Thursday, November 30, 2006

Verbs, Verbs, Verbs!

So, I'm at the point, apparently where I have to learn verbs. Remember sometime in grade school learning the past tense of verbs? sink-sank-sunk. drink-drank-drunk. sing-sang-sung. think-thank-thunk. Oh, that's last one isn't right. Well, now you know how I currently sound when speaking to Germans about things that have past.

So I have a list of about 40-50 verbs that simply have to be memorized. It's a good thing I'm not here to goof off. No, that will come on the weekends. Not only does Munich have a Christmas market in nearly every plaza, but there is actually a Medieval-themed Christmas market. This should be entertaining. Be sure to follow the "Deutsch" link so you can check out the photos.

The cemetery of the living

Both the wired and wireless connections at the dorm are spotty and slow. I'm lucky if I make it through a couple of pages of surfing without the connection dropping. Thus, updates here will come in bunches when I plug the laptop into the schools media center connection.

On the morning I arrived late and missed my first class, I walked from my dorm over to a cemetery. I wanted to get to know the neighborhood and it seemed like an interesting destination. When I arrived, I found high brick walls surrounding a park with many trees scattered through out. Most of the headstones or memorials were from the mid-19thC and there were a lot of professors and teachers given high honors after their passing.

The walls had several openings where people were cutting through on their way to other streets. Just about in the middle, ironically, near a the tomb of a child, was a group of mothers with four children between them. As the mothers talked, the children played on the pathway, with each other and with the nearby garbage can. I've noticed that Germans are more free in allowing their children to walk about tethered as soon as they can so it's kinda nice to see really young kids at play in their miniature adult-like fashions.

When I decided to take a shot of the kids, I really was just trying to not get caught and accused of anything unsavory. But look close. I snagged the moment just as two of the boys are pushing the third against the can. I just imagine the little girl in the foreground saying, "that's right boys, rough him up until he hands over all his gummibears".

As I walked through the cemetery towards the path circling the inside, I started seeing the occasional jogger. These weren't any joggers, but out of the half-dozen or so, only two were even close to qualifying as young. Again, it seemed ironic that the old would partake in an activity that is intended to keep one healthy and living longer, if not better, in a place that is a perpetual reminder of the one fate no one can escape. Is it because of that reminder that they are spurred on to jog? Is it out of a sense of defiance? Or is it merely a convenient place to use as a track? It doesn't matter a whole lot. After all, cemeteries are for the living in more than one way.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I have arrived!

Whew! Lots to talk about. No pictures yet, I'm happy to have found a place to plug the laptop in. There is media center on the top floor of the Goethe Institut and while they don't have wireless, they will lend me a cable.

Despite Sunday the 26th being the busiest travel day of the year, I had no problems at all. My friend Amie picked me up at 7:30 and deserves a huge thanks for driving all the way down from Oakland just to drive over to SFO. Anyway, zero traffic along the way and at the airport. I checked in without a hitch, though I was thrown for a loop that United forces you to check in with their machines first. What got me was that I had to use a credit card in order to identify myself to the little machine. This worked even though I didn't buy my ticket. It made me think about the weird ways we are giving up privacy for convenience. had I been allowed to first use my driver's license or my passport, I would feel less uncomfortable about it.

And when I got to security, it was not thrilling to see that the young non-caucasian kid in front of me had his laptop scanned three times, turned on and generally held up while my backpack loaded with computer, camera, CD player, Nintendo DS, cables and batteries went waltzing through. Maybe I've adopted the I'm-really-tired-of-this-so-let's-not-waste-our-time look that I don't get hassled. Then again, it's probably because I'm white.

The flight stunk, but I generally hate being crammed into a tiny little place for hours on end. Even though the flight from Chicago to Munich wasn't full and we were able to swap seats around so I had two instead of one, it still stunk. There are few times in my life that I have wished I was well under 6 feet tall. Flying is usually one of them.

My first day was great, though. I took the subway from the airport to the city center and had little trouble finding the G-I. Once there, I went through an interview and, because they had sent me the entrance exam ahead of time (and I barely got it back to them the Friday before), I got to skip that part. After I was registered, they handed me 500€! Part of it is to cover breakfast and lunch which I expected, but the extra couple hundred just for grins? Sweet!

