Monday, October 1, 2012

What? He still writes in his blog?? Oct 1. 2012 Update

The bow of a 1950's Chriscraft Speedboat, Mahogany with Canadian Maple.
Just to get you in the mood:)

Hi Folks!

I thought I'd take my last few remaining minutes of freedom for a few years and bring you up to speed on the answer to the question "whatever happened to Gordo?"

I'm in here.

You knew that I went to Germany, but maybe you didn't really know what I've been doing, except writing occasional explosive rants about immigration policy.

Mareen and I returned two weeks ago from our time away on the
Baltic Sea (Ostsee). If you didn’t already know, I have been working in a wooden boat restoration workshop since July, working and learning to restore and build boats of all sizes, using very traditional methods and materials.

The shop.

  The workshop, “Bootswerft Freest” is becoming more and more recognized for a variety of reasons, principally that it is run by a quirky and knowledgeable woman, Kirstin Dubs, and also because it receives some funding from the German "Heritage protection department" to do what it does. Last winter I heard that Fr. Dubs was looking for carpenters with boat building experience, and when a summer practicum in Dresden fell through, I went up to the small village to meet her and talk about spending the summer there at the workshop. I was given the opportunity to continue work on a prototype sailboat, which had been long stalled due to lack of funding. I accepted the challenge, and was quickly in over my head trying to read drawings where everything was curves, trying to pick up where the last frustrated worker left off.
Put your level away, son, it'll do you no good here.
You get a better picture of the form and design looking from the bow abaft.

Meanwhile, in exchange for my due diligence with the boat, Mareen and I were put up in a smart little Ferienwohnung (vacation house) for the duration, a good place for Mareen to hit her books, and not worry about being disturbed by anything other than church bells once a day. For almost two months Mareen had her own study desk up in the office of the boatshop, and made herself immensely popular with the crew by baking weekly treats.

She didn't think my fries were an appropriate addition. Continental Europeans: snobs.

After 10 weeks of working on the boat and often on weekends as well, I see very little difference from where I started. I know that a lot of progress was made, and that a lot of the dirty work is out of the way, but there’s nothing new and gleaming to show off. Hurrying doesn’t pay at all in this kind of work. You just have to put the hours in.  I scraped, and sanded, and painted epoxy for the majority of the time here, and learned as much as I could by watching what the people around me were doing. It wasn’t at all glamorous, but I’ve made some good contacts, and it felt good to have tools in the hand again. One of the best parts of being a handworker is the people that you get to work with, and their quirks.

Good light, because of the no roof.

We celebrated our last night on the Ostsee by going to see the NDR Symphony Orchestra (my dad will tell you who they are) at the former V-II Rocket factory on the island of Usedom. History buffs will be a bit jealous here. It was a Mahler Symphony, which was quite dramatic, and mirrored the history of the venue quite well.

Peenemunde "Kraftwerk" (Power Station)

"The Enemy can see your lights, Blackout!!"
German war propaganda poster. Also probably quite true, at the time.
Whereas in Dresden our weeknights and weekends are usually booked-out well in advance with events, we spent our evenings on the Ostsee experimenting with recipes, reading, and enjoying the calm before the storm, with Mareen putting in 13 hours a day re-reading her textbooks. I started my Bachelors of Engineering today and will be with the company that is sponsoring my co-op study, when not at school, on and off for the next three years.
Library, United Kingdom, by Deutsche Werkstätten
I am happy to be writing this blog from the other side of the mountain. Those of you close to me have been sympathetic watching my battles against beaurocracy and redundancy. There’s nothing I could have done to change the order of events, it’s just something you have to go through. Part of my application to study here consisted of an English Exam. I passed it.
No really, I passed it.

I was told on a Monday morning that 66 hours later (I made every hour count), I was to write a math-entry exam consisting of Linear Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Differential Calculus. The ultimate effect of failing this test very well could have been my being unable to fulfill the requirements of renewing a visa and being deported. I threw a hail-Mary and focused on the Differentials, and, to everyone’s amazement, passed.
Claytons CAN math.
I will be busy, very busy, until November of 2015. I can tell that to some of the students around me, that that seems like a long time. I know it's just around the bend. Most of them are coming directly out of high school. I knew that four students, myself included, are representing my sponsor-company, Deutsche Werkstätten. It just so happened that when I asked the class who the other three were, we were all seated in the front row. It seems my three colleagues are also proud to be with the company. We will not have semester holidays, we are either at school from 7:15 to 17:00, or at work from 6:00 until 15:00. Sometimes we have classes on Saturdays, rarely on Sundays. The rule at the school in the past (up until this year) was that if you failed a test in the first two years, you were exmatriculated (as bad as it sounds). They now generously allow students to fail up to one test. Two, and you’re out smoking behind Netto. You are building the picture, yes? Moving on.

