Thursday, January 22, 2009

Things that are different: Eggs

Purchasing, storage, appearance and usage are all different than in the U.S.

First, you can buy eggs from the produce stand and also at the meat stands, and you can buy any number of eggs you want. So if you only need a few for a recipe, that's what you buy. If you don't have a container for them to put the eggs in, they will just put them in a bag for you. I haven't had any break on me yet!

At the grocery store, the eggs are on the shelves, not in the cooler. And so far, I have only seen them in units of 10 or 6. (I wonder why ours are a dozen or 18 and theirs are in containers of 10.) The first time I saw eggs not in coolers was in Mexico and I was pretty shocked by that. I didn't know that they would keep unrefrigerated. I have since seen this in other countries as well. (I wonder if we treat/process our eggs differently in the U.S. that requires them to be refrigerated. If not, what a waste of electricity!)

The egg yolk is a much richer orange than the weak yellow that we have at home. Also, the egg is used here in main dish meals more often then we see at home. In the canteen (cafeteria) they serve a creamed pea dish with a fried egg on top. Can't help but to think my brother Greg would like this, as in the restaurants they will place a fried egg on top of just about anything! Since the lunch meal is the larger meal of the day, I understand eggs are used quite often for the evening meal; fried, hard and soft boiled, etc.

(Anne F: I bet you are going to tell me why on both of those things I am wondering about! I love it that you either know or find out these things for me and the other readers!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gas Crisis/school

Well, the gas crisis continues, I think! Got bored with following it!!!!

We were called back to school on Thursday last week, and factories were given the go-ahead for full production as well. Hungary's reserves are enough since usage is down due to the weather getting a bit better, that they figured it was ok to go back to full usage. Other countries aren't as lucky and some are still in dire straights. You can follow this on BBC news on line.

The Russians and Ukraines have again come to an agreement and again say they will sign it, and again say gas will flow. No one believes it until it happens.

We will have to make up two of the three days we missed by having Saturday school. This is a real drag for me, as it cuts into my weekend travels! We will have our first make up day on January 31 and our second the last Saturday of March.

This weekend is the "Charity Ball", which is a mandatory attendance for the teachers. Our tickets are 2000 forints, around $10.00. There will be door prizes of various items donated by the community, so raffle tickets are also for sale. I donated a book on Alaska by Mark Kelley and Nick Jans for one of the door prizes. Tara, CETP teacher from Mariapocs who I've traveled with is thinking about coming over. It's pretty hard for her to stay in her town on the weekends because there just isn't much to do in her small town of around 2000 people.

Next weekend we will have Saturday school, and then I am invited to dinner at one of the Hungarian English teacher's house. Dora is married to Mark, one of the past CETP teachers from here.

And then, the next weekend is my birthday weekend! I decided I had to throw my own 50th party, so am going into Budapest, staying at a hotel that has a thermal spa and will go to the Ballet on Friday night, spa all day Saturday, and go out to dinner and a blues club. I have invited everyone I know in Hungary to join me for all or part, so should have a good time!

And that's as far as I have planned out! I am thinking about our spring break, but it is only 5 days total. I'm considering a couple of places and really enjoy looking at them and planning potential activities. We'll see...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Things that are different: package labels

Many of the food package labels have information in multiple languages. Sometimes you just see Hungarian and English, other times three or four languages, and still others with many different languages. I often buy products made in Hungary or nearby countries, with no English on the labels. This cereal box has five different languages describing the prodect and English is not one of them. However, tag lines on the front of the box include English: "Made with Whole Grain" and "The line that suits you best"....
The second block on this cereal box is in Hungarian.

This orange juice carton had "100% orange" and "no sugar added" in English on the front, and then 26 different languages on the label basically saying "Pasteurized, shake before use, best before date, and no sugar added". Incredible to think of the distribution of this product! It really brings home to me, that although there are so many countries, the land mass is small compared to the US. Two company addresses where given, one in Austria and one in Hungary. I have to wonder what will happen to labels in the next 10 years or so with the EU...will they try to force having only English, or will each country insist on their native language?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gas crisis continues, part 4

Last night at the play with all the teachers, I found out that the principal is taking some heat (no pun intended) for following the mayor's office and dismissing school for the week. Apparently, Hungary's head of Education said not to cancel schools due to the gas crisis, but in a few of the counties, where the mayors are of the opposite political party, the mayors went ahead and cancelled school anyway. Since this school is partially funded by the Catholic church, the principal has in the past been able to not follow the direction of the government and follow the direction of the church. Many people feel he should have done it this time, and he has been getting a lot of pressure. All of these days must be made up one way or another.

I also found out that the smaller of the two other high schools told their students school may only be out until Wednesday and the students might be contacted to return to school this week, while the larger school told their students they must check the school internet site and will be responsible for attending if school reconvenes early. We did neither - just told the kids no school for the whole week - see ya later!

