Visa-vis

(It’s a pun, get it? Well, maybe after you actually read the post…)

One of the nice things about living overseas is that it’s easier to give yourself permission to feel really special and accomplished for completing basic tasks like almost signing up for a cell phone plan or buying a DVD player. Today I gave myself a huge pat on the back for successfully submitting my paperwork for a tourist visa at the Russian consulate in Sofia.

Like the Tanzanian visa/vaccination situation, this was one of those pleasant times when an interaction actually turned out to be easier than what you were anticipating. Living in a place where you don’t really speak the native language, you just get accustomed to expecting things to go wrong and mass confusion to reign supreme. And for me this is stressful because I don’t like being wrong and I don’t like being embarrassed (I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it while living here, but it’s still not something I’m very comfortable with). Plus, regarding the visa there was once again conflicting information on what I might need to bring (the lists of documents was anywhere from 4 to 10 items long), and I know from experience that anytime you get into paperwork with Bulgarians you know it’s going to be nonsensical and arbitrary, so I wasn’t expecting Russians to be much different. Continue reading

Forced migration

Hi again all 4 people who read my blog on Posterous,

Great, you found the new site. While the import worked successfully, the formatting of photos and text didn’t always transfer over so smoothly (mostly, I am sure, because Posterous is/was a piece of shit). I worked on the photos for a long time today and will slowly work my way back through text to correct formatting issues (and Cyrillic words, which have currently all been replaced by a long string of ????’s, which is actually kind of appropriate, somehow) in the archives. Also will continue to tweak the blog theme and appearance.

And at some point, I will start posting again. I think.

More technical difficulties

Between Facebook losing my photo albums and Posterous screwing up my last post, I’ve had a very trying past 12 hours in technology. My “Not in Bulgaria” post keeps semi-posting, appearing in some places and not others, and now the first part of it is stuck on the homepage even though the post doesn’t actually exist anymore because I deleted it after it wouldn’t show up on the homepage, only in Reader. I’m going to wait a little bit and see if Posterous allows me to actually delete my post and re-post it, instead of just pretending I did, and then we’ll see.

I have found something worse than Bulgarian customer service

It’s called Skype “customer service.”

I’m too mad still to even bother giving context for this; anyway, all the exposition you need is basically in the chat already. I think the transcript speaks for itself, so I’ll just paste it below.

Warning: this is extremely long.

NB: Pay attention also to the time stamps in the chat. When there’s long pauses or I don’t respond, it’s usually because I did compose a response but decided it was too rude to actually send.

NB: I changed my own name in this transcript but left the CS reps’, so that if you ever have the misfortune to be on Skype Live Support with any of these idiots, you’ll know to run far away.

NB: I’m posting this from home because my interwebz is fixed! Bulgarian internet servicemen who don’t speak any English are, as it turns out, MUCH more helpful and articulate than Skype representatives.

Without further ado… Continue reading

I can has interwebz nao plz?

I’m back in Sofia for Year 3 after a smooth 13 hours of traveling. Once again, I was basically unable to sleep on the transatlantic flight, and so subjected myself to bad movie selection (The Avengers, which I wasn’t crazy about, and Mirror Mirror, which was truly awful) and the noxious fumes being emitted from my seat partner, who passed out with an eye mask and ear plugs virtually upon takeoff and spent the entire 7-hour flight sleeping with her face turned toward me and her mouth hanging open. I forgave her, though, since I’m an open-mouthed sleeper myself, so I’m sure I’ve done the same to others. Oddly, I didn’t have to go through passport and security check in Munich, which you usually have to do when transferring from the States to intra-European travel, especially considering Bulgaria isn’t Schengen (much to their chagrin, and despite the anticipatory signs you will see at the airport for Schengen vs. Non-Schengen Arrivals). My passport was also stamped in Boston this year, whereas it wasn’t when I flew into Newark last year. Differing airport policies, or security consistency fails? Hmm.

