Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Models

Mom sent me a picture of dad, at Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast, which is one of my favorite places in the world. Dad looked really happy which in turn made me happy and jealous.

There are no complaints allowed from people who live in beautiful cities with a rich culture around them everyday, a personal motto that is actually hard to live by sometimes. However, my jealousy of mom and dad's trip stems from the fact that I have worked two weeks straight, with hardly a visit to my favorite spots in Prague.

A new place I went however (work related of course) was the Galerie Butovice, a mall in the Prague suburbs where the model airplane convention was held in the well-let parking garage. My job is mainly marketing and writing for an Internet security start up, however my other tasks revolve around the procuring, marketing and selling of custom built model airplanes. ( So not only was I required to go to this model convention on a beautiful Saturday, but Sunday as well. The whole situation looked a bit like this:

A moderately well dressed American girl in her 20's goes to meet her Chinese American boss at a Metro stop in the Czech suburbs, who of course is late.
When said boss finally arrives, American employee guides them both to the convention because of her well honed directional skills passed down genetically from her mother. Thank god. American employee was trying to see and learn all about model airplanes in the least amount of time possible. It was a weekend after all.
Boss and employee walk into the parking garage under the mall to be met by the fumes of some sulfuric something or other which later was found out to be coming from the temporary pool or ocean that was set up to display the speed and agility on the model war boats that were also being shown off at the convention.
Boss guides employee to meet all of his favorite model builders, who are shocked to see a WOMAN at the convention and simply flabbergasted that said woman was AMERICAN. The first that dispensed of his medal winning planes to Chinese American boss was in a model airplane club, "one of the most prestigious," boss said.
The second was an Air-Conditioning installation man who in his free time specializes in building Japanese planes from WWII and who's 18 year old son had to act as a translator.
The third, Santa Claus, was a Polish man who spoke no English and who we spent all weekend with and who sold us two of his planes. To communicate with Santa we stole the wife of the Polish man who ran the model airplane supply table (selling model kits and paints etc.). Said wife who was all of 4'10" followed Santa, Chinese American Boss, and American Employee around all afternoon translating.

This all continued on Sunday.

Sunday evening American employee had to take two model helicopters from the convention to the office on the metro and then tram. A hour and a half excursion with the helicopters on prominent display for all to judge and wonder about.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Krakow's Old Town Square

After nine months of living in Prague I was finally able to leave and travel. Price and location lead me and my friends to Krakow, Poland. It's a place I've heard a lot about, and even though it was a lot smaller than Prague, it's charm and history didn't disappoint.
Five friends and I took the over night train on Easter weekend. We all managed to pack into a six person sleeper car and sleep for a few hours and arrived in Krakow in the early morning. We dropped our bags and went out into the city for some exploration before our sleep deprivation caught up with us.
We saw the Old Town Square which was full of market stands selling traditional Easter gifts and trinkets. Because Poland doesn't really have any industry or mass produced goods everything for sale was handmade and more authentic than the monotonous stands selling the same things that Prague has.
We took a guided tour around Krakow and saw a lot of the Old Town area which is still surrounded by the old city walls; the Jewish Quarter; the Jewish Ghetto where the Nazis forced the Jews to move; Schindler's factory/ museum and finally the Castle and Cathedral. A lot of things were closed because of Easter, so we were able to see the outside of both and only the Estate Rooms in the Castle.
The Wawel Castle

On Saturday we took a bus to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the nazi concentration camps and which is actually a collection of a lot of separate locations spanning an incredibly sizable area of land.

Work Makes You Free

We took a guided tour of the main area with all of the old soldier's quarters which, during the time were used as various jails, torture rooms, medical experiment labs and execution yard. Now they hold photographs and rooms stuffed full of the belongings and hair of the Jews, Gypsies and others that were sent to Auschwitz. The camp was extremely haunting and emotional, but the beautiful weather, some of the 1.3 million tourists who visit every year, and especially the uncomprehendable amount of atrociousness and terrible things that took place there prevented me from an "authentic" experience or connection to what exactly happened there. Although I appreciate that I was able to see the camps.
We then went to the biggest of the camps, Birkenau, which has the famous gate where the train came through with all of the prisoners. In all the nazis were able to build around 450 of the 600 planned bunk houses that the prisoners were kept in.
In the distance you can see chimney stacks that are the remnants of buildings destroyed when the Nazis tried to destroy evidence of the camps. In the far distance there is the forest where many of the prisoners were taken to be executed and then burned in mass graves. Their ashes were then thrown into the river or put on fields that grew crops for the general public of Germany. An extremely haunting and moving experience.The train tracks and area where prisoners were unloaded and sorted.

