Thursday, July 31, 2003

Such bullshit

Hello my friends!

Well, another shit day for me here in glamorous Prague. As you know, I had to teach my first grammar lesson today. Would you like to hear how it went? Well, sit back because I'm going to tell you anyway! :-)

I was really sick last night, too sick to plan anything before this morning. So, I spent the morning and afternoon planning what I could. I could have called in sick (we're allowed to miss a couple days), but I was better this morning, and plus my not being there would have meant that the assessor would have to teach my course, and I didn't want to do that. Anyway, it was a bit frantic, but I felt OK going into the lesson, and the lesson itself *I THOUGHT* went pretty well, all things considered. The students were responsive, and when I went around and listened to them (or read their writing on their worksheets), they all seemed to be getting it. Granted, it was a bit of a review for them, but students need review (or as the Brits here would say-"revision").

Anyway, the gist is that I thought it went fine, my fellow CELTA students that were observing thought it went fine, and then during the feedback session with the assessor, she totally ripped me to shreds in front of everyone. And she put a check next to "Does not meet the requirement for this stage" on my assessment. It was horrible. It was all I could do not to cry. And this is ordinarily a nice woman, so I was a little taken aback. Anyway, I managed to get out of the classroom without crying, but then I was stuck in the hallway because we had to wait for the classroom where we store our files to finish being used before we could file away our assessments for the night. And while I was out there, a couple of the people that were in my feedback session came out and told me that they thought Betty was really harsh on me, and then of course that started me crying. So, I asked my friend to file my stuff for me and I left before anyone else could see me cry. And the shitty part is that I just wanted to go home and bawl for a couple hours, but I had to fucking go and meet this guy about an apartment. And I probably won't pass the course anyway, so what will I need an apartment for?? (The apartment was nice, actually, so I told him I would be interested. I'm supposed to hear back from him by the end of the week.)

Anyway, we switch to teaching the lower level group next week, and I have to teach on the first day, so that will probably be crap too. In our one-on-one session yesterday, the head of the course, Shaun, the one with the enormous crotch who has been observing me up until today, told me that he has seen a lot of progression and that right now I am a "solid pass". So, after talking with him, I felt absolutely wonderful and quite confident. After this afternoon, though, I feel really shitty about the whole thing. Some of the woman's comments were out and out wrong. She said that I seemed not to care what the students were doing while they were working in pairs and in reality, I went around several times to each and every pair, crouching down next to them so that I could hear specifically what they were saying, and when they were writing, I made sure to go around and read what they had down, help them with any questions, correct any errors, talk to them to make sure they were understanding the material. In fact, I would say that it was very comprehensive and the best I've done on checking them while they're working and this bitch was acting like I was sitting on a chair the whole time doing nothing. I am very mad about that comment, actually, because it's nothing but an out and out lie.

Right now, of course, I feel like I'm going to fail, so that just makes me want to come home again. This is probably not going to be the case (about failing), and I know that I'm just being emotional right now, but goddammit, I know I'm not that bad! Let me tell you about one of the guys in my TP group. Rob. He's a late 40-something Australian guy, kind of shoddy in appearance, but a nice guy. Anyway, his first grammar lesson, he spent mumbling constantly, with his back to the class half the time, looking at what he had written on the board and talking to himself about whether or not it was right. It was fucking painful to watch. I delivered a clear lesson on phrases of obligation (must, should, have to, etc...), elicited answers from the class, gave them two activities to do, one of which involved oral practice and one written, and at the end they were having fun and getting most of the answers right.

So, what did I do that got me torn apart? Well, I was too "teacher-centered". For the first part of the lesson, I stood at the board and wrote down the key-point answers the students gave me. When they couldn't come up with the answer, I asked them questions to try to get it out of them, (which worked most of the time) and when that didn't work, I gave it to them. What else could I have done?? It was for this I was most lambasted. And the teacher also didn't think that I had any clear idea that the students were understanding the material. Well, since she didn't bother to get up and walk around (like I did) to check their answers while speaking and while writing, then how could she possibly know that? She based that entirely on who answered the questions during the review at the end.

Do you know of any way to teach a comprehensive lesson on phrases of obligation within 40 minutes (during which you're not allowed to lecture in any way-that would be too "teacher-centered"), where you have time at the end to spend with each individual student (and there are 13 of them) to make absolutely certain that every single one of them has the material down 100%? Because I sure as fuck don't. But that was what was wrong with my lesson today, and so consequently I stand a serious chance of failing this course. And it really is a serious chance-I'm not just blowing things out of proportion. Because of the short time we're in the course, everything counts for a lot.

I don't know...I was really sad, but now I feel kind of angry. I don't even want to see this woman tomorrow, let alone be observed by her again. And the ironic thing is that Shaun was also capable of being hyper-critical, and he was an asshole about it at times, but he always did manage to put in some comments that were solidly positive. Betty was completely negative with me today, and maybe said 2 nice things that were essentially buried under the mountain of criticism. They were that I knew the material well, and I had a good rapport with the class. Whooptie-doo! Her attitude was like, "You should have fucking known better, and I expected more out of you." Christ, it's only my 4th time teaching ever, and my very first doing a grammar lesson, plus you've never even seen me teach before, bitch!

