Bruce and Katka’s Updates
We are moving to our apartment today. The crate we shipped in October will be here between 8 and 9, and then we will load that and everything else onto one of Venna’s (Katka’s cousin) trucks for the 20 minute drive to our apartment. We are taking two tables w/chairs, a couch, and 2 twin beds from Katka’s parents. We bought a bed for us at Ikea on Tuesday, and already took over the kitchen stuff, TV, radio, some clothes, etc.
The apartment is even nicer than I thought it would be; it is on the top two floors of an old building in the Pankrac area of Prague. Everything is brand new; it has not been lived in yet. Someone obviously spent a lot of money to build it, and it has some really neat extra features like a motorized skylight, heated towel racks and heated floors in the bathrooms, tons of built in storage, and beautiful wood floors. I got a new digital camera for Christmas so I’ll post pictures when we get moved into our apartment and get the DSL connection hooked up.
The flight over was a disaster, but everything is OK now. Our connecting flight from London to Prague was canceled, so we spent a day at London Heathrow airport and a short overnight in Manchester before catching a flight a day late from Manchester to Prague. Somewhere along the line I caught a nasty stomach virus, and I still can’t eat anything with milk/cream, oil, fat, etc. without getting an upset stomach. If it doesn’t go away soon someone will have to go into our house in California and send me all of my old size 34 pants.
We celebrated Christmas at Katka’s parents, and then spent the next couple of days working on the apartment and shopping. Sunday night we went to Romana’s (Katka’s sister) house, and we’re going to Scott and Daniela’s house for New Year’s Eve.
Our car is very nice, Mila had Venna’s mechanics give it a tune up and put on winter tires so it shouldn’t need anything for the 7 months we are here. It is a turbo diesel and has great acceleration compared to the diesel cars we used to own. Mila just left to get the truck so I’m going to wrap this up. After today (Thursday) call or write at our new address.
For New Years Eve we went to our friends Scott and Daniela’s apartment. Sabina, Michael, and Laura were there, and a woman named Vendula who is studying at SUNY New Paltz. Katunka was at her Dad’s, and Misa was with Katka’s parents. At midnight the city went crazy with fireworks. I guess all fireworks are legal in Czech, because the horizon was a continuous flash of Roman Candles and even more impressive star burst kind of like we have on the 4th of July but for personal use. The fireworks went on strong for about 30 minutes, but we heard them on and off all night.
We spent New Years day in Jahodnice with Katka’s parents. On Sunday the 2nd we had the first visit in our apartment. Jan and Stanya came over with their twin 10 year old girls. The stayed all afternoon and the kids played nicely together. Then on Monday Katunka started her new school. It is the British International School of Prague (www.bisp.cz). We drover her there and picked her up on Monday, but otherwise she will take the bus. It seems like Katunka adapted very quickly. She likes the kids a lot but is not too fond of the teachers or the food. She has kids from all over the world in her class, and a few also speak Czech. The school is in an old Czech school building that they just moved in to this year, about a 15 minute drive from our apartment. That makes our apartment almost exactly half way between Katu’s school and Jahodnice.
After dropping Katunka off at her school we went to Misa’s school and met with her vice-principal and teacher. They were very happy to have her; the birth rate is so low in Czech they are down to one first grade class. She is student number 17. The highlight of the school for Misa is the fact that she gets her own locker to keep her coat and shoes in. Every day now she takes something to decorate it. In the morning she will be in the regular classroom, and then after lunch a special after school program with a different teacher. I don’t know why it is called an after school program when everyone stays for it and it is in the same school, except she has a different teacher. In her regular class they do an American program called Step-by-Step. Katka thought it sounded very good when the vice-principal explained it.
Katka is going to the theater with her mom tonight and Katka and I are going on Friday night. Katunka is having a sleep-over here on Saturday for her cousins (Verunka and Romanka). I got the DVD player working yesterday, but forgot the adapter I need to hook up the sound so we’re watching movies on the little TV instead of the big projector. With no TV in English I go to bed early, but then I’m up at 6:00am so I check my email. We still don’t have high-speed Internet access so I can’t update the website or post pictures.
Update 1-5-05 (from Katka)
I am finally able to sit and write something. I know Bruce is keeping you informed but I would like to let you know things from my point of view. You know the beginning from Bruce as well as about our Xmas and etc. So I will continue about our now days. I think Bruce really enjoys his stay in Prague and all the adventure he has. For me it is a bit different. I am back at home but I feel like if I would fall a sleep (like in the story Rip Van Winkle) for ten years or so and now I am up again and even I do speak the language and know the culture I feel a bit weird, behind. My Czech is still the same, no accent in it at all, so people treat me as equal citizen and expect me to have the knowledge of daily things same as they have. But I do not know a lot of it. Many things changed since I lived here, faster then other places because of all the changes this country went over since the revolution in ‘89. Many things were not here when I left so I know them from America only. Now, they are even here but a bit different so I have to learn everything all over again. I think people sometimes think of me as about a bit dumb Czech. Bruce does not have any problems, everybody knows he is foreign and his Czech is cute with strong accent, so usually he gets all the help while I am getting the wonder look: "how come you do not know it?"
Sometimes it is fun and usually I am making fun of it too. Other then that I blended in right away, my friends are visiting or calling every day and that is why I am here, to enjoy them and my family.
Our girls: Michaela is in Czech elem. school. So far she is more than happy there. Her teacher is very nice and young, named Vladka. Misa calls her Mrs. Teacher (in Czech- Pani Utchitelko). Michaela speaks Czech as much she can and her teacher is practicing her English also as much she can. Michaela’s highlights are her locker and backpack (she brought from US Hello Kitty one) because she could not have her backpack at Ladera School just a regular book bag. She also likes the classical Czech lunches (vegetable soups, main meal, milk or tea). We are so proud of her. She is probably one the youngest at her class and the school.
Czech kids start their school at age 6 or 7, lately mostly at 7. The legal age is six. The school has also crossing guards every morning and we walk, it takes five minutes from our house to get there. As Bruce already mentioned, Michaela’s program for first graders is known as Step by Step program and came from USA. Kids have more fun that way not so strict structure as it was in past. They sit on the carpet and work in groups, almost same as she knows from her Calif. school. Not every Czech school adopted this program, it takes a lot of new work for the teacher and probably, as every change, some money. We did not even know about it so I think we were just lucky.
Katerina: Katerina’s British school sounds like a lot of fun. Katerina complains about a lot of homework and difficult subjects but I think the problem is to be in other kind of school, different studying and lecturing then the curriculum itself. She loves her classmates, bus mates and schoolmates. I am really glad she is at this school. Katerina said that everybody is just like her, born in some country but living in different one. Most kids speak more then one or two languages. Some know Czech. For most English is their second language. She has two girls from USA in her class, one from Washington and one from northern California, her mom is also Czech. Many children are rich or from famous families. Their parents are usually in Prague for business. Some will stay a year some three some do not know. Katerina adjusted very well and we are also very proud of her.
I am very pleased that Katerina will learn a lot of European history at this school. Especially British, she already started about King Henry the fifth and some queens. In USA she study a lot of about China (probably three times), then other Asia, Middle East and Africa. Of course it is fine but I think it is very important to know the history of Europe especially for American kids because it shows how the events went after the other and why actually America was discovered by Europeans and why people start to move to America and etc. I think it is easier to understand American history once you know the European history and it is good if she learns that. She will also study about French revolution. I hope to study with her all of this again because I love history.
Bruce is starting to teach next month. He is getting ready and will travel to Zlin by himself probably in couple of weeks. He will go on bus and will practice his way.
Our apartment is better then we were expecting. Has everything I need for comfortable household except dryer so I am using the clothes line as every other Czech. We have met the owner and he was very nice and helpful to us. We have a wonderful view of the Hradcany castle -- the Prague castle where the President’s offices are and we are right by the Metro station.
We could be in downtown in five minutes. It is warm winter here so far (high 40’s), we are getting only rain here in the city. Fine with me.
I think I am finally starting to enjoy our stay. I was very tired and exhausted lately, also very emotional from all the changes and mostly just excited about everything. I do miss California’s sunshine but since I know I am coming back it is not so bad. We think about all of you all the time, thank you for all the Xmas cards we got in California, Jahodnice or Prague apartment, we enjoy all of them and hearing from you.
I knew the weak dollar was going to make things on our trip expensive, and that really hit home when I was paying $7 for an extra value meal at McDonalds, except I was still at LAX, so go figure.
Shopping here would be like shopping in America if there were no discount stores (e.g. Wal-Mart, Home Depot) and nothing ever went on sale. Food costs about the same as the USA, but most other things cost about twice what we usually pay. For example gas is about $4/gallon, a fitted sheet for our King-size bed was $20, the cheapest DVD player is $80, a ceramic baking dish for cooking chicken cost $20, and so forth. Considering an average worker makes around $12,000-$15,000 per year, I don’t quite understand how the malls are always so full of shoppers. From what I can discern so far is that people save very little, and credit is getting much easier to get. People get a loan at one bank, not pay it back, and then go to a different bank for more money. Without credit reporting agencies to keep track of who pays back and who doesn’t this can continue as long as there are more banks to get loans from, and many of the stores are now also granting credit. I’m not sure yet how this all works exactly, but I think I’m getting close. Of course the high prices also have the effect of a flourishing street market. These bazaars are little rows of small stalls where people sell everything from fruits and vegetables to house wares to clothing. I suspect that many of the goods are stolen or black market -- at a minimum avoiding the 19% VAT.
Unfortunately I am getting insight into the expression “It is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Last week our car was broken into. Luckily everyone told us it would happen so we didn’t have anything in it, but they still did $120 worth of damage. We have a $200 deductible on our insurance so we will not get anything back. The worst things are the hassle and the feeling of not being safe. Friday night we had plans to go out but because our car was broken into Katka had to go to the police station and sign the reports and pick up copies for our insurance. What I really don’t like is knowing that it will happen again and there is little we can do about it. There is a fenced-in attended pay lot right by our apartment but it is full. I will search for another lot in Prague where we can park our car. It will be a hassle to go get our car every time we want to go somewhere. Luckily we live right by the metro and the public transportation is great here, but it kind of defeats the purpose of having a car. The biggest thing we need the car for are our trips outside of Prague and to visit Katka’s parents. They don’t live near a metro stop so to go to their house is either a long metro ride and then a bus or two long bus rides. Maybe we’ll just park the car at their house and take a taxi there every time we visit them or need the car.
Yesterday the ticket inspector was at our metro stop checking tickets and passes. He stopped a young man around 20 years old, and he didn’t have a pass. The man just took off running and the ticket guy couldn’t catch him. When I got out of the station he and his fiends were all having a good laugh about it. I understand that during communist times people cheated here out of a feeling of necessity for a better life. Now it seems to be a part of the culture; many people believe that the only way to get want you want out of life is to cheat. It doesn’t help that many well known cheaters go unprosecuted, confirming what they believe already believe to be true. I am learning very quickly that the value system in place here is very different than the one I am accustomed to.
We are settled into our apartment. The only thing we had to buy was a bed for Katka and I and a few things for the kitchen. Everything else came from Katka’s parents, either things she owned in the downstairs apartment like the TV and table we use in the office, or her parents gave us some of their old furniture and bought new, like a dinette set and couch. The DVD player from the USA works fine for watching movies, and even our camcorder has PAL output for watching our home videos.
I think the girls’ first week of school was very successful, and now they will start some after-school activities. Michaela doesn’t like the after school program, so she’ll probably come home when regular school is over at noon, and stay a couple of days a week for music or art. Katunka wants to do hockey, but I’m not sure if she’ll need a lot of equipment. She is going to try and continue flute on her own, downloading the songs from her Ladera school website and playing along with the recorded songs.
Yesterday Verunka (Katunka’s cousin) spent the day here, and last night all of them slept at their cousin Romanka’s house. Katka and I went to see the musical Cats at the black light theater. I never saw the original musical Cats, but I’m pretty sure it was not like that. It was pretty well done, maybe some of the songs were from the original musical, except re-recorded here. Black light theater is famous here. It is called black light theater because most of the time the only light is violet (black) light, so all you can see are white or neon that the actors wear. Everywhere else the people wear black, so it is a mixture of real people, puppets, and a light show. Every time I go I really enjoy it. Today we went to the twin’s (Anna and Barbara) birthday party at a bowling alley and had a lot of fun.
One of the biggest surprises so far has been the weather. Most nights it gets down to freezing or a little above, but most days it ranges from the low forties to the high forties. It rains at least some part of most every day, and when the wind blows it is a biting cold wind, but overall the weather hasn’t bothered me at all. Misa of course is very sad because she was counting on snow and all of the winter activities like building snowmen and sledding. She’ll probably have to wait until February and our trip to the mountains.
Update 1-12-05 (from Katka)
If you really want to know some place/country you should read something about its history first. Then you will understand why things work the way they work in the present, because everything comes from the past. Then you add the local mentality, traditions, climate and you have all the answers.
My family is just discovering my birthplace now. Not just the culture but also differences between the city and suburban life. I think especially Bruce really enjoys going to downtown nearly every day and loves to watch the people, markets, and things he doesn't have in Orange County. Just to picture, Czech is the size of Maine, has 10 million people and its population is growing not because of children (the birthrate is actually very low) but because of immigrants. Immigrants are coming in every day, especially from former Soviet Union (especially Ukraine) and Asia (China and Vietnam mostly). Czechs were not ready for so many immigrants in such a short time, mostly the last ten years, and it costs this country a lot of money, stress, and especially a mess because most of these immigrants are here illegally. The Russian immigrants developed their own control system for their workers (called the Russian Mafia) and have their own way how to get their people where they need them to be. The Russian Mafia is supposed to be the most brutal one ever when it comes to revenge. They put together these special gangs who are doing small crimes around the country such as stealing cars and their parts mostly, favorite are other things you can find on streets as well; and they make tremendous amounts of money. The Chinese Mafia did not stay far behind and developed their own controlling system of THEIR workers and countrymen as well. I think for now they have pretty good ground for their activities in Czech until the law gets better and more developed. The two major Mafias are not bothering each other so far.
Czech has a colorful history and it is absolutely not surprising that it has to go through so many rough changes once again. Just my grandpa lived under several regimes. When he was born Czech was part of the Austrian-Hungary empire, as a teenager he lived in new born Czechoslovakia, then during the WW II under the Nazi occupation it was called Protectorate of Czechia and Moravia (Slovakia become part of Germany and went to their side), then after WW II once again Czechoslovakia but not free anymore but under the communist dictatorship (that is when I was born), then in '89 after the Velvet revolution it became Czech and Slovakian Federative Republics, and then after the split with Slovakia in '92, The Czech Republic. Needless to say that my grandpa did not move or leave, he was still living at the same place while the country around him was changing names every few years. He died in Czech and Slovakian Federative Republic.
Sometimes the inconvenient thing for Czech is its location. Czech lands are located exactly in the middle of Europe (sometimes called the heart of Europe) and between the West and East and between Germanic cultures and Slavic cultures.
Considering all the changes people had to live through while still saving their own traditions, habits, culture, and language, I am sometimes wondering how Czech culture actually even made it. Czechs are very mellow people who do not like to fight. They would rather give up some land from time to time then their lives. They love to talk (about anything and everything), love to drink Czech beer, and gossip. They can make a joke about pretty much anything and under any circumstances even when the time is really difficult. Czech humor is similar to the British one.
And yes as Bruce pointed out, Czechs like to cheat and steal which is kind of embarrassing but to be fair not all Czechs are of course like that.
Most of the population is not religious of any kind so sometimes the moral point is down (religion was prohibited during communism), but as everybody needs to believe in something, Czechs do believe in, as they often call it, some "higher power." Also charity and helping each other as well is a big thing here.
I think I will stop right here, too much information for one night.
But since we will keep you updated during our time here I was thinking a little lesson of history and local secrets would not hurt. Next time I will write more about us personally.
As the repair man held up a little green piece of plastic, Katka and I looked at each other and groaned - what a series of unfortunate events. The green plastic piece was from a pair of pants I had to buy when we got to Prague because our suitcases didn’t make it to Prague until after we did, because we flew to Prague from Manchester, not London, because our flight from London to Prague was canceled, because we flew on the early flight from LA to London rather than the later flight we normally take. Two days ago when our washing machine broke, who would have imagined it was because three months ago I made the decision to take an earlier flight out of LA!
A few random observations:
At the end of every year companies take a physical count of their inventory. This is necessary to make sure they have accurate records for preparing their financial statements and tax returns. In the USA many people never even realize this happens because they usually count at night when the stores are closed. Here they just shut down the entire store or a section of the store for the day. Monday I went to Bauhaus (think Home Depot) for some things we needed, and when I got there a sign on the door read “Closed Jan. 10 for Inventory”. I wonder how many sales they lost that day, and if it was really worth it not to have to work at night.
Most workers sit down here, and not just office workers, but bank tellers and grocery check out clerks too. At first you notice something seems strange, but can’t place your finger on it, and then it dawns on you that everyone is sitting all the time.
Everyone bags their own groceries, and given that people aren’t very good at it there is always this mess of people hanging around at the end of the checkout line getting in each others way.
Some times it is hard to get things done because you have to stop to smell the roses. For example, yesterday Katka and I went into a post office near Wenceslas Square to mail some postcards. Unbelievable! The entire inside of the post office was this amazing art nouveau mural with completely refurbished antique furnishings. I had to just stop and stare, it was magnificent. I had started not taking my camera with me everywhere but now I am going to have to start carrying it again.
I was here years ago, not long after the first McDonalds opened. At that time people didn’t like paying so much for food and then having to bus their own tables. Many people just left their food on the table when they were done. Now most people bus their own tables, but in many fast food restaurants they just have shelves where you put your tray so you don’t actually have to throw anything away. I hope they’re not taking it into some back room and sorting out the unused ketchup and such. As a ketchup packet costs 5 crowns (20 cents) there is an incentive to recycle unopened packages.
In many ways Prague is ahead of America and Western Europe. Given that there was almost nothing new here 15 years ago, and everything has been built since then, most of the things like shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, banks, cell phone networks, gas stations, car dealers, department stores, etc. are better than the equivalent that we have in the USA.
When I was here the first time in 1991 it was rare to see someone obese, and very few people were overweight. That was easy to understand with the lack of fast food restaurants, everyone walking and using public transportation instead of driving, etc. Now Czechs seem to be having many of the same problems as Americans staying slender. It seems as though the majority of the people here are at least somewhat overweight.
