Saturday, January 14, 2012

Luxembourg Nights

I woke up at 4:30am in the bloody morning. Outside, it was as dark as midnight. My Bavarian host dad and I walk to the car. There’s a snowstorm outside. He drives me with the high beams on through the windy road. I’m tired. I haven’t slept the whole night. I overslept on the last night of our ski trip. It keeps me from sleeping.
He drops me off at the train station. I am in the Allgau. The equivalent of the Allgau (sounds like “all” “g-oye” ) in America would be the deep South. The two most common questions I get asked in the Allgau are two. One, where are you from? Two, why are you in the Allgau? They ask it in shock, like what would a German person be doing in Alabama. Hey, but it happens. Asian-Americans can enter deep Bavaria too.

After my host Bavarian father drops me off at the train station, I give him a farewell hug and say “Danke schoen fuer alles.” (Thank you for everything.) I walk into the train station. There are literally a handful of people there, including two drunk youths. They were screaming “Yah! Yah! Yah!”

I look at the times at the train station. I’m looking to head back into the Bavarian capital of Munich. The electronic timetable says that the train is leaving at 5:25am. I ask a German lady, “Sprechen sie English?” (Do you speak English?) She responds, “Ja.”

“What time is the train leaving to Munich?”

“Five twenty five, I think.” She looks at the electronic board to confirm and says, “Ja. That is right.”


I walk to the ticketing machine. I’m about to buy the Bavarian Pass, which costs about $30. It’s an all day pass in the Southern State of Germany. I’m hoping that after I get to Munich, I can sell it to someone for a cheaper price. But before I purchase the ticket, a woman taps me on the shoulder. Oh, it’s the German lady who I asked about the time.

She says, “Can I help you?”

I said, “I’m just trying to buy a Bavarian pass.”

She says, “Don’t worry about it. I have one. It will work for you and me. You don’t need to buy it.”

“I’ll split the fee with you.”

We sit back down together. She asks me where I’m from. I say I am American. Then we get into it all. She then asks, “Why are you in the Allgau?” And I explain I have this host Bavarian family – and you know the stories if you have been reading my blog postings.

We board the train together. It’s snowing outside. It still looks like midnight outside. She tells me that she’s divorced. That her ex-husband cheated on her and that brought her back to the Allgau. She has two children. Both girls. They are already learning English and are fluent in German and Italian. I said there’s a Chinese proverb and it goes like this: “Falling leaves return to its roots.” It means that those who leave abroad always come back home. I found this to be true to my life.

We talked the whole way to the train station. At the end, I offered her 10 Euros for the ride. She refused. She wished me a good travel.

It was bloody cold outside. The cold air swooshed against my face. BRRR. I walk to the entrance to the underground, where I come across a small deli. I ordered a cappuccino. Hot. It tastes creamy. I walk underneath to take the subway line downstairs.

There, I rode the S-Bahn line to my exit. It was like I was in the middle of the most deserted place in Munich. Dead trees all around. Snow falling and blanketing everything. White. And more White, everywhere. I can’t believe my ride chose this place.

I see a guy standing outside. Concerned I might not be in the right place, I talk to him in German.

“Is this Berg am Laim?”


“Can you make a phone call for me? I need to catch a ride.”


He looks at the number. Hands me the phone. I speak to my ride in English, “Ok, so you’ll be here in 30 minutes. By the bike rack, right?”

I hand the phone back. He says, “You speak English! I thought you’re from Asia.”

“Well, my parents are.”

“I need to practice mein English.”

“Ok. Thank you for helping me. I’m catching a ride to Trier.”

“Ah – to Trier. That is far away.”

“Yes, I think it’s five to six hours North.”

We continue to talk in English, until his train comes. Once in awhile, we speak in German as well. My ride is here.

I signed up for a ride on a carpooling website. Because petrol and trains are too expensive, you can ride with complete strangers from destination to destination. It’s called Mitfahrgelegenheit.

Out of the car, comes two obese people. A man and a woman. They’re in their early 20’s, but they are so obese, they look much older. He’s wearing a shirt and board shorts. Let me remind you, this is icy winter. He’s crazy. He says, “Get in. I’m sorry I’m late.” They have three iPhones on the dashboard. Strange. I point it out.

I ask him, “Where is your final destination?”

He says, “Luxembourg.”

I said, “Please take me there instead. I’m going to Luxembourg too.”

He says, “Sure.”

I take out a piece of paper and I say, “Please call my Luxembourger friend. Please tell him to pick me up at your location.”

And then, it’s over. I can sleep. I’m so tired from not having slept for almost 24 hours. I pass out, even with his funky, house music playing. Sleep. I sleep for three hours and twenty minutes. The sun is finally coming out. It’s around 10am. The guy is going 190 kms (120 mph). He’s averaging that and enjoying it, like it’s some go-cart game.

