something--what do you think it'd be like? Like, Nazarenes and Methodists and some Baptists would be all hugging each other and cheesin' it up for the camera, and pentacostal and charismatic churches would be partying in the middle, and Eastern Orthodoxy would be peeking in the windows..."

Kayt's image collection seems quite appropriate right now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Inside the Head of a College Student, a Year-By-Year Look

As you probably guessed, I'm back for my last year at this wonderful university. It seems strange to think that three years ago I was one of the youngest people on campus, and I was simultaneously feeling horrifically excited thinking that I was now a cool college kid and scared stiff of all the upperclassmen.

It's strange to look back and see how different we all are. People who have left, married, or just plain changed. To look at my goals that first year, what I thought I was going to do, and to look at what I'm doing now. To know the things that I would never have believed three years ago (professors can totally tell when you're not actually taking notes on your laptop. Naps are a gift from God).

So I wrote this. Obviously it doesn't fit everyone, as my freshman sister Chameleon Head  and her friends are perfectly nice, mostly-non-squealing people. But I can laugh, because this was me and my friends.

This makes me laugh every time I see it. 
Although it'd be soda cans at my school.

Freshman year: Y'all, we are so cool right now. High school is so last year. We are college students. Independent. Adult. And my freshman intro-class group people are totally all my BFFs! And--OMG they're dating each other? No, wait, they broke up? And I sit between them...this is awkward. This is awesome! I know everyone! Plus, the whole "not being in school for eight straight hours" rocks. Wait, those are seniors? They don't look anything like me! Geez, it's like they don't even know that Hot Topic exists. Mom, Dad, I just turned in my first college paper ever! It was like six pages and it's awesome. What's this 'B' about? Don't you know how hard I worked on it?

Sophomore year: Hello, dorm room, I've missed you and your cinderblock walls. Hey, I still have to go to the dorm meeting? But I learned all this last year! It's so nice to see all these people I recognize. I don't recognize you--you must be a freshman! Let me explain everything to you. Seniors don't seem so scary, I even know the names of a few. I'm so excited to be getting into my major classes! Doubleyew-tee-eff is this I HATE MY MAJOR. PANIC TIME. Oh, cafeteria, you never change. Your desserts look less tempting than last year, though. Maybe I'll only have two cookies this time.

Junior year: This is weird, half my friends are living in the upperclassmen apartments. Can you believe we're halfway done? Oh, freshmen as suitemates...sure, honey, tone it down a little. I realize you get one chance a week to have guy friends come over, as per dorm rules, but you'll notice the rest of the floor can manage to do so without screaming contests. Kinda weird, I haven't met a bunch of these new kids. On the plus side, my new major rocks. This was definitely the right choice. Bonus: I know most of the people in classes. Group projects=win. Pre-registering for my senior year--wow, this seems impossible. And so many of my friends are graduating--lunch is going to be way more boring without you, guys!

This would be useful now, please.
Senior year: Helloooo, apartment, goodbyeee, dorm room. You know, these posters I've had for the last few years don't really appeal to me anymore, but I'm liking the antique look for the walls. Oh wow, there's no way I could wear that to an internship. Thank goodness for thrift stores and student discounts (which I won't be able to use soon--woah, paradigm shift). Who are all these little, squealing people running around campus? Do I know any of you? And must you be making a loud and obvious show of how free and independent you are in the five minutes you have left before curfew? Everyone in my classes has been here for years, it's pretty sweet. We need to recruit new members for Extracurricular Club, though, since all the officers are graduating this year. Speaking of graduation, this paper is really not that important, unlike certain things involving looking for jobs. I think I'm ready to be out of here. I am definitely not ready to be out of here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Friday Ephemera: Hello, Dolly

I'm back in America, which means I'll be posting Friday Ephemera again! Rejoice, all ye peoples, for I know that you have long pined for what random things I can dredge up!

It's barely two weeks into the school year and I'm already sleep-deprived. In the interest of making everyone else as miserable as I am, please go look at the lifelike Harry Potter Reborn baby dolls, which feature various Harry Potter characters as very realistic baby dolls. Here's another link which includes more pictures, including Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley.
And fine, some of them are very cute. Babies Voldemort and Dobby will be haunting my nightmares, though.

I can't embed the video, but please follow this link to go see the wonderful, miraculous Breast Milk Baby doll, which the website assures us is the "World's First Breastfeeding Baby." I can only assume they forgot the "doll" part, or else there's something very weird going on. Regardless, check out the video of the little girl who looks so completely thrilled (sarcasm added).