So, today I got an email and then a phone call telling me our school will reconvene on Thursday! Should be interesting to see what the attendance is like, since these kids come from all over the region.

Ok, so what's happening with the gas? Over the last few days, this is what has happened:
-Agreement has been reached, EU monitors will travel to the sites and make sure the gas flows.
-Oops, Russia has not received a copy of the agreement - no gas until they get an official copy.
-Got the copy - no good, null and void, 'cause the Ukraine added clauses about the price of their gas, not just the transit of gas, and this is not what Russia agreed to. (The price for the gas that Ukraine uses and whether Ukraine has been stealing gas intended for transit are at the heart of the issue.)
-New meeting, Russia saying how bad Ukraine is. Ukraine saying Russia is lying, they didn't steal any gas.
-New agreement. All parties signed, it's good to go.
-Today, gas turned on at 10:30am, but there are problems - from the BBC:

"Gazprom (Russian gas company) deputy head Alexander Medvedev said Ukraine had failed to carry the gas westwards to Europe after it resumed pumping it across their border. Kiev said it could not pump the gas as Russia had switched the transit route....This was later confirmed by EU monitors, although the amount of gas, they said, was "very limited".

Mr Medvedev said Gazprom had informed the European Commission it was unable to supply gas through Ukraine because Kiev had not opened any export pipelines.
"Ukraine didn't open the route for gas transit...," he said.
"If the system is closed, we can't provide gas. The Ukrainian side cynically informed us that the gas transport system had been reoriented to domestic consumers." After the gas was switched on at Sudzha, Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz demanded "the immediate resumption of even supply of gas along all transit routes", saying the amount and direction of the gas had not been agreed by the two sides. "

So, if they didn't agree on the amount and direction of the gas, just what DID they agree on?

So, here we are: school to be reconvened and yet the country is still consuming more gas then they are receiving from other sources, so are using reserves daily. I know that our 4 or so buildings is not going to break the bank, but the attitude now around here is quite positive that the gas will flow soon, yet daily there is another stumbling block. In two countries nuclear plants are being taken out of mothballs (they were turned off as part of these countries agreements to join the EU) to create power. Some systems have switched to diesal, causing huge amounts of smog in this cold weather. There are hundreds of thousands of people without heat in their homes across Eastern Europe, factories are on slow down or are closed which is going to have a major impact on the economies which were already hurting, etc., etc. I think it crazy that we are going back to school when the issue is not only not resolved, but seems to be escalating.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Things that are different: locks

All the locks on doors that I deal with require the use of the key to lock/unlock the door from the inside as well as the outside! There is no other mechanism to lock or unlock a door - just the key. So, for the first time in my life, I always know where the key is! When I enter the flat, I use the key to lock my door, and leave it in the lock. So there it is: no hunting around for my keys each time I leave the flat!

I can't help to think how dangerous this really is. If I were to lock myself in, remove the keys from the door and set the keys down somewhere, I could be locked in the flat forever while I searched for my keys!
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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gas Crises continues

Saturday morning and I am sitting in my flat on the school grounds, knowing I am the only one around for the next nine days...kind of eerie, but also I am looking forward to some time to relax at home.

I check the BBC news each day for the world view of what is happening, and then I check the Budapest Times, an English Language newspaper, for the Hungarian view. I must say, the teachers on Friday were more concerned about the academic impact of this week off, and seemed less concerned about the issue itself, than they did on Thursday. The announcement that the gas will be turned back on when the EU monitors arrive in the Ukraine seemed to calm people a bit.

However, this morning's news, it appears the gas is still not flowing and it may be a few more days because now Russia wants everything resolved first, when before they said they would let it flow with just the monitors in place. Ongoing saga that I will obviously follow closely.

Today's goals: Although still with a cold, a half hour walk, 1 hour of studying Hungarian and 1 hour of general ESL/EFL techniques. Laundry, housework and shopping, followed by a movie and reading time....

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Great Day

You know, I let the whole gas supply thing take over. I had such a great day with the students today, I was going to post about that, and then forgot when I heard about school being canceled.

So, the day was great. Thursday is my busiest day with 6 classes in a row, with 10 minute breaks between them. It's amazing how much can be accomplished in those 1o minutes, such as going from one building to another, making copies for the next class, signing documents for pay, talking to students about Hungarian or English words, or making arrangements to teach them 1-1, talking to teachers about teaching, the economy and the gas crisis. But all of that was not what was so great about today.

