Sunday, October 30, 2005

Operating at 90% (in Transylvania)

... and have been since yesterday, when of our original twenty people, two were left behind. Chad and Janos both came down with some sort of incapacitating illness and had to left in Zetelaka for the day. Unfortunately for them, yesterday (Saturday) was one of the greatest days yet. In the morning, we stopped in Csíkszerda and saw something, I forget what. Probably a church. Oh, I remember. We got a late start because the boys had to go to the doctor, then the hospital. So it was almost noon by the time we left Zetelaka. After Csíkszerda, we drove to Gyimes, which is a village of Csango Hungarians. They made a program for us which, as if it were possible to sum it up in a few sentences, which consisted of palinka, folk music, singing, eating, drinking, walking up to see the old border, a hay ride for some of the more daring girls, folk dancing, more music, more food, more drinking, and music, music, dancing, and more dancing. When the official program was over, the bus gave a ride home to the two musicians, Liz broke out the homemade palinka, Hajni and Sandor broke out the microphone, and the party continued with music, singing, and dancing in the aisles. After the musicians got off, the Hungarian taught us a simple children's song, and Liz taught Sandor “I’m a little teapot.”

Friday, October 28, 2005

More Transylvanian stories

Somewhere between Torocko, where we spent the night, and Marosvasarhely, where we are heading. I have to write it down before I forget it, from last night: at dinner, Sandor was pouring us palinka. I was amenable to some, but asked, “Fél?” He smiled, nodded, and gave me half a shot. Laura said, “Én is.” Sandor laughed heartily and proceeded to give her a nearly-overflowing glass.

Right, so the “Death Bed” story. Last time, right before getting to Kalotaszentkirály, we had stopped at a church, where Hajni lectured us about the symbolism in the embroidery. She mentioned, about 5 or 6 times, how things in pairs are a sign of death. So, in Hungary, when you bring someone flowers, you never, ever give them an even number of flowers. Well, we got to this house, and what is on the wall above my bed? Two pictures. Two embroideries. And many, many plates, all in pairs. But now I’ve survived it twice, so maybe it’s only fatal to people with more Hungarian blood than I.

Yesterday, we stopped at Körösfö, which had nothing in the way of tourist attractions other than the dozens of shops and vendor stands lining the single street. We piled off the bus, slightly crazed and drooling over the merchandise. We grabbed, we drooled, we ogled, we ran from stand to stand. We felt, we tried on, we goofed. We bargained, we puzzled over forints, lei, and new lei. Then we ran back to the bus and took off.

We also stopped at Kolozsvár, to hear Horváth István give his speech (third time for me now, twice here in Romania and once in Beloit) and then walk around the time. Wow, that wasn’t what I wanted to say. But I think I’ll leave it, it’s funny. And maybe you get the sense that I’m typing on a bus, looking out the window, one earphone in, the other ear listening to Laura and Harpswell, the music the bus driver playing on the radio, and Andras occasionally throwing out a tour-guide tidbit.

After Kolozsvár, we went to the Torda Canyon, which was amazingly beautiful to walk in. Unfortunately, it’s a canyon, meaning that after you get down into it, you have to get out somehow, which involved an extremely unpleasant trek back up this massive mountain. Hajni said, never again. From now on, only the Killer Lake and that canyon, which has a nice paved road that the bus can take us down. After the trek, out came the homemade wine and I think yesterday I mentioned the potency of that.

The evening was spent, as I mentioned, in Torocko. After dinner, which as you already know involved palinka, we went to the local bar. The adult sector of CETP did the prudent thing and left after one drink. The rest of us stayed. Eventually, the middle-aged farmers sitting across the bar worked up their courage and came over to attempt small talk with us. By us, I really mean myself and Laura. The guys (Andras, Chad, Janos and Jeremos) showed up just in time to save us. Actually, not really, because one stayed and talked to me in Hungarian, mostly through Janos, which I’m sure he loved. I didn’t catch all of the conversation, and I think that’s probably for the best. At on point, Janos told the guy that we were married, and as proof, pointed at my hand, where thank god I was wearing my ring on the appropriate finger to indicate that I was taken.