On Sunday, Easter, we went to a Catholic mass, even though 3 of my friends are Jewish and the others Protestant. It was in a tiny, ornate church and the service was in English. It was a nice service, but the sunshine, beers and perogies waiting at the markets in the center of town were calling to us. We sat in the square and enjoyed the sunshine and seeing all of the Poles wearing their Sunday best and relaxed.

One of the things that most impressed me about Krakow was the food and how friendly the people were. We ate like royalty for a fraction of what you would pay for such food in the US. One night we had Italian food, and all of the pasta was handmade and amazing. We also had a traditional Polish drink, tatanka, which is made out of a special spiced Polish vodka, apple juice and a lemon. (This was our drink of choice throughout our trip :) )
On Saturday night we went out for traditional Polish food. We started with mushroom, potato and cheese perogies which are sort of like dumplings and were phenomenal. The girls either got veal or fish and I had chanterelle mushrooms in a cream sauce with home made gnocchi.
Sunday night we went out for Georgian food... Something I had no expectations for or had really ever thought about. But it turned out to be the most interesting of our meals. We all had Georgian cheese pies. It's basically slightly fried focaccia with your choice of topping. I got grilled vegetables and cheese. Served on the side were various sauced; garlic, cream, and a sweet and spicy dressing.Georgian cheese pie

After dinner we had ice cream and walked around the square.

Eliza, Krysten, Abby, Farah and Allie

The next day there was a misunderstanding with our train reservation and we ended up taking a commuter train to Katowice, Poland, a pretty depressing place and eery because everything was shut down for Easter Monday. We then took a different train bound for Prague, which a Polish conductor let us on, almost got kicked off in the middle of nowhere by a Czech conductor, and then stood in the hallway of the train for the remainder of the journey which was around 3 or 4 hours.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Prague 1/2 Marathon for Devon

In honor of Devon I decided to run the Prague 1/2 marathon. I decided in early February
that running, something I love, and in Prague for Devon, would be something I could feel good about in honoring his memory and the importance he had in my life. Although the course went through a lot of areas he and I never went together there were a lot of places that we did share time in, and running through these, Malstranska, the Jewish Quarter, along the Vltava river and being cheered on by our friends, was exactly what I wanted and turned out better than imagined.
Although the entire work week was sunny and warm, Saturday called for rain, wind and cooler temperatures. The rain came in the night and cooled the city down and the only poor weather I struggled with was the extreme wind by the river and running against it the last 8 or so kilometers.
The course started in the Jewish Quarter at Palach Square and went south along the river to Vyserhrad, the smaller version of the Prague castle and across to the Staropramin brewery, then up north passing below the castle and into the more industrial part of Prague. This was near to the finish and passed through the flood plane which was completely covered in the 2001 flood. A lot of the buildings haven't been fixed and were sort of an eery thing to see at the end when I was really struggling against the wind and dogging the runners who were stopping and the sky began to look ominous.
My good friends in Prague made me a sign that got laughs from more than one English speaker along the course. "Look at Carrie move that ASS, who knew she could run so FAST" They live near to the national theater which I passed by twice on my run, and they were an amazing support system. At the end they were front and center as I ran my last 20 yards to the finish line, and they brought along our French friends who were far more vocal and loud than a lot of the other supporters, or so it seemed to me. I was overjoyed at the welcome party they all created for me.
I ran the race alone, in part to honor Devon, and also to in some way have a connection to him. Although I ran alone, the city was quite alive and there was so much camaraderie throughout that I never felt lonely or sad that I wasn't running with someone.
A little more than half way through, as we ran over about a kilometer of cobblestones and I lost my rhythm I thought that I would just be lucky to finish. But suddenly, probably with the help of Devon, I regrouped, gave myself a pep talk, that this race wasn't for me but for him, and I picked up the pace and ended up running each 5k faster than the previous.

