Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I had anticipated just hanging around the patio all day perhaps playing 3-5-8 a Romanian card game I was taught this past weekend. Instead, after being there for a half hour and already being fed some bread, burduf cheese and salami, Ralucas’ mother started bringing out huge pots full of tomatoes as her father fashioned a cranking device to the edge of the table. We were making tomato juice! Raluca explained to me that her parents were going to make enough juice to last her, her sister and themselves the whole winter!
Raluca started and after seeing her do a bit I jumped in and cranked away enjoying watching tomato juice slide into the bowl and occasionally spray all over the patio. Ralucas’ mother brought out some fresh coffee and Raluca and I enjoyed our well earned break as her father continued to make juice and her mother continued to bring out more pots of tomatoes.
After our coffee was long finished we were presented with our meal of fresh tomato noodle soup which was simply fantastic. There’s nothing like instant gratification!
Ralucas’ father continued to labor over the tomatoes as Raluca and I set up a hammock and generally enjoyed watching the day melt away.
Today was wonderful and so simply Romanian it really makes me happy to be here.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I had planned on starting this blog before I left for Romania but, as is evident, that didn’t happen. I have been in Romania for just over two weeks. It is strange to think that I have already been here for that long. Some days it feels much longer while other days I still feel as though I have just stepped off the plane.
Before arriving in Romania I went to Chicago as part of the Staging process for the Peace Corps. It was the first time when all of the new Peace Corps recruits were in the same place. I admit I was a bit nervous. People can really make or break an experience and these people would become a huge factor in my life for the next 27 months.
In Chicago there was an initial registration line we had to make our way through, making sure we had completely and correctly filled out all the required paperwork. Once complete we crossed the threshold into the conference room and also into a new stage of our Peace Corps service by becoming Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs).
The staging process was like any to be expected. We discussed what we think we will encounter in Romania and discussed what we imagined the challenges and differences would be for us once we arrive. There was discussion about the Peace Corps expectations and mission, and much more.
On the morning of the 19th of May we hopped on a place headed for Bucharest, by way of Frankfurt. The flight was very nice since they had just updated the airplane with new seats and personal entertainment. In addition, I had a window seat which was really nice to have on such a lengthy flight.
We arrived in Bucharest on the morning of the 20th and immediately took a bus out to our current city, which for security reasons I am not allowed to name. The ride was neither too long nor uncomfortable.
Once we had arrived in said city we got put into pairs and moved into our hotel rooms which we stayed in for three nights. During those first days we had many introductions and seminars about varying topics. But by far the best part was getting to know the fellow PCTs better. On the second night we all found a rooftop bar and took over their patio space as we chatted and tried to stave off jetlag.
The most nerve racking event took place the next day, we met our host, or gazda, family. I was so anxious having no idea what to expect and knowing that I will be living with these people for the next three months. We PCTs were arranged at tables with a name card in front of us with both our names and the name of the family we would be staying with. We sat anxiously with flowers for gifts waiting for the gazdas to come up the stairwell. After what must have been not more than a minute a flood of happy faces appeared and immediately started to disperse across the room.
Being in the front row all of the gazdas looked at my name card and one by one they all moved on to different volunteers. Those who had already found their name were happily greeting the newest member of their family and were so kind that I became overwhelmed and began to cry.
I had to excuse myself and went outside to finish letting out all the tears which I couldn’t seem to make stop. Eventually I went back into the room to find that my gazda was the only one who hadn’t show up. A younger woman from one of the other gazdas found me and informed me that my gazda was at work and would only be fifteen minutes late.
I brought my bags down from my room and waited in the lobby for close to an hour before my gazda walked through the door. We exchanged a traditional Romanian double cheek kiss and were off to a taxi. Within minutes I was at the door to a block apartment and was being helped with my luggage up the five flights of stairs by my new host mother and fifteen year old brother.
The apartment is small and cozy and I was shown to put my bags into the living room. The two cent tour of the apartment showed a bathroom, a living room and a bedroom which serves as a passage way to the kitchen. I was a bit confused as to where I would be staying but after a bit my gazda mom showed me a series of five cleared shelves with a lace curtain in the living room in which to unpack and place all of my stuff.
