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Tin Foil Awards 2017

The Annual Tin Foil Awards


It is that time of year again. The annual Tin Foil Awards are awarded to deserving people again. You have never heard of the Tin Foil Awards? Well, admittedly, most people haven't. That has no impact, however, on the award's importance or prestige. Wasn't there a time when Henry Fonda told Shirlee Adams "They want me to receive some kind of 'Academy Award'... but I never attended university"? Probably not! I think the Oscars were always huge. Nevertheless, I am rather certain that there are awards out there which aren't quite world-changing, yet, but will get there some day: Why shouldn't the Tin Foil Award be one of them?

When I thought about leaving the US, and therefore the University of Michigan, I had this feeling... the feeling that I wanted certain people to know that they had a noticeable impact on my life. I guess everybody knows this feeling. Two years after you shared something on Facebook somebody walks up to you and tells you "Man, that thing you shared on Facebook two years ago... that was great, thanks"... and you had no idea! I think we tell our fellow human beings too little that we appreciate them and what they do, the way they do it. Why?

That's why I created the Tin Foil Awards. I don't have much (except some tin foil) but I want to show people my appreciation more often and 2017 seems like the perfect year to start doing that! So, here we go. These are the first annual Tin Foil Awards and the winners in the categories Best Advisor, Best Student Managers, Best GSI, Best Professor - Language, Best Professor - Communications and Best Professor - Overall, alongside a special award for Variety.

Best Advisor


Sarah Pauling

If you need some top-notch advising, Sarah is the person to talk to. She didn't just provide me with academic advise and support, but also helped me out a great deal on a personal level.

 

Some call her Michigan's Oprah Winfrey, and rightfully so, because it is very easy to open up to her. Once you did open up to her, she will treat your problems with respect and knowledge.

 

Sarah is a very deserving winner of the first TFA to ever be awarded. The committee wishes her nothing but the best for her future endeavours.


Best Student Managers


Aaron Adiwidjaja & Asma Baban

Always friendly and always in a good mood, Aaaron and Asma made working, well, not fun (you know, it's still work) but more than bearable. They kept the hierarchy flat and were as much made fun of as they made fun of their minions.

 

They had a special relationship to every single student and I was genuinely surprised by how quickly they remembered my name and the names of all the other workers. While I never really met them outside of work, they were thoughtful and talented managers for the past five months and seemed like the kind of persons I would love hanging out with if I didn't have to spend all my spare time on studying.


Best GSI


Amelia Couture

As a GSI, Amelia is responsible for the intermediation between professor and class. Not only did she work together with our professor very well, but also provided interesting alternative ways to think about the course material.

 

Very attentive to students facial expressions and body language, she often correctly evaluated the collective emotional state of her discussion sections to modify her way of teaching accordingly.

 

More than once, she lightened the mood with a funny anecdote from her own life. She successfully used this strategy to clarify complicated concepts, as well.


Best Professor - Language


Jinyi Li-Stevenson

Li Laoshi is  very much like the first season of the US hit comedy 'The Office': Short, funny and teaches you a lot!

 

She managed to get everyone - really everyone - interested in and excited about the Chinese language and culture. She is what all language professors should be like. She can easily detect a student's strengths and weaknesses in order to address their individual barriers in learning a new (and very complicated) language.

 

While seeing her every week-day could have been a nightmare, she actually made students look forward to their daily dose of Chinese. I will keep taking Chinese in Germany, however, I am sad I cannot keep my teacher.


Best Professor - Communications

Best Professor - Overall                   


Dr. Brian Weeks

There are several reasons for why Brian Weeks won two of the most prestigious Tin Foil Awards:

 

1) His special teaching style gets students engaged with the course material in a way that promotes self-reflection, deepens the understanding of concepts presented in readings and connects theory to the students individual circumstances and experiences.

 

2) Students can actively engage in class even if they haven't had a chance to do the reading.

 

3) His presentation slides are carefully put together and allow students to write down the most important takeaway while still following the lecture. 

 

4) The course material was fun, contemporary and presented in a way that resulted in the most frequent attendance of any class I have ever taken.

 

Considering all this, the first double-win in TFA history is well-deserved and something all potential TFA winners should strive to achieve.



Special Award: Variety


Dominos 716 Packard Rd

The special award for 'Variety' goes to my local Domino's. Never before has an individual or a business misspelled my name in so many - very creative - ways. Among my favourites are:


1) Maris

2) Marus

3) Marcus
4) Morris
5) Maurice
6) Marcise


They really made an effort and deserve this extraordinary award.


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American College Parties

Oh man, American college parties.... Beautiful! They never disappoint and they are always similar, regardless of what kind of party it is.

 

You always have the red cups, people who are already wasted when you arrive, you always have a keg of America's sorry excuse for beer, this feeling that you walked right into a movie, and you always have the smell-mix of alcohol, weed, vomit and - let's face it, this is America - food. Another thing American college parties have in common is the types of people you will meet there and how well they describe the social groups they are a representative of. Let me give you a brief introduction:

The Sorority Girl

"OH MY GOOOOOOOD!" Is the first thing you hear from the well-but barely-dressed privileged white girl with blonde hair and as much brains as money troubles. She will scream these three words through the room like a cockatoo in search of a mate, regardless of what you might have said to trigger this reaction. It might have been "I'm an exchange student and I..." - "OH MY GOOOOOOOD", or "I study communications but actually..." - "OH MY GOOOOOOOOD", or even "Hi, I'm..." - "OH MY GOOOOOOOOOD". 

