Monday, January 29, 2007

More Prague Journal Self-indulgent ramblings

January 17, 2007 5:48pm

So, entered the local paper store to buy some plastic page protectors. Was dismayed to discover that most of the stock was behind the counter. I tried to scope out where what I needed was so I could simply point, and when I thought I had figured it out, I waited until all the other customers had left to make my move.

Me: “Dobrey Den. Mluvete Anglitsky?”

Her (young girl behind the counter): “Neh.”

Me: [sh*t]. “Uhhh, chelabich…” [pointing]

Her: [looks at me like I’m a retard who should be barred from attempting Czech. Also looks totally confused at my attempts. Walks over to are I pointed. Pulls something out. Looks at me with raised eyebrows.]

Me: [squints to see what she is holding up. It is an overhead projector sheet.] “Neh.” [Motions down to the next shelf.]

Her: [picks up one of what I need. Demonstrates to me that I can open the plastic to put something inside.] “Sprechen Sie Deutsch.”

Me: “Ein bischen.”

Her: [Looks like my “ein bischen” of “Deutsch” is not going to help. After all, I never learned “I’d like some plastic sheet protectors and, by the way, how much are they?” in my one semester of German.]

Me: “Francais?”

Her: [Laughs like “no way in hell.”] “How many?”

Me: [Ah ha, so she was paying a little attention in English class after all. Too bad I have no idea how many I actually want. Shrug.]

Her: “Hundert?” [Ah, so we’re back in Deutsch now. Too bad my brain has switched to French and refuses to switch back. All I can think now is “combien?”]

Me: [Falling back on English] “How much?”

Her: [Pulls out piece of paper and writes number on it. Damn European system of writing numbers makes it impossible for me to tell what she has actually written. It is only two digits, though, so I have enough. I think.]

Me: “Okay.”

Her: [She rings me up: the plastic sheets, a binder, and a small notebook--ironicaly enough, the notebook is going to be for taking notes on Czech. She writes down another number which I am mostly able to decipher--three digits now, first digit is a one, so I give her 200 Crowns.]

Me: d’ouqueey [That’s not how it is spelled in Czech, but I figure the way I say it is as indecipherable as they way I just spelled it, so it adds to the overall effect of the story.]

Anyway, as I walked out the store, I started thinking about the Ocean City tee-shirts that say: “Welcome to America. Now speak English.” I wonder if this girl was thinking “these damn foreigners. Why don’t they learn Czech?” I think about those tee-shirts a lot here: as I go to the grocery store or the bakery, as I try to buy a metro pass, as I enter a store and have a question but don’t know the Czech. As I interact with people here, part of me is back in the United States, thinking about the times I worked in a store and helped customers who didn’t speak English. Was I the type of person I would want to encounter here? I think maybe I was, but still, language creates such a strong connection between people. We don’t see it when we are surrounded by people who all speak the same language, but when we are removed from the group, at least for part of the day, we feel the lack of connection acutely. It is a sense of being untethered--unconnected to anyone around you. For the first few days or even first few weeks, it is freeing. The sense of being anonymous--of not having to listen to the nasal tones of North American English. The new language is exotic and mysterious, and it creates the perfect acoustic backdrop for the new sights and smells one encounters in a new place. After awhile, though, one beings to feel disconnected from these sounds. The frustration of not being able to communicate grows, as does the sense of isolation. Now, when one hears those formerly nasal tones of North American English, they become an anchor to which one can attach oneself. Even if one is not a part of the conversation, one feels a connection with the speakers--a connection that even the speakers are not aware of--as one throws a rope around the solid foundation of linguistic similarity and feels briefly secure.

(Hmm, switched from second person plural to third person singular. Don’t like that, but can’t make up my mind if I like “we” or “one” better in this. At the end, the use of “one” all the time sounds silly--it interferes with the message of the piece. On the other hand, “we” feels a little too inclusive for something like this.)

In 9 days, I will have been here for one month. (Future Perfect)

January 21, 2007 8:19am Sunday

So, I got moved into my new place. Very cool. I actually had wireless internet access yesterday for awhile, but I think the person discovered that there were others piggybacking onto his internet and now it is gone. Oh well. I want to see if I can convince my roommate to go halves on internet.

Had a pretty good day yesterday--got to talk to mom over the internet using Skype. Went to tea with my new roommate, and I also went to a drumming workshop with my former roomie’s boyfriend (fresh back from the States). I am going back tonight for some Chicken Mole (I’m bringing the Guacamole--I offered because I thought I still had internet access and could double check my recipe, but now I think I am just going to have to wing it.) Oh, and I went for a jog yesterday morning--there is an excellent park next to the building and it is mostly level (it is actually at the top of a hill, so at one end of the park you can look out over Prague--the view is excellent).

6:07 pm

Feeling a little crappy. Ugh. I was supposed to go have Chicken Mole, but I’ve decided to stay in tonight and just rest. I will probably go to bed/take a nap in a bit here. I don’t have to teach at all tomorrow, so I can spend the day resting/planning lessons. The lesson planning is getting easier--I don’t know that I am really getting any better with my teaching, though. There is still so much I need to work on. I need to work on my transitions and my comprehension checks (I do check comprehension, but I don’t do it the way it was taught in the TEFL certificate class I took. I don’t know how the school here feels about all that. I’ve tried to do comp check questions the way the certificate program taught, but they just feel so awkward and forced, and the students look at me like I’ve lost my mind. I also need to work more on my teaching presence. I’ve gotten better, but I’m still not where I think I should be. I have figured out how to keep the students from using too much Czech AND I’ve discovered that giving the students time limits on pair work and individual class work keeps them focused. (It doesn’t really matter how long I actually give them. Sometimes I say they have five minutes and then I give then seven if they need it. Sometimes I say they have five minutes and I give them three. But just announcing the time they have seems to be the most important thing.)

So, I’ve taken on a new student. That puts me at 28 teaching hours a week. No more. Absolutely not. Actually, this student may just be short term. She only has three more lessons that she paid for--and I’m supposed to see if she wants to renew her lessons or not. I’m taking over for another teacher--the teacher I spent New Year’s Eve with (remember the resolution story?) is going back to the States and this was one of her students.

Starting to feel a little nervous about my LEGO lessons--new class, you know. I guess it will take me a couple of weeks to feel comfortable with them (it generally seems to take me at least three lessons before I start to relax a little).

I know I’m just writing about nothing right now--sorry. I had some very deep thoughts yesterday during my run, but I’m still processing them, turning them over and over in my mind. Once I’ve turned them over a few more times I may record them here. Just some thoughts on the nature of time and my identity as a newcomer--part of that is learning the prejudices of the new country (this second thought is going to be something that I will have to deal with with some of my students, I think. I think I first need to learn more about the prejudices here and then determine how I fit into the social structure, and then determine how I want to deal with certain things in the classroom. I know this makes absolutely no sense, but my brain is still turning it over--it only started this process yesterday, so I guess I’m only still mixing the ingredients--or even just making a list of what to buy). But I’ve already decided that ignoring it is not an option. Part of learning a new language is learning a new culture, and the culture I want my students to learn in my classroom is one of tolerance and critical thinking. (Of course, that is easier said than done, which is why I need to mull over how to accomplish that goal).

January 22, 2007 9:03am

So, according to CNN, January 22 is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year. I can see that. When I woke up this morning, the little bit of light coming through my curtains made the room look Picasso blue.

Ah, but the television! I have to describe the television! I have the strangest assortment of channels on my telly! I have four Czech channels on the regular service, and then I have satellite service. On the satellite service, I have CNN, BBC Parliament, and Al Jezerra (sp?). I also have ten to fifteen channels each of British shopping (QVC?), British electronic roulette and bingo, and British worship (including one Islamic channel, on which so far I have seen services in Spanish, English, and Arabic). The absolute best two channels, though, and the one channel of Welsh news (yes, in Welsh), and the British/India pop music video channel (a little goes a very, very long way. It is mainly Indian guys singing while [scantily-clad] white chicks dance in the background.) So far, the big news story on CNN and Al J. is the Celebrity Big Brother scandal in England (well, not really a scandal… more like… I don’t even know… just junk). Anyway, the ticker at the bottom of the screen on CNN informed me that more troops are dying in Iraq, so at least I’m getting a little bit of news here.