Each class started with a genuine welcome from the students (and from me to them) and all classes but one ended feeling like a success -- that's a pretty good record for me. But it wasn't just the lessons that were good - it was the interaction with and between the students. Many of the classes were quite interested in my trip to Paris and asked questions about it. (Some of course were trying to avoid the lesson, but the lesson was about transportation, so it was ok!) They all responded about what they had done over break - most of them relaxed. Out of all the classes that I asked, only one person had read a book, and that was the Canadian exchange student!

In one of the more advanced classes, I divided the students into two groups, and they really worked well together. It was fun seeing them work as teams. They were writing the good/bad points of living in the city/country on the board. When they were done, on the city bad list was "bitches"....hmmm. So I asked - it couldn't be "beaches" could it? No, that didn't work. Do you mean women who are mean and angry? No, they meant, you know, (giggle, giggle) young woman, who, you know (giggle giggle)..... OH, I said, you mean prostitutes! After furiously flipping pages in their dictionaries, they agreed - that is what they meant. So, as I said before, you've got to go with what you I also taught them "hooker".

In another class, we were talking about what everyone did on New Year's Eve. One girl said she celebrated with her family and they ate traditional foods. Then she tried to tell me what the traditional foods were, but the class noise level increased and she was in the back of the room, so I couldn't hear her. She then came up with a drawing and words on her notebook. It was a picture of a sausage (looked almost like an English Christmas cracker) and the word "weenie". She asked if it was a weenie or a sausage. I explained that we call them sausages, and that "weenie" probably wouldn't be a good word to use with American kids, because it meant something else - a part of a boys body. She kind of looked at me and went back to her desk. A few minutes later she is back there giggling, showing her seat mate something on her phone/everything (dictionary). Pretty soon there is this whispering and then giggling and then the whole class went up in laughter! Remember, these are high school kids I am dealing with, so if it seems I am always a bit off color, it just kind of goes with the territory: high school students and the American English teacher who is here to teach them customs, idioms, slang and natural use of the language!

At the end of one class as the students for the next lesson were coming into the room, and I was still picking up my things, the students started gathering around my desk. These were not my students, but students for another subject. I said hello, and asked how they were. The response was Nem Angolul -- no English. "Oh, German?", I asked. Blank looks. "Ne'm..something", I asked... "Hmmm, oh egan, Ne'met - German", they said. I said: "Guten Morgen." They laughed and replied, "Guten Tag." I should have left well enough alone, but I felt compelled to tell them that Molly speaks German. Couldn't remember the word for daughter, messed up the pronunciation of the word for speak.... but eventually with help of the dictionary, we got much for my 10 minute break to prepare for the next class!

In another class where I needed two students to read a dialogue, one boy being funny said he would read the part of "Maria" in the dialogue. I said ok. When he finally finished, I couldn't help but to giggle and ask if it was more work than he thought -- the part for Maria had new vocabulary and twice as much as the part of the other person in the dialogue!

To top off the day, when I went to do the lesson in the dormitory, a boy who've I met a few times, but takes German, asked if he could come to the classes too! He is just starting English this year and wants to practice more. We talked for a few minutes and I was really impressed by how well he was doing. It amazes me that these kids take two languages and are able to pass at least one of them at the "first cert" level, meaning well enough to study in English at the University.

The gas crisis is is canceled!

I've had a few people ask me about this, and not until yesterday did I hear people talking about it. Now discussions from this morning are irrelevant and who knows, maybe this afternoon's local decision will be reversed tomorrow.

If you haven't been following this issue, Russia has cut off the gas supply coming to the EU through the Ukraine. Hungary receives over 60% of their gas supply through this means. It's been cut off since the first of January. Many but not all countries have reserves. Hungary's reserve is not a lot - the amount being reported changes daily. In any case, this gas is used to heat buildings and there is not enough to last very long - probably a few weeks.
Here's BBC news link on this:

Today's local decision is to close the schools in Kisvarda all of next week, to help reduce use. There are three secondary schools here, but quite a few primary schools. Two of the secondary schools have dormitories that must be heated and cafeterias that use gas for cooking, in addition to the class room buildings.

The staff room was quite load and animated late this afternoon when this decision was announced. There concerns run on two levels: first, academically and then of course the issue of no gas. On the academic level, next week is the last week of the semester with exams in many of the classes. Momentum will be lost of course, and the semester will be extended another week.

Istvan told me he will be buying milk to stockpile since he has two young boys at home and the processing plants are already on slow-down because of the economy. And he will be buying a wood stove - the house already has a chimney and they will need to have someone come and install the stove and clean the chimney. We talked about the trickle down effect even closing the schools will have: the parents of the primary school kids will have to stay home with them, so that is even more loss of work production. There is an expectation that petro fuel will also rise... and on it goes. I wouldn't say people are in panic mode, but they are highly alert and watching the news closely.

I am awaiting tomorrow to see what new news arises. I was thinking, "Man, a whole week off! I should go somewhere!" But, at this point since I have been ill all week, I think I won't plan anything and just stay home. I have 4 new books and Hungarian to learn!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The good and the bad of it....