On my left hand I drew angel wings with Devon's name and on my right hand I wrote
"For: D.H." Whenever I was struggling I looked at these and got a boost and more motivation to run quicker. As it become apparent that I was going to make it the whole way, I decided to try and finish in under 2 hours. Which I did! With a time of 1 hour 58 minutes.
Some great things I saw along the way:
-the token pack of Kenyans already at 6km when I was just passing 1km. And they were all alone for at least 3 minutes.
-A woman holding up a sign with the extension hose of a vacuum cleaner
-A blind man running with a guide, tied together with a band around their hands
-two boys in full punk gear with Dr. Martin hightop shoes on, with "Punk's not dead" written on their calves

A lot of the Praha friends posing at the finish line :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hunting Jamboree

Because of my lack of teaching hours and my patience in teaching him, Milos is now my student. Sometimes I teach him for eight hours in a week, and sometimes we have no classes at all. It's very casual, I sit in his office with his dog Pink (the other dog, Floyd, died recently) and we slowly make our way through his pre-Intermediate book, with frequent distractions on Google earth or looking up words and then hearing stories from him, which I almost have to make up for myself, because his lack of vocabulary and coherent conversation leaves a lot to the imagination.
Milos has been taking English for the past 17 years and his status as a pre-Intermediate student is a very generous title. I feel that in some ways he's improving, but our methodologist, Vendula, said to not hope for much and to not get "depressed" about him.
Mostly the lessons result in utter disbelief on the words that he does know, introverted, anorexic, memories, theology, etc. and the words that he doesn't know, shy, slim, tomorrow, to think. My room mate Devon says that Milos seems to only have experience in reading English medical journals, which results in his colorful collection of vocabulary. I had to edit a research paper of his the other day, and I must say the scientific language was all used correctly, as far as I know....

This Friday was the most hilarious lesson yet. We made tea and went into his office and I said "Milos, what will you do this weekend?" So he proceeded to tell me about his past weekend. He has to pantomime a lot of what he says and when I suggested "hunting festival" he said no, no, no. Heproceded to look it up and settled on "hunting jamboree" for the event that took place in his village last weekend.
He looked up emails that had pictures attached and they were of his very Czech looking friends standing over the bloody bodies of wild boars, or "black pigs."
Milos: My friend.
Me: Wow.... did he kill the wild boar?
Milos: No, I kill the black pig. My friend only shoot it's legs, so I have to aim and kill.
Me: Uh huh.... Wow.


Milos: Here's more picture. (A lot of deer, pheasant, and boar carcasses strung up in front of spruce brances). Here is what we kill.
Me: what did you do with the meet?
Milos: we write numbers and someone shooooop (pantomimes picking a number) and they get the meat to take to home.
Me: which one did you win?
Milos: oh no, no one. I only am hunter.
I proceeded to ask him about why he would hunt and not eat the "delicous meat" and he gave me a long winded, flabbergasting explanation:
"In the autumn the woman pigs have to be eliminated. They are very self-conscious so it's not scary to hunt. But they have maybe 15 extroverted babies who are very aggressive. They eat the corn in the field and eat dogs and we eliminate them and have a raffel and the meat is very good. Here's a picture of us at dance."
Milos showed me a picture of a school gym and older people dancing, and on stage there was the collection of meat on display.

Milos knows I'm a vegetarian because when he makes soup at school for us to eat he always tells me, "Carrie, no meat. Very good."
This is just one of the many stories from Milso. Trust me, more to come.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Landlady Emails; A Collection

Now for some lighthearted sharing. (All in good fun.)


Goog evening,
I have some important information for you from Mrs. Krčmová.

The waste was blocked again. The reparation cost 1000 CZK, because had to come two servicemen with the special machine. It wasn´t possible to repair the waste by hand as last time. You will give me this money with the next hire. You must never pour out the rest of coffee nor tea or oil from pan to the sink. The rest of coffee or tea have to be discharged into water closet or given to the basket. The oil is neccessary wipe out with the paper from the pan and not wash the pan before.
You disobeid my prohibition - temporary not use the sink because of the waste disorder. Doing that you have been caused the repeated flowing out of the water into the kitchen forniture, which was considerably damaged.

The flat wasn´t locked. You should lock it, somebody could pilfer you.

So that´s all.