Once I finished unpacking I had a chance to look around a bit more. The kitchen I discovered was very small and would be difficult to fit more than one person in at a time; it is so small that the fridge is kept in the other bedroom along with a sofa bed a television and a computer which my teenage host brother uses exclusively. The bathroom had a washing machine and a shower. I was very happy to see that I would not have a problem with keeping water in the shower since at the hotel I managed to give the entire bathroom a nice spray down every time I took a shower. The living room contains the sofa, the dining table which is conveniently on wheels, the television and the bookcase. It also has enough religious paintings and pictures to make any small parish jealous. By far my personal favorite thing in the whole house is the glow-in-the-dark Jesus hanging over the couch.
That first night I was very confused as to where I would sleep and only once it was time for bed was I shown that the couch is really a sofa bed which raises up to extend the width of the couch by two. I was given dolphin sheets and a dolphin comforter and easily fell asleep from exhaustion.
The next day was a very slow and relaxed one. Some TV was watched and I took a wonderful afternoon nap where I woke up at 3 after a few hours. To my surprise there was a gazda father whom had just arrived from the country. Because I was napping we had a very late lunch and then at around 5 pm my gazda mother and I took a walk outside so I could start to get some bearings on where I was located in the city. On the walk we ran into some other PCTs with their families and I was very relieved to find that there were some others nearby.
We walked to a large park and just wandered around the northern part of the city a bit. I was shown my bus stop for going to school and told to take number 5 or 1 so I could get to school.
On Monday I was driven to school by my gazda parents. They had a difficult time finding the right building and we arrived at 7:30 am, an entire hour early. At school we were split into small classes and the first half of the day was language lessons the second half of the day covered seminar style classes on all types of information from medical sessions to lesson planning.
This is basically the way the classes go every day. The first week was great, I felt very confident and felt like I could remember the amount of information expected of me. After the first week they split us into even smaller classes of 4 to 6 students and I had a much more difficult time. The language wasn’t sticking with me and I felt overwhelmed with the sheer amount of vocabulary I was expected to memorize. One day we covered foods and were given over 80 words to know by the next day. I do my best to study them every night and really put a lot of effort into actively doing my homework, but it is difficult for me to remember that much vocabulary.
The weekdays are tough but the weekends are great. The second weekend staying with our gazdas I met a bunch of PCTs at the park which had been deemed the Big Park for simplicity reasons. Once there some people were playing Frisbee others soccer, but most of us were just chatting and enjoying the wonderful spring weather. After a bit a group of 5 of us set out to do a small hike outside the city to a monastery on top of a hill.
It was so refreshing to see more of the country and to experience some open space. Since I have arrived in Romania I hadn’t had the chance to be outside the city. We walked along a road and used the visual of the monastery to guide us. It took us no more than an hour to get to the top and it was a lovely place. There were women outside reading so intently that they sounded as though they were chanting. There was a very nice sense of peace about the monastery and the buildings themselves were very intricate with interlacing patterns etched into the white marble façade.
As we started our decent we saw some large rain clouds heading our way and after 15 minutes we were immersed in a heavy rainstorm. Within 10 minutes we were all completely soaked and were walking as quickly as possible back to our homes which were an extra half hour away from the Big Park. At one point we were crossing a bridge and in classic movie fashion there were gigantic puddles and a bus drove through the puddle spraying us in water from head to toe. It was more funny than sad; when does stuff like that actually happen?
Since it was still pouring outside I stopped at PCT Allen’s gazda apartment because I was still another 15 minutes from my gazda. His family was incredibly nice and they fed us some delicious cake even though I had a towel and was still dripping all over the place. Once the rain letup a bit I headed to my gazdas but didn’t get far since I met some people at a pizzeria and ended up hanging out and playing cards.
The next weekend, this past one, was also great. On Saturday it was Kyle S.’s birthday and we all met at the Big Park. I bought some cherries along the way and other brought tons of cookies and chips to eat. The food was fabulous, especially some small chocolate and rum balls! One thing I can easily say for Romania is that they have wonderful chocolate!
