The Grey Pen Goings

Navigation through a World that's Wild at Heart and Weird on Top.

Monday, January 29, 2007


As is customary during departures, many people are asking me how I feel about leaving, what I’ll miss, if I’m sad/happy/relieved/excited/etc. I can honestly say I have no idea. My departure sits before me, bluntly. It’s all very surreal. I think I’m going to need a hefty amount of time and distance before I fully digest what I’ve done here.

From other powerful experiences, like the 30 hour a week 325M writing class or Winedale, I’ve found that adjustment to different environments afterwards takes a while. There’s this tremulous feeling running through you: Where do I go from here?

The fact that I have two months of traveling before I get back to Texas won’t really offset that feeling so much as delay it, I imagine. For now I’ll have this whole week in the city doing nothing, and that should give me ample time for reflection into the what’s and why’s of my time here. Hell, it’s probably way too much time.

I had an interesting chat with my friend Tom who taught here for 18 months starting in ’03, and it was strange to hear the differences between our experiences here. Not so much surprising as illuminating. The point Tom hit upon was people I’m definitely going to stay in touch with after I leave. And my answer to him was probably none.

When I think of it like that it’s seems really depressing, as if Prague was this lonely bubble that I floated through and will pop as soon as I leave. And I don’t think of it like that at all. And I haven’t been reclusive or anti-social. But…I suppose I never found close, like-minded people, really. My best bud here was a solid drinking buddy and we watched a bunch of random sports together. My roommate Tom was a pretty good pal, but I doubt we’ll stay close. There are definitely people I sought out to say goodbye to or exchange emails with, but I wouldn't expect communication to go on too long. The only person I really connected closely with was a girl I was seeing for a while. The fact that such a sentence is in the past tense is indicative of our future, perhaps.

The problem with memory is that it becomes inherent decisions. We can’t roll back the film. We determine that this was good and that was bad and this person was always an asshole and that time was wasted and and and andandnandandadnadnadnadndand…

I remember once on vacation I saw the movie Joe Dirt in theatre. A friend came to the conclusion that if the ending had been good instead of maudlin and lame, we might have looked on the movie as a whole favorably (instead of seeing it as the David Spade starring junk it is). And our impressions of cities, years, people, and places are built in a similar fashion—if we finish fondly we remember fondly. Or perhaps it’s a bitter aftertaste that lingers on, time immemorial.

So: We’ll see what color tints this final week and the Prague experience as a whole. Rose would be nice, but I’m hoping for half red/half blue: that way I can see the world in 3D.
In the meantime, I can offer you some thoughts on what I will miss and what I won’t miss from the good old Czech Republic.

What I’ll Miss: Public transportation. Prague is an incredibly small city with an excellent transportation system. During peak hours each metro line is running a new train each minute, there’s bunches of trams and buses, it’s fairly inexpensive, and overall a very efficient system.

What I Won’t Miss: Not having a car. I know, I know, mainly it’s having to deal with crowded trams for long periods of time. But as great as public transportation is, it makes you dependent on their schedules. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of Kean-O again.

What I’ll Miss: Walking everywhere. Dropped about ten pounds while here and you always get a better experience and feel for a city by hoofing it through strange corners of town.

What I Won’t Miss: Not being able to jog. I actually had a student ask me if people really jogged or if it was just something American movies made up. No one runs on the streets or sidewalks here: they’re covered in dogshit, they’re in poor condition, people will stare at you, etc. Expats will jog at Letna Park, but it’s a ways away from my flat. I really miss just walking out the door and setting out—the one time I did it here, my knee was throbbing from the impact of such uneven pavement.

What I’ll Miss: My flatmates and landlady. Tom and Emily are a couple of nice, quiet Canadians—really, exactly what I would expect from Canadians. And Kveta is a strange old kook who means the best but is hindered by her poor English and general strangeness—how many people have a 21 year old grandson and a grandfather and work as a microbiologist? My guess: only Kveta. When I showed her my bug bites, she was very concerned that I had too much stress and was potentially allergic to cucumbers.