Overall, a great evening, although I almost couldn’t find the house again. This morning, after wine, palinka, AND beer, when I first opened my eyes I was afraid to move. But I got up, took a walk to the village limits and back, and I feel pretty great now. Actually, kinda hungary.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Drunk on the bus, the first time of many (in Transylvania)

So first of all, please forgive my crappy typringm, because in addition to being tipsy on Liz’s contact’s teachwer home-made wine, the bus is currently making its way down a hell of a mountain on a road that is barely suitbakle for walking. Okay, so thje trip so far: on Tueday, oh, I think I alsready mentioned that I ran the hell out od class to get hjome and sit at home waiting,. David came for the lesson, which I cut short so’s I could get to the bus station. Got to Pest, where the strap on the single bag of luggage which I had managed to limit myself to promptly broke. My great big Ikea bag saved the day. MNade it, shitty luggage and all, back to the Kollégium, where I couldn;t get into the room because Rosemary had taken the key. Long story shoirt, I met with her, Kyle, and Hajni at Marchello, before we all headed back to the Kollégium. We all shared a room , one of tyhe nice ones, so we juit sat around and talked. At some hour, maybe 10, Janos got in and he and I went out for a drink, and a short walk (or rather, a short let’s-walk-it-off) up on Gellért.

The bad part was, we got back at about 2 am, Meaning exactly three hours of sleep before we got up at 5. Ugh. Anyway, we got on the bus and off we got. We stopped at Tiszaújváros and Nyírégyháza to pick up the rest. Included on the trip are twenty total: Hajni, András (who didn’t remember me, but remembered Sydney. Actually, today, the 2nd day, he claimed he remembered me), Sandor (our tour guide) self, Laura, Chad, Kat, Janos, Yerik and Jenna, Ryan and Cailey, Mariah, Harpswell, Rosemary, Kyle, Jeremy, Liz, Rosalind, Gaines, and the driver, who is actually named Peter, but I thought he was Béla for a long time because that’s what Harpswell told me and I was foolish enough to believe her.

So, on the first day, we drove a lot, picked people up, crossed the border,, obviously nothing else memorable. There must have been something that we did... oh, we stopped and changed money and were let loose in a Romanian town. I went to CBA. Exciting.

We spent the night in Kalotaszentkirály; I was actually in the same house, in the same bed that I was before. It was “the Death Bed” which was become one of my favorite Erdély memories from last time. Tomorrow, when I’m not so drunken, I’ll tell the story. Actually, stopping typing, and just listening to music and looking out the window seems like a great idea right now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Triumvirate of Triumphs

Of a Hungarian nature, of course. I had two of them yesterday. Well, let’s say three, since I am counting the small things.

One) During our Hungarian lesson (which Chad and I are taking together at the same level, micsoda butasag) when he was talking on the phone, I had actual conversations with Gabi. My favorite was when she said “Õ nem tanultott ezek a szovakat” (or however it is) and I said, “Nem, õ nem jó diak.”

Two) Chad was trying to call one of his private lessons to cancel. But instead, he talked to her Hungarian roommate. Instead of asking Gabi for help, he put me on the phone. I managed to understand that Andrea wasn’t there, but she had been earlier, that she had gone to work but the roommate wasn’t really sure when, and that Andrea’s phone doesn’t always work. And there was a lot more which I didn’t get. But every other time I’ve tried Hungarian on the phone it’s been a disaster, so the fact that I understood any little thing at all was amazing to me.

