Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The first flight from Sofia to Ekaterinburg flew under a rainbow

Taken from Sofia airport's website. I was looking for news about flight cancellations (why do you have to strike all the time France? Really, you can't work until 62?) when I found this beauty of an article.
The first flight from Sofia to Ekaterinburg flew under a rainbow

The first flight of the Ural Airlines, which took off today at Sofia’s Terminal 2 to Ekaterinburg, flew under a rainbow. The water salute spurts in its honour scattered in the sunny sky above Sofia Airport and shaped a beautiful rainbow.

The inauguration ceremony of the new direct route was attended by Mr. Alexey Fomin - Ural Airlines’ Deputy General Director, Mr. Andreya Andreev - the Airline’s Representative for Bulgaria, Mr. Dimitar Bogdanov - Chairman of Sofia Airport’s Board of Directors and Mr. Nikolay Kabakchiev - Sofia Airport’s Chief Operations Officer.

Mr. Alexey Fomin presented the operations of Sofia Airport’s new business partner and expressed his satisfaction that the joint efforts of both countries had yielded an excellent result, i.e. in addition to Bourgas and Varna, the Ural Airlines will operate to and from Sofia every Friday all the year round. Mr. Dimitar Bogdanov presented a symbolic gift and wished a successful and beneficial collaboration.

With a bouquet of fresh fruits, the Bulgarian side extended its congratulations to the crew of Airbus A320, which will fly on the new route. All passengers and journalists were also given souvenirs of the event and had a piece of the delicious ceremonial cake.

I love how the rainbow was actually just made from those trucks. The water spurt salutes? Is that how we salute planes?

Deaf Club Bulgaria

Yesterday, Byeong-Hun (hereafter known as BH) and I went on a search for the Deaf association in Bulgaria. Well, by search I mean we looked up their address on their website. 12-14 Denkooglu street. Ah, the information age.
Anyways, we got there around 1 pm, and had a hard time finding the right room. We were definitely in the right building; the word глух (deaf) was everywhere, but we couldn't find any Deaf people or offices with Deaf workers. We went into a couple of rooms, and were lead to a group for parents of the hard-of-hearing. Not exactly useful for us. Finally, someone saw that we were confused, and sent us to meet with the president of the Union of the Deaf Bulgaria. After we sat down, he began talking about the organization, and how it has been around for some 80 years. He was using International Sign, and he must have noticed my confusion, because he called in an interpreter that spoke English. BH, who knows ISL, was also a little confused, so at times, he would be speaking in Bulgarian Sign Language, the interpreter would translate to English and then I would translate to ASL for BH. Sometimes, the interpreter didn't know a word in English, and then BH would translate from ISL to ASL. Confusing.
BH told the president that he is looking for volunteer jobs in Sofia, but the president wasn't very helpful. Our friend told us that this might be the case. He was friendly, but very old, and kept going on and on about how many years the Union of the Deaf Bulgaria has been around.
At around 1:30, we headed down to the cafe for some coffee. The president of the Deaf Soccer League showed up, and he and BH were chatting away. The interpreter continued to translate to English, which was very helpful, and she also taught me some Bulgarian Sign Language. I think this also may be helpful for studying Bulgarian.
The Union of the Deaf's library opened at 2, so we headed up to check it out. The librarian was profoundly Deaf, yet could speak. I couldn't understand her Bulgarian very well, but the interpreter translated and then I translated into ASL for BH. There were all sorts of historical memorabilia for the Deaf Club as well as its participation in various international organizations. The tour ended with free copies of various magazines and newspapers as well as books on Bulgarian sign language. If I can't figure out my project here, at least I have something to do on the side!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hike in the Vitoshas

Kristin planned an excursion for Sunday, and although Byeong-Hun and I slept in, we met up with Kristin and Elana at McDonalds to head over to the Vitosha mountains for some hiking. I have a view of this range from my balcony, and it only took about 20 minutes to get to the start of the hike. The weather was great; although it sprinkled a couple of times, this was more refreshing than anything else.
At the start of the hike, we were all energized. Byeong-Hun and I had done a decent amount of hiking in Korea, so we figured this should be no problem. Our goal was the Golden Bridges (Златни мостове), and we were told it would take about an hour and a half. Elana, Byeong-Hun and Kristin were wearing the primary colors, and quite adorable.