*Sigh* OK, I'm going to stop bitching now. :-) I just really needed to get that off my chest. If I could afford it, I would call you all individually and cry on your shoulders, but I'm only a poor church mouse. :-(

Anyway, I'm off to my lonely little apartment to watch some black and white Czech TV and cry myself to sleep. If only I had remembered to bring my "FUCK YOU BETTY" t-shirt to Prague with me, I'd wear it to class tomorrow. ;-) Take care everyone and I'll email you again maybe this weekend. :-) they say over here. :-)

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Settling in...

Hello everyone!

Just thought I'd send out another email this weekend while I have a moment. I'm really busy at school during the week, so I don't get as much time online as I would like, so please don't feel like I'm neglecting you! And I'm going to be getting some pictures developed this week, and then hopefully scanned in, so be looking for a website update by next weekend if all goes according to plan.

So far, I haven't gotten much studying done this weekend. I did review some grammar last night, but today I really need to get going on this language analysis assignment that's due on Wednesday. Right now I'm just sort of killing time in the internet cafe, then I'm going to pick up a few groceries on my way back home. And then it's homework all night for me. :-(

Last night I went to the grocery store for the first time because I needed to stock up my apartment. Knowing that I would have to carry everything home, I didn't want to buy so much that it wouldn't fit in 3 sacks at most. So, I felt confident that I hadn't put too much stuff in my cart. Well, I get up to the checkouts and I am the only person in the whole place with so much stuff. I was so nervous when I got up there and I have around 20 things, and everyone else has like 4 things. And of course there was only one check out lane open. So, the lady starts ringing everything through and I realize that I have to sack my own stuff, which is no problem, but the bags they have up there for you to use are the same as little sheer plastic produce bags! These bags aren't even as big as OUR produce bags (which would be small enough on their own). No, these are almost half the size! And I have a LOT of stuff to fit in these tiny bags!! At this point I was imagining having to juggle home like 15 of these tiny bags, and I'm thinking NO WONDER everyone has only 4 things--look at these bags!! So, I say to the woman (who does not speak any English), and mime to her, "Do you have a bigger bag?" lots of hand gestures...and eventually it comes to pass that they do have a bigger bag, like a plastic shopping sack with handles, and I can buy one for about a quarter. So, I got two, and then managed to put the rest of the stuff in three little produce sacks, which fit into my backpack. It was so absurd, and as I walked away, I could see that there was a line of about 10 fairly pissed off people standing behind me. Oh, but I did remember, THANK GOD, to weigh and label my produce before I got up there. There were two electronic scales, and above each was a sheet with pictures of all the different produce items. You put your sack of whatever on the scale, then you press the button with its picture on it, and then out would print a label with the weight and price on it. Quite handy, actually. Except, of course, if you go up to the one scale that isn't working, and you press all of the buttons on it in desperation but it still won't work, which is, of course, what I did. But, then a nice girl who happened to speak English came up and I asked her how to work it, and she couldn't make my scale work either, so we used the other scale and all was well. Whew! If she hadn't come up, I probably would still be standing there. But, at least there wasn't a repeat of the embarrassing "Apple Incident" in Spain, when we forgot to get labels!

Anyway, I'm really enjoying having my own apartment. It's fairly spacious, and gets a lot of light, so it has a very bright feeling to it. Especially around 5am when it gets light out and I am forced awake by all the brightness. Also, of course, there are no screens on the windows. I sort of forgot about this last night, when I sat with the windows open while watching TV (and of course I had the lights on), until it got totally dark. And when I went to close the windows, I happened to look up at the ceiling and noticed all the tiny little flies/what-nots that were hovering around the light. Great. So, I shut off all the lights in the apartment, except the one by the front door. They all migrated over there, and then I closed the kitchen door on them. Hah! :-) Yankee ingenuity! (or stupidity...guess it depends on how you look at it!)

Oh my god, I just about had a heart attack! I'm sitting here in this internet cafe, and all of the seats are divided by big wicker screens, so I can't see anything that's going on around me, plus I have my headphones on, so I can't hear anything either. And somebody brought their HUGE dog in here, and it just ran over here to sniff me out, and I didn't see it until it was literally brushing up against my knee. I just about had a stroke!! I guess I should be used to this by now, because people bring their dogs everywhere here, just like in Paris. You see them on the Metro, in restaurants, in shopping centers, everywhere. It's a little unusual, but I suppose you sort of ignore it after awhile.

Anyway, I need to get going to the grocery store. I hope you're all having a great weekend! Take care!

Friday, July 25, 2003


Hello everyone!