Mareen has 8 days before she writes her final medical exams. It is a three day test, with three five-hour sessions, comprised of 150 multiple-choice questions each. She, I believe, is as well prepared as somebody can be coming into the exam, but if you could remember to “press your thumbs” (think thumbwrestling) sometime during those three days, I’m sure it wouldn’t go amiss.
Mareen "studying" on the Ostsee

So, a time of uncertainty has passed, and I can now refocus some efforts away from worry and stress, and put them into thoughts of how I can best use my time here. Our plan has us here for likely another 5 to 6 years at least, and that’s a lot of time to see what is to be seen here in Europe. I am ecstatic to be honored by the visits of some close friends this autumn, and I encourage all of you to take the opportunity to have a couch to sleep on in this beautiful city.

All the best, Gordon

I'm in good hands.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Update from Saxony

My sister is right, it's been far too long since I've written here, but in my defense, I haven't been too lazy during this time. The last post I wrote, I was pretty frustrated with German bureaucracy. I can assure you, that hasn't changed in the slightest, but I have learned a few crafty ways of getting the odds to favour me.

My original plan, the one that cancelled our trip to South Africa (murder capital of the world) was an application to the Technical University of Dresden, the same school -albeit different campus- that Mareen studies at. I applied to Forest Sciences, with an eye at later studying wood technology, five years altogether. My father wasn't the first to point out that 5 years of study is no short haul- and probably not my bag, in any case- and he was right. I have a triple-motive for wanting to study here, but I have to back up a bit more to explain myself: After high school, I went to do a year of University in Prince George. I was 17, and my heart and mind were elsewhere (my narrow-minded rule of thumb for traveling in British Columbia is: Avoid towns with Prince, Port, or Fort as a prefix.) After the year was over, I packed my bags and left in the old Volvo à grand vitesse so quickly that somewhere around 100 Mile House I incurred a speeding ticket nearly fivefold the eventual selling-price. After this I left the land of academia for a more practical education in Carpentry, which has shaped me more than just about any other experience that comes to mind.

I am very happy with this knowledge-base, but those of you who know me well, know I love facts, so much so that I'm apt to make my own up from time-to-time. Between the crippling debt and thin job prospects that a lot of British-Columbian undergraduates experience, I was happy enough- and maybe just a bit smug about- staying with an affordable educations and solid paying job.

Fast-forward to me sitting here in Dresden, because that's a story everybody knows by now. My canadian Red-Seal in carpentry will eventually translate across the Atlantic, because Germany has a looming shortage of skilled workers and has funded a new program to recognize the certification of foreign workers; the official name for the new rule being „Gesetz zur Verbesserung der Feststellung und Anerkennung im Ausland erworbener Berufsqualifikationen“. (Law for the improvement of assessment and recognition of the foreign-acquired job qualifications). Any way, I needed to find a niche here in Germany that had long-term prospects and didn't involve me schlepping around bricks for eternity. The first stab, as I mentioned, was an application to the Uni here in Dresden. After four months of back and forth of documents, having certificates expedited back and forth from Canada with the correct signatures, translations, and so forth, my application was ultimately denied. The prerequisite to enter into an undergraduate program here is that the Canadian applicant has already completed a year of university in Canada. No problem right? We know I was at UNBC in Prince George! Wrong, they ultimately told me that their full year requirement meant that I should have also taken the summer semester. You draw your own conclusions to my response.

