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Shanghai Disney

January 2, 2021

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Statue of Disney characters in the lobby of the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel
Lobby of the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel

During our Christmas holiday, we were allowed to travel within China, although we would have to report any travel plans outside of Shanghai to my employer and take responsibility for any COVID-19 related issues, like avoiding high risk areas and possibly having to do a 14 day quarantine upon return. We opted to stay right in Shanghai and avoid the risks. I decided this might be the right time to go to Disneyland. We did a little stay-cation involving two nights at the main hotel and one full day at the park.

It was not cheap. We upgraded to the Club Level, which we considered worthwhile. We were met in the main lobby and escorted up to the 7th floor (Club Level) where they have the club reception area. There are 3-4 meals included and provided in the club area. (Way better than the buffet on the 1st floor – do not go to the buffet!!)

My plan had been that I would be using my electric wheelchair and I would be able to zip around the park easily. We purchased a second battery and had them both charged up and ready to go for a full day in the park. HOWEVER, the best laid plans of mice and men do not always work out. Just after checking in, as we were heading into the dining area for the afternoon snack, the right front wheel of my chair came off. The post was sheered off.

hand holding a wheelchair wheel showing the broken metal post

The staff were very helpful. They offered a manual wheelchair and took both our luggage and my damaged chair to our room while we sat down to eat.

I found the manual chair hard to move. It kept going to the right. The carpet doesn’t help much as it is super cushioned, which is great for the walking guests, but not so much for the rolling ones. Hotel staff decided to help push me to our room and it took two of them, as the chair was hard to steer.

The room was quite nice and thoroughly Disney-fied. Plenty of towels and plenty of complimentary water bottles. The beds were soft, which is rare in China. It was quiet and comfortable and we had a good sleep.

Minnie Mouse being photographed by people in the buffet restaurant

We went for dinner in the buffet restaurant, Lumiére’s Kitchen, on the first floor. Unless you have children and really need to see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto in costume, do not go there. The food was really, really bad (mushy, lukewarm, and had been on the buffet too long). The price (and we got a 20% discount) was horrifically high. Don’t do it. We suspect that kids eat for free, so maybe that and the characters is the draw, but they clearly make up for that by charging exorbitant prices for adults.

We had a fun day, despite the manual wheelchair. It was nearly killing Paul to push me around as the walkways are mostly smooth, but hilly. Lots of up and down slopes and he was having to fight the wayward chair the whole way. We were joined by friends, happily.

five friends all wearing medical face masks framed by a Disney themed frame

Jesse, Lucy, and Isolde joined us. We have this picture because it was part of the wheelchair drama. The chair that the hotel had loaned us was so awful that even with Paul and Jesse taking turns pushing me around, it was miserable. So, we went off to the guest service center near the front entrance where they rent out strollers and wheelchairs. Lucy was our interpreter and helped explain that the chair we had was not working well. We were able to trade for a slightly better one. Then we were taken to the other guest service area across the entrance and offered a pass that would allow us, as a group, to get priority access (“the short line”). The picture was necessary to show with our pass so that we could all go as a group. The catch was that you have to take the pass to a guest service booth, tell them which ride you wanted to do. They would “calculate a time” whatever that means and they would write it in the pass. Then we could go to the ride at that time or anytime after that time and get priority access. Also, you could only plan one ride at a time. This means going to a guest center between each ride and then waiting for the appointed time. We only did this once as it was just a bit of a hassle to get 5 people to decide on a ride and then go through the guest service booth process, etc. The lines were not long anyway, so it wasn’t really necessary. Paul and I had already purchased a package for priority access to the main rides. Oh, well. Live and learn. If we go again, we will know better.

In fact, the lines were so reasonable that we ended up going on all the major rides twice. I’m not a big Disney fan, as far as movies and merchandise are concerned, but they definitely know how to create amazing rides. Soaring Over the Horizon is the most popular ride in the park and it was definitely my favorite. It is a giant IMAX type movie, but they make you feel like you are flying and they make you smell the Savanah.

Back in 1968, my sister took me to the original Disneyland and I remember riding through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride with all its animatronics. The new Pirates of the Caribbean has few animatronics (sadly), but is amazing. You know you are in a “boat” that is moving through the water on a rail, but they make you think you are at the bottom of the ocean or speeding to the surface.