I don't have much time to send out email tonight (but I will tomorrow-hopefully!), but I wanted to send out something to let you all know that I'm doing well. I was able to get a flat through my school and it is absolutely awesome. It's HUGE, and it comes equipped with everything that I need (it even comes with a garlic press!). It has a washing machine, a double bed in a separate room (I had thought that it would be a studio), plus a door that closes off the rest of the apartment from the front door and the bathroom/washing machine area. It's got hardwood floors (they're actually probably some sort of Pergo Laminate setup), a separate dining area with a little table and two chairs, a couch, a bed-couch in the living room, lots of windows, and if you can believe it, it's got a little black and white TV! It only shows Czech tv of course, but lots of the programs are American, but dubbed into Czech. Last night, they were showing Deputy Dog, and this morning I awoke to the Teletubbies being inane in Czech. It was a little odd, to be sure. The apartment is about a 15 minute walk from my school, and it's right by a supermarket, and the neighborhood is it's in a great location. Of course, it's not all good. Well, actually there's only one bad thing about it......It's on the 4th floor--and no elevator. So, yours truly hoofs it up 80-odd steps every night. But, it's a good trade-off. I really like it. :-) Anyway, I'm on my way back there to shower and change for drinks and dinner out with classmates to celebrate the end of our first week.

I had my second lesson today, and it went really well. The assessor told me that it was "very nice", which is great coming from one of them! :-) I'm nervous about the upcoming written assignments that we have to turn in, but with some hard work this weekend, I think it'll be fine. I'm really sweating having to teach my first grammar lesson. So far, I've taught the difference between British and American English, and today I did a Speaking lesson that revolved around their childhood memories (so that they would have to use the past tense).

It's been stressful, but my friends at school are great. We all get along so well, you'd think that we've known each other for years. Stressful situations do that to you, I guess. :-) band perhaps?????

Anyway, I need to run. Hope you're all doing well! I'll write more tomorrow!!!

Monday, July 21, 2003

Flat, but no cigar

Hello all!

Well, I'm telling you...I didn't think I'd make it to this computer tonight, but somehow I managed to drag myself here. I don't know how, believe me. My feet feel as though they are going to explode, and I'm so goddamned tired I could just cry!

First of all, back to the school day--I couldn't sleep all night, kept tossing and turning. My left hip is killing me; I took some Tylenol, to no avail. My room was stifling, I'm getting a cold. I finally drifted off to sleep around the time my alarm went off. So, I conveniently shut it off and didn't wake up until 7:30, which was the time I had planned on leaving my hostel *at the latest*. So, great fun to run around like crazy, trying to find an outfit to wear, not having any time to brush my teeth or even go to the bathroom. Luckily, I remembered to throw my small toiletries bag into my backpack so that I could brush my teeth at the school! So, I raced toward the metro, and actually got there about 5 minutes earlier than I had expected. So, with much relief, I ended up getting to school at 8, with plenty of time to find the school. Yeah right.

I walked in what I thought was the right direction for about 8-10 minutes...nothing. Turned around and came back. Walked in another direction for 5-8 minutes....nothing. Turned around and came back, all the while contemplating just going back to my hostel and saying Fuck It to the course and everything. But, eventually, sweat-soaked and foot-sore, I spotted a taxi, and I could have cried with relief. I got in and showed him the map. It was much like Spain when he started trying to explain to me that my school was like just around the corner, but fortunately, he actually (and very grudgingly) drove me to the school. I was literally begging him, not that he could understand what I was saying. Eventually, I got to the school (the damn street isn't marked [most of them aren't-they don't have street signs at all like we do] so that's why I missed it), and went up to find my class halfway through their ice-breaker activities. I told the teacher why I was late (only by 15 minutes, all things considered), and excused myself to use the bathroom. Brushed my teeth, sponged myself down, and returned to the room, still sweaty and beet-red in the face. It was like a first day of school NIGHTMARE come true!!

Anyway, class progressed fine, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun, actually. The people I'm with are funny and easy to get along with, and the students we're teaching (for the first two weeks) are older and at an intermediate level. Someone asked me to explain how the course works. It's very simple: it last for 4 weeks, and during that whole time, we will have classes every morning that teach us how to be teachers. :-) Every afternoon, we will split up into groups of 6 (you're always with the same 6 for the whole course), and we each have scheduled time to teach "our" class. Our class consists of about 12 Czech people who have paid a paltry sum of money to learn English from people they know are just in training. So, they get practically free English lessons, and we get guinea pigs! I will spend at least 6 hours personally teaching these people.

For the first two weeks, my group and I will be working with the upper level students. For the last two weeks, we will work with lower level students. Today was our first day with them, and we all did part of the lesson as a way to introduce ourselves. Mostly, we just did the ice-breaker games with them that we did together at the beginning of the day ourselves. My first day of official, observed teaching will be on Wednesday. I have to do a 40 minute lesson on the difference between American English and British English. For this first week, our lessons will be given to us, and they'll tell us how to teach them. After this week, though, we're more and more on our own to come up with ways to teach the material that's required. It's a little daunting, but at least the head of the course will only be observing me during the first two (and hence, easier) weeks. After that, when we switch to working with the lower level learners, I'll be supervised by a part-time teacher.

Anyway, so school was great, except the having to walk around part, because thanks to this morning's escapade, I have blisters on my pinky toes again. It's never ending, I swear!

