Prague, AIPES, American Institute on Political and Economic Systems, The Fund for American Studies, TFAS

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hilen at Heathrow...?

Hilen traveled to Spain after AIPES and just sent an email yesterday about being en route to London on her way back to the States....... Crazy timing with all the drama at Heathrow!!! I hope her flight schedule isn't too disrupted...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Weight a Minute...?

So yesterday, after four weeks of eating a whole lot of junk (since my Prague diet consisted primarily of fried foods, ice cream, pastries, and such) and working out sporadically at best, I got on the scale to assess the damage. I almost fell onto the floor when I saw the results. According to my scale, I have not gained any weight from before my trip!

This must mean one of two things--either:

1) I've been working out and eating healthy for God knows how many years for no good reason,


2) My scale is broken and I really weigh 350 pounds.

Hmmm, I hope I don't weight 350 pounds.

Random Pics II

I just keep finding new pics to post as the students add to Here's another from the country presentation night...

Lou, Claudia (Romania), me, and Tamas (Hungary)... Claudia is super sweet and goes to Northwestern University. Tamas is also really sweet! He was kind enough to explain a little bit about soccer to me during the World Cup championship.

Here's one of the four TAs with Matt... This was in Bechyne before the jazz festival. This was when we ordered the enchiladas w/ ketchup and the "hot love" dessert.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Random Pics

...I've pulled these off of, which everyone agreed to use to share their photos. (If you want, you can go to zoto and put "AIPES" in the search field.)

Here's one of a bunch of students at the U.S. Ambassador's residence. It was nice to be on U.S. soil if only because there were (finally!) iced beverages!! From right to left: Marco (from Croatia), Lorena (also from Croatia, I believe), Brady (from the U.S.), and Neli (from Bulgaria).

Here's one from country presentation night. Me with Iuliana from Moldova... She was totally camera happy--she took pictures everywhere. Of everyone. Many times. :-)

One of Iuliana and Christina (also of Moldova)... Two of the nicest girls!

And one of Iuliana and Diaz (of Kazakhstan) at the Ambassador's residence...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


So it occurred to me that in all this time, I never really posted about AIPES or how I got involved in this awesome program.

AIPES stands for the American Institute on Political and Economic Studies. It is a program sponsored by The Fund for American Studies (or TFAS). Fourteen years ago, after the fall of Communism, these American guys decided it would be a great idea to establish an academic program in Central/Eastern Europe on capitalism and democracy. That's how AIPES was born. The program started with two professors from Georgetown University. The politics professor, Jim Lengle, is still teaching in the program. But the economics professor has been rotating. Mike Veseth, the International Political Economy department director at the University of Puget Sound, taught the economics component last year. Mike invited me last fall to come to Prague as a teaching assistant, so that's basically how I got involved.

The Fund has programs all over the world: Hong Kong, Greece, D.C., etc. The Greece program is about conflict resolution, so it's mostly for students from the Middle East. About 10 students or so in this year's Greece program are Lebanese... and they just happened to leave Lebanon shortly before the airport was blown up. These students have no way of going home! So now TFAS is working on trying to find places for the students to study in the States (if they want to) so they don't fall behind in their coursework. So sad!

Here are some links about TFAS and AIPES.

Lou's Funny Stories

So Lou, the 4th TA, had some hilarious stories. So our breakfast conversations were always like this

Lou: Wendy, did I ever tell you about that time when my girlfriend in high school bought me this really big gold chain for my birthday?

Me: Um... No....

Lou: So, I had this girlfriend in high school... and for my birthday, she bought me this really big, gold-plated chain......."

[Me: Sitting there wondering what the hell he was talking about....]

But the best story went like this:

Lou: Wendy, did I ever tell you about that time when I got beat up by a bunch of kids?"

Me: Um... No...

Lou: So my friend and I were walking to the bus stop and I was counting my change when this guy--he looked like he was about 12--comes up and says, "Give me your money!" I was like, "No. I need it for the bus." So the guy says to my buddy, "Give me your watch!" And my friend goes, "No." So the kid goes away and my buddy and I kept walking to the bus stop. A few minutes later, the guy comes back with like 10 of his friends and they start hitting us and pounding on us and we tried to run away, but they just kept hitting us.

Me (horrified): Oh my god! How old were you when this happened?!

Lou: 22.

I almost died laughing... The guy does have a good sense of humor.