The internet has never returned after that first day. Ugh. I knew it would go away, but I had hoped I’d have access a little longer than I did. Oh well.

So, according to CNN, we are supposed to get nailed with snow this week. Ok, there was no mention of Prague or the Czech Republic, but that banner of white and blue and violet passed right over us in the satellite image (so how does Budapest warrant mention AND a temperature label and Prague doesn’t even get mentioned? I mean, how many people even know where Budapest is? Prague is way more important!)

It is soooo cold in my room right now and I’m unable to focus on the thermostat instructions. I feel almost like I’m coming down with a cold, but I know I’m not.

January 29, 2007 8:49pm

Wow, I’m really bad about writing in my Prague journal. Maybe it is because I still feel like I am scrambling to get anything done (usually just before it really needs to be done). This week I get to deal with timesheets. Yeah, big deal, you think, but my time sheets are four pages long AND have to be accompanied by eleven sheets of signed papers. Ugh.

I hardly know what to write about now! I don’t even really know where to start! I know I need to explain my taffy law of time further (with examples) AND explain the circumstances behind my Murphy’s Law adaptation now known as the Law of the Friday Morning DVD. Maybe I’ll start with that. Yeah. Although I just hope I don’t feel traumatized all over again-especially considering that I’m trying to settle down to get some sleep.

So, I have this three hour conversation class every Friday. What fun! You think. Wrong. Wrong with capital letters and a deadpan expression. Trying to come up with three hours of interesting conversation topics and ideas for a group of post-secondary kids (about 19-23) is excruciating. I took over this class from a teacher who did not, as I had previously thought, leave Prague but who had decided that trying to come up with ideas for this class was just too damn hard. I’m inclined to agree. So, last week, I decided that I would do a lesson on school shootings with them, then plop them down in front of a nice DVD (Bowling for Columbine). Easy Peasy. One of the other teachers for the class rented the movie for me and assured me that there as a DVD and TV on the floor where I teach the class.

Now might be a good time to halt my story and explain a little about the interior geography of my school. It is tall and narrow, and there is no lift (elevator). The classes are held on the top two floors (the fifth and sixth floors, I think). The library is down in the basement. The school is always insanely crowded with teachers and students, and the classrooms are always being used.

Anyway, I got to my lesson early on Friday to make sure I could find the DVD player. It was not on my floor, so I went up a floor. Turns out there is one DVD player and it is on the top floor. It is also bolted to the TV, which is, in turn, bolted to the cart. Okay, I can deal with this. I went down to the library and asked if there was another DVD player I could use. The librarian opened a cabinet and VOILA there it was. So, I went upstairs, grabbed a TV, rolled it over four wooden door stop thingies (thump, thump…thump, thump… etc) and entered the classroom. I had six students (yea!), and I conducted the first part of my lesson and everything went well. I let the students go on break a little early, and I went down to the library to make some photocopies. I almost made it out. In fact, I did. I was the next floor up when the librarian came panting after me to inform me that she needed the DVD player back. Now? Yes, now. Right now. Turns out she had promised it to another teacher the day before. Now? Yes. Is there another DVD player? No. Does this teacher teach on the floor that has a DVD player? No.


So, with five minutes of break time left, I race up to the top floor (pant, pant) and see if there is a free classroom for the next two hours. Hell no. I race back down a floor and tell my class I’m going to be a little late, grab the DVD player, and race down to the library (pant, pant). Then, I race back up to the top floor to check again. Nope, nothing free. There is one class, though, that has not shown up yet. The next class has a name on it and I recognize the name, so I race down to ask that person if I can swap with her. Turns out she is not the person on the classroom door (the person on the classroom door happens to be the wife of the owner of the school), and by the way, can I take another class? I mention that I am in the middle of a class right now and that I will come back to see her about that later. So, I race back up to the top floor, look at the classroom again, and decide to risk it. I race back down a floor, tell my class we are moving and to follow me, and grab the TV cart (thump, thump… back over the wooden door stop thingies) to put it back where it belongs. I lead my students up a floor, grab the new TV cart (with DVD player), and roll it into my newly conquered classroom (thump, thump). The students sit down, I load the DVD, turn everything on (yes, it all worked), and go to start the movie. Only… where’s the remote? I need the remote to change the language track from Czech to English (otherwise what’s the freakin’ point, right?). Notice taped to the side of the TV: see librarian for remote. So, I race down the stairs (thump, pant, thump, pant). The librarian has no idea which remote it is, so she gives me all of them. I race back up (thump, pant, sweat), pass the remotes out to students, and we start (simultaneously, of course) trying to switch the language track. No luck. I grab back up all the remotes, race back down to the library, and give them back. The librarian looks for some other remotes, but doesn’t find any. Finally, I suggest she look on her computer to see who checked it out last. Oh. The head of the Academic office. So I race up there and find—an empty office. I head out, defeated, and run into someone I know. I briefly explain the situation to her, she marches into the Academic Office, rummages the desk of the head of the Academic office, and pulls out a remote. I start to weep. No, I don’t, but I race back up (pant, thump, sweat, sweat, pant), burst triumphantly into the illegitimate classroom holding the remote over my head, and then spend the next ten minutes (with the class) trying to figure out how to work the damn thing. I finally wind up restarting the DVD, which decides at this point that it is not going to play. I pull the DVD out, clean it up, put it back in and –it works! And then I get the language track switched to English! And we settle down and watch the blasted, freakin’, son-of-a-whatever DVD. (And I formulate my modified Murphy’s Law, henceforth to be known as the law of the Friday morning DVD).

And I’ve just realized that I’ve written this story in the historical present (with a couple of exceptions—perhaps where I wasn’t paying attention too much). I may have to use it in a class now (except for the fact that the historical present is mainly an oral tense, though I used it here to give the story immediacy and frantic tension). (First sentence of this paragraph in Present Perfect, used because of its close temporal relationship with the preceding paragraph—hard to explain).

Hey, hey, hey! Back on the internet. Maybe I can post all this tonight!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lesson 3

The effects of Murphy's Law increase exponentially when teaching. If you can avoid a single occurance, you are fine (just as far as Murphy's Law is concerned). One occurance, however, leads to two, which lead to four, which lead to eight, and so on. I will now call this the law of the Friday Morning DVD.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lesson 2: on the nature of time

So, I am discovering that time is not exactly a constant. Instead, it is streachy--like taffy. That would explain why it accelerates as the week moves forward to the end. One second (or minute or hour) on Monday lasts about three times as long as a second (or minute or hour) on Thursday. It begins to slow a little on Friday (especially during my three hour conversation class!), then it picks back up again Friday night and Saturday. It slows slightly on Sunday, then it is at its slowest on Monday. I don't know why this happens, but I am dubbing it my "Taffy" theory of time.

Gotta go teach a class. Yea.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


(I already typed this, but the computer lost it. I don't think I will ever be able to recapture the imagery from the original, so I'm just gonna give you all the bare bones version).

So, today I learned that snow+bangs=icicles. (something about brushing hair back and winding up with ice spikes, which cause Prague natives and Prague tourists to stare).

(Something about what happens when ice spikes start to melt on an overcrowded tram).

(Something about hating snow).

Friday, January 19, 2007


I have about twenty minutes to kill as I wait for someone to scheduling to return from a lunch break. She wants me to take two more classes. I don't know how I feel about that, but my mentor here informs me that it is best not to piss of scheduling, as they have a lot of control over one's life. After seeing some of the schedules of folks around here, I am trying to tread carefully. I want to add more classes, but I want to do it slowly--maybe a new class every two or three weeks.

Last night it was really windy--it reminded me of Valence. I almost wished I hadn't lost weight because I was nearly blown away a couple of times on my walk home. I tried to be careful about what I was walking under--I saw some loose bricks and also a former window planter on it's side on the sidewalk. I didn't want to be done in in Prague by a falling window plant, so I tried to keep from walking too close to the buildings (which put me in danger of being blown out into the street and being done in by a tram or car).

I packed last night for my big move today. It only took me about 20 minutes--I think that is the fastest I've ever packed for a move! I've accumulated a lot of books for my classes--they are not mine, they are borrowed from the library here. Each class has a different book (which is another reason I don't want to take on too many classes at once. It takes me awhile to familiarize myself with a new book).

