Tag Archives: #expatlife

You Never Know Until You Go

Hiker by Pavel Pesek on Unsplash

by Pavel Pesek, Unsplash

Last year, in one fell swoop, I lost everything… the love of my life, my family, my home, my cats, my job, and all my savings. I did my best to survive. Then, just as I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, the Covid19 pandemic hit us all.
During lockdown, I had time to think about what had happened. As the enormity of it all began to fully sink in, I crashed. I worked through the pain. And I decided to not only survive but to keep remembering fondly, to keep being kind, to keep following my dreams, and to keep making the most of things.

So what do you do when you’ve lost everything and you’ve got nowhere to go? Why not take the time that is given, embrace the homelessness, and get walking?

After some research, I decided on the the E4 European Long Distance Path. I will start my hike in Brugg, Switzerland on 6th of July 2020. And then, we’ll see…
The goal is to enjoy the journey, travel slowly, be aware, and completely open for whatever may come. I am a stage manager by trade. I miss working for shows (a lot!). Getting back to doing what I love is one of two goals. The other goal is to enjoy walking and living on the road for now until I do get that job offer. This may mean walking for one week, or two…. walking for one month, two months, or six months… or even longer. If no job offers are forthcoming this year at all, then in January 2021, I should reach the garden of my good friends in the Quinta do Chocalhinho in Odemira, Portugal. In this case, I might spend the winter in Portugal… and write a book about this journey.
Who knows… these are all just ideas, not definite plans. I’ll take things day by day, step by step. I’ll be super flexible, always ready to continue walking or to, at a moment’s notice, take a bus/train/plane towards my next professional challenge backstage.

I am as curious as you as to how this will unfold!

Make the Best of It

boo on bed ready for more snuggling

Update from the Lake Constance Writing Front:
Over the last few months, I’ve had so much to process, learn, and overcome, I ended up being not by far as productive as I’d have liked to be. Still, I alternated writing short stories and articles for various platforms, worked on my blog, kept developing the story of my 2nd book, watched stage management webinars, and sent application emails out into the world. All this whilst sharing this comfy couch with little Boo who always faithfully waited for me to return and get back to work whenever I left our shared living space for a moment.
As a stage manager, like so many of my peers, I’m out of luck at this time. Nobody is hiring… yet. But I’ll keep writing emails, just to remind people I exist… in the great hope that one of these days, this year, or next year, when shows open up again, I’ll get an email saying, “Hey, are you still available. We want you!”
In the meantime, now that European borders are slowly opening, I am planning a long-distance hike.
There is the idea of a final destination, but I want to keep my options wide open. I’ll most likely start walking beginning of July. If the pitch for my new book gets accepted, I’ll write on the road to meet deadlines. I’ll take walking breaks when I find cozy, affordable shelter and will keep working on that book. Even if my manuscript does not get accepted at this time, I want to keep writing whilst on the road. Continue with my articles for TheaterArtLife, continue with my second book…
A travel blog comes to mind as well…
Plus, I am wondering if I can combine doing something good for myself with doing something good for others… maybe do some crowd funding and donate money to performing arts organizations around the globe who really need it. “Walk for the performing arts” or something like that… (let me know if any of you have any practical suggestions and ideas for this. Please PM me).
What I will definitely keep doing as well is to keep writing applications to shows worldwide whilst I am exploring the great unknown.
And thus the duration of my hike will largely depend on when a backstage job will become available to me. I might walk for only a month, then get an offer, and head to wherever it is I am needed. Or I’ll be walking for four months, five, six… who knows. It really isn’t so much about reaching the final destination as it is about letting those feet and thoughts roam freely, as it is to knock something off my bucket list (a long-distance hike has been on my mind for decades), as it is to stay active and creative.
At the moment, everything is so greatly uncertain and even more unpredictable than usual. Many of us have no idea when we’ll be able to get back to work. Some of us, like me, are homeless on top of it and have been couchsurfing for many months. I’ll embrace that homelessness and make the best of it… and in case I get injured or I’m just not up for it, I can stop walking at any time, and get back to couchsurfing somewhere… Continue from there…
Everything is possible.
I’ll do the only thing I can at this time, and do it with vigor:
I’ll go with the flow.