My memories from my first Disney experience as a five year old include It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Tea Cup ride, and a ride that scared me. It was a rinky dink train ride. I am sure it was demolished long ago. The seats on the train were set to look out the left side of the train only. It passed through a tunnel and there was a dinosaur diorama displayed in front of us. I was immediately afraid of what dinosaurs might be BEHIND US!!! I shudder to think how traumatized my 5 year old self would be if exposed to the current Disney rides.

fingers holding a heart shaped pendant with five pink stones and a name inscribed

I meant to wear my heart pendant souvenir from my 1968 Disney visit during my 2020 visit, but I forgot to take it with me. I still have it, though, all these years later and the fond memories that are connected to it.

On the whole, aside from the wheelchair struggle, we had a great day. The lines were short. The staff were friendly and helpful. We shared it with friends. It was expensive, but we haven’t traveled since January and needed a little Christmas cheer this year. A big thank you to our friends for joining us. Maybe I won’t wait 52 years to visit Disney again.

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Transitioning to Wheels

October 14, 2020

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Meet my new assistant

For a couple of years now I have wanted to purchase an electric wheelchair. It proved to be very challenging. I could find what I wanted with online shopping, but this is the kind of purchase you don’t really want to do online. You need to sit in it. Make sure it fits (especially in a country where the average person is half your size). You want to test drive it. Therefore, I needed to find a store where I could see multiple models.

Sounds easy, right?

I had trouble finding stores by searching the internet in English. It just wasn’t happening. So, I thought a medical clinic will know where I can get this. I made an appointment with a neurologist at the last clinic where I had been seen. The clinic is fairly new, so they hadn’t arranged for large medical equipment before, so it took them a while to look into it. They also submitted a request to my medical insurance. The insurance company would only cover a manual wheelchair and turned me down for that, even. The clinic called me on the phone to tell me they had found an electric wheelchair for me which cost RMB 5000.00, would I like to buy it. Over the phone? Sight unseen? Uh, no. I would be better off getting the one from the online source. So, the clinic sent me an email with a picture and the chair’s specs. I still felt like I was being offered a pig in a poke.

I finally got smart and asked my Chinese coworker to help me find a store with multiple models where I could go in person and try them out.

We went. The shop owners didn’t speak any English, but we managed with reading the tags, sitting in different models, and doing a tiny test drive in the small space available. We then signaled that we wanted this model. The clerk showed us how it works – folding it up, how the charger connects, how the controller is attached, how to disengage the motors so it can be pushed. I had been waiting and wanting this for 2 years, so I took the plunge.

It is definitely a transition. Shanghai is not a very wheelchair friendly city. The stores or restaurants I can access are very few. I need to go to a new dentist, but I need my husband to go first and scope it out to see if I can go by chair or have to walk. Is there a ramp? Is there an elevator? Are there steps up to the elevator?

I had thought I would be able to arrange for a driver to get me and the chair to work, so that the driver could be accustomed to the chair and how to put it in the trunk. Nope. Not easy.

So, I had to figure out what route I can take to drive the chair itself to and from work. The sidewalks on our street have a significant section where the sidewalk is barely passable by foot and impossible by chair, so that would mean being in the street itself. Not what I want to be doing. So, there is a pedestrian path along a waterway, so I take that instead. Then I travel down a sidewalk along a major street crossing two intersections. However, I found a couple of obstacles. One intersection has the lowered curbs, but the curb is still too high for the chair. For a while I would stop, turn off the chair, get out of the chair, disengage the motors so that I could push the chair over the curb. The second obstacle is a driveway which I have to cross that is both steep and mounded. Going toward work, I can manage it, but coming the other direction gravity just pulls the chair down the slope and toward the very busy street. After a few days of trying to deal with these challenges, I switched the route to just avoid them. My route is a little longer, but safer. I now travel down a pedestrianized street instead.

The other obstacles are other people. People on scooters. People parking on sidewalks.

No problem, I can thread my camel through that needle.
Even the pedestrians couldn’t get past this one.

Then there is the challenge of getting in and out of our apartment building as the ramp is sometimes blocked by cars or scooters.

I can squeeze by this, but it is sometimes worse.

