Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to recognize your future ex husband...

And in most random book titles....  I came across an article while surfing the internet last week talking about "how to recognize your future ex-husband"  Of course it had me piqued for a number of reasons, most obviously now that I'm divorced and have tried my hand at dating, I realize I still have some fears to deal with.

You see, the man I married was pretty much the definition of narcissist. In a sentence "It is difficult to recognize a narcissist because he (or she) spends all of his time acting, protecting his ego by presenting to the world a mask a false image of himself.

After 2 years, I feel great about myself and wouldn't look back.  But for the first year, I pretty much beat myself up everyday with things like "I should have known better" and though I'm much more gentle on myself and as cliche as it is, I still fear I won't be able to recognize the signs if faced with a similar situation. 

This is where the book comes in.  The article I read basically sums it up to the things you rationalize while dating.  Of course it seems obvious, but how many of us are blinded in the moment?  We'll see what else the book goes into and if it has any gems of info, but at the very least, it'll make great coffee table fodder when my girlfriends come over!

Is there a middle ground?

One of the things I've been making myself try to do since moving here is to force myself to go out and socialize.  By anyone's definition, I'm outgoing but oxymoronically, but I'm really, really awkward and going out and talking to new people.  If there's already a connection thru friends of friends, it's easier for me cause we have a starting point.  But to blankly go out and socialize?  I'd rather eat eggplant.

But in order to go out and expand my social circle, I force myself out to various English Stammtisch's (where fellow ex pats get together and mingle)  I've been so overcome approaching an entire group of people that I don't know that I've actually gone to them and then walked away out of fear!  It brings me back to being the new girl in school constantly as a kid and trying to make new friends.  I guess there's some things we'll never get over!

One of the things I'm most uncomfortable with is small talk.  The whole "where are you from? what do you do? nice weather we're having"  I'd rather people share their stories, debates, whatever.  So I should have known better when I was recently complaining to friends that one of the things I disliked about the stammtisch's and meeting new people was the small talk.  I should have known Murphy was going to bite me in the ass.  He's bitten me in the ass a number of times, like when I told an ex boyfriend that if India was the last place on earth, I didn't want to go.  Well, 5 trips for me to India later, ex boyfriend hasn't gone!

It started out innocently enough.  My friend A (who is hyper social and making me work thru this fear of meeting strangers) approached a table and started talking to them.  Since she broke the ice, I felt more comfortable joining in.  Then I got to talking to an Israeli fellow, and if he knew what small talk was, he wasn't letting on.   I had mentioned I'd gone to Israel before so thought that would be a good common ground.  Well, it turns out he was a missile designer and for two hours he gave me his take about peace (or lack thereof) in the middle east.  Don't get me wrong, certainly I'm not opposed to political conversations, but this was getting heavy.  Ever try to discuss the Israel/Palestine crisis with an Israeli missile designer? 

Why is it that small talk, like dating, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Germany, throw a girl a bone.

Well, Deutschland. You and I have been intimate now for 7 months. Ours has not been an easy relationship. I met you with an open mind and had no preconceptions of how you would be to live with. Sometimes, I think you’re just playing tricks on me. Like the time I was locked in the dark bathroom stall at work facing my one and only fear of claustrophobia or the one where I couldn’t figure out how to make my German car go in reverse, open the gastank or the trunk. I know that you have an odd sense of humor. What else can explain those two dots over your vowels that make words unpronounceable? Other times, I think you’ve just been cruel to me. I mean really? A plumbing issue that’s lasted over 3 months in a language I don’t understand. I’m starting to be convinced that I must have seriously offended German plumbers in a former life and I’m paying for it in this life.

As a foreigner, I’ve accepted your bizarre rules. Like the fact that I can’t wash my car or grocery shop on Sundays but I CAN pick berries, visit prostitutes and gamble. I do struggle with the fact that a lot of your rules are unwritten and that I’m somehow meant to just “know” these things.

I can’t help but feel like the crazy one in the room since all your fellow countrymen all seem to ask me “Why are you here?” when they find out I’m from Canada and for the first time, I’m starting to wonder myself.

Germany, I am accepting of your faults and hope you will be of mine, but I’m starting to ask myself, “if you didn’t want me here, why did you pick me to move here”. I know I got a tattoo a few years ago to reinforce my belief of “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” but do you really need to test out my theory every day of the year?

I do thank you for giving me great friends, because without them, I would have melted down (and I also would have less of a liver) You see, they’ve known you a lot longer than me and so they’ve learned how to live with you and provide me with meaningful advice.

