Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Just when I thought it couldn't get any colder...

...night falls, and I'm left wondering how the Czechs manage to keep their noses from turning bright red (like mine was when I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror). Hmmmm. I think Russia has just moved down the list and Central and South America have jumped up to the top (along with Australia).

First day in Prague pretty cool, though.

THanks for the kind and concerned thoughts. I won't respond individually until I get settled (and have cheaper/free internet). Keep posting/writing, though. I love opening my email box and finding little notes from friends.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Made it

Just a quick post to say that I made it to Prague and that, after 24 consecutive hours of travel, I smell like ass. I'm gonna go take a shower and probably pass out.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

December 25, 2006 5:25am

I’m not going to do any unnecessary “three hours to liftoff!” thing here, I can promise that much at least. My bags are mostly packed, my laundry is mostly done, and I’ve got that oh-so-normal feeling of “holy sh*t, what am I doing?” (I’m actually on intimate terms with that emotion, though, so I’m more or less ignoring it. For further illustration, go to my September 2004 ‘blog entries to re-read my departure notes for France.) Yeah, anyway.

I am currently in Southwest Missouri with my Grandparents and my Mom. (Okay, this is all really boring, but cut me some slack here--it’s 5:30 in the morning. I’ve been awake since 4. No, this is not a so-nervous-I-can’t-sleep thing. It is actually just my attempt to get a head start on dealing with jet lag. I’ve been gradually waking up earlier and earlier over the past few days--culminating in my 4am bonnanza here [how the heck do you spell bonnanza? I’ve tried it five different times and MS still won’t accept it!] Yeah, anyway, there was also a little bit of the whole too-nervous-to-sleep-really-well thing going on too. [You know, looking at this paragraph here, I’ve decided that writing is just too linear for me. I need hypertext, I think, to get at the different tangents of thought my mind tends to follow at any given point in time. Think this is crazy? My conversations are even worse. (And I’m really trying to censor my language and content here because I told my Uncle last night that I had cleaned up my blog. I just didn’t count on trying to type at 5:40 in the morning when my mind can’t think of very many words that have more than four letters or two syllables [“culminating” was the high point of this paragraph, and the only reason I can count it as four syllables is because I got to add an “ing” to it. (Okay, what parenthesis am I on now?)])]) It has been a nice visit; it’s always good to see the family. Several of my cousins just finished round two of the baby-making. Now there are just a couple of first-circle cousins (first circle cousins are first cousins and the group of first and a half cousins [double cousins? Double cousins once removed? First cousins once removed?]. Second circle cousins are everyone else in Southwest Missouri) left to be married off, and they are both in pretty serious relationships. Anyone want to place some wagers? (Though I really shouldn’t try to start another betting pool; I lost last night’s wager pretty bad. It involved juggling balls).

Okay, time to start a new paragraph. I always set out to write things that people might actually care about in my blog, but then I always get sidetracked. I try to remember to use a better (more literary, more formal) style of writing, but then I get sidetracked with some inanne recollection that just begs to be told in a more informal (ie, disorganized) manner. I really can write collected thoughts that make sense. I should post one of my papers on this blog so that… ummm, you, the reader, can be bored out of your mind. Never mind. Vernacular it is. Speaking of vernacular, I have had a hard time getting Missourians to understand me this time around. I don’t know why. I ordered a pizza that arrived on the other side of town (it’s a small town, though, so the mistake was not fatal to the pizza). I had a retail clerk in the mall saying “huh?” so many times I thought she would hyperventilate and pass out (sound odd? Try it. It’s hard to get a breath in between the huhs). I don’t think it is my word choice (I mean, just look at my blog. We’re not talking a plethora of 50 [where the heck is the cent sign on this keyboard?] words). Instead, I think it is my sentence structure and slightly odd choice of phrases (For example, I tend to say “I’ve not” instead of “I haven’t.” I know it sounds affected, but I have (I’ve) no idea why I do it.) Okay, I’m bored with where this is going.

6am. Time for breakfast (I already had a granola bar, but that was just the wake-up snack. Now I need something more substantial. Like turkey and cranberry sauce.)

So. Before we left Maryland, my Mom bought a series of Czech Language CDs. They were the Pimsleur Method (Audiolingual) and didn’t have any companion book--just 16 half-hour lessons. We listened to the first few in the car during the drive to the Midwest, and learned how to say I speak English, Do you speak English, Do you understand English, and so on. When we got to Missouri, I continued to listen to them on my own.

Anyway, I think these language CDs were designed with American Businessmen in mind, because I now know how to pick up a Czech woman. Here is what I’ve learned so far:


“Are you a Czech woman?”

“I am an American man.”

“Would you like to get something to drink?” (There are two different ways to ask this question depending on if the person you asking is male or female. The language CDs emphasized practice asking a female this question.)

“What do you want to drink?”

“How about beer or wine?”

Yeah. So now I can pick up a Czech woman and get her drunk. I think one of the next lessons will teach the phrase “Want to come back to my place?” (I still haven’t learned to ask where the bathroom is.)

The CDs also prepare you for rejection. At the end of each lesson there is a practice mini-dialogue. For the last lesson I completed, the dialogue was very long and focused on picking up a woman. Obviously, the guy I was supposed to be was very dim. He kept asking this poor woman out for a drink, for lunch, for something to eat, to go shopping, etc. She kept turning him down. Finally, at the end, she’s like, “You don’t understand Czech.” Bam. No means No, buster. (Or, in this case, Neh means Neh.)