Masks

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The German tendency to have everything well-organized and structured has irritated me ever since I can remember. To be fair, amazing things come of this kind of ingrained discipline. German craftsmanship, efficiency, and timeliness, for example are indisputably amazing.

I see my German roots in my own behavior. Always on time. Perfectionist. Disciplined. Hard working. Stubborn. Overexplaining. Straight forward. Many of those things not bad things at all. However, my free spirit bristles when I observe people following everything the authorities decree. Growing up, how often have I heard the sentiment, “Yes, it’s not good and it’s annoying. But the government is keeping us safe and we are so well taken care of. It’s ok. Let’s just go along with it.” Me, personally, I’d rather have a bit of discomfort and less security, but have my life less regulated in turn.

When it comes to apocalypses and pandemics, however, I must admit the German sense of obedience comes in quite handy. For the last few weeks, the local populace in my dad’s county (and the rest of Germany, too, according to the news) followed all new rules to a T. Everything deemed mandatory was dutifully adhered to.

Recommendations, however, were largely ignored. My fellow countrymen and women are precise even then. Words matter. Be careful how you phrase them. Be clear. Because they’ll take you at your word. Which, again, isn’t a bad thing at all.

Masks were one of the recommendations. Because we Germans have a thing about masks. Even politicians. They didn’t want to wear them either. So, they only recommended them as a voluntary precaution. Masks make us feel uncomfortable. We are not used to wearing them. So why should we do so now? Or so the thinking goes. And, anyhow, masks don’t help at all. It’s just a myth. Right?

Having traveled extensively through Asia, as well as having lived in Hong Kong and Macau for many years, I try to explain to people that, no, Asians in general are not paranoid. They are not strange for wearing masks. For decades now, they have gotten used to wearing them. It’s not even to protect themselves from someone in the crowd who sniffles and coughs. No. Most times it is quite the opposite. As soon as a person feels ill, they put on a mask. Immediately. To protect others.

I have only the deepest respect for this level of thoughtfulness and politeness. Taking responsibility not only for your own life, but also for the lives of the human beings you meet and, possibly, infect, on a daily basis.

We Germans, well Central Europeans in general, can learn something there.

None of the positive arguments presented by anyone were enough to break through the inherent German stubbornness though. People were religious about the two meters distance as soon as it was so ordered. They gave each other dirty looks if someone came too close. I was surprised to not see them carry measuring tape to make sure the distancing was adhered to as precisely as possible. Astonishingly, in this case, eyeballing it seemed to work well enough for all involved.

But masks, no. Endless discussions on TV argued the pros and cons. I got so exasperated, I wanted to build my own cabin in the woods. On the other hand, it was a mirror, helping me to better understand my own need to repeat myself. Or, rather, I had to admit I was far more German than I’d like to be. This is exacerbated by growing up with parents who always lived so much in their own world that we didn’t have proper conversations. Rather, I grew up listening to monologues. My own thoughts and opinions mostly discredited. It’s a work in progress. Training myself to overcome. To allay my need to be heard. To not regurgitate things over and over. To simply say them once and trust them to be acknowledged in a conversation. Or not. In the end, what I have to say doesn’t always have to reach everyone. Or it will be received by the right people. Trust is key.

But I digress. Thousands of discussions later, masks became mandatory in Germany. A week ago, actually, to be Teutonic and precise. And… lo and behold… everyone is wearing masks now.

For the first time, I am glad to see German obedience in action. Because even though the majority of the population still hates wearing masks, this needs to be done. I don’t like wearing them either. I feel constricted and dangerous somehow when I do. Like I won’t be able to restrain myself from robbing a bank if I just wear the mask long enough. But, if I can protect someone else as well as protect myself in the process just now, it’s well worth wearing it nevertheless.

ELĒKRŎN – The Fast and the Voltaic

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 13.48.07

In my latest article on TheatreArtLife, let me lure you into the fast and furious world of ELĒKRŎN, the arena stunt show I worked for in Macau from Nov 2018-July 2019.
“Our performances were a potpourri of color, flying popcorn, and smoking tires, and they came alive with an atmosphere of joyfulness and audacity.”

