Friday, January 30, 2009

The Budapest Zoo, in photos

A few weeks ago Lyla and I decided to trek out to the Budapest Zoo on a Sunday. It was cold. However, we figured that the winter animals would be out and active, and the screaming child population would be down. Thankfully, we were right. The Budapest Zoo is lovely, quite humane-ish, but still a very different experience from any zoo I've ever witnessed in America. If you wanted an animal to kill you, you could arrange it quite easily here. Or at least for one to bite you quite forcefully.

Just some monkeys chilling on a radiator.

Jazzercizing polar bears. They would take three steps forward, shake their heads, take three steps back, and shake their heads again.

The ubiquitous scowling Hungarian lady in fur.

A very pretty tiger. There is also a lovely painting of two lions banging that I chose not to put up on the blog for the sake of my more delicate readers' constitutions. If any of you are interested, however, you can peruse this painting on facebook.
This is a torn-apart bunny carcass, just chilling right by the main walkway in the wolf enclosure. Yes, the one child I witnessed see it did become quite upset. From what I could tell, her parents' response was something along the lines of "suck it up, four year old." Go Hungary!

These are naked-necked Transylvanian chickens. I feel the name is self-explanatory.

When observing the prairie dogs, blocked from me only by a hip-high glass wall, and wondering if I could pet one without losing a finger (I decided not), I sneezed. The little rodents all froze, then leaped onto their hind legs and yelped. Needless to say, I then forced Lyla to stand there for at least five minutes while I fake-sneezed. Messing with prairie-dog-squatch, while not approaching poodle-squatch, is also very fun.

The only thing preventing anyone from touching the prairie dogs is this sign, which reads, "Look out, they bite!" Apparently, from the look on the prairie dog on the sign's face, they also seduce. Ooh la la.

This "king squirrel" ran free around the asian bird enclosure, burrowing in people's coat hoods, climbing on top of heads, leaping from faces, and stealing food from bags. Here he is enjoying the spoils of his adorableness. Note that this is not a tiny squirrel, but, rather, a football-sized critter.
In one bird enclosure, I was surprised to look up and find flying foxes chillaxing two feet from my face. They are very cute, and you can see through the skin on their wings. Also, the Hungarian word for bat literally translates as "dog plane." Hee.

Apparently included in the flying fox diet are sour pickled Hungarian cherries. This guy seemed to dig them though.

I don't know exactly what this sign says. I think that it gets its point across, nevertheless.

From my father

I generally try to avoid this blog, but, well.... it applies. Funnily enough, I've now taken advantage of both of the "taking a year off" methods mentioned. Go me!

For those of you who don't want to click through, enjoy:

When someone goes through a stressful experience they usually require some time off to clear their head, regain focus, and recover from the pain and suffering. Of course, in white culture these experiences are most often defined as finishing high school, making it through three years of college, or working for eleven months straight with only two weeks vacation and every statutory holiday (”they don’t count because I had to spend them with family.”)

Though you might consider finishing school or having a good job to be “accomplishments” many white people view them as burdens. As such, they can only handle them for so long before they start talking about their need to “take a year off” to travel, volunteer, or work abroad...

If you work with this person, be sure to give them a FAKE email address on their last day on the job or you will be inundated with emails about spiritual enlightenment and how great the food is compared to similar restaurants back home. Also, within the first five days following departure, this person will come up with the idea to write a book about their travel experience. Sadly, more books about mid-twenties white people traveling have been written than have been read.

Some of the more enterprising white people will extend their time off by working abroad as a bartender, ski lift operator, or english teacher. Their stories, emails, and publishing plans will be identical to the previous white person but will include additional stories about working and complaints about “tourists.”

Finally, there is the white person who takes a year off to volunteer at home or abroad. Though they are equally likely to write long emails about their experience, these people are often using the experience as an excellent resume pad for their application to law school. This way they are able to put off real life without the crippling derailment of a career or education.

Regardless of how a white person chooses to spend their year off, they all share the same goal of becoming more interesting to other people. Sadly, the people who find these stories interesting are other white people who are politely listening until they can tell their own, more interesting story about taking a year off.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Favors and stupid questions

“Being in a foreign country means walking a tightrope high above the ground without the net afforded a person by the country where he has his family, colleagues, and friends, and where he can easily say what he has to say in a language he has known from childhood” -The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

This means that we all have to ask for favors in order to accomplish anything. Being in a country where you don't speak the language well at all is like reverting to a childhood state. Sure, you can still tie your shoes. But you have to ask the most stupid questions, and request the most ridiculous favors.

