Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Movie Madness (and further adventures with my hot water)

First, the continuation of the water saga: for the past few days, once again, my hot water has been working off and on. It finally cut out yesterday, after I had showered but before Laura had. She ended up taking a two-inch bath using water boiled on the stove. Just like a real third-world country!

Today, I decided that official holidays were over, and if my contact teacher didn’t want to be bothered, she should never have given me her cell number. I messaged her, pestered, and she called the school. The vízszerelõ (water mechanic guy, who has been to my house three times, and each time claimed that he had fixed the problem) was unreachable, so the school sent over Páli, the older of the two handymen, who is well used to dealing with me and my lack of knowledge concerning gas, water, and Hungarian appliances. He showed up, tinkered, told me repeatedly how incompetent the vízszerelõ is, explained to me that everything in my flat is old and that's why it keeps breaking, fixed my broken faucet, called up the vízszerelõ to tell him what an idiot he is, fixed my water (for now, at least), and told me to call him if anything else went wrong. Páli is my new hero.

So, about the movies... although Laura and I remained dedicated devotees of MTV (and the newly discovered Animal Planet), we’ve also become great fans of the Turner Classic Movies Christmas Collection, which plays two or three English movies every night. So far we’ve watched the following:

Saturday night: part of The Searchers, followed by Hearts of the West (with link and quotes in the previous entry).

Sunday night: Kelly’s Heroes and Marlowe. The latter included quotes such as:
Marlowe saying to Bruce Lee: “You’re pretty light on your feet. Are you just a little bit gay?” and then Bruce Lee cartwheels off a building in rage.

Thug: Car.
Marlowe: Beep beep.
Thug: Car.
Marlowe: For a guy with a limited vocabulary, you sure do manage to get your point across.

Monday night: Cool Hand Luke and The Big Sleep. I don’t have quotes to back it up, but Humphrey Bogart was hilarious. Mostly due to the fact that racy dialogue of 1946 is still damn funny today.

Tonights is... neither Laura nor I remember. So you’ll have to tune in tomorrow (or whenever) to find out.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Poor Girls' Christmas Festivities, so far

On the first day of Christmas (Wednesday), I spent the day: rediscovering the joy of sleeping in (until 9 o’clock, at least), followed by a midday of collaging and drinking, completed by an afternoon and evening of Christmas shopping with Juli.

On the second day of Christmas (Thursday), Laura arrived for the duration of the holiday. We bought beer and food (including some highly unsuccessful “bratwurst”) and settled down to an afternoon of watching MTV and Animal Planet. We also called and messaged persistently the three unlucky people still in Hungary: Janos, Jenna and Yerik. We convinced the latter two to visit.

On the third day of Christmas (Friday), Jenna and Yerik arrived. As we were waiting for them at the train station, we discovered an amazing secondhand store in the second floor. In Hungary, they sell old clothes by the kilo, and at this particular store, the prices drop each day of the week until Friday (the day we were there), it’s 200 forint. So, for a grand total of 150 Ft (75 cents), I bought two shirts and a pair of pants. Laura made out similarly well.

The couple from NYR arrived. After massive grocery shopping, we came home and made tacos and hot wine. Best holiday dinner yet. In the evening, we headed over to Panorama, where we proceeded to drink, try to play good music between the techno, make fun of the drunken Hungarians (particularly the one who fell asleep on a bench, still wearing a plastic cowboy hat), and try to score free drinks (failed). After a couple hours, when we finally got some good music going, we got up and danced. Then the drunken Hungarians made fun of us. But one of their girls got up on a chair and did a sweet little dance that involved clothing coming off so I don’t think they should laugh too hard.

On the fourth day of Christmas (Saturday), the four of us had further cooking adventures involving the misuse of meat. Namely, some of the saltiest bacon on the face of the earth, and the “bratwurst” from days ago. Even Jenna’s cooking prowess couldn’t save the day. She did make us some great eggs...

Laura and I spent the rest of the day as we do best: watching MTV. We watched the European Music Awards again; just as good this time around. Um... I think we cooked something. In the evening, despite good intentions of waiting ‘til Christmas to tear into presents, we tore most of them open. Then we watched Hearts of the West, a movie which defies description, but contained such wonderful quotes as the following:

Andy Griffith saying about a pants-wearing woman: “Could be that her sexual interests are deviant.”
Random cowboy saying: “I know one tenderfoot gonna get his pecker shot shot off, he don’t turn in.”
Jeff Bridges saying to his girlfriend, after finding another man in her flat: “It’s just like back home - every time we have super supper, I get a peppercorn on the first swallow!”
Mull on that one.