Read the full article here and enjoy a glimpse into the making of “The Most Electrifying Stunt Show in The World!”

Couches

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I’m having a tough time today.

Last year in October, I lost my home. How I miss my beautiful, quiet little sanctuary with a view of the ocean, warmth, sun-flooded rooms, a gorgeous rooftop beneath the stars, and a charming neighborhood. I miss the sweet smell of egg tarts wafting through open windows in the early morning. I miss spending tropical nights with friends and a glass of wine on the rooftop. I miss buying fresh vegetables underneath old, sun-battered tarps. I miss the old lady who sold groceries from her living room around the corner… She was always deeply asleep on her couch making shopping a bit of a gamble. I miss the Chinese cafés with breakfasts of cup noodles and beaten coffee. And I miss heading out into the picturesque village and the hills beyond.

I had found a rare gem. It was exactly what I had searched for all my life and, each time I moved back into town for work, I was lucky to be able to rent it again (thanks to great friends and agents). Three times lucky as a matter of fact. I loved inhabiting this space on my own at first and, later on, adored sharing it with my partner and soulmate. It was a real home… filled with memories, color, music, creativity, happiness, laughter, sadness… and hope. Safe yet open to the world.

Ever since I had to leave, I’ve lived out of my suitcase and camped on borrowed couches. And no, these are not places to relax in and find some treasured alone time on.

Even the cabin I inhabited on the cruise ship I worked on these past few months was just a temporary space where I allowed my exhausted body to collapse at night. There was no peace or privacy.

I know, I am fortunate to have friends and my dad who let me live on their couches. The longer I stay, the more they sacrifice their own personal space as well. I am aware of that and I am grateful for their help. No matter how great their hospitality though, I long to get away. I long to be able to have a little harbor of my own again. A harbor, which I can sail into, feel relaxed in, and close the door to. I love being a nomad, but I’ve always found a place to retreat to wherever I was for however long; a place I loved coming home to, where I could breathe, ponder the day, and recharge my batteries…

Now, floating on couches, the only place I can rest in is myself. And, as important as this may be, I miss the physical presence of a harbor more than I dare admit to myself.

I am lonely, too.

But loneliness doesn’t bother me quite as much. I am comfortable in my own company just as much as I am with a person whom I love and enjoy spending time and sharing space with.

No, essentially, it’s the homelessness that gets to me most…

With freedom of movement in the world reduced to a fraction of what it was only a few weeks ago, there is no telling when I’ll be able to get back to my treasured expat life, no telling when I’ll be able to get back to working backstage, no telling when I’ll finally have my own bed again… (even if this will be in hotel rooms… any place really where I can be myself, openly and unguardedly).

I am doing my best not to dwell. I am doing my best to overcome, let go, and be grateful for what I have. I spend quality time with my dad, cook for us and, as we are getting into a temporary rhythm between two couches and a kitchen, share breakfasts and dinners with him in his one-bedroom apartment.
I fill my quasi-alone time cuddling with cats, learning, reading, writing, and binge-watching TV series on my dad’s exposed, cream-colored, white leather couch. Countering my lack of privacy with an invisible border I create with my earphones… There is a lot to enjoy and it’s a pretty couch.

Yet the homelessness remains…

Isolation with Dad, Cat, and the Fish

Isolation with Dad, Cat, and the Fish 2

It’s the end of March 2020.
A slightly ruffled, disoriented “hello” from myself and Bocelli, my dad’s ever-meowing cat who isn’t quite sure how he feels about me invading their space…

How are you all?

I haven’t written much in this blog since last December…
As stage and production manager on one of the largest cruise ships in the Caribbean, life as I knew it was put on hold. I worked non-stop, 7 days a week, 15 hours per day. I would get up early in the morning when, without fail, my phone would begin ringing… Then, after each relentless day, I would go to bed to the sound of said phone still ringing… Until I would pass out, exhausted, dreaming a fitful sleep, still working and solving backstage emergencies in my dreams. Relentless is the best word I can come up with to describe my experience managing a large, high-risk venue on an even larger ship. Other words that come to mind are growth and stamina.  And, thankfully, persevering, managing, learning, staying true to myself, and staying kind.