Some time before Christmas, I found another school in Dresden that offered co-op engineering programs, with half of the teaching done at the school, and half by a company that takes you on, very much like the carpentry apprenticeship in Canada. Mareen and I went to an open-house in January to learn a little bit more. I was told there by a professor that my foreign certificate and experience were of great interest to them, and that they were sure my Deutsch was adequate to commence study. After this, while I was continuously struggling to meet the documentation demands of the university, I also began to seek out a company to act as my "sponsor", as it were. I immediately sought out one of the most prestigious workshops in Dresden, if not the world. Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau is a late 19th century company, ground zero for development of the Bauhaus movement, and is now being considered for a Unesco world heritage title due to its influence and importance to the German people. I rapped on the large Macassar door for a full three months before they granted me an interview. In full transparency, it just so happens that a couple influential phone calls were made on my behalf, to encourage the acceptance of my proposal, but I didn't know that until well after. They agreed to take me in for a month-long practicum in June, to see if we get along. This quasi-acceptance was a key component to my application to the second engineering school, and the day after I submitted it, I was told there was a seat for me to study starting in October. This was yesterday, and the buoyant feeling is still very fresh.

Thank you for reading this far, we're nearly up to speed. This figurative seat that is held for me, this injection-molded beauty, allows me to apply for a very straight-forward study visa, to be renewed once a year without much ado. Visa acquirement has been a constant struggle for me; a cavity search would have been far less intrusive than the interrogation of the foreigner's office. I start to get stomach pain about ten days before each appointment, and lose sleep completely about four days beforehand. Imagine the lightness I feel now.

The school is free. All universities here are. That's all I will say on that matter. The company overseeing the practical aspect of my study will also amply support me throughout the complete length of the study. These conditions allow me an opportunity that would otherwise be very difficult to create at home in Canada. I stand in great debt to Mareen, who has been campaigning tirelessly for these opportunities and attending interviews and translating volumes of German law for me, and to my family, who have supported this curious adventure without so much as an arched eyebrow.

The near future holds many adventures and challenges. Mareen is putting in 14 hour days in the hospital, sneaking as much time as she can to finish her thesis, which she hopes to have completed in about a month. We are off to Morocco in a month for a bit of adventure, which has proved to be a bit of a controversial choice among family, but in our defense I believe the ratio of risk to the potential reward is a very worthwhile investment, and far less deadly than a jaunt on the Autobahn here in Deutschland.

I'm off this weekend for three days to climb, sleep in caves, and enjoy the company of a handful of healthy, positive young folks! You can count on pictures at some point.

Here's a couple shots of yours truly and my faithful sidekick blowing some steam off in Stuttgart last weekend! Pröst!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Well hey, better late than never?

First of all, you'd be doing yourselves a huge favour if you found a copy of Army of Ancients by Dr. Dog, and threw that on for the next few minutes. If you learn nothing, you'll at least hear some real music.

 I felt like it was time to write some again, because so much has seemingly changed. The last few months, exceptional as they were, I didn't have much success fitting into the German jigsaw puzzle. The few employers that did write back to me were always professional, and brief. The way things are done sometimes doesn't jive well with my own character (flaws). I had a university application come flying back to me because the copy of my high school transcript wasn't certifiable. The transcripts from three post-secondary schools in B.C. were, however, fine.

One leftover from the distrustful time that was former East Germany is that nobody throws out documents here, whereas if something isn't a cheque, for me, it usually ends up in the round-file. This got my father in trouble here in Deutschland when he threw out all of his banking info. In any case, Carihi Secondary is sending the appropriate documents here, after two separate reminders that I still owe 7.50 in late fees at the library.

Last Wednesday Mareen worked a 16 hour double-shift in Surgery, so she could come to a university with me the next day, for an "open-door day for prospective students". One of the programs this school offers is a three-year engineering program focusing on wood, that switches between practical and theoretical work, much like my carpentry apprenticeship. I spoke with the Professor of the program after his presentation, and he said that not only was my experience relevant, but my practical knowledge would complement having a practical partner company like Deutsche Werkstätten to work with. Deutsche Werkstätten is an institution that prides itself on producing design and furniture of the highest quality. If you've got a minute- and please, take a minute- head to (you can choose english for the site) and you'll see and read quite quickly what I mean. I sent a letter to the company from the perspective of a potential student and practice partner, and received back quite quickly a personal e-mail from the company encouraging me to come see the workshop and talk to some people in person. That, I will exaggerate, is the first door that's been left open a crack for me since I arrived here. So yes, it feels good. The professor reminded me that the program has 35 hours of classes a week when school is in session, and that it's not easy.

