Monday, 3 September 2012

Scratching our itch

We started our project a few weeks ago that we hope will have some success. The project is really to scratch our own itch, and since we felt that it could be a useful service, others may want to use it as well.

The itch is the language barrier that we face when starting out in Germany. I think that it would be the same if the country was in France or Sweden. We just haven't got a good enough grasp of the language, and at my age, picking up the language is going to be difficult.

The further itch is to not just speak it, but also to read it. In particular, a document of some sort. The Germans love their document and everything have to be in order.

My initial scratcher began with my colleagues, then our neighbours when we were more familiar with them, but mostly it fell into Google Translate. As bad as it is, it did provide me with some information that act upon. Sometimes, getting Google Translate to make sense is a real battle. It is also tiresome having to type the document into it.

So my idea is to provide a service for a quick, off the cuff translation to be given. It will need to be returned within 48 hours, and it needs to be cheap. 

The technicality of it is for the document to photographed with the camera of a smart phone. The photo is then emailed to a specific address. Within 48hours, the translated document is returned.

I have just launched the beta program. check it out at and sign up to get a life time discount. 

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Schuletüte and all that kind of great stuff, part 1

23rd of August is a special in our family. Our eldest son Albert begins the next phase of his life. Today is the first day for his primary school. Well, it is officially the first day, but his first full day is tomorrow. However, lets see about today.

Albert was extremely excited to start his next phase. I think he is also very nervous and eager to venture out into the unknown.

The day started at 6am. That is the usual time for the family, but the kids just sprang out of bed. Usually, we had to coax them out of bed and to start getting ready for the day. Today, we did not have to do much coaxing.

Today, Albert received a schuletüte, or a school bag. This contain special treats for him so that he remembers the day.

After breakfast, we visited the town where the school is located, Witzhelden. It is a nice quaint town about 9 km from our town. We were in a bit of rush as we had to drop Albert's younger brother to Kindergarten. 

The day starts at 8.10am at the local Church. As we arrived at about 8am, any car parks close to church were taken. So we parked close to the school and walk back to the church. Our first thought was that we are going to be late as everything is punctual in Germany. There were about three other families walking towards the church as well, so we just followed them to church and hope that know the time better than us.

The church service was fantastic. Although, it was conducted in German, I was able to get the gist of the service. Basically, the father blessed the children for their schooling career.

After the service, everyone walked back to the school for an assembly in the school hall. The second year students also arrived to do some performances to celebrate this special event. This is nice as it sets the scene for the interaction between the various years of the school.

The principal also made some announcements about the upcoming school year and help explained the performances. All the parents, including us, were very proud of their children starting their schooling as their names were announced.

Albert got a taste of class later in the morning. He had a one hour class session with his teacher. 

While Albert was in the class, the school served out a selection of pretzels, champagne and juice, brotchen and ham and salami. It gave a chance for the parents to mingle. Unfortunately, we kept to ourselves. Our dreaded language and the German social barrier popped up.

This morning, Albert and his classmates were made to feel very special. It is surely a day for him and his classmates to remember.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Being receptive for an Asperger's husband

Since I last asked myself if I have Asperger's Syndrome, I starting to ponder how my life fits into my relationship with members of family, especially my wife.

Being a woman, their emotional needs are typically a lot stronger than that of a man. The needs to be loved and to be attended to are all part of being what I need to provide for their emotional needs. 

The other aspects of their emotional need comes from being receptive to their body language and their emotional signals. The emotional signal is something they project to give me a sense of how they are, emotionally. For example, she could give a particular look to say that I have problems and need someone to listen to when I talk about my problems. Being someone who has some Asperger's Syndrome, I would not necessary pick up to signals. Very often I would misinterpret those signals and arrive at a totally different conclusion.  

Imagine the scenario, I misinterpret the signals, and as a result of the misinterpretation, I apply an incorrect action to it. I know that what I providing could be right, but from my wife's perspective, I am totally wrong. Sometimes, I come across as an uncaring person. This is far from the case. This is totally my problem, and I need to way to overcome this problem.

I have not got a clue on how to overcome this problem. Anyone?

Sunday, 22 July 2012

I think I may have Asperger's Syndrome

With all this investigation in Asperger's syndrome, it looks like that I have got a lot of similarities as an person with Asperger's syndrome. I have though my history of when I can remember, and the following signs are definitely Asperger's Syndrome behaviour. 

Typically, I don't really care for much emotional empathy for folks that I don't know. For folks that I know well, that emotional empathy is quite normal. This kinda shows that I have some emotional disconnect with the general population.

I am an engineer, a software engineer at that. Although I don't have an obsession with it, my interest is quite healthy.