The kids in the next commercial are feeling a very different emotion:
You see them turning? That's not joy, that's pure terror so great their little minds can't take it anymore and they just crack.

Well, thank goodness we don't have creepy dolls in commercials these days...
Why this hasn't gone viral, I'll never know.
...There's a making-of video, and I'm almost afraid to admit that it fascinates me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Facing Facts: Trip Over

I have a confession: I'm not in Germany anymore. I'm not wearing long-sleeved shirts because it's 90 degrees here. I'm not converting from euro to dollars in my head anymore. I changed my Facebook "current city" away from Lueneburg.

Like how I managed to avoid a lot of culture shock going to Germany in the first place, I haven't suffered reverse culture shock at all. There's been none of what I was warned about, having to readjust to my own culture after after adapting to Germany's.

Which is not to say that it's as if I never left. Even though I had Americans to help me, I proved to myself that I am capable of surviving in another country. Another culture. It's one I didn't find too different, sure, but it definitely wasn't America.

I think there's a tendency to compare the countries, because that's how you see the, comparing the various aspects. And, of course, people want to know which is better?

Granted, Germany is a lot older than the U.S., but I'm not going to focus on size here. Instead, let's look at the ways to regulate house temperature. Germany has these awesome windows that can be adjusted to be cracked open at the top, or the can be swung open. America generally has windows that slide (often unwillingly) up and down or side-to-side. German windows don't have insect screens, though.

And then, there's the heating and a/c. The latter is practically nonexistent, so when things get uncomfortably warm, or even hot--and it does-- you're out of luck. So as much as I love the multi-use windows, the USA wins this round.

Again, we have to acknowledge the differences here. Where I was in northern Germany was very flat, unlike the semi-hilly Southern U.S., and a city the size of Lueneburg would, in America, be much more spread out. But being so close together and flat, everyone had a bike, and biking was a great way to get around. The buses there ran to a lot of small residential neighborhoods, which I've never come across before, and even walking was easy with so much within an easy walking distance. Lueneburg was very pedestrian-friendly. There's no point in walking anywhere but the mailbox here, so Germany gets the point.

There are a dozen bakeries and cafes on every corner, or at least it feels like it. You only have to look at my Foods of Germany post to realize that we lag far behind not just in the croissant department, but in the area of ice cream. Here, you can get vanilla or chocolate soft-serve for a dollar. There, for 80 cents you can get a scoop of any of a dozen flavors. Also, two words: Eis Schokolade. Germany wins, hands down.

Specialized stores are still common in Germany: I got food at the market, had to go to an Apotheke (drug store) to buy aspirin, and yet another place for shampoo. Most food markets were very small, and I only found one big one that resembled something an American would be used to, the size of Kroger (or Giant or Food Lion, pick your brand) that sold a small variety of household items, books/magazines, and school supplies along with food. In markets you have to bring your own bag or buy them there, at a cost of 10-20 centers a bag, and you bag your own items. If you want a cart, you put in a 50-cent or 1-euro coin to get it out of a special lock (you get the coin back when you return it), and some places even do the same for adorable kiddie-carts.
See the chains linking them? A monetary investment keeps the carts from cluttering the parking lot.
I love the carts and wish that would be adopted here, but the hassle of frantically trying to bag your stuff while the cashier sighs impatiently and the larger selection of items (that won't change constantly) gives this round to the U.S.

The bottom line is, there's no such thing as a perfect country. I loved the easy transport in Lueneburg, but that's just not feasible in Nashville. I'm happy to have screens to keep bugs out of my room, but I miss opening the awesome windows to their max. I wholeheartedly believe that the cafes and bakeries would be beneficial to America, since the expensive Starbucks-and-co that populate us can't compare, but I'm glad to have someone bagging my strawberries again and not have to stuff bags into my purse for future use.

It's different. But then, that was the entire point of studying abroad. If I could go back, I wouldn't change a thing.

Well, one thing. I'd buy my German-English dictionary before my fourth week there. But that's the only thing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bargains are Just Excuses to Spend More Money (Unfortunately, It Works)

You know what I hate? Restraint. If it weren't for a lifetime of parents teaching me that For The Last Time, Money Does Not Grow On Trees I would be advertisers' favorite person ever. A coupon for 30% off something I don't need? GIVE IT TO ME. There are big red letters spelling S-A-L-E in your window? I MUST LOOK. Suddenly I discover a whole host of things that I do not need.