I turned around and spent part of that when I arrived at my housing. It's a dormitory that is part of another school in the city. As I was checking in, I asked if I could extend my stay by one week. It turns out that my room was available for that time so no problem, I just have to pay. But wait. It's only 16€ per night, so the extra week is about 100€! Double-sweet!

But my luck ran out this morning. I arrived when I was told, in the afternoon, to check where my class was being held. My name wasn't on the list so I asked and they told me. At the correct room is a room with five beautiful young women. I'm thinking I died and went to heaven. But it was not to be! I was in the right room, but at the wrong time. Crap, that means these aren't my classmates. Double-crap! I just missed the first day of my class.

So here I am in the Mediathek (I guess that's a play on words from Library which in German is Bibliothek), trying catch up on whatever work I might have missed and rescheduling my brain to the earlier class schedule. Not that I mind that, really. Having a morning class means I have the entire afternoon to myself rather than having my day broken up by needing to be back at the city center in the middle of the day.

So ending on a few high notes. The work I missed is mostly stuff I know so that's no biggie. And I have the rest of the day free to goof off, get further settled, take some pictures and figure out how to connect to the wifi at the dorm. If so, then I will have a few pictures of a cemetery up later.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wieder Nach Deutschland!

In an unexpected turn, I am heading back to Germany. I've been taking German language courses at the San Francisco Goethe Institute for just about 2 years. Every year, they have a drawing for a 4 week course to learn German in Germany. Not only did I win the drawing, but it includes the flight, room and board (sans dinners and weekends) for four weeks. I have never won something this big before.

The catch? I have to take it before the end of the year. So I have been making sure my work is squared away and preparing for my trip. Just after Thanksgiving, I will be taking 5 hour classes 5 days a weeek for four weeks in Munich (M√ľnchen). And because I hate flying around the holidays, I am waiting till after Christmas to come home.

Stay tuned to this blog for what will likely be more regular updates. Not having to travel around is changing my packing. Not only will I bring more clothes (such as a suit and an overcoat), but I am also bringing my work laptop so I can write and make photo notations offline and then load it all up when I get internet access. I also picked up some a polarizing lens attachement and a rubber hood -- I will not tolerate anymore glare and reflections when taking pictures in museums. I'm also hoping my cell phone doesn't decide to die the second I arrive, too. Oh yeah, and some German grammar books with explanations in English!

I also have no real plans to travel outside the city much despite many the number of times I have heard "it's only a train ride". My main focus is to study. I want to get the most out of my time in class and the learning center. I'm even taking a workbook for the plane trip to use that time to squeeze in a few more words and practice.

Despite the preparation, it hasn't been feeling quite real yet. But today I got an email from the Goethe Institute in Munich with my placement test. I'll have to set aside 50 minutes to take the test (no cheating!) and send it back to them.

Okay, now it feels real.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Teen Titans Team Up with Dyslexia

Well, sort of. The foundation I work for, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, scored having an eight page comic featuring the Teen Titans. Actually, they scored it over a month ago, but the comics themselves have just shipped with over a million of the DC Comics youth titles such as JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #27, LOONEY TUNES #144, SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1, CARTOON NETWORK ACTION PACK #7, and TEEN TITANS GO! #37.

This is pretty darn cool! is a website that helps kids with learning and attention problems figure out their strengths and how to overcome their weaknesses. It's not just a feel-good site, we've got some very smart people answering kids questions and it's one of the few websites I know of that is COPPA compliant. Let's put that in perspective: COPPA compliant multiplayer games, message boards, picture sharing and blogs for kids 8-12 (ask me about panopticons sometime).

Comics played an important role in Charles Schwab's life. Did you know that he used comic book versions of books to pass literature classes while at Stanford? We've had the opportunity to meet with him and he really feel passionately about using comics to deliver messages to kids with reading problems. This is why the foundation also hooked up with Garfield creator, Jim Davis.

So say you don't want to buy one of DC's Youth comics to check out the special SparkTop Story. No problem! We are hosting the entire comic and a 4 page bonus mini-comic to boot!

The funny thing here is that I didn't know we were hosting it or about the bonus comic until I read it on Marc Sumerak's site. Let's hear it for internal communication! Anyway, Marc is the writer for the comic and I think it's cool that he's promoting it on his site. He did a good job on representing the fear kids have admitting they have trouble reading and how kids with Dyslexia can be successful when they get information in a different way.