He's also really into puns. One night, he and I were walking back from somewhere and he goes, "What do you call two politicians in Prague doing a tightrope act?" And I was like, "Um. I don't know--what?" So he starts laughing at his own joke as he answers: "Czechs and balances."

He reeled off like 6 of them in a row. He must have been thinking of them in advance. Here is a sampling:

What do you call a girlfriend you meet in Prague? (Answer: Czech mate)

What do you say to the cashier at a grocery store in Prague? (Answer: Czech me out)

What do you call a person in Prague on a pogo stick? (Answer: Bounced Czech)

Ugh. I hate puns.

Other Prog Blogs

Here's a link to a blog from a student's perspective. Michael Collins was in my discussion group--he is a super smart student.

And here's a link to Mike Veseth's blog.

Pictures from Graduation Day

So the last day in Prague started with the economics final exam... Then, we had a break for lunch... Then we had the graduation ceremony... And after that was the graduation party.

Here's a picture of the exam I proctored--70 students taking the econ exam for graduate credit... which means 70 exams I have to grade in the next couple of weeks!! Ack!

Here's one from lunch after the final exam, but before the graduation ceremony. Mike's favorite meal in Prague is pork knuckle. On his first day in Prague, we had lunch at this pub (one of the only air-conditioned restaurants in Prague) and he had a pork knuckle then too. On the last day, we decided to go to the same place so he could have another one... He ate the whole thing both times... along with a big glass of pivo of course!

Following the graduation ceremony, there was a nice reception--here's one from the reception: me with Peter (from Slovakia) on the left and Pavel (from the Czech Republic) on the right. They were two of the nicest guys!

Here's another one from the graduation reception. That's Jan (the Czech logistics guy--Mr. Janda!) on the left.

And this is Jan, Hilen, me, Kirsten, and Matt at the graduation party. Matt is smashed. Matt and Jan are wearing t-shirts we had made for them as thank-you gifts. :-) Matt's says "The best of... the best of the best of the best........." (It was an ongoing joke through the 3-week program because of Matt's speech at orientation.) Jan's says "Husband For Hire. JJ fixes everything" in Spanish. We got it because Jan is the fix-it guy. Whenever anything went wrong, we called on Jan to fix it. And it's in Spanish because Jan is learning Spanish--he speaks like 5 languages. He's amazing! Ahhh, good times.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Top Ten Reasons I'm Glad to be Back in the US

*** And here's a top 10 list of reasons I'm glad to be back in America/Seattle:

10) Free water in restaurants. Everyone knows I generally don't drink water, but it's like the song says: "You don't know what you've got til it's gone..." So I must like water at least somewhat. Also: Drinks served above room temperature!! People in Eastern Europe believe that if you drink something cold, you'll get sick, so drinks are served kinda lukewarm--gross!

9) The ability to customize my meals--in the Czech Republic, people just don't understand what you mean when you ask them to "hold the mayonnaise and cheese and substitute spinach for lettuce."

8) Deodorant. That is, other people wearing some.

7) The weather: I came home to overcast, gloomy skies and 68 degree weather. I don't care if it's cold, I love it.

6) Air conditioning... You know it's scarce when restaurants in Prague actually have signage advertising that they have air conditioning. The general lack of air conditioning combined with #8 made for an awfully smelly city.

5) Peanut butter. This is a delicacy that is totally underappreciated by Europeans.

4) Knowing where the hell things are. Even in 3 weeks, I still didn't know where I was half the time.

3) Starbucks. In Seattle, you can't throw a rock and not hit one. It seems excessive until you go abroad and there isn't a single Starbucks in sight. For some bizarre reason, the big chain in Prague is KFC. It isn't even McDonald's!

2) My friends and family: I can't wait to catch up with everyone!! (And free phone calls to my family... after too many $20 phone calls from the CR... Uh, yeah, I checked my phone bill some time during the first week and now I'm way too scared to check it again.)

1) MY BABY, SIDNEY!!! He's now only 2 states away and I'll have him back in 3 weeks!!!!

Top Ten Things I'll Miss About Prague

OK, so a top 10 of things I'll always remember about Prague/AIPES 2006.

10) Shakira, "Hips Don't Lie" -- it was played in every single club and at every single party at least 5 times.

9) Pilsner Urquell... The first beer I would have to say I enjoyed. Maybe because I finally drank enough beer to acquire a taste for it.