Elana and I wanted to practice our Bulgarian, so every once in a while, we would ask someone coming down the mountain how far it was to the Golden Bridges. It started out reasonable, the first person told us it was about 45 minutes. However, every 15 minutes we would ask someone else, and the time kept getting longer and longer. Half an hour later, and a guy told us we still had about an hour. Thirty minutes more, and we were told fifteen minutes. But then the next couple we asked said we still had forty minutes to go. We don't know if everyone was lying to us, or if we were the only ones that were hiking up. Apparently you can take a car to the top, and then hike down.
We continued to hike, getting slower and slower. It was pretty steep, but at least there weren't stairs. Byeong-Hun and I have climbed up a couple of mountains that rely on staircases. Not fun.
The scenery was gorgeous. At one point, we were going through what was maybe a cloud. Or just mist. Either way, it made for some great photos.
There weren't many people out on the trails, which was surprising, because it was a Sunday with great weather. Then again, I'm used to the craziness that is hiking in Korea, with thousands of grandfathers and grandmothers rushing the mountain. It was nice to get out of the city, and breathe some fresh air.
When we finally reached our destination, we looked all around for the Golden Bridge. I asked an elderly woman where they were, and she answered "Тук" (here).  They weren't actually made out of gold, but these mounds of rocks. Maybe a dried river bed.
After some pictures of the 'Golden Bridges' we had dinner. The hike maybe took around three hours. It was nice, but we realized we still had a good way till the top. There was no way we could continue that day; by the time we ate, it was already six. However, we found out they have mini-vans that make a trip from downtown Sofia to the Golden Bridges. It might be worth it just to come back to the restaurant. After our huge hike, we had mushroom soup, bean soup, bread, shopska salad, fried cheese, chicken breast, french fries with cheese, and some Bulgarian beer.
Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

One Year

Yesterday, Byeong-Hun and I celebrated our one year anniversary! We didn't do anything super special. He bought me a cute shirt from Uniqlo in Korea, and we then took a long walk around the city. It was fun to explore again, this time with Byeong-Hun. He notices different things than I would, such as the small number of buses used for transportation and how people drive cars from all over the world here. I suppose this is a huge difference when compared to Korea, where most people have Hyundais or Kias. Our walk was huge, but we stopped for a kebab along the way, which is, arguably, the best food in the world. Of course, we also stopped by the big sights: the university, Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Starbucks, etc. And we saw a giant egg:

After we rested at home for a bit, I took him out for dinner. It was Byeong-Hun's first true Bulgarian meal; he had a lot of the staples: shopska salad, french fries with white cheese, and grilled meat. He loves the salad, and I hope the cheese is agreeable with him. Bulgarians definitely eat more cheese than Koreans do!
Back at home, we played a couple of card games (both Korean and American) while enjoying a two-liter of Bulgarian beer. An hour later, and a little tipsy, we headed downtown to meet up with Ellen and Kristin for some fun. I live about 20 minutes from the center, and Byeong-Hun and I had a fantastic conversation about where we are going, and the state of our relationship. Nice to talk these things through. We met up with the two other Fulbrighters at an Irish pub, and taught them some sign language and had our last beer of the night. Ellen is doing a great job learning signs, and hopefully she can pick up enough so I don't need to act as a translator around our speaking friends. We originally planned to go clubbing after the bar, but since we are both getting kind of old (ha!), we went home at around two in the morning. Overall, a nice way to spend an anniversary.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Art Gallery

On Wednesday evening we are in the process of arranging a language class with the Fulbrighters. Unfortunately, the commission cut free lessons, so it is up to us to educate ourselves. I met up with Kathryn, and found out that the lesson was canceled this week. After a nice chat, I headed back home, a little sad that there would be no lesson for this week.
Walking down Vitosha Boulevard (named after the mountains) I saw some guys on stilts outside a store. Curious, I asked what was going on. The elves(?) were nice, and explained that there was an art gallery opening.