The absorption in our daily work onboard was complete. My colleagues and I heard about what went on in the world through word-of-mouth only. Or, sometimes, we managed to read about it when our anemic internet had one of its rare little bursts of energy and actually loaded an article or a post for us. Although we came back to sunny Florida once a week every Sunday since beginning of this year, Earth with all its viruses seemed a million miles away.

Mid-March, our ship headed for Miami, debarking the last of our passengers to cease operations in accordance with the entire fleet. Our stately vessel was then bound to sail into isolation on the open seas – with almost all crew remaining onboard.

I decided to leave. Maybe, I had seen too many disaster movies. But my instincts screamed at me to keep moving… that being locked down on a ship at close quarters with thousands of other people was far more dangerous than to grab my bag and make my way across borders and continents back to my father’s home.

I had to go. To be there for my dad, in case he needed me. And to ride this pandemic out somewhere… not alone… but together with someone for whom I profoundly matter – and who matters to me.

My trip home, from the Southern US to the South of Germany, began on 15th of March. It became a 3-day odyssey and quite the challenge…
Flights were cancelled left and right. Borders were closing all around me, faster than I could blink. My window of opportunity to make it back safely shrank before my eyes.

Most of my cruise ship colleagues decided to stay onboard. They sailed towards the Bahamas. To drop anchor close by. They sanitized, cleaned, and partied together. There was no physical distancing. They assumed to be safe. They waited for the world beyond the blue horizon to find its way back to some kind of new normalcy. Which is when they planned to dock in Miami yet again to reenter a land-based existence…

Meanwhile, I squeezed through all rapidly closing gates and borders. Yet on the way, I shared close quarters with thousands of people on airplanes and in the airports of New York, London, and Zurich. Now, with daily rising numbers of infected people worldwide, I would not dare to tackle this three-day journey anymore. Far too much risk of infection. At this point in time, it has simply become too great a hazard to travel so far.

It seems, I left just in time.

Even so, I was terrified upon my arrival in Germany. My dad’s loving hug, which usually feels so good, made me quiver inside. Had I endangered him by trying to do the right thing? After the initial closeness, I tried to distance myself physically from him as best as possible in his small apartment…
I have now been at his place for 15 days. I’ve counted the minutes, the hours. And, I was glad, yesterday, to finally get to that magical 14-day-incubation-time mark with both of us – as of yet – still healthy.

But there is the ship. My co-workers and friends. Who worked and partied with vigor during the past two weeks out at sea. And for whom safety was an illusion.

Three days ago, I heard 14 people onboard our floating palace were infected with Covid-19. Yesterday, the count had already risen to 51 people. I am terrified and worried for my colleagues and hope with all my heart that this is it… not, how I fear, just the tip of the iceberg. 1’600 crew are still onboard. I can’t stop thinking about them. Trapped on the ship. I hope they will beat the virus. I hope their immune systems haven’t been compromised too much by months of working hard with barely a pause.

Here I am now, being stared at by Bocelli, my dad’s tone-deaf-opera-singer cat. I am grateful for my little harbor of momentary safety, at the border between Germany and Switzerland, amidst green fields and forests. I am, however, well aware that, just as on the ship, safety in the face of an – as of yet – undefeated, invisible enemy is an illusion.

For now, in self-isolation like most other human beings on our planet, I have way too much time to think on my hands. I endeavor to use this gift of time wisely. I want to rest, but also be creative. I want to write. I will write. Our world has shrunk so much so fast. Yet, through our creativity, with the aid of the Internet, there still are no boundaries. We can still let our minds soar. Writers like me can send their words out to ride fiber currents…

I am thinking of my friends and family around the world. More than ever before, I know there is nothing more important than the human connections we build throughout our lifetimes. I can’t wait to be able to travel again to do what I love most: hug and squeeze the people I care about, touch base with them every so often, share experiences, ideas, and thoughts.