Somewhere I read or someone told me several things about Czech people. I’m not sure any of these are true, but here are my thoughts on the matter:
“On average Czech people are the tallest of any country in the world.” I think this could be true, but only due to an amazingly tall group of women. The men and most of the women seem to be the same height as Americans, but about one out of every five to ten women is like 6 inches taller than all of the other women. Whenever I just stop and look around without fail there is a woman standing near me that is almost as tall as me. It is no wonder so many models hail from Czech.
“Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other people in the world.” Since Pilsner beer was invented in Plzn, they definitely have history on their side. The other day I was in the grocery store at 8:00am after walking Katunka to the bus stop and the guy in front of me was buying two beers and a Snickers, mmm… lunch!
“Czech workers work the most hours and are the least productive of any workers in Europe.” Probably true - whenever I go into a store I cannot believe that there are so many workers just standing around looking for customers to help; except when I actually need help and there is not one to be found.
Yesterday was a good example of why I wanted to do a Fulbright in Czech. At 11:00 Katunka’s dad picked her up to go to Kristynka’s birthday party, and Katka, Misa, and I headed out for the day. We went two stops on the Metro to Vysehrad, the site of the second castle built in Prague, and one of the best views of the Vltava river valley. We ate at a restaurant in the Congress Hall (Conference Center) on top of Vysehrad, with a beautiful panoramic view of the valley. After a nice lunch we took the Metro to Wenceslas Square and walked to a nearby Cukrarna (Sweets Shop). Cukrarnas are delightful little shops where you can get a variety of desserts and drinks. They often only have 2 or 3 tables, and many people get their favorites to take home.
After we left the Cukrarna we headed for the Municipal House and a concert of the famous Bambini di Praga children’s’ choir. Katunka met us there, as did our friends Jan and Stanya - their twin girls are singing in one of the choirs that are for the children in their first few years of training. The concert was in the beautiful Smetana Concert Hall and lasted 3.5 hours. Misa and I left after the twin’s choir sang, but according to Katka we really missed a treat when the Bambini di Praga traveling choir sang. They travel all over the world and are particularly popular in Japan for some reason.
One of the most interesting parts of the concert for me is when the choir was accompanied by a recorder orchestra. Here we think of recorders as being shrill sounding - but easy to play - instruments that are for teaching the basics of music in elementary school and then quickly abandoned. Here they make all sizes and kinds of professional recorders instruments - flutes, oboes, clarinets, bass clarinets, etc. The sound is beautiful, a lot like the windpipe groups of Central and South America.
Today we went to Katka’s parents’ house for lunch and then Romanka joined the girls and me on a trip to the Europark Mall while Katka cut Romana’s hair.
Update 1-20-05 (from Katka)
Today, I will write about the girl's schools. It is a third week of their school adventures, so I think I have more info now.
Michaela likes her school on and off. She loves the kids and they love her. She found a couple of friends there. One girl, Petra, came to play for the whole afternoon yesterday. Another invited Michaela for her B-day party on Saturday. I think Michaela is starting to live here her social life.
Michaela goes to school for almost four hours. She starts at 8AM and ends at 11:40AM. Each class lasts 45 minutes then 15 minutes or less break time. It is a time for bathroom or little snack but mostly it is a social time. Misa loves to get together with her friends and exchange their stickers or talk, play etc. They can also bring one toy. Then she goes for lunch to the school cafeteria and gets her own hot plate of food with silverware which she enjoys very much and really likes to cut all of her food into small pieces, using the fork and knife properly. Eating and using silverware is another form of education in Czech school. No kid is allowed to eat just with spoon (soup only) or with their hands. After lunch Michaela goes back to her locker and I am waiting for her there by noon.
I went to volunteer to her class on Monday and today. We had fun. The children had fun having a mom volunteer there. Although moms are very welcome in class to help not too many of them show up. They either work or just are not used to it. It is a new thing here. We worked in groups. There were five groups. Each group had a different project to do. Science, Math, Czech language - writing, Czech language- reading and crafts. Children switch every day so that way they get done everything they need to. Michaela is really good at math and even little bit advanced. Also crafts and science are easy. Czech language is the hard part. Her cursive is OK, her printing is good since she knows it from her school at Ladera. She can read small or short words only so far. Michaela is discovering the differences between Czech and English. Today she told me that now she knows that we have (we- in Czech) a different alphabet, longer and with accents. She knows that English does not have that and that in English we need to put more letters together to make the certain sound. In Czech they do not need to put the letters together they do have the sound in them already. It is kind of amazing how her thinking works.
They do circle and talk about their day. They let Michaela talk and wait if she needs time to remember her Czech vocabulary. Nobody is laughing at her Czech if she makes a mistake, the kids are really neat, pure hearts. Some of her classmates asked me if Michaela will be going to second grade with them. They were very disappointed when I said no. In Czech elementary school the classes never change, never mix the kids around as we do in America. The kids you have in your first grade you have for all the years until 9th grade. You can imagine that during this time some really strong relationship develop for the rest of their lives.
Michaela has two teachers. A teacher (Vladka) and assistant teacher (Andrea). She likes Andrea better, she is more gentle and calmer. Michaela thinks that her teacher Vladka is kind of nervous perfectionist and it might stress the class a bit. I think Michaela is a good observer. It is definitely hard to beat Michaela's last teacher, Ms. Hewitt, from Chaparral Elem. in Ladera, because she is a very good and sensitive teacher, a teacher by heart. Now, Michaela compares everyone to her and it might be a difficult thing to do.
Michaela is thinking about coming back later and maybe go to school here again that gives me a sign that she must like it here at least a bit.
Katerina is in 8th grade here. She always jokes about her short seventh grade and her very, very long 8th grade. (She will go to 8th grade next year in America again. She was seventh grader this year there but in British school she is an 8th grader. The age is same, it just that in British school children start the same time like in America but call it first grade instead kindergarten).
Katerina found a good group of friends. Her cell phone is very busy after school hours especially by friend Eliska (Elishka) and Anna and friend Peter. Elishka and Peter are both Czech, Elishka's mom is Vietnamese. Many Czech students who attend this British school have all of their education in English but their major subject is also Czech language - grammar especially. Katerina did not want to take Czech. Her Czech is excellent. She reads fine and she could improve her writing once she will want to. Czech is a phonetic language so if you know how to talk you are pretty much over the hill. Katerina is taking German instead. She likes it. Her teacher is nice Russian woman who also speaks very well Czech and other languages. The rest of Katerina's teachers are Brits and her art teacher is Czech. Some she loves, some she does not like at all, as is normal at this age, I guess. Katerina picked up the British accent very quickly and is correcting our English frequently, just teasing us. Right now they study Shakespeare and are preparing a play about Henry the Fifth. She is not crazy about it but she loves her PE class and her favorites are geography, history and art class. She does not like her lunches.
Katerina takes her private school bus every morning and afternoon back home. I do have the cell phone number of the driver and am in touch with him in case of need. He stops every morning around 7:45 by our house and waits. Bruce walks Katerina every morning down to the meeting point. When he was in Zlin now, she went by herself and then calls me from the bus that she is all right. I do worry about my children's safety very much, so we try to stay in contact as much as we can. At the same time I am walking Michaela to her school.
I do not know as many details from Katerina's school as I know from Michaela's school. Katerina tells me some school stories or a bit of story every day but still it is not enough. She decided not to take any after school classes. She is very busy just with her school. Katerina practices her flute pretty much every day and learns new songs with help of the tape recorder. We will not push her to any more activities. She comes from school right before four, makes her home work, plays the flute and the day is over. She is and will be living here very cultural life, concerts and theater and weekends with her relatives and grandparents, we think it is busy enough. She also needs some space just for her hobbies and reading.
I traveled to Zlin last week to meet with the head of the accounting and finance department and to find out the details of my time there. I will go on a bus that leaves Prague at noon on Mondays and arrives in Zlin at 4:30. A student at TBU that we met last April met me at the bus and walked with me to the Hotel Moscow. It is a huge hotel back from the pre-war days when Zlin was the manufacturing center of Czechoslovakia, and I will be staying there two nights a week during the semester. On Tuesday I met with the head of the accounting and finance department, Dr. Pavelkova, to work out my schedule. I will teach two classes on Tuesday afternoons, 2-5 and 5-8. It will be a killer for me to be in class 6 hours straight. On Wednesday mornings I will teach seminars for the business PhD students. Most weeks I’ll be back in Prague Wednesday nights before the girls go to bed.
After my meeting with Dr. Pavelkova I went to lunch with Standa, a PhD student that lived in Colorado for a year back in 2001. He is a big fan of outdoor activities and with his experiences in Colorado and traveling around America we had a lot to talk about. After lunch we went to the tallest building in Zlin for a look around the surrounding area and for a cup of coffee. There were a couple of other PhD students there, so we had a nice conversation with our coffee. The building where we went for coffee used to be the headquarters for the Bata Shoe Company, started by Tomas Bata that Tomas Bata University is named after. One interesting thing about the building is Tomas Bata’s office. He built his office in a huge elevator with the controls right at his desk. That way he never had to waste time going from floor to floor, and no one was ever sure that he wasn’t on their floor. The office even has a sink with running hot and cold water, quite a sight to see.
Tuesday night we had a get-together with professors and a couple of students at the bowling alley in the Hotel Moscow. Bowling is very popular now in the Czech Republic, and we had a lot of fun. Everyone promised that once a month during my stay in Zlin we’ll get together like that again. After I arrive on Monday nights I hope to play basketball with some local guys that Standa knows. I was invited by several people to play tennis on Tuesday nights, but I’m not sure how much power I will have after teaching for 6 hours to do much but eat and go to bed.
Last week we finally got some snow, so Michaela got her wish to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, and go sledding. Now it is just cold and there is no new snow so it is kind of miserable. Hopefully it will snow some more so we can have more fun outside. The first half of the time we were here it was warm and we got a lot of moisture, but now it is cold and dry. Ideally we would like it either warm and dry or cold and wet.
On Saturday after I returned from Zlin Michaela was invited to the birthday party of her classmate Kristina. We went to McDonalds for the party at 11:30, and it lasted until around 1:00. I was jealous that they got to take a tour of the restaurant, but Misa reported some of the more interesting details. For example, they have a walk in refrigerator and a walk in freezer, there is a laundry room where the employees wash and iron their uniforms, and there is a large furnace where they burn all of their trash. Burning trash is a popular way to dispose of it in Europe, and in some countries they have nearly perfected the method so that it burns clean and provides heat for the city. I’m not sure why this hasn’t caught on in the US.
After the party we went to a museum that was next to the restaurant. They had a special exhibit on marionettes. Of course that was not nearly as interesting for Michaela as the real skeleton or the huge intricate model of Prague circa 100 years ago. On Saturday night Katka’s parents and Misa’s cousin Romanka came over and watched our home movies from the last year.
On Sunday we went to Katka’s parents for lunch and then to Sabina’s house for a visit. She is still working in the castle for the President in the Protocol Office but will have a baby this summer and then have 3 years paid maternity leave. Even with all of the advantages parents have here the birth rate is very low. Grandparents in the Czech Republic have always been very involved in their grandchildren’s lives, but it is even easier now because they usually only have 1-3 grandchildren. Most people here have their children at a relatively young age so many of the grandparents are not much older than some parents in the USA. In many cases the grandparents here are almost like a second set of parents, taking the kids to and from school and babysitting them for days at a time. For many families both parents have to work to get by, so they really need their grandparents help.
This weekend Katka took Misa to see West Side Story with her mom and Romanka. I stayed home and worked and after the play we met for dinner and bowling. Today we went to Jahodnice for lunch and then to see our friend Hana’s new apartment. It was just finished at the beginning of January and it is very nice. They even put in curvy streets with small shops on the ground floor so it feels like an old traditional European town.
The Internet works very differently here, as there is no charge for the ISP to connect to the Internet, but there are no free phone calls. So you actually pay for exactly how much you use, approximately $8.75/hour during the week and 3.25/hour on nights and weekends. That makes it very expensive for most people, and counting the cost of computers very few people have Internet access at home. Most people do have Internet access at work, however, and some people use their cell phones for basic email.
When we moved into our apartment our nephews that were helping us move were quite excited to see a sign for a “Czech Model Studio” in the other apartment on the 5th floor. OK, I was a bit happy as well, but purely from a professional standpoint as I am here to study the culture of the Czech Republic. For the first few weeks there was hardly any activity next door, only occasionally someone coming or going, maybe staying an hour or two. Then one day last week all of a sudden there were 20-30 people lined up in the staircase outside of our door waiting for the Czech Model Studio to open. It turns out it was a casting call and they were doing auditions. Judging by the age of the actors and actresses it was for the role of grandparents in a new commercial, TV show, or movie. I must say it was quite a letdown. I haven’t had the heart to break the news to our nephews yet.
It is really too bad that I mostly write about that bad things that I notice about Prague or the Czech Republic, just because those are the most noticeable. Many things are better here than in the US, but I don’t write about them because they are not as easy to remember. For example, it seems like appliances here are better. For example, we have never had a good dishwasher in the US, but our dishwasher here is amazing. And all of the clothes washers are front loading here, which use a lot less water, clean better, do less damage to the clothes, and use less energy. Ovens here are also fan-assisted, so things cook faster, and our microwave has a built-in grilling feature so you can cook fast and make things crispy. Another thing that is better here is the service industry. Unfortunately we have had a few occasions to call repairmen, and they show up when they say they will, and if they do not give you an exact time like noon, they give you a very small window, maybe an hour or two, not the 4-6 hour window that seems so common in the US (and is often missed anyway).
There is a really neat game show here that I think would do really well in the US. One person takes on the entire studio audience of 100. Whenever someone misses a question they are out, so basically the contestant cannot miss a question until everyone in the audience misses at least one. It sounds unfair, but after hearing the category of the question, the contestant gets to choose whether the question will be easy, medium, or hard. In addition the questions are multiple choice, with only 3 choices. Slowly the audience dwindles away until the contestant is playing against just a handful of people and then the contestant usually misses. Last weekend a guy defeated all 100 and won almost $400,000.
I am surprised by how much living in a city bothers me. I never really lived in a city before, and it is tough, especially with kids. There is a lot of noise at night, and there is almost no place to play. The parks are great for sledding, but most people don’t pick up after their dogs so when it is warm you can’t go on the grass. I love the public transportation, but we are keeping our car at Katka’s parent’s house because of the crime. I also have to be careful about where I keep my wallet because the pickpockets are very good, and they target foreigners. Graffiti also really bothers me, and it is rampant in the Czech Republic. Even the beautiful new subway cars are almost all desecrated somewhat by graffiti.
I have noticed throughout the years how many things the residents of a particular country think are better in their country, when really it is just what they are used to. The most common examples are food, music, coffee, and humor. I’m not sure I have ever met someone that didn’t believe that at least 3 out of theses 4 things are better where they are from. Of course we all know American food is the best, we have the best musicians, and our comedians are the funniest, so it is ridiculous that other people sit around and argue with us about it for hours.
Another observation: Czechs use zero a lot more than we do. Here the ground floor of a building is level zero, and when you are on the first floor you already had to take the stairs or elevator. At the bus station where I take the bus to Zlin, the first platform is platform zero, not one, etc. I’m not quite sure which way makes more sense, but the building floors starting at zero is kind of hard to get used to.
Update 2-17-05 (from Katka)
Trip to Slovakia- 2-4-05 to 2-13-05
One day before our trip Katunka got ugly stomach flu. Not a good sign before a trip. She stayed home from her school on Thursday and Friday. We were planning on leaving on Friday but if necessary we would leave on Saturday. Katunka got better during one day and was just very tired but no fever or sickness so we decided to go.
First day we drove from Prague to Zlin where Bruce is teaching. Zlin is good four hours from Prague. We drove on freeway for more then two hours and then hit smaller roads going to Zlin. It was chilly and from time to time snow on the side but we did well. We made it to Zlin and moved to Hotel Moscow right next to Bruce’s university. The very next morning I got sick with the same thing Katunka had. Fortunately we had two rooms, so I was separated from the family and stayed in bed all day. I also had a fever. Bruce took the girls to see the town and for lunch, Katunka was still on diet. In the afternoon one of the students, Zuzana, who we know since our last visit in April, took Michaela swimming to the indoor pool, Katunka stayed in her room and rested and Bruce could work and organize his things/books he brought to Zlin. Two days later on Sunday we were ready to move on to Slovakia.
Czechoslovakia used to be put together from three major lands called Czech, Moravia, and Slovakia. Now the Czech Republic is just Czech and Moravia, and Zlin is in the Moravia part. Moravia has its own culture, many different dialects and history. It is a beautiful part of the country, full of agriculture, fields, and vineyards. Especially in the south where Zlin is located. Zlin is very east and south, not too far from the Slovakian border. Bruce was excited to get to Slovakia because he was there just once before on a train only (passing trough to Hungary 9 years ago). Michaela and I were just on the same border last summer and Katunka went there for her first time as well. The borders were quiet and empty. They checked our passports and the papers from our car (if we did not steal it, I guess). The countryside was like a winter wonderland with fresh snow, covered trees, and many hills around. We were going over mountains called White Carpathians. It is still kind of weird for me to take Slovakia as different country and crossing the border because my whole childhood and part of adulthood it was my country as well.
The first big city and closest to the borders is called Trencin and a few kilometers behind Trencin was a small town Trencianske Teplice where we were headed. It took us just a bit over two hours from Zlin to get there. In Trencianske Teplice was Bruce’s Fulbright conference in nice hotel Flora. We were meeting other Fulbright professors and their families there. They were traveling either from Czech or Slovakia on buses, we were the only family to drive our car. The town Trencianske Teplice is a spa town. Spa towns in Czech and Slovakia are different then the spa we know from USA. People usually visit spa towns for several weeks, the usual is three, and get the whole treatment program they need. In communism it used to be paid by the government and many people took advantage of it. Now days the government (Czech or Slovakian) is paying this treatment to the ones they need it most only. Everybody else has to pay it by themselves. No wonder that the business is going down. Mostly this spa town lives from Czech and German tourists during the summer. This particular spa and hot springs are for treatment of arthritis. Therefore some hotel are surviving and doing pretty well and some are totally destroyed and empty, looking like a haunted house. The town over all is very picturesque hiding between hills covered by all kinds of pine trees and fresh white snow, sparkling thanks to the bright sun we had the whole time during our visit. Even our hotel had many places to relax and visitors took their chance. I went for AHAVA mud treatment. (Ahava is a cosmetic from Israel, the Dead Sea. It is very good. I used to work with it in my shop for years and had a good experience). Bruce was at the conference all day long for two and a half days and loved it. Not only he had something in common with them (all Fulbrights in Czech or Slovakia) but everybody had such a good and interesting presentations. Us, the rest, children and spouses, had plenty of time to socialize as well. The girls found their friends very quickly. Happy to hear English, especially Michaela could really express herself. (Katerina has English at school as well so for her it is not so special). We went for walks, spent two half days sledding and one day swimming in next door hotel. Their pool was heated, with special jets in relaxing place including a Finnish sauna. We also visited Trencin and its castle from Roman times.