Three) I went to a camera shop to buy a battery. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to look up the work for battery. No matter, because I had the camera with me and just showed the nice older man behind the counter. I also managed to ask for “a legolcsobb” film (the cheapest. I also use this phrase frequently when asking for beer). He told me that he thought my Hungarian was good. I gave my standard answer to this, which is “Kedves, de nem igaz” (That’s kind, but untrue). He asked me how many years I had studied the language. I briefly considered if I could manage, “Well, I was here for a semester a couple of years ago, and forgot a lot since then, but now I’ve been in Szolnok for about two months” in Hungarian, discarded that idea, and mumbled “Egy szemester” instead. He seemed impressed nonetheless

Well, this afternoon I’m off to Bp, then to Transylvania. If I’m not killed by the water, the food, the bears, or any of the other dangers Hajni has warned us of, I should be back on Tuesday or Wednesday with some great stories, hopefully.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

No, no, no, no babe, no, no, no, no don’t lie...

What you gonna do when it all comes out
When I really see you & what you're all about

Oh, Black Eyed Peas rock. And I have to include that song right there: first of all ’cause it’s a great song; second because I’m listening to it now; finally because it factors so nicely into the telling of my weekend adventures. Namely, it was the stunning, dramatic, running-away conclusion to Saturday night.

But let me backtrack a bit. On Friday, Harpswell and Jeremy both made it Szolnok, then made it onto a train to Mezõberény. Laura not only made it here, but made it walking across Szolnok alone to meet Chad, I, and some of the other Oxford teachers in Jazz Pub (great job, Laura. You get a smiley-face sticker). Saturday morning, we got up and made it to the train station; Chad did not. We went without him; he caught the next train. The train ride (and indeed, a good part of the day) was made better by an on-going exchange of SMSs with Janos, mostly on the topic of the circus he’s planning.

After meeting up with Gaines, Harpswell and Jeremos in Mezõberény and being served amazing Mexican food by Gaines (you also deserve a sticker), we trekked to Békéscsaba for the Sausage Festival. We met up with other CETPers Brent (Sarkad), and from last year Matt (Békéscsaba), Brandie (Köszeg), and Guy and Jane, who are a wonderful couple living in Újszasz, 10 minutes from Szolnok. The festival being quite, quite similar to the Gúlyas and Paprika Festivals, we staked out a table in the big tent and sat there for the remainder of the afternoon and evening, drinking, eating, talking, listening to music live and otherwise, and generally having a good time. Later in the evening, maybe 7-ish, we departed in order to walk across the rainy, dark, cold, and rather big city of Békéscsaba in order to go to a bar which was close to the train and bus stations. Good call, because we sat there drinking until we had to go catch the last bus at 10:40.

After arriving safely back in Mezõberény and partaking in a Jeremy-concocted drink of Blue Curacao and cranberry juice, and taking some vaguely dirty pictures with Gaines’ camera when she was out of the room, we headed out to Mezõberény’s one club, the Ipar Disco. The music was some sort of bizarre Hungarian techno. Yikes. But, just as we were starting to lean towards the door, the DJ busted out some American tunes. This became sort of a pattern for the evening: intentions of leaving curbed by the lure of just-one-more-dance. So anyway, we started to leave several times. On attempt 3 or 4, Jeremos had the brilliant idea of having just-one-more-dance, in the center of the dance floor. He led us into the crowd. It was here that I met Tami, (aka Béla II., according to Harpswell). We danced. Jeremy took pictures (which I will include here once they get online). Harpswell and Laura laughed. Tami’s friend high-fived me. Some songs later, I decided that we should run away. Unfortunately, our escape was impeded by having to wait for Gaines and Chad. Tami came outside, sat on the curb and sulked. I offered a broken Hungarian goodbye, he remained silent. Then we all ran away home to the sounds of Black Eyed Peas’ “Don’t Lie.”

Miért csinalom ez a hülyeséget? Magányos, kétségbeesett, esztelen, erkölcstelen, vagy csak kurva vagyok? Mit kell? A drámat? A figyelmét? És ha igen, kié? Csak hülye vagyok.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Adventures in laundry

disclaimer: the following rant applies only to my own laundry facilities and should not be construed as an attack upon Hungarian laundering in general. In fact, most places in Hungary have perfectly normal and functioning facilities.

