The Ghosts of Alcohol Past, Present, and Future

I will begin this post by stating the merrymaking of Christmas is almost upon us and things have been crazy at the school and in life. This blog seems to be getting increasingly behind actual current events, so I figure I should throw out a few words about the end of the year. Regarding the first point, there have been events and functions to attend at school. It has all been quite great and at the same time exhausting. Add to that the fact that for the entire last week of school the students are almost completely unable to muster the necessary concentration to hear English words for 45 minutes. This has likewise been exhausting and I would rather burst my eardrums than listen to a single Christmas carol for the next 300 or so days. On the plus side I was able to get a large subsection of my students to start saying “Bah Humbug” about things they dislike. Insert whatever Grinch reference you wish for here.

Secondly, my big Christmas present from my family is togetherness and love. My parents are flying to Budapest to see me through Christmas, and this will be followed by my sister in law coming to see us. This is a beautiful and happy turn of events that I am only happy for. Continuing with the splendor and wonder directly following Christmas all of us will be sightseeing our way through the Czech Republic, Germany, and The Netherlands. This is going to be a grand old adventure that I am ecstatic to share with so many people that I love. However on the slightly less upliftingly happy side of events I eagerly and foolishly volunteered to do all of the planning and booking for this event. Many hours and dollars have thus far passed in the accomplishing of these goals.

On top of these, I have now been set free on vacation from children, and freedom is sweet. However, that sweet freedom breeds lazy, lazy procrastination. It is flaring up again and the fact that these words exist means that I am attempting to kneecap it with a lead pipe. However procrastination is a hearty beast with so many kneecaps filled with a whole lot of tempting do nothing. Damn you many kneed time thieving monster! I will best you with the Leaden Pipe of Productivity! Slothfulness and strange metaphors aside I will try to see if I can get more caught up with current events before the thief of time rips them from ‘neath my feet.

Returning to the past with a softening of the edges of the screen like an unoriginal mid-90s soap opera, we are back at the beginning of this whole adventure. The week of orientation sped by as new information shot past my senses with barely the chance for me to retain any of it. Despite what I may or may not have insinuated about myself imbibing large quantities of the fun juice, aside from this a few specific nights my consumption of social lubricant had actually been near non-existent. Most of the nights I stayed in and got to sleep early like a good responsible nerdboy. I take education a little seriously so I needed to be at full consciousness through orientation. Plus there was the heat conjured up by the foulest pits of Satan’s domain sapping my energy. There were only two days where I stepped out to assimilate my new environs.

For those of you who are not aware or don’t know me personally, I could be categorized under the phrase coined by an issue of the American Quarterly Review circa 1837. (Not familiar with that specific issue? Well it did have a rather limited print and that periodical didn’t really come into its own until a decade later. You probably aren’t familiar with their more indie stuff anyway. ) As a social butterfly I am sometimes filled with the need to spread my wings and interact with the intriguing masses of strangers out and about. I attempted to find other people from the program to hang out and get a drink; however it seems they had all dispersed for the evening for their own purposes. After perusing that stack of pamphlets that all hostels provides I went on a pub crawl alone as my girlfriend had unceremoniously become asleep earlier in the evening.

Summary notes of that evening, I met a nice Irish couple and then promptly drank them under a table. It turns out that this is one of those pub crawls whose attractions sound more like a suicide pact than a fun night out. At the second bar the tour group was given an hour to ingest as much cheap brain poison as possible for free. There were three choices, horrible beer, horrible wine, or a mystery beverage called a Shrek. Somehow, a drink named after an ill-mannered animated Scottish ogre was not the drink of champions that you would expect it to be. I was victorious at an international dance battle. In an unprovoked act of UK rivalry Shrek wreaked his terrible vomitty vengeance upon the unsuspecting Irish. Several probable alcohol poisonings later tour members disappeared into the ethanol ether. I persevered into the wee hours of the evening listening to terrible techno music and making friends with a band of Swiss brothers.