I also don't want to take on too many classes because I want to leave time for Czech, French, and Tai Chi. Finding a Tai Chi instructor is going to be my major task for next week. I have a couple of options that I've found that I would like to check out. If I can't find anyone, I think I will do a different style of Martial Art and just work on the Tai Chi on my own (in my, ha, spare time). But I want to do something. I considered taking a dance class with my soon-to-be-former roomie, but I really liked the Martial aspects of Tai Chi, and I would like to learn more Martial stuff (yea, kicking. Not-so-yea, punching.)

Rambling here. I feel absolutely zapped--Don't know why. I got enought sleep last night. Maybe because I didn't get my shower/bath this morning. There was absolutely NO hot water. Not even any tepid water. ust freezing cold, break the ice before you wash water.

Why do I keep hearing the Final Countdown here? (80s song by Europe). Is it because this is a former communist country? And why do I associate that song with communism anyway? Anyone? Write ten sentences exploring the relationship between the Final Countdown and Communism for homework. We will discuss them in the next class.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Begin Quote-
"Hounddog" (Dramatic Competition)
Robin Wright Penn and Dakota Fanning star in this controversial drama that has also been tagged as "The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie," which may be incredibly unfair considering the early raves for her performance.
-End quote.

Okay, I know there is something seriously wrong with me, but the tag line "The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie" makes me laugh. I think I need years of therapy.

Is this only funny because I didn't get much sleep last night and am feeling just a little stressed? Or is it because D.F. is kinda scary?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Considering a recent topic of much discussion...

Czech computer words:
vlozit = paste
kopirovat = cut

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Name Problem

So, it seems that, anywhere I go, any name I use, I encounter a Name Problem. It is usually a complete inability to pronounce my first name. I tried to anticipate that (and avoid it completely) by using my middle name here. Didn't work. Now everyone thinks I'm a guy (and my last name confuses the heck out of them. Go figure. Too many vowels, I think).

Prague Journal Update

(Here is some more of my Prague Journal. Enjoy.)

January 5, 2007 8:10pm

The incredible shrinking stomach: So, after almost two weeks of not eating much and about three days of eating almost nothing, I decided that tonight I was going to force myself to start eating (this decision was a result of my noting a certain amount of dizzyness, especially when I bent over to pick up some books for school. I don’t know if it had anything to do with my eating patterns, but I figured the whole near lack of food might at least be a contributing factor). So, I planned a menu of tomato soup, bread, cheese, butter, salami, mystery bread (with meat inside?), and yoghurt. I made it through the tomato soup (a small bowl) and over half of the mystery bread before I had to call it quits. I feel stuffed.

So my project for the weekend is to get some veggies into myself and start eating a little more.

Anyway, don’t worry about the whole food thing--it is just temporary until I get a bit more settled. I just haven’t had much of an appetite lately.

I just thought it was worth mentioning that a person could actually feel stuffed on tomato soup and some mystery bread.

I am going to have a piece of chocolate though. As soon as my stomach feels just a little less full…

8:51 pm

Just had my chocolate. Now I’m wondering if that was a mistake, but my stomach is (most surprisingly) not very pleased. And I thought for sure that chocolate would make it happy.

I’m posting a lot of boring, useless nonsense to my blog, I know, but I’m a little bit lonely here. It always takes me a long time to make friends, so right now adding stuff to my blog is really the main way I can feel connected to my friends and family. As I get to know people, I will probably write less, but for now, as I’m just starting out, well…. This blog is a record of all my minor actions and all the minor events in my life. So, yeah, you guys get to read all about the piece of chocolate that broke the camels back. Or nearly. Or still might. I’m in this big battle with the stomach over it right now, but I have just got to show that stomach of mine who is boss. Plus I hate throwing up. So I’m just not going to. So there, you stilly stomach of mine.

I do think I am going to make some more chamomile tea, though. A sort of truce by herbal tea?

So, the youth hostel I stayed in when I first got to Prague: it was actually very nice (for a youth hostel). It was clean and the beds were not too uncomfortable (actually, my bed at the youth hostel was a lot more comfortable than my bed here, but I don’t actually like to dwell on that too much). I was in a ten bed room in the hostel. A ten bed male and female room (ugh, there is a word for that, I know it, but I’m too tired to think of anything other than co-ed, which I know is not the word I’m looking for). So anyway, my first night there, this couple got in pretty late. They dropped their stuff off and went out. They came back a few hours later and lay down to go to sleep. Well, the guy did. The female kept waking up every hour or so to run to the bathroom and vomit. I know that this is what she was doing because I could hear it. Yes, all of it. Anyway, the next day I woke up and they were both still sleeping. Fine, whatever. So I go the bathroom to brush my teeth and EWWW, she’s been vomiting in the SINK. I say again, EWWWW. Lettuce. So, yeah, there was that. Anyway, she slept all day and then, that night, when I was trying to get to sleep, she and her boyfriend had a little, umm, campout? They took the blankets from the unoccupied beds, used them as curtains around one of the bottom bunks and, um, entertained themselves. So I figure the chick is feeling better, right? Well, maybe not, because after spending half the night awake with the boyfriend, she spends the following day sleeping. Yes, all day. Seriously, I ask you, what is the point of going to Prague if all you do is drink yourself into oblivion and screw your significant other? Can’t that be done at home (or at least in the privacy of an individual hotel room)?

So, yeah, it as nice to be away from all that.

My roommate’s daughter is having a sleepover with two of her friends. Although the room I am in is pretty big, the apartment itself is very small. It is only two bedrooms with a very small entry way and a separate kitchen. When my roomie’s daughter is here, she sleeps in the same room as my roomie. So I guess tonight they are all sleeping in one room. I’m just trying to imagine my Mom having to share a room with me ane a couple of my friends when I was about ten. I don’t think Mom would have enjoyed that too much. J

January 12, 2007 6:09pm

Wow, what a totally crazy week. Between visa stuff (two trips to visa help office and one trip to the doctor), classes, prepping said classes, and apartment shopping, I’m completely exhausted. Actually, today wasn’t too bad. I just had a little bit of class prep this morning, then a three hour conversation class (I’m supposed to have eight students but only two of them showed up so I couldn’t do half of what I had planned. Little f*ckers.), then some apartment shopping. I only had to visit one place today (as opposed to yesterday, when I visited three places, taught two classes, and did some mad prep for yesterday and today. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was crazy all day long). I’ve already explained about the place I found today, so… time to catch up one some other stories.

I know I posted something about my critical trip to the store to buy some TP, and I’d like to finish that story. So, here I was in the apartment, and I realized that there were about two layers of TP on the roll and no other rolls in the cabinet. So I decided to avert a critical situation and run down to the local Delvita (grocery store) to get some more. I threw on a sweatshirt and a coat, grabbed my purse, and headed out. I got to the store and found the TP with relative ease (I love clear packaging). There were some different types, so I grabbed a set of four rolls that had strawberries on them--I thought they were kinda cute. As I walked down the asile, I thought I passed something with an air freshener smell. “Guess I’ve found the air fresheners,” I thought, and then forgot all about it. But then, while I was standing in line to face the grocery goblin (see previous post about grocery store clerks), I thought I could catch a whiff of something still. “Hmm, I thought, must be some more air fresheners up here too? Very odd. Smells kinda… fruity. Very cloying. Like… strawberries?” I then looked down at the package of TP in my hands. Strawberry print, mysterious strawberry smell following me… could it be coming from the… toilet paper? The grocery store was crowded, but I brought the package of TP to my nose and gave it a good sniff. Oh yeah, definitely the TP. It only took me about a half second to decide that I didn’t really want my a$$ to smell like fruit, so I went back to the TP aisle and proceeded to smell every package of TP until I found one that wasn’t scented. It actually doesn’t seem as funny now as it was when it happened, but for some odd reason I found it all insanely amusing (exhaustion?). So, yeah, that is my TP story. And you all thought I’d be writing about Prague. Silly you.

Another trip I made this past week was to the doctor to get a slip of good health for my visa. When I was in France, I had to have a chest x-ray, so I was expecting basically the same thing here (the chest x-ray in France, by the way, is its own story. I want with one of my roommates and the x-ray technician kept trying to look at her boobs. He never even bothered with mine, and I wasn’t sure if I should have been relieved or offended. But anyway.) There were two “English-speaking doctor” options, so I chose the cheapest. I couldn’t make an appointment; I just had to show up during the office hours and wait. So I did. The wait wasn’t too bad, maybe just a half an hour before the doctor was able to see me.