The apartment management has been notified and has promised to put up signage – that sad little orange sign in the upper left corner of the picture is it. For about 24 hours these yellow lines were present, but they disappeared. So, I just keep taking pictures when the ramp is blocked and reporting it.

I get to putter down this path under the willows.
Most of my route is tree lined.
On sunny days I wear my dashing hat.

For the most part, I only use the chair to get to and from work. I’ve been to the nearby department store once. That was the most pleasant shopping trip I’ve had in a long time. I wasn’t exhausted or in pain.

I haven’t ventured onto the metro, yet. Maybe that’s the next transition adventure.

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COVID-19: Summer of Sewing

October 1, 2020

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

For a while I have been hunting for specialty fabrics to make book or reading related jackets for work. It started with an Alice in Wonderland print and a comic book print. I found these in the Taiwan fabric market

Comic style print fabric Alice in Wonderland print fabric
Star constellations print fabric Marvel Avengers print fabric

While back in the states for Christmas, I found an astronomical print to represent math and science. The Marvel avengers join the line-up for more comic goodness.

This summer, as we decided not to travel, even if just within China, which would have been the only travel option, I spent the time sewing. I discovered the wonders of ordering fabric online and having it delivered to my door.

plastic wrapped packages

I found some funky prints to liven things up. The fun of ordering online and getting deliveries is that they sometimes come with freebies – like buttons or zippers. 

four fabrics including smiley faces, garbled text, cars, and unicorn prints

I found two pieces of traditional Chinese fabric called nankeen. So I have indulged in a bit of cultural appropriation in using these to make clothes. Nankeen is usually used as a decorative cloth for table runners and pillows. On rare occasion it is used for a qipao dress or man’s jacket. I particularly like this pattern as it shows an old China that no longer exists in urban Shanghai.

traditional nankeen fabric, blue and white print

The second piece is a simple dragonfly pattern.

DragonflyJacket

The ultimate project is my Book Jacket. It started with fabric with the print of pages. Add to this a lovely red wave print to emulate endpapers and a forest green with gold texturing to represent book covers. It turned into a whole ensemble with blouse and pants.

IMG_1785IMG_1472

I have yet to bravely wear this wonder in public. Sometime in the winter when the weather allows for heavier clothing …

blue polka dot word jacket
smiley dress elephant print

This is how I spent my COVID-19 Shelter in Place summer.

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Job Hunt: Thank you, Dr. Rude

May 9, 2020

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

airport scene at sunset

In November, I had to decide whether I would sign on for another contract or if I would move on at the end of the school year to something else. This is always a complex issue and it is never easy to make the commitment one way or the other 7-8 months ahead of time. We weighed all the variables and decided that it was time to move on and time to leave China. If I had known then what we know now, the decision would have been even harder. COVID-19 has made job hunting exponentially harder than it usually is.

Due to the limited number of international school librarian positions available in countries I would consider, I began looking at returning to the American academic library scene.

I am at a disadvantage for several reasons, including that I have been working abroad for 12 years and for 9 of those years have been at the high school level. Even before I left the States, I was at a disadvantage. I had worked for small, liberal arts colleges. Trying to get a job at a larger institution meant coming up against the assumption that I might be a big fish in a small pond, but I would be a small fish in their very large and important pond, again and again. So, just imagine what a small fish I appear to be now.

Surprisingly, I actually got some interviews with big/medium institutions. In fact, I made it past the initial interview for two of them. This meant traveling to the institutions for in person interviews. In person interviews in academia can take a whole day (or even multiple days) involving meeting with several groups of people and even giving a presentation or example of your work. I believe that one of the unstated purposes of these interview days is to test the candidate’s stamina. Can he/she be broken in a few hours?

My first of these in person interview days was mostly okay, but it only takes one or two terrible things to sink the candidate. And I definitely sank myself. My presentation was terrible. I knew it immediately and I take full responsibility for it. I did not take it seriously enough. I was not terrified during the preparation process. I did not do enough. I did not push myself. Therefore, I stank up the place.

The people on the search committee were polite and continued to be nice to me as the day continued after the disastrous presentation. However, the last event of the day was a meeting with the Dean of the Library. We could have saved a great deal of time if it had been the first event of the day instead of last. He confirmed that my presentation was a disaster by saying “You are a mismatch for this position. What in the job description led you to apply, because maybe we need to rewrite it.”