I know that this is how advertisers get people to buy things. I do it myself in my job: Did you know these sweaters are buy-one-get-one 50% off? Did you want to get one in another color? And the majority of people say yes. It doesn't matter that they were okay five seconds ago with just a $35 orange sweater, the minute the can get something for less--even if they didn't particularly want it--it doesn't become an extra $17.50, it becomes a bargain. A bargain that just adds to your total.

The point of this post isn't really about my efforts to improve my sales numbers. It's about the fact that Borders is going out of business and OMG book are on sale. And my instinct is to buy every single book in the entire store. Because they are cheap and therefore it is a bargain. Across the Universe is a total bargain at $11 even though I wasn't planning on buying it! I didn't particularly like Extras, but it's on sale for $7! Basically if it has a pretty cover and paper in-between, I am filled with the desire to throw money at it.

This is where the restraint comes in. Because I am a semi-broke college student with no shelf space, I reasoned that instead of the armfuls of books that I desired, I would only buy things that I would end up buying anyway, sale price or not. This unfortunately crushes my dream of blogging like Merle over at A Bookworm's Shelf and showing off the fifteen shiny new books that I dream of. I did get three, though, and anyone who knows me (or reads this blog, therefore knowing me. Think how close we're getting! This means you have to get me a birthday present, right?) knows that I cannot shut up about books I like. You're welcome.

Eon is one of the rare books that I ganked off the shelf of the library and loved enough to buy it (not enough to buy hardcover, but that's not a reflection of its awesomeness. For more detail, see: college student, semi-broke). In a China-analogue world, twelve-year-old boys are chosen to apprentice as 'Dragoneyes,' and form a magical bond with the dragons that help keep the country stable. Girls aren't allowed, but that doesn't stop Eona from disguising herself as Eon-the-boy. But death is a sure thing if anyone discovers her secret.

It's in the vein of Tamora Pierce, with a strong female lead in an interesting world with a good, fast-paced story and action, none of the paranormal romance or dystopian societies that are currently popular.
Sorcery and Cecelia is another book that I've read (in this case, multiple times) and needed to own. Written in the form of (very detailed, though believable) letters between cousins Kate and Cecelia, it chronicles a regency that's mixed with magic. Co-author Patricia Wrede is good about writing strong female characters and infusing her books with humor, so this ends up being much better than the general "find a husband! With magic!" regency-era books I tend to find.

Artemis Fowl, though not as famous as Harry Potter, was a staple of the juvenile section when it was a trilogy nearly ten years ago (which we are not talking about, lest I realize that I am old), and the teen criminal mastermind who deals with fairies showed up in a seventh (and second-to-last) book last year. This is one of those things that was basically invented to make me spend money: this was on Borders' red-tag clearance even before the liquidation. Grand cost of this hardback: $2.50. I believe that is an excellent price to pay in exchange for sarcasm, gun-toting leprechauns, tin-foil-hat-wearing centaur tech geniuses, and probably a story, too.

Grand total for 1,269 pages of fantasy: about $10. That's less than one cent per page.

I think that's a bargain.

Dear Europe, We Have a Problem

Dear Europe,
I understand that America used to look to you for the latest fashions. You were the jocks and the cheerleaders and preps all rolled into one and we were the dorks with braces wearing Barney sweaters. It's been a while, though, and for everyday clothing we can all agree that we've got a pretty good handle on things and both sides of the ocean are cool and stuff, right?

But apparently, you've started to run out of ideas, but since everyone knows that Americans still aren't the cool kids in the High School of Anthropomorphic World Nations you couldn't look at anything we're wearing right now. Oh, no. But apparently 1989 is a perfectly fine place to look, possibly because  you're assuming that Vanilla Ice was not, in fact, famous, and no one remembers parachute pants.

Because that is exactly what you have decided is the Hot New Thing, sort of like someone decided to convert their sweat pants into leggings starting at the bottom but gave up halfway through. Did we decide that the gangster pants-falling-down look is actually cool and the crotch needs to be at our knees, but showing our undies is still out?

Even worse are the ones--harem pants, which all of them are but those other ones are really parachute pants whether you want to admit it or not--which  make you look like you're wearing an upside-down mushroom with leg holes. Europe has a lot of stairs, do you enjoy having to pick up your pants every time you come to them? You've got the awkwardness of a long skirt without the ability to pick it up off the bathroom floor when you use the restroom. Did you ever think of that?