What I Won’t Miss: My flat. I still get bug bites. The bed is atrocious and none of the furniture was made after 1967. The kitchen only has a mini-fridge, a mini-stove, random pots and pans; there is no showerhead. Now clearly I signed on to this flat, and have to take a good deal of blame. It was selected in a slightly desperate time, and in my defense, I didn’t know so many bug bites would follow. The bottom line: this flat sucks. And soon I won’t have to live there. Holla!

What I’ll Miss: The price of beer and food.

What I Won’t Miss: The price of most everything else on the teacher’s budget here.

What I’ll Miss: Hot wine. Grog. Delicious drinks both warm and alcoholic.

What I Won’t Miss: European coffee. I’ve never been a huge fan of espresso and everything here is a derivation thereof. I really love an actual mug of coffee, big, warm, in your hands, and you can get something close here, but it’s never the same.

What I’ll Miss: The eclectic mix of people you meet while abroad. There’s the folks from Prague, the folks from other parts of Bohemia that are resentful of Prague, people from Moravia, Slovakia, etc. There are the random conglomerations of English teachers telling me about hockey, Baudelaire, sheep farms in Australia. There’s the bountiful hoard of backpackers and others at various hostels, a motley crew of fools and savants and jerks and surprises.

What I Won’t Miss: The strong undercurrent of racism that persists in Europe. Seriously. Obviously America has its own racial problems, but any public demonstrations are more or less immediately reprimanded by society (i.e. the Confederate flag). Here it’s understood that even the most liberal intellectuals will have some contempt for gypsies, Ukranians. Blacks are stared at and distrusted, Asians too.

Case in point for difference: at a preseason Rockets game, someone yelled a racial epithet at Dikembe Mutumbo—the man was fined $5000 and banned from NBA games for a year. Here in Prague, it is considered cheering against Sparta Praha if you cheer for their black winger.

What I’ll Miss: The wonders of being abroad. I remember the first weekend I was in Prague, I looked out my window onto the complex playground to see two men traversing across it with machine guns. The kids were frolicking, their parents watching, and these two cammo-clad men were waving their guns about animatedly. No one noticed them. No one cared. No one has ever explained this to me.

But things like this, or watching carp brained on the side of the road in the name of Christmas, or taking in the marvelous view from Vysehrad, I guess this is the magic that keeps you playing the game, you know? John Hartford has a piece called “Prayer” where he intimates that we should be lucky for everyday, for our last chance to be sick, to be poor, to be anything. When I get down, I think of this song and where I am and tell myself to get out the goddamn door and out into the wonder of Prague.

What I Won’t Miss: Being a stranger in a strange land. Almost every student I’ve ever had has asked me why I came to Prague. My three-pronged answer:

1. It’s real easy for Americans to get here and work illegally.
2. I wanted to try and live somewhere other than Texas.
3. I’d been to Prague once before and liked it.

Which is all true, ostensibly. The more accurate truth is that I told myself that if I didn’t get the Enspire fellowship, I would teach abroad. I finished as first alternate and applied and the next day I was accepted to the Caledonian School. I was ready to be out.

The biggest barrier to overcome is the language. Czech is a Slavic tongue, so my German is useless here. You speak to them in English and (for a goodly many) there’s a river between us that will never be crossed. Praguers are notoriously gruff with tourists/expats. This isn’t to say I didn’t meet many, many wonderful Czech people, it’s just that…

It’s like this. When I walk down the street I don’t even hear Czech. The language is like a gentle current of sound that there’s no point for my ear to register. But any English pricks you immediately. There’s something taxing about living not just in a different country, but a different country where you can’t communicate with the native population. I remember when I first came here I thought I would be able to tell who was an expat just by sight. Not the case. If I was planning on living in Prague for more than a year, I would definitely take classes. The language is notoriously difficult though, and in a shortened window it was pointless. This can make tasks such as grocery shopping or going to the post office frustrating/difficult/intimidating in their own right. There is some strange, ironic bliss garnered by walking around the multitudes impervious to their words and workings, but it’s fleeting at best.