After watching for a bit, I decided that I should join in. I got myself a free glass of red wine, and then called Diane. She is teaching painting here in Sofia, so I figured she'd be interested in coming to the gallery. After some taxi problems, she arrived, and we switched over to white wine and explored the gallery.
The basement had art that I really liked. I told Diane that I didn't really understand art, but I know what I would want in my house, and what I wouldn't. She responded by saying that this is the most important part, and unless you are loaded, you should only buy art that you would want in your bedroom. This makes sense to me! We ran into a guy that works at a popular soup restaurant, and he introduced us to some other interesting people. Here is Diane with a Bulgarian artist- they have the same hats!

We also met an interesting guy named Jem. He was born in Bulgaria, but his family immigrated to the United States under communism. He also is ethnically Turk. After going to university in New York, he moved back to Bulgaria to work for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. That's right! My political party! He is the press secretary, so hopefully I can work with him to find out more information about this party that has been, so far at least, elusive. He also had connections with Diane; they both worked with some artist in New York at some point. It definitely is a small world.
A couple of glasses of wine later, I found myself with a group of Italian guys who were living in Bulgaria. Although they spoke English, we were speaking Bulgarian together. I'm telling you, a couple of glasses of wine and going to an art gallery is way more effective of a language learning strategy than Bulgarian lessons! After the art gallery closed, a group of us went to an Irish pub for a beer, and by then it was near midnight and I was tuckered out. I e-mailed Jem the next day, but he still hasn't gotten back to me. I don't want to pester him with phone calls, but I would really love to get working on my project.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I had a couple of problems the other day trying to buy a ticket for Byeong-Hun to come to the states for Christmas. I was using Orbitz, and when I tried to complete the purchase, there was consistently an error message. So, I decided to call their 1-800 number (thank goodness for G-mail's call phone!) and had a pleasant talk with the customer service rep.
After confirming the flight 3 times, she also came to the same error message. So, to fill the time, she started asking questions about where I was and what I was doing. After I told her I was in Bulgaria, I asked if she was in India, and she responded yes. She asked if I had dinner yet, and if my mother was going to cook for me. I laughed and said that I was living alone and would be cooking for myself. She said she did not know how to cook, but her mother was a fantastic cook. We talked about our favorite Indian foods and she was surprised that I liked curry. Who doesn't?
I couldn't help but think of the new TV show Outsourced. Its about this American who has to move to India to run a call center. Its really fun, and makes me want to travel to India even more. Even though he is a very typical ignorant American about a lot of aspects of Indian culture, he at least makes an effort to understand. The other guy on the show is one of those insular people who will never adapt, but I think it does a good job of representing the two very different approaches that people take when living abroad. I hope that even though I'm often ignorant, I strive to understand and participate in the culture rather than living an American lifestyle abroad. Starbucks is my big exception.
Back to the phone call. We kept having issues and she continued to make conversation. She wanted to know when is the best time to visit Bulgaria, and I asked the same for India. I told her how I wanted to make it a long trip, and she agreed. Way too much to see in India for a week-long vacation. She was very interested that I was cooking my own meal, even though it was just penne pasta. Too cute.
She finally decided she had to split the ticket into two legs. This actually turned out to be quite fortuitous. Byeong-Hun's license has the old romanization of his name: Byung-Hun. I had forgotten this until the last moment. If the ticket had gone through originally, there would be a chance that he wouldn't be allowed on the flight. Apparently, it is impossible to change the name on a ticket once it is booked; I find this ridiculous, and probably a lie. Anyways, we ended up changing the name and finally booking the ticket. I never caught the customer service representative's name, but she was definitely more helpful and a lot better at customer service than a lot of her American counterparts. Outsourcing has its benefits.
Now, I just have to figure out how to get rid of the extra six booking charges that showed up on my bank account. . .

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bean Soup in a Monastery Style

As I mentioned earlier, Rachel and I went to the Rila monastery earlier this week, and had a delicious soup for lunch. Looks good, huh?