 

 

In class, the Sorority Girl attracts attention by using the word 'like' about twenty times per sentence and complaining about the Michigan-weather being "much worse than it is at home in LA". A Sorority Girl is easily recognizable by her Greek-lettered sweater and her geek-splattered setter, who, most likely, is the next type of party attendee we will have a closer look at...

The Frat Guy

Known for his unparalleled and indispensable ability to provide alcohol to minors, the Frat Guy is an essential part of student life. He will be the one saying things like "Duuuude, beer pong is beer bong with a P, HAHAHA". He usually studies business (because that is something you don't need most of your brain cells for) and he'll be drunk 24/7. 

 

Since he doesn't realize that nobody likes him - exept for himself, of course - he will greet you with a companionate pat on the back and a "Hey man! How's it hanging". If you decide not to answer, he will smile knowingly, give you a wink and disappear for the rest of the night. If you actually answer his question, he will say "Riiiiiight" or "Awesooooome" and disappear for the rest of the night.

The Pseudo-Intellectual

If anybody brings his own alcohol to the party, it is this guy. Not good alcohol, however, but the red wine from the 7/11 that sounds the most French. He has the applaudable ability to talk you through the essentials of Siberian Folk Art while giving you advice about whether real estate is the most promising investment, at the same time. He isn't really sure what to study yet but prefers the European system of higher education anyway. 

Openly showing the professor his discontent with his poor attendance grade, even though he notoriously came in late on his skateboard, is one of this type's specialties. The Pseudo-Intellectual is a subspecies of genus Hipster and is rarely found anywhere besides the depths of the library watching Russian TV sit-coms (because social patterns most visibly reproduce in popular art). If you want to have fun with this type, explain to him why you think Dostoevsky was primarily concerned with the homophobic representation of squirrel sex and he'll be following you around all night.

 

The Actual Intellectual

Probably most and most eligibly annoyed by the Pseudo-Intellectual, the Actual Intellectual is facing more and more doubts about his trustworthiness. At a party the Actual Intellectual is concerned with one of two things: Either, telling the new home owner that this other guy at yesterday's party wasn't right about real estate being the most promising investment just to have a drink shoved in his face alongside the sassy comment "One day it is, the other it's not... You intellectuals are not what you used to be".

 

 

More usually the Actual Intellectual is sitting in the corner, drinking bad (but free) beer, wondering why he attended the party in the first place, while looking at the crowd dancing to music they don't like, having conversations they don't care about with people they don't want to get to know. A cockatooesque scream will pull him out of his apathy-like physical and emotional state at some point, after which he will head home asap, so you might not meet this type if you arrive late.

The Nerd

The Nerd has undergone a metamorphosis of galactic dimensions in the past couple of decades. From being the least respected social group on most campuses before the digital revolution, they slowly but surely became more and more popular. Many Hipsters jumped on the train and exploited the concept of The Nerd for their causes (Nerd Glasses, etc.) but that is not the kind of Nerd we are talking about here.

 

Nerds wear clothing on the brink of becoming cleaning rags, they are socially awkward and usually smell like Doritos and sweat. They are probably the most likeable social group on campus... Oh yeah, and they are brilliant!

The Stoner

The Stoner is the guy with the red eyes you can smell from the moment you enter the party. Also, he doesn't talk too much. Just the occasional "You wanna go smoke?".

College party typology is fun and, for the most part, it is rather accurate. I enjoy the diversity at almost every party here but sometimes I could do without of few of the above. 

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A Letter To 15-Year-Old Me

Hey Marius,

Or should I call you MagiCus? Do you still want people to call you that ridiculous name only because you made a two-cent coin disappear on a school trip sometime? Everybody saw how you did it anyway.

Well, how are you? 

You would like how I am doing. I've travelled a bunch of different countries, I made it to university (even though Mom gave up on you already), oh yeah, and I had sex. It is awesome! You're going to love it. I mean, you're practicing a lot by yourself, but people are right: It's just not quite the same!

 

Why am I interrupting your carefree rotation of online gaming, gaining weight and masturbation? Quite frankly, I'm not sure. I think it has to do with the fact that I'm living in the US at the moment - something you always dreamed of, remember? Of course you remember; it is on your mind right now. Going where they went in the movies, doing what they did in the movies, living a life like we saw in the movies... I've been living here for eight months now. Actually, I'll be leaving in less than a month.

 

You probably want to know how 'awesome' it is to live here. Whether it is like you imagine it to be. It is... different. Not necessarily worse, just different. It is not like living inside a movie. I can't do a lot of the things you are looking forward to: I can't go to a bar or a cafe every night, I can't spend all my time doing crazy stunts with my American friends and I cannot ride on the yellow school bus without being considered a pedophile.

