30 December 2006

Happy New Year!

Mall of Sofia“Christmas” shopping

As a formerly communist country, New Years is still a bigger holiday in Bulgaria than Christmas day—nearly everyone is guaranteed a 4-day holiday: December 30, 31, January 1, and 2. Since presents are exchanged on this holiday, the shops and malls were packed Friday and Saturday, so I got to experience two last-minute Christmas shopping rushes this month!


Yesterday, I watched two movies. With the exception of a few French and Russian flicks, cinemas in Bulgaria show the same Hollywood blockbuster as nearly everywhere in the world, and—many times—premiering on the same weekend as in the US, since all they have to do is add subtitles. The cineplexes in Sofia are all fairly new, with stadium seating like we have back home, but the ticket prices are significantly cheaper: 4 to 6 leva ($2.70-$4.04.)

First, I watch the new (re-make) James Bond film, Casino Royal. I found it to be a clumsy effort, and—as expected with any new actor playing Bond—I didn’t like Daniel Craig in this role; he seems too rough-edged for this role—Bond is supposed to be effortlessly suave. The parkour stunts were cool, but many of the traditional elements were missing, most notably the array of cool gadgets and the nude, female silhouettes in the opening title sequence. Like I’ve always said, the Bond franchise is just not the same since the end of the cold war, a sentiment seconded by Judy Dench’s “M” character in this film–which of course was poignant for me, watching this behind to old iron curtain.

Later that evening, Mirena and I went to see Robert Altman’s final film, A Prairie Home Companion. The star-studded cast (Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, and Tommy Lee Jones) brought in at least a half a dozen Bulgarians who were so bored/disappointed, they left before the end—even Mirena fell asleep. This is to be expected, since it was a sentimental film made for PHC fans (like me.) I wonder who thought it would be a good idea to subtitle and distribute it here.

27 December 2006

Back in BG

Christmas Eve at Micah & DebyWell, who’d have thought that I would be back in Bulgaria after only a month back home, but Mirena insisted and since I had nothing better to do—no job yet, and no new year’s eve plans—I ha to come over for two weeks. Plus, Bulgaria will join the EU on January 1, so that should make for a big party!

I left for the airport on Christmas day, just as my mother was preparing her big dinner for the whole family; too bad I missed that, but we were all together on Christmas Eve for the magnificent banquet that Debora, my sister-in-law has made a tradition lately.

Brussels Christmas treeI had an 11-hour layover in Brussels, so despite being dead-tired from the overnight flight, I had to get out and explore the city. The weather was less than ideal (cold and cloudy,) but I was impressed—Brussels is a magnificent city. BTW, I have an overnight layover on the way back, so I’ll get to see more of it on January 9/10th.

That’s all for now…

13 December 2006

Back home

Sorry for not posting anything lately. I’m not quite sure what to write about anymore, and I’m afraid I’ve already lost most of my audience. Never the less, I do intend to keep blogging indefinitely regardless of where I am, so do come back every once in while, or—better yet—subscribe to the RSS feed. By the way, make sure you are coming to http://persistentitch.blogspot.com and not joel.froese.com, because I am turning that into a more professional site since I am now looking for a job.

So, for some highlights from the past 3 weeks: After arriving back home from being abroad for 16 months, my homecoming was overshadowed by an announcement from my brother and sister-in-law—they are going to have a baby! Obviously, we are all very happy for them (especially my parents.) But, hey, Joel just returned—you stole my thunder! ;-) Not to be outdone, my other brother and sister-in-law, made an announcement 2 weeks later…that’s right, they are going to have a baby too (in fact they are even farther alone!) So, yes, it is kinda hard being the only single person left in my family, but I’m used to it.