After the meal, I asked for the recipe, and, amazingly, the cook spoke great English and gave me a list of ingredients. So, here is my recipe for Bean Soup in a Monastery Style:
2 cups of white beans (if you can find white beans marinated monastery style, go for it! Luckily, my grocery store carries this...)
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 onion, diced
1 bunch of scallions, diced
Mint (Bulgarian mint...)

In a large pot, cook the white beans with a half a cup of water. You can use vegetable broth if you have this on hand.
In a skillet, sautee the peppers, onions, and scallions in olive oil. When they are soft, add the herbs (hopefully fresh) as well as salt and pepper.

Combine the vegetables with the beans.
Before serving, mix in a teaspoonful of butter for each bowl of soup.
Serve with bread. I also added cheese, because who doesn't love cheese?

This may be my new favorite vegetarian dish. My dish was close to the original, but I have some suggestions. Dice the onions and peppers thoroughly. I'm talking real small. I don't have the best knife skills, but I think it is important. Don't add to much salt, because it isn't really a salty soup. It should be hearty and savory. Enjoy!

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is one of the must sees of Bulgaria. Rachel and I were trying to find a day trip for her last day here, and we found you can make it to Rila and back in about seven hours. So, we jumped on the bus at 10:20 and headed to the orthodox monastery.
This was my first time to this UNESCO world heritage site, but I'll probably end up going again with other visitors who come to Sofia. It is a very unique and beautiful monastery set in the Rila mountains. Upon first sight, Rachel and I noted how it would be a good setting for a Tim Burton movie.

See what I mean? Not very man churches have so many stripes. In the tenth century, John of Rila traveled to the Rila valley for solitude and enlightenment. He eventually established a monastery high in the mountains, which is now a famous pilgrim site. His left hand is still in the church. We tried to find it, but weren't really sure if it was his remains, or relics of another saint. Creepy, but interesting. 
We walked around the monastery for a bit. Unfortunately, we were not able to climb up and down the stairs through the various corridors, but the inside of the church was beautiful, with various icons and beautiful artwork. No pictures allowed, however. You guys will have to be satisfied with pictures of the beautiful architecture.

Afterward, we went to the monastery restaurant and ate a delicious bowl of bean soup. I got the recipe, and I'll try to cook it later and post a how-to for monastery soup.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Rachel Nusbaum, a friend who I met teaching English in Korea, came down on Saturday morning for a long weekend. She is also a Fulbrighter, but in the Czech Republic. We have a LOT of shared memories from Korea, so it was great to catch up and introduce her to some aspects of Bulgarian culture. The taxi driver from the airport was hilarious. He asked what I was studying, and when I told him I was studying politics, he went on and on about the corruption in Bulgaria. Then he started talking about Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. We all have problems in our political systems.
We jumped on a bus at around 10 AM heading to Plovdiv, which is a city in the southern part of Bulgaria. The weather hasn't been the best in October, but Rachel brought the sun with her, and the drive was pleasant, especially the views of the various mountain ranges.
Being me, I was stupid and forgot my cellphone; the other Fulbrighters had a day trip and we needed to meet up with them at some point so we could catch the van home. We tried to call them using payphones, but it didn't really work out. So, we tried to enjoy the city and hoped that we would bump into them.

Plovdiv is a city of 500,000 (either the second or third largest city in Bulgaria). It is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than Sofia, and is calmer than the capital. Some sort of fair was going on, and Rachel ended up buying a piece of honeycomb. I had a nice opportunity to use my Bulgarian, and asked if we could eat it. The old lady laughed, did her curious head shake and said yes. We continued on our way to the old town which has very cute winding streets and nice architecture. Historically, it had a long period of Roman influence, and there was a large, very impressive, amphitheater near the top of old town.

