29 November 2005


My favorite new website is Wikipedia. There is seemingly no topic obscure enough to not be authoritatively discussed here. In the last few years it has become a very useful and comprehensive encyclopedia created entirely by volunteers…in fact anyone can add, edit, delete, or revert content at any time (even anonymously.) You would think that this would result in absolute chaos, but in most cases, “the wisdom of the masses” eventually wins out. On controversial topics, there are sometimes interesting “edit wars”—just read the “discussion” pages on some of these! In any case, I succumbed to the temptation and am putting my two cents worth in on several topics. I even created two new entries: Multiline Optical Character Readers and, my favorite video podcast: Tiki Bar TV. I know Micah is going to find some typos, but the great thing about Wikipedia is that it is never a finished project; eventually someone will come by and add/correct content—hopefully making it a little bit better every time.

Update: Check it out, I got a comment from everyone's favourite bartender—Johnny Johnny! If you don't know what I'm talking about, you have got to download and watch an episode of Tiki Bar TV (I recommend episode 8 or 9.) I'm telling you, this is the coolest thing on the web!

25 November 2005

Bulgarian Thanksgiving

I awoke Thursday morning thinking, this is the first time in my life that I have had to get up and go to work (or school) on a major holiday. At work my co-workers wished me a happy Thanksgiving and asked me about how it is celebrated. The answer of course is (at least from the male perspective): get up late, gather with largest number of extended family members as possible, eat an inordinate amount of food around 1-2pm, and then watch football & nap.

Right after work Julia, Ryan, Kat, Brian, and I met at the Radisson for their Thanksgiving buffet. For 29 leva we got all-you-can eat Turkey (but no dressing) and the normal Thursday night Tex/Mex buffet, plus all you can drink margaritas—actually a pretty good deal for $18. Of course, it was a Bulgarian interpretation of Mexican food, but we were never the less grateful. After margarita number 5 or 6…we realized that they contained practically no tequila; so we settled on gluttony in lieu of drunkenness. Eventually more of Brian’s friends arrived (Bulgarians & Peace Corp Volunteers) and finally Paris & Kamelia showed up; we had grown to 12 people (although only the original 5 had the buffet.) And, since it was Brian’s birthday, we didn’t miss the opportunity to sing “Happy Birthday” loudly while making him stand on several times occasions. As this was an expat hangout, they showed the traditional Thanksgiving (American) football games on the big screens. So, in conclusion, I guess I had a conventional Thanksgiving, just 6 hours later than usual in the day.

23 November 2005

More Snow!

a snowy Patriach Evtimi Blvd.I know it sounds perverse, but I just love snow. I think its especially nice here because it covers all the dirt, trash, weeds, broken pavement, etc.—Sofia becomes beautiful with blanket of pure white. Of course, in a couple of months I will probably tire of it and wish for warmer weather.

Let me take this opportunity to wish you an early Happy Thanksgiving!

21 November 2005

Lifestyles of the rich and...

Friday night we met at Kat’s palatial apartment for pizza and football (since she works for the embassy, she is eligible to get Armed Force Network.) Unlike every other apartment building I’ve seen in Bulgaria, this one had a doorman, and immaculate commons areas. Suffice it to say Kat lives in the lap of luxury; her spacious kitchen, dining and living rooms are bigger than any of our apartments, and—although I never took the full tour—I understand there were several bedrooms back there. That’s a lot of space for single girl! What we probably coveted the most, though, was her clothes dryer—sure miss that modern convenience.