Today, the fifth day of Christmas, isn’t yet over... so I’ll write more tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Sweet Taste of Freedom

I’m free! I’m free! For the remaining days of December, I have exactly one obligation (meeting Erin at the train station). No more school, no more private lessons, no more anything. Just lazing, watching MTV, eating and drinking.

This evening, my school had it’s end-of-the-year-and-Christmas party. We sat at the tables in the teacher’s room, which had been rotated and decorated. They brought out food and poured champagne. We were not allowed to touch either, however, until after students had recited some Christmas poems and played us some music. This was followed by a dramatic reading of a super-long poem, a tribute to Kassai and the teachers. Each teacher was mentioned and his or her various quirks or exploits mentioned. Finally we toasted, and ate. From what I hear, at some schools, the alcohol was flowing: not so at my school. We got one glass of champagne each. It was funny to see the stodgy older teachers get tipsy and jolly off just this. By 7, the other English teachers were standing and saying their good-byes, so I made my exit with them. But not before picking up my gift bags from the school. Everyone got the same selection of gifts, which include: a bag of coffee, a stick of sausage, a bottle of champagne, and a large bag of laundry powder. I pondered the meaning of this last item on the walk home. Is it something traditional? Does it signify the washing away of the old year? Is it a hold over from past times when major laundry was a once-a-year occurrence? In the end, I settled on the most logical explanation: my school is super cheap. But if anyone else received the same present, or has a better explanation, let me know.

Monday, December 19, 2005

It's apt... APT!

As we were trekking from Laura’s flat to the train station yesterday, Yerik made a rather crafty observation: he compared the CETPers to Roma. My immediate reaction (proof that I’ve been in Hungary too long, see below) was hesitation, offense even. But he laid out his comparison cleverly: we walk around in gangs; we drink copious amounts of alcohol; we’re poor; we dress differently; we speak our own language; people frequently stare at us with bewilderment and uncertainty. Really, between us and the gypsies, I’m not sure who the comparison is less kind to.

On a completely different topic, today I got to celebrate a completely inane and pointless event: today was my 119th day here in Hungary. What does this mean? Since last time I stayed for 118 days (yes, I counted), this is now the longest I’ve ever lived in Hungary. What makes it seem so odd to me is the fact that last time, I was already home by now. This time, I’m not even halfway done. If I were in a worse mood, that would depress me. But I’m not. Get thee behind me, gloom!

And because I just killed an entire afternoon reading trivia, check out this website: www.mindlesscrap.com.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Unrelated Incidents

The title is meant as a semi-warning. Just in case you expected me to write continuous, flowing prose: it’s not going to happen tonight. Right now, disjointed paragraphs is what I feel up to.

So how did my second Oxford class measure up to the first? I don’t know, because none of them showed up for class on Friday. Well, Jacek did, but since it was only him, I got to cut out early and make it to Laura’s a whole half hour earlier. It was dark, cold, and snowy. I got about 20 yards (or meters, if you prefer) down the highway and when a car stopped and offered me a ride. I debated with myself, for a good 5 seconds, if getting into strangers’ car, on a dark, cold and snowy night was a good idea. It was, and I did, and I made it to Laura’s. Unfortunately, Laura and Mariah had started walking out to meet me halfway, and neither had their cell phones on them. Long story short, they made it back, we drank, we had Jell-O. I love Jell-O. We called many, many people, some at unacceptably late hours. Sorry, guys.

In the morning, Laura’s bathroom exploded. There was a pool in the bathroom for a while. They shut the water off to the whole building, which was a problem because Laura, Mariah and I (some more than others) were in a certain Saturday-morning state where being able to drink water was crucial. Various town-dwellers stopped by to examine the excitement at the American’s apartment. Eventually, the plumber from Miskolc arrived and fixed the problem. Life went on. Other Americans arrived. We drank, made cookies, watched Monty Python. An excellent weekend.

On the way home, I was on the train from hell. It was as hot as a furnace, filled with people, and many of the windows were painted shut. Maybe the heat fried my brain, because as I was falling in and out of semiconsciousness, for the first time I was hit by a smidgen of Christmas-related homesickness. Part of it was the knowledge that some people (Chad and Gaines) are already home, and that several more are leaving this week. My every-second-Sunday phone call home didn’t help either: I mentioned getting a cat to my mom. She asked what I would do with it at the end of the year. I balked for a second, then blurted out something like, “Oh, well, maybe I’ll stay a couple of years... or maybe I’ll give it to someone else.”