In the above phot, Rachel is sharing the honeycomb she bought earlier. It was incredibly sweet, and unlike the processed honey we get in the states. Bulgarians produce way more honey than they consume, and I hope at one point I can make it to a bee farm. Apiculture, the pretentious way of saying beekeeping, is fascinating.
Somehow, we managed to run into the other Fulbrighters right outside of the amphitheater. We all went out for lunch. Rachel and I both ended up ordering the same thing: chicken and kashkaval in kavarna. These are clay pots that are used to bake either individual or larger dishes. The food, while not as exciting as Korean food, is great. Especially if you love cheese as much as I do.
Afterward, we headed back to Sofia with the Fulbrighters. We stopped at Starbucks and then walked around the city. My knowledge of Sofia is pretty decent now, so, everyone, feel free to come visit! On our way home, we stopped for some more food. Rachel had tarator (yogurt and cucumber cold soup) and the traditional shopska salat. Since Rachel has been living in the Czech Republic, I was pining for one of my old favorites: fried cheese. I'm not saying that Bulgarian food is particularly healthy, but it is satisfying. Top it off with red wine for two dollars, and I'm a happy camper.

After dinner, we rested for a bit at home. I invited some of the Fulbrighters over for the evening, and Laura, Ellen, and Kristin came to my apartment. We played some Korean drinking games (did I mention Rachel and I continue to be obsessed with Korea?) and then headed out to a club. We wanted to dance, but the first club we came to was pretty much empty. At the door, a girl approached us and started to complain, in English, about how all the happening clubs are chalga. Chalga is a Bulgarian popular style of music that foreigners don't generally like. This Bulgarian girl was telling us about how its awful how Bulgarians are obsessed with short skirts and big breasts, and was railing on her country for a while. I do have to agree. Chalga does not paint a pretty picture of Bulgaria.
This may or may not be safe for work...

After promising the girl we would come back to her club if we couldn't find anything else, we went on a search. After about 15 minutes, though, we all crashed and decided we weren't up for clubbing. Making an early night has become one of the themes of my stay here. Unless I start to like chalga, I probably won't be too much of a night owl in this city.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fulbright Orientation

Woke up for the first time before 10 AM on Friday. Yeah, I know, I'm a spoiled little brat. But I don't intend to wake up early for a while. However, I had to get up early to attend an orientation program for the Fulbrighters in Bulgaria. It was mostly an uneventful orientation, but they did give us some handy tips. Like how to call an ambulance and where the best clinic in Sofia is. I hope I don't need to use this information.
Afterward, we had a lunch at Happy Bar and Grill. The food was pretty delicious, and the conversation was excellent. I had the chance to meet some of the other scholars, including Kathryn, who is a professor studying women in journalism in Bulgaria. We chatted about what we are up to in Sofia, as well as our travels abroad. She is VERY well traveled. Somehow we got into discussing how much football coaches make at universities, and the huge discrepancy between money allotted for sports and academics. The best-paid coaches make five million dollars; this is pretty shocking, but I guess they do help bring in a lot of money for the universities.
Afterward, we all headed to the national history museum. It was once the home of the late Todor Zhivkov: the head of the communist party in Bulgaria for 35 years. The architecture from the outside was not impressive, but inside was a different story.

The museum had tons of artifacts from various stages of Bulgarian history. There was particularly a huge collection of gold, discovered in ancient Thracian burial grounds. Apparently, only a handful of the tombs have been excavated, but I found it hard to believe when we were told that there is up to 20,000 of these tombs in Bulgaria. I did agree with her that it is unfortunate that the government hasn't allotted enough money to find and dig up these tombs, and I would assume there must be some problems with treasure hunters stealing from the Bulgarian state. The tour guide was very smart, and very knowledgeable, but the tour was not interactive, and Laura Yount and I ended up chatting and practicing our Bulgarian throughout the trip. Although it was interesting to see some of the remnants of Bulgarian history, I am personally much more interested in contemporary politics and recent history. Nonetheless, I did like the main hall of the museum and its stunning view of the Vitosha mountains.