In any case, it was a very American evening. We watched Ohio State beat Michigan (to Ryan’s chagrin,) snacked chip & salsa (which Kat buys at the commissary in the Embassy,) ate Pizza Hut pizzas and potato skins that Julia so expertly prepared. However, Ryan kept getting calls from his co-workers who where having a house party on the other side of town. So, around midnight, we piled into two taxis and headed across town. We were dropped off in front of some dark, soviet-style high-rise, but we were confident we were at the right place because the address was spray-painted on the corner of the building. After riding the elevator to the 14th floor, we fumbled around looking for the apartment until I noticed a faint numbers penciled on the wall next to doors. We were soon ensconced in simple warmth of Bulgarian hospitality. In their small living room, there were half a dozen people sitting on couches along with some snacks, beer, and wine. One guy was playing a guitar, and another added some percussion with a half a jar of peanut—or at least that’s what we thought it was; turns out that was his instrument—some kind of shaker. After playing a couple of songs in Bulgarian, the guitar would be passed to Ryan for few American songs. We had a good time all around; however the dichotomy in living standards would easily be the most memorable part of the evening.

18 November 2005

It's Snowing!

Season's first snowWalking home from work this evening, I noticed that my umbrella was not shielding me from rain as I expected, but our first snow/sleet this season (it’s not sticking though.) The forecast highs for this weekend are at or below freezing, and I still haven’t received my box of winter cloths/coats. I guess I have to go shopping (which I hate, as you all know, but doubly so now because of the language difference.)

first snow in parkUpdate:
It snowed all night and most of Saturday morning. There is an accummulation of 2"-3" on everything but the bare ground or pavement.

07 November 2005

Speaking in tongues

It has been over a month now that we finished our Bulgarian lessons, and I feel that I am steadily losing the little I have learned. Everyone at work speaks English very well, and on the weekends I tend to hang out with my MBAEC colleagues. I do try to use my few words in stores and restaurants, but—as is the case in many major cities around the world—the young people in these jobs usually posses passable English. At this point I am resigned to the fact I will never really learn Bulgarian.

That being said, I did have an encouraging experience on Sunday. Instead of going to the same ex-pat church I’ve been attending, I went to a charismatic Bulgarian church. It was founded in 1989 by a young, energetic Bulgarian guy who studied in the US, and has grown to several hundred mainly young, Bulgarian members who meet every week in a movie theatre. As expected, much of the service consisted of singing ‘praise’ songs which were projected on a screen in Bulgarian along with the original* English lyrics. Between this and the few words that I already knew, I was able to figure out the meaning of words in the songs, and due to the repetition I was actually able to confidently sing along in a couple of choruses.

There is something about singing that makes language easier; for the most part you don’t have to worry about emphasis and inflection—it’s determined by the music. For example, opera singers regularly sing flawlessly in multiple languages. This brings me to my new business idea: language lessons presented through music. You could effortlessly acquire vocabulary and pronunciation without the usual tripping over long words. What do you think?

* I think I’m safe in saying that most contemporary Christian music come from the US.

01 November 2005

Goodbye Daylight

Today I had lunch with Vesela. We went to Lebanese restaurant called Baalbeck—good stuff. The former MBAECs clued me into this place; the Bulgarians in the office can't understand our fascinations with it, but Vesela really enjoyed the food and was glad to have discovered it. (You may remember that together with Meike, Cal, and Robert, we had a farewell lunch for Vesela at a similar restaurant in Columbia—Al Amir—back in June.)

outlet transformationDaylight savings time ended on Sunday. That means when I leave work at 6:00pm now, it is already dark :-( On the way home today, I stopped by a tiny hardware store to buy a duplex outlet to replace the single outlet in the living room that the AC/heatpump is plugged into. Since I now have a wireless router, I like to use my computer in the living room or kitchen and this is the only power outlet close enough. So, rather than unplugging the AC or using a power strip, I decide to make an electrical project with little more than a leatherman tool. Again, long-time readers will remember this is not my first electrical project in Europe; last year I installed a ceiling light in our apartment in Vienna. There is just something so satisfying about home-improvement projects—I continue to admire my new duplex outlet. Oh, and it required a little research as well—to determine that the blue wire is the neutral (what's up with that?!)

BTW, how do you like my ghetto animated GIF above? I really needed a tripod or something to keep the camera in the same position for each exposure and a couple of more of the intermediate steps, but you get the idea.