8) Corollary to #9: The fact that beer in Prague is cheaper than water blows my mind. Beer is usually about 20 KC (less than $1). Water is usually about 30KC (more than $1).

7) The architecture is so amazing--the really grand/old buildings are obviously stunning to look at, but I really enjoyed looking at the exterior doors on all the small buildings. The doors all had so much character. Doors in all shapes and sizes and styles... Really cool. Here's one I especially liked. (For some reason, I can't get the pictures to upload correctly.)

6) Hot Love. We had some good laughs when Lou ordered "Hot Love" as a dessert in this small town and we pissed off the waitresses because we were laughing at it so much.

5) Flaming absinthe shots. No hallucinations, but that was some potent stuff and lighting it on fire was scary. Absinthe is 70% alcohol, which I believe is 140 proof, but a lot of the alcohol burns off when you light it on fire. (See photo at this link.) My camera died before we lit our shots on fire, which is disappointing.)

The guy on the left is the older brother of one of our students--I only met him that day, but I thought he was super nice and adorable. He'd done the AIPES program in 2003 and came to watch the graduation ceremony. I met him at the ceremony and he coerced me into doing an absinthe shot with him. I coerced the other TAs into also doing a shot with us. Anyway, the guy is really cool; he's only 27 and he worked as the Economics Adviser to the Prime Minister of Slovakia until the Prime Minister lost the last election. He said that because of the transition, older people who still have the old Communist mentality just aren't as employable as young people who have been raised with new ideas about democracy/capitalism.

4) Such a great pedestrian city with efficient public transit... You know it's a city designed for walking because the sidewalks get way more space in the right-of-way than the street does. Sidewalks are like 20 feeet wide. Everyone walks everywhere and takes the metro (the subway). I think all the walking in the 90 degree heat/90% humidity is the only reason I didn't gain 10 pounds from the food...

3) And speaking of the food. I will miss the pastries (cheese and fruit pastries and croissants) and the gelato-like ice cream. Hilen, Kirsten, and I had ice cream together all the time and our favorite place was called "Cream and Dream." It was the best!

2) The feeling of being in such an international city--there were people from so many different nationalities in Prague. It was amazing to experience. Seattle has a long way to go in this regard!!

1) The people--especially at the Country Presentation Dinner. It was one of the most moving experiences to see all these groups of students really come together and cheer for each other in spite of cultural conflicts (i.e., the Russians and the former Soviet countries; the Bosnians and the Serbians; etc.) I really enjoyed getting to know everyone on this trip and I felt like I really bonded Kirsten, Hilen, Mike, and Sue, and a number of the students.

Prague: The Epilogue

As most everyone knows, I had an absolutely amazing time in Prague. More than anything, it was the people who made the trip. Hilen and Kirsten and I became really, really close. I really hope we'll see each other again. Hilen is talking about a trip to Seattle, and Kirsten and I are both thinking about a pilgrimage to DC to visit Hilen. I also plan to get in touch with Alex (the cool Bulgarian kid who I hooped with in Prague) when I'm in Boston in January--he'll be at Boston College working on his MBA. This American kid (Tyson) and this other Kazakhstani dude (Dias) were also talking about going to Boston some time in January to visit so we may try to plan it so we can all get together. I can't remember if we were talking about this before the two of them were smashed or after, but they were very excited about the prospect of them (Alex, Tyson, and Dias) hanging out with me and my sister in Boston. LOL. I think they must have been drunk. Anyways, we'll see.

Here's a picture of us 4 TAs celebrating the end of the program. We went to a Brazilian rodizio place the night before the econ final--yum, yum!

Buchki, Buchki, Buchki! Celebrating the End of Classes

(Originally posted 7/26/06; revised 7/31/06)
Today is the last day of leading discussion groups. Tomorrow is the exam. I am sad to see the program ending, but at the same time a little relieved.

It was like non-stop running. Our daily schedule (while we were teaching) looked something like this:

6:30 a.m.: Wake up, shower, get dressed
7-7:30 a.m.: Wait in line for breakfast
7:30 a.m.: Breakfast, re-read articles for discussion groups
8:30 a.m.: Leave for class
9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.: Mike's lecture
12:15 p.m.-1:15 p.m.: 1st discussion group
1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.: 2nd discussion group
2:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m.: Guest lecture
4:00-4:30 p.m.: Head back to the dorms
4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.: Nap, shower, begin prepping for next day
6:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.: Dinner at the dorm or with Matt and the other TAs
7:00 p.m.-?: Read and prep for the next day's discussion groups
(some times 9:00 p.m.-?: Go out to a pub or club with the students)
Midnight-6:30 a.m.: Sleep!