I am sure Bruce will write about this conference some more so I leave it up to him. But for me it was a great experience as well. It warmed my heart to see so many people from US to be interested in Czech or Slovakia. Some choose it because of their background or any other family connections, some just because they like the country and some did not even know anything about this part of world but like the adventure. All together they are very needed here.
Katerina found three friends of her age and spent with them most of her free time. Michaela found a little girl Erin and her brothers and become a good friends immediately. I found a lot of neat people to talk to as well. I was getting a lot of questions about Czech and the culture or history in general. I am trying to be objective and not too personal. Although some people ask personal questions or personal experiences about my life in Czech, then I am trying to be very personal. It is very easy to explain things to these people because: 1. They are so interested in it. 2. Many more times know more about certain matter then me. 3. Know Czech Republic well enough to understand it. I hope for all these Fulbright professors or students and their families that they will have only the best experiences and time of their life here, wish them the best.
Three days went by and the conference was over. Most people returned home. Being already in Slovakia and Katerina having a spring break from school it would be a shame not to stay longer. So we continued our journey to further east/north part of Slovakia to their famous mountains Tatras. There are Low Tatras and High Tatras, we were heading to the High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry).
The last time I was in the Tatras was about 16 years ago. Between then and now a lot of things changed. They have new highways, new roads, much better services everywhere; it is kind of amazing to see all of that. I think Slovakians are very proud and patriotic country since the split with Czech. For the first time in their history they are totally independent state and I have to admit doing pretty good. While we were together one side would blame the other side for any kind of problems and as the time went on it was getting worse. The right time came for a split and although back then I did not agree with splitting the country and voted against it, now I think it was healthy choice for both countries. We met in the EU anyway again in 2003 but as a two independent countries.
Slovakian language is very close to Czech. Still a bit different and to Czech ear Slovakian sounds very soft and melodical. I do not think our girls had any problems to understand any simple questions or answers. I was happy to see that they are experiencing this different culture well and learning something new. Slovakians are more temperamental people then Czechs, they like fashion and smoke a lot. I always liked their folk music, traditions, and food.
We made it to the Tatras in the end of the day. Our car was doing well on the mountain road covered by snow. We have new winter tires and chains ready in our trunk just in case. Our hotel Toliar (the word Dollar comes from Tolar - old money used in middle Europe a long time ago) was in a place called Strbske Pleso by a lake which we could not see at this time of the year because it was sleeping under huge layer of snow and ice. Our hotel was remodeled, including a couple of restaurants, a grocery store, deli store, drug store, clothing store, and also souvenir store. On the second floor was place Vital World which was a great place to relax and I will write about it a bit later. Last two floors were rooms. Ski slopes were not even one kilometer from our hotel. So we could even walk there or take a free shuttle. You could also take paid shuttle and it would take you to any ski slopes near by. Also ski taxies and sled pulled by horses were popular there. We took the shuttle every day to get to our place, rent the ski for Bruce, Michaela and I; Katerina had hers. The ski slopes were called Solisko, and had any size of hill, fast chair lifts, and regular lifts. We signed up Michaela for a ski school for one hour and she got her very own personal teacher. I asked him to speak Slovakian with her just to practice. But he heard that I am speaking Czech and switched to Czech, and then he heard that we are actually talking also in English and switched to English. These ski teachers were quiet amazing. They would teach in Czech, Slovakian, German, English, Polish, Hungarian, and Russian language just like that. Also because most of their clients are from these countries. Our chair lift could hold four people at once so usually we would have some stranger riding up with us. Bruce was always wondering why we do not talk to each other - that in US people start talking right away to each other. Well, I told him, it is not so easy, how do I know that we can actually talk and understand each other? So we did a test. I started it to talk to him/her and not one single time we ride with anybody from Czech or Slovakia. We met Hungarians, Germans, and Polish but at least we could somehow communicate in English if not other language. Then even Bruce saw that it takes too much effort and it is probably practical not to start any conversations.
Back about Michaela. She liked the ski school so much that we had to leave her there for the rest of the day and the whole next day again. She learned how to ski well enough to go on bigger hills and enjoy herself. This gave us a special time with Katunka, so the three of us could ski on and on. Katunka is improving very fast also. The first day was incredible sunshine and weather, then it was getting worse as snow storm started to move in. The last day of our skiing we decided to finish earlier and go to Vital World. We could enter the whole family and spent at least three hours. It was a special place with swimming pool, Jacuzzi, many special relaxing pools, and eleven kinds of saunas! Regular sauna, sauna for sinus problems, for asthma, for inhalation of mint and relaxation room with sky ceilings and many more. Also real snow coming out of fake cave. The whole time there you could listen to meditation music or relaxing music (type like Yanni). We liked it there very much.
On Sunday, ten days after we left Prague, it was time to go home. Bruce drove the whole way. It took us about 8 hours (including stop for lunch) to get back to Prague. The girls were watching their DVDs or out of the window. Bruce drove through snow, storm, rain, sunshine, wet road, dry road, strong wind - every hour the weather changed. But Bruce kept on driving until we made it back to Prague.
The things you read about it is just the cream on top. Behind every trip like this is a lot of work and planning. It is important to be ready and organized if you want to have a good trip. With every trip I learned something else and especially when you travel with kids it is good to have some rules and plans. Work it out around your family needs. Sometimes unexpected events happen. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. Every memory in our life counts.
Update 2-18-05 (from Katka)
As I wrote in my last e-mail about Slovakia and the special Vital World that would be something great for Bev. They had there special sauna for the injury Bev has. It heals the bones faster. Also pools with cold and warm water and you just walk through it. These pools were helping us for our sore feet after skiing. Bev is basically doing what they were recommending at the Vital World.
Everything is fine here. Michaela has a friend over, Petra, and they were playing for a long time and now having snack and watching an American movie. Katunka is coming home soon and will go to her dad's for this weekend. She is going with her cousin Veronica to a different city tomorrow to watch Veronica's gymnastics competition. We will spend the weekend sledding, Prague got fresh snow, again, and will go to visit my parents. They started remodeling their house, mostly the old pipes and bathrooms. I am in charge of the workers and every few days have to go check on them or talk to them. We will also visit Sabina and spend the day with her family.
Michaela is doing two after school activities now. Tuesday afternoon art class and Thursday afternoon pottery class. She really likes it. It is at her school and does not cost too much. Both teachers are very good and fun to be with. We are also getting ready for Michaela's costume party at school coming this Tuesday. It is a winter carnival as the tradition is in Czech. She is going to be a Dalmatian so we will finish her costume this weekend as well.
Katunka is very happy at her school and has good friends there especially one - Elishka. Elishka has Czech dad and Vietnamese mom. Katerina and Elishka work on special projects together. Just today they had a presentation about how to help children in Czech, about special phone line, called Line of Safety. They wrote very interesting speech and have to introduce it to the rest of the class.
Bruce was very happy in Zlin. Seems like his students are good. He has 41 Czechs (none from Prague), 5 Slovakian and 4 Belgian kids. The hotel where Bruce sleeps has a good pizza place and that is where Bruce likes to eat while there. The bus was working fine for him, the country just got a lot of snow but still Bruce made it on time and read a book The DaVinci code; he really enjoyed the book.
The last time we slept at the Hotel Moscow was on the way to Slovakia. If you remember I was sick. The second night they had a big dance (ball) in the ballroom of the hotel. The music was very loud all night. Bruce and I could not sleep -- the building was shaking in its base. I went to the reception at 3:30 AM and asked them when they will stop and that they should have informed us and we would stay at a different hotel that night. She said the music should have been over at 2am. The next morning when I went to pay the hotel bill I refused to pay for the second night. The receptionist had to call the director of the hotel and he said it would be OK not to pay it. So we saved over $100. I hope, for the future, that Bruce will not have to deal with too much noise there; so far it was fine for him.
As Katka wrote about most of our trip to Slovakia, I will just add a few details and move on to my first week of teaching.
The Fulbright Conference turned out to be better than I expected. There are three types of Fulbright participants, students, high school teachers, and scholars. The high school teachers basically exchange places with their Czech counterparts for a year (jobs, houses, cars, etc.), the students are usually grad students working on a thesis or dissertation, and the scholars are professors either teaching or doing research (or both).
At the conference every Fulbrighter gave a short presentation, and the best presentations by far were from the students and researchers. Each of them had a very interesting aspect of Czech culture or history that they were studying, everything from theater performances by the Jews interred at the Terezin Concentration Camp to the Czech brewing industry to the influence of American minimalism music on Czech composers since 1983.
The ski trip to Strbske Pleso was great. We had wonderful sunshine the first day, and with snow the next two days the weather wasn’t so nice but the snow was great. The High Tatras are beautiful, and similar in appearance to the Alps more than the Rockies, but they are only around 6,000-7,000 feet high. In November they had a windstorm that blew down entire sections of forest. What is strange is that it was very localized; it looks like a tornado went through the forest. We were driving up to the ski resort with trees on both sides and then all of a sudden nothing, and then full forest again after a few hundred yards. I tried to take some pictures but they don’t really give an idea of how it looks and how bad the damage was.
One of the more interesting things for me about the ski resort was the number of lifts relative to the number of runs. Each lift basically served one run, instead of having multiple runs down the mountain for each lift. In fact, there were basically only two runs and three lifts. There was a high-speed quad that ran from the bottom of the mountain to the top, a poma lift that went up the mountain about half way, and a regular triple chair that served the bottom of the mountain. There were never any lift lines more than a few minutes, and the runs were very wide so it was never crowded on the slopes. Katunka and I discovered a nice fun path through the trees that we only got to do a few times because after we discovered it they started a ski race where it exited the trees and we couldn’t go through any longer.
Perhaps the best decision we made was to put Misa in ski school. She had private instruction for two days so she got really good at skiing, and we were free to enjoy our time skiing the more advanced runs with Katunka. Misa liked the instructors so much that on the second day she chose to ski with them again rather than us.
The Vital World spa area inside of our hotel was a pleasant surprise. It was $10/person for 3 hours. The highpoint of Vital World for me was getting my first professional massage (30 minutes for $8). Katka went first, and spoke so highly of it that I had to try it. Then I liked it so much I convinced Katunka and Misa to get a massage (they split a session, so 15 minutes each).
We got back from Slovakia right after dinner on Sunday night, and on Monday morning I had to go to Zlin to teach. I took the noon bus from Prague, which got me to Zlin about 4:30. I used that time on the bus to prep for class and start The DaVinci Code, which I finished on the bus home. Now I have a whole host of sites I want to see when we go to Paris.
In Zlin I am staying at the Hotel Moscow. The name is fairly descriptive. I have a few things stored in my office at TBU to make the stay in the Hotel Moscow more comfortable (shower rod and curtain, extra mattress and pillows for my bed, etc.). I think some of the folks there have a good chuckle at my expense, but at least it feels like home once I get everything all set up.
At TBU they had a computer with a copy machine, a laser printer and an inkjet copier/scanner/printer all set up for me in my office. I have to admit that they are going out of their way to make my stay enjoyable. Anything I ask for is quickly arranged, and they make sure I don’t get bored by setting up social activities for me.
I spent Monday night and Tuesday prepping for my classes, which were scheduled to go from 2-5 and 5-8 on Tuesday. Unfortunately (or fortunately), all of the students from both classes showed up for the first class, so I just stayed around for the 3 hours when I was supposed to teach the second class and helped the students with their projects. We decided that would be a nice way to run the class from now on, so I will have class from 2-5 and then office hours from 5-7.
The students in my class are 4th year accounting and finance majors (21-23 years old). They are equivalent of Masters Students, because last year after three years they received their Bachelors Degrees. Traditionally all university studies here are at least 5 years, but in order to better conform with international education standards the students are awarded a Bachelors Degree after 3 years and then continue on for 2 more to get their Masters Degree. Because the Bachelors Degree is a new degree here employers are reluctant to hire someone with just a Bachelors Degree so everyone continues for 2 more years to get the Masters Degree. And because tuition is free, the only cost to students to continue school for two more years is room and board, but many students live with their parents so it costs very little to go to school. One thing that I like is that most of the students do not work part-time jobs during the school year so they can focus on their studies. It is disappointing to me how many American students feel compelled to work part-time jobs during the school year rather than focus on their education. I am all for internships and valuable work experience, but most of the part-time jobs students have are worthless as far as gaining any valuable experience.
At TBU I am grateful to have met a PhD student named Standa. He has turned out to be a good friend and arranged another bowling outing after my classes on Tuesday night. We only bowled for an hour, and then spent the rest of the evening socializing. Next week he has arranged for me to join a regular Monday night basketball game so I can work off the pizza I eat. There are several restaurants in the hotel, but the pizza is really good and I can get a large pizza for only $4 and eat it in my room while I enjoy some English TV (CNN and some English language shows on German TV stations that are titled instead of dubbed.
On Wednesday morning I met briefly with the PhD students again, and we agreed that maybe the best way to work on their English would be to have regular social outings on Tuesday nights after I teach. So it looks like I’ll be pretty busy, but if you want to call me in my office the telephone number is (420) 576-032-410 (remember from the USA to dial 011 first). Most likely you’ll catch me there Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
I took the 1:00 bus from Zlin to Prague, and made it to our apartment in time for dinner at 6:00. I’ll try to use the bus ride home to grade papers next week, but there is no leg room and having someone next to me makes it almost impossible to get anything done. I tried to buy the seat next to me on the way to Zlin but the driver wouldn’t sell me the ticket because the bus wasn’t full and the seat was empty. That was great until we got to Brno (halfway to Zlin) and someone sat next to me for the rest of the trip. The bus is $8 each way, and I think next time I’ll insist on two tickets so I can spread out and work. If the seat is empty, isn’t it true that the person not sitting there could be a child as much as an adult? If so then I can buy a child’s ticket for 1/2 price. I’m not sure how this will all go over with the other passengers if one of them has to stand so I can have an empty seat next to me. I think that might cause some negative feelings toward me (and perhaps Americans in general). I guess I’ll have to think this through some more.
On Saturday morning Misa and I went sledding, and then we went to Katka’s parent’s house. I went shopping while Katka and Misa visited Sabina and Laura. Misa then spent the night and grandma and grandpa’s while we went to a movie and had a night without kids (Katunka is at her dad’s this weekend). We saw the movie “Closer,” which was OK but I’m not sure what the point was. Afterwards I couldn’t figure out if I had enjoyed it or not, not exactly the kind of feeling you want to have after spending 2 hours on something. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have seen everything else you want to see.
Katunka adapted very quickly to living here, and probably prefers it to living in the US. Her school is great because she has a lot of neat friends there, and she has a whole host of relatives here to lavish attention on her (plus cousins close to her own age to play with). Michaela on the other hand has had a harder time. Her classmates all stay at school for the after school program when she comes home, and there are no other kids in our building. Luckily Misa now has two friend that can skip the after school program once a week to come over and play, and she met an American girl at the Fulbright Conference that is coming over after school Monday for the first time. Add in the two days a week Misa takes art or pottery classes after school and she is finally starting to have a lot of fun.
Katunka has been keeping a book of quotes form our trip, here are a few of them:
Update 2-24-05 (from Katka)
We just returned from the international evening at Katu’s school. My parents went with us. We met there. There were 35 countries presenting their food/drinks. It was very good. My parents never saw anything like that. Katunka kept coming with her friends and introducing them to us/me. She loves this school. Katu has nasty cold right now but does not want to stay at home because she does not want to miss any day. I will have to leave her at home at least tomorrow because she could be very contagious and looks tired/pail. Michaela was very tired so I took her home early. She fell asleep in her bed in a second. She also had pottery class today which she loves.
We also had a busy day yesterday. Bruce came from Zlin and we changed, got beautiful and went for Pavlicek’s graduation ball. Bruce might write you about that, it is very big deal and tradition here. My sister’s family was there, also my parents, Pavel’s parents, Pavlicek’s girlfriend Jana and many friends. I danced just once (with my dad); Bruce was too shy to dance with so many people and bright light. Still we had fun. Venna’s daughter Petra was watching our girls and slept over, her school is close by. She is 18 yrs. old, very nice and pretty. Michaela was too excited to go to sleep last night; she went late and that is why she was so tired today.
The weather here is very cold, freezing. We had to change the battery in our car; it was not strong enough when it was too cold. My dad went to buy a new one, brought it and changed it in the front of our apartment. It worked well.
I have absolutely not one boring minute. We are planning to go to Sumava, in southern Czech this weekend for skiing. Katunka invited us to see all the places where she goes with her father Martin. Martin will go as well in his car and with his brother’s family, it means Veronica too. We will be staying in close by bed/breakfast. We should be skiing right behind the borders in Germany. Czechs do not need any passport for EU countries, just ID. I will make Czech passport for Michaela, so she might have it easier in future while traveling around Europe. Less paperwork for members of EU countries and their citizens.
The last week or so has been really great. On Wednesday night we went to Pavlicek’s Graduation Ball. This was a Ball in the traditional sense, held in one of the downtown grand ballrooms. The dance floor was about the size of a high school gymnasium, and there were three levels of tables surrounding the floor so most people had a view of the action from their table. The first hour and a half were mostly ceremonies and speeches, but not boring at all. First they had a ceremony honoring the first-year students completing their first year of high school, and then the graduation ceremony. Each class filed onto the dance floor together, and made a circle along with their favorite teacher. Then they were given a sash with their school and graduation year on the front and class motto on the back, along with some sort of medal.
After the ceremony each class unveiled a huge net made from a tarp, piece of cloth, or parachute. They then circled around the dance floor and people threw money into the net that the students then collected to divide among their class. It was quite a sight, as the students shook the nets up and down so coins were flying everywhere. That was definitely the highpoint of the night for me.
One interesting thing about the Ball is that there are still almost 5 more months of school to complete. Because the students must pass a series of comprehensive exams to receive their degree, they have the Balls during “Ball season” - January to early April, so after that students can start to concentrate on their exams.