"So I'm sure this is a stupid question, but where can I find thread?"
"Thread?" The Hungarian in question looks at you quizzically.
Sighing, you locate an example of thread. "Yes, thread. I need to sew a button."
"Oh! Three-ad. For that, you must go to a string shop." This is said in the most matter-of fact way ever, as if this answer should be obvious to everyone who is not under the age of four.
"A string shop. Ok. Where is one of those?"

My internet was broken. In order to get it fixed I had to do several things.
1. Get Balint to agree to translate a page of text for me, so that the people who would fix the internet would be able to understand the error messages provided by my computer.
2. Travel to the Vodafone shop most likely to contain English-speaking employees.
3. Bring all of my paperwork, receipts, computer, cable, everything with me.
4. Present this miraculous pile to the poor employee, and say: Ok, I need help with this.
5. Change one option in my computer. This last one was the only one that actually needed to be done, it was so ridiculously easy that I actually blushed when the employee figured it out, and there was no way I could have possibly known to do it otherwise because the instructions for my internet are all in Hungarian.

I have two people actively helping us find a flat. Other than Lyla and myself, that is.

You see... I've always depended on the kindness of strangers. (Please imagine that in the most dramatic southern-belle accent possible.)

PS: Today on the tram Lyla spotted a girl wearing a mini skirt with denim cutoffs poking out from underneath it. That's right boys and girls. My flatmate has seen a real, live never-nude. There are dozens of them! DOZENS!

I am writing this from MY internet

That's right, mine. I have finally entered the connected world, and all is now well within mine. I have internet! Sweet, sweet internet, swelling out of little wireless connections from the small white modem plugged in my laptop's left-hand USB drive. Internet, connecting me with the rest of the world. Allowing me to write on this without actually going to an internet cafe. Allowing me to check my email, look at facebook, upload pictures, maybe even download some music!!! Sweet, sweet internet. How I have missed you. Sweet internet. I love you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

on sexism, politics, and other such controversial things in Hungary

Ok, so. I'm a foreigner living in a foreign land. I don't understand the culture, the politics, the social interactions. I know this. But sometimes things happen and it makes my brain hurt. I want so badly to go off on a diatribe, but I know I cannot.

Example. Today I went into 2b for my English lesson. My dear, respectful teaching partner had just finished his music lesson with them. I put the kids on an activity, and while I am circulating the room I notice their music sheets out on a few tables. Now, they usually learn very cheesy songs from the 80s and I find it cute. I'm talking "We will rock you" and "Supertrooper." It's really adorable that my second graders could totally rock any late 70s/early 80s karaoke contest they should ever find themselves in.

So I pick up the sheet and look at what they were learning today: Money, money, money by ABBA. I'll treat you to the first verse.

I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay
Ain't it sad
And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me
That's too bad
In my dreams I have a plan
If I got me a wealthy man
I wouldn't have to work at all, I'd fool around and have a ball

!!!!!! So now here I am, gaping at the horrible sexism inherent in these lyrics, and at the classism, and at that special brand of late-70s materialism. Now, keep in mind that Hungarians in general are rather more.... traditional than I'm used to. For example, I've never walked into a room behind my teaching partner. I'm not allowed to help men carry things. Little girls, as young as three, are scolded for sitting in sandboxes because of the theory that being cold in the bum region might hurt their fertility, and, thus, their worth as a human being.

So. I don't want the second graders internalizing this message. I don't want the girls internalizing that perhaps they don't need to worry about anything beyond finding a wealthy man to marry. I don't want the boys internalizing that if they should wind up not being wealthy, no girl will want them. I don't want any of them internalizing that money is so damn important, especially in a romantic relationship.

In America, I would have marched up to my teaching partner and been like "WHAT the hell?!?"

But I'm in Hungary. I know he's not particularly sexist. And bringing up the what the hell also opens the whole ESL can-of-worms. If I say, "Do you understand what these lyrics actually say?" which he probably does not, he'll descend into a week's worth of my-English-sucks depression. Either way: I'm offending him.

So what do I do? What can I do, ever? I shut up, and I write a blog, and I continue to be a foreigner in a country that I just don't understand sometimes.