I know that you are confused, Europe. I know you are confused because of all the crazy things you have, like having to pay for restrooms and peanut-butter-flavored Cheetos. I can only assume this is because you are thousands of years old and therefore a senile old coot compared to a teenage America, with its Lady Googoo and whatnot, so I suppose in that respect there are a lot of worse things you could be trying.

Still, you should stop, because things can only get worse from here. What's next, that hair?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Foods of Germany, Part Two

Eating out is all well and good, but the really interesting stuff is found in the supermarkets. One of my favorite things to do was just duck into a grocery store and see what I could find. As a side note, Germany doesn't have nearly as many combined shops as the U.S. does; I found one big store that was like our supermarkets, with foods and household items and a small card center and a small book section (you know, like Kroger or something). Most were strictly focused on food and a few personal items, you'd have to hit up another store for anything else.

Another thing about German grocery stores: you bag your own stuff. And provide the bags yourself. If you don't have any, most had sturdy big plastic bags that cost about 15 cents, but it wasn't unusual to see a big guy with a basket on his arm winding through the aisles.

But enough about shopping habits, you're interested in the food. One of the first things I noticed was that American was used curiously often to describe foods. For example, a common salad dressing was American, which was like Thousand-Island. But not bad, right? I mean after all, we have French dressing.
These, though? They're Cool Ranch Doritos, but Germany doesn't actually have ranch dressing (they do have something similar, called Gurke und Dill, though). So now you know what cool Americans taste like, they taste like ranch.
Germany, apparently, doesn't actually do marshmallows. I spotted one bag of non-American-referenced-ones, but they were flavored and being passed off as candy. So note that these aren't just American marshmallows, but for barbequing. I wonder if that's common over there? Oh, and if you needed convincing:
They really don't want these things identified with Germany.

I don't have a picture of them, but one of the first things I tried were Big Flippies. Click the link to see them. Note that the mascot is wearing an American flag-patterned hat, and the used of the American flag pattern again in the "BIG" part of the logo (thanks, Germany). Funnily (thankfully) enough, this isn't something we have in the Gigantic States of America. They're like puffed Cheetos, but instead of being permeated with delicious powdery cheese, it's peanut-butter. Yes, it's as wrong as it sounds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Foods of Germany, Part One

Let's face it, you'd be disappointed if you were in a foreign country surrounded by the same foods you have at home. I didn't do a lot of research on the food before leaving for Germany, since I'd lived there before and was at least partially familiar with the food, but there were still surprises.

The first half focuses on restaurant food. It's image-heavy, so click to continue!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kato's Guide to Eating Out in Germany Without Causing an International Incident

There are things that a lot of people wouldn't think about as being different in other countries, I'm guessing. Personal space is one. Eating out is another.  To keep you from embarrassing yourself so badly that you spontaneously explode and take out several Germans nearby and end up being labeled as a U.S. terrorist and starting yet another war until people realize you were just an uneducated tourist while idiots on the fringe continue to write books and websites psychoanalyzing your life to prove that it was a plot to infect all German bread with a Deadly Death Virus, I have written a handy-dandy guide to surviving German restaurants.

First, you must learn the difference between a restaurant and a non-restaurant. A non-restaurant looks like this:
Note how people are standing. Standing people are a very good indication that you should also be standing. I don't have a picture of a restaurant, but I think it's safe to say that if there is no central glass case with food inside that has people standing around it, then it is a restaurant. Sometimes they will try to confuse you by being both a restaurant and a non-restaurant. I usually figured that if they had tables with menus on them outside, then it was a sit-down-and-come-take-my-order restaurant. If you're unsure, I suggest camouflaging yourself  as a hobo against an opposing building and watching for 15 or 30 minutes to see what other people do.

Pick up a menu as soon as you sit down. Not only will you have something to hide behind, but you will also be able to see if Coke is cheap enough to justify buying it. Germany doesn't really do water like America--you'd have to specify "Leitungswasser," or tap water, because "wasser" is going to be sparkling. Drink menus in Germany are designed specifically to annoy Americans, because in addition to the no-water thing, there is also the fact that soda is small and expensive.
It's always .2-.3 liters (~6.7-10 ounces), and somewhere around 2.40 euro (give or take twenty cents), which is about $3.50. Refills? In your dreams. Although to be honest, most drinks aren't going to be that much better, be they juice or tea or whatever. Basically, Germany really wants you to be dehydrated and/or broke.