But, I had high hopes because I was meeting about the flat tonight. Well, let me tell you right now, I am not going to take this flat. The guy, who sounded like a young and perky Aussie on the phone, was actually a 40-ish, slightly pockmarked, graying hair in a ponytail Aussie, who works in a kitchen somewhere here in Prague. I think he must have used someone else's account to place the ad! Anyway, we had to walk FOREVER to get to the tram to get to the flat, and then FOREVER again to get to the flat, and then up two stories in the building, and the whole flat is kind of dump with no living room and a tiny kitchen with a non-working oven. But the room is huge, and has its own lock on the door, and the guy is grisly but friendly....but I just can't bring myself to live there! I told him I had another place to look at, even though I don't, and that I would call him tomorrow or Wednesday to let him know. But seriously, if you guys had taken one look at this guy *and* the flat...well, there is just no fucking way.

So, now I'm up shit-creek again, and I don't know what I'm going to do. I suppose I'll end up extending my stay at the Casa de la Rock-Hard-Bed, because I don't know what else to do. Frankly, I'm beginning to feel the strain of all this, and right now I feel like coming home as soon as this course is done. Maybe moving to Minneapolis or Portland (you know, somewhere where I fucking KNOW someone!!), calling it quits on this international thing. I miss my goddamn cat, I miss my family, and I don't know if I can deal with all of this anymore!! OK, I realize I just had a very bad day....but seriously, I'm afraid I'm going to crack here! If I can't land a decent place to live before this course is up, you guys might be seeing me a lot sooner than I planned!! I mean, it'll be my birthday in Denmark, and then home again in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.

Seriously...this has been a lot harder than I thought, mostly because of how much energy I have to expend just to do the simplest things. I can't just get in my car and drive 10 minutes to the mall to buy sheets or 15 minutes to work or 8 minutes to a friend's house. If I want a bottle of WATER (and it's the only place nearby that sells non-carbonated water), it's at least an 8 minute walk. Ok, not so bad...if I had my own place I could just buy them at the store. The store, however, is at least a 10 minute walk to a metro, a 3 minute ride, a changeover requiring going up and down lots of steps, and then another 4-5 minute ride to a TESCO that closes at fucking 8 o'clock, and then you've got to carry your shit home on the metro. Or, if you're lucky, there will be a supermarket in your neighborhood, in which case it's probably just a 10 minute walk there and a 10 minute walk back, loaded down with groceries. The veggie restaurant that I like is a 15 minute walk from my hostel. And 15 minutes back, probably when it's dark, and when you've just eaten like a cow and don't feel like walking anywhere. And the internet place is a 3 minute walk, but it's down 30 stairs, across a busy street, and up another 30 stairs, plus down some more to get into the joint. IT'S NEVER-ENDING!!! I'm tired beyond belief, but I can't sleep at night. And I'm getting sick, and it's sweltering hot here with no air conditioning anywhere you go. Everything is ridiculous, and please pardon me for bitching about it here. I am close to reaching a breaking point after this evening. I expected to have ups and downs, but this is a very down night, and it's threatening to take over the "ups"!!

OK, sorry, but I just had to vent a bit. :-) Don't worry too much about me. Anyway, I need to get going back to my hostel so that I can shower and then pass out (hopefully!!). I'll let you guys know if I have any more leads on apartments. Bye-bye!

First day of class

Hello all!

I just wanted to drop you guys a line real quick to let you know how my first day of class went. I don't have very long right now, because I'm going to be meeting Phil about the apartment at 8, but I wanted to tell you that it looks like it's going to be fun, but a LOT of hard work. My classmates are all really great. Mostly British, two other Americans, 1 Scot, an Aussie, an older Czech man. It turns out that our group got split into two sections, and of course, I'm not with any of the three people I met on Saturday night. The one bonus is that the head of the entire course will be our instructor, and he is also the one who will be supervising me during the first two weeks of teaching practice. So, I've got the best teacher, and I guess that's what matters. :-)

I almost couldn't find the goddamned school today. I arrived at the correct metro stop at 8, and class started at 8:30. So, there should have been plenty of time. Unless, of course, the map you're using sucks, and you got about 2 hours of sleep. I walked in the wrong direction TWICE and I didn't get to the fucking class until 8:45! But, they were very understanding. There is no air conditioning in the school (there is none anywhere in this whole city, it seems!), so we all spent the day sweltering in the heat. It was awful. The apartment guy will probably take one look at me tonight and say, "Forget it!" I look like I've been run over by a bus, not to mention that I've got blisters from walking around this morning, so I'm limping like I've had a stroke. Not the best first impression, really. :-)

Anyway, if I get a chance tonight, I'll let you know about the flat. Wish me luck!!!

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Dinner and a bit too much of a show

Hello everyone!

At last, the long-awaited email about meeting my classmates! :-) Well, truth be told, I only actually got to meet 3 of them, out of about 15-20, so it wasn't quite as comprehensive as I would have liked, but oh well! I did get to meet most of the teachers I'll be working with, and I feel that that is an inestimable bonus in the long run. I made friends with a lady named Kathy who it turns out will be the ones giving us our grades in the final week, so that was a happy accident! (Also, she's plus-sized, too, and gave me some tips on where to shop.) But anyway...on to the details! (and as they say, "Life is in the details!")