I prefer to converse to other folks about objective topics than about subjective topics.

When I talk to other folks, I rarely look at them directly in the eyes. I would start to quite a little bit uncomfortable. I would usually talk to them with my eyes staring into the distance, and glanced at them on occasions. 

The question is whether I should go for an official assessment. I don't really know. What would I achieve. I am just making some sense on this. I shall let you know how I go.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Heart felt

In my small village of Leichlingen, a walk around town  brings us in contact with many interesting people. These are folks with an interesting background and history. My German is not good, and I am disappointed that I won't be able to talk with them,  and to enjoy hearing their stories.

My wife had a serendipitous encounter today. He is a gentleman, always well dressed with a tie and cap. To our children, he is known as "the funny man."  He laughs loudly and waves to all the children as he sees them. Other children are a little bit afraid of him as his laughs are quite loud and he seems to talk in a non-engaging manner. Some would even describe his condition as a little bit insane.

My wife regularly sees him catch the same bus as she does to Leverkusen. He is always by himself. One of our neighbours told us that he was quite normal, but it all changed after his wife passed away about two years ago. When I heard the story, it was just  story and did not make too much of it.

In today's serendipitous encounter, it goes something like this.

my wife: "are you catching to bus today?"

the funny man: "yes, I am."

my wife: "Great, are you going to Leverkusen today?"

the funny man: "yes."

and he starts to walk towards to the bus stop. He stops, turn around and looks at my wife and said "but not with my wife, cause she is away." The look on his face is a "I wish my wife here to take this bus trip with me." He continues his way to the bus stop.

Upon hearing this encounter from my wife, I felt this strong sensation in my body. I felt for him that he is missing life partner. My heart just felt for him.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Chris Himmelfahrt or Vatertag?

For the religious among us, the 17 May 2012 is a celebrated day when Christ ascended to Heaven. For the others who are not, there is vatertag to celebrate.

Our neighbour celebrated this tradition last year and he kindly invited me to join them this year. The participant only needs to be a dad (in loose terms) to join in, or have the potential to be a dad. This event is also popular with young men (in their twenties) as well.

For the trip itself, it need to meet some criteria for it  be traditional. Firstly, we need a group of men (see above). In our group, there were seven of us, all men and from the local neighbourhood.

Secondly, access to some beer is critical. The local brew is preferred. For us, that would the Kolsch, or Köln water. As there are seven of us, the organiser made an executive decision as got 4 kegs or 20 litres of beer. I also think that beer help to social aspects of the group of men.

Thirdly, we need a wagon that can be pulled along. The wagon needs to big enough to carry all the beer, and food. Well, the food only consists of some cans of Pringles and the traditional Salt sticks.

An lastly, we need a route through the forest. The whole idea is the walk through the woods with beer in a wagon and have a good afternoon talk men stuff. Our organiser chose to start from the nearby town of Burscheid and walk downhill to our home town of Leichlingen. The trip is about 14km long, along a re-purposed railway track, and through some beautiful forests.

The trip started at 10am and we reached home by 6.30pm. We stopped at a local pub for a meal by 3pm. They were also plenty of chances to grab a wurst along the way as well.

My neighbour told me that this tradition is an important part of a man's life in Germany. I guess that it is a way for men to talk, share and do men stuff. When I heard about this last year, I was rather skeptical as to the value of it. Other than a sorry excuse to get drunk, I fail to see how it would add value. Well, I was totally wrong on many levels. After the walk and talk with the other dads, even with my limit German, I was able to get a sense of how the men of Germany live their lives. They are proud people and have many traditions to uphold. This walk is one of many. Personally, my participation allows me to form a bond and break the social barrier that an expat feels when living in a non-native speaking country. 

Contrasting this to the culture of men in Australia, I find it difficult why more of these type of events does happen back in Australia. Are the Europeans more cultured? Who really knows, but I do think that this type of events does give the men a more healthy lifestyle.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

WEBMU 2012, Berlin bound

The votes have been tallied, and the host city for WEBMU 2012 is....BERLIN!!. The Berlin delegation jumps for joy and roar with excitement, throwing their hats in the air and giving each other high fives and hugs. 

Well almost...The host city for WEBMU 2012 has been announced. Now it is time to vote for a time to hold it. There are plenty of considerations. Should it be held at the same time as another cultural event? What will the weather be? Where will be the TQEQE be going this year? So many questions.

If you have some of the answers, why not get over to the WEBMU discussion forum and put your two EURO cents in. You have to be blogger and an expat living in Germany.

Talk soon...

Brussel's street art.

One of the surprising thing about our recent trip to Brussels is the amount of street art in the city. Every corner of the city appears to have a small (and sometimes big) art display of some sort. So here is a quick collection of some of the artwork that we came across.

