Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Prostitutes and my husband

Hey guys, feeling lonely? Look no further than the Meridien Budapest. I think if you go right now, there is a nice young woman who needs some company.

Enter the hotel through the front door - you might want to carry a briefcase or wear a suit and tie - you'll recognize her bright red sweater - and she'll direct a friendly, "Hi" in your direction.

A bit of eye contact and a response and your prayers for companionship will be answered.


Luckily, my husband wasn't feeling so lonely when he was propositioned by a Hungarian honey on his way back to his hotel this evening. Let's hope that doesn't change anytime soon.... ;)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In re: Poland:

A friend in the US recently asked me what my reaction was to the recent plane crash in Russian which killed many members of Poland's political, military and intellectual elite. Here is my email to her which I furiously typed up on my Blackberry - I didn't have internet access when I wrote this because we had just moved into a new apartment in Munich the day of the crash (slightly edited):

Hi there - well, I cried for like four hours last night and in Poland they are in a national week of mourning.
There are a number of things that make this event so painful for the Polish people and all of it has to do with their relationship w the Russians.

As u may know Russia invaded Poland from the east right after germany did from the north in the fall of 1939. The Russians killed hundreds of thousands of Poles. Unfortunately, the Poles falsely believed they were going to have back up from powers such as England and the US and, instead of declaring some sort of truce with the Russians they did nothing and were massacred mercilessly for it. In Dec 1939 in one day Stalin got rid of the Polish currency - anyone who had wealth in the Polish currency lost it in one day. He took over the banks and people's property and the media and promoted Soviet Communist political propaganda. Read about the Katyn massacre on wikipedia - its sickening what the Soviets did.

Then, at the end of WWII when the Allies realized they had to stop Hitler and finally involved themselves, the Yalta conference happened. In the build up to this conference, Stalin had been steadily increasing the presence of Communists who would support him (inside Poland). At Yalta he promised Churchill and FDR that he would hold free elections in Poland if they split up Europe such as to give him Poland and they naively BELIEVED him. Then Poland was turned over to the Soviets - Polish men who had been fighting on the side of the Allies got royally screwed when the were sent back to Poland - many political and military men were murdered by the Russians on their return to Poland. This is in 1945. Polish concentration camp prisoners were returned to Poland from abroad - to a now Communist country. Stalin never held free elections and instead installed those loyal to the Communists, both Polish and Russians, into positions of power. He deported hundreds of thousands of Poles to Soviet concentration camps after the end of WWII. Polish people had no political freedom and now they were poor.

There began an underground resistance movement - a workers movement - and leadership in this movement included Pope John Paul II and many of those who died in the plane crash. From the 50s to the 80s this movement gre stronger and as you know Poland was instrumental in the eventual fall of Communism and the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

Poland is the darling of the European Union is considered the strongest example of what the Eastern European economies are capable.

Today there is prosperity in Poland and one Pole told me in January that it was the "new America" as many shining new shopping centers are being built - Warsaw is a very modern and shining example for business. Polish people are less likely to go abroad for work as the currency is 3:1 with the Euro (they are not in a hurry to get on the Euro b/c they don't want the prices to rise) and now in Poland you can the same cars and other consumer goods as in the West.

What I think the pain comes from for the Polish people in this crash is a loss of leaders who brought freedom to the Poles through resistence, defiance and passion against the Russians. Until Saturday they were alive to educate the younger generations, tell their stories and push for recognition of the atrocities against Poles that have been ignored and covered up. The President was a vocal critic of Putin and he wasn't even invited to the official Katyn memorial ceremony. This event was a few days after the one Putin attended. Putin was furious with him because he was getting missiles from the US that would be pointed at Russia. The EU wasn't super thrilled either.

Finally these people who died on Saturday had begun to lead Poland into a bright and prosperous future.

As far as the political situation, all things point to the strength of Poland's democracy and the peaceful transition of power/elections and continuation of business as usual. No reason to think the political situation in Hungary would be affected. Though, as my uncle says, "Hungary and Poland are like brothers."

Finally, the Polish are deeply grieving this loss but they have been through so much that this is not an insurmountable set back. The Polish will grieve but they are extremely tough. Skin like an alligators. They recognize that all is not lost, they loved these leaders and appreciate what these leaders did for Poland - but they know that Poland will be okay and even see that perhaps this an opportunity for light to be shed on the circumstances of the Katyn massacre and that, in and of itself, is a victory for them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Me So Retarded

I'm going to declare April 15 "Be nice to foreigners" day.