Okay, and wow. I think that when I passed through the doors into the office I hit a time warp and went about twenty years into the past. This office was… um… a little… um… well, the first thought that popped into my head was to start calling the doctor comrade. Probably a good thing I didn’t, though, as he didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor. Nor was the designation “English-speaking doctor” completely accurate. Still, he asked me maybe five questions about my general health (“Are you sick? You have any pains of joints? Allergies?”) He then took my blood pressure, listened to my lungs, and told me it would be 300 Crowns. When I was in France, I paid the doctor directly, so it wasn’t a completely new idea, but I still find it very odd to just hand a doctor some money. Maybe it is odd in the States that we keep our doctors so removed from the idea of money, especially considering how expensive health care is (what do you think? Discuss.). But anyway, he wrote me my little healthy slip and, as I was standing up to go, he asked me if I knew how many Kilos I had in weight. I told him I had no idea, and he shrugged and said okay. So yeah. That was my trip to the doctor.

Oh, and the office… I never got around to describing it (sorry, a little scattered here still). There was the doctor’s desk, and then a little cot in the corner. There was a sink in the back, and a dust-covered type writer in the corner behind the doctor’s desk. And that was it. Nothing on the walls (except for maybe some peeling paint). No computers, no medical equipment (other than a blood pressure thing and a stethoscope). For some reason, after the “comrade” thought, the next thing to pop into my head was the idea that, if it were the 1970s and I was looking for a backstreet abortion, this is probably the place I would have wound up in. Hmm, yeah. But I think I have a doctor now, because he told me that, once I get my medical insurance card, I can take it to him to register it and then I can come see him when I am sick. His office is actually right on the tram line from where I will be living, so I may do that. If I get sick and cancel my classes, I have to have a doctor’s note, so it would probably be easiest to crawl out of bed, catch the tram, stagger into his office, get a sick note, stagger back to the tram, go home, and sleep the rest of the day (the other English speaking option is on the other side of Prague, so…I think I’ve got my doctor now).

So today, with my two students who actually showed up, I discussed the merits of the word “f*ck.” Turns out that, even when they are speaking in Czech, they cuss in English. I just think that nothing beats the punch and power of a good Germanic cuss word. They said some of their Slavonic cusses, but they were just so long, and they didn’t contain any powerful consonants (surprisingly) . A powerful, explosive consonant is an absolute necessity for a good, effective cuss word. I said that, if there were a contest of all the cusswords in the world, f*ck would probably win. They agreed, though their main complaint about the whole thing is that English doesn’t have enough cuss words. I explained to them that, in that case, they need to combine the cuss words and come up with inventive new ways to express themselves. (I demonstrated this for them with a not-very-impressive-for-me string of cussing. I think they got the picture--what I call “Kenning cussing.”). Anyway… now you all know what type of teacher I really am.

Ribs. That was something else I was going to write about, right? I saw some of my ribs the other night. I mean, through the skin and everything, but I could see definite rib-like shapes under the skin. Which is not to scare you all--I haven’t lost much (if any) weight since I’ve been here (well, I do think I’ve lost a little because I had to go out and buy a belt--oh! That’s another story! Remind me!) but whatever. But this rib-spotting was a little disturbing because of the location of the ribs. These weren’t side, under to boob ribs. No, these were center, above the boob ribs (I guess the sternum?). Anyway, that this means is that my boobs are migrating downward. Sagging. I don’t recall being able to see “above the boob” ribs when I was, say, nineteen. Does anyone?

But as far as self-image is concerned, mine has improved drastically since I’ve been here. It has nothing really to do with how I look, but how other people look. Back in the States, I was at this University campus with these skinny little blond eighteen year olds running around with their bellies showing. Here I am surrounded by women who, while not fat, have definitely had their share of pork and dumplings. Most of these women are, again, not fat, but certainly not stick-like. The States are so weird for this whole body image thing simply because of our extremes. There is no simple middle over there (or there is a middle, but it is a complicated middle).

Mmmm, and speaking of weight and stuff like that, I found my Smarties over here. Only over here they are called “Lentilky.” And I should probably mention that these are not the sour Smarties you get in the States. These are the chocolate Smarties that are soooo yum. (I’m eating some right now). (Although the sour Smarties are pretty yum too).

So, who’s coming to visit me? I have B & B in early June, and my mom in Mid-March, but who else want to see Prague? I can’t do the whole tour guide thing (that work stuff, you know, gets in the way a little), but I can point you in some right directions (and probably some wrong ones too).

Hmmm, what else is new. Oh! I have two more classes starting the week after next. They are in the Lego factory (!). It is cool, but the factory is pretty far away. I have to take a Metro, then a bus, and then get into a private car to get to he factory. It will take about an hour to get there (and then an hour to get back). The travel is really what drains my time. I may only have 18 or so teaching hours in a week, but when you figure that, to get to al my classes takes a half an hour (and then a half and hour back), well, it adds up. And I can’t do any work on the Metro, so… And no, I don’t get paid for travel time (though I think I will get an extra 30 crowns for the Lego factory job. But just to give you an idea, I think it is about 20 Crowns in a US dollar [and 27.5 Crowns in a Euro]).

I sort of learned how to pronounce r “hotchick” today. My students taught me (one student’s mom is a speech therapist for Czech kids. Turns out a lot of kids--and adults--here have problems with the r “hotchick.”). Anyway, here is how you do it:

Put your back teeth together (so your top front teeth overlap your bottom front teeth)
Purse your lips
Roll an r
DON’T look in a mirror.

I tried this and AFTER my students finished laughing, they said they were very proud of me and that I had done an excellent job. So I spent my Tram Time today trying to hide the lower half of my face in my scarf so I could practice.

But I am determined to get it.

8:17 pm

So, I was just adding some things up, and with 22 teaching hours a week, I will be making a bit more than I thought I would be making (it is amazing how much it changes from 20 to 22 hours… or I am doing the math totally wrong). Another advantage of working my ass off is that I don’t have time to spend any money on anything (um, yea?). I need to go open a bank account this weekend. I may actually go shopping. I don’t like spending money I haven’t made, but all the major sales are in January, so it makes sense for me to buy some things now rather than waiting until I get paid (when everything will go back to the regular prices).

January 13, 2007 4:46pm

Well, I was going to try and get out and do some shopping or socializing or something, but here I am, still on my ass. I feel so completely drained. I did go for a jog this morning (and I went through my Tai Chi form, as well as my small San Sau and the large San Sau I know so far), and I wrote a letter to a MD Senator telling her to fight Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, but other than that… Well, I did spend a lot of time on the computer trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with my cell phone. I think that is why I feel so drained. I must have spent hours trying to figure it all out (and hours of stress over being homeless simply because a MF cell phone won’t work is… well, draining).

I did (sort of) figure out what was wrong with the cell. It wasn’t working. Calls weren’t getting through. I finally, in a flash of inspiration, turned the thing off and turned it on again and VOILA problem solved. Okay, I still don’t know what the problem was or if it will happen again, but it seems to be okay now. I called the landlord guy and told him what was up. He had set up a meeting with the other roommate this morning, but because my cell phone wasn’t working… well, now he has to call her again and set up another time. He offered to call me back and I was like, no, why don’t I call you…

I hate cell phones.

I really need to go grocery shopping. I have 1 slice of salami left. I have an orange, some chocolate, some Edam cheese, and two things of yoghurt. Probably not enough to make it through the week… I need to get some more veggies. And probably some meat. And maybe some bread. And maybe some eggs too… In short, I need to go do some serious grocery shopping.

I’m going to miss living here because I’ve been able to listen to Czech in context. My roommate speaks with her daughter (and her daughter’s friends) in Czech, and I can listen and watch. For example, if my roomie is in the kitchen preparing some food and her daughter comes in, says something, and then opens the fridge and gets out some food, I know that she has asked her mom for food and that her mom has suggested whatever it is the daughter pulled out of the fridge. I still am not saying anything in Czech (other than “I don’t speak Czech), but I am actively listening to it. The sound of it has really grown on me. At first, it just sounded awful to me. But now I can hear some interesting sounds and rhythms in it that I want to learn.