On the day before Thanksgiving, I met with some current IMBA students that I had met in Vienna back in March (they are doing the exact same program I did 2 years ago.) We met at the Carolina Coliseum to see our local, minor-league hockey team get beat by a team from Florida. This was first time I’ve ever been to a hockey game; thankfully Daniel (IMBA 2007) was able to explain the finer points of the game to me and his classmate, Antonio (who is from Puerto Rico, and had also never been to a hockey game.) What an incongruous sight, to see two teams from the Deep South playing a game that would, under natural circumstances, be impossible here.

Thanksgiving was great; I fully enjoyed the traditional feast and seeing family that I had not seen for over a year. Our last guest was my cousin from Germany, who is an au-pair here in South Carolina, unfortunately no one told her that Thanksgiving dinner takes place in the early afternoon; she arrived at 19:00—oh well, I know that feeling (lack of knowledge of local customs.)

The next day, I braved the crowds on the biggest shopping day of the year to browse the newest electronics at Best Buy and Circuit City. That evening I met two of my former classmates that still live in Columbia, one from Bulgaria and one from Romania. It was good to exchange notes on living/visiting each other’s countries.

The next week, I finally put my bike together and went out for a ride again. The weather was unseasonably warm—24C (75F); now I remembered what I liked about South Carolina! However, I have really gotten out of shape, because after my usual 53km (33 mi.) loop, I was exhausted. I promised myself to get back into shape, but the weather has turned colder, and I’ve only been out on one other occasion.

Hydro project

Ever since we moved down from Ohio and my father purchased the house where I grew up most of my life, he has wanted to harness the water that flows out of the small lake that his property is situated on. However, through the years, this childish idea has been forgotten until my youngest brother expressed interest in it 2 years ago. powerhouseEver since then they have been gung-ho about it, plowing right into the excavation and building of the power plant (pictured) without researching whether it is even economically and practically feasible. They have had no electrical, mechanical, or any other kind of engineering assistance or even any kind of drawings other than the proverbial “sketch on the back of an envelope.” Despite this lack of professionalism, it looks like they will soon have a turbine spinning in the power plant very soon. A week ago Saturday, we all piled into my brother’s pickup truck and drove to the outskirts of Atlanta to pick up the rebuilt turbine and associated hardware that they had ordered from an equally unprofessional, micro-hydro expert. This was loaded into the pickup and a trailer (pictured), and with a minimum of verbal instruction on how to put it all together we headed back home. My other brother and I—who have been warning them against this foolhardy scheme—are impressed that they have gotten this far, but we’re still doubtful that they will ever produce any substantial revenue from selling power back to the local electrical co-op. We see it as a source of amusement, watching them from the sidelines as they muddle through. Despite collective our electrical and mechanical expertise, we have vowed not to help them in this foolish endevour. Never the less, we do hope they are successful, and now that looks increasingly likely.

Reverse culture shock

For the last 3 calendar years, I have spent a total of 26 months abroad. After each homecoming, I wait for the phenomena called “reverse culture shock.” However, even after not touching American soil for 16 months (expect for the embassy), I still have not experienced it. In fact I am amazed at how natural it feels to be back home; it’s almost as if I haven’t been gone. Granted I am restless, and I am looking forward to the next adventure.

The one characteristic that is unmistakably evident is that everything in America is big! Food and beverage portions are big, hence Americans are big, and therefore they drive big SUV’s (it seems no one drives a regular car anymore.) I am alarmed at how much weight I’ve gained in the past 3 weeks; I now consciously watch out for overly processed, high fat food (that, granted, tastes soooo good!)

Seriously, what I have found downright sickening—especially around the holidays— is this run-away consumer culture. Why do we feel compelled to listen to marketers and buy junk for ourselves and our family & friends that we don't need? Then we rent storage space, buy/build sheds, and finally, get a bigger home just to store all this junk. Granted, Americans aren't alone in this compultion; but since Americans and (mostly young) Europeans are used to financing their lifestyle with credit cards, it is more evident here. I expect this disease to spread to other parts of the world with the expansion of consumer credit. I am thankful that my parents drilled it into us that “if you don't have the money, you don't need it!”