That's the Monday-Friday schedule. Saturdays also generally are packed with events scheduled all day! Even though they were optional for the TAs, we always went along with what the students were doing. Sundays were our only free days--and even then, we had (optional) events planned.

Getting back to the classes... Overall, I have to say I've been disappointed in how my discussion groups have gone. It's been hard to get the students totally interested in the discussions because (1) they party all night so we're lucky they show up to the discussion groups; (2) the rooms are all lecture rooms so everyone faces me instead of each other and you have to shout to be heard; and (3) the rooms are all 100 degrees and everyone is ready to pass out from the heat.

So this morning one of the girls told me that they all love the discussion groups in spite of the room problems. She said that if everyone weren't out partying all night they would probably be more animated during the discussions, but that she was telling people from Kirsten's group how she and others in my sections were lucky because they got the "cool TA." :-) LOL. These kids know how to suck up. We have heard rumors through Hilen that Kirsten is known as the "mean TA" and I'm known as the "nice/easy TA." I'm not sure which is really better, but I guess I'd glad to have a reputation for being a nice TA. Here are pictures of my two discussion groups (though a lot of students from one group switched into the other group for some reason, so one of the groups looks really small and the other looks really big)...

To celebrate the end of the program (almost), Mike and Sue took Kirsten and me out to dinner at a swanky restaurant on the Charles River. In front of the restaurants stood the best statues in Prague. And there are thousands of statues in Prague!

Link to photo -- for some reason, this photo won't upload!! But it's a MUST-SEE!

Are these statues not spectacular?

Unfortunately, I still was less satisfied by the food at the swanky restaurant. Upscale food in Prague is surprisingly dismal. We were seated outside right on the water in this cool, ultra-modern restaurant with great ambience. But surprisingly, the food was kind of so-so. I had prawns with rice and vegetables cooked in a parchment paper. (The menu description made it sound better than that.) It was OK--the prawns weren't that fresh and the flavor was kind of bland. The salad I had as a starter was totally swimming in dressing--it tasted good, I guess, but it was not a good salad by Seattle "five-star restaurant" standards... But it was a lot of fun to get out of the dorm and have a nice night with the econ crew.

Anyways, so fine dining in Prague may be one of the least remarkable aspects about this great city. Street hot dogs and pub food are great, but fine dining kind of sucks. Last week, we went to this spendy restaurant up this humongous hill with an amazing view. The food was quite expensive for Prague and sounded pretty elegant from the descriptions. I ordered "chicken breast wrapped in pastry" and "potato croquettes." The pastry-wrapped chicken turned out to be a breaded and fried chicken breast. The potato croquettes were like Ore-Ida tater tots, but perfectly round like those cheese balls that come in a can. Ick. But whatever. It's all better than the dorm food and since all these meals are on "The Fund" (The Fund for American Studies is the non-profit that sponsors the AIPES program) we don't have to pay for them... and I, for one, am happy with any meal that The Fund wants to buy me.

(BTW, "buchki" is a drinking cheer in Georgia. It was the most repeated phrase throughout the end of AIPES. It refers to a bush--when everyone raises their glasses together to toast, it looks like the branches of a bush.)

Pictures from Country Presentation Dinner

Here are a bunch of pictures from the dinner...

One of the wine guys...

The Romanians...

The Georgian dancers...

Me, wearing a wreath that (per Polish custom) is supposed to help single women find a mate. (Good, I need all the help I can get.)

The 4 TAs... From right to left: Lou, Hilen, me, and Kirsten

Matt (our boss) totally smashed, with props from the Russian group's presentation. (Also pictured is Tyson, one of the American kids.)

And a group photo of a bunch of the students... I HEART the AIPES kids!

Country Presentations Dinner

(Originally posted on 7/23/06)

Yesterday was a busy day. It started with a legislative simulation from 10 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m. It was followed by the annual country presentations dinner, which is the biggest event of the program. 110 students from the 25 countries had 3 minutes to present about their respective countries--and I had to MC. It was actually a lot of fun to be the MC. It turned out to be the most AMAZING night. I don't think another night here could possibly top it.