He also made a confusing comparison using his concept of the school where I am currently working and his concept of HIS school. The conclusion of this comparison was that I was incompetent. My high tuition international school which he assumes is filled with the sons and daughters of diplomats is TOTALLY different than his land grand university. I savor the paradox of a university that is so full of itself and yet has such a chip on it’s shoulder. Boo hoo, poor institution that depends on government funding. All the colleges I have worked for have been private institutions dependent on tuition and donations that received no government budget money. The only government funding they received came through financial aid to students, therefore tuition.

I am still unclear on how this economic comparison led to a negative assessment of my abilities. He did not make much sense.

However, I am thankful that Dr. Rude was so very direct and blunt, although not necessarily logical, because he told me everything I needed to know about working in his library. I would not want to work under his leadership. Several of the people I interacted with had been students at the school and “fell into” working in the library and haven’t worked anywhere else. They may not realize that having an abusive leadership is not universal or normal. The position I was applying for had been filled by at least two people in the last 6 years, which implies that the position was not long term comfortable.

I have no desire to work for bad management. I know that I don’t have to work for bad management.

Next, I had an interview at a community college. I thought it went fairly well. However, I was totally ghosted afterwards. No rejection email, not one peep out of them. It is amazingly unprofessional to interview someone in person and then not communicate, even, if it is in the negative.

I returned to Shanghai, China in early February and then the COVID-19 fun began. Countrywide self-isolation and closing of school campuses had me working from home. Then, in late March, the China borders were closed to foreigners and I began getting replies from US institutions that indicated job searches were being put on hold, so this meant shifting my job search to inside China. I had a couple of video interviews. One was a school in Beijing with a good reputation. I thought the interview went well and the principal mentioned arranging for me to speak with a teacher, so that seemed like there would be more. But then, crickets. Ghosted again. No further communication.

As time dragged on and negative result after negative result, it became fairly obvious that I needed to stay at my current position. A recent posting of said position led me to believe that the school had not been any more successful at finding a replacement than I had been at finding a new position.

It is official now. I have signed a one year contract. Only time will tell what the next job hunt season will be like, thanks to the worldwide pandemic. Luckily, we are in one of the safest places due to the effective isolation, contact tracing, testing, and treatment measures taken by the Chinese government.  We opened the school this week. Life and work is not fully normal, but it is certainly more stable than what is happening in other parts of the world.

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COVID-19: What to do on your birthday

March 18, 2020

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

scooter and bicycle traffic at an intersection

The day before my birthday we ventured out to a clinic where I had a follow up for breast cancer which showed zero signs of recurrence. Woo hoo! 27 months free and clear.

It was a beautiful sunny spring day. There are signs that life is getting back to normal, like the increased scooter traffic. Traffic and pedestrians are still light, but it is a step up from empty streets.

small businesses, sidewalk, people lined up at a food stall

People are starting to line up at the food shops for buns or dumplings.

temporary tents at a business gate, piles of boxes dropped off by delivery personnel

The gate at the clinic building was a bit chaotic with people coming to work, deliveries piled up, and the temperature check station.

sunny day, empty street

Another sunny day on my birthday. We ventured out for a meal. I really wanted sushi, but since I am not sure how safe that is (how safe is it ever?) I opted for cooked food — pancakes. When we arrived at the restaurant our temperature was taken and recorded on a form with our names and phone numbers. A short time later two police persons (one male, one female) came into the restaurant and spoke with the staff. One waitress came to our table, took our temperatures again and recorded them again. I’m not sure if she thought we had been missed the first time, or what. The restaurant closed at 5 pm (abnormally early).

blue berry pancakes with blue berry syrup and whipped cream on the side

Blue berry pancakes – super yummy.

inside of a taxi with plastic sheeting between the driver and passengers

Our second taxi was taking some extra virus protection measures. It was not air tight by any means, but I suppose it would stop any sneezing or coughing splatter.

crosswalk where twelve people are crossing all wearing face masks

This is how it is done, everyone. Wear a protective face mask. For decades China has had severe air pollution with a significant mortality rate from respiratory disease, however only a small percentage ever wear masks for that. A fast spreading virus and government restrictions = masks on everyone.