You learn as much about your home as you do about the land of your travels, I suppose. I know I’m not homesick—hell, it’s hard to even fathom what home means to me now. There’s a difference between not being home and knowing your away, and I guess I’ve always known I’ve been away, in foreign lands.

So here near the end I imagine my thoughts are somewhat akin to someone who just finished a marathon: I can’t believe I did it! But was all that really worth it? Surely there was some other way to prove myself? Aw fuck it, someone get me a burger and a beer!

Like I said, it’s going to take a while to process. The best way to end this might be with Dave Eggers’ intro to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius:

First of all:

I am tired!
I am true of heart!

And also:

You are tired!
You are true of heart!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Enter Winter, Stage Left

Well, the mild Winter of the Czech Republic has vanished under a white blanket. One foot fell yesterday and at least one more's on its way, according to forecasts. It's falling pretty hard right now.

The first time I saw snow in person I was eight. I took a great big leap into a pile of snow and was surprised by what a soggy mess clung to my bright red sweatpants. Snow is wet? I felt like the depictions of snow on television had lied to me, showing it as a wondrous white powder to flock around in. As a child you make many connections for yourself about how things work--sometimes you're dead-on, sometimes you're dead wrong. My impression of snow was that it was a "cold alert:" as in, it's so cold that a white powder has manifested itself as the physical version of our concept of cold. The fact that rain might have anything to do with it was quite beyond me.

For now, I'll indulge in this snow as long as i can: heck, I'm only here ten more days.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

If I'm not a Good Teacher,

at least I'm a good person, for all my night classes insisted on taking me out to the pub on my last week of teaching.

And today they bought me dinner. And beer. And shots. Oh Prague--why am I leaving you again?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Teaching English, A Retrospective

With just a week left on the job, I’d like to offer some insight on a position that, I believe, holds a great deal of interest to people my age who find the future as certain as George Bush’s plan for Iraq. Heck, even my folks are interested in potentially teaching English some time in the future. So, the rundown:

Rudimentary as it sounds, “Teaching” comes before “English” in the teaching English game. If you can handle yourself in front of a group of strangers, a crowd, if you’re confident in your public speaking, you’ll be able to teach English. Ted, a woebegone engineer from Chicago, has a personality that can best be described as a passively awkward serial killer. Suffice to say: not a good teacher.

If your students like you, they’ll forgive almost all your faults—not knowing a specific rule, not having planned enough, showing up ten minutes late. Hey, you’re their friend.

The caveat to the teaching-first rule is when your English isn’t good enough, which is pretty rare. Look, very few people in America know what the past perfect continuous is, or what an uncountable known is, or why we use certain prepositions, or when we use etc., etc., etc. But you can learn that (really). We had one guy in our training course, however, who was from Taiwan originally, and though he ACTUALLY had a Masters’ in Education and had taught high school for four years in NYC, he wasn’t offered a job. Why? Partially his awkward personality. But mainly because he would say things like “That don’t make sense.”

So can you teach English? More than likely, yes. Two people weren’t offered jobs from my training course: the aforementioned poor English speaker and Linda, a sweet retired bank clerk from Vancouver with the personality of a snail. Two people were offered only part-time jobs, because they were partially lacking in personality (Ted) and language skills.

So if I know you, and you’re reading this blog without having to go to the dictionary, you can probably teach English. Now to whether you’d actually enjoy teaching or not…

By far the best part of teaching English is the students. If you want to talk about the merits of travel, and truly learning about the people and culture, well, teaching is a treasure trove for this.

Most of my students are between 21 and 38, with only a few exceptions. They’ve amazed me and I’ve amazed them with stories, traditions, words, abilities, etc. They give me recommendations and warnings. A few of my favorites:

Libor: the CFO of the Czech branch of Leo Burnett, Libor is stressed out all the time. Our lessons are closer to therapy sessions where he belittles French management, Czech society, his lack of time, reminisces about almost living in Canada, etc.