One thing that Katka noticed is that many people did not have traditional ball gowns or suits/tuxedos. She thinks these days people don’t have the money to buy them, and in the past people would sew them at home but now probably no one wants to go to so much work. I think she was a bit disappointed, as maybe it is not quite as formal as it once was. It still seemed to big a pretty big deal though, kind of like prom and graduation all rolled into one.
I started playing basketball in Zlin on Monday nights with students from TBU, and on Tuesday nights meeting with either my Masters students or the PhD students for dinner, drinks, and/or bowling. The Tuesday night meetings are a lot of fun, and the students get to practice their English while I get to learn more about their lives and the Czech Republic.
Last week on Friday we drove down to South Czech for the weekend. The area is generally referred to as Sumava, but technically that is only the name of the National Park in that area. The Burian family has a “Chalupa” (summer house) down there and it is Katunka’s favorite place in the whole world. It is quite common for Czech families to have a second house outside of the city. I think it is important for them because many families live in very small apartments, sometimes with more than one generation sharing a two bedroom apartment. Friday afternoons the highways leaving Prague are packed with folks headed to their Chalupas, and likewise Sunday afternoons the roads back into Prague are full with everyone returning. Although these second homes are called “summer houses” in English, many of them are suitable for year-round living.
We stayed in a nice Pension in a small village about 15 minutes away from the Burian’s Chalupa. The first floor of the Pension was a typical Czech restaurant/pub with a small pool table in one room, the second floor was the owners’ residence, and the third floor about 5 bedrooms for renting out to guests. We had the entire third floor to ourselves, as there were no other guests staying there that weekend. This was a blessing because although there are 5 rooms there is only one bathroom and I don’t know how it would have worked if there were other guests there.
The owner’s of the Pension are wonderful people. Their daughter was living in Boulder for years, but just moved to Australia to go to graduate school. The food was terrific, the rooms very nice and clean, overall a really nice place to stay.
On Friday afternoon on the drive down we stopped in a small town named Prachatice. It had a well preserved old square (from around the middle ages), so we walked around a bit and stopped for treats at a local Cukrarna (of course). Then we continued on to the Pension where we had dinner and played pool. Katunka’s dad picked her up and took her to the Chalupa after Misa fell asleep.
Saturday morning we all went skiing to Germany. There were 8 of us total, our family, Katunka's dad, two Uncles, and her Uncle’s girlfriend. Katunka’s cousin and her Aunt were supposed to come but Verunka got sick on Friday with a high fever and had to cancel.
The ski area was in a very small village just across the German border. We didn’t even have to stop at the border to show our passports, they just waved us through. Actually they didn’t even wave, no one seemed to be paying attention. It is interesting that it was more of a hassle to get into Slovakia than Germany, when Slovakia used to be part of the same country and 16 years ago it was impossible to get even near the German border.
There was no ATM machine or exchange office in the village, and we needed Euros to rent skis and buy lift tickets. So we went into a local hotel hoping they might be able to exchange some money at the reception. The reception was not open yet, but we got lucky and found a hotel employee (a Czech) that was willing to exchange money for us.
We rented skis and had a full day of skiing on good snow. The snowfall this winter is setting records, and it snowed softly all day so we had really good conditions. The entire day cost less than $100, including ski rentals for three of us and four lift tickets. And although that sounds cheap, the reason we went to this ski area is because it is more expensive than the other areas close by and so it is not too crowded.
Misa picked up right were she finished in Slovakia, skiing down the entire long beginner run by herself. She even had fun going over a series of bumps set up for the snowboarders to do jumps off of. Katunka is getting much better herself and spent most of the day on a challenging intermediate run.
After skiing we all went back to the Pension for dinner and then to the Chalupa for drinks, games, and conversation. Sunday morning we tried to go sledding, but it was blowing and snowing hard so we all got cold very quickly. On the way home on Sunday we stopped in another nice small town, Pisek, to see their famous bridge and go to the Cukrarna (of course). Katunka went home with her dad as they had tickets for a hockey game Sunday afternoon. The Czech league is even better than normal this year because many of the NHL players have returned home to play for the teams in the Czech league. Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche is one of the leading scorers in the league playing for Pardubice.
Monday morning I stopped at our bank to pay some bills before catching my normal bus to Zlin. People do not use checks here, but pay their bills by going to the post office to pay them (I’m not sure how that works), or going to their bank and having the bank transfer the money directly into the company’s account. We can also fill out the transfer information on our bank’s website, but I like the security of having the paper copy of the transfer details stamped by the bank showing the date and amount of payment.
On the bus I sat next to a friendly guy that really wanted to talk, but he didn’t speak English. We talked for about 30 minutes in Czech, quite amazing considering I cannot say an entire sentence in Czech. But somehow we figured out what we wanted to say.
I played basketball Monday night, and then Tuesday prepped for my class in the morning and taught in the afternoon. Tuesday night I treated 5 of my students to dinner at the pizza restaurant in the Hotel Moscow. My class is working in groups of 3, and each week I have an in-class assignment. As an incentive each week I offer to buy dinner for the first group to get the problem correct. So Tuesday night I had the group winners from this week and last week. We had a nice time, talking about everything from their career aspirations, to the current situation in the Czech Republic, to where they have traveled and where they would like to travel. All of the students are very friendly and smart, so it is easy to talk about anything.
Wednesday morning I worked in my office at school on next week’s lesson and helped one of the professors with her lectures. She is teaching in English for the first time so I go through her lecture notes with her and make suggestions. She and another professor come to my class for my lectures, which is quite flattering.
Two quick observations:
Europeans have a very distorted view of leisure time, particularly in relation to the USA. For example many Europeans get four or more weeks of vacation, while many Americans get only two weeks. This triggers a belief that Europeans have twice as much time off from work and more leisure time. But really this is not the case at all. Even a typical American with only two weeks vacation works about 244 days a year, or two thirds of a year. A European with four weeks of vacation will work around 234 days a year, or 64%. Even that difference is miniscule (~3%), but the biggest difference comes in actual non-working days available for leisure.
If you look at the daily life of the average European, many weekend days and time after work is spent working. Not on a job, but on daily life: cooking, shopping, working around the house, cleaning, working on their cars, etc. My observation is that most Americans have significantly more time for leisure both after work and on weekends than typical Europeans. That is due to some differences in habits such as eating out more rather than cooking, buying groceries once a week rather than grocery shopping every day or every other day, hiring others to do work for us (e.g. car service, housecleaning, laundry, gardening), etc. The main difference in favor of the Europeans is probably less time spent commuting, but I’m not sure how big of a difference that is.
So I guess the next time someone complains about having only half the vacation time of their European counterparts, they should consider the real amount of leisure time available, and not just the number of “vacation days” they can take off of work. And don’t even get me started on comparing the rest of the world to the Japanese.
Every day I notice several subtle differences in daily life that I just cannot remember to write them all down. For example, in the USA most all wall tiles are square, and fairly small. This applies to both bathrooms and kitchens. However, here in Czech it seems that most wall tiles are rectangular, and 2-4 times as large as wall tiles in the US. I haven’t figured out any real reason for the difference, they both look nice, and the function is the same. I do think that it would be easier to install the larger tiles, but am not sure why they are rectangular instead of square.
Last Saturday we had Katunka’s birthday party at the bowling alley in the Andel Mall (technically called Novy Smychov). This was the “friends” party, and next week will be the “family” party. I think there were 18 of us total: 4 boys and 7 girls from Katunka’s school, our family, Romanka, Verunka and her mom. The party was from 1:30-4:00, we had cake first and then bowled from 2:00-4:00. I think everyone had a good time, Katunka rated the party a 10 out of 10. After the party one of Katunka’s friends (Elishka) ate dinner with us at the mall and then spent the night.
On Sunday morning we went to Jahodnice to visit her parents and so Katka could give haircuts to her Mom, Katunka, and me. Sunday afternoon we went to a ballet recital for Romanka’s ballet school. She is one of the best ballet dancers in the Czech Republic, but will probably only dance one more year because she has decided not to do it professionally. She might continue with some other kind of dance, and she also likes aerobics competitions.
I had another nice trip to Zlin this week. I played basketball on Monday night, taught Tuesday, went out with some of the PhD students on Tuesday night, and worked at school on Wednesday morning. I usually take the 1:05 bus back to Prague but I wasn’t feeling well so I took some medicine and waited until I was feeling better before heading home. I ended up taking the 4:30 bus and getting home at around 9:00.
Last night Katka, Vaclav Klaus, and I attended the opening of a special exhibition at the Prague Castle. It was an exhibition of the photographs of two famous Czech explorers, Jiri Hanzelka and Miroslav Zikmund. They traveled all over the world from the 1940’s to the 1960’s for years at a time, often traveling where, even today, few if any Westerners go. I cannot even fathom how they did it, but all along the way they wrote books, took pictures and made movies about their travels. It is kind of like if Jacques Cousteau teamed up with Rick Steves and Marco Polo. I do not know the exact details, but they traveled to something like 85 countries, and the photographs on display in the exhibit were spectacular. We bought a DVD that has 3 of their movies on it, so after I watch that I might have a better idea of their adventures. In addition Mr. Zikmund wants to meet me in Zlin where he lives so he can show me his museum there. That’s right, Mr. Zikmund himself asked me to call him when I met him yesterday. How is that possible, well, it is kind of an interesting story…
Of course Katka has known about Hanzelka and Zikmund her whole life and was a huge fan of theirs. Last year when she found out that I was going to be teaching in Zlin she decided that she would contact Mr. Zikmund, who is from Zlin and still lives there. It turns out that one time when Mr. Zikmund was visiting the USA he met Katka’s aunt and uncle. So she contacted them and arranged a meeting with Mr. Zikmund. Of course he is a very nice guy and invited Katka to his house when she was traveling on her way to Slovakia last summer with Misa and Katka’s friends. So they met and became friends; in fact he was the first to call and welcome us to the Czech Republic in December. So when his exhibit was scheduled to open in Prague he told Katka he would make sure we got an invitation so he could meet me.
We got to the exhibition a little before 6:00, and waited about in the middle of a long exhibition hall. We were kind of standing around waiting for things to get under way when an older gentleman in a long brown camel hair coat walked by with a couple of serious, younger looking men following him. When I say ‘walked by’ I mean this is an exhibition hall 10 feet wide, we’re standing to one side, and he walks down the middle, so maybe 2 feet away. “That’s the President” Katka says. At first I wasn’t sure what she meant, and then I realized that she meant the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Katka had said that he might be there, as our invitation came from the Castle, but being that we entered the exhibition hall without any security checking us, and no one even closely checking our ticket, it didn’t seem possible.
After Mr. Klaus, Mr. Zikmund, and a few other folks gave speeches we headed to the front of the hall to meet Mr. Zikmund. And who did we meet coming the other way but the President again. This time I recognized him so I snapped a couple of pictures. Katka always said that the Czech Republic is such a small country that you run into famous people all the time, but I didn’t realize that she meant I would literally have to move out of the way some of the time.
Well, it looks like spring has finally made it to the Czech Republic. When we got here the first month was unusually warm, no snow, and Michaela was even riding her scooter around the neighborhood. Then starting the last week of January there has been snowstorm after snowstorm. Well this weekend winter went out with a bang with several fast and furious snow flurries, and Monday morning we woke up to sunshine and warmer weather. Of course it might still snow or get cold, but somehow you can tell something has changed -- the grass is showing green as the snow recedes, the birds are out in full force, and the tourists are wandering around the street of Prague with maps, eyes, and mouths wide open.
We had Katunka’s family birthday party on Saturday at our apartment. I think we had about 20 people there: Romana and Romanka, Grandpa and Grandma Hodova, Grandma Burianova, cousin Linda, one twin (Barbara) with her parents, Sabina with Michal and Laura, Hana, Simona, and of course our family. The kids mostly played upstairs while the adults stayed downstairs to visit.
On Sunday we went to Romana’s for David’s 17th birthday. While we were there Pavel took me over to see his new Nissan dealership they are building right near their house. It should be open in May and is very nice. There are 4 service bays and an indoor showroom for maybe 6-10 new cars depending on how tightly they pack them in. They will have about 10 people working there, 4 mechanics, Pavel and Pavlicek, a couple of salesmen and a couple of secretaries. There are 3 Nissan dealerships in Prague, one for the center of the city, one on the west side, and now this one for the east side.
I had another nice week teaching in Zlin. Monday night I played basketball, taught Tuesday, had dinner with 6 of my Masters students Tuesday evening and then went to an “anti-ball” Tuesday night. On Friday of this week is the annual Thomas Bata University Ball, so the students had an “anti-ball” on Tuesday night. It was held at a local dance club. Admission was free if you wore a costume and I would say about half of the students wore some type of costume. The costumes were similar to what college students in the USA might wear to a Halloween party.
Update 3-19-05 (from Katka)
I think I did not write for a while. Things are going well here. We are happy and healthy and enjoying ending winter very much. The weather is getting warmer, snow is melting, birds are singing stronger, and Easter is knocking on the door.
First news would be that we decided to take Michaela out of her Czech school. She was doing OK there but not how we expected. It was not because of academics but because of the social aspects. Czech schools are not ready for kids like Michaela. Kids who come from a different country, speak two languages and have parents of different nationalities. Czech children and teachers will remind you every single day that you are different until it gets annoying. Czech teachers will give you very little praise for your work but they will remind you very often what you did wrong. Czech teachers do not explain, and they will punish you and you do not even know why, especially when you are a little student. That is how it was when I was a little kid and how it is nowadays. Honestly I was thinking that Czech is much further ahead than that, since communist time is over now, but it is not. There are some better educators as well but we just did not meet them. Needless to say that Michaela made good relationships with her teachers and some of her classmates. She sees all the wrong techniques used at her school and thinks about it. Then we talk about it for a long time at home. In short, she is discovering the same things I was discovering as a child-pupil at Czech school. We have a good conversation topic now. Anyway, we know she would do fine and finish her school year probably well. But why put her and us under unnecessary stress. Three months of Czech school was enough. Michaela is hooked on Czech reading and writing now, her language improved tremendously and she tried all of the Czech food in their cafeteria. So, after the Easter break, Michaela will be entering the British International School of Prague like her sister. It is the same building so they can take the bus together. We visited her new school a few days ago. Michaela will be going to year 1, her teacher is an American and her assistant teacher will be Czech (trained by Brits). And I will keep you updated on this story as well.
I had parent-teacher conferences at Katerina’s school last night. I went and talked to all of her teachers. I do not know what nationality they are, mostly British, probably. Seems like Katerina is doing really well, definitely better then at the beginning, meaning academically. The change was big but she blended in smoothly. Her teacher told me that she does not seems like a new kid in the class but like a long-time student, just by how many friends she has and good she feels about everything. I have to agree, Katerina really likes her school. Her grades are good, better than we expected, but I am not allowed to tell if her grades are worse than an A. So she has some A's and then, let's say, other grades. They give them grades from A to F same like we do in USA, but then also add some points for effort. The points are from 1-7, 7 makes the best. Anyway, all of her teachers are pleased to have her in their class and are expecting Katerina to get even better by the end of the school year since she will be more familiar with their system. Katerina's favorite subjects are: PE class, also computers very much, math, and geography. She is a little bit tired of British grammar and writing and the European history sounds kind of long and confusing as well. Hopefully it will help her to see some of the places in Europe we are going to visit and make the European history more clear to her (and to us as well). We will also try to speed up her German language where she is behind the class. The teacher gave me a good website for German basics and we will try to study together. (I took German for a couple of years).
Katerina turned 13 last week and so far has been a good teenager :). She is always busy. I do not think I can write more because she likes to write her own updates and she likes to write about herself from her point of view. So I will respect her wishes.
I enjoy my life here, although I have to admit, that I get homesick easy. Homesick for America. As I said many times before, I was probably an American in my "first life" (if you believe in reincarnation) otherwise I can not explain my strong feelings for America. I do like the city life here especially, silly things like wearing high heels, pollution, crowds, using the public transportation, and just all the "bad" stuff city has to offer. I also love to go to the theater any time I want and not have to drive hours in a car and pay hundreds of $$ for a ticket. I like to take the kids to museum exhibitions fairly often.
Lately I was busy at my parents where they are undergoing remodeling of their 30 years old house. Some of the things needed a change and replacement. My parents put me in charge of it and I mean really in charge. So I go to their house every day and check on the workers if they did what they were supposed to do that day. I made a list of things to be done and put it on the wall. I gladly have to say that most of the things are done now. It took them one month for the project. We still have a few more projects ahead (putting new carpets down) but we do not have to rush with that too much.
I really like to have my family close and also my friends and their families. I am glad that even I do not live here anymore our relationships are maybe stronger then before. My most faithful friends are remaining and it is a good group of friends. While living here for a longer period and not just a short visit, I can see/do things I used to do while I was growing up here: eat the food I love and touch/visit the places I love. Experience the change of Czech seasons, smell the different trees. It brings a lot of memories and I have to say my life was pretty happy and full here. Some times I do miss some of these things (or memories) in America. Life in Czech was so far the biggest part of my life. That is where I came from. A couple of days ago I was watching TV, an interview with one of the post-WWII Czech emigrants who immigrated to Israel. I really liked the thing he said. Many people ask us emigrants which country we love more. The one we left behind or the one we are living in now. It is hard to answer but I agree with what he said: “Let’s say it is like this. Every man has two women in his life. The first is his mother and the second is his wife. And you love both of them very much but both differently; the love for one does not diminish the love for the other.
We had another nice, enjoyable weekend. Friday afternoon Katerina took Michaela and her cousin Linda to see the movie Robots. Then they came back here and played until Linda’s brother Jan came to pick her up. He stayed and chatted for a while. His English is pretty good; he spent some time in Ireland on an exchange program.
Saturday we hung around the house in the morning, and in the afternoon the girls went with their grandmother and cousin Romanka to see The Lord of the Dance. Katka and I took the chance to go see a movie and have a little time alone together. Romanka spent the night, and then on Sunday we all went for a walk through Prague.
We started at the castle, then wandered down the hill to St. Nicholas Cathedral and the Little Town where we ate lunch at Katunka’s Uncle Mirek’s restaurant (he is the manager). They always have good food and he makes sure we get a lot of attention. He is a really nice guy -- he is Veronica’s dad and was with us skiing in Sumava a few weeks ago.
Anyway, the restaurant (or the building) is 700 hundred years old. It is kind of an icon on this street. The family who lived there in the beginning of 17th century was probably famous; maybe they even started this restaurant or something like that. Nowadays the restaurant still holds the name after this family of the 17th century -- U Glaubiců. So the restaurant is a museum in a restaurant. They have special things from the middle ages there and they also do a special medieval feast in the cellar for large groups.