OK, I did NOT want to be late to this 7:30 dinner meeting (lest I show my true colors too soon!), so I decided to stake it out around 5 or so, just to make sure I knew where it was, and then hang out at someplace close-by so that I could wander in casually around 7:20 or so. The restaurant is located on a sidestreet that is off of the main street where I went to see a movie the other day, so I was familiar with how to get there. I decided to kill some time taking a few pictures of the beautiful buildings, shopping around a bit in the little grocery store by the metro stop, and just people watching. I sat down and ate some pretzels and drank some Fanta, and watched as the hordes of tourists tramped by. I like to fancy that as a person on her own, with no map out, with no camera out (if I use it, it goes immediately back into my bag), and looking a little swarthy, that I can occasionally pass as a native. As long as I keep my mouth shut and don't smile too much. :-)

As an aside: Someone suggested to me that I just have fun and smile...I mean absolutely no offense, but actually there is nothing I could do (aside from open my mouth and speak in English) that would instantly brand me a tourist as walking around with a big smile on my face. I love to smile, I have been told that I have a great smile, smiling usually works. But not here. The natives here do not smile that often, and so I usually wear what I think of as my "Prague Grimace" because if I act like I know where I'm going, and I'm wearing The Grimace, people leave me alone. The vendors don't yell out at me, pickpockets don't bother me (at least not yet!), and the general populace doesn't stare at me like they want to spit at my feet for being another goddamned tourist. I have seen them looking at groups of American tourists on the metro, and it ain't pretty. It's a look called, "Undisguised Loathing." And I don't want a piece of it, that's for sure!!

So, back to last night! :-) After hanging out for a bit, I decided to find the restaurant. I easily found the street and walked up it quite a ways, keeping an eye out for the restaurant. Along the way, I passed a bar called "Rocky O'Reilly's: The Biggest Irish Pub in Prague!" There were about 15 Irish soccer players spilling out of it as I passed, and one of them asked me to take their picture, which I did. I had no choice-they were huge and could have beaten me to a bloody pulp if I'd refused! But, I could hear a lot of merriment inside the pub as I passed, so I decided to check that out after I found the restaurant.

The restaurant, Titanic, was just a few doors down. I went in and inquired about a reservation for my school, and they confirmed that this was the right place. One of the head guys (who spoke the best English) helped me, and introduced himself to me as Martin, shaking my hand. Friendly in a brusque way-if that makes sense!

Anyway, I repaired to the Irish bar and was a little surprised to note that there were almost no women in it. There were maybe three at a table in the entryway, but around the corner and down the hall to the main bar area, it was just men. But there were female waitresses, so I wasn't totally alone, I suppose. So, I had over an hour to kill in a bar filled with noisy, probably half-drunk Irishmen. With BBC news on the telly, and a couple pints of Guinness, it wasn't a bad way to pass the time! The bartender was a very friendly Irish "bloke" who explained to me that it was almost always just men in here, and that they were one of the most popular bars in town for Stag parties. Interesting to note for the future. :-)

Eventually I pried myself off the bar stool and went to meet my classmates. I was the first there, joined shortly by a very tall man named Piers, who was--obviously--from England (Devon, to be precise). He is 32, and good-natured, but he speaks in practically a whisper, making it all but impossible to hear him in a loud restaurant. All of us kept saying, "I'm sorry, what was that??" every time he said anything!! I can't picture him being a teacher. And every time that someone mentioned something even a touch risque, he plugged his ears!!! Good grief! No wonder he's still single!

One of the other students there was a girl from Ireland, whose name is spelled something like Aeofie, and is pronounced "Eeffa". She is 24, and she just got done teaching in the United Arab Emerites for a year. She has a college degree, but no teaching credentials, like me. She's not sure what she'll do after this course, but she seems very strong-willed, so I'm sure it will be something interesting. We were sitting opposite each other at the table, so we talked quite a bit. She seems like someone that I could be friends with, so that was very encouraging!

The other classmate who showed up was a British woman in her late 50s, early 60s. I didn't get her name (might have been Pat), and she didn't talk very much.

The most interesting thing was to meet my teachers and the guy who interviewed me. First of all, they're all around my age, maybe up to age 30-32. All of them are British of one variety or another. They were all very pleasant to me, so that was nice. And they all have good senses of humor, which is promising. Also, they could probably drink me under the table, which is something I won't be testing anytime soon! They must have had 5-6 beers apiece during dinner and while we were sitting there afterwards.

We would have sat there all night, I'm afraid, except that the manager of the bar (the aforementioned Martin), told us that he was going to close up and we needed to leave. This was around 10:30 or so. A little unusual, but we had finished eating long ago. I was fucking exhausted, not to put too fine a point on it, so I was actually eager to leave. But, the teachers were PISSED as well as ANGRY :-) and plus the service had been a little slow all night. So, when Martin came around to collect the money (everyone was allowed to pay separately, by just telling him what you had eaten, not seeing a bill or anything), they were so rude to him, that I could not believe it. I mean, they had been making loud comments about the slowness of the waitress all night, but this was a lot worse. They kept loudly joking between themselves about how the service had been so slow and horrible all night, and talking about Martin right in front of him, like he didn't exist and like he was too stupid to understand what they were saying. I was appalled. They kept saying, "DON'T TIP HIM!! DON'T TIP HIM!!" and laughing and yelling about the horrible service. I kept wanting to shout, "THIS MAN UNDERSTANDS ENGLISH!! HE KNOWS WHAT YOU'RE SAYING!!" But of course, they probably knew this already and just simply did not care. It was so embarrassing.

