(1/3) Year in Review

So…despite the fact that I’m currently in my 7th year of teaching, it just doesn’t ever seem to get any easier or less time-consuming. In fact, I’m willing to say that it could even be MORE time-consuming, somehow. Anyway, all I know is that this whole blog thing has been even harder to maintain this year. Maybe it’s also because I’ve been having fewer capital-m Moments in my second year; this is just life now, not so much a mini-adventure every day.

Now I’m back on my blog finally and the whole interface is different and I have no idea what’s going on. There’s no way to actually catch up on everything that’s happened in the 4 months since I last posted, so here’s a very brief run-down:

September

We started school again! I like my kids. This might also be why I can’t seem to stop working (see above).

I went to the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart, Germany and saw lots of people wearing dirndls and leiderhosen:

Also, apparently Germans are also as un-PC as Bulgarians sometimes:
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Eurokids

I’ve been keeping a running list of topics I want to blog about during this whole span of time where I haven’t been writing anything, and the list has been reaching epic proportions, so I thought I should just do some housecleaning and write about one of them at random. Some of them are sorely outdated, but this one at least seems to be sort of universal and fitting as an end-of-year reflection.

The kids finished exams yesterday, and teachers are in school until this Friday. Overall I had a really wonderful year and loved my kids (especially my 10th graders) dearly. One of my former colleagues in the States saw a video of some of my students (boys specifically) and said, “Ah! They’re SO European! They’ve got the European male walk/strut down.” Which got me thinking about some of the other differences between my Bulgarian students and my American students. I mean, my kids here speak English, they watch American TV shows and movies, they have fancy cell phones, they want to learn to drive and go to prom, they drink and smoke and have sex when they probably really shouldn’t…so what are some of the differences? How could you tell that my kids are native Bulgarians and not just an immigrant American kid with an accent? 

I thought of three… Continue reading

ВЕЛИКДЕН

I should post about this before it gets too outdated (I still haven’t posted any Italy pictures from weeks ago), so here goes. This past weekend was, of course, Easter weekend, which I had never really celebrated in any way other than dyeing some eggs when I was little. Bulgaria, however, which is largely an Eastern Orthodox country, celebrates Easter as a major holiday and has many interesting traditions associated with it.

First, Bulgarians are very into painting and dyeing eggs. Even adults without children will dye and paint eggs to give to friends and relatives, and even my jaded seniors asked me if I was going to paint any Easter eggs. I didn’t dye any, however, so I don’t have original photos to share.

Second, although many Bulgarians don’t actually routinely go to church, they often go to midnight mass on the Saturday before Easter. I went downtown with a couple of colleagues to attend midnight mass at Nevski Cathedral and we got a drink beforehand, and the cafe/bar EMPTIED at 11:50 pm because everyone downed their drinks and hustled off to church (ourselves included!).

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Crowds gathering at Nevski for midnight mass. 

In fact, the midnight mass tradition is so embedded and widespread that the Sofia public transit system extends its hours until 1:30 am so that people can take the metro and buses home. I mean, that’s really the biggest testament that this is an important holiday: Sofia has its act together and plans in advance how to handle it and best serve its citizens!!

Smaller villages and towns around Bulgaria have various traditions as well. Plovdiv apparently is well-known for their Easter celebrations.

Now, once you’re at the church, you listen to mass (Nevski’s mass is outdoors and is recorded live and broadcast on Bulgarian TV) and toward the end the priest declares that Christ has risen and the bells in the church ring out. Then, everyone has tall candles (you can buy them from people on the street) and you’re supposed to light them (in theory I think you’re supposed to get the holy flame from the priest’s candle and pass it along, but in practice this wasn’t really possible with all the crowds and some people just had lighters or matches) and then start walking around the church carrying them. You’re supposed to circle the church three times and keep your candle lit the whole time, otherwise you have bad luck and/or you’re a sinner. Something like that.  Continue reading

Playing like a girl

Well, I’m now convinced that I have light fixture poltergeists, because after flickering out of commission two nights ago, my bathroom light turned itself back on overnight and continued to function perfectly fine for a day before dying again. 

