Sunday, February 28, 2010

12 out of 10 Happiness / Waianakarua, New Zealand, December 2008

Lynn and Kim

This time I want to share one of the most impressive encounters of my whole trip with you.
This posting will be a hard one because I will try to explain something that wasn't seizable - it was only a click in my head - well, actually a constant clicking. Even if I'll fail to explain, you may at least get an idea about how much meeting some people touched me.

I was heading north on the south coast of the South Island. It was late afternoon and I was looking for a place to stay for the night. The hostel I had in mind was fully booked and I literally stumbled upon a sign saying 'Olive Grove Lodge' instead.

The Olive Grove Lodge was a tiny hostel in an absolutely magnificent garden. Looking back it was the most comfy hostel of my whole trip.

I was the only guest that time and the owner Kim greeted me very warmly. We had a short conversation and my first impression was that he really knows how to do tourist smalltalk. But there was something more. Something was strange about that guy. Something I could not grasp yet.

After a while I was checking out the common kitchen. It was actually the kitchen of the owner's family. They shared it with their guests. I made myself a cup of herbal tea from the huge collection of organic teas out of the hostel garden as Kim explained.

He told me that his wife Lynn and he started the hostel a few years ago. They grow organic food and teach their sons at home because Lynn is a teacher. This may sound like the prototype of some kind of weird eco-family - it was not, quite the opposite.

Some of my impressions from Olive Grove Lodge

Kim told me that some European girl was leaving the hostel today without paying and that such behavior is not super rare. Apart from the fact that he of course didn't like cheating guests he didn't seem to be upset.
I asked whether he had a good day anyway. His way of saying something like
Udo, it was an absolutely fantastic day' sounded absolutely authentic to me.

He told me about his day and that he likes what he does very much.

Without noticing, both of us had already left the solid path of polite smalltalk for a small hiking path leading into some thicker bushes of conversation.

I said 'Wow, this sounds very convinced. I am glad that you had a good day'. After a short pause I dared to add something like 'You seem to be sort of happy. Are you?'.

He looked at me not a bit astonished about such a question but just said 'Oh yes, I am very happy'.

You might know that I have the habit of trying to rate happiness from time to time. Yes, I know it's probably quite stupid but that's how I am wired.

My next question to Kim was 'If you should rate your current happiness with then points, how much would you give? 10 points mean "super happy" and 0 points indicate absolute sadness'.

The answer of Kim was simply '10' - uttered with the same convincing tone.

'10 points? 10 is maximum. You are as happy as you can be? Really?'

Kim smiled and said 'Yes I am as happy as I can imagine.'

I was impressed because it didn't feel like an airy statement.

Kim left and I prepared my dinner using lots of the complimentary herbs. Afterwards I mounted my slackline in the garden and did some balancing with Kim's son Joseph - a funny and curious guy.

Slacklining with Joseph

After a while Kim came back to me and said 'Udo I told my wife Kim about your happiness rating question. Do you know what she said? She said whether she could give 12 points as well because she feels 12 out of 10 happy. Udo you have to meet Lynn'.

And so I did.

It might sound kitschy but to me Kim and Lynn seemed to be a perfect couple. I sensed a mixture of deep respect, harmony of two strong characters and knowing that being with the other one makes oneself better.

On arriving I noticed 'something strange' about Kim and by now I knew what it was: He was happy.
He and Lynn were happy and even better, they were very aware of it and thankful to whoever.
I was really amazed. Really really.

Lynn, Kim and I had a very long talk that evening about life in general, about the obstacles along the way and about doing the right thing.

Before leaving the Olive Grove Lodge the next day I asked them to write down their word of the day for me. Because we talked about organic food as well they wrote 'You are what you eat'. But if you look closely you can see a small 12/10 in the corner. At the first glance it might seem to be just the rest of some former chalkboard scribbling but is is not and now you know the story about it.

I thought a lot about Kim and Lynn the next days, throughout the rest of my trip and even until today.
Both of them don't know how much they inspired me. Hm, maybe I send a link to this posting to them.

I hope that all of you are at least a little bit as happy as Kim and Lynn that December day in 2008. What place would the world be with more Kims and Lynns? Maybe the world IS full of them and I was simply too blind to see - yet.

Yes, I know this posting is already way to long. But you seem to be still reading, ain't you?