It is hardly surprising to see so much art around Brussels as it is an important hub for comics. Tin Tin was created here, and it is certainly the highest profile among the many others, Asterisk and Obelisk is also one of my childhood favourite.

I didn't make it to the Belgische Comic-Zentrum this time, but it is definitely on my list for the next visit.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Brussels over Easter.

This Easter saw us kept to a newly developed tradition of not spending it at home. Last year, we ventured to the south of Germany for a trip down the Romantic Road. The year before, we visited the Black Forest, also down south.

This year, we ventured out of the country and visited Brussels in Belgium. 

Before embarking on our trip, I am not really sure what to expect from this visit. I always had this impression that Brussels as a very clean, very international city and highly politicized city. I mean, it has many offices that deals with European financial and European Union items. For the touristy stuff, most people would head towards Brugges or Genk.

My wife was quite excited as she has visited Brussels before, but was before a family was attached to her. She told me she remembered the chocolate, waffles and the beers. I think that was quite a trip, back then.

We traveled to Brussels on the Thalys train. The train was actually on route to Paris, and Brussels was just a stop for it. The trip was about 1hr 45mins. That was just long enough for the kids, as they were getting restless. We went with Comfort-1 Class, this translates to first class. It promised free Wifi connection, and free meal. The Wifi were pretty slow, it was good for checking email, and browsing the Facebook but streaming youtube is out of the question. The free meal was just some cut sandwiches and a drink. On the up side, the seats were like our arm chairs at home, super comfortable and spacious!

While in Brussels, we were caught up in the public transport strike. At first, we were quite annoyed and were cursing at the transport workers for disrupting our holiday. As it was Easter, we thought that the strike was part of their cunning plan to get more pay from the government. I really felt like an ass when I read the news later that day. The strike was triggered when one of their colleagues were killed on the job. He died as a result of an road rage incident. Check out this news item from the BBC.

The strike did allows to visit some of the sites that we were not even considering. As we were walking back to the city centre, we walk across the Belgium Military Museum. We had a look, and surprise to find its entry fee is zero! We entered to see a huge display of military equipment, plenty of airplanes and tanks. The kids had a great time exploring the planes and the tanks.

The most striking place out of our visit to Brussels are the residential areas. I was quite amaze to see the residents living in such poor quarters. Living in Germany where the social system is pretty good, it is difficult for me to comprehend how a neighbouring country like Belgium have such a large population that seems to be living poorly.

For the touristy attractions, the Grote Markt is quite impressive for its size and stature. To think that the square was over 500 years old is quite astounding. The biggest disappointment is the Maneken Pis. Not much to say about it.

The waffles were great! We really enjoyed it, certainly more than the chocolates.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Berlin or Münster for WEBMU 2012

OK Folks, the discussions for the 2012 edition of WEBMU has started in earnest. The candidate cities have been nominated, and there are Berlin and Münster.

So if you are an expat and want to be part of the fun. Jump onto the expat bloggers in Germany website, sign up and get involve in the discussions. The voting for choosing the city finishes at 1st April 2012, 8pm. Time is running out if you want to put your vote in.

Personally, I would voted to visit Berlin. It is one of the cities in Germany I would like to visit. Although Münster is a much nicer town, German wise, Berlin has more recent history than Münster. 

It is also the biggest city in Germany. Large city in Germany is quite rare. Most of them do not get much larger than 1million people.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

German hospital

In the last few days, I had some personal reasons to get intimate with a German hospital. I won't go into the details, but I have some respect the German health system.

Coming from Australia, the health system there can be best described as broken. Not slightly dented, or even worn out. It is simply broken.

I believe that health care for the people should be one of those things that needs to be free and be accessible for everyone. Australia is a developed country, and can provide plenty of advance health care, but unless you are able to afford private health insurance, that level care is usually not quite good enough. It usually takes too long to get something happening.

In Germany, My family and I have only the statutory health insurance. This is equivalent to Medicare in Australia. Even at this level of care, our entitlements are quite high. The care that they give to children is tremendous. All their prescribed medication are available without any further expenses, their visit to the doctors are also without any further expenses. The adult consultation is only charged at 10€ per quarter, but the medication incurs some expenses.

The hospital have a social worker that helps you with your home care, if required. This home care is part of your entitlement from the health insurance. Not only is home care available, assistance with the children are also possible. We are currently in the middle these discussions with our health insurance. I shall do another post when the details have finalised.

The German system is funded by the tax payers, very similar to the Medicare system. A percentage is calculated on your salary. I think that the Medicare system calculates the payment on the taxable income. The German system, calculates the gross income and the payable amount is capped.