When it was my turn to pay, I quietly told him what I had ordered, and my total was 145 Krowns. (Note: we had talked about tipping earlier, and the lady Kathy had told me that you just round up. I should have given him 150 total or maybe 160.) So, I handed him a 200 Krown note and said, "Please keep the change, Martin." Kathy, who was sitting right next to me said softly, "Oh that's way too much." So I said softly (even though I was raging on the inside), "Well, nobody else is tipping him and I won't be that rude!" (I should note that my total bill in dollars was about $6 and that the tip I gave him was equal to about $2-perhaps too much if I was on my own, but if nobody else was leaving a tip, I felt that this was a paltry sum to pay.) Aside from which, I didn't find anything to be too terribly wrong with the service. They were just mad because it took more than a few minutes for the waitress to fetch them their copious beers. Fuck all of them. I was so embarrassed to be associated with them!!!

It reminded me of an incident in one of Bill Bryson's books, where he's somewhere in Bosnia, I think. Their money was so de-valued, that he saw a table full of German tourists paying for their bill and teasing the waiter with the money, like it was just play money, because for them it was a pittance. That is what these people reminded me of. They treated the waiter like he was subhuman, and it was very upsetting to me. I couldn't wait to leave. I hope that it was only because they were drunk, and that it won't be a recurring theme.

Anyway, more news on the apartment front. I spoke with the Aussie guy, Phil, again today. We made arrangements to meet on Monday night after my class. He was even nicer on the phone today than he was yesterday, and funnier. So, I have high hopes about our compatibility as roommates. When I told him that I would be wearing a "Fossil" backpack, he laughingly asked me how old I was, and then told me that my new nickname would have to be "Fossil". LOL So, that's an interesting start. Anyway, if the apartment is OK, I will definitely take it because I am SICK of being at this hostel.

Well, I've been on the computer FOREVER, so I'd better move on. I'm starving, and that vegetarian eatery is calling my name!! :-) Anyway, hope you're all doing well and I'll talk to you soon!!

Saturday, July 19, 2003

A solid apartment lead

Hello family!

I have got a great new lead on a flat that's actually pretty close to my school! I talked to the guy today and he's going to try to show me around tomorrow afternoon!! I was going to go to a showing of "Chocolat" tomorrow at this movie theatre that's on an island in the middle of the river, but I think I will forgo that so that I can have a place to live. :-) It's fully furnished, has a washing machine, is right on a tram line, and is only about $170/month, including utilities. No phone, but with the money I'd be saving, I think I will just get a cell phone and fuck the cost.

It's with a guy named Phil, who sounds Australian, works in a restaurant on the weekends and teaches during the week. He said he'd try to help me figure out a cell phone, and how to use the tram. He swore several times during our conversation, which I take to be a sign of Australian rough-and-readiness. :-) And he asked me if I was crazy, a heroin addict, or a serial killer. Very funny. So I asked him if he was an axe murderer, and he said, "Oh fuck yeah! I've got a couple axes and we can go chop up the neighborhood together!" It was most amusing. :-) He said he's only had one other call about the apartment, and it was a guy who had several things against him (mostly it was because he doesn't like living with guys), so I was the only candidate, and he'd love to show it to me tomorrow or Monday evening at the latest, and it's available immediately. So, needless to say, if it's acceptable, I will be moving in. :-) The girls who lived there before took the curtains with them for some reason, so I will have to buy new ones, but I think that won't be too much of a problem.

I can't wait to get out of my hostel! Last night I could not sleep hardly at all! I was just starting to doze at 4:30am, and then it started getting light outside!!! And then people started moving around in the hostel, and with the noise and the light it was impossible to sleep. So, first I tried just using my sleep mask for a couple hours, but that was useless because it was so noisy. Eventually, I found my ear plugs and with them and the mask, I was able to sleep a few hours. Good grief! And I have to meet with my schoolmates tonight, so I could have used the sleep. Argh!

Anyway, I'm going to run and get some late lunch. I just thought you'd all like to know about this new apartment development. :-) I'll let you know how it goes after tomorrow! Bye!

Friday, July 18, 2003

Dinner and a show

Hello everyone!

Just a nightcap of an email before I drag myself back to my hostel. :-)

Well, today was a very good day. Finally! I left the internet cafe and made my way down this great street to the vegetarian eatery I mentioned earlier, to look for flat listings. I found several interesting ones, so that was a success. Along the way, I discovered a grocery store, much to my delight. I had a look around, and was interested to see that they carried several American brands of products. For example, Smucker's jams, Heinz Ketchup, etc. Of course, the American brands were twice as expensive as the Czech ones, despite the fact that they were about the same or even cheaper than at home. I didn't buy anything, but I think I'll go there tomorrow. Just a stone's throw from that store was one specializing in fruit! Their window displays were filled with the most luscious looking berries and peaches, and even tomatoes! I went in to have a look and was not suprised to see that strawberries were over $9/gram or whatever unit of measurement they were using-I can't remember! But, they looked great! Smelled good, too. But, too too expensive for this chick, so I moved on.