But how about we let bygones be bygones and we put the past behind. I still have high hopes for you Deutschland and I still believe in you. But I’d really, really, REALLY like it if we could make things just a tad easier. I don’t mean lay out the red carpet for me or anything, but I’d sure love it if everyday of my life you didn’t test my evergrowing patience and make things just a little bit smoother. So can we agree to put our differences aside and maybe you can let me co-exist quietly and a little bit more hassle free alongside you? Deal?

Monday, August 15, 2011

German efficiency: 0 Ongoing frustration: 1

I should have known it was too good to be true.  Though I've only lived in Germany 7 months, I've figured out that nothing is as simple as it seems.  In North America, we hear constantly how Germany is one of the last bastions of efficiency. And I still say, lies! lies! and lies! 

It's been 3 months since the pipe burst inside my bathroom wall and the plumbers came to make a one meter tall by half a meter wide hole in my bathroom.  When that happened, the plumber explained to me (in German and charades) what would need to happen.  It involved about 5 different workers coming and doing their part and everyone thought it would be finished within 2 weeks.  Flash foward 3 months:  they had to take the kitchen out for 3 weeks, dry the walls for 2 weeks and then there was no activity for about a month. A month after the walls were dry, some clown came by to look at the wall and make an estimate. Nothing again for 3 weeks. 3 weeks later, the same clown came back to look at the hole and make an estimate. Then nothing. Then, FINALLY after me flipping out on my landlord (who said to me and I quote... "if you're sick of the hole drape a towel over it!") and any worker that would come by, someone made an appointment to come back for 2 days and fix this once and for all.

The day came today. I was skeptical, but excited. Finally, Helmutt (after 3 months I figured I should name it!) got shut. I was excited. Even though the workers showed up at 7am the day after I got back from Asia and jetlagged, I sucked it up. After 6 hours of the workers being here, they told me the job couldn't be finished because one of the clowns ordered the wrong tiles! Of course he did. Why would I expect this to be fixed within the year? I should have known better...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The (un)glamorous life of business travel

I'm supposed to be in shanghai right now, but instead, I'm stuck in Ho chi Minh city. I heard about typhoon mufia so checked the reports before bed and all looked well. My flight was at the ungodly hour of 730, which meant I had to get up at 4:30am. I checked the airline and airport website before leaving the hotel and everything still looked to be on track for departure.

I was a little apprehensive since mufia was meant to be the biggest typhoon in HISTORY! But before I went to bed last night, they said it had calmed down and the brunt of it was going to miss shanghai.

I've never been afraid of flying, I credit it to my first experience on a plane: I was 6 years old and my grandmother had taken me to (then) Yugoslavia for a month. On the way home, a piece of satellite cracked or broke the cockpit windshield and the plane started decompressing and the emergency masks came down. I still remember my grandmother putting the mask on me and everyone crying and praying on the plane. We made an emergency landing in London and I remember feeling like my world had ended because on the way off the plane, my favorite doll blew away (6 year olds and their priorities you know )

Since then I've been lucky, my flight experiences have been less dramatic. The closest I've come in all these years and dozens of flights was being in a propeller plane thru a thunderstorm in south India. I believe it was also the first and last time I prayed!

I love that I get to travel for work and still pinch myself that it's been a perk for the last 8 years. But to say work travel is glamourous, is a big myth (almost in the same proportions of saying Germany is efficient!) crowded airports, swine flu outbreaks where laser thermometers are randomly pointed at your forehead, hotels that take hours to figure out light switches and seeing your life flash before your eyes on an Indian road one too many times are just part of the fun and part of the job.

Even through missed flights, crazy traffic, stressful meetings and 150% humidity, I still love travelling for work and love that it's a perk. But glamourous, it is not!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Why your clothes about to get a whole lot more expensive

Clothing has been made in china since the late 70's or so. However, until 10 years ago there was quota on all clothing being made and shipped to any country that was part of the WTO. Quota was set by each country that imported clothing from china. Each factory wanting to produce clothing for the 1st world would request quota and quota became a commodity. Manufacturers would sell their extra quota or buy leftover quota from their competitors. As a result quota was operated on the basic supply and demand system of economics. When I started in the garment business back in 1999, us quota for cotton woven pants (the most valued commodity) was priced in the neighborhood of us $3.00 per pant. If you consider that the total wholesale cost of an "average" pair of pants leaving the factory was in the $10 range, quota played a big part of the total garment cost.

Then, in 2001, the WTO deemed quota unfair and the floodgates opened. Clothing manufacturing in china took off. Like a bullet train. People couldn't build factories fast enough and retailers couldn't place orders fast enough. In the past 10 years china has become the world's closet.

