26 October 2011

Birth of a nation

Friday is a national holiday, as Czechs celebrate the anniversary of an event that has forever changed the cultural landscape. I am referring, of course, to Charlie Daniels' birthday.

Or perhaps they're celebrating a slightly more significant milestone: the birth of an independent Czech-Slovak state. Czechoslovakia was born on Oct. 28, 1918, thus severing itself from the Austro-Hungarian Empire that had held its grip on the Czechs (from Austria's side) and the Slovaks (from Hungary's side). The area that is now the Czech Republic had been under Hapsburg control for 300 years. Despite this, Czech language and culture survived, a persistence that was rewarded with the declaration of an independent Czechoslovakia at the end of World War I.

The scene at Wenceslas Square in 1918. No, I didn't take it myself. Photographer unknown.

24 October 2011

"It was the past perfect sentence structure of God"

Teaching English to the employees of Radio Free Europe has forced me to keep up with current events -- as well as the occasional 25-year-old one ...

Hey, don't blame me. One of the most famous goals in the history of the World Cup is detailed in this textbook, in a section on cheating. The book recounts three famous sports cheats: Maradona, whose goal helped beat England and thus can't be considered all bad; modern pentathlete Boris Onishenko, who rigged his sword to register hits on the computer scoring system; and runner Fred Lorz, who finished first in the 1904 Olympic marathon thanks in large part to riding 11 miles in a car.

22 October 2011

The heart of Europe is in the ... East?

The classification of Prague and the Czech Republic either as part of eastern Europe (to associate it with the Balkans or former Communist countries) or central Europe (preferred by those who don't want the CR associated with former Communist countries) has been going on a while. Today the often-interesting Czech Position website takes at look at the issue and reports that, despite several countries laying claim as the Heart of Europe, the true central point could be in Lithuania. So maybe it's not just Americans who have geography issues after all.

20 October 2011

If I knew Czech for "Catching Up," I'd put it here

My third week of teaching is nearly complete, our kitchen is stocked, my cable TV and Internet are connected, my room is decorated, my Czech is still crap (but getting better), and I have gotten familiar with the Prague subway system, which is good considering I travel on all three of its lines every Thursday. Now that I have allowed myself time to breathe, here are some nuggets from the past three weeks, many of which are worthy of their own blog entry in due time.
  • As mentioned in my previous post, I am lucky to have met some interesting people in my classes at Radio Free Europe. I recently learned that one of my students has been jailed in his home nation of Turkmenistan twice, once for three years and the other time for less than two weeks, because he dared write something that went against the official government story. Earlier this month, another Turkmen journalist received a five-year jail sentence. Turkmenistan, according to another student of mine from the country, is "a large, comfortable prison -- nothing else." Just a reminder that I'm teaching some brave souls who truly are enemies of the state in their homeland for the wrong reason. Speaking of Radio Free Europe ...

03 October 2011

Calling all in transit

The night sky was dark and vast, and to the left I could see the Orion constellation with clarity. It was nearly the perfect night ... except that it was 5:30 in the morning. This was how my first day working for Akcent-International House Prague began, and my friends who know that I normally enjoy an early wake-up call as much as I like purple cabbage bathed in tartar sauce will get a kick out of the fact that two weekday classes start at 8:30, two others at 8 and one more at 7:30. Baldy, I don't think we're in Korea anymore.

(UPDATE:  One astute colleague has accused me of grumbling too much about my schedule. Indeed, his weekdays start, on average, earlier than mine: 8, 8, 8:30, 7:30, 7. So this morning schedule is new to me, especially when compared to my 3:10 p.m. starts in South Korea, but far from unfair. Not complaining, just adjusting.)

Today, I caught the 7:03 bus to Budejovicka, rode two subway lines and walked five minutes to the modern and pristine Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty building. Radio Free Europe, backed by U.S. taxpayer money, began as a means to provide uncensored news to Communist-bloc countries and now is broadcast in 21 Eastern European and Middle Eastern nations.

Our school has been hired to teach two types of courses there: one for general English skills, the other geared toward the broadcasters, most of whom must read stories in English, understand them, and then translate or talk about them in their native tongue to listeners or viewers in their home countries.

01 October 2011

A dog walks into a pub ...

Friday night, Baldy celebrated his fifth birthday in a place where he was unable to enjoy any of his previous birthdays: in a pub.

Baldy joined my roommate and me for dinner at the neighborhood pub, just a two-minute walk from our apartment. I ordered the goulash, Stephen had some chicken on a skewer, and Baldy had whatever morsels I was willing to give up. He sat on the floor quietly, and the biggest indication of how this sort of thing is handled in the Czech Republic is what didn't happen. Nobody batted an eye, or pointed, or recoiled in horror. The waitress smiled and a couple of customers acknowledged with a fond look, but other than that, there was nothing -- except for one pleasant surprise.