I’m back home in Frankfurt after five months of travelling. The flight was eventless, but the welcome in Germany everything but warm. Literally and metaphorically. Long queues in front of immigration, which was a rare thing to see, especially as here I can go through the supposingly quick “EU Residents” channel. The immigration officers were even a bit more friendly than usual, joking a bit, though they sent the Japanese off to the right queue with bad English and again a bit harsh. Why do immigration officers need to be so harsh all around the world? Mostly at least… I remember one poster I believe in the Malaysian landborder checkpoint reminding the officers to offer a smile. It didn’t help much. But in general I keep thinking that the German officers are the most blunt. It isn’t a great job to look at a passport and put it into a computer reader, I agree. But they have chosen that job, haven’t they? And immigration officers are the first people to be seen by visitors to the country. As we all know: It’s the first impression for which you don’t have a second chance…

The most friendly officers I came across just in the most difficult country: Vietnam. There was a bit back and forth regarding my visa on arrival, taking in the end some 30 or 40 minutes in total until I could enter the country. But though the officers didn’t offer me much in the way of status information they stayed very friendly and smiling all the time.

Then I thought “Yeah…back to Germany” when arriving in front of customs after waiting surprisingly long for my bag to emerge from the depths of the baggage claim area. Germany is the only country I am aware of that does regular checks on luggage of visitors going though the green “Nothing to Declare” channel. That is customs’ right by law and job all around the world, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that only the Germans can’t sit around for a minute without anything to do. Once they finished with one suitcase they immediately pick another person for random checks. I don’t wait in front of customs so long a time that I can allow for good judgement, but on the surface it looks like the guys like to pick people with darker skin color and many suitcases. Friday, when I arrived, they busied themselves so much with their random checks that they closed all channels and no person could pass through. We had to wait until some officer was so kind to open a way for us again, immediately picking the next person for a check. What I especially disliked was that one officer, just finishing a check, who could have opened his channel again, only said something in the line of “Everybody’s so busy, have no time any longer…”, and kept his channel closed. Sorry man…we just finished a long flight, long to see our friends and family waiting a few meters behind your desk to meet us, bringing us home to have a shower and a good breakfast. You’ve ever travelled beyond the outskirts of Frankfurt? But then again…the place is unfortunately their domain. You certainly keep your mouth shut, swallow your anger and just hope that outside the airport things brighten up.

They didn’t. But that at least was no surprise. It was cold in Germany. The pilot hat announced -2°C, which came close to reality. As always no one was waiting for me. No offense…I didn’t expect anybody; just the facts.

F_20071116_065121.jpg: And I did also know that the German railway company, Die Bahn, was faced with union workers’ strikes on this very day. That made waiting for an S-Bahn back into the city a matter of patience.

F_20071116_070000.jpg: But people did take it with patience. Die Bahn was well prepared and all in all managed it quite well. Information on the delays was accurate. The train which finally came was certainly overcrowded, but people made room and didn’t complain.

While walking home from the subway station I picked up my favorite weekly newspaper Die Zeit from a kiosk and some good German bread rolls from a bakery on the way. After a shower, my purchases allowed for a simple but very German and tasty breakfast including newspaper reading. 😉

F_20071117_113053.jpg: Unlike in September I very quickly unpacked my bags. All clothes are washed and put back into their respective places already. Only a few papers, tools, and electronics are still distributed across my sleeping room. These bags and shoes pictured here have travelled with me a long time. And that’s what they look like now.

In Kuala Lumpur and Singapore things started to fall apart. The plastic comb I had picked from a hotel in Bangkok broke. I ran out of shower gel and didn’t replace it, hoping that my Singapore hotel would provide shower gel. (It did.) My small grey-blue daypack, which I had bought back in the early days on a Shanghai market some three years ago as one of my first bargaining successes, already for a long time had some trouble keeping the main zipper to the big bag shut. It only worked when closing the double-zipper in one direction, but not the other. Latest in KL even the usually working direction no longer all the time worked, giving me a hard time especially during security checks.