After the tour, we headed back into town and Laura, Kate and I went shopping for some gloves at the Mall of Sofia. It is getting cold, but apparently the stores don't know this yet. They were all still selling autumn clothing. Sad. After finally procuring some gloves for the girls at a store for children, we ate a quick snack. Palacinkas, mmmm. These are crepes, but with some Bulgarian twists. I had chicken with kashkaval (Bulgarian yellow cheese).
The orientation ended on Friday with a dinner at the Crystal Palace Hotel. Once again, it was a perfect moment for networking, but something I was not really in the mood for. I tried to meet some people that might be useful for my project, and after some forced conversations ended up sitting with Ellen and Elana (a new fellow studying the trash system in Sofia) and eating a delicious meal. Elana and I have been chatting a lot since we both found out we were awarded with the Fulbright, and hopefully we will be seeing each other a lot. We wanted to go out afterward, and went to Essence, but since I had woken up so uncharacteristically early, I called it an early night, and headed home by midnight.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Parties and Politics

Monday evening there was a reception for the man in charge of getting us money through the state department. I met up with Kristin and Ellen, and we headed over there together. It was a nice chance to meet some of the senior scholars, and the coordinators involved over here in Sofia.
They provided us with some excellent hors-d'oeuvres, as well as some rakia and wine. Rakia is a Bulgarian plum brandy and very strong. It is great for a night of Bulgarian folk dancing, but not for a night of social networking and mingling, so I stayed clear.
I tried to meet some of the other people, but I admit, I didn't do the best job. It all felt a little forced, and it wasn't exactly my cup of tea. However, the people there were truly interesting people, and I'm glad I met a couple of them; hopefully, a group of us will start a Bulgarian language study group. Kristin was doing a FANTASTIC job mingling, and even was jotting down information about the people she met. Now, why haven't I learned this skill? If I eventually work as a diplomat, I will have to do these things all the time. I better practice. Maybe I could take an etiquette class...
Anyways, the most interesting conversation I had was with a couple of the Bulgarian Fulbright coordinators. Somehow, we got onto the topic of politics, and it became this huge discussion. Apparently the current government is trying to cut down on the education budget, and these commissioners, of course, are educators. We ended up talking about the political situation in Bulgaria, and to what extent it is effective. In terms of political parties, it does not seem like there is any sort of true ideological backing for the party. All of the parties pretty much have the same agenda. Politics is kind of just a game, and people are fighting for the power, not for any sort of ideology. Then again, that isn't that much different than any other country.
However, I was curious about how close the average citizen felt to politics. In the US, there is a lot of political participation through various groups and organizations, and I was curious if it was similar in Bulgaria. According to what I've read, Bulgaria had a decent growth in the civil society since the fall of communism. However, it seems like it has a long way to go. From what I've witnessed, there is a pretty large gap between the elites and the common Bulgarian. Civil society is an important part of a stable and productive democracy, and hopefully it can grow and dispel some of the pessimism I feel in Bulgaria when talking about politics.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weekend in Blagoevgrad

This past weekend, I went to Blagoevgrad for the weekend. This is a city two hours south of Sofia, and is the location of the American University of Bulgaria. I went for two reasons: the largest English library in the Balkans and my friend Anthony's birthday party.
The first goal was a flop. I was really excited to see this library and get working on my research. I searched through their resources online and was a little worried. There were no books on Bulgarian politics. AT ALL! So, I went into the library, and a nice, quiet Bulgarian woman tried to help. But she couldn't find anything either. I couldn't understand, since this university has MANY classes on Balkan and Eastern Europe politics. The librarian continued by searching for online journals, and the one she came up with was one of the articles I used for my undergrad thesis... I really need to start looking for Bulgarian sources. This means I need to learn more Bulgarian!
The second goal was great. Anthony and I met in 2007 in the Czech Republic when we were both studying in Prague. We weren't the closest of friends, but we have a lot of mutual friends and whenever we hung out in Prague it was fun. I met up with him and met A LOT of his friends in Blagoevgrad. It was this huge oasis, with people from all the world using English as the lingua-franca. A lot of his friends were very interested in meeting me. I read in my guidebook that the male-to-female ratio for university students is something like 7:1. Yep...
On Friday evening, Anthony invited me to a party for his University's newspaper: De Facto. It was a little awkward for me at first, but then they whipped out a game of Twister. This game is probably the best way for two strangers to get to know each other quite intimately... Afterward, we all went out to a place called 'The Underground'. It was a very nice venue, but amazingly crowded. We couldn't really move for two hours. However, beer was only 2 leva a bottle (about a dollar fifty) and they occasionally played decent songs.
Saturday was kind of a run-around day for Anthony and me. We had to buy supplies for the party, find a cake, and run around the dorm to refrigerate various bottles of beer. Of course, I also wanted to walk around the city a bit. Like Sofia, the city had very wide boulevards, as well as some nice buildings. It was a lot cleaner than Sofia, but they didn't have iced coffees anywhere. C'est la vie.