Czech is an odd language, though. It is indo-European, which means that is has the same roots as English, German, Russian, French, Lithuanian, Hindi etc. It is an West Slavic language, though, which means it is closely related to Polish and Slovak (Russian is an East Slavic language). What this means is that Czech contains unpronounceable sounds, inflected nouns, and way too many grammar rules. Examples follow.

Unpronounceable sounds (words and sentences):
Strc prst skrz krk,which means Stick a finger through your throat. Which is basically what you have to do to pronounce it.

Inflected nouns:
Basically, this means that each noun has a different form depending on which role it plays in the sentence (like German). In English we can say “The dog chased the cat” or “The cat chased the dog” and know the difference between the two sentences because of the word order. In Czech (and word order still matters in Czech, at least as far as I’ve been able to determine), there would be two different forms for the dog and the cat, depending on which was chasing and which was being chased. Insane, I know.

Grammar rules (gender and beyond):
Anyone who has studied a foreign language (generally Spanish, French, or German) will probably remember that some nouns are male or female (French and Spanish and German) or neuter (German). In Czech, not only can nouns be male, female, or neuter, but the male nouns can also be animate or inanimate. Why does this matter? Because adjectives have to agree with nouns. Oh, by the way, adjectives have two forms: hard and soft.

Grammar rules, cont. (gender of speaker and listener):
This one I’m still not too clear on, but there appears to be different forms of certain words that people use depending on whether the speaker is a male or female and the listener is a male or female.

The good news? Czech has no article system (the, an, a). Not completely sure this balances out all that other stuff, but it’s a start.

Friday, December 15, 2006

International Travel Machine

So. The ITM has been launched again on yet another voyage. Right now I'm in Illinois. Couple more days and I'll be in Missouri. Ten more days and I'll be on a plane to Prague.

I'll keep ya'll posted.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Are we there yet?

The semester is over! Finished! Done!

Well, not really, but try telling my brain that. It shut down about three weeks ago (pre-Thanksgiving). It is never a good idea to have a five-day holiday two weeks before the end of the semester.

Other than that...

Not much going on. I've passed through the first "freaked out" stage of this whole travel thing, and I'm on the "paralyzed" phase (actually, I think I'm nearing the end. I think the next phase is probably "freaked out" phase number 2). Anyway, the paralyzed phase consisted of me sitting on the couch, watching the entire first season of Sex in the City, and consuming large amounts of chocolate. Ah well.

Other than that...

I have a huge, ugly bruise on my left forearm from Tai Chi (Small San Sau). THe worst part of having a bruise like this is that I have to be sure I wear long sleeves. When people see the bruise, they jump to the conclusion that I am being battered by a husband/boyfriend/other. Of course, no one actually says anything about it--they just look at me with pity and a little bit of fear. If I say anything about the bruise first, they just figure I'm making a excuse. And seriously, my "excuse" sucks. Conversation:
Me. "The bruise is from Tai Chi."
Them. "What's that?"
Me. "You know those old people in the park who move slowly?"
Them. "Yeah."
Me. "That's Tai Chi."
Then I have to explain that the moving slowly in the park thing is only part of Tai Chi, that it is a Martial Art, that the bruise is the result of practicing a fighting form with people twice my size, that... blah, blah, blah.

I really should post a picture of this bruise. It looks like my arm is going to rot off.

Other than that...

I'm at work and I'm bored.

Cause for Concern?

I found this on the website of the school where I am going to be teaching English:

"Most of our teachers are skeleton employees. There is a sophisticated motivation system for our thechers, which is the guarantee of their longevity."

I honestly don't think I need to write anything about it. It is good to know that the school is concerned with my longevity, though I am a little curious as to what a skeleton employee is.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The End

I have been reading the Series of Unfortunate Events books for years now, and the last book came out just a couple of months ago. I read it, and I found it disappointing. Here was my interpretation of the series as a whole:

First few books: Author comes up with cute formula. Repeats formula a few times. Feels clever.

A few books into the series: Author starts to get bored with formula. Looks for ways to change up the formula slightly. Feels slightly clever but still a little bored.

Few books later: Author completely bored with formula. Starts adding conspiricies to his books. Begins to forget that books are intended for children with adults as a secondary audience. Ponders meaning of life and starts re-reading Hesse and Neitzche (no particular reason I picked these two authors-- I just associate them with teenage boys). Feels clever again.

End of series: Author loses control of the story, but doesn't really care. Decides to make statement on arbitrary nature of life by refusing to tie up essential threads of the plot. Is secretly relieved that series is over, as it has consumed the last few yers of his life.

I know, this is all very cynical. The thing it, I think Handler could have pulled it off if he had written his last book differently. If his last book, The End, had been better written, it could have summed up the series nicely and redeemed the arbitrary threads of conspiricy he started weaving indiscriminately into the plot. I don't think he needed to absolutely tie up everything in the books, but I think he could have made better (artistically speaking) choices about which questions to answer and which threads to tie up. He could have still made his statement on the arbitrary nature of life while not leaving readers wanting to throw his books across the room.

Anyway, finished reading The Poisonwood Bible. I've started reading The Winter of our Discontent. I last read it over ten years ago and really enjoyed it then, so I thought I'd pick it up again. This time around, however, I am having problems getting into it. It is difficult for me to remember what enticed me so much about it when I was younger.