 

I discovered that a lot of things are better at home: Health care, crime prevention, political structures, costs of living, environmental programmes, consumer protection, social services, to name a few. So basically, most of the stuff you don't think about yet, because it doesn't concern you all that much. It will someday... Oh, there is one thing that you do care about, though: The food. And the beer. You love German food and you don't like beer very much, yet, but you pretend you do, so your friends will still respect you. Don't worry, they're only pretending, too. But keep an eye on Christopher; he's at risk of turning into an alcoholic.

 

Don't think that I don't enjoy living here. The US has a lot going for it. I've made a ton of friends here, university is very fun and high-quality and the other day I was given a free pizza at Domino's. Right, you don't know Domino's... It's a fast food chain selling pizza (it's not as good as the Italian pizza in Germany, but you're going to be addicted to it anyway).

 

I've learned so much here: How to host a radio show (do you still want to become a radio show host one day?), how long a body can go without sleep (remember those 'sleep-throughs', which were basically just chilling in bed all weekend listening to audiobooks and shamelessly watching the sun fall through the blinds?), how to small-talk (you don't really comprehend this concept, yet... I wish you would never have to, but I guess that's the irony of time), how to speak Chinese (can you believe I'm actually doing that? Me neither!), where to buy cheap red party cups (party, however, will never be your area of expertise... you'll always prefer a small group of friends to a large crowd of faces), how to poetry slam (you will soon discover 'small-art' and you will love it), how to flash for beads (trust me, those man-breasts you are feeling self-conscious about right now will go away someday), that you meet the weirdest people on the Greyhound (road trips aren't as fun as they are made out to be in most five-minute road trip montages) and most importantly, that things aren't always like they seem to be (even you are not always like you think you are... you're going to learn that the hard way, but don't worry, it'll be for the best).

 

Excuse me for blabbering on and on. I know you want to rejoin your friends - do you seriously still call yourselves the "Bergheim Rangers"? - in losing most of your online games. There is just one thing I want you to know: You're doing great! Keep doing what you're doing and tell Mom I said it's ok. And don't be too hard on her... sure, she's annoying sometimes, but without her you wouldn't have achieved anything and I wouldn't have either. Say hi to Nathi and Kathi, as well. I really miss them sometimes... Don't worry, they didn't die! They are just... much too far away most of the time. Tell Dad that he's going to lose the bet about you hitting 180 cm before your 18th birthday... Actually, don't tell him. He'll find out! And he's going to be maaaaad. You'll see...

 

Enjoy your time without a worry, well, without a valid one, at least. You might think of low allowance as a valid worry now, but trust me, it isn't. 28-year-old me would probably tell me the same regarding some of my current worries, but what does that guy know, right? 

 

Talk to you soon, you little prick!

 

Regards,
Marius

 

PS: You don't know who Donald Trump is, but he'll be President of the United States in 8 years. Say whaaaaaaaat?

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The Love Story of Americans and Their Cars

Here's an outrageous claim: In America, it is cheaper to own a car than to not own one.

That's a weird thing to say, right? How can paying for something that you don't really need be cheaper than to not pay for it. Well, the answer may come as a shock to you, but it's quite simple. Let me make my case:

To get to the bottom of this, we have to go all the way back to the year 1903. The young and talented Henry had just acquired a loan of $28,000 and was ready to start his own automobile company very close to Ann Arbor.

 

Detroit seemed like the perfect place to realize his vision of cars for everyone. After Henry moved his company from Mack Avenue to Piquette Avenue, where I had a relaxing summer night walk not too long ago, things really took off for the Ford Motor Company. 
Neither did Henry Ford invent the car, nor did he invent the assembly line. In general, Americans tend to not invent things, but they are ridiculously good at making things better: Bikes, weaponry, computers, Mexican food, you name it!


Ford did a great job at combining the two uprising technologies of personal transportation and mass manufacturing. This didn't only make the Ford Motor Company the Apple of the early 20th century, but turned a heretofore expensive curiosity into a practical conveyance. This conveyance had an unrivaled impact on the economic and social progression of the United States. Fords were the first American product to conquer the world market.

Only 25 years later, one out of six Americans owned a car. Nowadays, cars are considered a necessity rather than a luxury good with every second American owning one. The car is not only convenient but also a symbol of freedom and prosperity. National pride is very closely attached to vehicles, too. The sighting of a foreign car on the roads is a rare occurrence. 

 

With this in mind we can tackle my crazy claim: In America, it is cheaper to own a car than to not own one.

 

Actually, let me tell you about the structure and arrangement of public space in the States first. This is only going to take a second and it's very important to my point. So, just when the first Fords hit the road at around 1900, another American phenomenon was in the makings. It would restructure and redefine the American way of thinking about consumerism and self-determination: The first department stores opened their gates. A department store is basically a massive shopping center with the purpose of keeping people entertained through shopping rather than selling groceries or similar necessities. With the rise of the department store and increasing wages, Americans started to buy for pleasure to transform themselves through the commodities they consumed.

 

As cities started to grow and space became scarce, these shopping centers were moved from urban areas like downtown New York to more rural areas like suburbs. The high supply of space kept the rents low and allowed to build huge 'shopping towns' we now know as malls. Lower rents meant lower prices. This is still true today, of course. It is still much, much cheaper to buy things a little outside the city. This is where the car comes in.