We arrive in Luxembourg in only 4 hours! It was faster than the total time it would take to check in for an airplane. He shows me the river that marks the boundary between Lux and Germany.

He parks. In a few minutes, my Luxembourger host picks me up in his father’s A8 Audi. Nice car. He helps me load his bags. We enter the car. And I said, “See, look at them. They’re from Lux. And they’re huge and obese. So don’t tell me it’s only Americans. I thought all of you were going to look that way.” He starts chuckling. Mark is with him. He’s one of the French law students I had breakfast with him after my lecture in France.

The Lux guy and I catch up and chat about the world. I tell him I haven’t slept. We first enter Lux City.

I now see four other French law students come out of their Audi. They pull up. The girls smell like French cigarettes and perfume. There, we go to a café and eat Lux food. I have two Lux beirs. I told him, it’ll help me sleep faster. My body is going through so many time zones.

After lunch, we head to my host’s house. They make my bed. I meet my host’s mother. She carries herself with European class. We greet each other in English, though I am having a habit of speaking German after my time in Deutschland. They place me in the attic. It seems to be the European theme and me. Put Paul in the European attic. I appreciate the sense of seclusion and peace though.

I need my sleep now. In less than five minutes, my body and mind collapse. The last thing I remember is the light outside. Sweet sleep.

Three and a half hours, 6:00pm, it looks like midnight outside again. The daylight hours are so short in Europe in the winter. I go to the restroom to freshen up. I wash my face with cold water. I rush downstairs, where I hear the French law students. There, I meet my host’s father. I bow to him in my Korean style. He has a good nature to him, but underneath you can sense that he thinks a lot about important business matters. I join them both at the dinner table.

My host asks if I’d like a per aperitiff. I request, champagne. He opens a nice French bottle. It makes that nice, crisp pop that I love to hear. He pours it in a flute. I drink. I enjoy. The tastes are light, sweet, and refreshing. The host’s brother talks of his time training as a chef in Paris. I listen.

After awhile, I make my way to the living room where the French students are. They are chit chatting in a nice language I cannot understand. Yet, in time, the host’s parents follow. It’s time for me to make chit chat. I ask the host’s father, “So, where did you meet your wife?”

“Well,” he says, “it was a little outside of the city.”

“Oh,” I said, “But who liked who first?”

He grinned, like a Cheshire cat and said, “Me.” His wife nodded. She blushed a little. This was an older couple, that was being reminded of their youth. You could see the memory re-flood into their faces.

The host’s mother continues the conversation, “Well – my sister knew his brother. And, so, he came with his brother, and we met.” She crossed her legs and held in her a hand a crystal glass filled with colored alcohol. The liquid glowed like green fireflies.

I turned to the host’s father and asked him, “Did you write her letters?”

He blushed a little and said, “Oh, yes. But she wrote more!” The French students and I smiled and laughed. The host’s mother just sat quiet after he said that.
Then she said, “I still have them all. But what must I do with them?” She trailed off in French to tell the host and the French students her plans with these letters.
My host tells me later, “Paul, Europeans never ask these kind of questions.”

“Oh,” I said. “Is it bad?”

“No. No. But we just don’t ask these questions. It was great just watching you have a conversation with them.”

“Did you know your mother wrote more letters than your father did?”

He said, “No.” He smiled too now.

After the conversation and champagne, the host drove us in the Audi A8 through town. The Lux skyline is beautiful. It looks like a city inside a canyon and ancient castles on the mountain. You can imagine Prince Charming and the princess taking a walk through a city like this at night.

After taking us to dinner at a Lux restaurant, our host takes us to a Bar. I’m still feeling tired from the lack of sleep. For some reason two-three hour sessions of interrupted sleep isn’t really the equivalent of six hours. The night will be long too. So, I ask one of the French students for a Cuban cigar. I know that the nicotine will help give me a kick.

I sit in a rather relaxed position in the bar. I flare up the cigar with a long match and take the smoke in. Ah – it’s a nice, smooth, mild kind. Yes, I know cigars should be strong, but I think strong cigars give me too much of a head ache. After awhile, I get a kick from it. My host says, “It’s great to see a little asian guy smoking a cigar.” Hmmmm…

It’s time to leave to the next bar. Yet, when I get my jacket, I notice someone has taken my scarf. =( Damn it, I loved that scarf. It’s not a nice brand, but the pattern was good and sent to me from my auntie in Korea.

At our next location, we try to enter a bar. But the bouncer hear the girls speak French.

He says, “You can’t come in then.” This was all done in French, so I have to ask for a translation. The French law students believe it’s racism.

I want to test if this is true. So, I ask my host, “Let’s you and try to go in. If they let us in, we know it’s racism.”

The bouncer knows my host is from Luxembourg. He asks where I’m from, I say, “Los Angeles.” He lets us in. We drink two cokes. And when we come out, the girls are furious. They say in English with a French accent, “They are so racist!”