In my job I share an office with a guy named Tom. He and his girlfriend Dési went to New Zealand for vacation end of 2009. I gave them some recommendations for hostels and the Olive Grove Lodge was one of them. Tom got a printout of the chalkboard photo of Kim and Lynn and the assignment to give it to them in case they stay at their place.
Tom and Dési accomplished the mission and here is their report of it - uncut and in their own words. Thanks folks - you rock!

Dési and Tom (on the right) one year later at the Olive Grove Lodge

After dinner at the Speights brewery in Dunedin we headed towards Oamaru. We arrived at Olive Grove Lodge shortly after 8 pm and found our host Kim in the kitchen. After some funny complaints about us being late we promised him some surprise. He immediately asked “Who sent you here?” Obviously he often welcomes guests sent by previous guests.
I showed him a photo printout asking him whether he remembers the ‘Guy with the chalkboard’ that took the photo of his wife with the writing on the chalkboard ‘you are what you eat’.

He was totally puzzled!
Then he smiled and told us that he and his wife Lynn just talked about this guy from Germany one week ago with some guests. They were asked about the funniest guests they had. After a short discussion they remembered Udo and he was awarded to be “one of the strangest guests ever” J
He looked at the three photos I gave him, took them and went out of the house with the words “I have to show them to my wife … she won´t believe it”.

We had a nice and peaceful stay for two nights at Olive Grove Lodge – with Lynn, Kim and their two sons. Be sure to ask them for the route to the penguins and sea lions and “Fleurs Place” – the famous restaurant.

Dési & Tom

If you have the chance to stay at Olive Grove Lodge - do it!
Here is their website:

Rock Concert Branches

A storm is coming.
Its name is 'Xyntia' and it already howled over France the other day.

I stare out of my big living room window and watch the gray-blue colored cloud-dough racing around my house.

The wind is speeding up and the branches of the cherry tree in the garden are waving at me like the arms of an ecstatic audience at a rock concert.
The remains of last autumns dead leaves spiral up in the air in front of my window in a direction that calls the law of gravity a myth.

From time to time the sun manages to pour a few buckets of yellow light over the scenery for some extra Tim-Burton-ness.

It feels really surreal to stand in a warm room seeing nature rave outside - a bit like the ending scene from the movie 'Fight Club'. In that scene Jack and Carla are looking out the window watching skyscrapers collapse.
The soundtrack for that scene was 'Where is my Mind' from the Pixies.

I am listening to that song right now - it works! Sometimes life can be like the ending scene of a movie if you add the right song.

Here is the scene from Fight Club I am talking about:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Board'n'Post / Grosser Arber, Germany

What kind of tech-world is this if one can publish Blog postings while sitting in the snow with a Snowboard attached?

I decided on very short notice that this Saturday is perfect for a single day of snowboarding.

The mountain Grosser Arber is not the Alps but it is only a 2.25 hour drive from Nuremberg.

Sunshine, cold clear air and that incredible noise the carving of the Snowboard does while flirting with the snow - wow!

I am very proud of myself because it is only my second time boarding and today I dared to do a red (medium) track for the first time. Don't ask how many times I crashed but it was worth it.

Excuse me now I have things to do now.

Lonely Planet Destroyed My Life

A friend I traveled with for just one day on Hawaii gave me a link to very interesting article.
It is about the backpacking virus that might hit you again and again as soon as you started traveling.

Although I am NOT close to leave my job for good I can find some similarities to my own experiences.

It is only a 3 minute read (in German language) and you can find it [here].

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sheep / New Zealand, December 2008

Double White Tuft

One of the commentators of the previous (test) posting requested something about vegetarian sheep. Actually I think the request has something to do with an upcoming afternoon playing "The Settlers of Catan". To make it crystal clear to that commentator: I will not trade sheep for wood just to be nice. You will not gonna like me!

Apart from that Catan-comment my last postings have been about the motherland of all sheep anyway: New Zealand.

It was really kind of ridiculous to have sheep everywhere - literally. During my days on the road it was not uncommon to stop for a herd of sheep that decided to cross the road just in front of me.

Although I shot thousands of photos in New Zealand there is only a single one dedicated to the woolen animal.
I was driving to a small waterfall on a late afternoon. Actually the waterfall was big enough to act as a major tourist site in Europe. In New Zealand it was nothing special, it didn't even have a name and I was the only visitor.

During my short walk to the fall I saw the sheep standing on the top of of a hill.
My perpective was perfect: The green hill and the sheep against the blue sky - with a tuft of white whool in form of a cloud nearby.

Oh, by the way - here is the nameless waterfall. Nothing special compared with the sheep, is it?