We established the social role of the car in America. Let's focus more on the practical aspects now. 

This is where we finally have a look at why it may be cheaper to have a car here than to have none:

 

1) The prices for groceries in the city (Ann Arbor) are at least twice as high as somewhere a little outside. 

 

You may think: 'Well, that's what public transport is for!' You'd have a point... But you would also reveal that you didn't read my article on public transport in the US, yet. Public transport is... not very good here. Just to go to a shopping center or supermarket on the bus will cost you about 1-1,5 hours. If you don't plan ahead very well - that's me and probably most other university students - you have to shop for groceries at least twice a week. That is three hours of riding around on a bus and waiting in the cold.

 

And this is a best-case-scenario. The general case would be a bus being late or not arriving at all because it's too late, too early, too rainy, too snowy, too weekendy, too holidayy or whatever other reason the bus company might think of. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I spend about 3 hours a week just waiting for the bus. And there we have the second problem:

2) If you want cheaper groceries, you're going to have to invest a lot of time to make up for it.

 

Just travelling from my house to the supermarket and back consumes more of my spare time than all my weekly showers combined - and I am not a quick showerer. It consumes more time than what I spend on eating my meals all week. You could watch any of the Lord of the Rings movies in the time it takes me to go to the supermarket and back. In a car, it would only take me about 20 minutes.

Ok, the article might be a little... 'out there' from here on out:

 

The question now, of course, is how much I usually spend on groceries. I'd say it all adds up to about $80 a week. If I'd buy my groceries in town exclusively that'd be $160. In total I would pay an extra $320 a month if I only shopped in town.

 

Is owning a car really more expensive than $320 per month? Well, the AAA says: Yes! Yes, it definitely is. In fact, they estimated the average expenses for a car to be about $725 per month, so about twice of what you would spend only shopping in town. They did not take into account, however, that cars are basically cash cows. How? I'm glad you asked. Let me elaborate:

 

We established that the public transport system in the US is subpar - and that's not 'super', dad, that means 'below the acceptable'. This creates a demand for transportation. There is a reason for Uber kicking off in the US. I could Uber around all day with hourly earnings of up to $25. 30 hours of Ubering a month would pay for my car. 30 hours are quite a lot, though. Luckily, there are other ways to earn money with your car. For example, renting out permanent storing space in the trunk or transporting illegal substances. 

 

I think it is safe to say that I made a valid point here and proved that it is, in fact, cheaper to own a car in the US than to not own one. I have to admit, however, that I don't mind the waiting and the walking and the long bus rides. It is time I have to myself, time I am forced to enjoy with some music playing in my headphones or an audiobook. It is an opportunity to meet interesting people - and believe me when I say that I have made a lot of weird friends on the bus.

 

That's why I won't bother buying a car for my last couple of months here, even though I might have more money in my account if I did...

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New Orleans - Part II

Colourful houses, a sophisticated pathway system and large common areas including a pool, a pond with a fountain, as well as a grill for relaxed breakfasts and tables to sit together. The authentic equivalent to vintage furniture (used furniture), welcoming people and the feeling that something's always going on. Our hostel was more of a little village than the typical hostel I was used to from travelling around New Zealand. Over there you had the community aspect, which was nice, but the hostels usually were a lot less beautiful.

 

Because they had someone cook every morning, our days usually started out with slightly burned pancakes and potatoes, an egg, naan bread and orange juice. Eating a homemade breakfast by the pool while in a shirt is something you enjoy after enduring 3 months of Michigan winter.

When we made our way towards downtown we had just one thing in mind: Relaxing. As I mentioned in Part I, our mid-term workload had pushed us to the edge and another day of sightseeing would have dragged us right over. That's why we had a quick look around the city center, bought a Praline (caramel with almonds and pronounced "Pwrählein"), got on a street cart and went all the way to Audubon Park.

Now, a quick word about the street carts in New Orleans: 
1) I'm not sure whether it's street cart or street car.

2) It's the oldest operating street cart in the US. It's even older than the cable cars in San Francisco.
3) It's the cheapest way to get around New Orleans ($3 a day).
4) It's always crowded.
5) It is slow as hell.
6) There is nothing more relaxing than a nightly street cart ride with open windows and the fresh spring air blowing in.

In Audubon Park, we listened to music (and sang along), had a nap and did what every student now again wishes they could do: Absolutely nothing. You wouldn't believe how necessary this felt at that moment. Our Sunday was served off by our sensational waiter that night, somewhere in a small patio bar in the French District, where we grabbed some dinner. The waiter seemed to be some sort of professional dancer and swung his hip at us with every plate he brought to the table. Since we're students and not rich people we didn't thank him through a huge tip but rather with a big smile, which, I'm sure, he'll appreciate just as much, because what is more valuable than love?

 

The third day was sneaky. It appeared to be much shorter than the other days! After an awesomely mediocre breakfast, a street cart ride to City Park - here we had our daily nap again (man, I love vacations) - and a small picnic, we set off to the 'New Orleans Museum of Art' (NOMA), which is also in City Park. Inside we took some sexy pictures...

... and pretended to look at weird paintings with a sense of questioning appreciation of what the hell the artist could have thought of while drawing two blue stripes on a blanc canvas.