Rychard: a man in his fifties who works as a salesman for Lach-Ner, a chemical company, we shared a mutual affection for a range of music. I introduced him to Hartford and he gave me a host of Czech music, and he invited me to a concert in the hills of Bohemia.

Honeywell Thursday: my favorite group of students, a group of girls who are all immensely tired by Thursday evening and only want to laugh the whole night long.

This is just a sampling of the great, great people I’ve met. I feel quite blessed to have met so many interesting souls across the city.

The worst thing about teaching, by far, is lesson planning. As my friend Tim bemoaned, with a 9 to 5 job you’re mind is off to new things as soon as you leave your desk. Lesson planning lingers in your mind over weekends, at nights, because as much as you’ve planned (even to the next week!) it’s a never-ending, unwinnable game, like Falldown was on the graphing calculator.

You only get paid for TEACHING lessons. But, obviously, you have to plan them beforehand. This you don’t get paid for. So it doesn’t behoove you to plan for a long time…unless you want to be a good, in-depth teacher. I ended up spending mere minutes planning, because as long as you know what will be easy to talk about and what will get you through ninety minutes you’ll be fine. Does that make me a good teacher? No, not really. I could have done much better if I really wanted to.

But why would I want to? Look, I get paid for 24 hours a week of teaching. But I’m traveling for at least another 25. If I told you you were going to work a 50-hour week but I was only paying you for half of it, you’d never agree to it, right? Just to get to a lesson outside of Prague I have to

--WALK 4 minutes to the tram stop
--RIDE the tram 10 minutes to the metro
--RIDE the metro 10 minutes to the bus station
--RIDE the bus 40 minutes to the village
--WALK from the bus stop for 15 minutes to the company

The only thing they could add to make things worse was a dog sled (Of course the huskies would probably abandon me in the middle of Winter in a lame attempt to get Disney to make a move about them—I’m on to you Huskies!).

Now the caveat is that they’re factoring some of this time into your salary, and in places other than Prague you don’t necessarily have to teach all over the city.

Still. The fact of the matter is I (and a good majority of teachers) don’t put too much time into lesson planning because we don’t get paid for it. We have a boatload of resources here at Caledonian and when I want to I can craft an energetic, excellent lesson. Or I can look at a book, photocopy some pages and glide on by. It’s not that my students aren't learning, but…I think the moment you know you should stop teaching is when you’re more concerned with how you as a teacher are going to get through a class as opposed to what your students will learn in that time. That happened to me a while ago (mainly do to the time factor), and instead of a teacher I became a worker doing a job.

One more word on the time thing—split shift schedules are a pain. Honestly, I would gladly work from 6 A.M. to 12 everyday if I could have the rest of the afternoon off. But it doesn’t work that way. You work in the morning ( starting between 7 and 8:30) and you work in the evening (starting between 5:15 and 6:30). Most days you work a class or two in the afternoon. This leaves your free-time slung about in strange two hour gaps—do you go home and catch a nap? Read a book? Lesson plan? The time I have to wake up snaggles up and down—Monday not till noon, Tuesday at 6:45, Wednesday 8:00, Thursday 5:45, Friday 7:15. It’s really difficult to get on a sleeping routine here (not to mention my awful bed).

In the end, I suppose, all of this—the shitty hours, the lesson planning, the massive amounts of unpaid travel—are what you put up with to live abroad. Prague, Seoul, the boonies of China, etc. Without this job I wouldn’t have been able to see Budapest, Auschwitz, Vienna, Poland, etc. I wouldn’t have learned the crazy ways of the Czech culture, or seen my alcohol tolerance shoot the roof, or experienced XYZ in my life. The ride has been tremendous, and teaching English has been the price of admission.

If I was going to recommend teaching English abroad to someone, I would say (A) get a CELTA, not a TEFL; (B) Decide if money or location is more important; (C) Try to research your school before signing on there. (D) Try to research what live you’re going to be living there—I had a friend living in the sticks in China who could never leave his village because he only got one day off at a time.

