Munich, 2010

The buzzword for the day was 'zhen de'. This is a common Chinese phrase meaning 'for real' - but in our case it was spoken with irony to express mild disbelief. Colin and A-Kee brought it to Germany with them and Bea was quick to pick it up.

They used it on everything: The girls bought some hats. Zhen de. Our hotel was fully booked that night. Zhen de. A-Kee wanted another sausage. Zhen de-zhen de. Lydia couldn't finish her food. Zhen de. And so on. An observer would be forgiven for thinking that we were a very disbelieving bunch.

Friendly locals

We found the people in Munich super friendly. Before we were even out of the U-Bahn station, people were asking us whether we needed help. We declined, but outside, an old lady spotted us looking at the map and offered directions.

Old lady: Take Bus 55. Or walk about 20 minutes that way.

We decided to walk, passing a Jackie Chan Chinese takeaway along the way. Five minutes into our walk, we saw an old lady in front of us, waving us forward and pointing the way. It was the same lady! She'd taken Bus 55 for one stop and got off to walk with us the rest of the way. (Zhen de.)

It turned out that she lived just across the street from our hotel. Colin made small talk with her. They hit it off pretty well.

A-Kee (in Chinese): She's going to invite him to her flat next.


There was a large group of Spanish tourists waiting to check in before us. There was also a bowl of sweets at Reception. Bea took a couple of the sweets and soon she had started a trend. Everyone, including the Spaniards, began eating sweets.

Bea was good at starting trends. Back in Schwangau, the queue for the toilets wasn't moving because you needed three ten-cent coins to get through the coin-operated turnstiles and the Italian tourists in the queue were shouting over one another all asking for change. Bea snooped around and found a coin-change machine. The rest, as they say, is bladder bliss.

Teaching the waiter a drinking game

We spent the first day in Munich brand-shopping. And then we went shopping for luggage, where in a shop called Hetzenecker, there was a special deal to be had on Rimowa suitcases. That is what happens when you go travelling with pilots and cabin crew. It's a fact of life.

In the evening, we found Hofbrauhaus, a historic institution. We ate meats and drank beer. Every night, we said it was the last time we were having German food. But the next day we'd happily order sausages and leberkase for lunch and pork knuckle and schnitzel and suckling pig for dinner again. Always with beer, of course.

To finish up the drinks before going back, we started playing a drinking game called 'Five-Ten'. At every turn, each player would open or close his fist to signal a 'five' or a 'nothing', while the player whose turn it was would have to simultaneously call out his guess of the total score. If your call was right, you'd sit out subsequent turns until there were two players left. They would challenge each other to a two-handed variation of the game to decide the ultimate loser. A waiter watched us with great interest and eventually we taught him the rules and he joined us for a round.

Finally united

We met XYZ at the Oktoberfest the next morning. Finally, the group was whole. Ten years ago we'd travelled to America together, and now we were travelling together again, sort of. A-Kee noted that apart from Teck, we were all joining the Club of Diminishing Necklines.

On entering the grounds, we were quickly approached by a reporter for the festival paper. Where are you from? How long are you here for? Why did you come? Would you come again? Here is my photographer, can he take a picture of you?

The photographer picked A-Kee and A-Deng for the shot. He said our group was too big, but we all knew that this was code for the rest of you are old and ugly. He must have noticed all our disappearing necklines, I'm sure.

Fake eyelashes

A-Deng was to become our mascot. Everywhere we went, we attracted attention. All the men wanted to take pictures with the girls, especially with A-Deng. She would later get a Spongebob balloon, and together with hats shaped like beer mugs or barrels, that made us even more popular. I think we were Oktoberfest's favourite Asians that day.

XYZ: The power of fake eyelashes.

We bought a steckerlfische and got into a tent. We found ourselves being 'prosted' to by random guys, singing along to songs we didn't know, and getting friendly with dubious strangers. In the Augustiner tent, I had the best lager ever. In the Paulaner tent, an Italian man from Como kissed XYZ several times and then proceeded to grope everyone else he could lay his hands on. But nobody seemed to mind and it was all very merry.

B: I had more beer in one day than I've ever had in my life.

'Punch you with my foot'

It all got a little too crowded after 4pm and we found ourselves making our way back to Hofbrauhaus in Am Platzl, where we had more meat and beer. True to form, XYZ showed us how drunk he could get. After forcing some Germans - who had commandeered some of our seats by stealth - to drink up, he left the building throwing up and was not allowed back in. When we got out to look for him, the doorman said he had pissed on the door.

Doorman: It's not funny. Do it again, I'll punch you with my foot.
XYZ: Maybe.

History lesson on Italian Weekend

The next morning everyone had to leave early to catch their plane or train. We took a ride with Teck and A-Deng, who were taking a taxi to the main train station. There was a traffic jam.

Me: Is it because it's Saturday?
Cabbie: It's because it's Saturday, it's raining, it's the strike of the public transportation system and it's Oktoberfest. Not forgetting it's the weekend that the Italians are here.

Bea, Lydia and I joined the 1pm Sandemans city tour. Liz did a good job, giving us a concise historical overview, describing the charming stubbornness of Bavarians, showing us the Devil's footprint and pointing out subtle historical 'monuments' as a way of introducing us to the concept of vergangenheitsbewaltigung - or 'coming to terms with the past'. She shared some interesting Oktoberfest facts, and explained why Augustiner is 'God's favourite beer'. At times she would warn us to keep close, as it was a busy Saturday and it was the Italian Weekend.

Nobody here likes the Italians, it seems.

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