One of the waitstaff will probably come to take your drink order initially, but after that if you want something you'll have to flag them down. If you are used to America and the waitstaff coming to check on you every ten minutes, this is an exercise specifically designed to bring on anxiety attacks (or death spirals in your brain, which are closely related).

It's simple, really: sit up straight and swivel your head around quickly so that you cannot possibly miss your target. Don't blink, you might miss making eye contact. When you have obtained contact with your target's eyes, raise your hand and eyebrows in tandem. This way they cannot possibly mistake your gestures. Have your menu ready and say "Ich moechte [food], bitte." (I'd like [food], please.) Point as you say this because there is a 90% chance that they won't understand you anyway. If you have no clue what the menu says, I'm sorry you weren't smart enough to at least look up food-words on Google before you left. Just point at something and hope that it's edible.
You might get lucky. This was a really good quesadilla.

To pay, repeat the flagging-down-the-waitstaff exercise and say "ich moechte zahlen" or "bezahlen" or something. Supposedly this refers to paying, but no one could actually explain what it means so I just mumble something along those lines while holding my wallet. If you're part of a group, Germany hasn't quite grasped the concept of separate checks (but then again, tax is rolled into the prices), so you'll have to remember what it was you ordered. If you don't, hide under the table until everyone else has paid and the pay for whatever's left.

If you follow all these steps, then there is at least a 50% chance that you won't be too embarrassed to show your face ever again! Congratulations!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

City in a Day: Lübeck and Travemünde

The last Saturday before finals we had a group field trip to Lübeck and its beach, Travemünde. Lübeck is known for being the home of Niederegger, a famous maker of marzipan. This place alone is worth visiting if you're a fan of the almond paste; there's a delicious-looking bakery and restaurant inside the (very crowded) store.
Window display, made completely out of marzipan.
It was actually really good marzipan. Smooth, sweet and mellow compared with the marzipan I've had before. I recommend bypassing the marzipan-in-chocolate stuff and getting something of pure marzipan because dark chocolate can overwhelm the taste a bit.

Now Lübeck is situated on an island and it used to be that you could only go in or out via one of its gates. Only one remains:
If you've been in Europe, you might also notice that this gate appear on newer German 2 euro coins.
Yes, they're leaning. You'll find that most things in Lübeck lean or have shifted. We were shown one street where the street itself has risen by several meters over the last centuries. The houses on this street have no (original) doors at street-level, but you can look down through grates and see the originals 10 feet (ish) under street level.

The city has a lot of churches, six or seven, but the one I was interested in was St. Katherine's Church, a former monastery. Alas, there were not actually any pictures of St. Katherine inside. It did have this, however:
I have no idea what is going on, but it is awesome.
Please let the skull be real. Please.

One of the most interesting things are the teeny-tiny streets. I don't mean normal European-alley tiny, I mean tiny.
Pictured: a street.
Remember, Lübeck is on an island, so when the city filled up, there was literally no place to continue building. Their solution was to build in the previously-private courtyards of houses, then essentially tunnel through so people could actually reach the new buildings. So you have four-foot-tall tunnels that are official streets.

Travemünde is a twenty-minute train ride from Lübeck, and had surprisingly nice weather. There were a lot of people at the beach and in the water--it wasn't any colder than Myrtle Beach, SC, actually.

 Sadly, since the day had started off cold and cloudy, none of use brought swim suits. Curse you, northern Germany and your fickle weather!
Next-best thing: seeing how deep you can loose your feet in the sand before you lose your balance and/or run away shrieking from a dead jellyfish. Not that I would know anything about that.

The week we were there was apparently the week of a festival or something. The boardwalk had a ton of vendors (mostly for drinks), there were ships and boats everywhere (including a pirate ship!) and lots of live music.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Berlin Part 3, or, Sharks Are Not Confined to the Water Anymore

I planned out my attack beforehand. Because of the late check-out, I had until 4 pm and then had to catch a train at 4:16 back to Lueneburg in order to not walk back alone in the dark.

My choice of poison: the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island (which has five other museums as well), because I'd read that it had the Ishtar Gate and I'm really into pretty ancient things. Which is good, because it is chock full of things . You get a pair of headphones and guide once you tell the nice ladies what language you need, so you an key in the exhibits and actually figure out what's going on. It's nice, after a string of places where I haven't been able to read signs.