I guess I never realized that she assumed I was only staying one year, because it’s such a given to me now, and to everyone that I’ve met here, that I’ll be staying here pretty much indefinitely. What can I do in the States? I’m not qualified to work as anything worthwhile, I don’t have the money or the scores to go to grad school yet. Here, simply by having had the luck to be born and raised in an English-speaking country, I’ve become a hot commodity. Why would I not take advantage of that?

After that conversation, I banished my gloom by decorating my tree. Yes, I bought a tree, a cheap, plastic, Cora tree. It’s a good size; with the special branches on top, it’s almost as tall as me. I decorated with tinsel and szaloncukor. So it’s scrawny, but shiny. I like it.

Wow, this turned out almost coherent. Good job, Em. I'm amazing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Merry Christmas to me (or, being corny: The Four Christmas Gifts)

In an earlier entry, I think I promised to stop bragging about working at Oxford school. Fair warning, I’m about to reneg on that promise, but I think I have ample justification. Judge for yourself.

Today was the last meeting of my elementary-level class. It was a small class, only four students today; from the four of them I received four wonderful gifts (and maybe this will get cheesy, but too bad). The first gift was the fact that although I felt under-prepared at the beginning of class, we ended up not even using any of the materials I had. We just talked, simple, wonderful conversation, for the full 90 minutes. I told them about my American holidays, they told me about their Hungarian ones. We explained, we shared traditions, we laughed.

The second gift(s) were the physical, touchable kind (edible as well). They gave me sweets, a candle holder, a box of chocolates, and a bottle of Tokaji that Juli informed me was actually quite nice (read: expensive). Looking over the list, it probably doesn’t seem like much, so I guess to me it really was the thought that counted.

Gift three is the humor (mostly unintentional) and kindness they used in filling out their evaluations of me. Overall, their single complaint - and only from two of them - was that I talk too fast. But I was interesting, I was funny, I was nice, I was good. Which leads to gift number four, the fact that the majority of them will be continuing in the new classes next year. Maybe I oversell it to myself, but to my mind, nothing could verify my abilities as a teacher more than the fact that the students would willingly return for more.

All right, that was cheesy. But I won’t apologize. Besides, I can have some cheese now that I have a kick-ass bottle of wine to go with.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Another weekend, in Budapest

Well, I didn’t die. I’ll pause for a moment to let the obviousness (yes, it’s a word) of that statement sink in... okay, moving on. My gift turned out to be from the big man himself: St Nick, via Juli, gave me a bagful of Hungarian chocolates. Plus a packet of golden branches, which Juli explained is the equivalent of getting coal in America, only the bad children get them. I got just a small bundle. Hmph, St Nick needs to check his list better.

I also received some wonderful gifts on Friday night. First was the fact that both Laura and Jenna decided to show up together in Szolnok for the Oxford party. The party turned out not to be a drag after all (not that I ever thought it would be, ahem). Actually, I think we might have had a better time than the folks in Budapest, because when we drunk-dialled them at midnight, they were still hanging out, seemingly sober, at Roz’s.

But I get ahead of myself. The first part of the party went off as planned: musical performances, little plays, singing, and Chad’s (and Laura’s and my) presentation about American Christmas. After, Anita assigned each of us Americans to sit at a table of Hungarians and force English conversation with them. Oh, fun. Eventually, people drifted home, and Jenna, Laura, and I spent a good chunk of the evening talking to Csaba, one of my adult students, and his friend Geri. We discussed which country has the hottest people, why Hungarian women don’t drink beer, traded slang for various body parts and functions, and other vitally important things. I was forced to do the Gaines-face several times. It was great. If I were grading these classes, Csaba would totally get an “A.” He also gave me a Christmas card, my first one of the season. Another student, Dávid, gave me a pogacsa, because in the last lesson we talked about food and he remembered my raving about them. They’re my new favorite class.

Even after Csaba and Geri took off at midnight, we continued hanging out and drinking and dancing with Jacek and Dóri. I think this was the point we called the flock in Budapest, or they called us... who knows. When we finally left, Chad and Juli took off before we could hitch a ride with them, so Jenna and Laura and I walked a few blocks before giving up and hopping into a cab.

The next morning, we waited around in Szolnok, walked through the Christmas market, ate more gyros, and finally called Chad to make plans, only to find out that the punk had gone to Budapest without us. We plotted revenge. Eventually, we made our way to the train station, but not before stopping at a csemege to buy booze. Lots and lots of booze. And various other things for mixing. Drinking on the train turned out to be a surprisingly good idea; I think I may have to make it a regular habit. So we drank through the train ride. Drank through the metro ride. Drank through the extremely long walk across Árpád híd and to Roz’s. We were very happy to see everyone there.