Misa was having a hard day because she was tired from not getting enough sleep the night before so Mirek took her on a personal tour of the restaurant and even put her in the stockade, which she thought was great.
After lunch we finished our walk across Charles Bridge and then to the Andel Mall where Katunka and Romanka went to a movie and Misa, Katka, and I had ice cream. We then went home and Katka took a nap…
OK, I took a nap, and Romanka and Katunka came home about an hour later. One advantage of living in a city with great public transportation is that once children get old enough (around 10-13, depending on the kid), they can travel around Prague by themselves. Katunka’s friend Elishka meets us places by herself and Romanka travels all the time by herself. We’re still a bit nervous about having Katunka travel alone, but I think for now we’re OK with having her travel with a friend.
Writing these updates is a bit of a paradox. When we do not do too much and are not so busy I have plenty of time to write but nothing to say. When we are very busy I have a lot to write about but no time. Such has been the last couple of weeks.
But, first things first -- I received word from Chapman University this week that I have received promotion to Associate Professor with tenure. I have not had time to write everyone that has helped me over the last few years to say thank you, so if you are reading this and are one of those people – thank you.
Now, starting with two weeks ago, on Thursday evening we had dinner with Pedro Maal, a Chapman alum, that has been living in Prague now for 8 years. He is a great guy and we had a nice time. He speaks good Czech and had some interesting insights into Czech society and culture.
That week I also had a meeting at VSFS where I will begin teaching this week. It looks like a great situation for me; easy to get to via public transportation, a very supportive staff, and a nice feeling that they are really grateful to have me teach for them. My class has been met with great enthusiasm by their students, and we even had to talk about what to do if the room capacity was exceeded, whether turn some students away or try and find a larger room.
The same day I had my meeting at VSFS, Katka and Misa went to see the movie A Series of Unfortunate Events with the Bockover family. Mary Bockover is also a Fulbright Scholar here in Prague, and their daughter Erin plays here with Misa on Fridays after her school. They had the day off so Mary, her husband Dan, and their 5 kids met Katka and Misa at the movie. Most American movies for children are dubbed, but this one was in English with Czech titles so the Bockover children could understand it as well. Showing movies in their original language with Czech titles is how they show foreign films for adults, which is nice because I can go to movies here and understand them.
Two weekends ago we went to the Flora mall to go inline skating. Once a month they close off one floor of the parking garage and put in a huge inline skating track. They rent skates to use but not any small enough for Misa so we were a bit sad, but she didn’t seem to mind. Romana and Romanka met us there after lunch for coffee and ice cream so instead of skating we just had a nice visit.
After our visit it was such a nice day outside that we went to downtown to see the Easter market in Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. It was one of those perfect days where the sun is shining, everyone is in a good mood, and there are a lot of interesting things to see and do. On the way home Misa still wanted to walk and play some more so we went to Vysehrad to see the view, the old castle ruins, and the Peter and Paul Cathedral. There is also a cemetery there where many famous people are buried, but when we walked through I forgot that so we didn’t look too much at the names on the graves.
Easter Sunday we went to Katka’s parent’s house for lunch. I had to leave after lunch to get some work done, and Katka and the girls came home after visiting the cemetery where Katka’s grandparents and other relatives are buried. It is tradition in Czech to visit the cemetery on Easter and other holidays. People here pay their respects to the deceased much more so than in America.
Easter Monday is also a holiday in Czech, so I took an earlier bus to Zlin and there was no Monday night basketball. That was OK because I had some more work I needed to get done anyway. I will let Katka write some more about the traditional Easter celebration because I am certain I do not understand it exactly, but it seems like on Easter Monday the boys run around the neighborhood with braided Willow branches and try to spank the girls while the girls throw water on them. I am a bit sad I missed all this, but Misa went to Sabina and Laura’s house on Easter Monday so she got to take part in all of the fun.
As usual my classes went well, and I took an early bus home on Wednesday because my brother Lance and his wife Kristeen came to visit from Colorado. Katka, her dad, and Katunka met them at the airport, and we all got to our apartment about the same time. After a tour of our apartment and a little rest we went for a walk around our neighborhood and for dinner at a local restaurant.
On Thursday I gave them my personal walking tour of Prague, from the National Museum to Municipal House, along the coronation way to Old Town Square, across the Charles Bridge to the church with the baby Jesus, up the hill on the tram to Pohorelec, then to the Prague Castle and down Nerudova to Mala Strana. On the way back to our apartment we stopped at the New Town Hall where Katka and I were married and at a great Italian restaurant by our apartment. Including meals it took about 10 hours, but Lance and Kris were real troopers. I think Lance got a better appreciation for European travel, and they both learned a lot about Katka’s hometown.
On Friday Lance, Kris, Katka, Misa, and I visited two castles, Karlstejn and Konopiste. Karlstejn is a medieval-period castle, a true fortress on top of a hill, while Konopiste was lived in as recently as the early 1900’s and is more of a palace. It was great that they got to see two great historical sights, even if it meant missing out on Hluboka Castle and Cesky Krumlov. Friday night Lance and Kris headed to Krakow, and then on Sunday o Budapest and Tuesday they returned to Prague for their flight home on Wednesday.
On Saturday we had lunch at the apartment of one of Grandpa Mila’s oldest and best friends. Mila and Jarda were truck drivers together and spent more than 30 years driving together all over Europe. During communist times each truck had two drivers, probably to keep an eye on each other but more likely so they could switch drivers periodically and keep the truck going all day. As I understand it each trip lasted 5 days, so to make it to places like London, Moscow, Syria, Spain, etc. they had to minimize the number of hours they were idol. Of course it also meant that Mila and Jarda spent more time with each other than they did with their wives.
For lunch we had roast goose with cabbage and dumplings, a fairly typical Czech meal except the goose was something special. I thought it was delicious, I don’t think I have had goose before. Jarda’s daughter and nephew joined our family and grandma and grandpa for the lunch.
After skating Katunka went home to do her homework, Katka went for a meeting with two of her best friends, and Misa and I went ice skating. A very nice woman from VSFS where I start teaching this week found us skates to use, and also an indoor rink that is still open. We had a great time, the first half hour we had the rink all to ourselves. Misa even learned how to skate on her own without holding on to the wall, so we could skate together all over the rink.
On Sunday Katka and the girls went with grandma and grandpa to the theater, and I stayed home to work. After the theater we met at a restaurant we like in the Corinthia Towers Hotel. Monday I took the girls to catch the bus to the British School. It was Michaela’s first day, and she was very excited, somewhat about the new school but mostly about riding the bus.
I took my regular noon bus to Zlin and played basketball Monday night. I noticed when I got to my hotel that it was unusually busy. I ran into a couple of friends in the pizza restaurant when I was buying dinner and they said the hockey team from Pardubice was staying there, as the Czech Hockey Championships started Tuesday night, Pardubice vs. Zlin. This was interesting to me because before the playoffs I chose Pardubice as the team to root for because Milan Hejduk of the Colorado Avalanche is playing for them this year when the NHL is on strike. They said he was in the Irish Pub on the first floor of the hotel but I could not recognize him. Katka thought I should have talked to him, but she meets famous people all the time and is more used to it. Anyway, Pardubice won the first two games of the 7 game series, so things are looking good. Actually I cannot lose either way, because last year Zlin was my team when they won the championship because I knew I would be teaching in Zlin this year.
Tuesday night Lance and Kris got to our house about 9:45 and left for the airport about 7:30 Wednesday morning. They arrived home safe and sound and it sounds like they had a great trip.
Update 4-07-05 (from Katka)
First I would like to thank you for all of the e-mail from you, all the nice words you have for us, and thanks for keeping us updated about your life, changes and families.
About Easter in Czech: Easter in Czech does not include the bunny we know from America, no toys, no Easter egg hunt, no looking for the golden egg, nothing like that. Easter traditions in Czech are different. The Easter Sunday is more relaxing, includes a lot of visits to relatives, a very festive Easter Mass in churches, a rich lunch and a lot of baking especially of baby sheep (it is a cake in shape of a sheep). Then there is another day off, Easter Monday. On Easter Monday comes the fun part. I am sure there are many local specific traditions but I am a girl from Prague so I know the traditions from Prague region only. But in general the traditions go like this. Very early Monday morning all the boys and men get their braided Willow branches (called Pomlazka) which is a very fancy stick and go around the neighborhood to spank all the girls. They have to make a lot of noise with noise makers or just singing so the girls have a time to get ready for them and either run away or get ready some water to pore over the boy’s heads when they get closer. I never witnessed any bad spanking or beating, all the boys and men around me were always nice and did just symbolical spanking while singing and telling some of the Easter rhymes, rattles, and poems. It is kind of like trick or treating in US during Halloween, except they trick or treat in the morning until noon only and they get from the girls or women mostly colored Easter eggs, chocolate eggs, or other Easter treats.
Bruce was also told that everybody gets drunk on Easter Monday as the men go from house to house because they also get drinks. They told him this in Zlin, in Moravia, which is the part of the country where people drink a lot all the time so I do not see why Easter Monday should be any exception. I personally never witnessed any drunks in our neighborhood while growing up or as an adult on Easter Monday.
Michaela and I went to my parent’s neighborhood on Easter Monday and visited my friend Sabina and her family, later that day we also visited my sister’s family. We saw many groups of children going from house to house and “trick or treating.” Michaela was very excited to see all the action but also a bit afraid that she might get spanked. We did get spanked a bit that day. I also bought Pomlazka (the braided branches) for both of my girls (Katunka spent her Easter in South Czech with the Burianova family). As a child I never understood why only boys can go around the neighborhood and have all the fun. So every year I would join some boy’s group and went with them. My parents were OK with that and always bought me the biggest Pomlazka. Every year I was the only girl to go out and do some of the “trick or treating.” From time to time some of the older ladies would make some comments that girl should not go “trick or treat” but then they got used to it, (or used to me). It was later in my teenage years when I stopped going with them and was more of the traditional girl waiting at home. I was very pleased to see many girls going from house to house to “trick or treat” and having some fun this year. I guess there are more girls like me now :) I am sure that outside of Prague or in villages the traditions will be stronger, which means no girls “trick or treating” and more spanking going on.
Another addition to Bruce’s latest update would be about our girls. We were also so busy because both of our girls had spring break. Michaela, because of her changing schools, had three weeks off (one week from her old school and two weeks from The British School). Katerina had also two weeks off. Katerina decided to spend one week in South Czech with the Burianova family and went skiing to Germany and Austria until all the snow finally melted down. She is now a ski lover and would like to continue skiing in California as well. Second week she spent in Prague, went to the airport with me to pick up Lance and Kristeen and right after that left to Pardubice (town east from Prague) with my sister and her daughter Romanka for a ballet competition. Romanka is still competing in ballet and won second place. I think Katerina enjoyed the ballerina’s atmosphere she witnessed during the couple of days there.
Another nice thing happened to us. While walking around the downtown of Prague and sucking in the beautiful spring sunshine on the Old Town Square in the middle of the Easter market we suddenly heard an American song “America the Beautiful.” We rushed to the place where it was coming from and saw this: In the huge outside auditorium were probably around 100 American High School students playing with their orchestra (see pictures on our website). We watched and listened for a while and then found one of their teachers to talk to. They were from St. Louis visiting and playing in Prague over the Easter break.
Last update would be about Michaela’s schools. I signed her out from her “old” Czech school and went to tell her teacher personally, and picked up some of Misa’s things. I was trying to be diplomatic and did not want to hurt the teacher’s feelings too much since I know she was trying her best. The best she knew how at least. But I also told her what we did not like so at least she can think about it. Michaela started in British school this Monday. So it is a bit early to say if she is doing OK but I think she is doing OK. Her teacher is an American - Ms. April Popko, young pretty lady, and she is getting married this summer. Michaela thinks of her that she is very nice and has “thin skin.” Michaela explained that she is just nice and gentle. Michaela had swimming lessons today with her class and was very happy about it. Meanwhile Katerina got a new history teacher and is very upset about it. He is French so his English has a very strong accent and it is hard to understand him. Also her last history teacher was a fantastic lady (from Switzerland) and Katerina loved her. They had to add more teachers and split the class because of too many children. I hope Katerina will give a chance to her new teacher because I am sure he must have a hard time too. New job and class full of teenagers. Both girls take the school bus together. Michaela is happy because it was always her dream to take the school bus. After school Katerina has the responsibility to find her sister at some meeting point and take her on the bus.
I also went to see a play in the theater with my mom and also Johann Strauss’s musical The Bat with both of our girls and parents. Bruce does not go to theater if it is in Czech and he cannot understand so I bought him a couple of tickets to the National Theater to see a ballet and one ballet combined with a musical with English titles.
I have some new pictures to post from our weekend so I’ll write a quick update so you know what they are about. Last Thursday night Katka and I went to a reception at the American Ambassador’s Residence in honor of Senator Fulbright’s 100th birthday. It was great to see some of the other Fulbright Scholars there that we met at the Fulbright Conference in January. Overall I think we are a good group, and adapting very well. We got to meet and speak with the ambassador, William J. Cabaniss.
On Friday I had my first day of teaching at my school in Prague, VSFS (I put a link here because if you go to their website you will see that I am featured prominently on the front page). This is the only private school in Prague of any size (around 3,000 students), primarily because the state run schools are free, so private schools have a hard time competing. I would guess the students are more similar to a commuter school in the USA, a little older than traditional students and many on a part-time basis. The class went very well (that means they laughed at my jokes), and I am looking forward to the rest of the semester there.
Friday afternoon I went shopping by myself, something I haven’t had much time to do in the last month. I picked up some things we needed for around the house and a heating pad for my mom when they visit at the end of April. It was not easy finding a heating pad, but that is either they are not in great abundance here, because I did not know where to look, or just because I had a hard time explaining what I wanted. But I found it by asking for a warm electric pillow, so I was quite proud of myself.
Friday evening Romana and Romanka came over for a short visit, and then our new friend Pedro (the Chapman alum) stopped by for a nice long visit. Pedro is quite remarkable, full of interesting information and insight. Finally we had to just agree to continue the conversation another day or he would have probably spent the night.
Saturday morning we drove to southern Czech to a small village called Kolence where our friend Scott and Daniela have a summer/weekend/vacation house (Chalupa). We stayed there until Sunday morning and while we were there we went for a walk, cruised around on their electric scooter, went fishing, played in the yard, watched the Miss Czech Republic pageant, cooked hot dogs in the fireplace, and generally had a great time. Scott and Daniela are always fun to talk to, and their 2 year old boy Josie is adorable. The highlight for me was probably Misa catching her first fish, or watching Scott break his back fixing up a 500 year old house and thinking “boy, am I glad I don’t have to do that.” But he actually seems to enjoy it, much like some folks claim to like spinach I guess.
Sometimes Michaela surprises me with the depth of her thinking, only to quickly remind me that she is only 6 years old. Here is an example:
“Don’t ask me if I believe in God, because that is a hard question. I mean, where did He come from? And how long has He been alive?
And also don’t ask me if I believe in Santa Claus, because that is also a hard question.”
On Monday I went to Zlin and had my regular Monday night basketball game, followed by my regular Monday night pizza with salami and mushrooms. Except I mixed it up this week and had them throw some green peppers on there -- yes, sometimes things get wild in Zlin.
Tuesday morning I got ready for my class, I taught Tuesday afternoon, and Tuesday night I met with some of my students for dinner. Every Tuesday now I meet with 6 students for dinner so they can practice their English conversation skills and I can learn more about the Czech Republic. Lately we have been starting at 6pm and going to 10pm, or as they say here, starting at 18:00 and going until 22:00.
Wednesday morning I met with the University Rector (equivalent in the USA to the University President), and then had lunch with Mr. Zikmund, the Czech Explorer. We talked for about an hour and a half, but I wish we had all day. I am not sure I have ever met anyone quite like him, with such firsthand knowledge of so many things, and so many great adventures to tell about. I kind of expected that he might be bright, just based on what he accomplished in his life, but I am amazed at his level of thinking, reasoning, and understanding. I hope that in my life I can attain half of his wisdom. I think it is sad that he was censored for so many years and only since 1989 has been allowed to tell his story. He should be a worldwide celebrity and hero, and I am afraid that even in his own country people are starting to forget what he has accomplished.
Taking the late bus back from Zlin gave me a couple of hours to work on Wednesday afternoon, and then on Thursday I worked at home until Misa and Katunka came home at 3:45. On Friday I taught my second class at VSFS and had another wonderful class. After I got home I was telling Katka how much I enjoyed my class that morning, and how much I like teaching. I think I am one of the lucky few that have a career they really love. I know some professors like teaching, and some doing research, but I honestly thoroughly enjoy both. Research is the discovery of knowledge and teaching is the sharing of knowledge, two sides of the same coin, so to speak. It is no surprise to me when I think back to my favorite and best professors over the years that they were also usually outstanding researchers. That is not to say that one cannot be an outstanding teacher without also being a researcher (as Ray MacFee at CU demonstrates), but I think that research somehow complements teaching in a way that makes it more effective.
Friday afternoon we went to the girls’ school for the grand opening celebration of their new location in Kamyk. The British Ambassador to the Czech Republic and the Czech Deputy Prime Minister were there, but there was also free food so we didn’t get a chance to say hello. Some times you have to make tough choices in life.
Saturday Michaela Masci and her two children, Teresa and David came over for a visit, and then went to the zoo with Katka and Misa. Michaela Masci and her sister Romana were the two witnesses in our wedding, and now live in a small village in Italy. They are here visiting for a week. Teresa is just a year older than Misa so they had a great time spending the day together.
Sunday Michaela was not feeling well, so Misa and I stayed home and relaxed while Katka, Katunka, Katunka’s friend Elishka, Romana, Romanka, and grandma went to the theater. It was a musical about Charles IV and Karlstejn Castle. We were there with Lance and Kristeen, and Katunka went there on Saturday, so I think everyone enjoyed it very much.
I had to be in Zlin early on Monday for a presentation, so on Sunday evening I drove to Zlin by myself for the first time. I also took the 10 boxes of books that I brought from America for the TBU library, which they were very happy to receive. I’m not sure how many will actually make it to the library though, because I think the professors will keep many of them to help them in their teaching. I am glad the will get some use.
Monday afternoon I went to the Deans and Chairs meeting to be introduced, and then gave a presentation about me, my research, and Chapman University to the Accounting and Finance faculty. Based on their questions and comments afterward I think it went really well. Of course Monday evening I had my regular weekly basketball from 5-8.
Here is an average week for me, of course times are approximate and no single week actually turned out this way exactly.
