Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Subway Friends

Laura and I decided to go out after a lil' drinking game on Saturday night involving the card game rummy. Our plan was to meet my friends either at Mojito or Alcohol Club (very one-track mind with these club names...) After our taxi tried to overcharge us, we decided to walk.
We ran into two girls and a guy who decided to help us find the clubs. The guy spoke English, but the two girls didn't. They all were university students and worked at Subway. When they asked what I did, I mentioned I was studying the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The guy did not like this. His politics were definitely quite different than mine, but I really didn't want to discuss it. It was Saturday night!
When we finally arrived at the club, there was a cover, so we decided to just go out with our new Subway friends. They brought us to a little pizza parlor where we struggled to communicate, mixing Bulgarian, English, and French.
The next morning, Laura and I decided to visit them at Subway. She really wanted turkey, and as luck would have it, Subways around the world are the same. Except for corn...

Who wants corn on their sub? Then again, who wants corn on their pizza? Bulgarians do love their corn...
After a stop at Subway and Starbucks, I brought Laura to the bus-stop, had a long Skype date with Byeong-Hun and then went for a long walk around the city. I managed to get lost, which was nice, but then right at the moment I asked for help, I saw the tall building near my apartment. It was a gorgeous night for a walk on Sunday. In fact, the weather here has been great. Take that rainy Korea.
Back to my Subway friends. Yesterday, I went to meet them in the evening at 8 pm. I must have got the time wrong, because they weren't finished till 9 pm. At 9, one of the girls and I had a jilted Englarian conversation about my life in Sofia, and pretty much how I don't really have very many friends yet. After about an hour, she had to run off to her boyfriend and I was left without plans.
I feel like I'm being too earnest about making friends. I've been meeting people, and then kind of being a little persistent about seeing each other quickly again. I think maybe it is a good idea to back off and slow it down... I'll have friends eventually. Right?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Много хубава църква!

Saturday was a very pleasant day. Laura and I walked around the town looking at license plates and finding the Starbucks. Laura is obsessed with license plates, and maybe got me hooked on the hobby. I will report back if I can find all of the countries in Europe while living in Sofia... wish me luck!
The coffee was great at Starbucks. I do love an iced Americano. However, here in Bulgaria they usually drink little shots of espresso. This is also fine with me, and saves a decent amount of money. 75 cents for your morning cup of coffee?
We wandered around through a park, and saw some old men playing chess. Their game was really intriguing, and they would make their next move so quickly! I can't even beat my computer. Then again, I think that whenever I'm on my computer Steve Jobs is out there somewhere battling it out... Anyways, their game was great, but then the guy on the left started to talk to us about something. We obviously couldn't follow very much of what he had to say, but it could probably be summarized into "Oh, you kids these days."
We continued our walk to the most remarkable building in Sofia: the Alexander Nevski memorial church. It honors the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died during the War of Liberation from 1877-1878. The exterior is gorgeous, with huge domes and half-domes, four of which are plated with gold.
The inside is also gorgeous, with huge frescoes and beautiful chandeliers. It was dark when we entered, so we didn't get to see much. Only near the end did of the service did the lighting increase enough for a picture to show up.
But the best part was certainly the service. We were lucky enough to walk in during a service with a full choir. It was so peaceful to just sit inside and listen, and watch all that was going on. This video's quality isn't the best, but the sound is glorious.

After our long walk, we went out for a nice Bulgarian dinner. I enjoyed a shopska salata with fried cheese. You need to mix the good with the bad.

A taste of Asia

A friend from Boston College, Laura, who is also on a Fulbright, came to visit me in Sofia over the weekend. We were wandering around, trying to find a place to eat, and noticed a sign for Chinese food. Since neither of us had eaten Chinese in a while, we went in. Lemon chicken and cashew chicken. Delicious.

While we were eating, there was someone in the basement playing Fur Elise relentlessly, maybe around ten times while we were eating. Although our server was Bulgarian, with, I must say, remarkable English, I had this image of the poor Chinese boy downstairs. Whenever customers came in to eat, his parents would force him to practice, show off his skills and set a nice atmosphere for the guests upstairs. And he still had a lot of homework to finish. :-(
The food was decent. It tasted like American-Chinese food. Except the cashew chicken was WAY too salty. Bulgarians do love their salt. C'est la vie. It made for good leftover stir-fried rice the next morning.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Obama and Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov are Twins?

