Sunday, February 24, 2002

A Retrospective Look 18th to 24th

February 18th to 24th A Retrospective Look There has not been that much happening to report on a daily basis. I am beginning to think that these chapters are going to find a natural death. Life is settling in and there just is not that much commotion to report. We will see what develops. One of the schools that I am teaching at has a teacher leaving for the States. The old Residency permit has raised its ugly head for Steven and he has outrun it for five years. He decided that with the changes as of January 1, 2002, that he had better get on the legal bandwagon. With his absence, there are classes that need to be filled. They asked me to take some of them. This will bring me up to a total of twenty hours a week teaching for two schools starting on March 1st. With travel time, this will fill thirty hours of my week. In the meanwhile, I have been going to some of the classes that Steven has just to be introduced to the student. Most of my classes are one to one. I only have one group of four and they are architects. One to one classes are just as appealing to me as a group, but with a group, you can do so much more. One of my new students is a Vice-President of the Hungarian Patent Office. He told me that his English is at the level that he is satisfied with and does not intend to learn more. His only interest in instruction is to converse in English, so he does not fall out of practice. His English is excellent, so I have no temptations to try to correct him. Our hour and a half is spent talking and I can choose whatever subjects I would like to talk about. I have no qualms about doing this and can cover many gamuts of cultural deficits during our times together. Most students here and in many other countries have the educational background of the student is a passive observer in the classroom and the teacher is the active lecturer. They sit and write notes, while I speak and pour knowledge into their brains. This was a common theme in the States also, but through changes in education, the mode is now slowly changing to student centered learning. Try to get the students to do some critical thinking and find the answers on their own with guidance from the teacher in the role as a resource specialist. My students come from the school of “Give me a list of vocabulary words or grammar rules and I will memorize them.” It does not mean that they know how to use them properly or if they come across something irregular that they know what to do with it. This approach is new and strange to them, so I have to tread slowly. Before Valentine’s Day, which they do celebrate here, I brought in some Valentine crossword puzzles and some other holiday related sheets to work on together, and build their vocabulary. I told them that I thought this might be fun for them to do since it was different from their book. The puzzles were for intermediate students and this was an upper intermediate group, but they still struggled with it. I think it more had to do with thinking in the classroom and not having the time at home to use their dictionary. After five minutes, it became a group activity and the sense of relaxation transformed their demeanors. I have not given up on ‘fun’ activities, but will stagger them. Ron received a call from the school agency that wanted to place him in the pre-school. They will not need a native speaker until September. He was disappointed. He called a few more schools, but the wind has gone from his sails. He is sitting around waiting for schools to call him rather than being as pro-active as I think he should be. I did get him a student from one of my schools, since it did not fit into my schedule. He is doing one one to one and one private student on a one to one basis. With my second school, he has started to do the teacher observations that they require before they assign any students. He has arrived to find three no show of either the students canceling at the last minute or the teacher being sick. With two students in a week and two evenings of Hungarian lessons, he has lots of free time. We figured that I would need to work at least twenty hours a week and he at least ten hours to keep the business expenses at a point where we do not have to tap into our other money. He also needs to work to justify a work permit and then the residency permit. We need to have an accountant for the business by law. Receiving dozens of names from well-wishers, we have followed up on all of them. Their rates run from $50.00 to $90.00 a month. This is not a drop in the bucket here, this is an unusually high expense. We have heard that we need to have monthly reports done for the tax office, plus quarterlies, and an annual. There is a Hungarian income tax both for the business and ourselves that has to be filed, plus we will be paying into Social Security here. The fees of the accountants sometimes depend on how many receipts or invoices we turn in each month, fifty being the magical cutoff number for a higher fee. We are still looking for a better deal. It seems that if you get an English-speaking accountant the cost goes up, but if we hire a non-English speaking one, we have to find and pay for an interpreter too. With all of this happening, I have been nesting in the kitchen with a book in hand. Hence, this is why this week is in retrospect. I have hardly been on the computer at all. During the last week, I have read six books all by the same author, Janet Evanovich. Actually, Daphnee is to blame since she turned me on to her with the book 7 Up, that I reported on months ago. With my order, I bought her first six books preceding the above and that is what I have been reading this week: One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly, Four to Score, High Five, and Hot Six. These are my mind candy books, pure pleasure, no thinking, and no source of intellectual stimulation, just total enjoyment. I am running out of books again, since I am reading them too fast. It is time to move on to something