The first thing you see when you enter is a giant Greek altar. In fact, it's a good thing the talking headphone will tell you it's an altar, because  altars are to this thing what doghouses are to Bill Gates' house.

You learn about its history the art of it/the statues/the reliefs/everything, and you can walk up the steep stairs to the top, which has an actual altar in a courtyard-type thing. Seriously, ancient Greece, maybe a bit of overkill. There's also a mosaic, which is supremely detailed and made of the tiniest little pieces ever, which makes the art student in my wince because how long did that take?

I'll try not to dwell too long on everything, because what it amounts to is a bunch of very old stone things, along with some pottery. Once you're done with Greece, you can see similar things (in that they're very old stone things) from Syria, the collection of a German whose life's love and work was this excavation site. He'd had a private museum, which was hit by a bomb during WWII. That which wasn't destroyed in that was by fire. If not by fire, then by the ham-handed fire-quenching efforts. If not by that, then by people moving them after all of that. (Basically, karma really hated either the German guy or Syria did some seriously bad stuff back in the day.)

To illustrate exactly how bad it was (and how puzzle champions have nothing on archeologists), see this:

Obviously the smooth part in front isn't original. Either those parts were completely destroyed or just haven't been pieced back together yet., but the rest? Devilry, I can only assume.

Then I did the rest of the museum backwards because the map assumes that the ancient-broken-things exhibit is the last one you'll do, and I fail at reading maps so I did everything else backwards. Including the ISHTAR GATE:
It is big. And blue. And pretty.

An Islamic art exhibit:

 (Everything's so intricate!)
And more on ancient Babylon:
(Did anyone else make these in the sixth grade? Mine had horses.)

The rest of the day is pictureless, which isn't a disappointment unless you really want pictures of a German flea market. The only exciting thing that happened was that I had to dodge the street sharks on my way to the hotel, which is what I called the trams. They're like trains, in the streets, and they are electric and therefore silent until two inches behind you and I'm pretty sure the drivers have a daily competition to see who can kill the most tourists.

 Berlin was a very different city than what I'm used to, because so much of it has had to be reconstructed, but I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed myself. When I get the chance to go back, I'm definitely hitting a bunch of places I went on the bike tour, like St. Hedwig's Cathedral, and maybe even doing a more specific bike tour. There were a ton of museums I didn't get to see--the Neues Musuem, with the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti, the DDR museum about daily like in East Germany, the museum at Checkpoint Charlie documenting failed and successful escapes, and more.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Bring All the Creeps to the Yard

I don't mind telling you that people generally don't try to hit on me in the U.S. It happens seldom and that is awesome, because strangers talking to me out of nowhere strikes me as strange. Really? You want to get to know me? Based on what, how I was daydreaming and walked into the door? Or something? I should warn you that there is a precedent in my family for assaulting men who do not take no for an answer, and I am incredibly eager to carry on that tradition.

So, anyway, I don't actually have to deal with that much. But apparently I am very attractive to all the creepers in Germany.

This first time, it was strange, but otherwise okay. I'm walking to the uni alone, there's no one else on the sidewalk because it's a quiet sort of place, and a car honks at me. I look up to see a guy so old his grandchildren probably have grandchildren looking at me from his car, and keep walking. He doesn't wave but isn't clearly angry, so maybe he just wanted to say hi. Hi.

Another time, I'm with my friend in Am Sande at the bus stop. Now since this is the city center, there are plenty of other people milling around. We're talking--not loudly, but normal conversation level so you could hear us if you wanted to--about GERMAN and OMG THE CASHIER UNDERSTOOD ME FOR ONCE. All of a sudden, I hear this:

"You are a beautiful woman."

You are probably reading that saying, "There is nothing wrong with that sentence. In fact, whoever said that had excellent taste and I am very interested in this person. Kayto maybe you just have issues or something." If you are saying that, then I'm sorry, but this is the adult equivalent of DON'T TAKE CANDY FROM STRANGERS. DON'T TAKE COMPLIMENTS FROM STREET-CREEPERS. Drugs are probably involved in both, and you're too old to be on the side of a milk carton this time.

I look up, because words were very stilted and enunciated, and a guy in his thirties is walking slowly about five feet away from us. He looks like this:
Except he's male, decades older, and grungy. But strangely, his expression is the same: You would look more beautiful if there were knives and blood involved.