Then there was that night of drunken politics and foosball with a Hungarian receptionist. That was also a fun experience. That night began with me and my girlfriend explaining the finer points, see nonsensical parts, of U.S. history and political system to a Canadian. We invited the Hungarian receptionist to hang out as it was late and all he was really doing was propping up his desk. Everyone else went to sleep, but I continued the political discussion into the wee hours. It was so late that the drunken hordes that went out to explore the bar scene came back and continued the revelry. There’s an interesting viewpoint that I heard from said receptionist and several other young Hungarians who I have had the pleasure to discuss politics with. It is the concept that the figureheads of government are pawns. They aren’t saying that politicians are easily controllable through corruption or nepotism, but instead they are legitimately saying that there is a cabal of world deciders. The presidents and prime ministers of the world are kayfabe acting out their parts like horrible conspiracy professional wrestlers. All political upheavals exist through the pre-written wins and losses. I found this to be fascinating and it made me wonder if this thought process had anything to do with growing up in a country which for the last hundred years has been passed from one superpower to another.

Orientation came to an end because time is a linear construct moving towards the theoretical future. On the last day, the program decided to see us all off with a nice dinner to wrap everything into a nice cyclical structure. The last dinner was again an event at a nice restaurant where the food was paid for by the program. We sat near a group of people that we didn’t have much time to get to know prior, and what began could only be called the saga of a small man with much meatsweat. We learned from the first dinner that if you want to eat in the first two hours of the meal then you order as many appetizers as possible. Essentially we ordered a multi person appetizer per seat. The inhalation of food was legendary and likely reduced the national store of food by a fair margin. The small man near me decided that he would make it his goal for the evening to obtain the most expensive portion of food on the menu. He succeeded and purchased a $50 steak which was larger than his own head. As those around us shared discussions of professional and personal nature I was wrapped in awe of a man doubling his body weight with one plate. It was a true inspirational tale of man vs gastronomy.

The final event was slated the next morning. In a sorting ceremony all of the teachers would sit in a room as the contact teachers from their schools would file in and find their new colleagues for the next year. The Hungarian teachers would then talk to the English teachers and tell them about their new positions, about the schools and the workload. Then each pair would split off and begin their journey to different schools throughout the country. However, our school couldn’t be bothered with such frivolity. We were told the night before that our ride would be there an hour earlier to take the three of us to our living arrangements. Our driver, who in later months we got to know better, didn’t speak more than a few words of English which made the entire process just a tiny bit more disorienting. We had another teacher besides my girlfriend and I who was going to be teaching at our school. So, three people with three individual years worth of luggage were crammed into a car the size of a matchbox. We were then whisked away through a confusing jumble of streets and terrifying driving to our new abode.

Hey, I was right, we’ve finally left the orientation, woo!

Sort of an abrupt ending I know, but I must go soon to pick up my family from the airport. Join us next time as we navigate the oddities of our new digs in Budapest. For now, signing off from Budapest.

Chivas Regal Premium Scotch Whisky

 

 

Thank you Oxford dictionary and the interwebs for the etymology of Social Butterfly.

 

English Lessons That I have Learned This Time:

Apparently I have been spelling the word ecstatic wrong for my whole life, fewer x’s than I though.

Intriguing was also a word that I somehow learned the meaning of without ever absorbing its spelling.

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Orientation II: The Reorientening

Wait, did I use this joke already? Three posts in and I’ve already run out of fresh material. This bodes well for a continued future of this blog. I realize that last week I wrote about orientation, but I also realize that I didn’t actually say much about it beyond metaphysical musings and making light of semi-youthful inebriation. However, I learned so much more than just what I was being taught that I feel like I am doing a disservice to the entire enterprise by glossing over it.

First let me begin by doing what the professors in my mandatory writing courses kept telling me I had to do and narrow the focus before continuing. The teaching program my girlfriend and I chose to participate in is of the pay for placement variety. For anyone who has not taught a language overseas or even contemplated such an unusual course of action, there are a number of different methods to exploit your semi proficiency with your native language into an important position that you likely are not remotely prepared or qualified for. (This here is called foreshadowing folks, this may be important in future installments.) There are internships, there are freelance positions, and there are jobs at government schools and private language schools. Sometimes it is possible to talk to a school directly the same can be done for the private institutions, however since we had no idea how to do any of those things we figured it would be easier to take the other choice of paying a third party organization to handle everything short of teaching for us. For a nominal fee they got us jobs in a very nice school in Budapest, arranged an apartment for the year, dealt with the bureaucracy in getting us visas, and finally put on the aforementioned orientation. I am happy with our decision because it means that we have at our disposal a contact person who can yell at people in Hungarian for us. (Hey foreshadowing, nice to see you again buddy.)