line of taxis waiting in front of a major grocery store

The best part of the virus situation is that taxis are lined up in front of the Carrefour store. This never happens normally. It is so nice to go in, shop like crazy, and know that you can get right into a taxi with all your goods when done. This I will miss when things are fully back to normal.

store display of three printers

Our printer has died, so we stopped in to get a new one. We nearly missed the display as there were only 3 models to choose from. However, there were nine models of fancy door locks to choose from. Also, the sales staff couldn’t be bothered to assist the only customers in the section.

nine electronic door lock models on display

The day ended with fig and pear pie. Quite tasty.

a plate containing a large piece of pie

And, the perfect gift for a librarian.

a box containing two pins, one shaped like eyeglasses, the second shaped like a pile of three books

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COVID-19: the Continuing Saga

March 12, 2020

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

We are now coming to the end of my 5th week and DaddyBird’s 6th week in the Shanghai coronavirus experience. The schools are still closed, so I work from home. We go out once a week to meet friends and get a little socialization.

Many of the international schools have put out the call for teachers who are still abroad to come back to Shanghai to do their 2 week quarantine. There is still no official opening date for the schools from the government. The concern seems to be that if the disease is soon considered under control in China, but is only beginning to spread in the rest of the world, the borders might close and teachers would not be able to get back.

Many concerns were expressed by teachers abroad, especially those with children. They wanted to know as many details as possible about the process of return and what will happen. The health check at the airport is more stringent now. Anyone with symptoms would have to go into official quarantine. Those who have traveled in countries with high chance of infection will quarantine at home under some supervision. All others can quarantine at home with few restrictions.

More restaurants are opening. Museums and parks are opening. Corporations have called their workers back to work. Things are getting back to normal slowly.

Two weeks ago, this is what it looked like at Starbucks. The chairs were all arranged to keep individuals apart and not facing each other. There were signs with instructions on how to behave and to not rearrange the furniture. (It didn’t keep people from doing just that, however, as a couple came in and rearranged the chairs so they could sit and talk face to face.)

coffee shop with chairs arranged singly to keep people from sitting together or face to face

Whiling away the hours has included jigsaw puzzles, some plastic block constructions, and coloring.

jigsaw puzzle pieces in a box

non-Lego brick set

coloring book page

Even some Dungeons and Dragons, for socialization.

paper map and meeples

A trip on the metro two weeks ago looked like this.

six people on a subway car

empty train platform

The taxi line outside the major grocery/department store looked like this.

long line of taxi cabs

Normally, there are no taxis and you have to wait a long, long time to get one.

Our lives revolve around food.

oranges

basket of groceries

As of this week, Laowai Jie (Foreigner Street) still looked like this on a Sunday afternoon.

pedestrianized area with restaurants, but no customers in sight

We may be going out more often, but it is likely to be several more weeks of working from home.

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COVID-19 : Living in Shanghai

February 28, 2020

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

I was going to wait until the dust settles and our “quarantine” ends, but it looks like it will continue into April, if not longer. Everything is tentative.

We were in the States for our Lunar New Year holiday in late January. I wore a mask at the airport and for most of the flight. [N95 masks are not comfortable for 16+ hours.] Unfortunately, I had a form of flu at Christmas time and have had a lingering cough. I took various cough medicines and a constant supply of cough drops, but not much has helped. It just has to run its course. However, going around coughing in the current epidemic situation can be concerning.

Actually, my cough did not seem to be a problem until I was in the States. Complete strangers would hear me cough (with my mask on or tissue covering my mouth) and their heads would snap around to see who was coughing. It is very interesting that in a country where there were few, if any cases, at that time, the anxiety was so high. Even after returning to China, I have not seen that kind of reaction. The Chinese are just going about their lives as best they can. Wearing masks when outside their homes. Submitting to having their temperature taken.

While we were in the States, news came that the school where I work would be closed due to the virus concerns, but that teaching and learning would continue online. This announcement also stated that we were required to return to Shanghai by February 2nd. This did not make sense to teachers who were in other countries. Countries with no occurrence of the disease. Why would they and their children return to a place where there might be a chance of infection. The expectation softened over time and it was agreed that some might want to stay out of the country for safety sake.