No matter what’s out there, and no matter what happens to each of us in the months to come… as always, friendship, love, kindness, creativity, and hope will help us overcome it all… even when we have an annoyed, territorial cat glaring at us.

Raging Waves

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Almost three months of working on the ship now, yet I have never felt further away from the ocean. Our ship is a floating entertainment park… with no access to the true authentic beauty all around us. I long to taste the salty freshness of the big blue on my lips and all over my body. Long to feel the sensation of peacefulness, invigorating energy, and freedom I’ve always associated with the wide open seas.
That being said, working on a cruise ship is a valuable life experience I am determined to treasure. As a stage manager, I am learning an abundance of useful skills managing the onboard Aqua theater. The pressure onboard is relentless. Work never stops… to such an extent that even brushing my teeth in one go without being interrupted by phone calls becomes a challenge. Additionally, working with people from over seventy different countries tops all international experiences I’ve been exposed to thus far. As difficult as it gets sometimes to juggle a myriad of mentalities, I treasure the slowly blooming friendships with people all over this gigantic ship, as we meet each other for a few seconds in between chores. Room attendants waving and fist bumping with me as I am running to my control booth before the show. Maintenance men smiling in the hallway, forgiving me for calling them at odd hours in the middle of the day and night for technical issues in our theater. On a daily basis, life lessons keep building up in tune with the raging waves of the seas all around me. I am trying to take them in stride. Failing on some days, succeeding on others.

Marvelling At Moments

2018 human chandelier 5

Since 1991, I’ve lived all over the world. That’s 28 years of being a nomad, an immigrant, a world citizen, an expat.

Presently, I am back in my dad’s little village in Southern Germany. It’s just for 6 weeks, but my home simply doesn’t feel like home anymore. I suspect it never will again. Nothing ever changes here. No matter how many years I stay away, when I come back to visit, people still complain about the same things, cook the same meals, and have the same exact routines and opinions. I am trying to relax and enjoy the peaceful inertia for the little time I am here. Use the time to charge my batteries.

Instead, I feel like suffocating. I miss my international life, miss constant change, miss invigorating conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds. I miss traveling, miss being close to the deep blue (or in case of Macau deep brown) sea, miss challenges and growth, and miss sharing new experiences with like-minded souls.

Furthermore, I miss the spontaneity of expat life. The random unexpected knock on the door, bumping into people everywhere, unplanned trips, casual dinners, or catching up over a couple glasses of wine. I miss my show family, miss living with my soul mate, miss being surrounded by curiosity, questions, passion, and creativity. I miss late nights on rooftops, gazing up at the stars, and marvelling at moments spent in corners of the world I never thought I’d ever find myself in. I have 4 more weeks here in this picturesque little village before I head out again, but I might have to split that in half by finding a spot close to the ocean somewhere to dive into the unknown…

When Kung Fu Leads to Coffee

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Hon Kee Café – A Hidden Gem in Macau’s Coloane Village

Walk towards the ferry pier in Coloane Village, then turn right, and trek over the hill until you see a row of eerie, abandoned shipyards on your left. Keep walking until you reach a jumble of colorful, corrugated iron houses. This is Lai Chi Vun Village, where most of Coloane’s boat builders used to live. A little further ahead is Hon Kee Café… essentially a large open shed with just four wooden tables, ringed by tall trees, which provide additional shade and almost cause you to miss the unassuming place altogether.

I must have walked past this gem a hundred times, never giving it a second thought. Then, one day not too long ago, a local woman told me about Ah Hon, owner of Hon Kee Café. Both, man and café, turn out to be nothing less than local legends…

Many years ago, Ah Hon was one of the young boat builders working in the shipyards. In 1986, an accident with a rusty saw nearly severed his left arm just above the elbow. Two bones, muscles, and blood vessels were gone. Ah Hon almost lost his life that day due to severe blood loss. In the weeks that followed, his body fought against life-threatening infections. His doctors urged him to amputate the arm but, as our stubborn local hero let CNN know during an interview in 2013, “I told the surgeon I’d rather not live than live without my arm.”