With background explanations now out of the way,
Previously on The Miscellaneist: Our intrepid, globetrotting heroes finally reached their destination after nineteen straight hours of travel. Will their exhaustion cause result in unfortunate actions? Will teaching be a good career path for them? Will Pluto ever become a planet again? Find out the answers to these questions and more, coming up next!

No, yes, and ask Neil Degrass Tyson I’m not an astronomer.

From first foot off of the plane there was one thing that stuck out to me most of all, namely that our flight had somehow been redirected without our knowledge and we had actually arrived at the caldera of a perpetually erupting volcano. Besides my flesh melting off like I was some kind of evil archaeologist in a Spielberg directed action adventure film, the lizard part of my brain responsible for survival instincts and political discussion understood that it was a balmy August outside when I got on the plane. Since we hadn’t crossed into the Southern Hemisphere or a time machine I understood that it would be summer when I got off the flight just the same. None of these subconscious thoughts decided it would be a good idea to inform my conscious brain about the imminent temperature directed misery. Translation for those who don’t speak rambling non sequiturs and run on sentences, I don’t like the heat. Unfortunately for me, the temperature was hovering around a muggy 90 degrees Fahrenheit the whole first month I was here. I thought Central Europe was supposed to be cold. I’m not sure who is responsible for this reasoning.

Before arriving here my entire previous experience with Central Europe has been through international spy dramas. Before terrorists became the ubiquitous bad guy in Hollywood, Communists were the undisputed heavyweight bad guys in films. Thanks to a little thing called the Eastern Bloc, everything east of France became shorthand for the Soviet Union as far as movies are concerned. The Soviet Union, or Russia for anyone born after the year 2000, is obviously in a constant blizzard. It’s the same reason why my home state Oregon is always portrayed as a verdant wonderland absolutely littered with hippies, but no one remembers that the eastern side of that state looks more like a desert. Plus, as we all know Matt Damon cuts a striking profile in a trench coat.

Separate aside; I have also come to the realization that I was never actually taught anything about this part of the continent in school. Now, I was home schooled from kindergarten through senior year, so I am under no allusions that I have had the most average of educational experiences. On the other hand though, as I was telling people of my upcoming plans to uproot my life and swap continents, a larger number of people than I was entirely comfortable with didn’t even know Hungary was a country. The lion’s share of everyone I told about my future plans didn’t even know where this lovely country was on a map. I will get down off my intellectual high horse by admitting that when inevitably asked where Hungary was I could only evasively answer, Central Europe. I know that the stereotype is that Americans are often ignorant of the outside world, and unless it is a country we are currently invading the average person doesn’t realize it exists.

Anyways, upon reaching the hostel and checking in we met up with a few people who were a part of the program, and they informed us that there would be a welcome dinner for all of this year’s teachers. This dinner would of course be in a few hours. Utterly weary and moist with perspiration we were unsure of whether or not to attend the festivities. I would be lying if the mention of large quantities of free food didn’t come into play in our decision to go. One too brief nap later and thirty plus loud and confused Americans were being shepherded from subway to subway in an attempt to get to locations unknown. As confusion subsided we found ourselves seated on the patio of a rather ritzy restaurant overlooking the Danube, its’ shores lined with centuries old buildings and crowned with a castle resting upon a hill. The spectacle of such a sight was so striking that I am not confident I can properly convey it. Strangers grasping at friendships partook in a sumptuous cocktail of sustenance and ambiance. Spellbinding is an apt word.  Aside from the uncomfortable heat, the whole experience provided a convincing analogue for a European fantasy. The entire event was engineered perfectly to express the glorious majesty of the city as we embarked on a grand adventure. It masterfully downplayed the fact that we were not part of a romanticized getaway, but had actually agreed to do an extremely average job in a new location. We met some nice people and turned in early, something which almost no one else decided to do.