On the other hand, even though I will miss it here, I can’t wait to move into my new place. I just want to be settled somewhere, to feel like I have a home (this feels temporary to me.. Well, duh. It *is* temporary). I want to feel like I can buy groceries without having to worry about moving them in a few days (one of the reasons I’m avoiding this necessary trip to the grocery store… I also have no idea what to fix for dinner tonight… Veggies. I need veggies. I’m actually craving vegetables.)

I feel soooo tired…

January 14, 2007 5:30pm

Well, I had a better day today. I met my future roommate and signed my lease (and paid my security deposit--I have to pay my rent on Friday when I move in). The landlord is going to clean the room AND provide me with a duvet AND fresh sheets. How cool is that? He also changes the light bulbs in the apartment. He is also going to give me a bus map. He seems to really look out for his tenants. My future roommate has lived there for three years. Also, it is too funny because one of the teachers at my school lives there. He is one that I share a class with.

Other than all that, I really didn’t do much today. But that’s okay. Well, actually, I prepped five classes today (yea me). I have a really awesome lesson I’ve planned for one of my classes and, if it goes well, I am going to try it with another group (or two… or three).

But I realized that I haven’t been posting much (um, anything) about my classes, so… here is some news on the job front.

Right now I’m teaching 18 hours a week. Starting the week after this coming week, I am going to be teaching 22 hours a week. I will have two 90 min lessons at the Lego factory (I know, I know, how cool is that?). The only thing about the Lego factory is that it takes about an hour to get there and an hour to get back. I have to take the metro to the end of the line, take bus to the end of its line, THEN hop into a private car for the rest of the way. The classes are on Wednesday, which brings my total time for Wednesday up to 8 and ½ teaching hours (not including travel time, which will work out to about four hours total). So, yeah, crazy day.

My students are pretty good overall. I have mostly intermediate classes (from pre-intermediate up to advanced intermediate and a couple of advanced classes). I am finding, though, that most of my students are not creative. I’ve had a couple of really cool lessons fall flat because my students just can’t get into it. I figured I’d be having to fun and learning as boring grammar.

I had this one lesson where I gave the students a series of pictures and had them put them in order and then tell a ghost story about them. For that class, I managed to pair the two least creative students together (whoops). I also managed to pair the two most creative students together (double whoops). So, I had my two uncreative students staring at the pictures and asking me for the answer. I tried to convince them that there was no actual right answer, but they just weren’t buying it. Across from them, the creative students were laughing and writing out this intricate story line. Back to the two uncreative students, who are slumped at their desks, arms folded, and who are starting to glare, not just at me, but at each other. When they started to argue, I was like, “okay! Time’s up! Put your pencils down!” This, of course, upset the two create students, who were only halfway through their story. Ugh. Oh, and did I mention that this is a class of people 16-33? These are not exactly kids here. Sheesh.

Last Friday I had another excellent lesson where the kids had to design a wild charity stunt (I had a picture of a guy sailing over water using Leonardo Da Vinci wings to get them started). Okay, FIRST of all, out of a class of eight, only two showed up (WTF that was all about, I don’t know. I’m trying not to feel too paranoid about it. It was Friday after all). SO, after I get them talking about the picture and the idea of charity stunts, I tell them they now have to design their own charity stunt. They looked at me like I had grown a third toenail from my forehead. “We’ll throw a party,” they informed me. “But what about a charity stunt? Don’t you think that would raise more money?” I asked. “No,” they informed me. “What if it was something really weird that no one had seen before?” I asked. “No. We will throw a party. A dance party.” So I figure, sure, we’ll work with that. “But are you going to have a charity stunt at the party?” I asked them (I really, really wanted a charity stunt. I wanted to see what they could come up with.) “Nope. But we’ll have beer there, and we can give 10% of our beer sales to charity” they decided. So that was that, and I had to admit defeat.

So I have this excellent lesson planned for my morning class at a computer company (with computer technicians). I’m gonna play them some Tina Turner (‘Nutbush City Limits‘), do a cloze activity, and then get them to imagine the town, the people who live in the town, and what they would do if they lived in the town (I have pictures for all of these). I’m a little concerned that all this creativity might not fly with a bunch of computer, um, people (I was gonna say nerds, but I thought better of it). If they protest, I am going to point out that this task actually mirrors one of the tasks they are going to be asked to do when they take their exam. So. There. (But I will be totally perplexed if my ‘Nutbush’ lesson plan completely flops. I mean, how can I go wrong with Tina? Not possible.)

Ugh. I just scrolled back a little and I realized that I’ve repeated myself a bit. Oh well. I’m trying to hold info about my students and schedule and whatnot in my head, so naturally I can’t exactly remember what I’ve written and what I haven’t.

I have another “experimental” lesson planned for tomorrow night. It is a fluency lesson disguised as a grammar lesson (I’m getting sneaky). I noticed that, even though my students are advanced to proficient, they are still having some problems with their past tenses (all of them. Which really isn’t a big surprise because Czech only has one past tense. Guess it needs to make up for the ten zillion inflections somehow. But anyway). So, I’m gonna give each person a past tense (perfect, progressive, and perfect progressive) and then have them do a little personal review of that tense. Then, they will need to explain it to the other students. Next, I wrote out some cards with “tell me a story about something that happened to you when you…” The students have to draw a card, tell a story, and the other students will listen to the story and also to the students’ tenses. If they hear a tense used incorrectly, they have a choice if they want to correct it right away or wait until the end of the story. (In this way I can find out if my students prefer immediate error correction or delayed error correction.) I think this activity will give them a little bit more “ownership” of the past tenses. At least that is my rationale for the lesson… we will see how well it works…

Well, that is all the news here. I didn’t do anything touristy this weekend. H, actually, I found the theatre where Don Giovanni premiered. I think that is pretty cool. (Basically, I was walking down the street and saw a bunch of tourists taking pictures, so I figured the building much be something important). I also went into H&M to see if they had anything good for sale, but all the normal stuff was gone (it was just the really weird junk that H&M mixes in with the more normal stuff that I actually wear). I didn’t make it into Promod, though. Actually, I was surprised that anything was open today. I figured everything would be locked up tight all day long, it being Sunday and all.

I’ve started looking for a Tai Chi instructor here. I’ve found a couple, but I don’t know how different their form is from the one I’ve learned. I would hate to have to learn a whole new form (and if it came to that, I would just work on the form on my own and try a different style of Martial Arts--probably a harder style). I don’t know. I guess I will figure something out. I still don’t have a good sense of how different the various styles are. I don’t really care so much about finding the one that is “the best” because I figure they are all good (if the instructors are good). I just want to find one that incorporates the Martial aspects of the form (not just the health aspects).

I also need to register for my free Czech lessons (and possibly some French classes). I haven’t totally decided on the French yet--I don’t know how much time I will have. If I can keep my schedule at 22 teaching hours… well, I figure about an hour or so prep for each class, and then ten travel hours total for the week… which is 54 hours a week devoted to work. If I add Czech and Tai Chi, how much time have I realistically got left? But I really hate the idea of losing my French even more. If I took classes here, I could study for an exam in the language and be able to add that to my CV (as opposed to just “Intermediate French” which is on there now. How useless is that anyway?)

Well, gonna go make some food. I need me some veggies still. I bought zucchini (cukety) today, so I’m gonna do something with that, the tomatoes (rajcata), and the mozzarella cheese (syr) I got yesterday.

c = /ts/

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Running the world - Jarvis Cocker


I HATE cell phones

So, I'm waiting for a call from the guy I'm renting the room from, and my cell phone has mysteriously stopped working. I can't check the credit, I can't call for help, I can't do f*ck all with it. Useless peice of sh*t. If I lose this room because my f*cking cell phone has decided to take a holiday, I'm going to throw the f*cking thing off the local suicide bridge.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Some more pics...

This is the Loreto in Prague... it was, um, interesting. It contained quite possibly the ugliest Cathedral I've ever seen. Hmm, guess I should write about that too. Well, add it to the list of things to look for in the future.

This is one of the statues on Charles Bridge in Prague.