After hanging around and socializing we all cheersed with some local Sweica, the local home grown alcohol, which as usual was way too strong for me. We organized an ultimate Frisbee game and it was so much fun to participate. The best part of the game was watching the guys one by one remove their shirts as they became hot in the intense sun. Well, that and the fact that my team won! Once victorious we again gathered and listened to Allen and Chris play guitar amazingly well. They even took requests!
Dark clouds started to roll in so the party ended and we all headed our separate ways only to meet up again at around 10pm for a night on the town. It was very fun and was filled with karaoke and some impressive dancing.
Yesterday, Sunday, I went with Marta’s and Chelsea’s gazdas to a baptism. I had never been to one before and it was a very pleasant and happy event. The baby initially was clad in a beautiful purple dress and bonnet combination with purple flowers. The mothers’ parents held the infant with the grandmother holding the baby and the grandfather holding a very large candle that was decorated with some live flowers.
There was a lot of speaking and chanting from the priest and almost as much signaling of the cross. At one point the entire group moved from the front of the monastery into the middle area where there was more chanting and harmonizing from another priest, it was beautiful to hear. Amidst the chanting they undressed the baby and the priest took the child and dunked her into the basin of water up to her chest and poured water all over her head which caused her to immediately start crying. This was done three times before the infant was passed along and dressed in a beautiful and intricate white dress and bonnet.
The ceremony finished with some more chocolate and many pictures by family members. It was wonderful to see and I was very happy to be invited to such an event.
The rest of the day was less eventful, I copied my notes into a new notebook that I will use for rewriting my notes so they are clear and then I had dinner with my gazda where I had fun explaining that I don’t like beer from anywhere even though I am sure Romania does make good beer.
Today was a typical day here in Romania. This morning as usual I left my apartment at 7:20 am so I can meet up with some other PCTs at 7:35 am and we can walk the rest of the distance to school together. Classes started at 8:40 am and to my surprise I was shifted classes. I am excited to see how this new teacher conveys information, but if today was any indication I think I will have no problem learning from her. The sessions in the afternoon covered lesson planning and involved a lot of fake lesson planning on our parts. I completed my homework at school until 6:15 pm and then walked home and arrived exactly at 7:00 pm. I heated up some soup and chicken on the stove for dinner and after eating and washing up after myself I did some more studying and wrote this blog. I will study some more and try to get to bed by 11:00 pm so I can be fully rested when I wake up at 6:30 am and start it all over again.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
My mother visited at the end of February and it was a great way to finish one month and kick-start the next. She arrived bearing wonderful goodies: dried fruit, chai tea, socks and undies; all essential goods after living abroad for five months.
We started traveling right away, not wanting to waste any of her time, in the glittering gambling Mecca of Asia: Macau. It was a nice trip in which we visited the famous churches and found our way to museums and the many specialty pastry shops. These shops are filled to the brim with jerked meats, egg-cream pies, dried-meat pancakes and the almond cookie, most famous of them all. We happily did our duty to sample cookies at every opportunity and our taste buds were very happy for it. The scene in Macau had not changed much since I last visited in 2005 except for the casinos. The sheer number of casinos was really surprising with half a dozen or more still under construction. My mother and I took to the video poker machines in the Venetian where I was the big winner of the day with $20 Hong Kong Dollars! Which is roughly the equivalent of $2.50 USD!
Yangshou was the next place we visited. It is a beautiful small town only an hour’s flight from Guangzhou and then another hour or so by car from Guilin. The town of Yangshou is surrounded by Karsts, the narrow parabola shaped hills, and intersecting rivers. It rained or misted the entire time we were there and still the inclement weather couldn't possibly make the mountains any less majestic or bamboo rafting any less tempting. The rain and low-lying clouds added a mysticism and surrealism to an already breathtaking landscape. Some of the highlights from our time there must be the cooking class, the driving tour to the stone city, the bamboo raft down the river (even though I was nearly a popsicle at the end), the night show and ginger tea enjoyed next to the crackling fireplace.
After our wonderful time in the lush and open Yangshou it was very difficult to leave and return to the concrete urbaneness of Guangzhou. But it had to be done since a flight back to the states was in store for my mother and more work was ahead for me. But before my mother left we went to the Guangzhou Zoo which was just as much fun as the first time. This time I was able to feed a giraffe and see the Pandas which were both things I missed the first time around.