I spent quite awhile in the vegetarian place enjoying a delicious lunch of roasted potatoes and leeks fricassee. It actually ended up that I didn't have enough time to make it to the English bookstore, so I will have to do that tomorrow. In the end, I decided that I wanted to go to the movie more, so I went! What an experience!

At first, I couldn't even find it. It was on one of the busiest streets in all of Prague and I kept searching for the address, but no place was displaying their address in plain view. Eventually, I found the address, but it was for this sort of entry into a long alley of different shops. I wasn't sure if I would be there, but I walked down this alley, and thankfully, it was right there at the very end. So, I paid about $3.50 to see "Frida". It was down in the basement in what the man told me was the "big" hall. Hah! Um, this place was about as big as one of the rooms at the Cobblestone-and those are about the size of a private viewing room in some guy's mansion. And the chairs were like ones in a dentist's waiting room! Oh, and when you paid, you got to pick your seat location from a picture on a computer screen behind the counter. I chose row 3, seat 8, and then the guy printed up my ticket. Imagine the horror of just letting people find their own damn seats! Can you picture the chaos?! ;-) Very interesting... And, of course, no refreshments of any kind, although there was a bar, but it wasn't open. I saw where they were showing Casablanca and it was like your own little room because it's just on DVD. So, I don't think I'll be going back for that. :-) There are much larger movie houses here, so I think I'll try one of those out.

After the movie, I walked out into the twilight a little dazed to find myself in the middle of this busy and quite beautiful street. At the far end was an enormous building, the National Museum. And all around me were ornately decorated, quite colorful buildings, with facades that looked like wedding cakes. And this is the *norm*!!! Everywhere I turn, I see these buildings and I'm reminded of why I chose to come here. I stood outside the theatre for a bit, just soaking in the scene around me, looking down to the theatre building, and at the people strolling by. For the first time it hit me that *I live here*. I'm not just a tourist. For the first time I actually felt LUCKY to be here, to be doing this.

To be frank, I'm scared shitless to be here at all, but maybe it will actually work out. Tonight I had my first glimmer of hope. :-)

Anyway, enough sentimentalizing... I just ate a so-so dinner at a local pizzeria, and I'm eager to limp back to my rock-hard bed. :-) I'll let you know how dinner goes tomorrow night with my new comrades. Goodnight!!

Dancing Lucinda (dedicated to all the Nadas fans!)

Hello everyone!

I'm going to be checking my email at least a couple of times a day for the next week or so, until things get going with school. So, expect some frequent emails as I struggle to get used to things for a bit. :-)

Anyway, yesterday I just about had a breakdown. I got to my hostel and it was, let us say, not exactly what I had expected. It's in an OK neighborhood, but it's a little run down. As soon as I saw it, I decided that I would be having a private room, and damn the cost. But, as it turns out, the price they quoted me for a private was about $18, quite a bit less than the $34 I would have had to pay if I had booked a private online.

It's sort of like living in a dorm again, but with both boys and girls on the same floor. I have to walk all the way to the other end of the hallway in order to use the bathroom, and the showers definitely leave something to be desired, and little to the imagination. My bed is exactly as comfortable as sleeping on the floor-there is no give in it at all. But, it does come with a feather pillow and a down comforter, which I actually slept on top of, trying to give the bed a little cushioning, to no avail. I have one very large window, with a view of some buildings that is not so bad. Lots of wardrobe space, but no hangers. I get breakfast for free every day, but I didn't go down this morning. I can only assume it will be a stale bun and some water, from the look of things around here.

As for the apartment meeting I had lined up...well, that's down the toilet. I checked my email yesterday only to find that the guy I was meeting gave the apartment away and the new person was moving in that evening. Story of my goddamned life. So, now I am on a mission to find a new place, and I guess it will be Casa de la Rock-Hard-Bed until then.

Speaking of my Casa, it is at least a 15 minute walk to the nearest metro-a bit further than had been advertised. But, that's along a very busy street, so if I have to come home in the dark, I'll be totally fine. Of course, last night I was on my way home and it started to rain. And yours truly had left my motherfucking umbrella in the goddamned hostel. Of COURSE. So, I tried to walk right along the buildings as I scurried home, but eventually I gave in to the inevitable and cursed each squelching step back to my hostel. Let me tell you, it was the last thing I needed after such a long and exhausting first day--but I should have expected nothing less with my horrible luck. Please feel sorry for me, because *I* certainly do. :-)

I awoke this morning, bright-eyed and sore-backed, ready to go again. So, on the agenda for today, after a late rising, is to finish up email here, then walk god knows how far up this street where there is a vegetarian cafe that apparently has flat postings. I will eat there, hopefully find some leads on a place to live, and then I will get on the metro and go to the Globe bookstore, another English hangout that supposedly has flat listings. I'll peruse those, and the books, and then I will once again take the metro to Wenceslas Square, where I will dine at the Hotel Europa (or some other nice eatery) and then take in a showing of "Frida" at the Praha Theatre. After that, I will take the metro back in this direction and limp the 15 minutes back to my hotel, probably in the pouring rain-but I have my umbrella today!-and then I will end the evening studying up on my grammar and snacking on Snickers Bites (thanks Mom!), or possibly Godiva chocolates, as I hear there is a shop of theirs in the area where I will be dining.