What I want you to do, Dear Reader, is go outside to the streets of your town, take the first foreigner you meet and hug them with reckless abandon! Give them money, tell them how pretty they are. Give them a Greencard! If they are in your likeness, lend them your passport! Ask them what their favorite color is. Bake them cookies. Hold open a door for them - maybe pull out the chair for them when they go to sit down. Whatever you do, you must find an alien upon which you can bestow some kindness.

Tell them what an idiot you are for not knowing anything about their culture! Make many self-deprecating jokes explaining how dumb and stupid you are and how great and wonderful they are. Tell them they have achieved much! And that they speak [insert local language] very very well. Mistake them for a member of your nationality.

One note on the hugging, depending on where they are from, they might not actually like to be hugged. Don't pet them on the head if they are Asian.

You must make this a completely random act of kindness. You must ask for nothing in return.

Tell them that you feel lucky to know them. Tell they are fearless to leave their homeland where they know how everything works, know all the vocabulary of daily life and the cultural norms - to go somewhere else where all the rules are completely different. Tell them how adventuresome and strong they are for going somewhere they can't follow the local news, don't know the local holidays, don't know the local transportation ins and outs and don't have a clue where to buy a flour sifter, or even what it's called.

At this point, it's only fair to tell you that I have been feeling a wee bit retarded lately. Simple things like sending a package, buying a curtain rod and setting up a phone are noooooootttt sssssoooo ssssssiiiiiimmmmmppppllllleeeee when you don't know the local language, don't know the names of any 'do it yourself' stores and make assumptions like, if you can drop off and overnight a package at a Fedex location in the US, you must be able to do it in Germany too, right?

NO! YOU ROARING IDIOT!! You cannot drop off a Fedex package in the same way!

In Munich at least, Fedex doesn't have ANY drop-off boxes. Why is this? I'd like to think it's because of bomb threats.

Anyway, it was so painful to schedule a pick-up for Fedex ... I'm not sure I have the energy to explain it... needless to say after phone calls to both the German and the US customer service numbers, and one scheduled pick up at the apartment in which Fedex never actually came, and not having a printer and needing my husband to print things out at work so I could send them the next day, and having to reschedule a second pick up at the last minute from my husband's office - which required a near sprint from my home - since I needed new documents printed out and needed to overnight the damn thing ...

... after all of that, the *&(*& secretary at my husband's office got pissy with me because I didn't tell her that I was having Fedex come pick up a package - for which she had to do NOTHING. She just had to sit on her prim, passive-aggressive little German ass and do NOTHING except cluck and purse her lips and teach me a lesson in how rude I was to her ... PULEASE. As if she knows the definition of consideration or rudeness.

Next, maybe I'll teach her what rude is, but until then, I am working on not being a retard.

Today I am trying to buy a shower curtain rod.

Here are the questions I have:

1. How do you say shower curtain rod in German?
2. How long is the shower curtain rod I need?
3. Why don't we have a measuring tape in this rental where I've been living for 5 days?
4. What are the names of stores in Munich where I can buy a shower curtain rod?
5. On what website geared toward expats would I be able to ask other expats what the names of stores in Munich are where I can buy a shower curtain rod?
6. Where are these stores located that have shower curtain rods in the length that is approximately 1.5 times my silver neck scarf?
7. When I plug the six different addresses of the store into Google, which of them will be the closest to the starting point?
7a. What is the zip code of my new apartment again?
7ai. Why isn't my mom picking up the phone? It's only 8am her time.
7b. When I press the tiny paper map I have of the city over the Google maps on my laptop screen, will the result be accurate enough for me to actually know which tram, or bus, or Ubahn stop to go to?
7c. Why doesn't the website of the self help store have an English version?
7d. Why doesn't the help me please store have any results when I type in Klemmvorhangstange?
8. Why don't I have a car, or better yet, a car and driver who knows where do it yourself stores are located, knows that I might be able to say "Duschvorhang' for shower curtain, and is willing to drive me there at a moment's notice and give me a valium? For the same rate I would pay for the Ubahn?
8a. I'm not sure I will ever be able to get over saying 'I am going to "Dusch - en" ' when I really am just taking a shower.
9. Why did I schedule anything else for today and how is that I'm sitting inside, un-showered and in my pj's on such a beautiful day?
9a. Am I sure that there wasn't some crack or meth in my Darjeeling with a splash of 1.5% milk?
10. How am I ever going to do all of this in Budapest where I'm pretty sure life is like a million times less convenient than in Boston? Oops. I mean Munich. I live in Munich right now.
10. Why do people think housewives are lazy?
11. Do we really need a shower curtain?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Goodbye Worldfocus...

