Saturday, March 24, 2007

More Czech Journal

So, here is some more of my Czech Journal. I think I've posted some of the stuff before, but I couldn't figure out where I left off, so I'm just posting all of it again. You will probably have to skip forward a bit. Oh well.

February 6, 2007 8:24pm

Was feeling upset and exhausted and frustrated, then realized it was about time for my monthly breakdown (like clockwork). Also time for me to fight my monthly urge to look at plane tickets to the States. I told myself I would have a good cry before I went to sleep, but I’m too tired now so I guess it will just have to wait until I have more energy. Ugh. Hope this one passes as quickly as the last one (about 36 hours of wallowing in self-pity, then it was gone).

February 18, 2006

Wow. It has really been a long time since I’ve written anything here. I just finished watching Everything is Illuminated. The best scene is where Alex, the translator, asks “Jonfan” how much currency premium accountants make in the United States. The conversation that follows is pretty much like something out of any one of my classes. (I showed it to my roommate and she was laughing her ass off).

But meanwhile, I’m trying to steel myself for a trip into the classroom tomorrow. Nervous as hell… and I know I need to appear confident… can’t let them smell fear. I would say that this group isn’t so scary (and dangerous) as some other groups, but I’ve learned my lesson about taking anything for granted. Now I feel like I need to be on guard from all sides.

February 24, 2007 8:37am
Well, survived another week of this whole teaching thing… whew. It is now Saturday morning. It is a little chilly outside, but I think I’m going to go jogging anyway. I just need to give my breakfast some time to settle. Then, grocery shopping and maybe some cooking. Nothing too exciting—Saturday is usually a day of recovery from the week. I always tell myself I’m not going to do any lesson prep over the weekend, but I usually wind up doing some. Monday is going to be a little crazy again, so I have to do at least a little bit at some point this weekend. I may try to leave it for Sunday evening, though…

I need to work on developing a social life—not so good at that. I was working on it, then all that crap happened with complaints and observations and whatnot, so I put social life on the backburner. Now I think I should probably start working on it again…

So, wow, it has been a long time since I’ve really written anything. Ummm, but I’m not going to write anything right now because I’m still waking up and I feel like anything I write will be slightly incoherent. I’m gonna watch the last episode of Reno 911 season three.

Before I do that, though, I have a Czech lesson for everyone:

To je škoda = What a pity. (pronunciation: toe yeah shkoda—š is sh)

Škoda is also the name of a Czech car.


February 27, 2007
Feeling pretty good right now. My student for tomorrow morning cancelled, but it was less than 6 business hours before the lesson, so I should still get paid for it. So, not only do I get to sleep in tomorrow, I have her lesson for next week prepped now AND I get paid for sleeping in. Yeah. Life is not so bad sometimes.

Last weekend I went into the creepy building (see pictures I posted a few weeks back). The creepy building is open once a month for a few hours—it was open last Saturday so I went there before I went grocery shopping. The inside is just as creepy as the outside—maybe a bit more so. It used to be a tomb for Communist party leaders—Gottwald’s embalmed body was displayed there for a few years until it started to decay (ewww…). The inside is completely in marble—it was colder inside than it was outside. Everything was at right angles—completely uniform. There were no windows. Well, almost. The lower level had a couple of windows, and the upper level didn’t have windows but it did have some nearly opaque glass in the ceiling. Having the only natural light come from the ceiling gave the place a feeling of being built completely underground—not a pleasant feeling overall. It was so odd because everything was so geometric and measured. On one hand, there were no flaws—but that is not a good thing. There was no extra ornamentation or design to help give the eyes a break—it was all so harsh and oppressive. Still, I’m glad I went to see it. Things like that remind me that I’m in a country that was Communist for several years. That is something that will always make this place foreign—will make it different from West Germany or France (or the USA or Canada). There is a whole range of experiences that I can never tap into (which is not a bad thing, it is just something I need to remember. Things like this monument remind me of that).

