June 29: Koblenz

Note: This post is translated from original Chinese version.

It was Monday after spending a night at Anja's, and she had to work this morning, so she dropped me off at her friend Holger and Dorothy's. They also had a couchsurfer Laura, who would be touring the city of Koblenz with me today. Holger is an English and IT teacher in secondary school. Although he looks a bit intimidating, but he's actually very kind and explains matters with great enthusiasm. I think he would make a fine teacher.

Many places in Koblenz are under construction for the Bundesgartenschau of 2011. The hosts joked that we should come back again in 2011, when Koblenz will truly be a wonderful city. Nevertheless, Laura and I wandered through the city the whole day, chatting and exchanging anecdotes from our travels. Laura majors in German and education in college, and a trip to Germany helps greatly with her studies. She has been studying German for 7 years, and it's her third trip to Germany! It is however her first couchsurfing experience also. We walked from south to north and back, then took the ferry across the river to mount the fort. We must have walked 10 kilometers today!

Before departing, I went to pick up my bags at Holger and Dorothee's. They both happened to be home, so I couldn't resist sitting down and having a chat. We talked about everything from sparkled water to racism issues. It was a really interesting discussion, with everyone holding different viewpoints from Germany, USA, and Taiwan.

This is the device for creating sparkled water. According the Holger's theory, there are many inactive volcanoes in Germany. Sometimes gases arise through springs, and sparkled water was created. Thus people was used to drinking sparkled water, and some even consider un-sparkled water to be undrinkable. Although bottled sparkled water is available at supermarkets, but to carry them upstairs, especially to an apartment on the fifth floor without elevators, is a tedious job. Clever Germans invented this device, which takes a canister of compressed carbon dioxide, which can turn tap water into sparkled water. Too bad it probably won't work in Taiwan, because nobody sells these canisters.

I asked about the boundaries of Germany. Holger explained that there was no "Germany" in the past, but many small states that fought another. Imagine Georgia and Alabama fared war over their borders, it was a painstaking and pointless dispute. Especially with the Franks, a long history of argument was in the tradition. The 60 years of peace in recent years is a dramatic change, which owes its roots to student exchange programs. Through exchange programs we understand each other's cultures, and recognize that we are the same, similar people with identical emotions and problems.

I mentioned the experience and reflection I had while visiting the Jüdisches museum in Berlin, that I still had issues with different races. Holger speculates that we might still need some more time, as the Europeans did not achieve their current mindset after a few decades of contemplation (and devastating history). He notes an interesting observation, that white people seem to be able to blend in with all races. Whites and Asians, whites and blacks, whites and middle-east. But seldom do we see Asians and blacks, or Spaniards and Africans. What's strange is, even I (as an Asian) seem to feel whites & blacks are OK, but Asians and blacks are a bit weird. I don't know how to explain it.

I hope in another generation, we will advance to a world where race is no longer an issue. After all, the differences are less than 1% in genetic variation. Language is a barrier that can be overcome, and so is cultural differences. I had to leave the interesting couple and my new found friend to catch my train to my next stop, Bonn.

Sights, churches, sculptures, tombstones, paintings, these are just only symbols of humanity; individual persons and their insights to life are the real treasures worth seeing. There is too many people in the world to know them all, but couchsurfing provides an opportunity to meet new friends, and an unique window into each other's cultures.

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