Then he circled us, like he was trying not to look like he was circling us but forgot to go out the, like, twenty more feet that would need to be convincing, and met up with his friend who was standing near us, and they walked away, looking back over their shoulders, presumably to see if we were so impressed. Yes, sir, I love it when smirking potential ax murderers show off their English.

Today I met Creeper #3. I'm heading for the bus stop in Am Sande when someone near me says something in German. This causes me to look up because I when I walk my main goal is to not fall. Not falling involves a concentrated effort on my part to look directly at the ground in front of me because FEET that's why.

Mr. Man repeats himself, saying that it's hot out. It's not, but sure, I'll agree. People in Germany generally don't make small talk with strangers, presumably because they collectively realized one that that no one really cares.

But Mr. Man is all ready with the small talk. I don't speak much German? Oh, where do I come from? America! He comes from Turkey, let's shake hands! Am I studying here? Where am I staying?
Haha, no. I gesture vaguely in five directions, like, yeah, there's a building somewhere in one of them that probably holds my stuff. Maybe. It's a magical building that you can't find. My German has miraculously disappeared at this point and oh, what's that? You're asking about my house again? I'm sorry to tell you that despite the German and English being identical, I have no idea what you're saying!

Oh? Trinken? Did you miss the part where now I no speaky the Deutsch? Unfortunately, since you're using gestures again, I can clearly understand that you want me to join you for a drink. Unfortunately for you, you are twice my age--WHY CAN'T THE CREEPERS BE WITHIN A DECADE OF ME WHY--and also attempting to pick up a uni girl off the street. Who you can't even talk to. You'll note that I still remember the word for no. Emphatically.

Yeah, that's right, you better keep walking. I've got my eye on you and I am totally ready to go all Chuck Norris on you. In my self defense refresher course last year, we were sadly not allowed to use real people when we practiced things like breaking noses and kicking groins and popping eyeballs like grapes, but if you're willing to volunteer yourself, it'd be rude to say no.

Berlin Part 2, or, Scarlet Johansson and I Ride All Over the City

So I should mention that my hotel deal came with: free wifi, free late check-out (4pm), a free "welcome drink" in the hotel restaurant (useful, because Coke is hecka expensive here, people), and free breakfasts, which would've cost me otherwise. I don't know how standard this is, if it's a German thing ("pay for everything") or just a cheapish-hotel thing (the hotel didn't feel cheap, at all, around the same standard as a Holiday Inn but smaller). I have no idea, but it doesn't matter at this point.

What matters is the delicious breakfast. I get teased because of my aversion to traditional American breakfast foods. Not a huge fan of cereal, greasy meat, fluffy waffles/pancakes, and I hate eggs. So this was perfect:

Cheese, cold cuts of meat, bread, fruit. I am never leaving. The little ice-cream-cone-shot-glass thing up there is actually for holding jam. Ingenious!

I followed the easy instructions to the meeting point for my bike tour--it wasn't hard to miss, besides the guy holding a big orange sign there were about 70 people in a large group, which was broken up into smaller ones of 16-18. We were then led to pick out the bikes (which, living up to their names, had the fattest tires I've ever seen), all of which were named.

Guys, meet Scarlet Johansson.

Our guide was a wonderfully awesome guy from Ireland named Ciaran, who assured us (especially the woman who had never ridden a bike before) that we'd never go too long without stopping.

Here he is using his great art skills to show how Germany and Berlin were divided.

One of the first places we stopped was the square in front of St. Hedwig's Cathedral (which is gorgeous and slightly resembles the Pantheon) and Humboldt University, notable for that huge book-burning party the Nazis held in front of it.

"Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people." -Heinrich Heine

 We hit Checkpoint Charlie, which is a total tourist trap (note: our guide warned that we should probably not get our passports stamped by the costumed guys offering to do so for 2 euro, since it technically invalidates the passport) although I heard it has a very cool museum, and hit the Topography of Terror (which is also next to the former Nazi air force headquarters) before he led us behind some construction and paused next to a car park.

Which also happened to the former location of Hitler's bunker.

It would've been underground, of course, so there's nothing to see. Not wanting it to become a pilgrimage site for Neo-Nazis, Germany didn't put up anything that marked it until the World Cup in 2006, and even then it's just a small board. So you've got families and tourists parking on top of this place, which seems fitting.

Also, check out the luxury communist apartments in the background. If you lived in East Berlin, that was classy, my friends.

We spent a bit of time at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe...

(Complete with the hotel from which Michael Jackson once dangled his baby in the background...)