Sunday I went to Letna Park. There is a giant metronome at the top of Letna Park. The park itself might have been nice, but it was in such a state of disrepair. If I wanted to film a post-apocalyptic movie, I would use Letna Park. There was grass growing up through the cobblestones and pavement, there were stairs missing (and parts of stairs missing). There were broken slabs of… benches, pavement, platforms, etc littering the park. I half expected to see people using drugs under the few benches that were not completely destroyed. I thought about taking pictures to post on my blog, but I decided against it. It was just a little too depressing.

I also saw the Exhibition Hall in Prague—also known as the Odessa train station (but only to people who have seen Everything is Illuminated. By the way, for those of you who are going to come and visit me, I recommend this movie. Parts of it were filmed in Prague—and the areas are easier to find than the places Amadeus was filmed—I still haven’t found any Amadeus sites yet).

Then I went shopping on Wenchaslas Square (Vaclavske Namesti) to try and find a pair of pants that fit. Didn’t have too much luck, though I did find the most AWESOME top at Marks and Spencers (I feel like I’ve written this before. I know I have. I just can’t remember if I wrote it in my blog or if I wrote it as an email to someone. If it is somewhere else in the blog, sorry). Anyway, the top was wayyyyy to expensive (over 1000 crowns!) so I told myself I didn’t really need it (I actually told myself that it didn’t fit. They didn’t have the size I needed, so I tried on the next closest size. I think that technically it did fit, but my story is that it didn’t fit well enough for me to spend over 1000 crowns on it (basically, two weeks of groceries).

Yeah, so that was my exciting weekend. I know, I know—I may as well have stayed in the States and had the same exact weekend back there (only six hours later). But, well, it’s Prague.

I think today was another blue day. I can’t decide if it is a blue slash or a blue cross. My system has already become complicated. I decided that having just two options—a blue X and a black X—was not enough, so now I have blue and black slashes (I also have left a couple of days blank because I really did not know what to do with them. I think they may count as black if I have a lot of black Xs and slashes, but they will count as blue if the blue marks outnumber the black marks. I know, I know—too complicated. But my days are that complicated—a good lesson, a great lesson, an indifferent lesson, an awful lesson—and all in the same day. This morning I played the Hypothetical Game with some of my students (they had taken a Mock PET exam last week, so I wanted to do something light with them). They had to write out cards with hypothetical situations (What would you do if you won a million dollars), then write three possible answers. Now, these are my computer tech students, so I was a little worried about their creativity. And it took them a looooong time to do six of their cards (I finally had to stop them so we could actually get to the game!). They did have some good ones though—in a very logical way. One student wrote “What if you broke your car” as his situation. One of his options was “cry like a small child.” The other student wrote “Imagine you were the most popular person in the world. What would you do?” One of her options was ‘be very tired.” Of course—it makes perfect sense! I love it when my students come up with stuff like that!

Well, I’m gonna read a little bit then get some sleep. I’m pretty tired right now.

March 1, 2007 11:40am
Ugh. Don’t know what is wrong with me, but I feel blah. Just completely blah. I really don’t want to have to go teach right now. I just want to eat chocolate, crawl into bed, and read and sleep. Oh, and drink tea (and maybe some hot chocolate). I may have to get some hot chocolate at the school café just to reward myself for leaving today (although I did already teach this morning. But I already had some chocolate to reward myself for that). Blah. I hate feeling like this. Blah blah blah.

8:45 pm
Feeling better—it may actually be a blue slash day (even with my totally wacky Czech class and my drag-ass exhaustion through three straight hours of teaching). So—wacky Czech class: 90 minutes is probably about 20 minutes too long for a beginning level language class, but… hell, I need to learn the language anyway. So, I was completely exhausted through the entire Czech class. Then, in the last fifteen to ten minutes, the teacher decided to explain the entire Czech verb system to us. Yeah. The ENTIRE Czech verb system. Granted, it is nowhere near as extensive as the English verb system, but… turns out there are four different groups for conjugation… and the verbs can switch groups depending on what tense is being used. So a verb that is conjugated as a group 1 verb in the present tense is conjugated as a group 4 verb in the future tense. Ugh, ugh, and double ugh (and ugh again). We’ve also started looking at a case. Don’t know which one it is, but:

Jsem z Ameriky
Jsem Američanka

Yeah. That. Also, it looks like the verbs in the past tense have to be conjugated for the gender of the speaker. Dude. I just have one thing to say… To je škoda.