PS: Lyla and I have gone out and obtained internet. However, we are having technical difficulties with it. It should be fixed up in a matter of days, and then I will have mostly-reliable internet in the flat. Win.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Let me preface this blog by saying that in the two weeks since I've returned to Hungary, I spent the first week horribly debilitated by both jet lag and a deathly, can't-breathe, wake-up-convinched-I'm-drowning style head cold. I then pretty much healed from that, got over the jet lag, and headed off to Heves for the weekend and the long-anticipated Mexikoi Buli. There, I had 7 hours of totally raucous and crazy fun before I was struck down with horrible, horrible death. So let me just state: I have not eaten any solid food other than toast and dry Hungarian granola bars that has lasted more than ten minutes in my stomach since Friday evening. It's Thursday afternoon. I'm starting to become a little loopy. Today, though, I don't suffer the horrible stabbing stomach pains I have been suffering the past week, so I think tonight might be the night for some pasta. Oh yes.

First, let me address the subject of my students, or more specifically, my love for them (and occasional frustration). If anyone is ever having self-esteem issues, I personally recommend teaching first and second graders. Whenever I walk somewhere during a class break, I have to be on constant alert. Why? First graders, man. I hear a scream of "LÓREN!!" and six crash into my back. Or one will leap from atop a bench onto my shoulders, or crash head first into my stomach. I've actually been knocked to the ground on multiple occasions. I'll watch one run from down the hall, and just brace my abs for the impact of tiny skulls. First graders are funny because they don't yet quite have an outside consciousness. They care for other people, and things (it's very cute to watch one comb a stuffed animal, or to feel soft tugging behind you and realize that a cadre of 7 year old girls has braided all the tips of your hair), but they also don't grasp the concept that their entire weight landing on your right shoulder may hurt you, or just be a little awkward. And they bounce, which is convenient because they are constantly flying through the air and falling.

My second graders continue to amaze me with just how freaking smart they are. I also feel a little sad because they don't get told nearly enough how amazingly brilliant they all are and I can see some of them succumbing already to the Hungarian-head-slump. We've started level three of their book, the accursed Playway (recommended in this week's lesson: "have the children mill about while you tap a certain tune on a tambourine!"), and the children just read sentences. I know that it can be underwhelming to say that they read sentences, but this is their second language. And I know it's a testament to how cool this billingual system is, but I'm just super impressed with them. We did skits this week. In tutorials today, my kids wrote skits and then performed them with me. An example:

Me: Teacher
Julcsi: a horse
Szonja: a dog
Juli: a girl

Good morning!
Good morning!
Good morning Teacher!
Hello Teacher! How are you?
I'm super, thanks! But what are you doing?
I'm drawing.
I'm doing gymnastiks. (sic)
I'm sleeping.
That's fun. What will you eat for dinner?
Tomato soup!
A bananashake! (sic)
Yummy! Goodbye, see you later!
Goodbye teacher!
Bye-bye Teacher!

I love my job, really.

The second job has been a little strange so far this week (it only started back on Monday), primarily due to my one poor student's intense homesickness. The boys asked me if there were any American traditions for New Years Eve, and I replied that it's common to shoot off fireworks, drink champagne, and often to kiss someone at midnight. At the last one, the poor boy became so flustered that he actually shed a tear because he doubts that he can ever adjust to western society. I feel bad for the students quite often, they're torn in many different directions and aren't provided with any emotional support. I bet it's weird for them. Hungary can depress me sometimes, and in many many ways it's very similar to the US. I can only imagine for them.

I have very little non-work related things to report because of the whole jet-lag immediately followed by illness thing that I've been rocking. I have to admit I've been rather a loser and have done very little beyond work, lay in bed watching DVDs, and sleep. I've especially been sleeping a LOT this week due to the death. I promise next update will tell of crazy adventures, haha.

I am a little lonesome, but such is the plight of the single girl in a scowly country, I suppose. I'd love a spontaneous hug sometime, or a pat on the shoulder. My friends are great, and my coworkers have especially warmed up to me now they've figured out I can understand them and reply back in broken words and hand gestures. I do become frustrated with Hungarian, because I feel like I can say anything I want to say in most situations except work. As I said to Nóra, who sits across from me, today... funnily enough, my general Hungarian class doesn't really teach me to say "Artúr was a very naughty boy today" or "I'm so tired of filling out grade books." Go figure.

I found this picture online today, and it is the reason for the title of this post... gray is definitely the main color in my life right now. Any wonder I need vitamin D in the winter here?

It is lovely, though, isn't it?