The first notable thing is how much alcohol was consumed. At the restaurant, when we walked in, there were these shots of this Czech liqueur on the table waiting for each of us. So we all started the night with a shot. Then there were like 5 servers with a jug of white wine on one shoulder and a jug of red wine on their other shoulder. (Note: I have to put the pictures in a separate post because of the size of this entry.)

Extending from each of the jugs is a hose and they use their fingers to plug the hose. They ask which you want and they just move their finger to release the wine from this hose directly into your glass. So basically they walked around filling everyone's glasses all night. Meanwhile, for the actual presentations a lot of the students brought alcohol from their countries and were pouring shots and samples all night.

After dinner, we started the country presentations. The energy was really positive and everyone was SO into it, which made it easy to MC because I didn't have to try to get the 125 or so people engaged. It was so much fun--people were just so supportive of each other, cheering each other on. My favorite was this guy named Shun. He's from Singapore, but studies at Penn State or UPenn. He is JUST SO COOL. He's one of those people who always laughs--every time he talks or you ask him a question he just smiles and beams. (He's just SO nice!!) Anyway, he is the only guy from Singapore, so he had to present by himself. But it turned out that he is a natural born performer!!! He's kind of flown under the radar for the first two weeks; he was very nice but kind of quiet in class and stuff. Then, he stole the show at the dinner. He had to perform all by himself because he was the only person from Singapore. He started his presentation by coming out and beatboxing--and he was SO, SO good!!! So then he laughs and says how that's not really a Singapore custom, so he sang the national anthem by himself and he was also an awesome singer!!!! Then later on, this other guy named Dias had to perform by himself, so he started singing the national anthem for Kazakhstan. After the first verse, Shun comes out with another mic and starts beatboxing while Dias sang the national anthem and it was SO cool! I wish I had a video!!!

I have to say that a noteworthy group was the American group. I suspect that to the Europeans, the Americans may initially have come across as kind of arrogant. At least that was my concern. But I really have a new respect for them after their skit. Their skit was basically like a top 10 list of statements starting "If Europe was the 51st state...." so they said stuff like:

"If Europe was the 51st state... we would finally have a decent football team."
"If Europe was the 51st state... just one word: Amsterdam."
"If Europe was the 51st state... we would get to hear President Bush try to pronounce names like Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan."
And the last one was, "If Europe was the 51st state, we, AIPES, would all be countrymen."

It was actually quite touching. I felt REALLY proud of them for the first time in the program.

The dinner ended on the highest note possible... There's a group of 18 Georgians. They are the largest group in the AIPES program and they have SO MUCH national pride. They hang out together and they are just totally this unified group because of how much they love their country. They're very good natured and funny. So I put them last because I knew they wanted extra time to perform. So they did these national folk dances in full costumes and everything. One girl (with an amazing voice) sang the Georgian national anthem. And then they did more dancing--really amazing choreography and everything.Then once they were done, everyone was just so pumped because the Georgians had really gotten everyone totally excited. So we just started playing all kinds of music and everyone was dancing together. Then we all went to this club downtown together. It was just an amazing night. More than anything else, this is what AIPES is about. I am so glad that I came!!

"HOT LOVE" in the Czech Republic

(Originally posted on 7/20/06)

So food in Prague continues to be interesting. Last Saturday, we went to this small town called Bechyne. It was an absolutely beautiful town, but the restaurant we ate at was not so great. I had grilled chicken breast with a honey and sweet corn sauce and pommes frites. This turned out to be a (frozen) chicken breast grilled with some honey and some canned corn thrown on it and Ore Ida style french fries.

Below is a picture of the "enchiladas" that Hilen (the Argentinian TA) ordered. If you look at the picture closely, you will see that the enchilada sauce was actually ketchup!!

It's all relative though--compared to the dorm food, we were all in heaven. (Not to totally dismiss the cuisine in Prague--I've had excellent Bratwurst, risotto, and Turkish food. Unfortunately, Mexican and other ethnic cuisines aren't well-represented here.)

But the BEST part about the restaurant was that Lou was flipping through the dessert menu and he goes, "Wow, they have Hot Love for dessert. I think I'm gonna have some Hot Love." It was the name of a dessert with vanilla ice cream and raspberries. But all the rest of the desserts had regular names like "Strawberries and Creme" and such. So when the waitress comes to take our dessert order, he says with a totally straight face, "I'd really like to have some Hot Love." We all started cracking up and this poor waitress was probably like, "Crazy Americans..." Then when he was eating the Hot Love, he managed to spill some of the ice cream and was like, "Oh, damn. I hate it when I get Hot Love all over my shirt." This whole incident was probably mostly hilarious because up until that day, Lou was totally reserved and quiet and serious all the time. Now we can't shut him up! He cracks us up.