Tomorrow I will be meeting up with my fellow students at a restaurant, so I'm very excited to finally talk to some people other than my new best friends at the bank. :-) Oh, and someone asked why I opened my account with only $10. Well, this is because if I put any more money in, it would be frozen until I get my new Visa Electron debit card in a week or so. By the way, my statements will be mailed to the house, Mom, so be expecting them. Since I don't have a permanent address here, I had no choice. Anyway, I don't intend to use that account very much at first; I just wanted to have it open ASAP in case I get a cell phone. But it looks like I won't now, unfortunately. Still the 10 hours I spent at the bank yesterday were certainly worth it. ;-)

OK, I need to stop stalling and get going on my plans, or I'll never make the movie! By the way, Dad, I think I've decided that I'm going to keep going to the movies every Sunday, if I can afford the money and the time. This Sunday I'm planning on going to a showing of "Casablanca" at the same theatre where they're showing "Frida" tonight. Of course, if I get there tonight and it's like $10 a throw, maybe I'll rethink my plan. :-) But after so many years of popcorn once a week, I'm not sure I'm able to give up my addiction. :-) Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes!

Take care everyone, and keep sending me emails! It makes me feel so much more relaxed about stuff, and connected to home. I'll talk to you soon!

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Hello from Prague!‏

Hello everyone!

Well, here is my first email from god it feels like I left Des Moines about a month ago, even though I just got here this morning.

I almost didn't make it here at all. My flight to Minneapolis was 30 minutes late, so I had to run almost all the way to catch my plane to Amsterdam. I made it to the gate, huffing and puffing, and the guy told me I made it with *2* minutes to spare. Literally, they had already made two final announcements for the flight that I could hear as I was running along the endless corridors. It was horrible!!! I hate having to run for a plane!

But, I made it-that's the important thing. The bad news was that I was assigned to sit next to a Dutch woman and her two kids, a girl-maybe 3/4, and a boy-maybe 4/5. The girl was sitting right next to me, and she was constantly bumping against me, pounding on my leg, using me for a back rest and general plaything. All I wanted in the world was to be able to get some sleep, but this girl could not sit still for more than 2 minutes. And her brother spent half of the flight whacking her on the head or singing American songs ("Hey Baby"-the oldie) at the freaking top of his lungs, with no regard for what the words actually were, because hey-fuck it-I'm 5 years old and don't speak English and don't give a shit that I'm annoying every single person in the vicinity. Fuck all of you. By the time that flight was over, I had such a bad headache!! Even the mom was loud. She was in her mid-30s, with long hair extensions in purple, pink, and bright blond, all pulled up into a high ponytail. She kept egging them on and making them practice their English. It was a nightmare, the worst flight I have ever had.

Anyway, so I finally made it to Prague, and the taxi driver was there, as arranged by the school, despite the fact that my flight was late. Thank god, otherwise I don't know what I would have done!! He took me to my hostel, which is essentially a shambles, but oh well. It's in an OK neighborhood (quite posh in some bits), but it's run down on the inside. Once I saw the place, I opted to pay a little bit more for a private room. And it so happened that that rate was still about $20 less than what that booking service would have charged me for a private.

After collapsing on my bed for a bit, I braved the city and went out in search of several things: 1) A place to use the internet 2) A phone card to call my mom 3) A bank to open a Czech account in 4) A cell phone store, and 5) Food.

The good news is that there is an internet place essentially across the street and around the corner from my hostel. And a place next door to that that sells phone cards. Two things down. Now, the bank was easy to find, but the process of opening an account was excruciatingly slow. I was there close to an hour. The main problem was that the girl doing it didn't speak very much English, and the guy she brought in to help her wasn't all that much better! So, we struggled along together, and now I'm the proud owner of a Czech bank account with about $10 in it. :-) The cell phone store was right across the street from the bank, but sadly, I had no luck on that front. I just don't think I'm going to be able to get a cell phone. The cheapo phones that I had been eyeing are only that price if you agree to a *2* year contract! And then you still have to pay a $100 or so activation fee!!!!!! If you just want the prepaid minutes, then you have to pay full price for the phone. The cheapest is about $140. So, I think I might have to put that dream on hold for a bit.

I went to dinner at the restaurant of the hotel I stayed at last time. It was tasty and about $5, so that's not bad. It was raining outside when I got out of the metro station to walk home, so I popped into this internet cafe to dry off for a bit. So, I thought I would take the moment to tell you about the beginning of my journeys.

A big thank you to all who recently signed my guestbook. Yay! :-) Anyway, I need to get back to my hotel so that I can pass out for about 15 hours. Talk to you all soon!