 

Cuban food is great! So, we had some that night, followed by what I can only describe as edible clouds. What the hell am I talking about? Well, there are these things called Beignets, right... they taste like clouds freshly harvested from right underneath St. Paul's sandals. Cafe Du Mond, quite close to the French Market, is famous for making the best Beignets known to humankind and I can assure you: I've never had any better ones!

 

Sitting in the warm New Orleans night, with busy people swarming around us, going places or staying exactly where they are, Katharina told me about this weird fear of hers... She's afraid of giving money to street artists. I looked over to the jazz band playing in front of the cafe and confiscated her Beignets. Since she was really craving those small, powdered bastards she went for it and overcame this fear once and for all and there is proof:

Our last day in town was probably, in its complete lack of productivity, the most productive one. A New Orleans trip without at least one sunset over the Mississippi river, isn't a New Orleans trip. And after a long day of lying in the Mississippi sun, doing Mississippi jack, the sun Mississippily set! 

This would be a nice way to end this second article about our trip to the South! Later that night, however, Katharina met the love of her life in the streets of downtown New Orleans. 

I just wanted to share this beautiful moment between Katharina and Frank with the world, and by world, I mean you crazy people who actually read my blog! It's not going to work out between them, for obvious reasons: The pig's underage!

Mira, Sofia

Sin tu mirada, sigo

Sin tu mirada, sigo

Dime Sofia, cómo te mira

Dime cómo te mira, dime

Sé que no, sé que no

Sé que solo, sé que ya no soy oy oy oy

Mira, Sofia

Sin tu mirada, sigo

Sin tu mirada, Sofia

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New Orleans - Part I

"AHA!" the elderly woman yelled out as if she had the correct letters to spell a very complicated word in Scrabble.
"I cannot let you through with this bottle. There might be too much liquid left in there. You're only allowed to carry 100 ml." she explained while starring at the single drop of water that was running down the side of Katharina's drinking bottle, after we had drained it right before the security check.
"Yes, but you can see that this bottle clearly holds less than 100 ml right now." we tried to persuade her.
"I can't see that!"
Well, sure she couldn't see that. She looked like Abraham Lincoln's mom!

 

"Ok" we tried another approach "can we just drink the fluid that's left in the bottle right here?"
"Are you crazy?" she asked and I added in my very quiet angry-security-voice: "That would make the whole process of security checking much more convenient and less humiliating. That's not the way it's supposed to be!"
"What did you say?" she asked and looked at me.
"Nothing, isn't there any way we can circumvent going through the check again?"
"I'm sorry" but she clearly wasn't sorry "but the person whose bottle this is has to empty it outside the airport and come back in through the security check. And look, the line just got a little longer, I'd hurry!"

She smiled as if mocking us was her greatest wish come true and showed us to the exit. Her shaky hands with long, pink finger nails shoved our bags over to us as she turned around looking for her next victim...

You might be wondering why I didn't put out any articles within the last week. That is because I was on a magical journey, which started right here with.... let's call her Susan from the SS. No, not the SS. The security staff! The combination of her thoroughness and her age, however, should have given us a clue about where she most likely completed her apprenticeship: The other SS.

I said this journey was magical and you know my tendency to exaggerate, but it was actually very, very cool! I never would have considered New Orleans a place I needed to see or a travel destination in the first place. In Europe, New Orleans is mostly famous for how badly it was hit by hurricane Katrina in 2005. I started thinking about New Orleans and did recall that Louis Armstrong was born and raised in the "Big Easy". As we would find out walking through the narrow streets of the America-famous French Quarter (and I say "America-famous", because it really isn't known outside the US), we realized just how great of an impact music - and especially live music -  has on the city.

 

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. Let's focus on the important, big things that happened and ignore all the small stuff, unless it's particularly hilarious. Do you want a sneak peek at the funny stuff? I know you do:

Let's dive right into the first day then:

Even though the security check was unnecessarily long, it couldn't scratch the bubble of good mood surrounding us. It was Spring Break! After two weeks of what every student will describe as "the most suicidal I've ever been", it was finally off to New Orleans for us. Why New Orleans? I don't really know. The trip was rather spontaneous. One day Katharina said:

"My roommate's going to New Orleans. Sounds like a fun place to be."
"Ok!" I replied and that was all the travel planning we needed to do.

 

Originally another German friend of mine wanted to come but he didn't have the money after blowing it all on rent and books and stuff... Ha, fool! That's how we came up with New Orleans, anyway, and two weeks later the Big Easy was where we were going. 

 

Before we left we were told we could expect a bit of partying, since we arrived on the final and most intense day of Mardi Gras, a massive celebration with costumes and everything, very similar to 'Karneval' or 'Fasching'. This little bit of partying turned out to be a seemingly collective consensus that all rules of decency shall be disobeyed by everyone on this one, very special day.

 

"People are not dressed up like something in particular, they're just... dressed up!" Katharina screamed through the roaring ringing and screaming and singing, while walking down the main party route for one of the many parades. And truth is, they were. Everybody was just sort of dressed up, but all costumes had one thing in common: They were slutty. 