Special Post for Rico: Manpris

(Originally posted on 7/20/06)

A few of the guys have humored me and let me take pictures of them in their manpris. There are numerous others who wear manpris as well... I thought about trying to get some pictures of random dudes on the street, but decided that would be weird even for me. So here's a sampling of the European manpri style.

First is Marco... wearing lightweight, white manpris with black shirt and black flip flops. Note how the contrasting colors draws attention to the manpris.

Here's Omar, wearing denim manpris, also with flip flops. Casual, yet stylish.

And here's Shun, rocking some khaki cargo manpris. A less risky move in the States, but I would still say that these are technically manpris.

Worse Than Vampires: Scary Marionettes

(Originally posted on 7/20/06)

We were walking home from dinner at like 10 at night on Monday. It was dark out and for some reason I looked up into one of the windows right above us because it was the only window on the street that was lit. I could see that there were these two hanging things inside that looked like corpses. They were just marionettes (which Prague is known for), but it was so freaky because they looked like TWO CHILDREN BEING HANGED. It reminded me of that scene in "The Sixth Sense," when you see those hanging bodies in the school building. It was so weird to see this in the one lit window on the street. Here's a picture I took. It's a little dark, but if you had seen it in person you would have thought it was creepy too, believe me. (We all thought it was kinda scary. Or maybe everyone else was humoring me.)

Uh-Oh. What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

(Originally posted on 7/18/06)

I don't think I've mentioned that one of the annual events (arguably, the biggest social event of the two-week program) is the country presentations dinner... At the dinner, the students from each country (21 countries are represented, I believe) will make a 2-3 minute presentation about their country. Anyways, this is a big event: Not only will all 110 students be there, but so will the professors, the TAs, the program administrators, and some random AIPES alumni who are coming in to Prague specifically for the dinner.

So last night Matt, the AIPES Program Director, and the other TAs and I were walking up this long ass hill to dinner. He recalled that I had mentioned that my friends like doing karaoke (I had mentioned that night we all went to that dive bar some time earlier in the week) and so he asked how often I do karaoke. I said, "Not that often and I think I have to be pretty drunk to actually do it... why?" And he just raised his eyebrow and said innocently, "No reason. I'm just making conversation." So then he started asking all these other random questions. Finally, when we made it up the hill he said, "OK, so do you want to know why I was asking about the karaoke thing? It's because I have heard from a secret source that you would be an excellent MC for the country presentations dinner on Saturday. And I can tell from your emails that you're pretty quick and would be a good fit, so what do you think?" I almost shit my pants. I was like, "Um, hello, have you met me?? You cannot be serious?" Unfortunately, he was. (By the way, I'm sure the secret source is my professor, Mike. I will have to ask him what kind of crack he was smoking.) But how could I say no to this request, right???

Now you all know I like to be the center of attention, but it's a lot easier when you've got funny people to play off of. It's a lot different being on the stage where you have to be entertaining on your own. And it doesn't help that Matt is freakin' hilarious and has a great stage presence--he can make anyone laugh just with his vocal inflections and facial expressions. I have a much drier sense of humor and do better playing off of other people... But whatever. I plan on drinking heavily before and after and hopefully I will forget the whole evening. Any moral support from y'all would be appreciated...

Two Students Attacked

(Originally posted on 7/17/06)

Two of our female students were attacked outside the dorm early Sunday morning. The girls were talking in front of the building when a young guy came up (apparently high or drunk or something) and started talking to them. Then all of a sudden, he just started hitting them. One girl ended up with just a minor black eye. The other ended up with a broken nose and a really severe black eye. Her eye is swollen completely shut and looks really horrendous. (This girl was vomiting blood through the night and next day, because of the amount of blood in her lungs.) We went to see the girls last night in their rooms and they both just cried and said how sorry and ashamed they felt--they were worried they were going to be expelled from the program! We told them not to be silly, that it wasn't their fault, and that we were proud of them for being so strong and wanting to continue in the program. They aren't even going to tell their parents because they don't want their parents to make them come home!! :-( These girls are such an inspiration!

Vampires and How to Defeat Them

(Originally posted on 7/13/06)

Kimi drew me this how-to manual on protecting myself from vampires here in the land of Praguvians. I feel safer already...