In the day to day operations, the orientation could be divided into four parts. Every day we would begin by eating a lovely breakfast which would serve to charge our energies for the coming day. It also served as the place to get caught up on the boozy shenanigans of the prior evening. Following breakfast there were three classes designed to theoretically prepare us for our new lives abroad.

The first was Hungarian Basics where we learned just how difficult a language Hungarian is. The answer is that it’s really difficult. Hungarian is a Uralic language whose closest related language is Finnish. This means that when you first hear the language being spoken, the words form sound waves which reach your ears where they pick up baseball bats and beat your brain into an uncomprehending pulp. It is so different from any language I am even remotely familiar with, and I have nothing but respect for all of the people here who have learned English. It’s basically linguistic wizardry. The class did succeed in teaching me how to say that I can’t speak Hungarian, a phrase which is immensely useful.

The second class was about teaching a second language. It stressed the difficulties that come from not being able to teach using the students’ native tongue. It was filled with theory and solutions for probable issues that would arise. Now that I am actually teaching, this is the class that I wish I had paid a lot more attention to.

The third was a class on Hungarian culture to better familiarize ourselves with the idiosyncrasies of Hungarian living. It talked about Hungary’s history for the last hundred years as a means of explaining the Hungarian outlook on life. The history in addition to the outlook is a lovely shade of bleak.

These three classes would last until the early afternoon after which the barely recuperated would be teachers were to be loosed upon an unexpecting city to begin the cycle anew.

There is more to say, much more, but I’m running out of steam for this installment. Tune in next week when I promise I will move on from orientation to something a little more recent. In the mean time I leave you with this lovely stock image reminiscent of our first night in this fair city.

pexels-photo-66192.jpeg

 

Information Researched:

Hungarian Etymology (Thank you Wikipedia)

 

English I didn’t know this time. :

Apparently I’m so bad at spelling bureaucrat that spellcheck thought that I was trying to talk about autocracies. What a hilarious miscommunication.

Double checked that I knew what an autocracy was. This time I was correct.

Good job Microsoft Word for making sure to tell me how poorly I spelled Spielberg but also having no idea how to spell non sequitur.

Orientation or Reorienting My World View

Welcome back dear listeners to your humble purveyor of poor puns and askew alliteration. When we last left our handsome hero he had begun to reveal his main personal defects in a calculated ploy to better connect with the larger viewing audience. Once an emotional rapport has been reached the hero will begin weaving an overarching narrative to his life experiences in order to better give the illusion of a cohesive story.  Our hero could linearly progress along a path of self-discovery and improvement in order to come out the other side of the story arc a more accomplished and likable character.  Said narrator/hero/writer would also for some reason begin referring to himself in the third person to make the blog more difficult, both to write and to follow while reading. Good job him/you/I.  I feel that’s enough meditations on writing perspective and narrative structure. What you came here for is the heartwarming fish out of water story of a small town boy from the U.S. adjusting to life in the big city, and on a different continent to boot. I assure you, wacky hijinks are bound to ensue.

So, where to begin the journey in proper? There are plenty of places that would make proper points of origin, but what I feel would make the best intro is a cold open to an establishing shot. Exterior view of the Frankfurt airport midday in late August, this international hub is yet again a magnet of activity. Planes arrive and discharge their restless living cargo onto the steadily warming tarmac. The camera cuts to a high top down perspective and remains stationary as unsure travelers are shepherded into shuttles that are most definitely not marked well enough. The buses cross each other back and forth in winding circuits around the incredibly convoluted airport. Our heroes can be made out emerging from the back ground extras and entering into a terminal that they are only 48% sure is the correct place to be. Some cross referencing of tickets against plane traffic later, the protagonists find seats close to what can only be assumed to be their connecting flight. Looking back out the window at the airport with its endless stream of human experience, the man begins narration.