more intellectually stimulating so I slow down a bit and most importantly to get back to my writing. There is something that is very soothing about sitting at the kitchen table being able to look out of two windows with lots of natural light flowing in and reading. We are getting ADSL installed for the Internet, but it takes 5-8 weeks after the application. Regardless of what company we chose, it would depend on the phone company to make the connections since they own the lines. At least then, I will have twenty-four hour access to the Internet and not have to worry about telephone charges, which are expensive and excessive. Tuesday night we hosted my Writer’s Group at our new apartment. Six of the members made the meeting and all were impressed and jealous over the new apartment. It was a regular gabfest and we never did get around to discussing our writing projects all that much, but it was enjoyable all of the same. They asked if we could meet here again next time and we were fine with that. Wednesday night, our new friend Aggie came over and taught Ron how to cook Chicken Paprikash. She is the Hungarian consultant that works with some of the projects that Dawn works with. Aggie had a catering business in a former career life, so she loves cooking and baking. She has promised to continue to teach Ron more recipes, so we have more variety than bean soup and kielbasa and sauerkraut for dinners. If you noticed the “teaching Ron” that is what happens when you only work ten hours or less a week. I am the dishwasher. Friday night we took Fernando out to dinner. On our corner is a Latin American restaurant and since he is Cuban, we thought he would enjoy it. The restaurant is lovely and they had a three piece live band playing. The food was good and would pass as authentic for the average Hungarian, but coming from California and all of our travels, we knew better. Fernando complained that the banana dish was supposed to be made with platanos and not sweet bananas, but they owner said he was not able to get them. This really made a difference in the dish. Fernando’s new mission is to find a source for the owner to find the real thing. Over dinner, Fernando, tired of hearing me complain about wanting to go to an Office Depot, told us about the Polush Center. They have an Office Depot, a Tesco (a British superstore/grocery store), and dozens of other smaller stores. He checked our maps when we got back from the restaurant and showed us how to get there via public transport. That was our Saturday agenda. I like knowing how to get where I want by public transport, because I hate having to depend on others to take us somewhere. Many times, people will make an offer for someday, but that day never seems to be on a calendar. Tesco reportedly has all of the grocery items we have not been able to find elsewhere. With that incentive and Office Depot, no amount of public transport was too cumbersome to hold me back from investigating. We had to take the Red metro to the Yellow metro, just a couple of stops, but then the Yellow Metro to the very last stop. From there, we had to take a tram for twelve stops and walk about a quarter of a mile from there. This was becoming a theme in my life, metro, tram for twelve stops, then walk. As soon as we stepped off the tram and it was past us, I had the first OFF sighting and my heart started racing. I get as excited about office supplies as some people do at seeing a chocolate shop. There was not much that we needed or had to have; it was just knowing that it was there, available and ready for when I needed a fix. I combed the aisles like private detective looking for clues. If I memorized everything they had, it would save Daphnee a lot of grief over having to send me stuff that I needed and could not find here. We bought a desk lamp and a few little odds and ends. It was just enough to satiate my cravings. In the mall, I found a leather briefcase for 30% off, making it under $40.00. I have been hunting for one since mine is in storage somewhere in New Jersey and did not want to ask Daphnee or Ellie to root it out. In the meanwhile, I have been using a plastic shopping bag, which I deemed beyond tacky, since all of my students are better equipped than I. We also found a protein powder for Ron that was $4.00 cheaper than we had seen it around home. He needs to add some weight. He has gotten too skinny and he has the ridiculous idea that he needs to stop eating when he is full. The things I have tried teaching him about food over nine years have just not sunken in. I on the other hand, have kept my weight off without really having to work at it. I am wearing a lose 34 inch waist and could fit into a 33, but I am thrilled keeping it at a standstill. Tesco was like finding Mecca. There were dozens of products that we were able to recognize if not by their Hungarian title, then by the packaging. Talk about packaging recognition, this is a case where you are grateful to have been indoctrinated by the advertisers. We still have not been able to find pancake mix, maple syrup, or peanut butter. We really miss pancakes and the restaurants have no clue what they are other than French crepes, which they do not serve either. I really want “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” spray only because I am tired of dry popcorn at the movie theaters. It is impossible to see a movie without a large bag of popcorn. Thursday night we are trekking to Tesco again to stock up. Fernando said he would drive us, so we have made a major shopping list. The store is like a Costco/Price Club without the huge quantities, but much lower in price than the smaller local stores. We are having our first party on Saturday, March 2nd as a sort of housewarming, but actually, it was an excuse to get Myrtis and Randall to come from Slovakia. It is a combo birthday party too. Damon’s and mine were in January, Randall and Dawn’s was in February, but March was the soonest we could all be together. We are expecting about twenty people, which is not bad for