I thought this news article was hilarious: (From Novinite News)

Bulgaria: Borisov, Obama Appear as Twins at UN Meeting
Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov and US President Obama shared a laugh as they appeared to be wearing the same outfits at a UN meeting. Photo by Council of Ministers
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had a funny encounter with US President Barack Obama at a UN meeting in New York as they turned out to be wearing the very similar clothes.
“We look absolutely the same, it was kind-of funny – a black suit, a blue tie, and a white shirt. We even share a laugh when we stood next to each other,” Borisov told journalists in NYC.
His “twin” meeting with American President Obama took place during the official dinner after the opening of the 65th session of the UN General Assembly.
“The happy news is that Obama knows Bulgaria very well. He believes that we are a reliable strategic partner. We just had a friendly conversation,” the Bulgarian Prime Minister explained.
It is unclear if the fact that he wore the same clothes as Obama was a pure coincidence but both state leaders changed their ties for the next UN reception in the evening.

A perk to living in a small country

The other night, I went out with my friend Azer. I randomly met this guy two years ago at Harvard when Stanishev was still the Prime Minister of Bulgaria. Who knew we'd meet again in Sofia? Anyways, we went out to a local club because there was some sort of Wednesday night party.
Azer is a pretty good connection. He knows a lot of people in Bulgaria, and apparently a lot of important people. He introduced me to a lot of new folks, and afterward would mention what they did. I met maybe seven famous Bulgarians in under two hours at one club.
Can you imagine that every happening in the states? Its way too big. The celebrities would be all over the country, and in various clubs.  And they probably wouldn't be that interested in meeting a visiting scholar.
My favorite person was introduced as Maria. We got our picture taken later.

Apparently she is one of the most famous Bulgarian pop-singers.
Pretty friendly for a pop-star. How come I never met any K-pop artists?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Independence Day

Bulgaria, as most Bulgarians can tell you, suffered under the Ottoman yoke for some 500 years. It wasn't the worst of empires, and relatively passive compared to other European empires' intense assimilation efforts, but I assume it is never nice to be under the rule of a foreign power. In the late 19th century, however, foreign powers stepped in and the Treaty of San Stefano was signed on March 3rd, 1878. Although early drafts of the treaty re-created a Bulgaria that was similar in size to pre-Ottoman times, foreign powers eventually changed their mind, worrying about having another great power in southeastern Europe. On the map below, the dark black line corresponds with the original draft, and the black-striped white line represents the borders of modern-day Bulgaria. Thanks Wikipedia!

This treaty, however, did not grant Bulgarian independence. Instead, it became a semi-autonomous region of the Ottoman Empire. 
Thirty years later, in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria declared itself free of the Ottoman Empire and a sovereign state. Like March 3, 1878, today, September 22, is a significant date in Bulgarian history. Ah, the sweet smell of independence. Bulgaria was even given the freedom to be involved in the Balkan Wars, World War I and World War II (whoopee). During these wars, Bulgaria hoped to become the size of its former emperor, but its irredentist dreams were never fulfilled. This ideal of a greater Bulgaria has not died, however, as is apparent in any nationalistic youtube video. Watch out Macedonia!
The biggest celebrations for today are in Veliko Tarnovo, but there might be something going on tonight in Sofia. Nationalistic celebrations often leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I might peek in for a bit.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

50 Words

So you may be curious about what I do. I'm eventually going to be researching the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a political party in Bulgaria that mostly represents ethnic Turks, but for now, I'm just brushing up on my Bulgarian. For three months. This was my original proposal, and it is fun. A little boring, but fun.
My current project is learning fifty words a day. My 'work' day lasts for around 8 hours, so this isn't really a problem. For now, a lot of these words are also review, so I've had a lot of time to relax and sleep. If, however, I can continue this process and learn fifty words a day, five times a week, after three months that should be about 3,000 words. That is a decent vocabulary, and hopefully can be useful when I start actual research in the Bulgarian language.
This methodology got me thinking about a conversation I heard once in a Korean subway. There was an English-speaking teacher with one of his students. His student, being Korean, was being very self-conscious about his level of vocabulary. The teacher responded with, "Oh, your English is great. You know way more words than the average American. The average American only knows about 200 words." I don't know where this guy got his information, but he was surely confused. 200 words? I bet an average third-grader knows at least 50 Crayola colors, 50 different animals, 50 different cartoon characters, and 50 states. Oh wait, that's already 200 words! And those are all nouns! It's remarkable how many words that we have at our disposal. Maybe we only use about 200 in our daily conversations. Well, if your daily conversations go something like this:
Man: Hi.
Woman: Hello.
Man: Get me a beer.
Woman: Ok.
Man: Cool.
However, even if this man chooses to use only a handful of words, he has way more at his disposal. A first-grader should be able to recognize some 500 words by sight. There are more than 200,000 words in the English language. I'll be happy if I can memorize my first 3,000, and sound like a silly elementary student. Then again, a Bulgarian elementary student would probably be able to name all the animals at the zoo.
That sounds like a good batch of 50 new words. And an excuse to go to the zoo...

