Aside from a few busy days and weeks here and there, the rest of 2019 was pretty relaxed. I spent time with friends, got back into bouldering a bit, did some hiking, took part in a few church conferences, gatherings and BBQs, went to Japan Tag again (just got some Japanese fried chicken and walked around), stopped by the kirmis (local carnival) a couple times, and ran around Phantasialand with my friend Robert.
Oh and I bought more land! This time it was a bit more expensive, but still a real steal. I look forward to seeing it when I go back to the States for a visit in February. Unfortunately, by then my Dad will have finished developing it without me, but at least we were able to work together a bit on the first one.
So, a quick summary of Amsterdam: on Friday, June 7th, I caught a late train to go meet my friend Garret at our AirBnB that we would be staying at for the weekend. Right off the start I was reminded of one reason why I don't take trains - delays. Fortunately, the tree in the tracks only delayed us for 20 minutes or so, but this was still inconvenient considering that it was already almost midnight. We managed to both arrive around 1am only to discover yet another fun challenge... finding the secret entrance to our accommodations.
It was a bit tricky finding the part in the bushes that led to the path behind the apartments but, thanks to Google Maps, we were able to feel our way to our destination. It was an interesting place with strange, seemingly makeshift facilities that could easily be mistaken for being out-of-order. Of course, this bothered Garret more than myself - I don't mind a little inconvenience so long as it all functions. But I digress...
We spent the next day walking around eating Indonesian food (really common in Amsterdam and really good!), Stroopwaffles, and samples of local cheese. Then, the following day, we visited the Rijksmuseum to see the big Rembrandt exhibit. We then basically finished the trip with a bit more walking around and eating stuff like Patatje Oorlog (Dutch fries).
In the months following the trip to Amsterdam, I finally got in a little local travel. Some of us did some hiking over by a nearby city called Bochum, and in a region of forest called the Neandertal (where the caveman was discovered). I actually found these hikes to be a bit unusual as they didn't exactly give the feeling of really getting away from it all. Sections of the hikes were pretty good, but they regularly intersected with civilization which, in my book, is a bit like cheating. In any case, I was in good company, so the nice scenery was more of a bonus.
We also got to visit some other local destinations, such as Gut Elim (a small farm in the countryside that belongs in part to the church), and Bielefeld where we met with many from the churches in neighboring cities. I have to say, Gut Elim is pretty cool. We've got a lot of space for sports and gathering together, and the farmers there also have some crazy animals (check out the video at the bottom).
We made it out to some other cities as well, like Hamburg, Aachen (twice), Brussels (Belgium) and Utrecht in the Netherlands for a youth conference. Aachen was great; we bought tons of chocolate at the Lindt factory, had an awesome BBQ and recorded hymns. Hamburg seemed like a nice city (even though, as in Utrecht and Brussels, we didn't see much), but the trip back was exhausting. We got stuck sitting in parked traffic on the autobahn for probably 2-3 hours. We even witnessed people from one car sharing food with the car next to them in order to survive!
Now, I did mention that the last few months weren't all bowling and glow-in-the-dark minigolf (though I did do these things a bit as well). I also dealt with visa concerns, confusing insurance documents, and the occasional 12-hour day of back-to-back classes. One of these classes in particular was quite strange. I had a business student come in who immediately decided he needed to test my German ability (even though I teach English)... I later found out that he was judging my professionalism based on said skill. He then proceeded to reject all tasks after only looking at the first question. After the first 20 minutes or so, we had about a dozen or so various tasks sitting on the table - all of which I would have to sort back into my files. At this point he asked about meeting everyday, including Saturdays, and then decided to "take a break". He left everything on the table and went home. I was stunned. It was only in the following week or so that I heard from one of the sales managers that this guy was giving him a hard time as well. It turns out the student had shown up the first day asking for the sales manager thinking that he, a German who works in administration, would be his English teacher. So, he was already confused and upset by the time he got to me. At one point he emailed the sales manager asking for a call back. During the call the student told him that he didn't think any of the tasks were of any use to him (even though he hadn't even tried them) and, after it was explained that my students are generally quite satisfied with my lessons, the student got flustered and demanded a call back, as he suddenly had a meeting; the response to this was priceless, "no, when your meeting is over, you call me back."
I was later relieved to learn that this student would no longer be my problem, or that of anyone else at our school. Good riddance.
As for the visa problems, I will be taking a long holiday in Southeast Asia for three weeks in January before returning to the States for a couple weeks to visit family in February. On the 5th of December I was happy to learn that I had been granted two more years in Germany (at the end of which I will be able to apply for permanent residency). I was not happy to find out that, due to a broken visa machine, and temporary visa documents not having been signed by the supervisor, the visa itself wouldn't be available for several weeks... possibly even until after I had planned to already be in Asia. This is a problem as I can't return to Germany without a visa. So, I had to make an appointment to go back later and get what's called a Fiktionsbescheinigung - basically a 13 euro visa extension. But no, this would also be a problem because my original visa is in my old passport - no extension possible. Instead, I would have to pay 55 euros for an actual visa that would replace the old one until the new one arrived. Good thing I recently got a raise at work!