The rest of the evening played out pretty much like every other time CETP gets together: we drank a lot. Ate pizza. Went to a club. Danced. Various people made out. Same old, same old. I remember thinking at one point (and, according to Allison, saying aloud several times), “I wanna go back to Szolnok. I’m going home now.” But I didn’t.

Sunday morning, again typical. Lazed around. Eventually, everyone was up and dressed. Janos ventured out and brought back Burger King and beer. Hajni stopped by; it was great to see her again. People took trains out at various times. I ended up on the same train with Mariah, Laura, and Jenna. After drama with the train tickets and reservations, we ended up sitting together in the dining car.

I don’t know what else to report. This entry’s really boring, but what I can I say? Nothing interesting happened that hasn’t happened, to some extent, every single other weekend we get together. Small things, sure, but the basic elements are all the same, since they have been from the beginning: booze, hormones, drama. Just sometimes the order changes. Not that I don’t love it, I really do, in all sincerity. I’m just pissy today. I’ve been feeling ‘twitchy’ lately. I don’t know any other way to describe it: it’s like a continuous caffeine high, like I have too much energy buzzing inside me, like I have to keep fidgeting to keep from exploding, like I want to run away. I don’t like it, it feels uncertain. Usually when I get twitchy, it precipitates me doing something impulsive. Frequently stupid.

This is particularly stressy, because my single December goal (other than various food-related ones) was dedramafication. Jenna and Laura agreed that this is an excellent goal, not only for me but for the world in general. I am failing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

English Competition: Day Three

Just a quick note about the final day of the competition phase of English week: today was a game for 5th and 6th graders in teams of 4, like a quiz game show or something. There was a complicated scoring system that involved a lot of adding, and which changed frequently. Despite this (or possibly, because of it) one of Kassai’s teams tied for first place. I don’t remember the other school exactly, either Hunyadi Mátyás or Mátyás Király.

I should write more, but I’m too distracted: Juli sprang it on me, just before they dropped me off, that there is some sort of gift waiting for me at Oxford. We played a super-fast game of 20 questions, from which I learned that it is of indeterminable size, left by a male, either very old or very young, who may or may not be one of my students from Oxford, Kassai, or somewhere else, and who Chad met yesterday; that it’s a present just for me, not in return for something I did but just because. And that I have to wait until tomorrow at 10 am to get it, because after I failed to remind Juli that she had something to give me, she and Chad refused to indulge me by returning to Oxford to get it.

If I die in my sleep tonight, it’ll be from anticipation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kassai Úti Á. I. English Competition: Day Two

If day one of the competition was fun and games, today was all business. Today, the judges - who were myself, Chad (aka “Varga’s American”), and Anita from Oxford - had a solemn responsibility: to determine the best English pronunciation from a selection of 6th graders and 7th graders. There were two in each grade representing Kassai. They each recited one story they had prepared, plus one that they had just been given. We picked 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in each grade. I don’t even remember who got the 2nd and 3rd, because:

Kassai’s students walked away with both First Places.

And just to dispel doubts, I did not rig the jury. Both of the first place winners were just so clearly above and beyond all the other students, and Chad and Anita both independently came to the same conclusions before I even put in a word. So congratulations to Feri and Márton. For the first time, I have a warm and cozy pride-like feeling towards Kassai.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kassai Úti Általános Iskola English Competition: Day One

I rescind my gloomy statement at the end of the previous entry. I do have something to keep my interest, for this week at least: my school is having a week of various English activities. There are recitals, competitions with other schools, plays and an English newsletter (for which I was interviewed last week, and had mostly forgotten about). And guess who gets to help judge all the competitions? That’s right, yours truly. I think half the reason Kassai organized the events was to show off their native speaker.

This afternoon was plays and poems by the 3rd and 4th graders of Kassai plus three or four (I couldn’t tell) other primary schools. There was no judging, because the children were too young, and they all got certificates of merit for participating. Highlights included:

- the 3rd grade girl in miniskirt and tank-top who recited with a cherubic smile, “I like coffee, I like tea, I like boys and boys like me.”
- when the wolf in “The Three Little Pigs” missed his line and improvised with “Rrrr! I eat you!”
- that Kassai’s 3rd graders chose “Brother John” (“Frére Jacques”) as an traditional English song.
- the big finale of Rákóczi School’s 3rd grade dance number: fire. They gave each little angel and devil (and old man, and granny, and cat, and dog) a sparkler to wave around in the dramatically darkened gymnasium. Amazingly, no one was harmed.

