Monday, April 30, 2007

Cesky Krumlov-Ceske Budejovice-Trebon

Well, I survived my weekend (three day weekend) trip--just barely. I have returned with a rash, a head cold, and stomach ache, and a pile of laundry. But it was a good trip and I am going to post pics tomorrow--Cesky Krumlov is a beautiful town.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More morning tea

This time it is morning tea with strawberry yoghurt and bananas... (yes, from Ecuador).

It is Wednesday morning (streda rano) and I love my Wednesday morning student... mainly because she always cancels class the night before. As long as class is canceled less than six business hours before the start of the class, I get paid. (Yea!)

So, now that I am in Prague, it seems like all the musicians/music groups I really like are putting out albums. They are all big names, so I should be able to find them in Prague (but then again, I've gone into a couple of cd stores here and have not found anything too great... mainly Naxos classical--at outrageous prices--and really bad eighties pop. I think I will have to ask my students where they buy cds) But I'm going back to the States this summer, so I should be able to pick the albums up there.

Anyway.. I was really proud of myself in Czech class yesterday. We were looking at a dialogue and a set of questions and I noticed something different about the past tense (which we hadn't learned yet) in first person and the past tense in third person. I asked the teacher (in Czech) about the difference, and she explained the past tense to us... turns out the past tense is easy. Cool. It is about time something was easy in that class, in that language. Then, after class, I went to the store and bought a bottle of water. Not a big deal--I mean, I should be able to buy water after almost four months in the country-but what was so great about this was that I totally understood everything the shop assistant said to me (I didn't have to rely on context like I usually do... I've developed some mad context-reading skills over the past four months). So, yeah, anyway...

I probably mentioned it already, but I've got two four day weekends in a row. In general, a very cool thing. On the other hand, my holiday pay is only about half of what I would make if I were teaching, so I've been trying to reschedule some of the classes for the rest of the week. It will make things a little crazy, but it is only for three days so I should be able to handle it. Meanwhile, I need to figure out what I am going to do with my two long weekends. (Ugh, I have a sense of deja vue--I think I've posted this already. If so, just ignore me... it is still early in the morning).

So, gonna try to get the energy up to go jogging this morning. I don't have to leave for my next class until 1pm and it is 7am now, so... that basically gives me six hours to do this whole jogging thing. Also need to start prepping classes for the next two weeks so I have relax and enjoy my weekends...

Hmm, I also need to post something about Poland.. getting behind with the whole travelogue thing. Ugh.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Halfway through my morning tea... more insights

So, I'm drinking my tea and eating breakfast (rye with peanut butter and a banana), and I look at the sticker on the banana. Turns out I'm eating a Chiquita Banana from Ecuador. Dude. As I am only halfway through my megacup of morning tea, I am way too impressed by this banana's journey... and it occurs to me that, if this whole teaching English thing doesn't work out, I can always travel the world as a banana.

BUT, speaking of odd conclusions and conversational twists, I have another gem from my "Italian Car" student. Last week we were talking about kids and adoption in class. We were talking about who would want to adopt kids and why and how hard it would be when "Italian Car" bursts out with, "I want to adopt a donkey."

No, I'm not kidding. And neither was she. The entire class did a double take, and I thought I was going to have to excuse myself from the room so I could laugh. (I'm not so strong that I wasn't already laughing, but I was doing my damndest to contain it to civil levels...).

In her defense, when she explained it it did make sense. Turns out there is an endangered species of donkey at the zoo that people can sponsor... that is what she was talking about. Still... her comment made the fridge (along with my Twisted English Daily Calendar advertisement about an English school in Mexico that "speaks broken English fluently").

BUT ANYWAY, I was talking to my mom (Skype) last night and we were talking about my bathroom. (Huh?) Let me just say that my apartment has the best bathroom--I don't think that I will ever live in another place that has a bathroom this nice. The tub is HUGE (and there is a shower! Yea! Most bathtubs here just have a little shower head that you have to hold over your head when you sit in the tub--not the most effective or efficient way of getting clean) and there is a washing machine (Granny understands). In fact, the bathroom was what cinched the deal... I was still a little uncertain about the location of the apartment (though it has turned out to be a good location too), but when I saw the bathroom, I knew that I had to live here. So, in honor of my bathroom (and because my mommy said I should), I'm posting a picture of it:

It is not a great picture, but you can see the washing machine and the super awesome bathtub.. which are the main things (I guess the other thing--which I had not really paid much attention to at first but which has proven useful--is the window right above the toilet that opens into a narrow shaft).