Also, one airline after another began to cancel flights to China. We weren’t certain if we would be stranded. We were returning on different dates and we both had to reschedule our flights and change planes twice in order to get home. We might have stayed in the States if it weren’t for our cats. We have a good cat sitting company who cares for them when we are gone and they agreed they could continue, if needed. We both chose to return. I am a homebody. I was traveling all over the place – Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Oregon. I have not counted up the miles. I don’t want to know. I needed to get back to my home, my hubby, my cats, and my own bed.

woman wearing black medical mask on a plane, at the back of the plane are medical inspectors wearing hazmat suits

Health inspectors came onto our plane after landing at Shanghai.

So, what is it like living in Shanghai during COVID-95? We stay home, for the most part. Ventures outside are to go for groceries or supplies. Normally, we have our groceries delivered to the door. Early on, we got a message from our grocery delivery company indicating that deliveries would be left outside our door. We would receive a message that the delivery had been made and the delivery person would leave. We could then retrieve the items without interaction, thereby reducing chance of disease transmission. Good, logical plan. Until … apartment management companies became responsible for health concerns. This meant that entrance into the apartment complexes became limited. Deliveries had to be left at the gate and we have to go out to the gate to retrieve them.

apartment gate area where several people are leaving or receiving deliveries.

A fair amount of interaction happening at the gate.

When we do venture out of the apartment complex for more than just a delivery, we are asked why we are leaving. We say “food.” That works. When we return our temperature is taken to see if we have a fever. At first they were using our foreheads, but now they use the wrist area.

There was a news announcement of a confirmed case in our neighborhood indicating involvement of a grocery store DaddyBird had been to multiple times. Luckily, the person had only visited the store as a customer, not a member of the staff.

grocery store entrance with warning signs and people in medical masks and gloves.

Word is that the store was closed briefly for a thorough cleaning.

About the same time as this news hit, a coworker posted a site where you can see a map of confirmed cases near you. (Although it doesn’t seem to know where I am.)

app map image showing red markers to indicate the location of people with confirmed virus

We have ventured out about once per week. Here is what it looked like on Laowai Jie (Foreigner Street – a 27 restaurant pedestrian area) on a Sunday afternoon.

pedestrianized restaurant area with no people in view

In summation, at this point, I would say there are no panics. The stores are not suffering from empty shelves. We can get what we need, although delivery might take a little longer or be a little more challenging. Clearly, this time is hard on small businesses, like restaurants, who were either forced to close completely, or to provide food by delivery only, or are open, but have little to no customers.

We are just dealing with boredom and being sedentary.

red banners at apartment entrance stating "reduce outdoor activities, wash hands frequently, wear a mask" in four languages

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Prague 2019 part 2

August 2, 2019

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

During our last two weeks in Prague, BabyBird joined us. Our after school activities included Království železnic (Railway Kingdom) the largest model railroad display we ever seen, the LEGO Museum, Czech Repubrick, the Mirror Maze on Petrin Hill, the Karel Zeman museum, and the Banks of the Nile exhibit at Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures.

large model railroad display

Railway Kingdom

posing for a picture in a hall of mirrors

Mirror Maze

LEGO city layout display

LEGO Museum

LEGO model of Ještěd Hotel

Model of Ještěd Hotel at Czech Repubrick

mummified cats

Mummified cats at the Banks of the Nile exhibit

Our weekend day trip was to České Budéjovice.

town square

České Budéjovice town square

We got together with our language teacher and classmates from last year. It was a great night and conversation. We stayed until closing.
nine people at a pub table

Language class was tough this year. We had three different teachers. They insisted on instruction in Czech only. Immersion technique and intensive course do not go together well. I think we learned less and more slowly than we would have if some explanation would have been in English. It is very challenging to learn a language you do not know that is explained only in the language you do not know. We successfully passed the final exam and received our certificates, but it was not as fun and empowering this year. The immersion technique, inconsistency of teachers, and facilities that are not handicap accessible are reasons we are unlikely to do this again next year. We are more likely to invest the money in a personal tutor instead of the class setting.

Next up, a week of school free vacation in Plzen.

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Czech Republic 2019

July 14, 2019

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

We are 2/5 through our current “vacation” in Prague. We start each weekday by getting up and traveling across town via metro train to attend language school. We are in class from 9:00 to 1:45 each day. Hence the quotation marks around the word vacation.