(Hope this works). This is a short video I took of the fountain outside of the (brand new) Kafka Museum in Prague. THe funniest thing about this fountain was the fact it was surrounded by middle-aged and older ladies who were just tickled to peices about the whole thing. They all got each other to take their pictures standing in between the two men in the fountain.

I didn't go into the museum, though I did have a brief moment where I wondered what exactly it was that made me think it would be a good idea for me to move to the city that created/influenced Kafka. I mean, I've already lived through my own Kafka story. It was not a pleasant experience, so... what am I doing in Prague again? Oh right, the culture.

Not Homeless!

Yea! I found a place to live! I haven't signed anything yet, but the guy who showed me the place said that, of all the people who had come to see it, I was the best. (Me! The best! Yea! Again!). I just need to meet the roommate (another English teacher from the States--a girl from San Diego). The owner of the building rents out the rooms seperately. He is fluent in English (and most of the tenents are foreigners like me). He seems to be very involved in the upkeep of the building (he has just replaced the roof and has been gradually renovating the rooms), he seems to know the other tenents pretty well--oh, and he was very supportive. We looked at my map of Prague to find the best ways for me to get from the flat to my morning lessons. He was obviously very proud of his building (which I think is a positive sign).

The flat was very nice--it had been recently renovated (there was a stand-up shower AND bathtub!!!!!!). The room itself is great. It is a little smaller than the one I am in now (so I don't know if I will be able to do my Tai Chi in there), but all the stuff is new. The bed seemed pretty comfortable. There is a couch, a wardrobe, a dresser, a table with chairs, and a television (!). It is on the top floor of the building, so the ceiling kind of slopes in a couple of places (very cool)... and the building has a lift, so, yea! The kitchen has a big fridge AND a freezer AND (believe it or not) a microwave!

The location is not excellent, but it is not bad (Zizkov, for those of you who have maps. For those who don't, I am a couple of tram stops away from two different metro stations, so... (yeah, and once I get the bus lines figured out--maybe my next big project--I might discover a more direct way to get from the flat to my classes (scattered across Prague).

I think I will need to buy some sheets for the bed, but I think that is it. The price is at the top of my range (but it is still within my range), and utilities are included.

Wow, it has been a totally crazy week. I can't belive it is over (and that i passed through it all relatively unscathed). I need to do some serious blogging this weekend to catch you guys up on:

My trip to the doctor
My apartment shopping trip
my Chicken buying experience
My thoughts on cussing
My students and classes
My ribs

And I still need to post about the hostel (I'm working on it, Anna, I promise).

Anyway, I'm gonna work on that now on my laptop and maybe post all that stuff sometime next week (if I have time--I'm going to be moving, after all).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Still going

Stil going. Thhanks for the stories--I read them and enjoy them, even ifI don't get a chance to respond to them.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not Done Yet

Well, I thought I was done for the day, but I'm not. I'm going out to look at an apartment right now. Ugh. But the price and location is pretty good. I was just talking to another teacher about renting a place together, but if this is nice... I will just have toditch this poor teacher. Hey, every man for himself.

All Okay

All okay here. Had a tiring day (back hurts and I'm hungry), but somewhat productive. I accomplished my main goal of getting passport pictures. Even though I am tired, I feel ready to face the next week (which is going to be a crazy one between Visa stuff, Teaching, Class Prep, and Apartment hunting). Wish me luck.

Thanks to everyone

Hey y'all. Mom sent me an email that said this: "GREAT comments on your blog - you have so many devoted friends!! If you
never make another friend your entire life, you'll have captured more
than most."

And she is right. I have an absolutely WONDERFUL group of friends. It may not be a large network, but each friend that I do have is worth more than a hundred casual acquaintances (or a thousand or a million or whatever). Quality over quantity and all that.

So thanks for all the comments.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Check out my cousin the model

Yup, I'm related to this cute kid (doubt me? Look at the nose). I wonder if she go to keep the doll...

(By the way, I copied and pasted that address from my e-mail. I know, I know, bit whoop, you say. But it was--all the right-click instructions are in Czech on this computer. So there.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Church of our Lady before Tyn (and the Christmas stalls in the Old Town Square).

Statue of Kafka (or celebrating Kafka) in Josefov.


My room--which I will have until about January 20th (when I will have to move).


St Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

The Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, Prague.

Charles Bridge (with St Vitus Cathedral in the background).

A view of Prague from Petrin Hill.

This is a sculpture (sculptures?) at the base of Petrin Hill.


This is a postscript to the last journal entry in the previous blog entry (the cranky/depressed/stressed/emotional blog--you will know it when you see it).

I feel better. Not great, but better. I no longer feel like going to the airport RIGHT NOW and taking the first plane back to the US. (I just thought I should mention that, in case anyone was too worried about me).

I've told myself that I will stay until the end of January (or when I need to move out of my apartment, which is around the 20th of January) and see how I feel then. But I honestly feel that, if I can just get through the next two weeks, I will be okay. It just seems like, with teaching, there is such a long period of making mistakes and doing things wrong and having things completely fall apart--no matter how much school you have had, it doesn't really seem to change this period of learning (learning by screwing up, that is). SO I know I need to give myself some time to try and work through this initial period, instead of giving up right away (soooooo tempting, I am not going to lie about this. Pole dancing as a career path is looking better and better...). BUT. Damnit, I am going to get through this--or at least as much as I can for as long as I can. And I am going to make it get better--just because that is the type of person I am.

SO, I was going to write something else, but I've completely forgotten what it was.

Ha! I went to write the word salary on the whiteboard this morning for a class and realized I was not completely sure how to spell it, so I just wrote "how much a person makes." Crappy erratic English spelling.

Here we go...

So, I finally got my laptop on the internet, which means I can finally post my Czech blog notes and some pictures of Prague. These blog entries are going to be totally out of order (but they are dated, so that should provide some reference). I just don't have the energy right now to deal with trying to put them in order (and even then, they won't be in absolute order with the rest of the blog). Ugh, whatever. My brain is a little tired right now.

But here they are... the good, the bad, and the ugly:

December 26, 2006 3:33pm (Frankfurt); 8:33 US Central; 9:33 US Eastern

So, here I am in Frankfurt. Umm, in the Frankfurt airport. Sitting. I have a feeling that there is another part of the airport--a bigger part--but I have no idea where it would be. I probably should have printed out a full map of the airport before I left. Not that I have been too bored. I found a nice place to sit down (slump down) and doze for a couple of hours. Then, I got myself a sandwich, sat back down, and dozed a little more (yea, dozing). So much for my grandiose plans to conduct a whirlwind tour of Frankfurt where here, but, quite honestly, I didn’t think I’d be doing that anyway.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself because of my seven hour layover, then I started talking to the woman a seat away from me on the flight from Chicago to Frankfurt. Her final destination was Iran, and her layover was ten hours. Then, the person with the seat between us showed up. His final destination was Palestine, and his layover was 12 hours--and he couldn’t leave the terminal because he didn’t have a visa. Anyway, I think I’m just in he international hub here. It was pretty crazy this morning--I got the impression that all these flights arrived at once. It has calmed down significantly--people seem to be trickling out to different locations. The store workers here don’t even bother with German--they just start out all transactions with English. There are two announcements for every flight--the first is in German, the second is in the language of the destination (unless the destination is a German-speaking region, in which case the announcement is in English. Ditto with Scandinavian destinations and “obscure” destinations).

As can be easily imagined, not much going on right now. Oh, on my flight from Springfield to Chicago, I wound up sitting next to a pilot (in uniform). It made me feel a little safer on the tiny little plane (those things can be quite scary).

I’m right across from some television screens that have flight information on them, so I can watch my flight to Prague move slowly up and to the left on the series of 12 screens.

Gah! Everyone here has fuzzy boots! I *knew* I should have gotten a pair of fuzzy boots before I left. Now I’m gonna have to spend way too much money to get myself a pair! (The again, most of the fuzzy boot wearers could be Americans. I guess I will just have to see how things turn out when I reach my actual destination.)

The flight from Chicago to Frankfurt was overbooked--by about 30 or 40 people. It was a Boeing 747. I don’t think I’d ever been in a multi-level plane before (or, if I have, I have forgotten it).

I wore my fuzzy sweater and carried my black coat. Now my black coat is fuzzy. Even when I am away from my cat, I still look like a cat owner.