Now, one thing that I don't particularly like (but which is not unique to our apartment) is the water's occasional tendency to just stop. This usually happens in the middle of rinsing out shampoo (or while elbow deep in dishes and nasty water and soap). It usually starts again in a few seconds (but not so quickly that there is never any fear about having to go to work with sudsy hair/elbows). The other thing (I know I said one thing, but I guess this is part of the one thing) is the water's tendency to not always be a comfortable temperature. Sometimes when I am halfway through my shower, the water will get unbearably hot or freezing cold. The hot water usually goes back to normal (after taking off about five layers of skin)... the cold water, on the other hand, is usually there to stay. There have been a couple of times when I've had to go to work not as clean (or as warm) as I would like.

Anyway, the tea, bread, and banana are gone, so I need to get to work. I have a week's worth of classes to prep today (fun, fun, and more fun). Hopefully I will have more energy today--I've been feeling completely drained for the past week.

Oh, and I have next Tuesday off, so I'm trying to decide what I should do with my weekend. Right now I'm thinking about the grad tour of Cesky Krumlov and Cesky Budeovicka (about three hours south of Prague). There is not really enough time for me to go to any of the other ten zillion places I want to see, so... I think this might be the best option... that is, if I have the energy for it.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Morning Tea Insights

So, I've just realized something:

It is not that I am always out of the country when people move, it is that people keep moving! If people (especially the people in my family) didn't move so often, it wouldn't be an issue! : )

BTW, Shari, when are you guys moving again? I've already bought my ticket to the States for this summer, but I haven't arranged my trip to the Midwest yet...

Oh, yeah, the ticket. Here is the basic info:

I leave Prague on July 13 and I arrive in NYC on July 14. I will probably stay there a couple of days, then I will go... somewhere (who knows). I leave the US from NYC on August 14 (then arrive back in Prague August 15). While I am in the States I plan on visiting Maryland, Illinois, and Missouri (the grand tour). I will post my tour dates as soon as I figure out when I am going to be where.

I also need to figure out where I want to go the first weekend of May. I have a Tuesday off (May 1), and I don't teach any classes on Monday, so I basically have a four day weekend (yea!). There are a lot of discount airlines in Europe--the main problem is that the only flights they offer out of Prague go straight to London. London is cool, but I've already been there... Taking a train is also an option, but I don't really want to travel for more than 12 hours (otherwise I figure why bother?).

Ugh.. I need to go back to France as an assistant (if I'm not too old), where I can make the same amount of money and only a fifth of the work... and have more time for travel.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Prague in Spring

The park at Dvoka Sarka. I went there with a couple of friends for a picnic yesterday. It was beautiful and there were a lot of people there... including several people sunbathing in the nude (it wasn't that warm, but... I guess if you are a Czech...)

The old town square right before Easter weekend.

Detail of one of the stalls at the Easter market in Prague.

I'm obviously living way too close to Chernobyl...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Huh wha...?

This WTF moment brought to you by my students...

So, we've already discussed cross-cultural communication and potential problems. I ask the student if they can think of any problems that might arise when two companies from different countries work do business. I also ask for examples.

Silence for a few seconds. Then, one of my students says, "Well, my dad has two cars from Italy and whenever one of them breaks it takes two months to get a new part from Italy because Italians are lazy and they don't do any work."

The other students look at each other like WTF? I'm just left standing in front of the classroom with a very confused look on my face. Finally, one of the other students says, "Um, I don't think ordering car parts is really a problem with cross-cultural communication." Finally I find my tongue and I say, "yeah, it sounds like your dad needs to find a new supplier or dealer..."


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Some pics of Krakow

The Church on Wawel Hill.

The Vistula River (view from Wawel Hill).

Looking out over Krakow from Wawel Hill.

Part of the Easter Market in the Old Town Square of Krakow.

I just thought that this building was cool looking.

Krakow street (might be morning, might be evening--I can't remember).

So, these were some barbecued cheese thingies--very good with cranberry sauce... (I'm turning in my Granny--thinking about food wayyy too much!)

This was just cool.

