28 April 2006

Hanging with Condi

group pic /w Condi
Thanks to Kat, today we got to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This involved sending in our passport number earlier this week to be put on the guest list, then getting to the embassy by 9:00 this morning for the reception at 11:00. About 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the event, she arrived, the ambassador made a short introduction, Condi made her short speech, and then she greeted the audience who were mainly embassy staff, Peace Corps volunteers, and we 4 MBAECs. I was able to shake her hand, mumble something about “it’s an honor to meet you,” and then we posed for group picture by the official photographer. By the official 11:00 start time, she had already left the building.

Condoleezza Rice speaks

25 April 2006

Great Day

Well, this past weekend was the Easter weekend for everyone east of Croatia and Hungary. In Bulgarian, Easter is called either Празник (Praznik) Вести (Vesti) or Великден—literally “Great Day.” Apparently, the reason the Orthodox celebration is on a different day is that they still follow the Julian calendar instead of the more modern Gregorian calendar. I don’t understand these confusing Ecclesiastical calendars; it seems to me that the most historically accurate date would follow the Jewish calendar—Easter immediately follows Passover. So, yesterday was Easter Monday—a holiday, and I wasted it: did absolutely nothing.

A NATO conference is being held later this week across the street from me in the NDK building, and—since Condi Rice is coming—security is very tight. Today they have already closed all streets around the building and the park directly across from me—probably inconveniencing many people, but I’m loving it; no punks winding out their pimped out Skoda on Frityof Nansen Street. If only the maintenance and emergency vehicles were also quieted.

a peaceful Frityof Nansen Street

20 April 2006


Today, Paris and I are giving a seminar on Internet marketing to a group of 10 members of the Bulgarian Association of Apparel and Textile Producers and Exporters. Although it feels a lot like the presentations that I've had to give in business school, this is a first for me in at least two respects. For one, this is the first time I've spoken in front of a group for over an hour; thankfully, it was somewhat less daunting than expected since I was interpreted (the second first.) I actually like this arrangement of consecutive interpretation; while the interpreter is speaking, I have the time to collect my thoughts and formulate the next sentence—which is good, since I often tend to get ahead of myself.

I have to say, despite the low turnout, the event was a success; the participants seem to have found it useful and informative, and Paris and I found it fulfilling. BTW, I initially create this post during my presentation just to demonstrate how quick, easy it is to update a blog.

Joel presenting w/ interpreter

17 April 2006

Couples only

I had a weekend full of activity, but I feel lonelier than ever. I asked a Bulgarian girl I had recently met out for two events: to help Ryan spend a 50 leva gift certificate that was about to expire at an Italian restaurant on Thursday, and then to Kristen’s (American diplomat I went skiing with) going away party on Friday. Unfortunately, by the end of the night she made it clear that she “only wanted to be friends.” On Saturday, I went with Paris and Kamelia (his girlfriend) to Chelopech—a town about an hour outside of Sofia—to celebrate her “name day” with a bunch of her friends in the house she grew up in. It was one of the nicest villages I’ve seen in Bulgaria, and we all had a good time, but it was painfully obvious that I was the 3rd, 5th or 7th wheel—everyone else there was part of a couple. Upon returning home Sunday afternoon, the new girl started an IM conversation with me via Skype to explain herself more clearly...only exacerbating the pain—needless to say I was glad the weekend was over and it was time to go back to work!

On the bright side, trees have burst out leaves over the weekend, creating a canopy of green around town. Right now, I am finishing up my quarterly MBAEC report as strains of some traditional Bulgarian (I guess) songs are wafting through the open window from a hippy girl in the courtyard of the hostel next door.

09 April 2006

Delivery Boy

me, just after being christened 'Delivery Boy'Today was again a beautiful, sunny day and like two weeks ago, a great day for a little run—meaning many fair weather hashers came out. Moreover, it was the last time Wim and Fenneke would host a hash at their palatial estate near Mladost. Anyhow, after the run—as is the tradition—new comers were welcomed and wrong doers were punished by down downs. Finally, I and two others (including an infant) were christened with our "hash names." I explained what I'm doing in Bulgaria (probably using too much pretentious biz-jargon,) and it was determined the most appropriate name would be "Delivery Boy." I could have done worse; Hashers tend to be quite irreverent and sometimes even downright crude.

01 April 2006


Thursday afternoon I squeezed 3 days worth of clothes and toiletries into my daypack—you know how I like to travel light—and took a taxi to the Летище (airport.) The flight to the Bratislava Letishko was uneventful. I learned—as you can see (well, if you know your Cyrillic alphabet)—that Slovak is quite similar to Bulgarian; it is also a Slavic language, but written with a Latin script. Incidentally, I noticed some signs on trams in Vienna now have Slovak translations as well.

On the bus ride to Vienna, I was made to feel like a real second class citizen; the Austrian border guard came through the bus glancing at everyone’s passport, but he had to take my passport—as the only non-EU citizen—off the bus to his office or wherever to put a stamp in it. Even the Bulgarians didn’t get a second look, and their not officially part of the EU yet!

I arrived in Vienna and—like a native—navigated the U-bahn without a map. I made my way toward WU-Wien, passing right by the classroom where we spent 6 months of our lives 2 years ago; Bernd and Sylvia live only a few blocks from school. They have a very nice apartment; I suspect if they were living there back then, it would have become party central instead of Jason’s apartment—they have a two-level deck/balcony that could have comfortably accommodated our whole class and then some! That night, we went to Centimeter and I had a plate-size turkey schnitzel & pommes with unlimited ketchup—good stuff.

Friday morning, after my gracious hosts had headed off to work, I rose from my slumber on the air mattress in their living room and went out to re-explore the lovely city of Vienna—it’s pretty much the way I left it. I even went back to Neustiftgasse 72 to see the old apartment; a “familie Hansreich” lives there now. After having a huenerschnitzelsemmel from Huehnerparadies (“Chick-fil-a”,) I went up to Mu-Chyun’s office to say hi. We chatted, and then he instructed me to come back at 13:00 and meet the new IMBA Vienna class (all 9 of them) for lunch—he had reserved a table at Selbstverständlich. It was great to meet these guys and gals, and I have to say I was a little envious of their position (they, on the other hand, are all still a little scared.) My advice to them was to have fun and travel—taking advantage of the central location and cheap transport options.

Saturday was a bright, sunny day; and that morning Bernd and I cycled to his friends house where the three of us went for what turned out to be a strenuous 3 hours of mountain biking im Wienerwald. Afterwards Bernd uncovered his grill and inaugurated his first outdoor “barbie” of the year (remember, he did the exchange in Brisbane last year as well.) Then, to add some authentic culture, we went to a tiny theatre to see a kabarett that evening. It was a funny, two-man show; and I actually understood most of it despite the Austrian accent (at one point I though a character was saying “O.S.”; through context I was able figure out he was saying “alles.”)

The sun peaked out again on Sunday morning as I was exploring the Steiermark fair at the Rathaus—featuring, of course, the products of Styria (a region in Austria which, incidentally, is where Bernd is from.)

In spite of the Vienna’s splendor, and Bernd and Sylvia’s gracious hospitality, I was ready to get back home—to Sofia. I’ve gotten this out of my system now; I realize that—in large part—Vienna is special in my mind due to the friends I made there and the general camaraderie among the 20 people from all around the world who where thrown together for 6 months in a boot camp of business training.
Vienna LunchIMBA-V class of 2007 at SV
Belarussian girl, moi, Mu-Chyun (new "Gundi"), South Carolina guy, Dr. Robinson (from USC)