(Hey, has anyone verified--did Kimi really get in to MIT or is she at Boston Community College?)

Finally, Some Pictures of the City

Here are some pictures I took during the trip...

The first two are of the Prague Castle, which is the largest stone castle complex in Europe. I found a website that says that the castle was originally built in 850 A.D., though there have been a number of major renovations and expansions since then.

This one is of the cathedral at the Prague Castle. The Prague Castle is where the Czech Republic's Prime Minister resides and works. Our program manager, Jan Janda, or "Mr. Janda" as we like to call him, has a friend who works for the Prime Minister, so we got to take a special tour of the castle. It was awesome! Unfortunately, my camera died as soon as we got inside the castle, so all I have are a couple of pictures from the outside.

Here's one of the Prague Castle at night. This was taken by one of the students (Marco) during a boat trip on the Charles River. I didn't go on the trip, but the views look like they were amazing!

This is the clock in Old Town Square. It's a major tourist attraction. Every hour the clock chimes and the statues on the sides of the clock move. Two windows (above the large astrological clock) open and statues of the 12 apostles inside the tower rotate and pass by the windows. It's a major tourist attraction. You see people lining the street to wait even when it's like 12:23 p.m. and there's 37 minutes to the next hour... It's not really worth waiting that long, but I did decide to watch it when I just happened to be in the square at 2 minutes to the hour.

The Old Town Square is only about a 10 minute walk from the classroom building at Charles University. It is a major tourist destination, so the adjacent streets were almost always packed full of tourists.

Second Impressions of Life in Prague

(Originally posted on 7/12/06)

Hey fools. More thoughts on life in Prag-u...

On Fitness and Diet

Well, for starters, I am totally jonesing to play some basketball--I think it's been like five days since I played last and I'm feeling kind of slothful. (I ran this morning in the freakin' heat wave for a measly 20 minutes and was pretty proud of myself.) We finally found a court and got a ball, so should be able to start playing tonight. Otherwise, I haven't been able to work out much due to the heat and the lack of adequate gym facilities, but I am not too worried yet. This is because I am pretty much living solely on the pork (or other fried meat) dinners provided by the program. Which basically means I am eating next to nothing. Hopefully I will lose weight while I'm here since I am too cheap to buy my own food at the grocery store and I can't figure out what anything is anyway. Plus, I am sweating buckets everyday with the 90+ degree heat, so if nothing else I will lose water weight.

On Communicating with Czech Natives

Communicating with people is not so bad. Most people speak English and if I can't make myself understood verbally, I just make shadow puppets or do charades. Good thing I learned how to do charades with my friends before I left. Thanks to all my gay guy friends, I now can do RuPaul, Star Jones, and Madonna perfectly. I am confident these topics will come up in conversation with the Czech natives sooner or later.

On Dealing with the Heat

You see more men in Prag-u who are shirtless than anywhere else in the world. And while Eastern European women are beautiful and have the most amazing physiques, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for European men. Also, European men do not believe in deodorant. The past few days have been like walking around in a BO-scented oven. Totally nasty. So if you visit Europe, make sure to figure out which way the wind is blowing.

First Impressions of Life in Prague

(Originally posted on 7/11/06)

A few things to note...The food is pretty much what I expected--stuff my family would love, but that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole in the states. First night's dinner was some kind of pork with gravy and rice. The one good thing was this cucumber salad--basically cucumbers with vinegar and sugar... just like a Japanese style salad, so I enjoyed it. Everyone else thought it was weird. The second night we had a breaded and fried chicken breast with gravy and potatoes. BLECCCHHHHHH!!!

This brings me to my second point. I don't know how, but European women are unbelievably thin. I told you all how I didn't want to be like the "fat American" in Prague, but seriously dudes: I must be at like the 90th percentile (100th being the fattest). And it's not that I think that I am fat... it's just that these women are SO skinny and they're all like 6 feet tall. They make Nicole Richie look normal. YIKES!!! They are all super trendy and fashionable, so I'm a little upset that Mom encouraged me to bring less clothing. BOO! I think I'm doing all right though.

And the fashion thing brings me to my third point. There are so many man-pris out here!! Rico, I say wear your man-pris and be proud. Don't let anyone get you down--tell people you're from Spain and it will be all good (especially since Americans don't know Costa Rica from Spain anyways!). The TAs have pointed out too that the men here all seem to wear really bright colors compared to in the states. I said I hadn't really noticed that. I think I must be too used to hanging out with gay men. LOL!!!