I have to admit, for most of my life, I’ve taken laundry for granted. I think many people do the same, so let this entry be a warning for you. First off, I should say that I have been doing my own laundry (and, dammit, quite successfully) since I was about 16. It started in high school, when I was at that particular stage in life where the idea of my mother going through my pockets was both dangerous and deplorable. Since then, I’ve been on my own, and have managed to keep both myself and my cloths at a respectable level of cleanliness. Until now.

Let me describe my so-called “washing machine.” Picture a white metal tube. It is about waist-high and 16” in diameter. If you open the top and peer in, the bottom of the inside is at about knee level. It is made up of ridged white plastic, which, when the machine is turned on, will spin and gyrate like drunken teens at a disco. At the bottom, there is also a hole to allow for drainage. Originally, this hole connected to a narrow, flexible tube on the outside of the machine, which allowed the operator to direct this tube toward whatever drain happened to be nearby. However, this tube snapped off soon after my first use of it. So, I am left with a hole in the inside of the machine which leads directly to a hole on the outside, and no way to stop the water from pouring out. Okay.

So today, being left with two pairs of underwear and one of pants, laundry became a necessity. Steeling myself for a battle, I gathered my darks and marched into the bathroom. First problem: the drainage hole. Solution: I have an unconscionable number of wine bottle lying around; I grabbed the cork from one of them and shoved it in there. Hooray for creative problem solving (especially when booze is involved. After all, I couldn’t just let the wine sit out uncorked). Darks go in the tube. Soap goes in the tube. Hot water, provided by the shower attachment of my bathtub, goes in the tube. Plug in, turn on. Wait. Then it gets messy. Drainage is required. I remove the cork and let the hot, soapy, dirty, disgusting water drain into a bucket. Yes, doing laundry actually involves buckets. What century am I in again?

I repeat the entire above process twice more with cold water, minus the soap. This is my “rinse cycle.” At this point, watching the cold, still soapy, still dirty, and still disgusting water drain into my bucket, I decide that my clothes will never be any cleaner, and to move on to the next step: drying.

But to dry cloths here is a whole ’nother adventure, which I will have to sum up as briefly as possible. Clothes go in the dryer, one item at a time (the interior is approximately the size of a gallon jug). The so-called “dryer” is actually more like a wringer. Basically a tube that spins really, really fast, and shoots the excess water out a hole in its side. Again, a bucket is needed to catch the water. Not that it matters, because this glorious machine has a tendency to leak water all over my already filthy floor. After struggling with the wringer, the final stage of laundry is to lay cloths out on the drying rack and wait two days.

No, I take it back. The last step is to clean up the wet, linty, dirty bathroom floor. But that will have to wait.

So once more, readers, let me implore you: don’t take your washing machine for granted. Be nice to it! Love it, care for it! It is your best friend. Oh, the glories of a machine that drains itself, refills itself, dispenses soap and bleach at the correct times. Oh, for a dryer which would spin my cloths fluffy soft and sweet-smelling!

postscript, added 2006 January 12 - since I've started reading various Iraqi blogs, I've discovered that I have almost the same model washing machine which has become the preferred type in the nearly-waterless, nearly-electricity-less city of Baghdad. Fantastic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The many deaths of Emily

Which include the following: freezing to death, being gassed, or suffocation. All of this, within a span of 12 hours, have been actual possibilities (although the likelihood of each was significantly increased in my imagination from in real life.)

First was freezing. Visitors to my flat in the past two weeks can attest to the fact that I’m not kidding, it was like a tomb in here. We spent a great deal of time huddled in blankets. And since it is October in the Northern Hemisphere, it wasn’t looking up.

Today, I made it my mission to nag my contact teacher into doing something about my mausoleum, I mean flat. Success! She sent one of the school’s handymen over to turn on the heaters. Well, that’s great, one possible death eliminated, but now I’m left with two other options: being gassed by the damn heaters, which are in keeping with the general shady quality of all the appliances; or, according to Kati, I might suffocate, because the flames in the heater will use up all the oxygen in the room. So, she said, I should open my windows. But not all the time, because that counteracts the heating. But definitely sometimes. But just a little.