As most people who’ve taught will attest, the job gets easier the more you do it. It takes less time to plan once you know how to. And, hey, it got me over here (On the other hand, I’m not really crying about leaving).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Goulash Grab-Bag

Ten Tidbits for Y'all from the Czech Republic:

1. This is the mildest Winter Prague has seen in 550 years, apparently. Since I've been here there's only been three days of snow, and today was around 60 degrees. Amazing. Some students postulate that global warming is causing their probelms (last year was the worst Winter in a millenium), but I tell 'em it's just Avimaan going all Nolan Ryan on them and bringing the Texas Heat.

2. When I told my students what a "connoisseur" was, and asked them to think of what they were connoisseurs of, they all assured me they were "connoisseurs of beer."

3. When doing a storytelling exercise, the same group of students came up with the following jobs for "Emma": Private Eye, Prostitute, Lesbian, Lesbian Prostitute. Good times.

4. The bites still continue. I think they're beyond understanding at this point: they're never the same size, I get them while sleeping or sitting at my desk or on the metro, I get them under clothes or on open skin. I don't really notice them anymore, but nevertheless, some sort of morphing bug continues to plague our flat.

5. I've finally been converted to the European way of writing the date before the month. Not sure what this means about me as a person. Probably bad things.

6. The same group of students, when asked what they had a "talent for" (preposition exercise), all insisted they had a talent for drinking beer.

7.Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion is so much better than One Flew Over the Cuckko's Nest, it boggles my mind that this isn't Kesey's defining work. Wide in scope, nearly flawless in execution, a beautiful novel. Pick it up, open it, find the first page of the novel, then commence in reading. I urge this much of you!

8. I've been struggling with my novel for a while now. Editing is so much harder than the first draft! Sometimes I forget that I've written and rewritten the first chapters several times, and when I see these later chapters I panic. It's hard to control. Also detrimental to writing--getting Internet in the flat. I started having a mandatory Internet disconnect for writing/reading time, and that's helped. October and November was such an amazing creative burst that I sort of freaked when the eventual comedown occurred. Reading heavyweights like Rushdie or Kesey can be alternatively inspiring or detrimental (as in, shit, mine isn't anywhere near that). It's really hard to clear your mind and just do it.

9. Last weekend my hair decided that it was firmly in its "long" phase again. Good to be back.

10. I've felt like I've had to give my two weeks notice ten times so far (telling each group of students). Not fun. But two night classes have insisted on the last lesson being a pub lesson. Much more fun. Cheers to all.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Reasons Why

Jon Webb, the wonderfully stodgy veteran of ESL teaching and our TEFL trainer, surveyed our class during his first lesson (his black sock replete with family crest poking out of a Birkenstock), then said these telling words:

“Every one of you has a secret. Why anyone would do this is beyond me. It’s certainly not a glamour job. You’ll get shit hours, you’ll get shit pay. You’ve left home and you’re here. Why? That’s your secret.”

He’s a sarcastic showman, Mr. Webb is, but I’ve found he was right to a large degree. “Secret” might be an exaggerated term, but I think the main question Jon was asking was this: Why have you moved halfway across the world to do what you could do much easier at home? What are you doing unrooting your life?

Pertinent indeed. Because no answer is ever the same, really—oh, there’s a few categories for sure, a few patterns, but it’s still kind of a secret card that everyone holds in their hand. Look at these facts: most of the teachers can’t speak a lick of Czech; most plan to go back “home” (i.e., North America) in a year or two. So why?

There are lots of strange cases, and lots of strange people. In fact, it’s people who act “normal” or “mainstream” that make me the most weary—they swagger through the school like politicians, all smiles and not much to say.

So, the basic categories:

Lovers: Some, like Alyssa and Tom, had significant others in the area and decided to relocate on their behalf. That seems nice if it works out. Paul moved for an Internet love he had never met in person—unsurprisingly that did not work out.

Ted came to bang Euro chicks because he couldn’t get any at home. His Frankenstein physique and persona aren’t fairing much better over here, though.