First Hours in Prague: Let the Mayhem Begin

(Originally posted on on 7/9/06)

So my trip got off to kind of a crappy start. When I arrived at Seatac, I found out that my flight to London was delayed so I had to be re-booked onto a later flight from London to Prague and I wouldn't arrive in Prague until midnight. Fortunately, when I did arrive in Prague, I ran into one of the other TAs (Lou) who had been on my flight from London. UNfortunately, his strategy for finding the dorm/hotel was the same as mine--basically take the address around to random people in the airport and ask how to get there.

Some nice English-speaking people pointed us in the right direction and told us where to wait for the bus. He had also heard that using ATMs was the way to go, so he hadn't exchanged any $$ for Kc before leaving the US, so he didn't have any cash to pay for the fare. (I actually did exchange $50 for 850 Kc at Heathrow airport just in case. Only later did I find out that Heathrow is pretty much the worst place in the world to change money: not only do they take a larger commission of every exchange, but they also charge a 10 pound fee for your exchange.) I was surprised, but at the airport we had trouble finding Czechs who spoke English very well...

When the bus arrived, I tried to ask the non-English speaking driver how to pay for our tickets, but he took pity on us and just let us on. I think he was too tired to try to figure out what we were asking. Or maybe he said to pay or get off the bus and I just didn't understand. Anyhoo! (He needs to work on his charades.)

When we arrived at the stop for the dorm, we got off the bus and this crazy downpour started. So Lou and I had to trek up the street in this insane rain storm! We walked up the street a couple of blocks and followed our written directions on how to get to the dorm. The dorm turned out to be pretty easy to find and checking in was pretty easy as well. The reception guy gave me a key to my room and said, "Your room is J511. The lift is to the right. You are on the 5th floor." I assumed based on those simple instructions that it would be simple to find my room. However, when I arrived on the 5th floor, I noticed that the numbered doors all started with an H, not a J. I wandered around, unable to read any of the signs since they were all in Czech.

Now, this was not like a normal hotel. In a normal hotel, you get off the elevator and a sign would indicate "501-550 -->" or something like that and you can go to the right and/or left and that's pretty much it. In this dorm, you get off the elevator and you see a sign with like 5 options, none of which are in English and none of which suggest where the rooms starting with J are located. Then when you pick a direction, either right or left, you walk several hundred feet down this sterile corridor and eventually come to another door that, upon opening, appears just like the corridor you came from or is an intersection where you can turn right or left and around a corner. It felt like a rat in a freakin' maze! I went around and around and around and finally gave up, so after trying for like 10 minutes to find my room, I went back to the elevator, where I found Lou who was also lost. An American student who had been in the dorm for a week already for some other program had taken pity on him and was showing him to his room. He also pointed me in the right direction. After another 10-15 minutes and several wrong turns through identical looking corridors, I finally found my room. By then I was exhausted.

I don't think I've yet mentioned the heat. It is horrendous and there is basically no A/C in Prague, so as I was lugging all my crap through the corridors, it was like 100 degrees and 100% humidity in the dorm. But I think I lost 10 pounds from the effort, so that is good since I feel like a whale compared to the European women (discussed more in a later post). But that was not the end of the adventure for the evening. I decided to take a shower since I was sweating buckets from the whole ordeal. I decided to test my hair dryer before showering to see if it would work with the adapter Jerrod had given me. Well, I plugged it into the bathroom outlet and POW!! I heard a loud crack and the lights went black. In spite of the power outage, I decided to go ahead and take a shower... Well, with the lights off, I couldn't see that the shower head was pointed outwards and ended up totally spraying water all over the bathroom when I turned the water on. So in my first hour in Prague, I'd managed to be stuck in a rainstorm, get lost in the dorm, blow out my power, and flood the bathroom. Needless to say, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown, but instead I just went to sleep and slept on through until 8:30. Everyone remarked that it was weird that I was able to do that and skip the jet lag. The only thing I thought was weird was that I actually got 8 consecutive hours of sleep after 20 years of chronic insomnia.

But after a few days, my sleep habits are pretty much back to normal since it continues to be ridiculously hot and I can't sleep when it's hot... so it's pretty much my status quo: going to bed at 8:00 just to get 4-5 hours of sleep per night. (I guess I just always operate like I have serious jet lag in the states.) Will write more later about the program later.