We had a nice dinner 'downtown' at an Italian restaurant. It is pretty much the go-to food if you don't want a Bulgarian meal. I ordered a Hawaiian pizza and made the mistake of giving a slice to an orphan begging for money on the street; before I knew it, I was surrounded by little kids demanding a slice of their own. The orphans are allowed to run around free on the streets here, and many of them smoke and drink at a very young age. Anthony was even telling me that some ten-year-old kids were recently caught having sex.
After dinner we went back to the dorm and got ready for Anthony's party. He really knows how to throw a party, and maybe around fifty people showed up. He had a DJ, and copious amounts of drinks. Anthony's the guy on the right.
There is a Fulbrighter in Blagoevgrad, Conor, who also went to Boston College. I had never met him before, but he came to the party and, hopefully, made some new friends. I also chatted with a bunch of people, and hopefully they come visit me in Sofia. Here I'm with Dessy, from Bulgaria, and Natya, from Georgia- the country, not the state.

I think it would be quite easy to have a bunch of English-speaking friends in Blagoevgrad, but I guess that has positive and negative aspects. I need to meet Bulgarians so I can practice Bulgarian, but I do admit, my apartment is pretty lonely at times.
On Sunday morning I headed back to Sofia. I just missed the bus, so I bought a ticket for the next one, maybe two hours later. However, the train station was connected to the bus station and I noticed the next train left in fifteen minutes. I bought a ticket, and went back to the bus station to see if I could get a refund. The bus lady was remarkably angry. Another reasons why Bulgaria would not get an A in customer service.

The Fulbrighters in Sofia

Last Thursday I finally met some other Americans in Sofia. Apparently there are four other Fulbrighters in Sofia; three of us are doing research and the other is an English Teacher Assistant (ETA). We met up downtown after I struggled through trying to watch a Bulgarian film without subtitles. The first girl I met, Katie, is here studying the Orthodox church. Her fiance is here as well, and they have a lot of travel plans. We talked about not really knowing exactly what we are supposed to be doing here and the difficulties of getting our research projects together. It is very helpful to know that I'm not the only one in this boat. Afterward, we met up with Kristin, Ellen, and Kate. Kristin majored in Psychology at Ohio State and is studying victims of sex slavery. Very intense subject. Ellen is the ETA in Sofia, and seems like a very pleasant and intelligent girl. Kate is living in the south. She is an ETA as well.
After a quick bite, we headed to a very fun bar called the Apartment. It pretty much was a huge apartment converted into a lounge/drinking area. Very unpretentious, very chill. It was a little hipstery, but in a fun way. I think it would make for a great bar idea in the states, but then again there are all those zoning issues in the good old USA that Bulgaria, for the most part, doesn't seem to care about.
We had a great conversation over some homemade wine, and I realized how much I need to work on my sign language. When Byeong-Hun gets here, I want to be able to translate what other speaking people are saying. Unfortunately, these new friends speak at a very collegiate level. I was trying to think how I would translate their conversation, and there were many instances where I knew it would take way too long to explain what they were saying. Katie and her boyfriend, Keith, expressed interest in learning sign language, so maybe I won't have to worry about being a translator. However, I'm sure to see all of the Fulbrighters throughout the year, so I need to brush up on my sign language hardcore, as well as continue studying Bulgarian.
I also finally ran into some Deaf people in Sofia. I was walking home, and noticed two older women using signs from afar. I approached and asked if they were Deaf and we had a very basic conversation. They were using Bulgarian sign language, and I can only slightly finger spell in BSL. However, we were able to communicate enough to be able to express where we lived, and what I was doing in Sofia. It amazes me the level of intercultural communication that Deaf communities have at their disposal, while, faced in a situation with a group of hearing people without a common language it would be very hard to communicate anything. Maybe this could be my next research project.