So, these are just a few pictures. (I took A LOT of pictures--as usual). Most of my pictures really don't look that good (bummer, but it was cold so I'm just going to use that as my excuse. I don't know what it means, but it sounds like a god excuse to me). When I get a chance, I will post about:

Traumatic (and aborted) trip to the Salt Mines
Meeting Aussies
Goya and the church
Re-aligning Chakras
Never eat anything larger than your head--especially when the main ingredient is sauerkraut
Being a Polish language expert (Wa hoo!)
Visiting a European country where people go to church (consider that I've lived in France and
the Czech Republic, both very non-religious)
Overheard English (from two very silly American girls studying abroad)
My brilliant plan to visit the Jewish part of town on Easter Sunday (no brainer, right?)
And so much more!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Back from Krak...(ow)

Just got back to Prague this morning. I slept a little better on the way back (I guess two days of walking will wear a person out), but I'm still pretty freakin' tired right now (I'm that type of tired where I can' sleep but I can' do anything else. My brain is just not functioning right now. And I need to prep classes at some point today. I was going to go grocery shopping today but apparently the Czechs celebrate Easter on Monday rather than Sunday... so the stores will all be closed today. Not gonna starve, but the trick will be finding time tomorrow to pick up enough to get me through the rest of the week...)

Well, I was going to post some stuff about Krakow, but I keep getting distracted by the wall on the other side of the room (been staring at it for several minutes now), so I think I'm gonna drink some tea or something...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

In Crackhouse... I mean Krakow...

Hullo from Krakow. The hostel I'm staying in has free Internet (this is, so far, one of the best hostels I've stayed in. Unfortunately I am in a 12-bed room, so we shall see. It is the other people in a hostel that really make or break the experience. Hopefully Krakow won't pull the same "gotta-get-wasted-drinking-beer" crowd that Prague seems to pull... but we shall see. On the train ride up two American girls were talking about drinking beer, smoking weed, and snorting Xanax, so... hope they're not staying here!)

It is only 4:30pm here, but I'm on a tea break. I got to Krakow at 6am, dropped my stuff off at the hostel, drank a mug of tea, and set out... so basically I figure that from 7:30 to 3:30 I spent six hours walking (one hour for lunch, a half an hour to the Salt Mine, and a half an hour back in defeat). I'm going to head out again in a few minutes to see Krakow in the evening (and maybe catch a movie... if I can find something cheap with an English language track or English subtitles). Then, abck to the hostel to completely pass out (didn't get much sleep last night. In the future I'm not going to bother paying extra for a sleeping compartment because I didn't sleep anyway...)

Broke the "never eat anything larger than your head" rule today...

How the menu lists Polish vegetable: Saurkraut, fried saurkraut, saurkraut with ham, saurkraut and gerkins, etc.

I am almost directly East of Prague, but in several ways I feel like I've gone West. I feel like I've gone forward in time (if not twenty years to 2007, at least ten years to 1997...). No Skunk hair and no eighties clothes and NO FINAL COUNTDOWN! (Heard Hey Ya by Outkast so I'm, what, 2004?)

Well, enough for now. Time to clean my mug, put my shoes back on, and head out again. Wish me luck (I may just have to leave my exhausted carcass somewhere tonight and go pick it up again tomorrow when I have more energy...)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hittin' the Road

So, I'm going to Krakow this weekend--I'm leaving Friday night and getting back Monday morning. A short trip, I know, but I really don't have too much time (I need Monday to prep next weeks lessons).

Wish me luck and good fun, and I will post pictures when I get back.

Monday, April 02, 2007

More Czech Journal

March 28, 2007 7:37pm

Or, after watching three seasons of Sex in the City in as many days, I think the book should be called Czechs in the City. Should sell millions.

I have noticed that no one has commented on my previous posts. I wonder if they found it slightly offensive. It was not meant to be (but then, sometimes I can offend without meaning to). I was just trying to unravel some of the various viewpoints I encounter while teaching in Central Europe. I don’t claim to understand the Czech mind and psyche—hell, I don’t understand the US American mind, and I’ve lived in the States for 20 years! I don’t want to present what I’ve written as complete fact. It is merely a disorganized set of impressions, filtered through my dimly-lit maze of a mind and recorded on my laptop at the end of 12 hour days of teaching and traveling. If there is anything offensive in my ‘blog (yeah, I know, not exactly in if land here), it is here because when I first encountered it I found it offensive. Now I find it puzzling—and fascinating. All I am really trying to do here is make sense of what I hear from my students (and from other Czechs). For me this involves unpacking my ideas and impressions, trying to connect them to each other and outside sources, and then rearranging them into some order that probably only I can understand.

But I can’t pretend that I am getting a complete picture of Czech mentality. First of all, I am living in a major city. I know from my experiences in the States that city mentality and country/small town mentality are very different things. Also, all my input is in English. So automatically there is some cultural filter in place. What I mean is that part of learning a language is learning a culture (though I begin to wonder about this—more on that later, perhaps). So my students have had several years exposure to Americans, Brits, Australians, etc. This would give them a different view of the word (as opposed to someone who just speaks Czech—or maybe Czech and German). Also, they are still learning the language, so they are only able to express themselves in an imperfect way (but then, I feel that I am only able to express myself in an imperfect way), so… I have to take that into consideration.