Thankfully, Ah Hon’s body won the battle against the infections. However, many surgeries and experimental nerve transplants later, Ah Hon’s arm had shrunk to the circumference of a thin bamboo stick. It was clear, he would never be able to work as a boat builder again.

At a loss of how to earn a living and provide for his family, Ah Hon began thinking of transforming one of the abandoned buildings in his village into a café for the boat builders. His first application for a restaurant license was rejected by the government. Not willing to give up, Ah Hon wrote a letter to the Portuguese mayor of Macau, imploring him to interject on his behalf. The mayor did… and the government authorities relented.

Despite his weak left arm, or rather, as a self-made form of physiotherapy, Ah Hon began building his café all by himself. He fortified the structure of the abandoned shed. He built his own furniture. By the time he opened Hon Kee Café in 1991, Ah Hon’s mangled arm had regained a little of its functionality and strength. This was encouraging, but compared to its former brawniness, the arm still felt useless.

What else could Ah Hon do?

Kung Fu, a simple wood stove, and coffee provided the answer.

Ah Hon built himself a wooden dummy in a small alcove inside the café and began practicing Kung Fu on it. “I am no Kung Fu Master,” he says, “but practicing daily on the dummy certainly helped me regain my physical power.” To exercise even more, he bought the heaviest axe he could find and pushed himself to chop wood for his coffee stove on a daily basis.

During the café’s early days, a foreign couple stumbled upon it. They decided to escape the afternoon heat and have an iced coffee in the shade. Soon, they engaged in lively conversation with Ah Hon and suggested to him to hand-beat his coffee, to lend it a unique strong texture and taste. Ah Hon dismissed the idea at the time. Then, one day the famous Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat stopped by and ordered a coffee. Star struck and embarrassed to serve the great international movie star a regular cup, Ah Hon remembered what the couple had taught him and made his very first hand-beaten coffee.

He has been hand-beating his coffee ever since.

According to Ah Hon, he beats each cup 400 times. This, of course, also with his left hand, which, through the café owner’s many years of relentless exercising, is back to its former vigor. Ah Hon uses instant coffee powder for his one-of-a-kind brew. First, he stirs a spoonful of thick coffee mixture for a few hundred rounds at high speed until it thickens. The process takes a few minutes. When more hot water is added to the coffee, a thick layer of foam and cream rises to the top, creating an unusually viscous texture and an irresistibly aromatic scent.

As for food, Ah Hon’s is the simplest and most charming menu I have ever laid eyes on. You have your choice of either toast or instant noodles, with egg, pork, or canned sardines. To add additional spiciness, there is a small squeeze bottle of homemade chili sauce on each table, which I personally find irresistible.

Since 2005, all of Lai Chi Vun’s shipyards have been abandoned. However, even with his initial customer base gone, Ah Hon’s café keeps going strong. Local and international TV stations and newspapers still pay him the odd visit. Macanese as well as Mainland Chinese customers come for some instant noodles and the famous hand-beaten “Chow Yun Fat” coffee. Ah Hon’s story has inspired many. A visit to the humble and cozy Hon Kee Café reminds his customers that everything is possible if your heart is in the right place and you never give up.

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Hon Kee Café

Merendas de Lai Chi Vun Park, Coloane, Macau, +853 2888 2310

Open daily, except Wednesdays, from 7:00am to 6:00pm

 

I Often Fondly Remember…

fondue with dave

I often fondly remember working as a diving instructor in the Maldives. Four years of living and working on a small island with individuals from all corners of the globe, in closest quarters, with hardly any privacy.
Teaching students who are sometimes terrified of the element they are about to enter.
Learning a whole new level of social competence, acceptance, and problem solving amongst my colleagues and friends.
Finding moments of peace within my daily responsibilities.

The odd cheese fondue in front of my room was a rare highlight of relaxation… enveloping my staff accommodation neighbours in wave after wave of strong Appenzeller and Gruyere scents.

Now, as a stage manager, I have exchanged the magical deep blue sea with the also magical deep black backstage.
In many ways, it’s just another island.
And, thankfully, learning and growth always continue…