Fire and Dinosaurs

Whoever thought up street theater is brilliant. What's not to love? They are pretty much free. Sure, you can give a couple of bucks, but you are under no obligation. They are outside. Unless you have photophobia, that's good news. And they are allowed to do crazy things. Like throw fire around. Or dress up like dinosaurs.
On Friday night, Dian, a couple of his friends and I went out to see the fire show. There is currently a week of puppetry in Sofia, and this was the first show that I saw. 

God, I love when the happy one starts skipping rope. Too awesome. On Saturday I went to another show. This one had dinosaurs. It was fantastic. I kept thinking of Ben Lynch, my best friend from college, and how one of the few words he knows in sign language is dinosaur. I'll let the video speak for itself. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Can't get you out of my head

'Yes' and 'no' seem like such universals. Shaking your head side-to-side means 'yes', and up-and-down means 'no'. Right?
Unfortunately, the opposite is true here in Bulgaria. A little wiggle back and forth means 'yes'. Kind of similar to what they do in India. Then you can either go up-and-down for 'no' or a more clear side-to-side. My Bulgarian professor told me a story once of a group of Americans traveling to Bulgaria. They stopped for a beer and asked the waitress if they had Zagorka. She shook her head. They asked if she had Ariana. She shook her head again. They went through the entire list of beers and she shook her head on everyone. Disappointed they were about to leave, when she asked them why they didn't choose a beer, since they had so many choices. This Bulgarian peculiarity is truly confusing, but important to remember.
This difference, coupled with living in Seoul last year, has caused me to make an ass out of myself on a number of occasions. 'Ne' in Korean means 'yes'. 'Ne' in Bulgarian means 'no'. I'm so used to bobbing my head up and down and saying 'ne'; I can't stop this habit! My landlady was asking me yes or no questions and I was trying to agree with her, but just continually said 'no, no, no'. I think in about two more weeks I'll be Bulgarianized. Which will be great, until I leave the country. Then I'll have to confuse my lil' old brain once more.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not everything you put in your mouth is delicious

I really enjoy food. People who know me know this. I can eat most anything. Even though I used to be a pseudo-vegetarian, while traveling I usually eat meat. At a little restaurant in a park I thought it would be fun to try something new. I looked on the menu and saw something about chicken. So I asked for that and waited for about a half an hour to be served this:

It looks pretty good, right? And the smell was wonderful. But the closer I looked at the chicken to see what part of the animal it was the more worried I became. I've tried some weird meats in Bulgaria . . . so I took a bite and immediately could tell it was one of those 'delicacy' meats. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't eat. I almost puked at the table trying to swallow the first bite. After three tastes, I gave up. The waiter tried to convince me it was delicious, but I just told him it wasn't delicious for me. Turns out it was дроб- liver. Not my cup of tea. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010


One of my favorite parts about being in Bulgaria so far is the constant language recall. I studied Bulgarian for two semesters at Boston College and did two summer sessions in Veliko Turnovo, a small city in the center of the country. At the end of my studies I would say I was at about an intermediate level, with a decent conversational ability.
Coming back to Bulgaria after a year in Korea, however, has diminished me back to a bumbling pre-elementary student. Sure I remembered hi and a couple of basic verbs, but most of the vocabulary I had viscously studied in University had retreated to the far corners of my brain. This was quite upsetting.
Well, it was until I started walking around the city. I'll just see a word on a sign, and there will be an instant recall. If you would have asked me how to say, for example, 'real estate agent' five days ago, I would have had no idea. But the other day I saw 'PEMOHT' and thought to myself, 'hey, that's the word for real estate agent' and in no time its back in my lingo. Not like I can use that word very often, but it feels good to have these 'aha' moments.
This must be similar to the life of a person with photographic memory. To just see a word and instantly be able to use it. I worked hard, years ago, to memorize these vocabulary words, but now I just need a quick reminder and they are back on the tip of my tongue, ready to be used. I haven't really picked up my Bulgarian books yet, but I know I will need to soon. After these initial weeks of just recalling vocabulary that I had already learned, I will be back to the grindstone- memorizing words and studying grammar. Luckily I love grammar. And I love getting paid to do what I love.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Going the Distance