I suppose the only conclusion that I can take from this is that I still remain very ignorant of the “Czech Mentality and World View.” I suppose this will always be the case unless I learn Czech (ugh) and really make an effort to talk to people. I suppose I could do that, but in some ways I am more interested by my (and other US Americans’) reactions to what we perceive as all things Czech. These reactions are imprecise, but perhaps that is why they interest me. I am more likely to find myself deconstructing my reaction to something one of my Czech students says than I am to find myself actually analyzing the content of what they said. I suppose it is self-indulgent (and intellectually lazy?), but… what can I say? I’m lazy and self-indulgent!

April 1, 2007 9:45am

Good morning! Happy poisson d’avril! Happy April Fool’s Day! Happy whatever it is in Czech! Why am I in a god mood? Because I finally got around to transferring the last Cake album I needed to my laptop. One of my students and I discovered a mutual love of Cake and we’ve swapped albums (paying royalties, of course—all very much above board). So now I am listening to NEW CAKE! (Okay, it is actually old cake, but it is not stale and it is new for me. And my life is still all about me, so…)

Excitement? Made bread crumbs this morning. Yup. I really ought to go out for a jog but all I want to do is just sit on my ass all day and watch movies and eat popcorn and candy (skip the cookies today and go straight to the popcorn). I need to go grocery shopping and I need to clean my room and I need to do lesson prep, but… Actually, I can’t go jogging today because I just washed my jogging bra and it is soaking wet now. Ha ha! I ought to do some sit-ups or something, but… hmmm, can’t do them without a bra either.

This is the excitement of my life. I checked out a colleague’s blog and it was so nice and organized—beautiful pictures and organized travel stories. Nothing boring and self-indulgent like my blog, which reads like a train wreck sometimes. Or maybe not a train wreck (too exciting) but more like a near miss. Or not even that near—just a train speeding slightly across a deserted, flat countryside. Just about grocery shopping and wet bras and breadcrumbs.

Yeah, so anyway, I went to Kutna Hora with a colleague yesterday—left at 10am and got back at 6pm (wow, so that is what an eight hour day feels like). We went to the Sedlec bone church, which is famous for its bone chandelier. Umm, and four giant stacks of bones. And the coat of arms made of bones. And the human bones hanging from the ceiling. And the skulls and crossbones everywhere. Basically, it was Martha Stewart meets an unending supply of bones and metal wire… and free time. It would have been creepy, but it was bone Baroque—overdone and just silly. I don’t know that I’ve ever been a place where death felt so cheap (except maybe a couple of weeks ago when I nearly tripped over that dead man on the street). Halfway through my visit to the church, I looked up to the bone chandelier and noticed a angel sitting on top of a pile of bones holding a trumpet. It was one of those nasty Baroque cherubs—naked and pink and chubby with a face painted like a harlot (ohhh, experimenting with imagery here. I just hate those freakin’ Baroque cherubs—they look cheap-cute and overdone). And it had a skull wedged under one of its arms. It was like the person who had created all the bone decorations in the church had one extra skull and he couldn’t quite figure out where to put it. He looked around the church and, voila, saw this nasty Baroque cherub with almost enough space under his arm for a skull. A little elbow grease (pun intended after the fact) and the skull was in place and the masterpiece was complete. Or maybe the creator was on a ladder working on the chandelier and needed a place to set an extra skull he had with him. He spotted the cherub right next to him and decided to tuck the skull there until he was ready for it. But before he got to it, his (wife? Co-workers? Neighbor?) called him to lunch and he forgot all about it. The next person just assumed that it was part of the design and left it there.

The information sheet for the bone church said that it was created to remind man of his mortality or relationship with god or something like that. I was actually reminded the postman’s house in France (the crazy postman who collected rocks on his route and used them to build a giant palace). Or the crazy man in Chicago who drew naked children without genitalia on miles and miles of paper. Or anything in Baltimore’s Museum of Visionary Arts (minus the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which is cool).

Kutna Hora itself was very cool—very clean compared to Prague (no graffiti!). It used to be a mining town (according to the guide book, it was once the most important town in the Czech Republic). There were the ubiquitous hordes of Italian tourists (are the Italians always on vacation? You can’t go to the old town of Prague without tripping over Italians. I suffer culture shock every time I go to the old town square), the cobblestone streets, the cathedrals, and the trdlenek stand in the main square.

(Entry abruptly ended because I went to get some food).