Didn't sleep at all last night due to my cold, or the cold medicine...finally got up at 4:30 and did some work. Breakfast was a joke: white bread that had been dipped in an egg batter and then deep fried, served cold with no accompaniments or utensils. Hmmm.

Was to the teacher's room early, as I had run into Dora on Friday and she told me she would be out on Monday, and that she had let one of the assistant principals know, but that I might have to substitute. So, at 7:35 (first class 7:45) when there was no substitution list posted, and no other English teachers around, I successfully communicated to the asst princ who does the substitutions that "Nem Dora eskola ma" (No Dora school today.) Although he understood, still no list appeared and as the English teachers came in I was quizzed again and again as to what I knew.... long and short of it: I didn't have to substitute until the 7th period. So, I went back to the flat and laid down (still didn't sleep) until my first class, which didn't start until 9:35.

I also successfully did the cheek peck thing and wished everyone a "Boldog u e'vet" while those teachers learning English said Happy New Year.

Snow falling all day, and kids pretty wound up due to the snow and being the first day back. Was able to follow my lesson plan successfully in the first class. About knocked the kids sideways in the second class (they learned "You are pissing me off" and "Quit screwing around"- things that come out of my mouth when I have had no sleep), and had a successful third class. For the fourth class substitution, I was able to use one of the suggestions I found on the internet yesterday and kept the kids engaged and learning.

Istvan asked me if I would tutor a student from his 10E class once a week so she can take the English exam. Made me feel good as he is the head of the English Dept. and shows he has confidence in me. Will work with her on Mondays, 8th period. Need to confirm the other tutoring for the other student who asked before break if I could help her on Thursdays. Both of these will not be paid, as they are students here, but I will get my repayment through help with pronunciation of Hungarian!

The school day ended on a great note, with first a card from Mom and Dad, and then a box form Patty of things I had ordered and a book I had ordered from New Zealand! Yea!

Was actually able to nap for about an hour before I trudged through the snow to the store for the requisite big bottle of water and cereal, bread and yogurt so I can make my own breakfast tomorrow.

Tonight: No further classes, so organizing some of the work I did not get done this weekend, Hungarian number practice and email writing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Getting back into the swing of ESL

OMG: This was soo me the last week before winter break. We played hangman in many classes, using Christmas and winter words! She's spot-on and funny. I am actually doing a lot of research today on ESL lesson plans and teaching High School students, so I DON'T do this in the weeks and months to come!

Easy English-as-a-Second-Languague Lesson Plan for a Sick Teacher
You're sick today, but you go to school anyway. Here is a no-prep English-as-a-Second-Language lesson plan you can use. Your students do all the work, and you get to sit down and rest the entire class.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Paris - December 30 and 31

Woke up to rain on the 30th. We had already had our fill of museums and had been planning an outside day of wondering through a few neighborhoods, so had to adjust a bit. We ended up going to Rue Cler and had coffee at an outside, but under cover, cafe and then wandered down the street, looking at all the food shops. The plan had been to get food for a picnic lunch, but the rain kind of killed that idea. We ended up taking bus #69 (Rick Steves recommendation) around Paris and found another cafe for lunch. We then headed for the Opera house, but the line was ridiculously long, so off we went to the perfume "museum" that was nearby... we got free samples with our Pars Pass, otherwise we wouldn't have known about it. From there we found our way to the Wax Museum, again free with our pass, and made our way through there. Wax museums have never been on my list of things to do, but it was inside.... Another won't be on any of my future "things to do" lists! We ended the day by having dinner out on the main square in the Montmarte district.

We were up slow and late on the 31st and then headed to the airport for our flight to Budapest. All went well this time, and we met up with our friends on the bus leaving the airport as planned and had a great New Years eve with them.

Seems as if I have mainly just listed what we have done without much personal commentary. Overall, the trip was great, but long. I don't know if I would recommend traveling at this time of year due to the cold and/or rainy weather, but one advantage is the smaller crowds everywhere. Our main goal for Vienna, Salzburg and Munich was to see the Christmas Markets and that worked out well. Even though it poured buckets in Salzburg, this market was more of a "small town" feeling and we enjoyed it.

Paris - well. I left feeling the need to go back during the spring or fall to enjoy all of the outdoor areas of the city. There are just so many parks and gardens where it would be wonderful to spend a few hours strolling and people watching - and much too barren at this time of year (both of plants and people). And WOW: seeing the art and architecture was just awesome. I've never felt that Paris was someplace I just had to go -- to see the Louvre, the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, but seeing these things is an incredible experience which I recommend to everyone.

I'm posting photos - this time a bit more organized and not as many, so be sure to check out the link to the photos.