The other highlight of my day was when, in the course of talking about what we want for Christmas, one of my 8th graders offered to be my boyfriend. The conversation went something like:
me: For Christmas, I would like a digital camera, and some new clothes, and-
him: Underwear? A bra?
me, slightly thrown off: Um, yeah, maybe. Maybe my boyfriend will buy me some. I mean-
him: Maybe I can be your boyfriend?
me: I think that might not be legal. Among other things.
him: Yes, yes. I’m only joking.
me: Okay, moving on...

In most cases, this whole episode would make me terribly uncomfortable. Because it was this specific student, it came off as being just sweet and funny.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Weekend in Szeged

Having spent the last two weekends in Szolnok, then Nyíregyháza, this weekend I moved a step further towards a real city by visiting Szeged with Juli, Chad, and Janos. Any weekend that can involve such varied amusements as death metal one day and ice skating the next has to be a great one. Highlights, in roughly chronological order, include:

- Gyongyi, the kind and generous friend of Juli’s who vacated her apartment for a night so we could have it. My favorite part was the fact that she forgot to bring extra clothes to her boyfriends, so we had to deliver them to her this morning, and she came out to meet us wearing only a big, blue bathrobe.

- getting Juli to drink alcohol for the first time (theme song: “Californication”)... and having her admit the next day that she liked it.

- the first bar we went to was this cave-like cellar, in which the walls were covered by the scrawlings and doodlings of past patrons. My favorite: “Az alkohol az emberiség ellensége” (alcohol is the enemy of mankind).

- the four giant men sitting hunched on stools like gargoyles, guarding the entryway of the second club we went to

- the Hungarian death metal band with the trombone player... surprisingly good

- when Janos bought me beer in a bottle, just in case I needed to bash someone’s head with it. Apparently I looked twitchy enough to take someone out. I did try to strangle Chad later in the car, but only because he tried to crush my kneecaps.

- Chad trying to cheer up the depressed Hungarian teenagers sitting in a McDonalds at midnight by giving them his Happy-Meal toy and Coke.

- Janos knocking the picture off the wall at 4.30 in the morning, making a huge crash and nearly taking out Gyongyi’s massive towers of CDs

- Chad wearing Gyongyi’s red and black rayon shirt, two sizes too small... and actually letting us take pictures of him, which will be posted here as soon as possible

- seeing the sights of Szeged with Juli as our expert tour guide - namely, the Dom tér (pictures here and here), then walking around, through the Christmas markets, and drinking hot wine

- going ice skating, not falling, having a beer, skating more, and still not falling. Amazing.

- two fantastic lunches: chili on Saturday, followed by Mexican food on Sunday. My usual diet of pasta, bread and butter has lost all appeal.

To be perfectly honest, after spending such a great lazy, chill weekend, most of my normal routine has lost all appeal. Right now, I’m living for Christmas break. Weekends have to keep me sane until then.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A month in review

First and foremost, I apologize again for the cop-out and general poor quality of the previous entry. I have no excuse but to say once again that the feast-booze-lethargy combination fried my brain.

Getting to the business of the day: if you recall (as I’m certain you all don’t), at the beginning of the month (the 6th; you can read the entry here) I created a list of “November Goals.” How did I do? Hm, not great. I would give myself a 3. Or a B-. The goals and results follow:

- Home repairs and interior decoration. Hot water fixed, check. Furniture moved, albeit slowly and painfully, check. Postcards made into wall art, which I look at every day and still makes me happy, supercheck. I’m satisfied that I’ve fulfilled this goal to the best of my financial and physical means.

- Getting a library card. I had a meeting with a new potential private student, and she chose the library as a neutral meeting place. We met in the library entryway before walking to my place. This was the closest I got. This goal: complete failure.

- Making onion rings. I tried. They were okay. I feel they could only improve with practice, so I’ll make that an informal December goal. Note to self: perfect the art of onion rings.

- Collage and fabric. Obviously, rubber cement made my “Thankful List.” Rach, you’ll be happy to hear that I’m back on track. I’ve made two 4x6s, which I’m sure is pathetic next to however many wonders you’re cranking out. Like the onion rings, this is one to continue next month.

- International Driver’s License. Near-complete failure. The only thing I did was take some passport photos. Whenever they get developed, I can move to whatever the next step is.

- And being a better teacher in general. Well, the whole long month of November had been one long downhill for this goal. The first, second week after break I was good. Oh, I was so good. I had lesson plans, I had attentive students, I even had some days when I was excited for my 7.30 classes. Third week, I was mostly back to normal: some good lessons, some bad. Some preparation, some nothing. This last and fourth week: I’m awful. Apathetic. Unsympathetic. Unplanned. I’m hoping that next week, as a fresh week of the last month, I’ll become inspired again.

So that’s it. I’m working on a list of December goals, but so far I haven’t come up with any that are interesting or publishable. Next week.