WHAT's IMPRINTED in my mind like indelible ink was the first day I arrived in Munich, Germany, after a long trip from Kuching with lots of transit and without any idea what to expect. I landed on a cold winter day at minus 18° C with lots of snow, in my summer clothing and 3-inch high heel sandals. strangely, I didn't even feel the cold – maybe my ancestors were Eskimos. My husband-to-be came to collect me from the airport and the ride home was fascinating; I didn't even know what that white stuff was lying on the road. The second day we went shopping for boots for me, walking up and down the streets of downtown Munich in my sandals in the snow with passers- by staring at my feet, wondering where this crazy woman came from. It was not an easy task as, being an ex-model, fashion was the priority instead of practicality, especially in a size 36 as most women here wear 38. What a day it was!
Life was a challenge in the first year of my stay in Munich especially since most Germans didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak German. Hands were my means of communication when let loose on my own to do marketing. In the Kuching of the 70s, we had no supermarkets and marketing was at the wet market where we could change our mind as often as we wanted from stall to stall. In Munich the counters in the supermarket wouldn’t tolerate slow- thinking customers; one should know what one wants before queuing up. Even simple things that we take for granted became a culture shock, so to be able to fit in I had to re-educate myself, first the language and the rest followed by itself.
What I missed was the convenience of eating out in Kuching at all times of the day; somewhere, some place there's always a stall open 24/7. I missed the late night snacks like Kolo Mee, Char Kueh Teow so much that, when my tummy started grumbling at night, I had to drink lots of water and imagine that was my favourite snack. That is the price we have to pay for living in a foreign land but then again, being away from our familiar surroundings helps to widen our way of thinking and horizons – that's how I feel.
After 40 years of living in Germany now, if given a choice to move back to Kuching, it would be a difficult situation for me as I have learned to love the four seasons and living in a country with one season could be quite monotonous. In the evening of my life, even food is not such a big attraction anymore to tempt me to move back for good.
Veronica Chang-Schmidt is an ex-model who has worked in Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. An avid world traveller, she now lives in Germany with her husband and two children.
ERRATA: In the previous ExCat article, an error was made in the by-line. It should be Melvin Teo and not Melvin Liew.