6:30 Wake up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast
7:30 Check TV Nova Internet site, see who was eliminated from Superstar for Katu
7:35 Take girls to bus stop
7:45 Girls picked up by bus, return to apartment
7:50 Check email, write quick update, pack for trip to Zlin
10:30 Leave for bus station at Florence
10:45 Arrive at bus station, buy ticket for Zlin, walk to McDonalds
11:00 Eat lunch at McDonalds, read USA Today
11:30 Walk back to bus station
12:00 Bus leaves for Zlin
1:45 Bus stops at motorest “9 Crosses” for 15 minute bathroom/snack break
4:30 Bus arrives Zlin, walk to Hotel Moscow
4:45 Arrive Hotel Moscow, check-in, change clothes, walk to basketball
8:00 Walk to TBU, check email, get suitcase from office with things left in Zlin
8:30 Return to Hotel Moscow, order pizza from Pizza and Bowling Restaurant (sometimes stay in pizza restaurant to talk to students)
8:40 Clean up, change clothes, unpack suitcase
8:50 Pick up pizza from restaurant, return to room
8:50-9:30 Eat pizza, watch CNN, unpack, set up room, get ready for bed
10:00 Go to sleep (if nothing on TV)
8:00 Wake up, shower, get dressed, walk to school
8:15 Stop at Bufet, get 2-3 vanilla bananas (a pastry), and 1-2 cappuccinos with chocolate
8:30-9:30 Eat breakfast in my office, check email, read ESPN.com, CNN.com
9:30-noon Prepare for that day’s class
Noon Go to Bufet, buy lunch, go to hotel
12:15-1:00 Eat lunch in hotel room, watch CNN or Eurosport
1:00-1:45 Return to office, check email, finish prepping for class
5:00 Return to office, check email
5:30 Go to hotel, get ready for dinner meeting with students
6:00-10:00 Dinner and social time with 6 students from my class at Pizza and Bowling Restaurant
10:15 Return to room get ready for bed, go to sleep (if nothing on TV)
8:00 Wake up, shower, get dressed, pack suitcases
9:00 Walk to school with 2 suitcases, one stayed in my office in Zlin every week
9:15 Stop at Bufet, get 2-3 vanilla bananas (a pastry), and 1-2 cappuccinos with chocolate
9:30-10:30 Eat breakfast in my office, check email, read ESPN.com, CNN.com
10:30-noon Work on research, prep for next week’s class, meet with TBU faculty
Noon Walk to Zlin bus station, buy ticket for return to Prague, walk to McDonalds
12:15 eat lunch at McDonalds
12:45 Return to bus station
1:05 Bus to Prague
2:15 Bus stops at “Motorest M” for 15 minute bathroom/snack break
5:25 Arrive Prague
6:00 Arrive home, eat dinner
7:00 Get Misa ready for bed, put her down to sleep
8:30 Work, watch TV, or talk to Katka
10:30 Go to sleep
6:30 Wake up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast
7:35 Take girls to bus stop
7:45 Girls picked up by bus, return to apartment
7:50 Check email
8:00-3:45 Prep for Friday’s class at VSFS, work on research, go shopping
3:45 Girls home from school
3:45-6:00 Play with Misa, help Misa and/or Katunka with homework
6:00 Eat dinner
7:00 Get Misa ready for bed, put her down to sleep
8:30 Work, watch TV, or talk to Katka
10:30 Go to sleep
6:30 Wake up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast
7:35 Take girls to bus stop
7:45 Girls picked up by bus, return to apartment
7:50 Check email
8:00 Get materials ready for class, pack computer
8:15 Take metro and tram to VSFS
8:45 Arrive VSFS, set up for class
11:45 Leave VSFS, go to KFC, get food to go
12:15 Arrive home, have lunch with Katka
1:00-3:45 Check email, work on research, go shopping, pay bills, etc.
3:45 Girls home from school
Friday afternoons/evenings/nights we didn’t have a set schedule, but when we didn’t have other plans we liked to go to Flora Mall for dinner and shopping
Saturday and Sunday - no set schedule, usually each weekend we did different activities
Update 4-22-05 (from Katka)
Last week my friend Michaela Masci came to Prague. She lives in Italy with her Italian husband and two children, 8 and 4. We are friends since preschool, which means 31 years. I do not know how this can be since I am 29 years old only :).
Anyway, we spent the Saturday together and took the children to the ZOO. It was very warm, almost hot day and people were everywhere. On the way there we stopped in McDonalds for lunch. A man walked in and asked if anybody speaks English. I said I do. He needed help with metro tickets and to show him the way to downtown. He was from San Francisco, we talked for a while. It was nice to see somebody from USA, and California especially. Prague is getting crowded with tourists, every day more and more. So, remember if you are traveling and you need help, just find the McDonalds and there will be somebody to help you!!
The time in the zoo was good. The zoo was badly flooded a couple of years ago, if you remember the big flood in Czech. They lost many animals, even elephants, etc. Now they are making it bigger, better, with some flood barriers and with more play places for children and families. Prague does not have many large public parks so people like to come to the zoo or the castle’s gardens and places like that. It is also nice.
Michaela was so excited, and running so much that she got overheated and was not feeling well for the rest of the weekend. Katunka made her own plans and went with the Burianova family to the Karlstejn castle (because we were going to see the musical about this castle the next day) and then she slept over in her friend Elishka’s home; went swimming with her and went to see her horseback riding Sunday morning. Then we met in the front of the theater. Elishka lives just two metro stations from us. The play was a musical about King Charles IV, probably the most famous and best king of Czech lands ever. He lived in the 14th century. He built the Charles Bridge, the castle Karlstejn etc. This play was more fun, with a bit of history, a lot of singing, and love between him and his last wife Elizabeth. Everybody liked it. Good orchestra.
Misa felt better on Sunday but had to skip the musical theater I went to with my mom, sister, Katunka her friend Elishka and Romanka. Bruce stayed at home with her. After we came home Bruce had to go to Zlin -- he drove. The car was loaded with the school books for the Zlin library from Chapman. Bruce had to go on Sunday because he had a presentation Monday afternoon. It was better to go on Sunday because the traffic on the highway is so bad, every Monday morning especially.
My parents put new carpet down this weekend. It is regular carpet but fits the room and they really like it. They hired one guy to help them and my nephew David helped both days.
I spent even more time with my friend Michaela after that weekend.
On Tuesday I went to see (with my mom) the play The Importance of Being Ernest (Oscar Wild). I saw it when I was a teenager and had a great memory of it. This time it was not so good, mainly because the actors were not putting everything in to it. And last night Katunka, my friend Sabina and her daughter, and I went to see the musical Singing in the Rain. It was a very good performance. As I mentioned before, in Czech you can see the same actors on the TV, movies, or theaters. Katunka likes to watch TV and has her favorite actors here. Well, last night she could see one of her favorite actors in this musical and was very happy about it.
I am going to visit my Aunt today (she is my mom’s cousin. In Czech every women in the family is called an Aunt if it is not your mother. Also children of your friends will call you an Aunt in Czech). My Aunt is in the nursing home. She is paralyzed since her stroke a couple of years ago. It is sad. She cannot talk but she understands. My Uncle comes to visit her everyday but is not able to take care of her by himself. He is old and ill.
My mom left on Wednesday to Holland to see the tulips and right after that she will go with some Czech elementary schools for a two week trip to the countryside (as all Prague kids do to enjoy the fresh air for a while), she goes as a nurse. My sister is working nearly every day this week at her hospital. My dad is fine.
Michaela seems to like her new school. She loves to sing, swim, and play. Also her reading is improving very fast. I am happy for her. Katerina is the best runner in her class. Every day at school is a big day for them.
I am discovering that I really like living in the city. I think I would enjoy living (besides Prague) in Boston or New York City a lot. I do not know why but I feel really good in city, very alive.
I think Bruce is having a good time here. I still think that the schools can not fully appreciate him. He is a really good professional. But I also know that his students will learn a lot from him and he will also learn a lot from them. This trip is giving a lot to all of us. I can really see already things I did not see before in my life. It is also challenge for us as a family. All the changes, new things, and people we meet will give us new experiences and a lot of memories. I hope it will make us stronger.
Friday night we went to the Flora mall for dinner, and then Katunka spent the night at her grandma’s house. Saturday morning we took Misa to spend the day and night in Jahodnice with grandpa, and then picked up Katunka and her grandmother Elena to go to the Terezin Concentration Camp about 45 minutes north of Prague. The Terezin camp had a slightly different purpose than most concentration camps. Terezin was a transit camp, where Jews from all over Europe were moved until they were sent to death camps such as Auschwitz. Terezin is probably best known for one of the greatest hoaxes of World War II. In 1943 the Nazis were coming under closer scrutiny from the world community about what was going on in the concentration camps. The Red Cross wanted to inspect the camps and arranged a visit to Terezin in 1944. Because the camp was divided into two parts (a ghetto and a prison), the Nazis were able to fix up the ghetto and make it appear as if the Jews had a satisfactory life at Terezin. For just the Red Cross visit they fixed up the camp, opened stores, brought in games and activities for the residents, held concerts in the square, etc. Because the Red Cross had given months of notice before the visit, and spent the visit following the plan devised by the Nazis, they were satisfied that the Jews were not being treated poorly. This is despite the fact that even though Terezin was only a transit camp more than 33,000 Jews died there, mostly due to the terrible conditions but also many were executed in the SS prison housed there in the small fortress part of the camp. Of the Jews sent on to death camps almost 80,000 adults and 7,500 children were killed. The Nazis also made a propaganda film The Führer Gives a City to the Jews at Terezin that they showed the Red Cross. It was discovered in the early 60’s and we saw parts of it at the camp. There are two movies that you can watch if you are interested in more about Terezin: Prisoner of Paradise -- Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender directed this documentary feature about one of the leading theatrical figures in 1930s Berlin, Kurt Gerron. A popular actor, director and cabaret performer, Gerron, a German Jew, was later forced to write and direct a Nazi propaganda film while being held prisoner in a concentration camp. and Lies and Whispers -- Dr. Lauren Graham (Gina Gershon), a psychologist from America staying in Prague for a conference, falls in love with Czech writer Jiri Kolmar (Rade Serbedzija), whose family suffered through Nazi concentration camps for opposing popular political views. As Lauren learns more about her own roots, she discovers her family is hiding some awful secrets that could jeopardize her relationship with Jiri.
Terezin was built in the 18th Century as a fort because it sits at the junction of the Labe (Elbe) and Ohře (Eger) rivers. On one side is a small fortress, and on the other a small town inside a large fortress. All of the Czech people that lived in the town had to leave their homes during WWII so the Nazis could use it as a Jewish ghetto. Eventually 60,000 Jews were forced to live in a fort designed to hold 8,000. Today the city is quiet, and could be beautiful if it wasn’t for the history. We talked several times about the fact that it would be very hard to live there toady knowing what had happened.
Although Terezin is depressing it is not as overwhelming as Auschwitz. I think it was good for Katunka to see it, she said it was sad but interesting. I think many of the things she will see during our visit will stay with her for her entire life. Maybe when she is 16 or older I will take her to Dachau or Auschwitz. Written on the walls inside Terezin was a quote, something like: it is important to forgive, but not to forget. When I read what was done during WWII and visit these camps I am amazed that even some of the Jews interred at concentration camps have found it in their hearts to forgive the Nazis.
When we dropped off Katunka and her grandma Katka and I realized we all of a sudden had a free night without kids. So we quickly got ready and went out for the night. First we went and saw the movie Hitch. It was a good choice, because we both thought it was hilarious, and changed our somber mood. Then we went for a nice walk along the Vltava River. There was a unique confluence of meteorological and astrological events last night that made Prague look better than I have ever seen it. First, there was a full moon that was so bright it almost hurt to look at it. Second, there was a strip of low lying dark clouds just on the horizon, so all of the buildings, particularly the Prague Castle, had a deep contrasting background. It was like the entire skyline was lit up with spotlights. Lots of folks had their tripods out and were taking pictures, these are the once-a-year conditions that make the pictures that end up on postcards and in calendars. We walked down to the Charles Bridge, but instead of going over the bridge we headed up to Old Town Square and stopped at a restaurant to eat. We sat outside and watched the people stream by for what seemed like hours. After a perfect evening we made it home knowing we could sleep in, a hard feeling to beat!
On Sunday Misa had a day with her friend Erin. They played here for a little while, and then Katka took them to the Wallenstein Gardens in Mala Strana. On the way home they walked across the Charles Bridge and Misa had her portrait drawn. I think that would have been the highlight of the last month except for on Friday she got an award during an assembly in front of the entire grammar school. Her teacher said it was for her outstanding attitude, and particularly how she helps the other children in class. She got a beautiful certificate, and somehow managed to keep it inside her until she almost went to sleep Friday night.
Another busy and fun week, as you are probably used to hearing by now. I spent an extra day in Zlin this week to stay for a conference on Thursday and present a paper. I was glad I did because on Wednesday they celebrated Majales. It is a spring celebration, and although I’m not sure what it means, it seemed like an excuse for a party. It started at 1:30pm with a parade from school down to the town square where they had a stage set up. Then for 3.5 hours they had live music. There were concession stands set up and the students just sort of hung around, ate, drank, sat on the grass, listened to music, danced a little, etc. The bands that I heard were pretty good.
In one part of the square they had an air guitar contest going. But instead of being based on quality it was an endurance test -- last kid still playing gets a new electric guitar. At the end of the 3.5 hours there were 3 kids left, I’d say about 13-15 years old. So they brought them on stage and the crowd voted for their favorite. Right after they gave away the guitar it started pouring like crazy. I was soaked when I got back to the hotel.
The conference on Thursday was really nice. There were accounting and finance professors from all over the Czech Republic, and a few from other parts of Europe like Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, etc. They had 5 presenters in the morning to the whole group (about 150 people), and then in the afternoon had 5-6 break out sessions in smaller rooms. I was one of the 5 that presented in the morning; in fact I was the lead presenter. I think it went really well. The conference continued on Friday but I headed home Thursday evening.
On Friday my parents came to visit. They are starting a 16 day trip to Holland and Belgium with the Darmours, and started by coming here for 3 days. Misa stayed home from school on Friday to see them, she was so excited school would have been a waste of time anyway. Friday morning after we picked them up from the airport we went out to Jahodnice to see Katka’s parent’s house, and then in the afternoon we went for a walk around the neighborhood and the Jazerka Park. Friday night my parents crashed early so the rest of us went to the Flora Mall for dinner and then Katunka and I went to a movie.
Saturday morning we went to Old Town Square and went up in the tower. There is a really neat model of Prague there that no one seems to even know about. If you are ever in Prague you should check it out because it really gives you a good understanding about how everything is situated in Prague. We walked from there up to Katunka’s uncle’s restaurant, and then caught a tram to Andel Mall. Romana and Romanka met us there and we all went bowling for an hour. I bowled a 185. I should have had over 200, but inexplicably had three balls right in the middle that messed up my game. It started by missing an easy seven pin I needed for a spare, which flustered me so badly that I yanked my next two balls left and got a 5 in that frame. Those were the only two frames I didn’t mark. I ended up with 5 spares, 3 strikes, a 9 and a 5. We spent the evening at home, and then Sunday morning we took my parents to the airport. Sunday afternoon I stayed at home and caught up on some work while Katka took Misa to Jahodnice to visit Sabina and Laura and her dad. Her mom is with a school on a trip to the mountains for two weeks. Saturday night Katunka went to see Hollywood on Ice and then spent the night with Verunka and her family. On Sunday they went to the Botanical Garden.
I am a little bit sad tonight. I just walked home from my last night of playing basketball in Zlin. I don’t know many of the names of the guys I played with every week, but I’ll remember them as the group that made the 4.5 hour bus ride every Monday bearable. I know they will probably never read this, and maybe won’t care anyway, but I’d like to thank all of the regulars for letting this old American join their game: Michal, Honza, Standa, Petr, Jarda, Katka, Grigori, and all the others, I am sorry I do not remember your names.
It was a good night to finish, I got picked first once (first!) and second once, and only lost one game all night. We only had 11-12 people tonight, so there wasn’t much time for resting, it was pretty much 3 straight hours of basketball. I’m glad this night came at the end of the semester and not the beginning or I might have died from exhaustion.
On Tuesday I showed the movie “Wall Street” to my class, and Wednesday I visited the Hanzelka and Zikmund Museum in Zlin before heading home Wednesday night. Thursday night they had a TV show on here, the Top 100 Czechs of All Time, as voted by the people. I was very disappointed that Hanzelka and Zikmund didn’t make it, especially considering the Top 100 included Superstar winner Aneta Langerová at #70 (the Czech Kelly Clarkson), current soccer players Pavel Nedvěd (# 41) and Milan Baroš (#75), Klement Gottwald (# 92, the first communist president), and Václav Klaus (#18, the current president). I don’t think it is just that I wanted to personally know someone in the Top 100 that I wanted Mr. Zikmund to be there; I truly think he deserves it. I did know something about 8 of the Top 10: Karel Čapek (read one of his stories), Antonín Dvořák (heard some of his music), Václav Havel (saw one of his plays, read two of his books), Jan Hus (saw his statue, watched part of a movie about him, read about him in a book), Karel IV (walked across his bridge), Jan Amos Komenský (heard of him), T. G. Masaryk (heard a lot about him), Božena Němcová (still thinking), Jan Werich (nothing there yet), Jan Žižka z Trocnova (am wondering if it is the same Jan Žižka I know about, the z Trocnova is throwing me off, are there several Jan Žižkas and we have to somehow keep them straight?). The bottom 90 were in order, but the top 10 were in alphabetical order because they will now have another round of voting to put the Top 10 in order. The complete Top 100 list can be found at http://www.czech‑tv.cz/press/detail2.php?id=1016. Friday I taught at VSFS in Prague.
Two weekends ago we took a tour of Bavaria. Misa stayed with grandma and grandpa in Jahodnice, and Katunka, Katka, and I went to 3 castles, 2 churches, 2 neat small towns, 2 monasteries, and 2 Olympic sites in 2 days. We left Prague at 4:00 in the morning Saturday and got back at 11:00 Sunday night. I have posted pictures from the trip on the website.
On Monday night May 9th we went to a special concert at the Rudolfium Concert Hall celebrating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia from the Nazis. The Czech Army Band and 76th US Army Band each played for half of the concert. Actually, the Americans kept doing encores, so they played quite a bit longer. It was a special invitation-only event (another advantage of being a Fulbrighter), and probably half the folks there were in uniform, either active military or retired; quite a few Americans even.