Good afternoon,

regarding to the complaint of your neighbours I want to ask you for observance of contract terms, where´s mentioned the behaving liability according to house order where the night calm begins at 22:00 hours!!!!
Thank you for performance of it.


Good evening to all,
I have again a message for you:

I hope, that the heating heats. Please don't let open the windows and close the door to the hall. In the case of that the consumtion will be higher, I have to heighten advancemets.

Best regards

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cultural Sensitivity

Everyday I try to be as culturally sensitive as possible, which mainly involves me trying not to be noticed as a foreigner. I don't want to step on toes and offend anyone, because this isn't my country and I have no more entitlement to live here than any other foreigner. And I already feel that I am asking too much, to have people speak English to me or to demand this service in my everyday life.
But there are obvious places where and when I will be questioned about my intentions here. Yesterday I was at the playground with the primary school children and the Czech teachers were there as well. Through a translator, my assistant teacher, the other teachers questioned what I was doing in the Czech Republic, and why, if I don't speak the language, am I here. I tried to articulate as best I could, what I don't know. They curtly thanked me for my information.
My friend Radek who I help with English, wants to know why i won't learn Czech, and seems offended when i say that it's very hard, and therefore sort of insurmountable. But really, I could at least learn a little conversation and please some people, to show them that I am at least trying.
My landlady doesn't speak English and therefore we have to involve her daughter in our conversations... isn't that a lot to ask? To live in her apartment and to demand, through our lack of Czech, that she speaks or uses English with us? She may be crazy and disrespectful in her own way, however we are disrespecting her as well through our language barrier.

Everyday I feel a twinge of guilt about living in Prague and not knowing the language; I feel sometimes that I am an English language missionary, spreading the language of 'Merica, furthering the globalization of American culture.
Of course, living and working abroad is an absolutely amazing experience. However, I often question my own intentions, mainly brought on by the above mentioned situations and inquisitive stares of the Czech people who I unintentionally offend when i don't understand them, or when I cause a faux pas which I am only semi-aware of. Such as sniffling, which apparently is very offensive, but men blowing snot rockets on the street is not....
I try to live here without an eye of scrutiny, but rather one of observation and learning. I wanted to write a post about all of the insane cultural idiosyncrasies that I've noticed, but not today, or this week, when I'm wallowing in doubt about what exactly I'm doing here.
I think admitting that it's purely selfish would clear the air a little bit. I'm here because I love Europe, I loved the year I spent here in college and wanted to continue living here. I'm teaching because it's the most available job for native English speakers, and I also enjoy it.
Simply, I am happier in Europe, living the way Europeans do... Dad probably created this yearning and identification with the general way of life here; extreme frugality, reusing napkins and paper towels; homemade everything, bread, wine, beer (and on several unfortunate occasions, ginger ale); guilt about everything, a victimized, pessimistic view of life which I've found is the main view point in Eastern European literature, and thus culturally.
I'm here because I love traveling and learning about new cultures. I live here because I want to and am fortunate enough to be able to. I'm here because I want to grow as a person by being outside my element. I'm here because I'm avoiding what would potentially be my American life after college.
I think the guilt arises from my reasons for living here, selfish ones, and from the things I unintentionally demand of others through my unavoidable lack of knowledge.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Favorite Places

While living and exploring in Prague I've taken a lot of photos, but often times I find myself taking the same picture repeatedly... Here is a collection of pictures of places that I continually photograph because they are so beautiful and warrant not one, not two, but maybe ten or twenty pictures.

This is a view of the "Prague Castle" (with the cathedral in the middle and the palace complex around it) taken from Charles Bridge.

Na Kampa Island. It looks like a quaint little town square, and is so peaceful even though it's next to Charles Bridge, the most crowded and touristy part of Prague.

Yes, another castle picture! Isn't it beautiful?! It's pictures and moments like this that help me have what my friend Julian calls "adventure moments." It's easy to become accustomed to the city and have a routine, but this helps me to realize how amazing it is to be living and working in another country.

This is a view looking east across Charles Bridge. Some of us stayed up all night to watch the sunrise, many bars and clubs later we made it to 5:30am and the view was completely amazing!

A view of Prague from the "Eiffel Tower" on Petrin Hill.

Along the river. Four of my friends live right around the corner, lucky girls.

Old Town Square.

The John Lennon wall.