Well, I have my guide book out and I’m gonna try to figure out what I want to see this weekend. There were a couple places I wanted to go, but it looks like they are closed until April. I may just have to stay in and drink tea and watch tv (CNN, Al-J, and Sex in the City on my laptop). Oh, and fight the urge to go back to Marks and Spencers and get that freakin’ awesome top.

By the way, it is odd having business folk as students. I was talking to one student about finding the awesome top at Marks and Spencers and that I didn’t get it because it was too expensive, and he was all like, dude, that store is cheap. If you want expensive clothes, you should go somewhere else. (Okay, I embellished his English just a little bit there, but you get the picture). I had some students tell me to go shopping in a mall (WTF?? Do they think I’m made of money here? Do I have Czech crowns coming out of my a$$?) and I actually had a different group of students suggest I go shopping between classes (insane). And everyone always talks about how materialistic Americans are… HA! It is all freakin’ over the entire world, thank you very much.

March 12, 2007
This is bad. This is really bad. I haven’t even been working three months and I already need a vacation. Ugh. Not cool. I am sooooo lazy… I’m telling myself that I feel this way because it is so nice outside and I don’t want to be inside prepping lessons, but… I just don’t feel like doing anything. I haven’t even been writing in my Prague journal that much. It could be because I’ve been busy, but… I’m also lazy. I have so much to write about, but I keep putting it off and putting it off.

Well, I’m gonna take a break form prepping lessons to have some food. Then I’m going to try and do some more prep. I want to go jogging today—and I should go through my Tai Chi form. I did some major cleaning this morning, and went into school to check my email and get some stuff for my lessons this week (I just can’t prep there because it is always crazy. I just can’t focus there.)

March 13, 2007
Happy Tuesday. Anyway, here is my daily interaction with things Czech: I told my students that they all have to give a presentation on their favorite song and explain why they like it. I figured I’d learn about different Czech artists and they would have an opportunity to stand in front of a classroom for a few minutes and speak in English. This would be a really great idea except for the fact that the pool of Czech music is—ahem—not that big. Last week the first student gave his presentation and tonight I had about half the class come up to me and say that they were planning on doing their presentation on the same singer. I mean, what are the chances of that happening in a classroom in the States? Hell, in a classroom in the States you probably wouldn’t have more than a couple of people doing the same genre of music, let alone the same artist. But live and learn. The Czech Republic is a small country.

Had another Czech class today. The class started with twelve people. Today there were only five of us—two Americans, two Germans, and one Brit. The Germans have totally left us in the dust (to be fair, one has studied Czech for a few months already and German has cases and gendered nouns and things so they have a head start). The other American and I were hanging on for dear life, and the British guy was just completely lost. He didn’t even have his book with him. I think he will be the next to go. I think the only people who will really stick it out will be the two Germans, the other American woman, and me.

Our Czech teacher speaks German and English (and Czech, duh), so classes are conducted in a mixture of those three languages. Both of the German women speak English, but sometimes it is easier for the teacher to explain something in German to them. The funny thing is that sometimes I understand those German explanations, so I guess I’m getting two languages for the price of one… (and the Czech class is free for me, so my price of one is nothing-except the cost of the book—which was about 25 dollars [ulp]).

Well, Mom is arriving Friday—pretty exciting. I think we are going to head over to Dresden. I want to see it (and I need to get my passport stamped because I’m coming up on 90 days), so… roadtrip! (Okay, technically train ride, but…).

Oh! Big news! One of my students was fired. A couple of weeks ago, at one of my companies, as I was getting ready to leave there was this big fuss because one of my students was crying in the office. I had no clue what was going on (and I felt more than a little uncomfortable), and then last week the company cancelled both classes at the last minute. Then today I got a text for the scheduling manager for the company to go and see her. When I talked to her, she explained that “one of the students was no longer with the company.” I still have two classes at the company (phew… that was my first concern), but the times may be changed just slightly (we shall have to see). But anyway, it is pretty good news for me. The student who was fired was difficult to teach. (I think she had ADD or something). She just could not focus on anything—even when it was something that she had said she wanted to do five minutes earlier. Anyway, this leaves me with one student in the class, so I will have to make some adjustments to tomorrow’s lesson plan for her… but it shouldn’t be too tricky. I really want to find out what happened, but I’m afraid to ask. I mean, if I go in there demanding the latest gossip then that might be a little unprofessional. On the other hand, I could introduce the concept of gossip. Hmmm….