Nathan fell in love with one of his students. I’ve heard a bunch of guys say, “Well, if I find the right girl over here and settle down…” This is strange to me, because it seems like a case of taking advantage of your English-speaking prowess (which WILL get girls interested in you to a good degree).

I don’t know. You find love where you find it—in chance meetings, in blue pickups, in Dairy Queens or classes you almost cut out on. Searching halfway across the globe does not increase the likelihood of finding it, in my opinion. But who am I to blow against the wind?

Partiers: It is entirely possible to party your brain into a large foggy blackness in Prague and still get paid for it. You can get by without lesson planning, you can spend every night at the pub if you want. Entirely possible.

The first month or two I was here I was getting a lot of drinks with friends. Then back into the fight the next morning. I got burned out by this quickly, though, and limit my partying to the weekends (predominantly) if at all. I've actually come to appreciate the weekends as wind-down time as opposed to wind-up party time. (Yaoza. That's kind of an adult thought. What am I turning into? What, praytell, have I become?)

But there are plenty of people who work hard and play hard. And there are plenty of people who work poorly and play hard. My ex-roommates were heavy into it, hitting up raves, dropping X, drinking and smoking every night. Which is fine, I guess, if that’s your bag. I just couldn’t sustain it.

I will say this about Prague—of all the European capitals I’ve been to, it’s certainly the seediest. It’s got this decadent element to it, the kind that brings English stag parties over in droves. A beer is cheaper than a coke—Come and get it, boys. It's still more beautiful than most other major cities, it's not necessarily dirty, it's just...well, you only need to go a couple feet off the main square to find a whore. So yeah. that's what I'm saying.

After that who’s left? Who Else Is Here?

—the lost?
—the lonely?
—the beaten down?

You’ve got the recent college graduates, like Colin, who decided that figuring out the future could wait.

You’ve got people doing gap years, like Grace from Oxford.

You’ve got people who’ve sworn off America, like Jessica from Virginia.

You’ve got some hardliners, veterans, folks that have made it a permanent profession, directors and the like who’ve been here 5, 10, 15 years.

You’ve got the restless, the travelers, the adventurers.

And…these people are easier to define. Their “secret,” so to speak, is less hidden (or so it seems). The rest, though, the rest, fall into various permutations of either

1. Not knowing what they want from life
2. Running away from something

One of my roommates, Emily, was offered a promotion at her job in Calgary to events coordinator for a bookstore. And she would have loved the job. But her boyfriend and her split and the emotional waves carried her all the way to Prague, where she once studied and had been happy.

My other roommate Tom wants to do everything. He’s taking French lessons. He’s taking Czech lessons, but he might drop it to take Spanish lessons. He wants to go to grad school for environmental studies. He wants to make movies. He wants to buy a car and drive it to Finland. He wants to buy a piano and take piano lessons. Oh, and his future might be in interior design. Translation: Tom has no idea what he wants to do so he’s trying to collect as many possibilities as possible.

And I…I had to get away (for a while). The year before, after I’d graduated, was quite difficult. It was tough finding a job, finding a place to live, and nothing seemed to go quite right. The Measure for Measure project that I failed to put on was kind of analogous to the whole year—something I put a lot of work into, that had the best intentions, but ultimately fell apart. And maybe it wasn’t my fault, completely, but I hadn’t saved it. Not getting the fellowship at Enspire was the same way. It was a tough adjustment that didn't go well, I got down on myself mentally, told myself I only had a few people I could count on, shied away from new relationships and old. I felt trapped. The job I was working was fine but not a career path. Nothing…fit. Nothing felt right. I told myself if I didn’t get the Enspire fellowship I would leave, and lo and behold, I left.

Who knows if it was the best choice? But getting to Prague, finally getting far, far away and gaining some perspective, has been great. It’s taught me (A) To get over myself, (B) That Texas is more awesome than other parts of the world, (C) You can make it anywhere if you try, (D) What and Who I value, etc., etc., etc.

