Monday, April 25, 2011

Belgrade

Sofia has two trains a day to Belgrade. We had Easter break. Why not?
The train took forever! We left at noon and were told it would be just six hours, but we didn't arrive till 9 pm. Stupid stupid stupid. However, the countryside was very beautiful (especially for the first half of the ride).

 

We arrived really late, but BH's friends were really kind, and waited for us at the hostel. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then headed to a house party. Well, we thought it was going to be a house party. More like five friends hanging out. It ended up being really fun though.


The next morning we toured the castle in Belgrade. It was right on the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. Pretty nice. Plus, the weather, as you can see, was perfect. 
 Lunch was at a restaurant named "?". Apparently, it had some sort of religious name, and the religious authorities did not like it. So the owner of the restaurant just put up a huge question mark. The restaurant was pretty famous, which may be the reason why the food wasn't the greatest. Serbian food tasted pretty similar to Bulgarian food. Not bad, not amazing.  Their house beer was pretty good though. And H looks great in this picture.

Turkish coffee is the coffee of choice in Serbia. I like to annoy the waiters and turn the cup upside down so we can read our fortunes. BH read Hillary's future. She will become a queen but she will be a little chubby. So will her husband. Eventually, they will take a spaceship to reconcile their marriage. Oh, and her husband is a faun. 

We had to wait here in the center to meet our friends Saturday night and ended up just goofing around. One of the best parts of Belgrade was people watching. Everyone looked so interesting and there were a lot of foreigners. Very different from Sofia. 


The Hotel Moscow. This is one of the most recognizable buildings in Serbia, and an important architectural building in Belgrade. Apparently, they have really good pastries. We didn't try them. :-(
Belgrade has really good nightlife (or so I had read). After wandering around for an hour or two on Saturday night, we went to the Anderground Club. Not cool. Afterward, however, we found this awesome techno Club right on the Danube. I have no idea what it was called. The music was CRAZY loud, but since H has been studying some sign language, we were still able to communicate in the club. One of the bennies of ASL. Of course, this meant that people were staring at us, but that was fine because we were staring back. 

video
 On Sunday morning, we headed to the "Montmarte" of Belgrade. It was not as cool as the Bohemian neighborhood in France, but it was still really pleasant. There were musicians everywhere. Since it was Easter, I think we had a pretty unique experience, and we spent a couple hours people watching and teaching H some more ASL.

Since it was Easter, all the museums were closed. We decided to go to the Botanical garden, which was interesting. Half of it was pretty and half of it was way run down. The greenhouse was definitely haunted. I liked this tree growing out of a trash barrel. Super natural.
Like Sofia, there was a lot of graffiti in Belgrade. Sunday afternoon was spent just wandering around, doing some more people watching, and scavenging for food. Since it was Sunday, a lot of restaurants were closed. We really wanted Chinese food, but no dice. Sunday night, we headed back to the train station, got on the sleeper, and came back to Sofia this morning. I love weekends away.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dreaming about Bulgarian Identity

Last night I had a very curious dream. There was a Fulbright conference in Sofia, and all the Bulgarian Fulbrighters showed up. One of the presenters showed us three statues. The first was ivory, and the presenter said it represented ethnic Bulgarians The second was a brownish marble, and represented ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. The last statue was ebony, and apparently represented the Roma population. The presenter then said, "If only God had provided us with a paintbrush so we could paint all of the statues white." All of us Fulbrighters were surprised, and one of them, D, spoke up. "Wouldn't it be better if God had provided us with a scalpel so we could change the way the majority thinks?"
Obviously, this dream stems from things that have been happening in my life lately. We just had a conference in Sofia about social and cultural integration in the EU. Some of the presentations focused on integration within Bulgaria. It argued that if we were able to provide the Roma with a good education, they could be integrated into Bulgarian society.
The Roma 'problem' can't just be painted over. It is a systemic problem. Regardless of the education level of an individual, Bulgarians perceive the Roma as different, dirty, and not fit for work. Yes, it is important that all Bulgarian citizens are provided with equal opportunities in education. But we also have to look at how ethnic Romas are treated in the streets and in school. If ethnic Bulgarians cannot accept Roma as part of the country, the Roma will not have the ability or the desire to integrate. We can't just paint all of the statues white.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Byeong Hun's Fucking Fantastic Pasta

Last night, BH told me he was going to make Italian food for dinner. So I thought it was going to just be a typical spaghetti with tomato sauce or something like that. This was Korean style Italian though... one of the best fusion dishes I've ever had in my life. It was so good that I made BH write down EXACTLY how he made it. So, here is the recipe:

Ingredients:
2 cups of water
1/4 cup of soy sauce (preferably Korean soy sauce, but I guess Kikkoman will be fine)
4 dried Thai peppers (optional... but recommended)
1/2 package of whole wheat spaghetti
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 onion
4 small chili peppers (again optional, but again recommended)
1/2 of a carrot
1/2 of a leek
1/2 a cup of broccoli
Tablespoon olive oil
Tablespoon hoisin sauce
Oregano
Basil
1/4 cup of shredded white cheddar cheese

Procedure:
1) Mix together the water and the soy sauce.
2) Pour half of the mixture into a dutch oven over medium heat. Set aside the other half.


3) Add the dried Thai peppers to the dutch oven.
4) Chop up your garlic, carrot, leek, chili peppers, and onion. I just hack away at them, but BH always does a great job and cuts them on the bias.

We used green beans, but they don't really fit the dish...
 
5) When the soy/water mixture comes to a boil, add the spaghetti. There is not much liquid, so you may have to break the noodles.
6) About halfway through the cooking process of the noodles, throw the vegetables, olive oil, hoisin sauce, and herbs into the dutch oven.
7) While all of this is cooking, the mixture will dry out. Every once in a while, add some of the reserve soy/water mixture. The whole time, continue stirring to make sure the noodles do not burn.


8) When the noodles are pretty close to al dente, add the shredded cheddar cheese. Make sure it melts evenly.

ENJOY!

I guess it would be possible to cook the spaghetti separately, but BH's method helps the noodles absorb a lot of flavor. This dish is amazing... Simply amazing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fingerprinting Bureaucracy

I had to get my fingerprints done for a job in Korea. I figured this would be a pretty painless procedure. Go to a police station, ink my fingers, and voila. Unfortunately, this is Bulgaria.
One of my friends here in Sofia also needed to get this done, so we left together on Thursday morning. The Institute of Criminology (НИКК) was impossible to find. We found some sort of police academy, and they didn't understand what we were doing there. They told us we needed an escort or something to go to the НИИК. Nobody wanted to escort us. So, we just went off and wandered around and finally found the building.
This building did not look like a formal institution. It looked more like a Communist government building turned crack house. It was, however, functioning, and we entered with slight trepidation. We finally found the right woman who questioned our intentions and asked us why we didn't have Bulgarian ID cards. Finally, she told us that we had to come back the next day at 9 AM in order to see the director.
So we did. Arriving at around 9:30, the lady greeted us and made us write, in Bulgarian, letters to the director explaining why we were here. She wrote out a sample letter and made us copy out the same thing. Then, she criticized the way we wrote our names in the Cyrillic alphabet. After an hour waiting with the dragon lady, we finally were allowed to go get our prints done.
The tension immediately dissipated. The guys that actually did the printing were nice and curious about what we were doing in Bulgaria and why we needed the fingerprinting. We chatted for a bit, did the fingerprinting in 20 minutes, and then headed out.
The whole time I was thinking about how easy this process would be in the states. One of the joys of living in a foreign country.