March 14, 2007 9:47am
Dragging my ass this morning. I need to leave for my LEGO classes in about an hour, and I still haven’t showered yet. On the other hand, I did go jogging this morning, so… guess I’m not doing too bad. I still need to do some prep work for tomorrow morning—and prep a couple of classes for next week. Ugh. Oh, and I have a job interview next Tuesday after I teach in the morning. Fun fun fun.

So, I stopped by a Martial Arts school last night to talk to them. I never did find any place that did Tai Chi (the same style I’m doing now), so I thought I’d maybe check into a different style. My main requirement was that I would be able to continue studying that style even if I move somewhere else. No dice. I’d stumbled onto a relatively rare form of Kung Fu. Ugh. Ugh and double ugh. So, my next thought is to find a Salsa class. I’ve always wanted to learn how to dance, and I figure Salsa should transfer pretty easily, so…

Actually, I wish my roommate would find a place to teach Swing Dancing here because that is what I would really like to do. It is American, it is upbeat, and it is pretty intense. But she hasn’t had any luck finding a studio to teach out of, so… I’m going to start looking into Salsa lessons.

March 22, 2007
Well, Mom left this morning. She arrived last Friday (about seven hours later than she was supposed to because she had missed the connecting flight in London—through no fault of her own). We had a good visit. We went to Dresden on Saturday, and then explored Prague for the rest of the time. We saw the old town square (and explored the old town), Charles Bridge, the Castle and Mala Strana, Vinohrady, the Mozart museum, the museum of musical instruments… I think that is it. Oh, and we also found the best Czech restaurant—we were just there last night and I’m ready to go back.

I think the strangest thing that I saw, though, was yesterday. Mom and I were walking from the museum of musical instruments to the Mozart museum and we saw a policeman standing by a van. The passenger door to the van was open and there was something lying on the ground right next to the door. As we got closer, we could see garbage bags flapping in the breeze. Then, as we got even closer, we could see a man lying under the garbage bars. A dead man. The oddest part of the whole thing was the fact that everybody was so nonchalant about it. The policeman was not really paying attention to the body. There were no crowds gathered to stare and gawk (there were a couple of construction workers, but they seemed to treat the sight more as an opportunity to take a break from work than an event or sight worth noticing). There were people crossing the street where the body lay, walking a foot or two away from the body. As Mom and I walked away from the body, we saw a man put a leash on his dog—imagine what would have happened had the man not put a leash on his dog. Crazy. But I guess when you live in a city long enough, you get to see dead bodies. And I guess three months in a city is long enough.

Other things I’ve seen:

-A poster for the museum of communism. The design on the poster? A smiling teddy bear holding a gun.

-A poster with a man extending his middle finger. I have no idea what it was advertising, but the middle finger was obviously necessary.

-A poster with lips covered in salt next to a sign that said “fucking.” Again, no idea what it was selling.

-A man walking down the street drinking a beer from a glass bottle. At 7 in the morning.

-Another man walking down the street carrying a gun.

One of my students was telling me about swimming in the sea. She told me she saw a huge crap on the bottom of the sea. I had no idea what she was talking about at first. Then I realized that she meant a huge crab. (those damned voiced/unvoiced consonants).

But anyway… I really don’t know what to write. Mom’s impression of the people in Prague was that they reminded her of Germany… 20 years ago. I had always had a sense of something like this (without being able to articulate it), but the sensation of being in a time warp was so strong when we came back from Dresden. Even though Dresden is only 2.5 hours by train—and was also formerly communist, the difference between Prague and Dresden was apparent even to someone as oblivious as me. And it is not just about hearing the Final Countdown everywhere—the clothes, the hair, the makeup… it was just so different.