After consideration, I put aside my worry about the latter death, because in 22 years I have never heard of anyone suffocating in their apartments because some devious heater ate up all their oxygen. The former, however, still worries me. I’ve decided that the heater in my bedroom must be okay, because I took a nap in there and did, in fact, wake up again. On the other hand, the one in my living room, both the heater and the pipes leading to it, make weird noises. And there is a very strong smell of gas in the room, despite both Kati and the handyman’s assurances that everything was “rendben” (in order). I don’t know whether to whimper or scream.

If I die, Hajni, I expect you to avenge my death.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Chill, part II (and the world premiere of: Beerball)

So, it turned out that the reality of the high-school party couldn’t live up to our imaginations. It did involve massive amounts of booze, and certainly a good number of highschoolers, and no one else near the ages of Chad and Janos. It seems like there was some passing out on the floor, missing their bus, and having to take a taxi back at 5 am, followed by some random moments of extreme paranoia on Chad’s part. But there was no drunken debauchery, at least none that the boys participated in or saw (at the very least, none that they felt like telling us about).

Laura and Ros had already departed by the time we got to hear this fantastic tale. Gaines decided to take a later train just so she could stay for it. After she departed, Janos, Chad and I spent an amazing, beautiful sunny afternoon hanging out and drinking beer, mostly in the courtyard of Varga. The afternoon did involve excursions (beer tagged along) to the artist colony, to the roof, and down by the river. At the beginning, Chad had gone to great lengths (read: to the roof) to find a ball so they could play basketball. They played, I lay in the sun. Later, we invented a game called Beerball, which involved the three of us laying, sitting, or reclining on the pavement and rolling the ball back and forth. Overall, a magnificent afternoon. And evening as well - Janos stayed so late that he missed two trains, and had to take the last one, which got him home around 2 in the morning.

After that adventure, I left for Budapest immediately after classes yesterday. Despite being terribly sick (again, what the hell is wrong with me?), it was wonderful to see Eszter and everyone. I love them, they’re like family. Hanna has grown so much, and she speaks so well now. Eszter and her mother took it upon themselves to cure me of my cold overnight, and kept making me tea and giving me various pills and concoctions, all of which I unquestioningly swallowed - that in itself might be an indication of fever or something.

Then today, back to classes, and I still have two private lessons yet this afternoon. So I really should go clean a bit, because my flat is still sort of a disaster from the weekend. But it was still my favorite weekend so far.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Okay. I have slightly less than an hour to record this weekend. After that, I’m going back to teach three more classes; after them I’m hopping a train to go to Bp and (finally) see Eszter es a családa.

First of all, I think I have to declare this my favorite weekend so far. I just had a generally good, chill, friendly time. For that, I would like to thank Chad, Gaines, Janos, Laura, and Ros. And the Academy.

After everyone arrived here on Friday afternoon & evening, with some drama but no too much hassle, we had dinner at Pizza Kert, and since it was pretty late already, went to Jazzclub right after. After a beer there, we moved on to Irish Pub, where we spent the remainder of the evening, drinking Miller (a legolcsobb sör at that establishment) and chatting. Until 2 in the morning. So there was no major drunkenness, no adventures involving random Hungarians, but just a good, chill time.

Saturday, we girls just hung out here and watched MTV and gossiped. Around noon, we got up and dressed to go meet Ros. Later we met up with the boys, got gyros, and wandered around looking for mini-golf. We did find it eventually: a concrete course tucked into someone’s front yard, complete with a small patio to sit and have a beer on. The owner (who had 4 shelves full of minigolf trophies) explained the rules to us. Because we were seemingly having trouble following the rules, he explained them several times. His wife also tried to help. We had decided at the beginning that we were playing for free drinks that evening. Around hole 7, Janos decided that a night of free drinks was the most motivating thing in the world to him, and pulled off a narrow victory. Chad also staged a fantastic comeback to get 3rd, I think, and Gaines was 2nd.