...had lunch in the Tierpark and saw a few more monuments, including the Reichstag building where the Bundestag, or German parliament, meets. Apparently it's free to go up in the dome, but you have to book tickets online two days in advance.

The trip, instead of the four-ish hours originally promised, ended up being about 5.5, which I was totally okay with, so I walked around parts of Berlin looking for souvenirs for the family and ended at the Brandenburg Gate, which--hey, yay historical significance, but it's kinda boring (and the light was bad, so I've got pretty pictures of the back or bad pictures of its front). I was happy, though, to find street performers on the way there.

 They moved very, veeeryyyy slowly, like robots.

Her thing was unfurling her wings and smiling for pictures whenever someone put money in her jar, since everyone who did so wanted a photo with her.

He held perfectly still until you put money in, and then he did the tried-and-true blowing-a-kiss-and-bowing routine. He was my favorite, obviously. No clue what he did for guys, though.

And then a semi-early retirement to again do a bit of homework (what can I say? It was a partner project, and I can't let someone else's grade suffer) because also most stores close by about 6 pm, even in Berlin.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Berlin Part One, or, How To Get Out of Town with Less Than a Day to Spare

Imagine you're me. You're sitting here totally not procrastinating on homework and trying to convince Facebook not to spontaneously pop up on your computer and force you to look at that for another few hours when you happen to glace at the calendar.

"GASP," you gasp. It is a gasp filled with the knowledge that you only have two weekends left in Germany, and there is a full-day field trip on the second of those Saturdays. You haven't gotten out of the country! You haven't gotten out of the state! You need to do something, stat!

So turning to your best friend (providing your best friend talks a lot of nonsense, often in Russian, and gives horrible directions) Google, you start looking frantically for a way to get to any big city that will keep you occupied for a three-day weekend.

To cut out a lot of superfluous detail--this is the music montage during the movie so that you have a basic overview of what happened. There's the computer screen giving me no results, there's me flinging the computer across the room, there's me crying over Facebook to a sympathetic parent thousands of miles away (note: Hollywood may exaggerate things for story effect), and a close-up of a message that suggests using a travel agent. To switch mediums now, there's the lightbulb going off over my head.

Ironically, it was when I started looking for a travel agent that I found something. I was assured that travel agents work on commission so I wasn't paying anything extra, plus they would do the work for me. I checked for some in Lueneburg, and found one--L'Tur Last Minute, which sounded good because at this point it was Wednesday night and I wanted to leave Friday morning. How much more last minute can you get? Apparently it's a chain and their website had some nice deals to Berlin, but my German is bad and Google Translate messed up parts of the site, somehow, so I went in to their physical location the next day.

Let me say it: I officially love travel agents. Seriously. She made it so easy and within an hour I had booked a round trip train and two nights at a hotel in Berlin within walking distance of things like Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.

Also, I got to keep all my papers in here.

The Google maps directions I wrote down (complete with map illustration!) ending up in a dead-end, but there were big boards of maps at the train station so I took pictures of those as my guide and made it to my hotel (a one mile walk!) only a couple hours later than I anticipated. A block away, guess what I ran into:

Yup. Just a block from my hotel is a free museum, the Topography of Terror ("Topografie des Terrors") that has a stretch of the wall, so I headed back after dumping my trillion-pound backpack at the hotel.

The ToT/TdT chronicles the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, their campaigns and other atrocities during the way, and the aftermath that led to the division of Berlin and Germany, and is set on the crumbled foundations of a building that served as Gestapo and SS headquarters.

On the left you can barely see the backs of the exhibit boards. It's quite thorough, actually, and there's also a large indoor component that gets into more detail.

When I returned to the hotel, I had to figure out which of the many, many things in Berlin I was going to do. I gathered every brochure that looked remotely interesting from the hotel lobby and found it: Fire Tire Bike Tours. They had several options, including a general all-purpose Berlin tour that would last four hours and show you more than you could see on foot.

Props to whoever designed the brochures, they're fantastic--not only do they have a ton of info on the four or so different tours in Berlin they offered and stuff on their business and guides, but also small maps of the main places you'd be, tourist tips (such as how to figure out the public transit and cultural information), and suggestions of other places to see, like museums, complete with times and prices. Basically every question you would have, they answered, making themselves look way better than the competition which could barely be bothered to list where the meeting spots for tours were (communications major. I notice these things).

Having decided that, I did a tiny bit homework to make myself feel less guilty about the upcoming midterm I faced two days after I got back, and went to bed.


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