March flew by fairly quickly with some events standing out from the rest. The most significant event was the departure of our boss. It started as a simple going-away party which morphed into a very joyous event once our boss said her final goodbyes and proceeded to leave the building and our lives!
My roommate had a friend come and visit from the states. She seemed very nice and it was fun to join them in exploring places in the city I hadn’t been to before. One such place was Chen Clan Academy; a beautiful traditional Chinese building dating back centuries. We also went to Hong Kong which is always an enjoyable day trip.
The flooding of Guangzhou was another noteworthy event. From only two hours of rainfall Guangzhou became flooded. It was astonishing. It had just started to drizzle as the last class of the day started. After an hour it was raining so heavily it was impossible to see out the windows. Another hour passed, the rain had nearly ceased and the building had a mote! There was at least three feet of water at one intersection and a foot or more at the others. And this was just the first round. We became soaked as we walked home and again as we walked to the restaurant. Taking a taxi, unfortunately, was out of the question. Due to all the rain the traffic was horrendous and many of the cars became boats for a time.
Besides these interesting things March came and went very smoothly.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Just last week Phil, Garrett, Sean, Stephanie, Renee and I went to the zoo. I was excited to go but at the same time a bit skeptical. Zoos make me happy and sad. I absolutely love watching and photographing the animals, but at the same time when they are in small cages and you can tell they aren't being cared for correctly it makes me sad. Once I went to the zoo in Beijing and I was disappointed with the conditions there, the cages were much too small and all of the animals seemed depressed. Knowing that China isn't revered for its treatment of animals I expected to see much of the same at the Guangzhou zoo.
It was about a 35 minute metro ride and then a short bus trip from downtown Guangzhou. It was an absolutely beautiful day. There was a soft warm breeze to accompany the sun. Sean, in his typical fashion forward thinking, bought a very colorful and squishy hat at the entrance to the park. Phil was very helpful, we found out later he used to be a zoo tour guide, and got us cheaper tickets because we were all "couples".
My first impression of the zoo was how large it was! Phil started to lead the way and we all followed. We went to catch the safari-esk tram and on the way we passed tons of beautiful parrots in the open. They weren't caged in at all! The safari tour was very cool; it consisted of many open spaces with animals from different world regions. There were cheetahs, lions, camels, gazelles, giraffe, ostrich, hippos, tigers, and much more! They were sling-shooting lunch to the tigers that then lunged at the pieces of flying meat. Very exciting.
After the safari we walked around and saw many of the traditional zoo animals. Some of their living quarters were a bit small, but all seemed to be well taken care of.
By far the best thing we did was go to the baby animal section. We got to feed a baby white tiger for only 20 Yuan, which is $3.50! It was so soft and cute! It put it's paws up on my arm to get closer to the bottle. We all fed the tiger aside from Phil and then just watched it while it played with the workers shoelaces.
After that there was an interesting elephant show and us being five minutes too late to see the pandas.
Overall it was a great day at the zoo, which really impressed me with the living spaces for all the animals. We later found out that it is the largest zoo in southern China, how cool is that!
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The most amazing and baffling thing is their ability to become completely unavailable the moment one is wanted for transportation. This becomes especially true in the morning and mid afternoon. These particular taxi's have the innate ability to transport invisible patrons. You will see taxis with their "for hire" sign lit and respond in kind with your obligatory arm wave only to get a small wave from the drives as he whizzes past leaving you looking foolish with your arm out and a dumbfounded look upon your face. It is well know that this may happen upwords of five times during the course of half an hour.
When by some act of God you do manage to hail a taxi there is no garentee that you will actually be transported anywhere. On a regular basis using the best Chinese you can muster with the aid of a writen address and many hand motions the taxi driver will deem you a lost cause and refuse to drive you anywere. If you were so forward as to enter the taxi already do not be surprised when you are forced to exit the vehicle, yet again being made to look a fool among the taxi seeking patrons.
All in all the feelings of surprise and dissapointment which accumulate from attemption to hail a taxi only bring me closer to understand what it is like to live as the Cantonese do.