But in the past 10 years, a funny thing happened. Factory owners were getting rich, workers, though paid little, were able to send money home to their families and give their children an education. In that time, workers started realizing that they could walk across the street and make iPods for more money. So to entice new workers, factories had to keep increasing wages. Then the cost of every day goods like food started to get more expensive and workers started striking to make more money and factories had to give in or lose their workforce and now after ten years of this and the cost of labour is going up. And up. In the past year alone, wages for the average Chinese clothing worker have gone up about 30%.

And now that we have all become reliant on cheap disposable clothing, these increases have become hard to swallow. They have been great for China and arguably for the Chinese worker (though they make what we consider a pittance, workers are still able to send home a third of their wages home to their family in often rural areas)

As the labour costs of China have gone up, retailers have begun looking elsewhere: Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. So in the past 5 years clothing manufacturing in these countries has also taken off. The wages in these countries are still lower than china's, but because growth has been faster in these countries, wages have had to rise faster. From Vietnam (where I'm travelling for work right now) they're experiencing double digit inflation and the government has had to raise the unemployment rate 3 months ahead of schedule.

Clothing, unlike most other things for the past 15 years has been coming down in price because of cheap labour, but now that the clothing industry is slowly running out of "cheap" labour our days of disposable clothing may not be far behind.

Some in the industry think that with all these price increases, it just may come full circle. Now that the manufacturing countries are gaining a middle class, they'll change into consumers and the consumer countries will turn back into the manufacturing companies. That may be a bit drastic (for now) considering the average textile worker in china makes just over $100 us/month, but food for thought....

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Little mangosteen, oh how much I love thee.

The first time I met a mangosteen was in Thailand.  I was fascinated by this oddly shaped little thing with a cute top. When it was cut open for me, I was a bit freaked out by this thing that looked liked a baseball shaped eggplant but looked like a garlic bulb on the inside and I was very reluctant to try it (as much as I love food, I get freaked out, sweaty and clammy when forced to try new foods.  It was honestly less scary to jump out of a plane then me having to try new foods)  I was hesitant but it was a business lunch and I wasn't going to walk into another opportunity to humilate myself so I did.  And it was amazing!  It may look like a bulb of garlic but it tasted like deliciousness.  It sort of had the texture of a lychee but was a thousand times more delicious. 

Because the mangosteen is quite elusive (due to the fact it's not sprayed, it has really strict import rules into the western world) of course I wanted it more.  Kinda like the forbidden fruit.  Literally.  So whenever I'm in Asia, I always have one eye on the open street markets out for these mangosteens.  And when found, I've been known to buy an obscene quantity and gorge on them for dinner. What? they're high in antioxidants and good for me!!!

So imagine my surprise when they showed up at my business lunch today.  It was like I won the lottery! My eyes lit up and I could see or hear nothing else.  focus. on. the. mangosteen.   I tried really hard to hold back and not eat them all (I did a good job, but I think everyone was kind of afraid to get in between me and the mangosteen)

So little mangosteen, I love you.  You're quite possibly the best fruit I've ever tasted. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

Why did the foreigner cross the road?

I've been temporarily let out of Germany and I'm in Asia for two weeks on business: One week Ho Chi Min City and one week Shanghai.  I'm considering it a bit of a luxury to only have to deal with a 6 hour time change (rather than the usual 16 hours from North America) and to only have to be in 2 cities in 2 weeks.  My previous work trips have been known to include 4 countries in 9 days.

A collegue gave me a strict set of instructions last year before my first visit: cross at the zebra stripes, walk slowly and at a consistent pace and look straight ahead.  Don't look left or right and whatever you do, don't flinch.  When he gave me those instructions, I laughed.  After all, I grew up in Montreal and consider myself a professional j-walker.  I've been to India 5 times and saw the craziness that is traffic (though you couldn't be a pedestrian in India due to the lack of sidewalks and sharing the space with cows!)  Yeah right I thought.  Surely, it's nothing.  Man, was I wrong.

Of all the crazy things I've done in my life, and there have been a lot, from jumping out of a plane, white water rafting class IV rapids in costa rica, paragliding off a mountain and getting a tatoo in Argentina, none have been as scary as crossing the street in Vietnam. No, really.

I stick to the rule of crossing only at zebra stripes or traffic lights. And even then, it's really, really hard not to flinch.  To have a car or motorcycle barelling ahead of you and to just keep going not knowing how agile they are, well, it's nerve racking.  The motorcyclists are use to this and have it down to an art.  I've had motorcycles come within 2 inches of me, literally!  The most important rule to follow is to walk at a consistent pace.  This way, motorists can gauge your speed and you won't mess up their system.  Flinch, and your toes (or worse) will get hit.

I've scoured youtube for the best example of what it's really like.  Some of the videos that people have posted aren't nearly as bad as what it's REALLY like.  But the video above is a pretty accurate example of what it's really like.  I've never been somewhere where I really had to analyze if I REALLY wanted to cross the street!