 

Flashing for beads is a Mardi Gras tradition. For those not familiar with the concept of flashing, it is basically pulling up your shirt in order to publicly expose your chestal area. Originally intended for women - because let's face it, male breasts are weird - guys were doing it now, too, and I really have to say, that just made me... you know, it made me... want to join them right away!

After we had earned ourselves some cool beads (which we forgot to take home and are trying to recover at this very moment) we just strolled through the masses of crazy folks and party people. It was hilariously entertaining just to watch this city go nuts:

It was a fest of diversity and a contest of who could look the dumbest. I was doing very well in that contest and I wasn't even wearing a costume! We had a great time and agreed that this was probably the best day to arrive in New Orleans. In the following days, the city would make a completely different impression, but more on that later.

 

After a couple of hours of walking around without having food, we decided to have dinner somewhere. We didn't think this would turn out to be such a hassle, but after all, the Grasers, as we called them, needed food to fuel the party tank! So, we asked locals (just look for the ones who don't look like Elton John on crack). They recommended a very "fun" place to eat. It was called Mona Lisa and the entire restaurant was filled with... replicas and various versions of the Mona Lisa. While that might seem like a cute idea, it turns out to be intensely creepy having 60 Mona Lisas stare at you eating your pizza. The Grasers on the other side of the window took our mind off the creepiness, though. Many people were wearing much less than they should have and much less people who shouldn't have were wearing even less than that while some people who could have didn't.

 

Mardi Gras was a lot to take in, especially with half a day of travelling gripping us to the marrow. The logical conclusion was to calm our nerves doing something one of us hadn't done before. Somewhere in the craziness of the celebration, someone had tossed us frisbee. Since Katharina hadn't played with a frisbee before in her life - whaaaaaat? - we decided to have a go in the Louis Armstrong Park. When we saw it was already closed shut for the night, we just started playing in front of the illuminated entrance and thus, became part of many tourist's holiday pictures.

That was our first day in New Orleans and it was stressful. It also was very exciting, but Spring Break should be all about recovery. We had some of that in the following days but also cool other stuff. I'll try to squeeze all the rest into another article, but now I should really have some breakfast! 

 

Here are some pictures from the beginning of our trip:

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Something about baskets...

"Hail! to the victors valiant,

Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes,

Hail! Hail! to Michigan,

the leaders and best.

Hail! to the victors valiant,

Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes,

Hail! Hail! to Michigan,

the champions of the West!"

 

Michigan's fight song will be stuck in your head for days and days and days after having attended a sports event, or just any event for that matter. This song is all around and people just seem to love singing it, as long as it's even slightly appropriate. Sing it on the bus and everybody will chime in. Sing it during an exam and your professor will give you an A. Sing it at your grandma's funeral and she might come back from beyond the grave to thank you. This song is inescapable. Undoubtedly, however, it is really catchy and cool!

In basketball, the stadium seems to be a bowl; a bowl you use to heat up Twizzlers in the microwave! Everybody just completely loses their minds when something happens and in basketball, there is something happening all the time. Basketball feels more intense than American Football, because everything is much more... immediate. The crowd is smaller but closer. Closer to each other, closer to the court, closer to ecstasy. The limitless lightshow, the sonorous sounds and the anomalous announcer... It's fascinating:

In my eyes, it still doesn't quite compare to football (soccer), but being from Dortmund, one of the capitals of sports and fandom, my standards are pretty high. And when I say 'doesn't quite compare to football (soccer)', I still mean insanely atmospheric and fun! 

We had an amazing time and Michigan won. It was their last home game this season, so everybody was extra hyped. They managed to beat Purdue (Indiana University) 82-70. It was an unexpected and great win and gave us something nice to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon. 

 

We are leaving for New Orleans on Tuesday morning. Until then, I finally have some time to myself... hopefully!

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Here comes the sun!

Do you know this feeling? The feeling that you get when you have something you haven't had in a while and all of a sudden you realize how much you actually missed it?

Last Monday I realized just how much I had missed the sun. I hadn't seen it all December and just a couple of times in January and February, too. This week, however, completely took the cake. It was sunny and it was hot. I worked on my first tan lines and had a decent sweat walking to class. It was 18°C in the shade. In February. In Michigan. That is as insane as it is pleasant. On campus, you could really feel how much the sun had improved everyone's lives. Students were having picnics and started hammocking anywhere where there were two trees close enough to hang a massive Banana or, as the case for Lauren's and Chris' hammock, an enormous pea pod in between them. Especially during the mid-terms, every student seemed to have worked up an unhealthy hatred towards everything and everyone. The sun just burned their stress and anxiety away. 


Several of my fellow students are now posting statements like: "This kind of weather in February? How can people still think that global warming isn't real?". While I can only agree with them, that it is an absolute joke to see people still questioning global warming, I have to point out that these were the same people who posted statements like these when there was snow in September: "To all those saying this snow disproves global warming, keep in mind that weather is still weather and does crazy things sometimes". Come on people, don't be hypocrites and make a better point!

“Don’t eat the glue, Marius”, “This looks horrible, Marius” and “Mrs. Lex, your son is utterly untalented… in an endearing way, of course” are quotes from my pre-school days I will never forget. Not because they described me very well, but because they shaped my stance on arts and crafts more than anything else in my life. My teachers concluded I was incurably untalented, after I had made a photo frame to give to my Mom for Christmas. While the other kids had garnished theirs with glitter and bedighted them with beads, I had glued uncooked noodles to my frame.