This is our second summer in the intensive language course attempting to learn the Czech language. The first year we had a great teacher and it was very fun. This year we have had three teachers within the first two weeks. It is less fun and less effective, I think. There is an insistence on immersion – teacher refuses to speak English. Therefore, the teacher is explaining a language I do not understand in the language that I do not understand. It leads to a lack of understanding, as one might imagine. Students have taken to asking each other what something means during breaks because we are all trying to deduce what is going on. Immersion technique has value in a long term program, but not so much in a short term intensive program.

classroom

In the afternoons sometimes we go out and about, but we also sometimes just head back to the hotel to rest or do our homework for the next day.

Our plan was to get out of Prague on weekends to other cities or towns. This is a good plan, except that towns tend to “roll up the streets” on weekends. Businesses are closed, other than restaurants.

Travel is very easy and inexpensive. Our first weekend we took a train to Olomouc which is to the east.

Roman Catholic Baroque church

This is Our Lady of the Snows Church. Across the street is the history museum and it was open and free due to the holiday – Jan Hus Day. We had lunch in a charming beer restaurant – Svatováclavský pivovar.

restaurant

Then we toured the museum.

The woman’s costume includes an embroidered apron. Notice the back view. I am curious just how many yards of fabric make up the skirt.


These are targets. I am not sure it they were used with arrows or guns. I find it interesting that they took the time to paint beautiful scenes on something they were going to shoot.

This is Saint Vaclav Church and the Holy Trinity Column which is in the upper square. Olomouc is a university town, so being summer, a weekend, and a holiday meant that we very nearly had the town to ourselves.

During the week there are some after school activities offered for students. One involved a tour of a brewery, so of course DaddyBird wanted to go. I didn’t tour the brewery, but I did help taste beer afterwards.

The brewery had originally been a monastery, so we ducked into the church to take a peek.

inside of the church with vaulted painted ceiling

Along the sides of the sanctuary are huge paintings which also have large frames which are trompe-l’oiel paintings.

Another school organized activity was a boat tour on the Vltava River.

Charles bridge as seen from on the river

Our second weekend trip was to Liberec in the north. There was no direct train route, so we almost gave up the plan, but our teacher said there would be a direct bus trip that would only take an hour. That is what we did. We took the metro three stops to the Florenc stop which is also a bus depot.

cloudy view

Once we got to Liberec, it was quite cool and rainy. The major attraction is a mountain top hotel/restaurant/television tower. We took a taxi up to the top. However, the clouds were surrounding the top of the mountain, so we did not see the panorama below. We had a nice lunch in the restaurant. Then we took the cable car down. The base of the cable car ends in the woods. So, we had to walk through the woods to reach the nearest tram stop.

tree trunk and roots

In addition to the usual weekend lack of activity in smaller towns, the tram lines were under reconstruction, so our plan to just ride the trams around town to see the sites was a wash. We walked to the town hall.

neo-Renaissance building

 Behind the Town Hall is a bus stop designed by David Černý. Černý is a controversial artist. He wants his works to be provocative. Of his works that I have seen, this one makes the most sense. It is connected to Liberec history. The town was a center of the Nazi movement, therefore in 1938/39, Jews had to get out of town. The synagogue was burned. After WWII ended, the Germans had to get out of town.

bus stop shaped like a dinner table

So, this work is called the Feast of Giants. On the table are two beer steins – Czech and German – a venus flytrap, an overturned menorah, and the head of the German/Czech politician, Konrad Henlein, who was Hitler’s puppet.

This is what we have been up to so far. We have two more weeks in Prague and our last week will be spent in Plzen to the south.

Měj se hezky! Have a nice day!

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Give your bank teller a little appreciation

June 23, 2019

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Banking, banking, banking. It is the time of year when I procrastinate too long about doing the bank transactions we need for our vacation and end up having days of misery and multiple trips to multiple banks. The days of misery are a given no matter when I do the banking, so that is the reason for the procrastination.

I have written about banking before. Read it here.

This year we needed to exchange two currencies – Euros for the trip and USD for family expenses. Some of these amounts would then be sent by wire transfer and some of the Euros taken in cash. Seems simple right? No. Currency exchange and wire transfer can only be done on the same day IF you are sending the money to your own account in your home country. To do currency exchange and pay a bill by wire transfer in the same day is forbidden.