On Tuesday the 10th I drove to Zlin in the morning, gave my final exam and drove back to Prague that evening. Because I missed basketball Monday night I decided not to bother packing and taking all my stuff just to sleep there one night with no plans anyway. The students did fine on the final, Katunka graded them for me.
On Friday (May 13th) we headed to Sweden and Norway. We made it to Halmstad about midnight after 12 hours driving, two hours on the ferry and two hours waiting for the ferry. In Halmstad we took a tour of the town, visited Claes and his family at their house, had a birthday dinner for Claes and me, the girls played with Claes’ two girls (Isabel, 4 and Emmy, 2), we went to the Singheimer's summer house where we went for a rowboat trip on the lake, and we visited Smaland and saw granddad’s farm and the church where he was confirmed (had his first communion). We went to where his parents used to be buried, but the graves are no longer there. I guess if no one is paying for the upkeep the local church removes them and uses the space for someone else’s graves.
After Halmstad we went to Goteborg where I presented a paper at a conference. Our friend Vern met us there and traveled with us for the next 5 days. While I was at the conference Katka and the girls took a boat tour of Goteborg and walked around the city. This was one of Katunka’s favorite days on the trip.
After Goteborg we drove to Oslo and spent an afternoon touring the city. The next morning we took a train to Myrdal and then Flam, took a boat tour of the Sognefjord to Gudvangen, then a bus to Voss and train to Bergen. The next morning we took a train back to Oslo and the overnight ferry to Denmark. The fjords were the highlight of the trip for me, and Katunka has decided she wants to live in Norway.
After getting off the ferry we drove to Bremen Germany and stayed with Hans and Erna Dehning (Hans is my 5th cousin twice removed). He gave us a tour of Bremen (surprisingly wonderful) and we talked for a few hours about our families. Sunday we drove back to Prague, getting here at about 4:00pm after 10 days and more than 2300 miles on the road. Perhaps the most stunning thing about the whole trip is that we didn’t get our passports checked one single time… until we got back to the Czech Republic.
I learned a little lesson last week about discount airlines. We are planning a trip in July to London and Paris, and I bought tickets on SmartWings. On Monday I got an email saying sorry, we canceled your flight and aren’t going to fly to London that week, so here is your money back, good luck. At least they gave me my money back, but now we had to find a way to London. I was able to get a flight on a different airline for about twice as much, but we had to go a day earlier and our hotel wasn’t available that night. So I had to book four new nights in a hotel, for about $200 more than our original hotel. I’m not sure if in the future I will avoid discount airlines, but if a regular airline has a flight for something close to the price you can bet I’ll fly with them instead.
Tuesday we went to the National Theater for a ballet based on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Before we went I couldn’t imagine how they would pull it off, but it was perfect: a good story, good dancing, beautiful music, and very funny. Katunka studied Shakespeare in school this year, so we’re hoping for a visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon while we’re in London.
I didn’t go to Zlin last week, so I was able to work on research for 3 full days. Friday I taught at VSFS here in Prague, and Friday night we went to the BISP Summer Ball (BISP is Katunka’s and Misa’s school). It was at the beautiful Corinthia Towers Hotel in Vysehrad. Romanka, Grandma, and Granddad went along as well, while Misa spent the night at Aunt Romana’s. Misa couldn’t go to the Ball because there was an age limit; I think you had to be 12 years old or in 6th grade. They had a nice buffet dinner, a live band for the first 3 hours, and then a DJ for the rest of the night. Most everyone danced (even me). It was great to see students, teachers, and parents all together on the dance floor. At first Katunka was a bit embarrassed to see Katka and me dancing on the same dance floor as her, but she got over it and even danced with us. She also danced with some of her teachers and Misa’s teacher. One thing I like about the Czech Republic is the emphasis on social functions like balls, and that they are for the entire family.
On Saturday we had a birthday party celebrating my 40th birthday and Katka’s 34th birthday at the restaurant Na Baste in Jahodnice. I think we had about 50 friends and relatives there. We started at 2:00 and went until 7:00, with dinner at 5:30 and live music for dancing before and after. It was a very hot day and the patio was open so we went back and forth between inside and outside.
Sunday we went out to Romana’s house for Romanka’s and Pavlicek’s birthdays. It was hot again (high 80’s), so we set up a little wading pool for the girls and they had fun spraying and splashing each other. My Czech is getting to the point where it is kind of frustrating; I can usually understand what people are taking about, but not what they are saying. In the past I have always just sort of zoned out, listening for my name, but now it is like I hear words that I know (or should know), but can’t comprehend. I know I don’t have any talent for languages, but I wish things had worked out so I could have learned more Czech. Maybe next year (yeah, right).
Sunday night Katka and I again went to the National Theater to see Lucrezia Borgia. It was an interesting combination of ballet and opera; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. In addition the story is unbelievable, but true, so there is the added feeling of unrestfulness (if I can make up a word).
When I got off the train from Prague to Zlin on Monday there was a huge fireworks show in honor of my last visit to Zlin. I think that the folks here for the grand opening of the Zlin Film Festival also must have enjoyed the show because they were all in the park watching them as well.
I took the train to Zlin for the first time just to see how it worked and it was great. I had a nice seat with lots of room; I had space to work on my computer and everything. I probably should have taken the train all semester, but the only direct train was the one I took Monday night and it didn’t get to Zlin until 10:00pm. There were probably some earlier trains I could have taken to Brno or Olomouc and then changed to a train to Zlin, but changing trains halfway through the trip would have added some hassle and about 30 minutes to the journey. As it was I read a lot of good books on the bus that I wouldn't otherwise have read.
Because there is a big film festival here this week the city is crowded with people, including many from the USA. There are over 100 free movies showing all over town this week -- most for children. This is the 45th year for the festival, and it is one of the oldest and largest in the world aimed primarily at children.
Tuesday night my good friend Standa put together a nice final evening in Zlin. First we went to an indoor go-cart track and raced go-carts. The track is on the 3rd floor of a huge old Bata shoe factory or warehouse building, and it was great fun. The go-carts had 200cc engines so they really had good acceleration. I thought I must have been setting new track records I was driving so fast, but my best times of 35 seconds were well above the 28 second track record.
After the go-carts we went to a free concert by the Czech group Krystof that was being held as part of the film festival. I think I knew one of their songs from Czech radio, I guess they are pretty popular. The first half of the concert was OK, but it got much better in the second half. I would describe Krystof as a rock band with a horn section consisting of a saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. They played everything from traditional rock to jazz and even Linkin Park style hip-hop.
After the concert we went to an Irish-style pub for dinner. The group of 5 that went out with us are all going to Australia next year with one more guy for a half year of studying and a half year of working. They can make enough money in the half year of working to pay for their school, the entire year of living in Australia, and still bring home some money. It is great to see the Czech students doing such ambitious studies and travels; I think they are already way ahead of the Americans in taking advantage of international opportunities. Most American students almost have to be begged to do a study abroad, and then it is a special program catered to their every need.
So now I am wrapping things up in Zlin and tonight will head home for the last time. Overall I think my experience here was awesome. When I was first awarded the Fulbright the euphoria was quickly replaced by the dismay of being assigned to Zlin. For obvious reasons, we had to live in Prague (Katka’s family, Katunka’s dad, schools for the girls, etc.), and Zlin was on the other side of the country. However, I think living in Prague and teaching in Zlin turned out to be better than if we had lived here. Because I was in Zlin by myself for 3 days every week, I had to reach out to the students to keep me from being bored. I have never gotten as close to any students in America as I did my students in Zlin. Several of them I actually consider friends, and I think many will visit me in the USA. Although I regret not getting to see more of Moravia, I am in Czech often enough to know I will be back to visit Moravia, and hopefully get together with some of my students.
There are several people that I have mentioned in my updates as being the key reasons for my wonderful experience, and I would like to thank several of them here. First, Standa for welcoming me so quickly and always thinking of ways to make my time here enjoyable. To Petr for taking me to play basketball every Monday and introducing me to that great group of guys. To Zuzana for helping me with my class and always being supportive of what I was doing. To Drahomira and Adriana for taking care of the business side of things and getting me involved in their research and conference. And last of all the biggest thanks goes to my students -- for coming to class every week, laughing at my jokes, making every Tuesday night dinner fun, and treating me as a friend. I will never forget these 4 months, thank you.
Every time I visit Europe there seems to be one song that follows me around, playing every day in a shop, metro station, radio, taxi, whatever. I think when Ray and I traveled together it was “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns-N-Roses, one year it was the Macarena, and this year it has been Bora Bora by Arash. If there is one thing I regret from all of my travels, it is not keeping better notes and a journal. I hope now that I am in the habit of writing updates when I travel that I will continue in the future.
So last weekend was once again jam-packed. On Friday night Misa had her school’s end-of-year musical performance at the Branik Theater. Each grade or two performed a shortened version of Annie, Cabaret, Cats, Riverdance, or Grease. In between acts some of the students played solos or did short skits. Misa’s class did “Annie” and was part of the chorus for “Grease.” They were really cute. Romana, Romanka, and Grandma also joined us, but Katunka couldn’t make it because she was in Sumava for the weekend.
On Saturday Katka, Misa, and I went about an hour south of Prague to Orlik to see the castle. We took a wrong turn and ended up seeing the Orlik dam as well, which gave Misa the opportunity to shout “let’s stop and take some dam pictures,” so that alone was worth the extra few minutes of driving. The Orlik Castle is very pretty, and on the edge of a huge recreation area (created when they dammed up the river). On the way home we stopped in Jahodnice for dinner.
Sunday we spent the day in Prague. First, Misa and I went to Petrin Hill to go up in the mini-Eiffel Tower, to see the Jara Cimrman exhibit, and to go to the funhouse. Then we walked over to the Strahov Monastery area where we played tag in the park until Katka met us for a visit to the museum of miniatures. They have 5-6 amazing pieces, like a caravan of camels in a needle eye, a portrait of A.P. Chechov painted on half a poppy seed and the Lord’s Prayer written on a human hair, and even the smallest book in the world (1/28 of an inch by 1/28 of an inch) that is included in the Guinness Book of World Records. The museum actually only has 2 rooms; I read about it in my guidebook and, ironically, thought it would be bigger.
After the museum of miniatures we went to the new Nove Butovice Mall. They have 2 huge tanks of tropical fish, some of the most beautiful and colorful I have ever seen. For a Sunday afternoon I think the mall was pretty empty, especially considering the weather was lousy outside. I do not know how all of these shopping centers and malls in Prague will stay in business. It seems like every-other-month something new opens. The shops are not cheap either, mostly boutiques with $40 t-shirts and so forth. After a little shopping and a snack we headed home. I think it was one of the most fun days I’ve had in a while, but I seem to think that about most every weekend.
On Monday the other Czech Fulbrighters and I were invited to lunch with Steven J. Uhlfelder, Chair of the Fulbright Executive Committee (a President Bush appointee). Apparently he is buddies with Jeb Bush and will likely be Attorney General or something like that if Jeb ever gets elected President. Interestingly he is a Democrat, and was co-chair of Democrats for George Bush in 2000. In 1996 he was Florida Counsel for the Clinton/Gore campaign.
On Tuesday Katka and I went to buy a new table and chairs for our kitchen in the downstairs of the Jahodnice house. We saw one at Interspar we really liked for 2300 CZK (about 100 dollars). We couldn’t really decide if we needed a new table though, so we went to eat lunch and think it over. After lunch we went back to Interspar and the price had gone up to 5000 CZK (about $200). Talk about hyperinflation! So we decided we don’t really need a new table and chairs.
Misa’s latest words of wisdom:
It doesn’t matter how big your house is, it matters how big your heart is.
Some poems from Misa:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
and I love sugar
and you too.
I love you,
but I love bread,
but I don’t like lying.
(singing) ♪ I love you, ♫ and I love ♪…
I love something, I don’t know what that thing is?
So please stop.
There is something special about this world?
But I don’t know?
So too bad.
What is the world made out of… ZZZZZ
Why are you asking me, because I am not a smarty pants over here!!
I will start this update with last Wednesday (June 8), when I made a presentation about me, Chapman, and my research to the accounting faculty at the University of Economics in Prague. After my presentation we had Katunka’s cousin Verunka, her mom Katka, and Verunka and Katunka’s Grandmother Elena over for dinner and a visit.
On Thursday evening there was a big BBQ at Misa’s school, complete with whole pig roasting on a spit. On Friday I taught at VSFS, and Katunka went to Sumava for the weekend with her dad and best friend Elishka.
Saturday morning Misa and I went to the Vltava River to ride the paddle boats around and play on a playground we like on one island by the river. Then Saturday afternoon we went to Katka’s cousin Venna’s new house in a little village outside of Prague about 25 minutes by car. It is an interesting little village, because there are some of the biggest houses there that I have ever seen in the Czech Republic. One of Venna’s neighbors came home during the party… in his helicopter. We had a great time at the party, and even got to see some relatives that we had been trying to get together with for months.
Sunday morning Katka, Misa and I went to Jahodnice so I could get a haircut and Katka could cut her dad’s hair. Misa and I also went into one of the fields behind Jahodnice to play with the new boomerang we bought on Saturday when we were downtown. And yes, I can throw it and make it come back, and no, I cannot catch it when it does. In the afternoon Misa’s friend Erin and her mom Mary picked us up so Misa and Erin could play together for the rest of day. Mary is also a Fulbright Scholar, and they live in a large villa about 20 minutes by train outside of Prague in a little village called Vsenory. It is actually about half way to Venna’s house, so 25 minutes by car is about 40 minutes by commuter train. Vsenory is full of huge (once) beautiful villa’s built as summer homes before WWII by Prague’s upper-class. The village sits in a lush valley with a slow winding river, so we walked along the river and girls played in the fields and took their shoes off and played in the river.
Monday morning Katka and I went to Zlin for two days while Grandma Elena stayed with the girls in Prague. When we got to Zlin we went to Mr. Zikmund’s house to meet with him and Pani Marie. When Katka told me his house was like a museum I was not surprised, but I would describe it more as a library. I guess when you spend 10 full years visiting 107 countries you have to buy a lot of Lonely Planet Guidebooks. Just like the last time we met I came away from our time together thinking I might never have met such an outstanding and astounding person.
After our meeting with Mr. Zikmund, Katka went for a walk around Zlin with one of my students while I had a meeting with Dr. Pavelkova, the accounting and finance department chair. We set up an agenda for future cooperation and collaboration. Then Katka joined us and we went to a local resort hotel for an end-of-the-year celebration with the rest of the accounting and finance department. We had dinner, played some golf, and generally had a great time. The accounting and finance department at TBU is made up of a lot of wonderful people, and I hope we will continue our relationship in the future. Tuesday morning Katka and I visited the Hanzelka and Zikmund Museum, and then headed back to Prague. Misa had a school trip to the zoo on Tuesday, and on Wednesday goes to the zoo again for Erin’s birthday party. The have a new baby gorilla there, and Misa says it is so cute that it is worth a second trip in two days.
Wednesday Misa and Katka went to the zoo again with another Fulbright family for their daughter Erin’s birthday. They had a great guide and a lot of fun despite the drizzly weather. Wednesday night Katunka went by herself to a movie with her friend. It is great to live in a city where kids can just jump on the metro to the mall, movie theater, school, friend’s house, etc. Thursday night Katka went to BISP to get Katunka’s grades. Of course she did fine and all of her teachers love her.
Friday was my last day teaching at VSFS in Prague. I had a great class here, and got a lot of thanks and compliments from my students. Friday night the girls went to see the movie Madagascar. Like most kids’ movies in Czech it was dubbed so I didn’t go. I did get some shopping and work done. Saturday Misa and I had a father-daughter day in Prague. First we went to Letna Park on the north side of town. Think Central Park without the lakes but a better view. After exploring the park we went to the National Technical Museum. Basically they trace the history of various technologies over time, such as transportation, cameras, microprocessors, chronometers, astronomy, etc. -- very cool, just my thing.
On Sunday we spent the day in Jahodnice. As you might know, there is a very strange hair-color craze in the Czech Republic these days. It started a few years ago when women started coloring their hair various shades of fuchsia. Slowly (thankfully) the blue was phased out, and now everyone has various shades of red, maroon, chestnut, crimson, scarlet, ruby, burgundy, cherry, copper, pink, etc. and I felt left out. So I colored my hair red. Now I fit right in.
In the afternoon we went to Sabina’s for a BBQ. Her brother and his wife are here visiting from America, so we got to see them again, as well as Scott, Daniela and their son Josie, Sabina’s mom, Sabina’s daughter Laura and Sabina’s boyfriend Michal who visited us last year in California, and Sabina’s mom’s boyfriend’s son and his family, plus a whole bunch of neighborhood girls that came over to go swimming. It was great because Misa got to go swimming and had a big group of girls to play with, and Katka and I got to spend a relaxing afternoon with a bunch of neat people that we might not get to see again until next summer because things are going to get really hectic starting tomorrow.
Katunka also had a busy weekend. Friday night after the movie she went to hey dad’s, then on Saturday she had an all day party with friend’s from school at one of their family’s summer house, then on Sunday she went to the water park with her cousin and then met us at Sabina’s house.
I have put together a crossword puzzle for you to try about our visit to the Czech Republic. I think all of the answers can be found in my updates, good luck!
Update 6-19-05 (from Katka)
Everything is fine. I know I did not write for a while, at least in English. I just finished a couple of letters in Czech, about our trips to Germany and Scandinavia. It was about ten pages. I do have a lot of readers by now. It is fun.
Bruce keeps you updated anyway. Bruce likes his time in Czech a lot. He finished teaching in both schools now. He was sad to say goodbye, especially in Zlin where he knew his students a bit better. Zlin is Bruce's second favorite city in Czech now. I went to Zlin with Bruce for the last goodbye party. I also talked to some of his students. They really liked the style of Bruce's teaching. It was very new and challenging for them, even hard. I think, they will always remember Bruce. He made school fun for them. School in Czech is usually not too much fun.
The girls are living by their schools now. They have one and a half weeks and they will be done. Little Katerina is going to camp for a week with her class on Monday. They will go to the Krkonose Mountains north of Prague. It is a beautiful place, full of woods, hills, and nature. Katerina is also riding the metro in Prague by herself now. She likes to meet her friends and got to see some movie. Last Friday her class had a special sport day in one of Prague's sport's fields. She took the metro and tram all by herself and found everything all right. She met her friend Elishka half way and had her cell phone with her as well. They had a great day. Katerina is the fastest runner in her class. We think she should run more even when she gets back to California. Everybody thinks it would be a waste to let her talent go.