Despite walking about 4 miles to get to minigolf, the walk back to my place was about 3 blocks. We crashed here and made dinner. The boys took off to go to this party that one of Chad’s students had invited him to. The girls stayed here and had a pretty tame evening, which entailed watching MTV, going to Panorama, and Irish Pub, and calling the boys at least 3 times to see when they thought they might be coming back. Sometime after one, when it was apparent that they weren’t, we went to bed. But not before making up a variety of stories and speculations as to what could be so tempting about a high school party as to keep them occupied for so long. The consensus was: high school girls, and lots of booze.

But, just as we had to wait to find out the truth of the party, I’ll have to finish this story later.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Discipline, Kassai Úti Általános Iskola-style

So let me begin by saying this: although I don’t consider myself a disciplinarian, I think that I do a fairly- to moderately good job of keeping my students on track and (with one or two stunning exceptions) quiet. When problems arise, I’m not above asking them who their regular English teacher is and tattling on them. Often just the threat of me telling Kati néni is enough to make them shape up in a hurry (Kati, who is my contact teacher and a wonderful person, is acclaimed as the best English teacher at Kassai, but she is also known as being very, very strict, both with her own students and anyone that she might run across in the hallways after the bell has rung. I’ve “confided” to some of my classes that I’m scared of her too, and that’s the reason I can’t let them out before the bell, because Kati would yell at all of us. They all understand that).

So all that being said, today I had my 7th grade conversation class. This is one of my favorites, because despite their lamentable English, the class is only 5 boys who are all very enthusiastic and usually quite funny. Also, quite loud, which isn’t helped by the fact that we’re stuck in a little closet of a room. One boy, G., is this tiny pixie-like troublemaker who usually alternates between screeching in English and making animal noises at various decibels. Today he decided to be earsplitting. He screamed. He jumped around. I told him to sit, he scootched his chair around the room, or hopped from one chair to another. At one point, Julika néni, the porter, came into the room and told us we were being too loud. G. was quiet for 30 seconds. I threatened him with Kati néni, and he was quiet for a full minute. But then he kept going.

At the end of class, we opened the door to be greeted by one of the older teachers, who immediately lit into G. and A., another boy in the class (who was also being loud, but he’s always loud, and for the most part it was in English). Of course it was in Hungarian, but I definitely understood her say that she could hear him all the way down the hall and with both doors shut. I put my hands on my head and mimed a “what should I do with this one?” sort of thing. She marched G. and A. downstairs, me close behind. Vali néni and Editka néni (the other two English teachers) were summoned to help interrogate G. and myself. A. managed to make an escape at this point, but the rest of us (Vali, Edit, G, and self) were herded into the director’s office. She shut the doors. G. stood there, getting smaller and smaller and stiller and stiller, as the director, Edit, and Vali took turns questioning him, yelling at him, and talking over his head. What I did understand from the Hungarian: they asked what happened. He apologized. They said, yeah right. They asked what we had done in class. He answered. Edit, ever kind, asked if he found the material too hard or too easy. He said it was fine. They asked about his other classes. They talked about how poorly he’s doing in his other classes. At this point there was yelling and lots of “jaj, istenem” and throwing hands up and such. Edit turned to me and asked if it was the first time he had misbehaved. I gulped and said yes. They asked about his home life. It came out that his mother is in Italy, as a domestic worker there. He’s living with gramma. Because the conversation classes are optional, they asked if he really wanted to be taking it. He very quietly answered yes. Why? No answer. They suggested that he give it some serious thought, and sent him out.

The whole dressing-down lasted about 10 minutes, and I think it was almost more distressing to me then it was to him. After G. left, the teachers and the director talked a little more about his home life and how he didn’t seem to care about any of his classes. I feel so bad for him. I really just wanted to give him a hug and tell him not to worry about it. I think Vali sensed my agitation, because as we were both leaving the school, she walked with me a ways, talking. By the time we got to her flat and parted ways, we had gone over the whole situation and I felt a little bit better.