Tomorrow will be my first day cycling down to the Dresden Rowing Club to have a chat. I expect them to be blown right over with my rowing experience in the rowboat. I've been looking for something to get me a bit more active here in Dresden, though I get at least an hour of cycling every day, it's not doing a lot for my back.
Rowing beside the Great Bear Rainforest :)
Mareen and I this week waved my dad and his partner Linda off on their way home after their two month holiday in Dresden. They managed an adventure just about every day, and weren't dissuaded by so-so weather near the end, knowing the Wednesday night Black Creek singing club would soon be replacing their Mozart requiems and Verdi Operas. Our last night together at the Semperoper was for Verdi's "Il Trovatore" and it was, for an opera, quite something.

Linda, Steven, and Mareen
 My interest in the Accordion is not waning, but gathering steam. I find it to be a fascinating, versatile instrument, and I think it's going to be big. The next big thing. There's two reasons you don't hear accordionists singing while they play: It's too loud, and it would be too damn hard. Sea-shanties, maybe, I've taken a liking to them.

The point is, for the first time here in Deutschland, somebody (Mareen excluded) told me I deserved a place here, to study, to work. Ich solle den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben (count my chickens now), but I'm going to give it my best.

Ich bin, Du bist, Sie ist....

bis später

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

got a minute for some words?

Hi guys!
I'm happy to take some time away from my Kreuzworträtsel (crosswordpuzzle) to entertain you for a minute or two. I remember when I had just arrived here I was having complete sensory overload, even waxing poetically about döners- the thrill of which has since worn off). Now every moment isn't so overwhelming, but what I find more interesting from time to time is not what I see, but how I feel, more introspective. I know three months isn't a lifetime but this was never a three month trip, and tomorrow I will try to persuade Germany to let me stay just a little longer. Mornings I'm focused with the same as anyone else, the bed is warmer than the air surrounding it, but the smell off fresh coffee in a dimly lit cozy kitchen makes that transition do-able. The commute to work is still a jarring 25 minutes, but there's a nice section in the middle through a large public garden with a beautiful Palace in the middle of it. The other night we went to see a production of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" there, by the Staatsschauspiel, or state theatre, it was just fabulously done. Before riding our bikes there, Mareen and I stopped in the Strizelmarkt, a very famous 500-year old christmas market here in Dresden, to have a few warm Gluhweins with friends:

Mareen and friends drinking Gluhwein (hot spiced wine, reinforced with rum).
Afterwards we made our way to the Großergartenpalais, for the play, which again, was just awesome.
An intimate atmosphere, and very talented singers and actors & actresses. At times cozy and dark, but in this scene brightly lit. Scrooge was just perfect.
 My other obsession at the moment, and I know you're getting sick of photos, so I'll get back to words in a minute, is this guy:
He was left in a battered old leather case at the Elbe Fleamarket, waiting for who knows how long for me to find him. He comes from saxony, age roughly thirty, is without any damage, and sounds just fabulous (a matter of opinion, of course)
The point I'm trying to make here is that life can seem quite ordinary all of a sudden. You're familiar with your neighbourhood, you can understand what people are saying to you (usually foul words directed towards the back of my bicycle), you comfortably cook your dinner each night and go out to see friends often. At a small gathering last night in the name of St. Nicholas (yes, ol' saint Nick!) I chatted with a young guy named Michael, who I think is noteworthy because, at 22, he's in his ninth semester of mechanical engineering, studying aeronautics and artificial intelligence between Dresden and MIT in Boston, designing autonomous spacecraft. This guy likes his space, and was eager to talk about the new 'earthlike' planet I was reading about on BBC the other day. I told him math wasn't my strong suit, he was amused. Enough of Michael. Smart young people impress me.