4:02 pm

Okay, Mom recommended that I watch _The State Within_ (a BBC Drama) on my laptop. I’m sure it will be very good-the only problem is that an airplane explodes in the first ten minutes of it. I think I’m going to walk to Prague now.

December 29, 2006 8:07pm

Found a place to live today--in fact, I’ve already moved in. That was a bit of an adventure…
I called the owner of the apartment last night, and we arranged to meet at noon today so I could view the room. It took me about two hours to find the place (no, I’m not exaggerating. I actually started looking for the place on my way to the school so I could determine how long it would take me to get there from the apartment. I wound up taking the two hours I was going to use to find the school to find the apartment.). Anyway, when I walked into the apartment, I was greeted by a very friendly cat. The room was nice--big--and the owner (my current roommate now) was very nice and there were two cats (including the very friendly cat I met first who is now sitting on my granola bars). Anyway, the owner, R., said that I could move in whenever I wanted, and we agreed to meet again at 5pm, me with my bags and money for rent.

So, I went to the ATM and withdrew some money. I found the ATM more quickly than I thought I would, so I decided to see if the school was open at all. It wasn’t. I went back to the Youth Hostel (okay, remind me to talk about my very strange experience there), packed my stuff, and worked on a Sudoku puzzle until 4:30. Then, I grabbed my stuff and went down to the desk to check out. The guy behind the desk didn’t charge me for my entire reservation, which was excellent (and more than I was expecting), so I paid up, grabbed my bags, and went outside…

(Now, before I go any further, I should explain that the place where I am now living is only a few blocks away from the youth hostel. Six-ish. Up a hill, then down a hill. I should also mention that, at 4:30pm in Europe, it is pitch black outside. I probably also need to mention that I, in my infinite wisdom, decided that I could walk, with my bags, to the new apartment No Problemo.)

…into snow. Yes, ladies and gents, it was snowing in Prague. And it was sticking. And it was cold and wet. And I did not revise my plan of treking up a hill in the snow in Prague in the pitch blackness that was Europe in December with over 100 pounds of luggage (again, no exaggeration. I weighed it before I left the States). Until about five steps up the hill, when it finally hit me that I was a [censored] idiot and I would probably deserve the heart attack and death by exposure that was going to be my fate. So what did I do? I kept going. I just kept telling myself that once I got to the top of the hill, I could just let my suitcase drag me down the other side.

Here is where the story gets weird. Just as the luggage tumbled (the duffel bag fell off the suitcase), two young men were walking by. One of them came up to me and asked me something in Czech. And I, jet-lagged and exhausted and hungry and about the have a heart attack, forgot the five words of Czech I knew, that I had practiced over and over and over again, and just stared at this young man with my mouth hanging open like a mute (and slightly retarded) fish?

“English?” The young man asked and, when I nodded, continued with a perfect American accent,” Do you need some help?”

Okay, two young men, American accents, with name tags. It is dark outside and they’re wearing coats, but I’m willing the bet my 8000 Czech Crowns of Rent money that theses guys have suits on under those coats. You thinking what I’m thinking? Yup. Even jet-lagged, exhausted, hungry, and about to have a heart attack, I know a pair of Mormans when I see ’em. (Though this ability took me a few years to develop, which is a completely different story. Lets just say it involved being stuck on a boat with a Morman.)

I seriously debated saying no thank you, I’m fine. Okay, there was nothing serious about that internal debate. There was only one answer, after the usual tap-dance of are-you-sure-you-don’t-mind-they’re-really-heavy. Hell yeah, I need help, and if you want to talk about your church I will shut up and politely listen as long as you carry my bags for me. But there was no need for that. We made small talk all the way up the hill and all the way down, and I made it to my new home without having to know the Czech words for Heart Attack and Imminent Death.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I am completely exhausted. My main task tomorrow is going to be to try to find a grocery store near the apartment. My secondary task is going to be to go do something touristy. Maybe I will set my alarm so I can wake up early and see the snow in the morning.

Yeah right.


Just finished my Tai Chi. The room I’m in is big enough for me to do my Tai Chi (except in the final third I have to stop to move a little bit). I also went through my Small San Sau and the part of Large San Sau that I know.

I’m sooo tired. I’m just waiting for my roommate to get back so she can show me how to get on the internet. I want to send my Mom and e-mail. She called while I was having lunch and told me my Grandmother was in the hospital. I don’t think I can stay up too much longer, though.

By the way, did I ever mention that airport security really sucks? This time I managed to make it through not just one but two security checks with a pair of sharp scissors in my carry-on bag. I didn’t even know they were there--not until just after the second security check (in Frankfurn) when I finally decided to look in my backpack to see what kept poking me in the back. Whoops. Moral of the story? Don’t bother checking it--just give it to me.

Okay, I think I’m gonna brush my teeth and get to sleep. I will just have to figure out the Internet thing tomorrow. G’night.

9:47 pm

No. I must stay awake at least until 10:30. Otherwise, I will wake up around midnight, lie in bed awake for about two hours, then not wake up again until 8:30am. I must stay awake a little while longer, and I must set my alarm clock (7-ish?). I know, I’ll play a computer game. Or finish watching the first episode of The State Within.

December 30, 2006 3:56 pm

So. Tired. Can’t. Lift. Tea. To. Mouth. Well… Maybe not. That tired. Just yet.

I’ve forgotten how annoying cats can be when one is trying to sleep. Especially curious little orange-ish cats and big, fat, always hungry male cats. Who have figured out how to open the door to the room where I am staying. (I think the big cat just throws himself against it and it gives way under his weight. But I was too tired last night to test my theory, so the mystery remains unsolved).

So, no wireless here after all. I’m going to try to plug in my laptop to see if I can access the internet that way. R. said I could use her laptop, but it is set up for typing in Czech, which means that the letters and special characters are not always where my fingers think they should be (and not always where the keyboard says they are).

December 30, 2006 11:35pm

I’ve just realized that my laptop has skipped a day somewhere. I noticed this when I read the last entry I wrote and had no memory of having written it today. Although it does talk about being tired, I figure I would at least remember being that tired, right? Right?

January 1, 2007 12:54pm

Happy New Year. And, no, I did not just wake up. I’ve been awake since before 8:00 this morning. Last night, for New Year’s Eve, I met up with another English teacher and we went to Wencelas Square to see first-hand the crazyness that is a major European city on New Years Eve. It was crazy: broken bottles everywhere; people stumbling drunk through the streets, singing and dancing; people shooting off fireworks in the middle of the street; said fireworks careening crazily, bouncing off building; noise, noise, noise; and continual fireworks. I hadn’t realized just how much I took New Year’s Eve fireworks for granted until the teacher I was with, who had just arrived in Prague, started jumping and starting every time a firework went off. It made me remember how, when we first returned to the States, I found it so odd that there were no fireworks on New Year’s Eve. I think I even asked my parents about it (who told me that 4th of July was the big firework event in the States--which seemed a little unnatural to me. Fireworks and New Years Eve just belong together.) Well. Now that I’ve seen all that, I can spend the rest of my life sleeping through New Year’s Eve (which is my preferred way to spend it).
Anyway, the other teacher, K., started talking about New Year’s Resolutions. I, as a rule, do not make them. I figure that, if something is important enough for someone to really want to change, then why wait for a special day to do it? Why not just--start? And how many people honestly keep their New Year’s Resolutions? I figure New Year’s Resolutions were made to be broken, so I don’t make them. K. would not accept this as an answer, so I told her that my NYR was to learn how to pronounce the Czech r with an accent over it (I can’t find the character for it. I’m not even completely sure what it is called. When people refer to it, it sounds like “r hotchick,” but I’m sure that’s not the way it is spelled. Anyway, it’s a bitc-devil of a thing to try to pronounce.) K. then informed me that her NYR was to not worry so much about what other people think. I, of course, promptly informed her that that was a stupid resolution, to which she replied, “Do you think so? Really?” (I couldn’t help myself. I did go back and explain the joke, and I promised that I’d call her on it if she started to worry to much about WOPT.)

Yesterday afternoon I walked up Petrin Hill, a large hill in the city. I thought for sure I would be sore today, but I feel fine. It may not hit until tomorrow.