I guess at heart I’m not really much of a disciplinarian at all.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Stupid

My theme for today: the Good, the Bad, and the Stupid. Good things from today: I used my bank card for the first time, to withdraw money from my very first paycheck from my very first “real person job.” Also good: after closer examination of my paycheck, I think they forgot to deduct my 30,000 Ft pay advance. I’m not going to remind them.
Other good things: one of my little 6th-grade conversation class made me a keychain. The woman at the cafe make a cinnamon smiley face on my cappachino. And I met the cafe’s owner, Kati, and talked with her and Chad for an hour or more. I had a lesson with Kristian, which was not only less painful than I had anticipated, but actually almost fun.
The Bad: I had to clean my flat. I had to use my first withdrawal of my first paycheck to buy the utterly unexciting bread and toilet paper (which actually turned out to be paper towels, oops).
And finally, the Stupid, overlapping with the Bad: I missed my 7:30 class this morning, because I could have sworn that Kati told me yesterday that I didn’t have it. Because today is a small national holiday and they had some sort of ceremony in the school. Well, actually the ceremony was during the second hour, so I should have gone to class. Oops. But I guess that fact that I didn’t have to teach them is a Good thing after all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A list of my own

Inspired by Gaines and several other blogs who have all recently done something similar, I’ve decided to do my own “happiness list”. In no particular order, things that make me happy about Hungary:

1) Valami Amerika. This is the only DVD I currently own, and thank god. It has never failed to make me laugh, and every time I watch it, I appreciate it’s brilliance a little bit more.

2) Some (but not all) of my classes: including but not limited to all of the 4th grade, particularly the trouble-making, non-English speaking, but endearing 4ab. My 6th grade conversation class, who I will always love because they were first class I ever taught. All but one of my 7th grade classes, because they are clever and funny without the attitude & hormones that the 8th graders have; all 5 of the students in my 7th grade conversation class, because although they insisted they don’t speak English, they managed to tell me about all the schools in Szolnok.

3) Coffee culture. Finally, I live in a place where the national culture is almost identical to my own in regards to coffee. The fact that (outside of Pest) I have never paid more than 180 Ft (90¢) for a coffee isn’t bad either.

4) Public Transportation. Okay, this “happiness” is a bit iffy. I do complain about not having a car, both to myself and others, with some frequency. And I have to say I’m not as impressed with the Hungarian system as I am with, say, the German one, which completely and wonderfully lives up to all the stereotypes about crisp, clean, timely German efficiency. Griping aside, the fact is that if, for some reason, I decided to travel to the farthest corner of Hungary, which for me would be Szentgotthárd, 400 km away on the Austrian border: this would cost me 1700 Ft. That’s $8.50. In contrast, if I wanted to travel between Boston and New York, which is a paltry 350 km, my options are: by train ($73), by bus ($35), or by plane ($50-odd). Need I say more.

5) My location, relative to my school. After talking to the other American teachers, it seems like many of them are in one of the following situations: one, they live in their school, in their school’s courtyard, or in some way connected to it. Or two, they live halfway across town from their school. So I would just like to say how thankful I am to live very near my school, literally half a block away, but in a regular apartment building which is in no way that I know affiliated with my school.

6) My location on a one-way street. Laugh if you will, but I truly believe that it makes my life easier not to have to look both ways. Also, I can walk up the street without worrying that I’ll be hit from behind.

7) Internet. Do I really need elaborate? No, but I will mention that my favorite sites today are NPR and Christian's & Scott's Interactive Top Ten List. In fact, the combination of the two makes me so happy, I’m done with this list.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Maybe they treat me like a child because I (apparently) look like one?

To conclude yesterday's drama: This morning, I took a closer look at my windows and discovered that they have some sort of between-the-glass shades. Hooray, hala istennek.