Even though I realized my teachers had clearly given up on me, I still tried to create something unique, every time we did arts and crafts. A feetless flamingo, a chiseled chestnut and many hours of whacky weaving later, however, I too accepted that I would probably never be good at this. Following this realization, I started, you know… eating glue and stuff.

 

In Chinese class I discovered arts and crafts as one as my hidden talents, though.

 

The art of paper cutting is China’s oldest and most popular art. Shortly after paper was invented in the Han Dynasty about 1900 years ago, and became more and more accessible to people, this beautiful folk art emerged. Over the course of hundreds and thousands of years, a variety of new techniques was applied and perfected by the Chinese.

In China, the paper cutouts or “剪纸 (jianzhi)”, are used as decorations, especially at weddings and childbirths. They are usually red and symbolize love and health.

Since no one in our class was pregnant or wanted to get married, we just crafted for the heck of it. It was hard, it was precision work but most of all it was fun. I was still horrible at it, because… let’s face it, it was still me doing it, but our Chinese teacher lied about it being “beautiful” … yeah, right. For the first time in many, many years I had fun arts and crafting.

 

Apart from the great weather and paper cutting the week was pretty stressful and not really worth talking about. I wrote a paper on the role tampons played in the manifestation of new ideals of womanhood in the post-depression, pre-war era and received an A-. As always, I scored a 28/30 on my Chinese oral exam and have a good feeling about my other mid-terms, as well.

WCBN had a fundraiser this week, which means that the station tries to get their listeners to call in and make donations to support the station. Since WCBN does not allow advertisement, it is the only source of income for the station. We collected a lot of money (well into the 5 digits) and had fun doing it.

Spring Break is upon us and we're going to New Orleans, so get ready for a couple of cool, sunny pictures from the very south of the United States.

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Bus stop, wet day, I'm there, they say, we have no umbrella.

Waiting for the bus...


In Germany: Annoying. 
In Sweden: Why would you wait for the bus?
In Japan: What's a bus again? 

 

In the United States: Your slow and painful death.

 

This is a story about me. It is about me waiting. Me waiting for a bus. Waiting for a bus in the USA. A story that makes me miss my unreliable, yet occasionally functioning car back home in Germany.

 

First off, I have to mention two things:


1. When I talk about public transport in this article, I don't mean the red line from downtown Manhattan to the Bronx. I mean buses in provincial areas, which, logically, make up most of the nation's public transport system.


2. Public transport is for poor people. Every self-respecting American who can afford a car, affords a car. Alongside the wooden house, the perfect front yard and the white fence it is part of the American Dream, the national identity, the very essence of what it means to be American. With 127,576,670 registered cars, the States easily top the list for most personal vehicles in a country. They exceed China, a billion-inhabitant country, by 200%. This might give you an idea of how important cars are to the American lifestyle. And it makes sense! This is a huge country. Nevertheless, you only ride the bus if you have to.

My only decent pair of pants had ripped in an unfortunate location. So, I had to get new ones. I was in a bit of a hurry since I wanted to make it to my 12 o'clock class. I checked Google Maps for the quickest route and arrived at the closest bus stop on time. After the obligatory five-minute-delay, the bus came by to pick me up and let me out at the mall about 15 minutes later. I walked right into the clothing store of my choice, tried on one pair of pants and bought them (I'm stereotypically uncomplicated when it comes to clothes). This is where the fun starts: 

 

While I was buying the new pair of pants I'm wearing right now, it had started to rain. This might not pose a problem in an area where you have an adequate number of roofed bus stops. In the US, however, that is rarely the case. With my new pants in a plastic bag, I stepped out of the store. I knew my coat would protect me from the increasingly heavy rain for about seven or eight minutes before surrendering to it and soaking through. That was about the amount of time it would take me to run from the store to the bus stop, look at the schedule, run back to the store to seek shelter and then to run back to the bus stop again to catch the next bus. I exhaled one last time and my breath turned into a whirling wave of fog, levitating from the sheltered entrance area of the store out into the gray day, slowly dissolving in the thick curtain of rain. Then, I ran for it. 

 

When I arrived at the bus stop, I felt I had done a good job escaping as much of the cascades pouring down on me as possible. A look at the shiny surface of my normally dead-black coat proved me wrong. My eyes rapidly darted over the schedule, which was pinned to the post of the bus stop. It didn't take long to find what I was looking for.

 

"Line 4, Monday through Friday, between 10 am and 6 pm, arriiiiives... approximately every 20 minutes? What the hell is that?"


The problems, of course, which this kind of schedule spawned were twofold. Firstly, I didn't know whether I was going to make it to my class in time. Secondly, there was no way for me to guess what time would be best to leave my shelter and await the bus in the rain. There was absolutely no way I was going to potentially miss the only bus that could take me to class in time; so, I waited in the rain. Let me walk you through this, very... memorable, experience:

After 2 Minutes: I feel the rain pelt on my coat. I would have already bought an umbrella if they weren't so ridiculously                                     expensive...