Michaela had an art day at her school. I came to help. I had fun with the students and the moms who came to help as well. Each of us came from a different part of the world. I could practice all of the languages I know and what was even better that if I forgot some vocabulary I could just switch back to Czech or English. All of the children spoke at least two language (Czech and English) and then, in some cases, something else. Michaela was also picked as the best reader of her class. She does not think she is the best, I think she is hard on herself sometimes. Definitely the British school is a great experience for all of us.
My mom is in Croatia. (It is a part of former Yugoslavia). Croatia is a favorite place to go for vacation for Czechs. As you know, Czech does not have a sea or an ocean and most Czechs love to go for vacation to the places where they have the ocean. They are willing to spend all of their money just to see the ocean at least once a year. Czechs also believe that they will be much healthier, in the coming year, if they go to the ocean. They believe that the ocean air and salt water is sort of medication. Therefore my sister and her youngest daughter are also in Croatia now but in a different place than my mom. My mom just left and my sister is coming back tomorrow. People like the countries from the former Yugoslavia because it is not so far from Czech and the prices are friendly to Czechs, also the language is similar. Other favorite places are Italy, the same Adriatic Sea as in Yugoslavia, then Greece, Bulgaria's Black sea, Spain and lately it is fashionable to go to resorts in Egypt. For Czechs with more money are common places to go to Mallorca or Canary Islands by Africa. Very popular is becoming the island Mauritius. Although it is very far, Czechs are starting to go there more and more often. Most of my girlfriends (home stay moms) are already gone to the sea with their small children since the beginning of June.
It was fun to be here and watch for a while all things that are going on in Europe, especially the development of the EU is interesting. I am always so curious how things will go and what will happen next. The view from Europe is different on the global things than the view from America. Everybody is looking at things by their position and interest. The media play the key roll. European mentality is very different then the American. Many people are thinking that our mentalities are the same or at least similar but the more I know America I see huge differences. Europeans think that the mentalities must be the same because Americans came from Europe anyway. Europeans sometimes do not understand or forget that not all Americans came from Europe and that America is not the young country that everybody thinks, and had plenty of time to develop and form its own mentality and traditions. People on both sides should try harder to understand each other and respect each other's opinions.
We are having very warm weather. Mostly pleasant for Czech lands. Most of our things are sorted out and we will be moving out this place in the mid of July. My dad decided to buy our car from us. I do not think it was his original plan but I also think he fell in love with the car while we had it. It saved us some hassle in the end.
Monday morning Stig and Birgitta Singheimer came to visit us from Sweden. I took them on my now legendary “how to see Prague in 2 days” tour on Monday and Wednesday, with Katka joining us when she had time. On Tuesday Katka, Misa, Stig, Birgitta, and I all went to visit the Konopiste Castle outside of Prague. Then we returned home to our apartment for dinner and home movies.
On Thursday Misa had a sports day at school, so Katka went to watch her. Amazingly she won the race of fastest girl in her class, so evidently Misa and Katunka are both fast runners. I know I’m not, but Katka has often spoke of her speed in her youth (with ribbons, medals, and certificates to prove it), so apparently the girls both got it from her. When Misa got home I asked her about the race. She said, “I was going to be in third place, so I just ran faster so I would win.”
I had a meeting on Thursday with my friend Alan who just got a new job as President of the Anglo American College in Prague. We are working on a plan for a study-abroad program in the Czech Republic for Chapman students next summer.
Katunka is in the Krkonose Mountains north of Prague with her school this week. Today they had to hike to where they will sleep tonight and build their own shelters. Luckily it is quite warm these days and doesn’t look like rain tonight; we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
This weekend was a bit calmer than most as we knew the next few weeks were going to be crazy around here so we took it easy. Friday night Katunka came home from her week in the Krkonose Mountains north of Prague. She was there with her school all week. It sounds like they had a great time, but she was exhausted and covered with bug bites.
On Saturday Katka and her dad went to Sumava (in south Czech) to visit their relatives there. Her mom was still in Croatia. Katunka went for a walk through Prague with her dad’s family, her cousins Romanka and Verunka, and her best friend Elishka. Misa and I were taking advantage of the day to play, when we gat an SMS from Katunka that they were playing basketball in Wenceslas Square. So we headed into Prague and sure enough there was a 3-on-3 tournament right there in the middle of Wenceslas Square. I was kind of bummed I didn’t know about it to sign up but after watching them for a bit I don’t know if I would have been able to compete with them. After watching a while we went to the movie “The Pacifier.”
On Sunday Misa and I played in the morning and then we went with Katka to the Andel Mall to go shopping for presents for our friends in Italy we will visit next week, and for Sabina who will have a baby next month.
Monday the girls started there last week of school. Katka and I met my friend Alan for coffee and then he took us on a tour of his new school. It is a college in Prague where all of the instruction is in English. They have about 300 students now, from 58 countries. About 60% of their students are either Czech or Slovak.
On Tuesday Romana came over for a nice long visit before lunch, and then when the girls came home from school Grandma Katya came and stayed for dinner. Katka took her home on Tuesday night and then went to Sabina’s house for a visit. Days like this are why we wanted to live in the Czech Republic for seven months.
Wednesday was the girls last day of school. I think the girls were a little sad to see the school year end, Katunka especially misses seeing her friends every day, and Misa misses her friends and her teacher, but is probably happier not to have to go to school every day. Wednesday night we went to TGI Fridays for dinner to celebrate the end of the school year and the girls doing so well.
Thursday we all went to Jahodnice where we got to see grandma and grandpa and all of Romana’s kids. Katka gave Davidek a haircut and Romanka and Misa played in the backyard and picked berries while I put our Sweden and Norway trip pictures on Katya and Mila’s computer. In the afternoon Katunka went to spend the night with Grandma Elena, and Misa built a snail habitat for her new pets, two snails she brought home from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Thursday night Katka went for dinner with the “Friday Night Girls.” Three of her clients used to come together to her shop once a month on a Friday nights and get their hair done and hang out: socialize, drink wine, eat some good food, etc. We still see Hana and Simona every time we visit, but this time even Jana came -- it was the first time Katka had seen her in 9 years. On Friday Misa finally got her wish, to spend the whole day at home in her pajamas. She painted, watched a movie, played with me, played with her snails, etc. I thought she would get bored, but I’m afraid she had so much fun she wants to do it again!
Last Saturday afternoon we flew to Rome for a week in Italy. We arrived in Rome Saturday evening and hurried to the train station to catch a train into the city from the airport. It was getting late, and I knew it would take a while to find our hotel, so I was in a rush and not being careful. When we got on the train I realized I left my suitcase at the airport. So after we got to our hotel at 9pm, I had to go back and try to find it. Luckily the police had it for me at their station in the train station. I am surprised they did not destroy it thinking it might be a bomb. Nothing was missing. Needless to say I need to learn to relax sometimes and not be in such a hurry all the time, but this time I was lucky and everything turned out OK.
Sunday morning we took an early train north to the other side of the country to a resort town called Pesaro on the Adriatic (Riviera Adriatica). We were met there by our friend Michaela Masci and her family (husband Paulo, daughter Tereska 8 yrs, and Davidek 4 yrs). Michaela has been Katka’s friend since they were 3 years old, and now lives in a small village about 50 miles from Pesaro. You might remember that she and her sister Romana were the two witnesses at our wedding.
We spent a great day at the beach and evening in the town of Pesaro -- with the Masci family heading home about 9pm and returning at 3pm on Monday and again spending the afternoon and evening with us. On Monday they brought Romana’s daughter Kristynka (11 yrs) with them, so Katunka and Misa both had a buddy to play/swim with. Romana and her family picked up Kristynka before dinner on Monday, so I got to meet her husband Tizziano and son Patricio (3 yrs).
Tuesday we went sightseeing around Pesaro in the morning, and then in the afternoon went to the beach to meet a Canadian girl named Isabella that Misa met Monday when we were in town during our lunch break. On Monday we were at the park playing with Isabella and Misa and Isabella went on the seesaw. Isabella asked Misa how much she weighed. Misa said, in Czech I weigh 18, in America 40, but I don’t know how much I weigh in Italy.” Isabella’s dad is Italian and her family was there visiting grandparents that live in Pesaro. Tuesday we took an evening train back to Rome and finally all got to sleep at almost 11:00.
Wednesday we took a sort of self-guided walking tour of Rome: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Campidoglio, the Monument Victor Emanuele, Trajan’s Column and Forum, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps. Thursday we spent at the Vatican and Vatican Museum, finishing with the Sistine Chapel.
The girls were so good Wednesday and Thursday with all of the walking and sightseeing that as a kind of reward we went to a water park called Aquafelix on Friday. Katunka wanted to go to Pompeii but we thought the 5 hour round-trip train ride and walking through all of the ruins with Misa might have been a bit much after two really full days in Rome. Now of course we have a reason to go back.
The weather actually cooled down on Friday, which might seem like a bad thing since we were going to a water park, but it turned out well. On Thursday it was 29 degrees Celsius and there were 1,500 people at Aquafelix; on Friday it was 24 degrees Celsius and there were 200 people at Aquafelix. That was warm enough for us, and we didn’t have to wait in any lines. I’m pretty sure we had a lot more fun, as it seemed like we had the whole park to ourselves.
On Friday night at dinner I asked the girls what was their favorite day of the whole trip, expecting them to choose either one of the days at the beach or the water park, but much to my surprise and delight both said the walking tour of Rome on Wednesday, and Katka said the day at the Vatican or one of the days with Michaela Masci’s family.
We flew home Saturday afternoon; Mila picked us up at the airport and took us to Jahodnice for dinner. Katka’s Uncle Edmund is here visiting from San Francisco, so we had a nice visit with him and then headed home to get ready for next week… which you will have to wait to hear about in my next update.
Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday Katka and I packed up our apartment while Katunka was in Sumava with Martin and her friend Elishka and Misa was at Grandma and Grandpa’s in Jahodnice. Pack up our apartment means “throw away stuff until whatever is left fits into 8 suitcases.” Lance and Kris took back a large suitcase of my winter things when they visited in April, and we will mail back 2 small boxes with some of the girls’ toys and gifts they received here, but other than that we are taking back about 100 cubic feet less than we brought over (the large crate we shipped). We knew that it would be close to impossible to pack with the girls around (“…but Mom, I have to take those 100 seashells we found in Italy back to California, who knows when we’ll get to the ocean again…”).
On Tuesday we went to lunch with Katka’s Uncle Edmund. Every time he and Aunt Georgina visit they visit their family and friends out for a big dinner, and Edmund continued the tradition even though Georgina did not come to Prague with him this time. Most of the people there grew up or lived in Jahodnice, many of them went to school with Georgina and remembered Katka’s grandma very well. Every one of them had a memory or a comment about how she touched their lives. Misa met us there with Grandma and went back to Pankrac with us.
Wednesday morning we finished packing the last minute things like the kitchen and bathrooms, and at 1:00 the truck and moving crew showed up. Grandpa Mila was in the truck organizing it, Honza, Katka, and Misa were upstairs taking things to the elevator, Davidek was taking the elevator full of things from the 5th floor to the ground floor, and Davidek’s friend Mirek and I were on the ground floor taking everything from the elevator to the truck. We were done loading at 2:00. Romana and Romanka picked up Misa and took her to the Europark Mall with them for the afternoon while the rest of us drove to Jahodnice and were done unloading and unpacking by 3:30 -- amazing.
I was wondering how I would feel moving out of our apartment, and I wasn’t really emotional at all. Even though it was home for 7 months, moving out was easy. I remember moving out of the dorm for the first time after my freshman year at CU and having a sort of empty feeling. I had that same feeling when we moved from New Hampshire to California, and also the last day I was in Zlin. After being here a few months I started thinking of our apartment as home, and not like a visitor or someone living in a foreign country. I even remember the first time I saw a couple studying a map as I walked to the bus to go to Zlin, shaking my head and thinking – “humph -- tourists.” One reason might be that I also feel very much at home in Jahodnice. I have a lot of memories here; for example I spent 6 weeks here the winter when Katka and I got married and wrote a good chuck of my dissertation. Now we have the apartment on the first floor of the house fixed up just the way we like it, and it is very comfortable here for me. Maybe I’ll have that empty feeling in a couple of weeks when we move back to California, we’ll see.
Romanka spent the night Wednesday in Jahodnice to play with Misa. Thursday morning Katka and I dropped off some things in the Fulbright office and took our DSL modem back to the Czech Telecom office. Thursday afternoon we took Romanka home and stayed for a nice visit with Romana. We also stopped by Pavel’s car dealership. It was supposed to be a Nissan dealership but instead it is a Kia dealership. They decided that Kia was a better choice for now because Nissans are too expensive for most Czechs and they are not selling too well. It looks like everything is pretty much done but it is not open yet.
Thursday night we played badminton and enjoyed the beautiful evening before heading to bed. The weather this summer has been very strange. It is always either raining hard, or hot and humid, almost tropical. Friday we met with our landlord and signed back over the apartment and arranged for paying the last phone bill. Then we packed for our trip to London and Paris.
We arrived in London Saturday night (the 16th) and took the train in to Victoria Station. We were upstairs in the station eating supper when a voice came over the loudspeaker “Everyone please leave the station immediately by the nearest exit.” Everyone left calmly but quickly, even the shopkeepers. It was a bit scary, but more I was wondering if we hadn’t made a mistake coming here. Luckily everything has been great since, and except for a few tube lines and stations being closed and maybe more police and less people than usual here everything seems normal.
We went up in the London Eye Sunday morning, then down the river to the Tower of London. After lunch at Starbucks, which are now everywhere here, we took a tour of the fortress and saw the crown jewels. We were very hot, so we took a break back at our hotel and then walked up to Trafalgar Square for dinner and people watching.
On Tuesday Katunka’s friends Elishka joined us for the day. We started with a walk through St. James Park, and then to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. After lunch we toured Westminster Abbey and walked around the Parliament building. We then had dinner at Covent Garden, watched some street performers, and took Elishka home. It was great to have her with us for the day.
Wednesday we toured St. Paul’s Cathedral, walked across the Millennium Bridge to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and spent the afternoon at Madame Taussad’s Wax Museum. I think Madame Taussad’s was 10 times as good as I thought it would be -- very fun if you are in the right mood. To give you an idea of how expensive everything is here, imagine that all of the prices are pretty much the same as in America, except they are in pounds, so double that to get dollars.
Wednesday we took the train to Paris from London through the Channel Tunnel. We were only in the Chunnel 20 minutes. I thought it might be more exciting, I don’t know why it would be though. Wednesday night we went for a walk on the Champs Elyssee and up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Thursday we went to Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, and The Arc de Triumph. Friday we went to the Louvre and Versailles. We were all pretty tired, and maybe did not see as much in Paris as I had hoped, but I am sure the girls will remember the Eiffel Tower lit up at night and seeing the Mona Lisa. Saturday morning we had to get up at 5:00 to make our flight to Prague. Our flight was delayed more than 2 hours, so we got into Prague at around noon.
On Sunday Romana’s family stooped by around noon, and then we had a BBQ outside with Sabina, Michal, and Laura; Romana and Romanka; Romana (from Italy) with Kristynka and Patricio; and Pedro.
Monday we mailed 2 boxes to the USA with the girls’ toys and Christmas presents, and then went to Pankrac for the last time to pick up the phone bill for payment and turn in our last set of keys. The phone bill wasn’t there, so I spent the afternoon going to Czech Telecom to find out the amount and then to the post office to pay the bill. Because only businesses in Czech have checking accounts, most people pay their bills at the post office. Now more and more people are starting to pay their bills the way we did, which is to have their bank transfer the funds electronically. To do that you either go to your bank and fill out a piece of paper with the instructions, or do it over the Internet.
On Tuesday Katka and I packed, while Romana brought Kristynka over to spend the day with Katunka, and our friend Marcella stopped by for a while with her twin 5 year old girls Michaela and Tereska to play with Misa. In the afternoon we went for a long walk to take Kristynka home, and we stayed for short a visit so Katunka could play with Kristynka some more and Misa could play with Kristynka’s cousin Deniska.
Wednesday morning we were up at 4:00 for our 7:45am flight to London. When we got on the plane the captain announced, “Last night in London they were doing some repair work on one of the runways at Heathrow airport. Due to rain the concrete did not dry and they are only able to use one runway this morning. As a result we will be delayed 1-2 hours.” “Oops, I guess since we only have a one hour layover in London we’ll miss our flight to LA.” So we got onto a later flight to LA, getting in at 4:00 with 7 of our 8 suitcases. This year I learned that in the future I will avoid British Airways and Heathrow whenever possible. Almost every time we fly British Airways we have some problems, either lost/late arriving suitcases, delayed/canceled flights, etc.
After going to British Airways to report our missing suitcase we went to Dollar Rent-A-Car to pick up our minivan. There was about a 2 hour line for check in, so we called a limousine company and rode home in style. The cost was the same as the rental car, and now I don’t have to worry about returning the car to LAX.
When we got home our neighbors the Ramages were outside. The girls had made welcome home signs for our garage door, and Dave and Donna put up a large “Welcome Home” sign in our yard. Donna saw that we were late getting back so she gave our house key to Kimberley to let the gas man into the house, so basically everything was about perfect when we got home except the back yard was very dry, and about half of our grass and plants are dead. I don’t think the trip would have worked without everyone’s help, but especially the twins taking care of the front and outside of our house, Dave and Donna checking on the inside, and Aunt Barb taking care of Lilly.
Speaking of Lilly, on Thursday I drove up to LA to meet Aunt Barb, Barb F., and Lilly at Dr. Jackson’s office. We were supposed to meet at 4:30, but due to stop-and-go traffic on the 405 I got there about 6:00. Luckily they were still waiting for me, and I got to meet Dr. Jackson and see Aunt Barb and Barb F. Traffic was better going home and when I got home at 8:30 Misa was still up waiting to see Lilly, but Katunka had already crashed. Amazingly none of us really had any jet lag, we’re just going to bed a bit earlier than normal and waking up a bit early.
During the night the 8th and final suitcase arrived. Now we’re just waiting for the 2 boxes we mailed. Most everything is unpacked, and in a few days I think life will be pretty much back to normal.
If I had to sum up my experiences in one sentence, it would be to quote my fellow Fulbright Scholar Mary Bockover: “I never learned so much about America as when I lived in the Czech Republic.” The final verdict after 7 months is that I learned that life in Czech is much better than I previously understood, but that life in the USA is also much better than I previously thought.