a couple that has only been in the country for less than three months. Saturday night, Damon called to say he was back from three weeks of traveling around for his job and wanted to get together. We had him over for brunch on Sunday morning. He asked me to be a conference presenter at a conference being held at a new university in Macedonia. The university is U.S. sponsored along with the U.N. and will be called Southern Central European University. They will open their doors to the first students in September. The conference is in April and the theme is “Teaching English from the Traditional to the Contemporary”. I was thrilled at the opportunity and his office is paying my airfare, hotel, and meals for four days. He also wanted me to look over the area, since there may be a fellowship there next year and wanted to know if I was interested. The three of us were going to go to an English (British) play, but the English newspaper messed up the dates and it had closed already. We thought about a movie at around 3:00 pm, but Damon decided he had better go home and get ready for work the next day. We went to see “Spy Games” with unbuttered popcorn. I could have used the time better to take a nap. I was not thrilled with the movie. Now to take a dip into my e-mail box and pull out a tidbit of something to share. Ron’s sister-in-law, Mary Ellen sent the following in response to my critique of the toilet paper in the last chapter. “You best check the brand of TP you are buying. I believe it to be John Wayne brand ---- It's rough and it's tough and it don' take no sh__ from no body!!” Yes, well, moving right on, Carolyn Swaim, a delightful woman that I had the pleasure of getting to know and work with during my years of AIDS work, sent this idea, which I think is brilliant and had gone into my “To Write List”. Thinking of Mr. MAP and children's books. What a great title for a book that teaches kids how to read a map, make a map and to follow a map. I am not currently an aficionado of children's books but I have never seen such a book even for adults. I am of course thinking of the US where there is some order, more challenging in the streets of Europe. Even numbers here being E/W and odd N/S. I did not know this until I took a trip across the US by car, that states have mileage markers and that the numbered exits start at a border. One of the most interesting maps I have followed was in the back country out of Nevada City, CA, where my great grandfather had a gold mine. Twelve miles in to the wilderness it is still marked as the Anderson Mine by the park system. Directions included, take the Bloomfield Ditch..... had to figure out that the ditch was used to carry water six miles to the mine site. Hand dug of course. This was a jeep trail that I managed to get a two-wheel drive Ford (hippie) Van down and back. Then we were to turn at the bird house, this was hard to find as it was over a hundred feet up in a tree........ had the tree grown that much? Not an ordinary bird house either, the equivalent of a much aged apartment house for our feathered friends. OK, now I am thinking of a series of books on maps........ The adventures of Mr. MAP. What happens when Mr. Map makes a (right or wrong) turn......... an adventure......... a short cut..........a surprise........ (There are no wrong turns :-) So many ideas and at the moment reading and nesting have taken priority. We found that we need to have a rubber stamp with our business information on it for our invoices to the schools that we will be billing. I had one of my schools give me a stamped copy of their stamp to see what had to be on it. I did it on the computer and then had Mr. I Have Too Much Free Time on My Hands to check out the costs at various print shops. Then we found out that we cannot just type out an invoice to bill our schools. Since we are now a corporation, we have to have real invoices, which means they have to be purchased from special stores that sell these things and the serial numbers across the top have to be recorded in their register for our business. While we are at it, I designed a letterhead too. I figured the best way to get teaching books from publishers is to request “Examination” copies for our business, but a letterhead would give it more respectability. I am still looking for our own niche so that we can build our own school and not have to depend on the other schools for work. The last thing is our business cards which are on the computer also, but waiting for our mobile phone numbers to be added before they go to the printer. With our move, we now have a different cable company. We no longer have BBC News and I really miss it, though we do have CNN. The basic cable that we have has HBO in Hungarian, a lot of good that does us, but we do have Turner Classic Movie Channel. Now you know the real reason I am spending so much time in the kitchen reading. One last tidbit of late breaking news is that our friend Dawn will be living with us when she is in Budapest. Up until now, she had been staying with her boss, but that has not been the best arrangement. Dawn is on this side of the pond 180 days a year, but not in Budapest all of them, so she will be occupying one of our spare rooms when she is in the city. This will not interfere with the throng of visitors we are anticipating, since we can always ship her back to her bosses for periods of full occupancy at other times, but it will be nice having another voice to hear. For the very few of you who are considering a visit, our away schedule is the following at this time. We will be going to Slovakia to see Myrtis and Randall on March 29th through April 1st and then we will be in Macedonia on April 18th to 21st. You would still be free to come and use the apartment, but the fun guys will not be here. It may be quite some time before there is a next installment, so thanks for reading and responding. If you have read from the beginning, you have read over 325 single spaced pages. Chow!

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