The day before yesterday I went to the Museum with my roomie, R. There was a prehistoric Czech Man exhibit that she wanted to see. The exhibit was all in Czech, but it was very well done. I had never really appreciated before what made a good exhibit until I was faced with an indecipherable language. Even though the information was given in Czech, I was able to piece together quite a bit of it from context. Most of the displays incorporated pictures and video and (what are those called--dioramas?--that attempt to recreate scenes from a certain time). For example, a display of bones was located next to a picture of the gravesite, an artist’s drawing of what the people must have looked like when they were buried, and a map showing the location of the grave. A skeleton of modern man was located next to a skeleton of Neanderthal man, additional skulls of both types, a chart showing the years that each existed, and pictures showing what each looked like (again, artist renditions of the two). I felt that, despite not knowing the language, I was able to get a very good sense of what the exhibit was about.

After going through this exhibit (which was temporary), R. and I went to the permanent Prehistory exhibit. What a world of difference. This exhibit was a long glass case filled with pottery and tools and heaven only know what else because it was all labeled in Czech. No maps, no pictures, no context. I walked through it quickly, looking at pottery, shards of pottery, more pottery, and more pottery. R. marveled at the beauty of it, and it was nice, but I couldn’t help imagine the reactions of the women who used the pottery if they knew people were examining their pots and pans and dishes. As I looked through the glass display case, I imagined the women standing behind the visitors, their faces reflected in the glass. First they would be proud that others were admiring their possessions. If they had made the pottery, they would take pride in the fact that others were appreciating their work. But then they would start to feel a little confused and maybe even a little uncomfortable that so many people spent so much time examining, studying, and commenting on their dishes. They would fail to see any great importance in these items (other than their practical use). Eventually, they would begin to see the humor in it. Out of all they things they their society created and owned, for the kitchen utensils to garner so much attention is ironic and amusing. They might even feel a little superior to us, given our lack of scope on these matters.

Or maybe not.

January 4, 2007 11:34 am

Culture shock.

Okay, this is not going to be a happy, I’m so glad I’m in Prague post. Nor is this post really intended to amuse any readers of this blog. Rather, this post is more for me, just in case I decide to travel to another country to teach English. I don’t intend to use this information to talk myself out of ever doing this again, but just to remind myself just how completely awful culture shock is. I also want to have a written record of these feeling so, in the future, if I wind up working with immigrants (or foreign university students) in the US (a very likely possibility), I can come back to this and use it to remind myself what my students are most likely going through (or what they have gone through at one point or another).

Culture shock sucks--can I get an Amen. I know, I know, I’ve only been here a little over a week, how can I be going through culture shock already? Well, I figure I’ve started living the life and started working, so I’m at the point where I am trying to adjust to a whole new way of life. Right now--ha! Where does one even being with culture shock? It is something that seems to be greater than its parts--I feel like if I write everything down, it will all just be small stuff that looks so silly. But there it is.

So maybe I will just start with emotions and reactions and work my down. I’ve reached a PMS level with my emotions. Last night, I went into the Z-Market (a grocery store) to get something to eat and nearly burst into tears when I picked up a package of something and realized that I had no idea what it was or how to prepare it. I spent the next three hours crying off and on (mostly on), and trying to keep from looking at air fare home.

Yesterday wasn’t too bad, really. I had my first lesson in the morning (one-on-one in-company, General Business English--now there’s a laugh, me teaching Business English). But the night before I had gotten less than three hours sleep, and my stomach had just recently decided that there was no way in hell it was going to let me put any more food into it (hell of a time for my stomach to stop working, right?). But the lesson went fine, and I went to the school to prepare my lessons for today. I also met with my mentor, a teacher who had been with the school for five years. We sat and talked about things, and he told me that I didn’t seem to be the type of person who gets too frazzled about things. I assured him that was all an act held together by exhaustion and tea (and a fair amount of setting the shoulders, gritting the teeth, narrowing the eyes, and just moving forward, but I didn’t mention all these). But it did make me feel good to hear a (basically) complete stranger say that.

The stomach was still a little unhappy, so yesterday’s meal was applesauce, a piece of bread, and some tomato soup. And even then the stomach was protesting.

Anyway, despite all intentions to go to bed early and get about 10 hours of sleep, I spent another night tossing and turning. What happened? Well, in addition to the stress of everything else, my roommate told me that her boyfriend is coming back to Prague sooner than expected, so I would have to find another place to live sooner than I had previously thought. She said she would, of course, refund some rent money depending on when I moved out and also that I could stay a few days after her boyfriend got back, but… I think it makes sense for me to be out of there before the boyfriend returns.

Okay, I’m giving the stomach quiche now. It is not happy about it, but it needs to eat something. I’m not going to let it pull some Kafka Hunger Artist Bullsh*t on me now.

So, today I woke up early, got dressed, and headed to my morning class (about a half an hour away from me). When I got there, I was 15 minutes early (yea me!), so I had to wait for the office to open. When it did open, the receptionist informed me that the class wouldn’t start until next Tuesday. Agh. So, back to the apartment went our little intrepid heroine. And guess what she passed on the way back. Right. The Z-Market. And guess what happened? Right. Instant welling of tears in the eyes. Along with a sudden urge to look at flight prices on the internet. But I kept walking back to the apartment, where I changed into my pjs, checked my e-mail, and crawled into bed. I didn’t sleep a lot or well, but I must have slept at least a little because at one point I had a dream that I woke up from a dream. When I woke up in the dream, I looked around the bedroom I was in. At first I thought it was my room, but then, as I woke up (in the dream), I realized that not only was it not my room, but that nothing in the room belonged to me. It was a very disorienting feeling (although not a very subtle dream. I guess my subconscious is a little too tired to come up with anything too clever or profound right now).

I have about three square inches of quiche left, but I don’t think the stomach will let me do it without a major protest that would render all previous efforts to give it food fruitless. So I think I’m gonna have to stop here with the quiche.

So, I guess none of this seems so bad when it is broken up into pieces and written down, but it all sucks. Still, this is not the most miserable experience of my life (Go Army). In fact, I think I’ve managed to set the bar pretty low (High? Low?) for sucky experiences crammed into short time frames, so compared to all that, this is a cakewalk.

I guess one of the things about culture shock is that everything that is new or strange to me is familiar to almost everyone around me. For the tourists, it is all temporary and is thus a novelty. For the people who have been here awhile, yeah, it was strange when they first got here but now it is normal. For me, so many things that I used to take for granted have now changed. There are the household things: everything from not having a microwave to having a bathtub but no shower. In the grocery stores it is everything from not knowing where the bags are to carry my things from the store home to not knowing how to buy meat to not knowing what at least half the stuff in the store is to not being able to find most of what I normally eat back in the States. In the city it is everything from not knowing how to get anywhere to not knowing what types of stores to go to to buy certain things (a pillow, for example). It is not knowing the visa process and not knowing how to get a doctor’s appointment (part of the visa process) and… so many other small things that can frustrate so much.

But I guess part of the culture shock experience are the victories. Again, these are very simple things, but they mean so much: the first time I went into a grocery store and bought something. The first time I navigated the metro/tram system without having to look at a map once (I haven’t started with the bus system yet--way to confusing at this point). The first time I figured out how to use the oven (This was pretty major, actually. It is gas and the range needs to be lit, so I was afraid the oven might need to be lit. I really didn’t want to pull a Sylvia Plath, so I kept sniffing the air without breathing too deeply. Finally, I figured out the right combination of knobs to turn, and I wound up with a mostly-done quiche (oh sh*t, I reminded the stomach. Whoops).

Anyway, I have a class with 11 students this afternoon. I’m a little nervous about it, but I have some icebreakers planned. I don’t really know how long they will take, but I think I can stretch them out a little longer if necessary.

By the way, if you have read this and have never experienced culture shock, don’t you dare post something about how you understand, blah, blah blah. I’m still in a volatile state and it will probably just piss me off OR make me cry OR have absolutely no effect. Instead, post encouraging messages about how brave I am and how you know I can handle it. You can mention that sane people don’t do this type of thing as long as you temper it with one of the previously mentioned statements. (Sorry if that sounded a little harsh, but I don’t have the energy to be too diplomatic right now). If you have experiences culture shock, please please please post stories about your experiences. Stories that involve crying would be most highly appreciated (especially if they are funny or have a funny ending or twist or something).