It is Easter Weekend in Bulgaria, a holiday that seems to be in some ways the equivalent of Thanksgiving in U.S. – we get a 4-day weekend, the markets are packed, and traffic is terrible as everyone goes home to spend time with family. I briefly entertained the idea of cobbling together last-minute travel plans, but inertia won out in the end and I’m happy to be enjoying a lazy weekend at home, giving me the opportunity to – among other things – catch up on some blog posts. 

With the warmer weather and a lightening workload thanks to the seniors being almost done (YAY), I’ve been getting out more to watch our school’s various football teams (there are the school’s official varsity and JV team equivalents, and then a whole slew of intramural teams which include the teachers’ team). Yesterday I watched a 12th grade IM team play an 11th grade IM team and was impressed anew at just how good the boys are. These boys aren’t even on the varsity team, but they play fast and hard and elegant, beautiful ball control and foot placement, with lots of headers and precise aerial ball management. It truly is a joy to watch them (and funny when they start throwing absolute FITS when they lose). 

By contrast, I watched the girls’ JV team playing another Sofia school in a tournament our school was hosting this past week, and man, I’m sorry to say it, but they are terrible. They are wonderful kids and they are putting in a lot of effort, but it’s pretty woeful. (To be fair, the other school’s team was equally bad.) I watched them for about 15 minutes and surmised that they would get their asses handed to them by any halfway decent American high school’s girls’ soccer team. For one thing, there was a lot of flailing: actual contact between foot and football seemed to be entirely a matter of chance rather than skill, and it was rare that the ball was actually struck with purpose and direction. Running and field coverage were poor – some of the girls didn’t seem to know where they should be. But most of all, the girls were completely lacking in aggression. They didn’t get in each other’s faces, they were unassured in their ball possessions, they didn’t defend, they didn’t attack. No one seemed to really want the ball – or the win. It was night and day from the boys’ fast-paced, thrilling, aggressive game. 

I started wondering why this would be so. Why would the girls in a football-crazy country, where even the boys who play casually are really good, be so vastly inferior to the girls in a country that generally couldn’t care less about professional soccer and hero-worships figures from the OTHER football?  Continue reading

Baba Marta

Честита Баба Марта to all! Today was my first experience with this holiday and tradition, and while I had heard about it, nothing prepared me for how charming and lovely it was in real life.

There’s nothing really to it, and I think the simplicity is a large part of the appeal. It’s not tied to any religious holidays, there are no ceremonies, rituals, or stressful dinners associated with it. It’s just a day for friends, family, and co-workers to give each other мартеници for health and happiness and wish each other “Честита Баба Марта” and await the spring.

What are мартеници, my American readers ask?

These are мартеници:

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Rabbit, rabbit

Last Thursday was Chinese New Year (китаийска нова година) and on Wednesday night I had 8 co-workers plus one significant other over for New Year’s Eve dinner. It was my first time preparing anything like this, and I rather think there wasn’t quite enough food, but there was plenty of wine and people seemed happy. I made Taiwanese mei fun (long noodles for long life), dumplings from scratch (for good fortune), fried stuffed eggplant, and a tofu dish from a packet that I thought was ma po tofu but turned out to be absolutely nothing of the kind. It ended up tasting something like salty glue, although my gallant co-workers said that it was perfectly acceptable once you dumped loads of chili sauce on it.

There are two problems with acquiring Chinese groceries in Sofia. One is that there aren’t a lot of places to buy ethnic foods. Hit and Carrefour both have slowly expanding ethnic food sections and there’s an organic food store in the mall that carries some stuff as well, but the focus is mostly on Japanese (mainly sushi supplies) with some Thai. I sought out this promisingly-named store downtown…

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…but found that it mostly stocked with kitchenware rather than groceries (I might go back to further inspect their wok selection, however). This was where I bought the cursed tofu packet, and where I encountered my second major problem with acquiring Chinese groceries in Sofia: the ingredients and instructions are all written in Chinese and/or Bulgarian, neither of which I am fully literate in. (The sad thing is that I might actually be more literate in Bulgarian now than I am in Chinese.) Hence, glue-like tofu requiring copious amounts of chili sauce.

This whole process made me think more about being Chinese in Bulgaria. Continue reading