I was able to doze fitfully on the 90-minute Munich-Sofia flight, despite being quite constricted in space due to the quite large man (not fat, just LARGE) who was wedged into the seat next to me. I felt exhausted in the taxi home (the cabbie mournfully delivered me to my apartment and pocketed my paltry 5-leva fare; apparently the cabbies are all struggling right now because no one’s in Sofia, so the taxis are waiting hours for passengers, and everyone coming in from the airport is going only short distances), but was ultimately unable to nap at home, between my cat’s earnest “You’re home! I wuv you soooooooo much!” kneadings with her unclipped-for-two-months claws and just the adrenaline I guess I’d managed to work up in order to get myself through the sleepless traveling. I’ve always found it’s best, anyway, to stay awake for normal hours in your arrival city, and it basically worked this time too, though I’ll admit it was pretty rough waking up at 8 am (1 am Boston time) and then going to school, like the crazy person I am.

However, I did encounter one snafu upon returning to Sofia: my internet stopped working the last day or two that I was in Sofia in July, but I didn’t have time to deal with it before leaving, and then I forgot about it (not that I could’ve really done much about it from the States, anyway). I guess I was hoping that the problem would magically disappear over the summer, but unfortunately, it persists. Continue reading

Technical difficulties

I can’t tell why the Bulgarian in the text of my previous post comes out preceded by “Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE,” but every time I try to go into the post to edit it, the full text doesn’t show up and so I can’t actually fix it. I’m sure it’s just some kind of formatting code but I’m amused that it looks like some kind of jingoistic censorship of non-English. I can just picture someone at Posterous/Twitter saying, “What is this Ruski nonsense???” and losing their shit.

Like yelling "fire!" in a BG building

Here’s another fun fact about my school, my apartment, and it seems many buildings in Bulgaria: There are no smoke detectors or fire alarms.

A few weeks ago, the electrical wiring around one of my colleague’s computers spontaneously burst into flame about ten minutes before first period started. Either the electrical surge that caused the fire or the fire itself then killed all of the electricity in the building – this was how I even knew anything was going on, even though it was only two doors down from me: my computer suddenly turned off (this in itself, though, is not actually that unusual an occurrence) and my phone shut down. About ten seconds after this happened, one of the other teachers ran into my room and said, “Does your phone work? Can you call the main office? There’s a fire!” But since none of our phone works, and there was no automated or pull-activated alarm system in the building, she had to just continue running out of the building and all the way to the administrative offices in another building to get someone to make the call to come deal with the electrical fire, which luckily sort of fizzled itself out before anyone actually got there.

But because we didn’t have a protocol or alarm system in place, the building – full of students because the coffee shop and library are in the same building – never evacuated. Because how were we supposed to evacuate? Walk up to each student and engage in a lengthy conversation about what had just happened? Run around the building yelling, “FIRE!!!!”? We had practiced fire drill procedure earlier in the year, but the notification was an administrator coming to the classroom door and saying, “OK, evacuate now.” There’s just no automated alarm system in place. The teacher whose wiring had caught on fire held her first period in the empty classroom next door while maintenance came and took away the charred remnants of her computer wiring.

This was a serious WTF Bulgaria?! moment. Elevating it to epic WTF-ness is the fact that the school’s electrical systems and wiring had just been inspected over spring break and given the thumbs-up.

Let’s be clear: I don’t know that ANY building in Bulgaria ever actually deserves to get a thumbs-up on their electrical system. Even my apartment block, which is quite new, has frequent fuse problems, and I’ve had ongoing issues with exploding light bulbs and bathroom light bulbs that seem to wiggle themselves out of their sockets every couple of weeks. Couple this with the really charming fact that Bulgaria doesn’t seem to have smoke detectors. Like, any. Apparently, the school looked into installing smoke detectors in all the rooms last year (because, you know, it’s a school full of children and is composed of really old wooden buildings that go up like a tinder box and oh yeah, there’s ALREADY been a major fire in a classroom here a couple years ago) but surmised that the best/only way to actually do this was if all the American teachers brought back several smoke detectors with them after going home to the States for the summer, because they just aren’t to be had in Bulgaria.

Good job, Bulgaria. For a country that’s full of hypochondriacs, you sure are remarkably blase about death by fricassee and/or aspyhyxiation.