I was all the time surprised how well the blue slippers did, which I had bought in a Carrefour in Shanghai for some 15 RMB only the day before starting my journey. They are really soft, made from some foamy material, not plastic. I spent quite some time in these slippers, walking long distances, especially in the hot cities like ChengDu or all of Vietnam. The simple lace shoes (with a hole where the right big toe sits ;)) I brought only on the second trip starting in October, but was a good idea. I mostly used these shoes for city sightseeing. Many memories tied to them, but still Shoes and daypack will go now the way all earthly things go…

The Accenture baseball cap wasn’t my first choice. No sane person would carry around the name of his employer on private travels. But it was that one cap I had available in Shanghai when starting off. I did wear it and even increasingly proudly, mostly as sun protection, sometimes also as rain protection. You see it by now: The colors are bleached.

Yea…and there is this pack of instant cappucchino lying between the shoes. I don’t know when I picked that up…but I kept it for the special occasion, which would justify a special reward when no coffee is available. I remember thinking the end of the Buthan trek would be such an occasion…but somehow I forgot again. I never used it. The refreshing towels of Bangkok Air remind myself how often I used that great airline…four times in total: Bangkok -> Phnom Penh, Siem Reap -> Bangkok, Bangkok -> Samui, Samui -> Phuket. I kept these packaged towels to clean my hands when visiting simple restaurants after a long day out. Many of them I actually did use. It’s just pure chance that it’s the four Bangkok Air towels, which are left over.

My big red backpack (Tatonka Yukon 50) did a great job and will likely last for a few more travels! It has some dirty spots by now which give it this necessary look of being used. But otherwise still looks great and has no defects yet. Reminds me of a small incident in Krabi, Thailand, where the van en route to Hat Yai stopped to pick up more passengers: A traveller tried to clean some dust and dirt off her brand-new backpack, which it had catched in the dirty trunk of the van and on the street. She can’t have been travelling for a long time…bags tend to get dirty even just on the plane, in busses, and when just briefly rested on the street. You can’t avoid it…it makes you look experienced, doesn’t it? 😉

Very likely there will be chances to use my backpack time and again. The earth is big. There are a lot more places to see. And unlike September, when I was fed up by Saigon, this time I felt a bit sad to end my journey. I might have given the impression I didn’t like Singapore. But it was more that it didn’t match my expectations: It was a lot more western than Asian. And I missed a bit the Asian way of things… I haven’t made it to Vanuatu, which is really a pity, figuring out now that Vanuatu ranks amongst the 10 best diving sites in the world (certainly depending on who did the ranking). Hey Don…any plans in spring…?

Back home now I will need to get used again to living in my home country. I have not been here for periods longer than two or three weeks over the past three years. Certainly, the fridge was empty (and switched off) upon arrival. Filling it up for the day was no problem, shops are open. But already on the next day, Saturday, I had to remind myself to buy enough supplies to also survive Sunday. Germany is still a country in which no regular shops are opened on Sunday. Discussions ongoing in the papers and news.

I already called Deutsche Post to cancel my mail diversion. Many Thanks to my father, who received all my snail mail in the past three years and sometimes picked the important stuff to scan and email it to me! I was yet unable to log into my internet provider‘s site to change back my DSL tariff from a cheap volume tariff to a flat rate…and their phone lines busy all day long. Die Zeit, my aforementioned favorite newspaper, despite several mails and calls has still not yet managed (for six months now!) to send the paper again to a German address instead of to Shanghai, which is certainly several times more costly. And finally finally I can pick up my plants from a friend, who was so kind to keep and very lovingly take care of them over the past three years, not expecting my absence to last that long. My plants have moved with her twice in the meantime 😉 Simona, many many thanks to you! I brought something for your newborn 😉

But it’s a relief to have a choice of more than just 3 t-shirts and one pair of short and long trousers each, presented in a large wardrobe instead of tucked away in a set of plastic bags. Though I need to get used to the fact that the topmost drawer of my wardrobe doesn’t contain the underwear, but my surprisingly large collection of ties. Ties…what exactly were they used for???

Today’s Lesson: Cold in Germany.

Categories: AsiaFrankfurt

Originally Created: 11/18/2007 11:21:31 AM
Last Edited: 11/18/2007