Thursday nights have 5 leva shows at the theater in the Mall of Sofia. I ended up meeting up with Dian, who was one of the coordinators at my first Bulgarian language seminar in the summer of 2007, and a couple of his friends to see the movie Going the Distance with Justin Long and Drew Barrymore. Although it was a very predictable American comedy, it was enjoyable and decently funny.
I really enjoyed watching the Bulgarian subtitles and quickly remembering some vocabulary words that I had forgotten. Of course, there were also times that the subtitles did not match what was happening on the screen. Korea loved to do this. Taking curse words and replacing them with something more appropriate for polite company. When one character said 'f***er' they replaced the word with 'idiot', so of course I asked Dian how to say f***er. After he told me and helped me with my pronunciation, he immediately told me why I shouldn't use it. However, you never know when it might come in handy.
The movie is about a couple who quickly fall in love, but know that they have a deadline, since Barrymore needs to get back to Stanford to finish up grad school. They decide to try a distance relationship, and the movie explores the difficulties that are part and parcel of such a relationship. Of course, it got me to thinking about my own relationship, and how Byeong-Hun and I are trying to make it work in a much wider distance. It has only been about a month and a half, but it is not pleasant. I used to make fun of my sister, Anna, because she would ALWAYS be on the phone with Mike during their four-year long-distance relationship. Now that I have had a taste of the very real trials of a long distance relationship, I truly respect how much work and effort my sister put in for Mike. I'm already going crazy after a month and a half. I don't know how I'd fare if it was a whole year apart. Now, the time difference is easier, with just six hours separating us. However, we have such different work schedules that it is sometimes hard to connect. I just can't wait for October 15th, when we get to live together again!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not so familiar faces

Walking around Korea it took me a while to figure out what made people look different. They tended to all have black hair, black eyes, around the same height, very white skin and dressed rather similarly. It was one of my biggest fears that I would not be able to learn my students names because they all looked alike. Of course, it turned out that I couldn't learn all of their names because I had 700 students, but that is a different story. By the time I was done teaching, however, I realized that not only did people look different, but strikingly so. I would recall faces way before I would recall names. The names were a heck of a lot more similar than the faces. So-young, Su-young, Seo-young, Su-jung, etc.
Here in Bulgaria it is quite different. I can't figure out what makes them the same. Maybe because I've been in Korea and focused on the little details. Where the eyebrows were placed, hairstyles, dimples, teeth, what have you, but here there is a smorgasbord of diversity.
Of course, practically everyone is white. However, I've seen more hair colors walking down the street in an hour than you would see for a month in Seoul. Peoples faces look so strikingly different. I think that I'm surrounded by various Europeans, and then I hear them all speaking Bulgarian. It makes me wonder if people see me and think I'm Bulgarian. Or at least Slavic. One woman in the local grocery store helped me and later asked where I was from. When I didn't understand the question at first, she prompted me with "Czecho? Slovak? Rusky?" I'm not going to lie; it felt good that she didn't presume I was from the states. Maybe if I really learn Bulgarian I can at least somewhat blend in. That really wasn't an option in Korea.
Unless I dyed my hair, got eye surgery, a facial re-construct, and lost 20 lbs.


Zagorka is one of the most popular beers in Bulgaria. I had one with lunch and was a little tipsy when I met with my Fulbright coordinator. (I hadn't had any alcohol in about a week, so it was kind of a shock to my system. That and I'm probably still a little bit weird from jet-lag). When I told my coordinator, Rada, that I couldn't remember all of the questions that I wanted to ask thanks to my Zagorka, she laughed and told me Bulgarians don't even consider it alcohol. When a previous teetotaler Fulbright scholar had come and told Bulgarians that he didn't drink, they would give him a beer instead. Classy.