I'm starting to miss B.C. for the first time, and for an unexpected (for me) reason. My friends are spending their weekends and afternoons thudding away making new bike trails, and spending every other minute packing their woodstoves as full as hand-rolled cigarettes. The Whittinghams have been watching their powerlines and transformers exploding at night-time storms, and probably trying to barbecue everything in their fridge before it goes lazy. I say lazy, because that's a direct translation from German for overripe. I feel like I should be ducking thrown objects and 'boos' when I say this, but there's something about a tough winter that brings people together. I haven't, however, been gone long enough to remember that there's something about a tough, long winter that makes everyone hate each other, and themselves. I miss dirt under my nails, soggy freezing clothes, and dirt in my toothy smile, exchanging high fives after an improbably long singletrack epic, before a hot shower and a cold Hermanator. My dad knows exactly what I mean, maybe without the long mountain bike rides, but he told me he felt the same way living here, there's really nowhere easy to work up a sweat, other than at a fitness club. I know though, while I longingly recall these fond memories, I'm not lying under vehicles changing parts, not waiting in ferry lines, or up on a ladder installing gutters.

I can't say it enough though, I have all the support somebody could ever have, so many people helping me transition and try to make a life for myself here. Mareen is an unstoppable, unflappable, unending source of encouragement when it's really her, trudging through her theses, working 12 hour days, that could use the support. She inspires me.

 I hope to find some work at a local bike shop here in January, providing there's not too much snow. It would be nice to be making a little money again, while I'm working on this language. On the language: if I can learn it, you could too. German is a very, very logical language. I'm surprised the dictionaries aren't cubic.

Thanks folks, try to keep that fire stoked.

mit freundlichen Grüßen,

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Hi guys, I know it's been ages since I wrote, so I won't inundate you with words, I'll share some awesome photos instead, maybe words later this week. :) Enjoy!

This is the famous 'Chain' Bridge in Budapest, right around sunset. The lights glow green before warming up, it made for a pretty wild scene!

Just a nice little square in Weimar, nobody around except her and her two kids.

Goethe, Schiller, Clayton

...and Tillack.

Night trains are no place for fun. At all.

This is the Mathias Church in Budapest, it's a real looker.
nobody's safe when Mareen's on a bicycle.

Really hard to get scope of the size of the Mathias Church, I photographed it from 40 angles and all pictures came out Baroque.

At least this one has some people for scope.

One must rotate photos before adding them.

"What's the price of rice in China?"

A lovely Gingko tree at Carolyn's (our host) Medical campus.

nice light:) there's Carolyn and Bert bottom left.

Trabi! The slang for these in Deutsch translates to "Paper-Racer". I think the panels were a little thin. If you were a neurosurgeon in the DDR, you still had to drive one of these. I asked another fellow what else they had for cars in the DDR (Deutschland Demokratik Republik), he thought carefully, and after a minute said "Moscovitch's auch). I wouldn't want to win either showcase.

Carolyn left, Bert middle back and Mareen on the right, we rented bikes for our stay in Budapest and it was a lot of fun.

She undid my shirt. This was kind of a strange party, I would say at least 1500 medical students at a formal get-dressed-up party (I was denied at the door at first, no lie. I took off some hobo-looking layers and proved I was sporting a collared shirt - ahem, a little embarassing). The size of the place was twice the size of my high school, it was packed with about 80% drop-dead gorgeous eastern European female medical students. Absolutely unbelievable.

now here's a great guy, nice hunting dog, falcon.

Good dog statue in Budapest! I like any country that has animal statues.
This is the Cave Church high up on the hill in Pest. (Buda and Pest were two different cities for centuries, KNOWLEDGE, PEOPLE)

But who cares when you've got a funnel cake?!

It was difficult to get a shot of the government buildings in Budapest, they are an enormous new-gothic collection.
car fans! wicked old Porsche 50 meters from my house in the Neustadt!

Back when cars had class.

Some minor repair on our way to Berg Stolpin

The Sachsicher Schweiz in November is not a bad place to be!

I love the texture of the cobbles here. This road is old, I suppose it used to be for horse and wagon.

me in 40 years.

sexy colours and textures here, again in the Sachsicher Schweiz, or (Saxonian Switzerland)

Mareen and my dad taking a breather

no fun at all.

"oh god, where's my wallet"

The Cathedral in Meissen, a city about an hours ride from here, very famous for it's porcelain.

Man the Gothic architects got to be so creative!

Fun guys:)

No wonder people wanted to be in the Church.

Nice evening light and friend Ken Hamilton

This picture has been making waves, which makes me happy. Naked Bikes on Quadra Island, BC made this beauty for me  : )
well that's it for now! Hopefully I've got you back in the mood with these photos and somebody will be looking forward to some words later this week, I've got heaps to tell.
Tschüß! Gordon