And Prague itself… or maybe just the whole thing combined—the people, the city, the language, the food—everything… Well, maybe the whole package explains when I have had problems feeling settled here. It is Europe, but it is different. Before this, all my experiences with Europe were with Western Europe. And this is similar, but it is different. Ugh, this is so incoherent. I’m a little tired right now but it is too early for me to go to sleep so I’m just wasting time by trying to update my Prague journal. Guess there is no point in updating if I am just going to be incoherent. But maybe I will understand myself if I go back and read this. I hope.

And then there is this whole job mess that I’ve somehow managed to land myself in. How do I manage to do stuff like this? How do I manage to make my life more complicated than it needs to be? How? Why can’t it just be normal and boring—or, if not that, just stable for a few months. Then again, I guess it was pretty stable over the last year and a half, so I can’t really complain. A year and a half of stability (with no major decisions) is pretty impressive for me—damn near a record, I think.

Anyway, I’m trying to decide where I want to go next. Bratislava? Vienna? Krakow? So many choices, so little money… Ugh, and the whole time thing too. But I will figure it all out.

March 23, 2007
So, my roommate and I have decided that we need to write a book called “Czechs in the Mist”. It will be an ethnographic study of Czech psychology. This decision has come as a result of my conversation today with my students. We were talking about men and women in the workplace. One of the discussion questions was if Men should earn more than women. Their answer: of course, end of discussion. I was like… ? … umm, why? Well, it is because they are the men and they need to provide for their families. Okayyyy…

I also had a student complain that there are not enough words in English. I tried to explain to her that she feels this way because she is still learning the language and that actually English has one of the largest vocabularies of all the world languages (if not the largest), but she refused to believe me. I should have told her than Czech doesn’t have enough words for me—right now it only has about 20 words. How anyone can communicate in a language with only 20 words is beyond me…

Ahh, and this is the same student who just doesn’t get IT. By IT I mean that she still doesn’t understand that she can’t refer to people like herself as Normal and people unlike her as Not Normal. Today she was talking about “Spanish People and Normal People.” I was like… ugh… No. I tried to point out to her that Spanish People are probably pretty sure that they are normal, but she just didn’t get it.

Anyway, any conversation between my roommate and me that is about our students usually involves one of us quoting one of two lines from Everything is Illuminated:

“Grandfather informs me that this is not possible.”

“What is wrong with the Negros?”

Basically anything we encounter with our students fits into one of these two categories. The idea that men should earn more than women fits into the first category. That is just the way it is, end of discussion. There can be no discussion about it (according to the students) and any attempt to have a discussion makes them look at the teacher like he or she is a grand idiot. The Normal People comment falls into the second category. Most of my students just don’t get issues of appropriacy. If I point these issues out, they complain that you can’t say what you want in English. I then point out that you can say what you want, but you will probably get some strange looks and disapproving stares (and comments). But it is more than a just an issues with vocabulary and appropriacy. It is a complete unfamiliarity with multiculturalism—the fact that different people and cultures and points of views exist—and are okay. Here there are the Czechs—the normal people—and everyone else. My landlord informed me (when I first moved in) that there were no murders or rapes in Prague—except for the Russians and Ukranians. I’ve learned to avoid—at all costs—letting class conversations get on to the topic of Gypsys. My students HATE HATE HATE the Gypsys. Some of my students are not too keen on “Black people, Asian people, Arab people, Spanish people, Italian people. French people, Americans, Russians, Ukranians…etc, etc…”

And I know that the same attitudes exist in the States—I don’t fool myself into believing that everything is perfect there. I still can’t help feeling a little disoriented when my students start to say these things in the classroom. My reaction has been to try to get my student to examine these statements and question if they are really 100% the case. But then I run up against “My grandfather informs me that this is not possible” and the discussion is over.

On a somewhat related note:

Invalid – stress on the second syllable.

Last week one of my students (the normal people vs everyone else student) was talking about “the invalids.” I had no idea what she was talking about so I asked her to elaborate. She then started talking about how there are too many spaces for the invalids” (stress still on the second syllable). I was like “handicapped. Invalid is what you call something that is no longer valid. For example, I bought a train ticket last month and I can no longer use it to travel because it has expired. It is now invalid.”

Czechs in the Mist. Look for it in a bookstore near you.


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