My bitch de jour (and it’s only 2 o’clock) is that I went to Spar today, bought kifli (bread rolls) and wine, and the shop lady carded me! The usual procedure at Spar is for them to ignore you as they slam your items past the check-out, grunt out a price, and take your money without making eye contact. This is one of the reasons I like Spar, because I never have to speak or pretend to understand Hungarian. Today, naturally, I was so shocked at being talked to that I didn’t understand right away what she was asking for, so I got all flustered (or “flustrated”, thank you Townhouse F) and frantically pulled out one ID after another until she accepted, of all things, my health insurance card. In addition to the red face, I also felt a little indignant at the fact that someone would dare mistake me for an under-18-year-old. I think this evening will be spent nursing my hard-gotten wine and watching MTV.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hilarious / Idiotic

Hilarious / Idiotic. These are the two reactions I get from Hungarians. They tend to think that I’m either one or the other. Examples:
The teachers at my school tend to think I’m an idiot. Granted, due to my various apartment-related problems, they have a tiny bit of logic in believing this. But their low level of regard for me goes beyond what is justified. Today, two perfect examples. One, the school’s single tempermental copier was dysfunctioning again. As I was fiddling with it, and having some success coaxing it into working, one of the older female teachers walked by, noticed that I was poking at the machine’s insides, and promptly called one of the male teachers over to help me. Because I’m a poor, little girl, who can’t possibly know anything about machinery, of course. The male teacher, who happened to be the kind and patient computer teacher, András, (who helped me obtain internet, and thus has my eternal gratitude), proceeded to fix the machine, and then stand there and make my copies for me.
The second incident today: we had an eclipse. (Obviously, this was not arranged by my school. Although I did only hear about it 2 minutes in advance, which is in keeping with their scheduling practices.) So as a group of us teachers wandered over to the windows to look, Kati (my contact teacher) literally grabbed my arm, pulled me away, and shouted “Don’t look!” Because, obviously, in American I’ve never been told not to look directly at the sun. Anyway, eventually I looked (through tinted glasses), and it was cool.
Example number three, of how hilarious I am (or rather, how hilarious my attempts at Hungarian are). A freaky little incident that happened today: I was sitting in my living room, watching TV, minding my own business. An elderly gentleman walked past my ground-floor window. This is nothing unusual in itself, except that this man stopped, peered into my living room, and knocked on the window. As I was sitting in plain view, I couldn’t find any alternative than to open my windows and say “Hello?” He responded in a rapid stream of Hungarian. I busted out my standard, “Bocs; nem jól beszelek magyarul” and shrug, to which he repeated his earlier statement. I gathered he was looking for someone named Eva. I managed to convince him no one by that name was living in my flat, and he said he would try the next window down. He ended the conversation by telling me what an “aranyos lány” I was, followed by a hearty laugh. I feel like if there hadn’t been bars separating us, he would have pinched my cheek.
And tomorrow I’m getting a curtain.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

shopping in Szolnok

In other news, this weekend was great, if somewhat tame. Ros came and stayed two nights. Although we were total teachers and went to bed early and didn’t go out partying, we did go shopping on Saturday (neither of bought anything). We made it all the way to Cora, despite having to wait 50 minutes for the bus. The wait involved wandering around the freezing-cold train station, and getting terrible coffee at a bowling alley. But Cora was awesome! Being not only from America, but also from Minnesota, home of the world’s largest mall, I feel that the small, glorified-department store which is Cora shouldn’t really impress me as much as it did. I think after being in Hungary for all of a month now, I was overwhelm by the possibility of actually having choices. Three different brands of laundry detergent? Who ever heard of such a thing? Appliances and clothing on sale in the same building? How decadent! (Although Szolnok does boast a wine-and-childrens-clothing store.)
We also made a stop at Szolnok’s market, which is not as spectacular as Kalocsa’s. But, it is open every day, so that’s the trade off. I’m always impressed with myself when I manage to buy anything. But I think an outsider might not view me as a successful shopper. The main problem is that I usually end up buying a kilo of everything. Sometimes this works: a kilo of apples or oranges is about six pieces of fruit, which is a good number. Yesterday, I bought a kilo of green beans. Not so successful: one kilo makes a massive pile of green beans. About the size of my head. I managed to gift some to Ros, but I think by the end of the week I will be thoroughly sick of eating them.