It likely comes as no surprise that I am interested in World Affairs. I learned about the world of international news after spending 11 months in Paris for my junior year abroad in 1998. It will also not surprise you when I say that it really opened my eyes. I won't beat this dead horse of a point because those of you who get it, get it. Those of you who don't probably won't be persuaded by my insistence that it is important to understand what is happening in the world politically, economically and socially.

When I returned to the US after that year in France, the way I found out about international happenings was to go to lemonde.fr or to news.bbc.co.uk. US news provided no comparable coverage.

It saddened me that as an American, in a country where we brag that you can have anything, I couldn't get free access to international news.

But, if you're anything like me and you care about what is going on in the rest of the world, you learn very early, kind of like an abused spouse or child, that all of your pleadings aren't going to change the fundamental nature of the beast, and you find a way to have your needs met and keep going.

So, nearly 12 years later, when Worldfocus, a WNET.org produced show, popped up in my life (frankly I don't remember exactly how) I was really shocked - and happy!

"Wow," I thought, "after all that has happened in the past decade, with 9/11 and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we are making progress in America! We finally have the critical mass of those interested in the world outside our borders to get a show like this on the air."

Over the past year, I didn't watch Worldfocus on TV, at first because I was too busy to be in the same place at the same time every night. Later, we moved to Munich and I couldn't get access to it from here. I consumed my Worldfocus "programming" primarily through links from their Facebook page. And it was like ambrosia. My favorite feature was the video clips, maybe 3 minutes, maybe longer, where an expert was interviewed by a World Focus staff member. I also remember stories of Poland, the 70th anniversary of WWII, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, coverage of China and its leadership's increasing assertiveness, and the economy and scores and scores and scores of other thoughtful stories.

The only well known show I can compare Worldfocus' reporting to is Amanpour on CNN. I think Amanpour aims to be a little bit sexier and controversial than World Focus by bringing in a few experts at once who disagree with one another. The on air arguments get my blood pumping all the time.

What the two shows do share is rigorous questioning and the defense of logic. If an expert guest on either show tries to spew rhetoric, they wind up looking ridiculous. The hosts of both programs are too smart for that. They will jump right into the fuzzy logic or poor arguments and force the guest to give a more solid and credible answer. I guess this is boring for some people.

So, for a time, my world news consumption was sandwiched between the more widely known 30 minute daily program of CNN's Amanpour and the online video updates from WNET's Worldfocus. Toss in the occasional Google news search on whatever topic and there you would find my happy place. Too good to be true really.

A few days ago, I learned that World Focus was being cancelled. Saw it in my FB feed.

Our World Focus broadcast will go off the air after April 2

"What? This can't be." I blinked, clicked on the link that took me to their page. Yup, there it was in writing.

Because of fundraising difficulties, Worldfocus will be going off the air after the April 2 broadcast.
During our nearly 18 months in production, we’ve sought to inform viewers about life around the world — as we said in our very first broadcast, to give you a better idea how the other 6.5 billion live.
Anchor Daljit Dhaliwal explains our decision to go off the air and thanks our many partners, experts and viewers.

Apparently, the story had caught the attention of the New York Times in the March 22, 2010 article As ‘Worldfocus’ Ends, a Call to Save It.

But, I was too late for that. I had only learned of all of this on Thursday, April 1, 2010, the day before the show was scheduled to go off the air. I read through the various reader comments, the explanation by the show itself, the comments by the WNET spokesperson. I dropped some comments here and there along with thousands of other commenters, including pleas for the option to donate. But, in the end, the cancelation just looked inevitable.

Martin Savidge in the Worldfocus studio.

And today, it is so. The hosts and the producers from the show are saying goodbye. I am sure I wasn't the only one who hoped for a white knight to swoop in and save the show. I am still puzzled by why this happened. Was it really just a question of money? Conspiracy theories are tempting of course. How could a show that garnered some 300,000 loyal supporters in 18 months go off the air? Did someone, some other corporation, put the pressure on WNET to cancel? The truth is, I don't know enough about the media industry, or anything about the financial circumstances of WNET or PBS, thus, I can't say if 300,000 is enough or not.

It appears not.

I blogged about this today because if I didn't I was just going to cry in pathetic isolation. I read a post by one saddened World Focus supporter who said they weren't going to give any money to PBS until the show was back on the air. Another said that all was gloom and doom because this was evidence of "what is happening in America" and that people were sinking further and further into ignorance.

I hope what happened yesterday was only the first chapter. I hope that I was right, that we finally did have a critical mass of Americans interested enough in a show like this, to get it on the air for 18 months. Maybe this is just a hiccup and another show like this will rise to the challenge of delivering balanced international reporting very soon.