Satanic Verses starts with the line, “To be born again, first you have to die.” We’d like to think of life as levels, steps to take, snakeskins to slough off. Rarely does it work that way. But Prague has been close to that, I think. It’s taught me lessons I needed to learn.

Sometimes you can’t hope for more than the chorus of The Bealtes’ “Getting Better,” you know? You hope that you’re improving yourself. You have to tell yourself you are.

Other teachers have strange brews of my reason, of Tom’s, of Emily’s, of all and anything else. Sometimes it just amounts to being more fun that what people were doing back home. Grace says everyone here is looking for something. I'm not sure--there is no perfect answer when your students ask you why you decided to come to the Czech Republic.

But I have to admit it’s getting better. Oh yes. All the time.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Prague New Year's

When they say Prague is dangerous on New Year’s Eve (or Silvester, as it’s known in Europe), they mean it. It’s not so much the pickpockets and pimps that add the normal flair of danger to the center of Prague, but the complete abandon of rules in certain areas. Observe:

Grace and I took a leisurely approach to making it to the center. We drank some beer and down a bottle of champagne at her flat, then went to a café for some Irish coffees to perk up a bit. She lives close to the center, maybe a fifteen-minute walk, and even so far away there were drunken teenagers blissfully sprinting about and shooting sparks off into the sky.

We made our way to Wenceslas Square. Wenceslas is the Prague equivalent of Times Square, and not somewhere the locals go if they can avoid it. A bit of a tourist hotbox, if you get my means. And I’d been told to avoid it, too, by concerned students looked out for my New Year’s Eve life.

But I’d never seen such mass spectacle, and that more than anything is what drew me to Wenceslas as midnight neared. Half of the Square was devoted to a concert which was broadcast across the country—that section required a frisking to enter, and was well guarded by policemen with twelve o’clock shadows.

LAME. I wanted the action, and the other half of Wenceslas was teeming with it. I would point out the drunks, but it might have been easier to point out the sobers. When we first arrived, around 11:30, the fireworks seemed sporadic but controlled, coming out of a few certain strongholds of explosion. But the closer it got to New Year’s the more people just started shooting in every direction, at their own discretion.

There weren’t any cops over here. The only atmosphere I’ve witnessed close to this is Bourbon Street, particularly during Mardi Gras. Some of the things I saw:

Cherry bombs were littered behind careless celebrators, ready to blow on an unexpected group.

A girl not ten feet from me took one to the calf and was helped, limping, away.

Several times a massive grouping of fireworks accidentally went off together, which sounded like a mortar landing twenty yards away and filling the air with colored smoke. Startled “Ooh”s carried from the crowd.

The couple next to us was just gone, absolutely blitzed, and the girl was dry-humping her man as if her life-depended on it. I think at that point she might have believed intercourse was taking place. Amazingly, she tried to finish her friend off by going down on him, and when he tried to stop her from actually unbuttoning his fly, her hair became stuck in his shirt zipper. Good times.

People just chucking empty bottles towards empty areas: soon a shattered glass snowfall developed.

Blissful drunks dancing (to no music) between the hurled bottles and falling fireworks and malicious cherry bombs.

After getting rained down upon by multiple bottles of champagne and getting enough celebratory kisses from strangers, we decided to depart. I never particularly felt in danger, though I never exactly felt safe either.

I remember when my friends and I left the Bonaroo Music Festival back in 2002, we agreed that it was a great experience and we never wanted to do it again. And I think that’s pretty much my take on the Praguean New Year’s—can’t risk my luck each year anyways.

One Month

One month from now I'll hop on a jet to London, meet my father, and hop on another plane to Kolkata. One month. An amount of time you can fold up and put in your pocket.

It's interesting, when my parents read my blog they always seem to point out my struggles and hardships. When my friends respond, they talk about how amazing a time it sounds like I'm having. I'm not sure if that's a difference in age or relation or what.

After speaking to my friend Kandlay (recently returning from Senegal), I'm not sure what type of long-term conclusions I'll make about my experiences. I know they've changed me, and for the better. As for what lies beyond them...

One more month. how strangely ridiculous.