After 4 Minutes: A fierce wind gets up. It's shooting the rain at my face like a very uncomfortable shower of bullets. My                                   nose is cold.

After 6 Minutes: My coat is much heavier than usual. The first drops of rain make it to my shirt. I feel the cold touch of                                    the water at first but forget about it as the drop's temperature seemingly adapts to that of my body.

After 8 Minutes: A sudden move of my arm (I tried to look at my watch) let's cold, wet air stream underneath what I                                          mistakenly think of as my only hope to keep me warm. From the cold stickiness, the flow of air                                                revealed under my coat, I conclude that I am soaked all the way through and my body is only losing                                        warmth now.

After 12 Minutes: My shoes aren't waterproof; my backpack isn't waterproof, either; the only thing that's holding up is                                      my phone. It's still playing music. It's wet, because I don't have any dry place to put it, but it's holding                                      up.

After 15 Minutes: A raindrop is running down my back, all the way to the tailbone, disappearing somewhere in the depth                                  of my underwear. This gives my already ice-cold body the chills.

After 18 Minutes: Where is that bus? What are the odds that it ran just two minutes before I got to the bus stop? Well, it's                                    only two more minutes at most...

After 21 Minutes: I hate the lack of reliability in this country. At this moment, I would pretty much hate everything... like                                  that kid over there on the other side of the street, waving at me from under its umbrella... Piss off, you                                    little rainproof bastard!

After 27 Minutes: The last bit of energy, required to hate everything, has left my brain and is now focused on merely                                          keeping me alive.

After 29 Minutes: Memo to myself: Never trust the word 'approximately' ever again. It will trick you and let you down!                                         Where is this bus??

After 30 Minutes: YES! There is the bus! Finally, I wouldn't have been able to endure this torture for any lo... oh,                                                    nevermind, it's not mine...

After 32 Minutes: My suffering has come to an end...

 

...No, I didn't die. A bus arrived eventually. 12 minutes late and on a schedule, that forces you to wait out in the rain for god knows how long. This incident gave me a massive cold. I didn't make it to my class, either. I was just incredibly glad when I made it home, took off my clothes and just fell into bed to warm up in new, dry, warm, life-giving clothes.

 

What's the moral of the story? Well, for one, don't trust public transport in the States. It will try to kill you! But much more important are the positive aspects of this experience. You didn't see any positive aspects in the story? Think about it: I am never going to have a worse time waiting for a bus (which was proven yesterday when I waited out in the cold for my bus for over 20 minutes and really couldn't be bothered to care). I am going to appreciate any functioning public transport system much more from now on. I am going to appreciate my car much more from now on. I bought an umbrella (which isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's green and it brightens my days). And last but not least I had a day off for a change. Sometimes you really have to be forced into relaxing by circumstances you cannot control.

 

I am going to keep these positive aspects in mind and remember the bad ones as well, but I won't be thinking about them too much anymore, much less be upset about them. Because what good would it do if I was?

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Valentine's Day

One reason for why living in the US is so expensive, is that there is a multitude of holidays. You have some sort of special day here at least once a month, some are more important and some are less important, but all of them usually involve spending a lot of money you don't have, on stuff that you don't really need, but which, admittedly, is nice to give. How many holidays are there? Well, a couple:

 

January: New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day

February: Super Bowl Sunday, Valentine's Day
March: St. Patrick's Day
April: Easter

May: Mother's Day, Memorial Day
June: Father's Day, Flag Day
July: Independence Day

August: Off-Work Season
September: Labor Day

October: Halloween

November: Thanksgiving, Black Friday
December: Christmas, New Year's Eve

 

There are a couple of holidays in there of which you might think "Sure, it's a holiday but it's not such a big deal". I thought Valentine's Day was one of those days. In Germany, it is not really a thing (yet), not as much as it is in the Sates, at least. The average spending here is a whopping $131 per person.

This got me thinking... How much do Americans spend on holidays? I did some research and found that the average American consumer's spending for the specific holidays is put together follows:

Super Bowl Sunday ($75), Valentine's Day ($131), St. Patrick's Day ($35.37), Easter ($146), Mother's Day ($172.22), Memorial Day ($220), Father's Day ($125.92), Independence Day ($100), Labor Day ($55.98), Halloween ($74.34), Thanksgiving ($50.11), Black Friday ($290), Christmas ($929), New Year's Eve ($200).

 

If we add all of this up and allow a $20 takeout and beer assumption for the holidays I couldn't find valid statistics for, we see that, with a total average spending of $2,664.94 per year, Americans really love their holidays and do not hesitate to show that by spending money on them. That makes it quite pricey to participate in the American culture.

 

What I also discovered about Valentine's Day and what surprised me quite a bit, was how old this tradition of showing your affection is. It can be traced back all the way into the 14th century, to Geoffrey Chaucer and the beginnings of courtly love. It wasn't capitalized on until the first half of the 20th century, though.

 

I, myself, am not a huge fan of this tradition, although I do understand why people love to do it. It is nice to be shown that somebody loves you. Considering my clumsiness around women, however, I do have reason not to participate in this holiday, because I would mess stuff up. Anyway, I wish everyone out there a great day. May your Valentine buy you stuff!

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E-Mail: info@mariuslex.de

 

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