I ask my host, “Is this true?” He says, “Who knows? Maybe they don’t like their style. Maybe they don’t like the French, who often start fights here. Or maybe they think that these students won’t spend a lot.” Questionable. But I think for the French girls, it’s an unpleasant lesson to learn.

The first time I was treated with such disgust was in New Zealand. Although I have known many wonderful people in Wellington, I will never forget when a Maori guy on meth tried to spit at me. He shouted, for all of Cuba Street to hear, "You f)*&)(*& chink! Chinky! Chinky! Get out of here." It's such an ugly feeling. But I suppose that this man, had to believe that as screwed up as his life was, he was better than all the billions of Asians out there. Because of the way we were born. I think everyone should experience this once, to know how ugly it feels. Just a side note.

Lux nights reminded me of a country that was like Beverly Hills. It was a whole country like Beverly Hills. People look nice and have money. And the place has money.

We end our night by going to a night club at 3am. We dance until 5:30am. We go home at around 6am. I walk up to the attic. I again feel the powerful feeling of exhaustion take over. There’s no fighting it. No, you just let it overcome you – like when your head nods continuously during a boring lecture. I pass into a deep sleep.

I, along with all of us, wake up at around 1pm. This is why I have a problem with clubbing. I always feel like you waste so much of a productive day. You lose half of your Saturday or more for sure. After having a brunch/lunch, my host and I go shopping. The rest stay behind to study law. I just like hanging out with my host – so anytime with him is good.

We go to the supermarket. I have to prepare a menu for the night. I promised to cook for them. I wanted to make them American ribs or Korean bbq. But none of the meats are available. Instead, I change course and think of a new meal to make.
For dinner, everyone is involved in the cooking. Ironically, the meal is rather French or French influenced. I was a bit nervous. I mean, here are French law students. The French love to criticize. But with that said, if you are able to win them over, you really have their trust. Like now, my lecture earned me their trust. But this was no law lecture. No, this was a meal. Together we prepare a six course meal paired with three sets of wines:

1. Scallops with homemade pesto
2. New Orleans Sausage Gumbo – if you know anything about Louisiana, the French influence is really heavy in this region – even in the cooking.
3. Southern Greens
4. French mashed potatoes
5. Porterhouse Steak
6. Poaches Pears

And for the wines we had:
1. Napa Valley Red Wine
2. Greek Red Wine
3. German Dessert Wine

We started with the scallops and soup paired with the Napa Valley Wine. It’s been a long time since I had a hearty gumbo, but it was so good that all of it was gone. Ok, I have secrets in cooking. Even though I'm Korean-American, I know how to make a good Southern gumbo - although it has French flavors. First, you have to make a good roux. I like my roux made from flour, butter, and delicious rich olive oil. Brown the roux until it looks like toasty bacon grits. Add it into the broth. I love reduction of chicken stock and red wine. I think it should be the basis for most soups. Finally, I sear the meats, such as the prawns and fish, first in a pan to lock in the flavor before adding it to the soup. I think humans have a natural affinity for liking seared meats with tender insides.

And the French girl helps me cook.

I had promised the host’s father that I would save him some. But nope – the American South cuisine was all eaten up by the French.

We waited some time. Then we served the Greek wine with the mashed potatoes, steak, and greens. This too was good, but of course the mains are never as good as the starters and dessert. Finally, we ended with poached pears that looked like rubies. They were served with beautiful, creamy, Swiss ice cream. The stark contrast between red and white told a pretty story. After dessert, our host poured us the most amazing dessert wine. He confided in me that it cost somewhere in the 3 digits.
What the French law students said, even though not everything was French, they could taste the French in them. Of course, the world is more blessed with French cooking. How can you cook Western food without knowing the French basics?

I ate at Beverly Hills Spagghos. This meal, although traditional and not incredibly complex was much better. Furthermore, the slow eating of 4-5 hours, felt meaningful. We had slow talk. We had slow food. It felt communal. I was impressed how even though dinner started late, and the meal took awhile to make, the French law students were patient. They knew a good meal takes time. They weren’t so boarish, like an American would be. I just imagine an American saying: “Where’s my dinner?!” Instead of being patient and really understanding that slow cooking is the way to go. We finished the meal close to 1 am.

Again, I slept in the attic. When I awoke, my host took me to my next destination. Trier. Apparently, it’s a 2,000 year old city in Germany. My final ride back to Munich was waiting for me there. It felt strange that each host transfers me to an intermediary. This intermediary transfers me to the next host. My final friend I would be seeing is in Bavaria again. He’s the fourth person in the itinerary to see. I will see Benedikt soon, and there, it will be not Lux nights but a Munich night.

I’m proud of my position as a traveler. How many Americans can boast they have so many European friends that treat them with overwhelming hospitality? I’ve been in Europe now for 14 days. I never needed to stay in a hotel or hostel for even one night. Lux left its impression on me – for sure.

And look, even Lux has McDonalds!!! The American Fast Food Empire extends everywhere!

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