As I sit in the surprisingly blistering heat of a German summer staring at the sign for the third airport that I have visited in the last 12 hours, I am filled with this strange sensation that I should really be asleep right now. The nine hour time zone differential means that at home right now it is 2:00 in the A.M.
My bags seem to be scientific marvels because somehow with just the mixture of shirts, pants, shoes, and underwear I have created a new celestial formation with just enough mass to have successfully collapsed into a black hole residing conveniently in my backpack.
I suffer from the generic woes of the international traveler, but do not mistake discomfort for a gripe against the opportunity I am participating in now. There is just so much information to experience right now; no, no, wait now. No, now, there is a persistent wall of information that is overwhelming my senses. It’s the sort of things you can acknowledge and ignore in a familiar environment where you know what things are and what the words around you mean. However in a place with cultural and linguistic barriers every sense is aflame with the question, “Will this thing kill me?” The answer is yes, most certainly yes.

Unlike most of this blog which will be written long months after the fact, this snippet I actually found jotted down in my notebook written not long after the first leg of our transatlantic flight. I was remarkably coherent for being jet lagged and on fire. All told there was still another flight, followed by a bus ride, and highly dubious directions given in mostly Hungarian before this weary traveller could make his rest.

As previously stated I am teaching English abroad. That is the official reason for my being on the other side of the planet. Less official but still valid reasons for existing abroad are feeding the wanderlust, meeting new and interesting people, and meeting new and interesting types of alcohol. A major component of the teaching program was that as a show of good faith and support on the part of the teaching program, all participants were invited to a week long orientation situated in the center of Budapest. The program pulled out all the stops, renting out an entire high end hostel and setting up crash courses in survival Hungarian as well as a class about teaching language. I found it to be helpful and a great experience which I will go into in more detail later.

It was such an amazing atmosphere, finding oneself in a new world surrounded by others who have likewise abandoned ship on the very idea of normal lives. We all had, and it wasn’t exactly a secret. So many people living uncertain existences in a world we didn’t know, there was an energy exuding off of all the new prospects. The spirit took on a certain intoxication elevating us all with a natural high.

alcohol-hangover-event-death-52507.jpeg

C2H6O, that’s right, that’s the word I was looking for. Our spirits were intoxicated by alcohol; I don’t know why I didn’t just say that in the first place. I have seen less drinking at AA meetings held in open bars. I’ve noticed a strange even occurs when you gather several dozen people together in close proximity. Especially when most of said test subjects age around their middle twenties, it is similar to a law of physics with its instantaneous and inescapable nature. Adding into this little equation an exchange rate which causes a passable bottle of wine to cost $1.37 and space time will rearrange itself to materialize a frat party.

Now, let me clear, I am in no way stating that a roving band of American drunkards are disseminating their way through the Central European countryside fueling their hedonistic lifestyles by liberally spouting the English language to any passerby who would listen.  That’s a crazy thought, how could I even write such a statement while sipping half a bottle of wine out of a beer stein? How could you even accuse me of such an inflammatory statement Terry? After all we’ve been through? You’ve changed since the divorce, mate.

Hey, we’ve reached the point of the blog where I’ve begun going off the rails again. That’s my cue to begin wrapping up. Full disclaimer, I am exaggerating for effect, there was an exuberance to the first week that I find hard to fully express in a short amount of time. Also, none died of alcohol poisoning so that’s a plus. No, the jokes are coming back and I can’t stop them. I must go before further self incrimination, but in the mean time I’ll leave you with this image of my current home city to get a better idea of where my life is right now.

IMG_20161113_165937965.jpg

Welcome back, I hope you’re having a good time.

 

 

Rejected post titles:

Orientation, or Reorienting My Liver with Cirrhosis (Rejected for possibly further convincing my mother that I am an actual alcoholic and don’t just play one on TV.)

Orientation, or Being Constantly Disoriented (Rejected for portraying the protagonist in a foolish light. I prefer to be found a fool for my foolish actions.)

 

English grammar and vocabulary looked up during the writing of this episode:

Checked to ensure proper use of the third person perspective.

Double check that I remembered the chemical formula for alcohol (Hint, I didn’t. )