Another great reason to be in Eastern Europe. This baby cost about a dollar, and it tastes so much better than a cheap beer in the US. Do not be fooled; it definitely DOES have alcohol in it. 

Shopska Salata

Good news for any vegetarians out there: although Bulgarians do love their meat, there are a few options for you. Vegans, however, will miss out on the best part: sirene cheese! Luckily, I love cheese, so here is my first Bulgarian recipe (serves two)

Shopska Salata
3 large tomatoes
2 cucumbers (peeled)
1/2 cup green and/or red bell pepper
2 green onions
Parsley to taste
1/2 cup of sirene cheese (can substitute with feta)

Chop all the vegetables to bite sized pieces. Mix in a large salad bowl with chopped parsley. Top with sirene cheese (a lot of it!) and drizzle with sunflower oil, vinegar, and a dash of salt and pepper. Enjoy.

It should look like this :-D

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anxiety Vanquished

I'm not going to lie. I had a lot of anxiety before I came to Bulgaria. This is not my first time abroad, or even living abroad, but I didn't know what to expect. I have been to Bulgaria before, but my impressions of Sofia the first time around were not the greatest. Everything felt a little too post-Communist. Too gritty. Ugly sky-scrapers are not a promising feature of any city. (Then again, Seoul has a lot of those, but manages to retain its awesomeness).
However, after my walks around my neighborhood yesterday and today, this anxiety is being quickly replaced with delight. I'm re-discovering why I fell in love with Eastern Europe in the first place. One of the biggest reasons? The people. Bulgarians have already been very helpful with my awkwardness in adjusting, and also they are surprisingly good at English. (This last part is not good in the long run with my goal to learn Bulgarian, but useful for my first weeks of orientation). My landlady has also been a great help. When there were no pots and pans in the kitchen, I asked if it was my duty to buy them for myself. I'm not really sure what is included in a fully-furnished apartment, but she was quick to go out shopping and delivered them to my door tonight. I can now cook, which is one of those things that really makes a place feel like home.
The city center is about a twenty-minute walk from my place, and the walk itself is quite pleasant. Although lacking in the architectural beauty of other Eastern European cities, i.e. Prague, the boulevards are wide, with lots of trees and space for walking. Also, I'm very close to a huge grocery store, which is a relief when compared to Kangnam and its expensive grocery stores. Last night, on my walk, there were TONS of street performers. I can't really recall much in Korea besides the random guitar players in Hongdae. There was even a string quartet. I love Europe.

Thanks Ali

I was walking around the city today, trying to find a meal. It was going to be my first Bulgarian meal of 2010, but then I stumbled upon the following food stand:

How could I resist a restaurant that used Aladdin in their advertisement? 
So I got a kebab instead of typical Bulgarian food. Although I feel a little bad, I am studying the Turkish political party here in Sofia. So it is a little appropriate. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

LOT: Polish Airlines

Flying from Minneapolis was fine. United. Chicago to Warsaw was not very pretty. Why? So many people on that flight had really bad body odor. I slightly remember this as a problem last time I was in Bulgaria, but it was really bad in the airport and in the plane. Of course, I continually thought it was me with the BO, but every time I took a sniff, I turned out fine.
However, the inflight magazine from Warsaw to Sofia was fantastic. Poorly translated English combined with efforts to bolster tourism in Poland made the two hour flight whiz by. Here was my favorite article:

Misfits Sing and Dance:
Mr Schister, a high school Spanish teacher, assumes the directorship of the school choir. But instead of the usual Hanna Montana wannabes and sugar-sweet kids, Schister's group is a lineup of outcasts and misfits that includes a Jewish girl raised by a gay couple, a wheelchair-bound boy, an obese Afro-American, an Afro-Asian and a gay. All these minorities dance and sing hit covers. A pregnant cheerleader comes to join the choir and two football players from the school team who just happen to be enamoured of her quickly follow suit. If the students defy stereotypes, the teachers are downright motley. Season one won many awards to date. Watch it in Poland on Fox Life from September.

In my sleep-deprived state this was hilarious. I'm still trying to figure out what an Afro-Asian is.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Off to Sofia

Today is a Monday.
I feel nervous, but mostly anxious. 
I'm moving to Sofia, Bulgaria.
This will be quite a huge difference from my last home in Seoul, South Korea. 
Wish me luck.