Also, all of these transactions take huge amounts of time. I have not gotten out of a bank in less than an hour, and often double that.

I started the process on Wednesday. I went to the bank nearest my workplace even though I hate that I have to climb the stairs to the second floor because the tellers on the first floor are for VIP only. I took all my documentation: passport, expert card, bank card, employment contract, two months worth of tax receipts and salary slips. Back in October the tax laws changed. So did the tax receipts. This particular bank branch has not kept up with the changes and turned me away (after I had been there for 30 minutes or so) because they said my tax receipts were not right because they did not have the official stamp.

So, next day I go to HR at work and say “what’s up with the receipts?” The answer is that they are just fine and I should go to a different bank branch. I ask for a referral to a better (more friendly) bank branch.

That afternoon we are into a taxi and off to a second bank branch. We manage the USD exchange, but have to cut the Euros exchange to a smaller amount than we need because my tax receipts and salary slips don’t exactly match up and do not represent enough money to cover the whole exchange. Note that this has nothing to do with the balance available in my account. This is about proving that I earned the money and paid the taxes on it. When I receive the receipts and slips from my employer, it is the salary slip for the current month stapled to the tax receipt for the previous month. Since I had only brought two sets of stapled documents, I had only one set of matching documents – the receipt and slip for April.

The teller had asked if I wanted to do a wire transfer, too, so I said “yes” even though I knew from previous experience that you can’t do the exchange and transfer same day unless it is to yourself. We needed to pay our language school tuition ASAP, so I gave it a try. I gave her the form from the same transfer done last year with all the bank account numbers and addresses and names, etc. All she had to do was type that information in on a new form. Which took a long time and when she finally gets to the spot on the form giving the reason for the transfer, which is important because it tells the recipient what we are paying for, she realized we were not putting the money in our own account. She refers the matter to a man I presume to be the manager who tried to tell us in limited English that we could not do the transfer. We fought about it a bit. I asked him how people pay their bills? He suggested that I transfer it to my own account in another country and pay it from there. I said we cannot do that. We left unhappy and frustrated. Both the shortage of currency exchange and inability are partially my fault for not having a third tax receipt and for pushing to see if we could do a transfer even though I knew it wasn’t allowed from previous experience. However, the real root of the problem is the red tape wrapped so tightly around every transaction.

Next day (#3) we try a third branch after I leave work. When we get there it looks like this.vacant business space

The space is vacant and the sign has been torn off. Day 3 is a bust.

Day #4 is Saturday. The branch closest to our apartment is open from 9am-4pm. So, we walk there around noontime. I have extra tax receipts in addition to all the other documentation I need. When I sit down at the window (all teller windows have chairs, because whatever it is you want, it is going to take a while) I tell him I need to do 2 wire transfers. I start with the transfer to pay for our language school tuition. Again, I hand over the receipt from last year which has all the correct information on it. It takes 40 minutes to complete this transaction. He has to type up the transaction. I have to proofread and sign the form. After that, he and a woman standing behind him type and stare at the computer for a long time doing who knows what. Then he prints out a form for the fee that I am paying in yuan for the pleasure of this experience and I have to sign that, too. In there somewhere, he asked me if I had previously changed the money from yuan into Euros using my salary. This makes me nervous because I do not want him to reject my transfer on some technicality even though it is a different day. He then needs me to go across the lobby to a computerized kiosk and print out an account statement. The kiosk is NOT bilingual, so someone has to come help me figure out what to press to get it done. The only explanation we can think of is that the bank does not allow the teller to look at my account record to verify my previous transactions. I have to print it out for him.

After 40 minutes the first wire transfer is completed. He thinks I’m done having forgotten that I said 2 wire transfers when I sat down, so he is not so happy when I indicate that I now want to transfer the USD to my US account. Thankfully, this only takes 22 minutes (yes, I timed it with the stopwatch on my phone).

There is more ahead. We still need Euros in cash. We learned by our bad experience in India that we need to have enough cash to cover the hotel just in case card transaction does not work. When you are staying 5 weeks, that’s a sizable amount. Currency exchange at the airport is limited to the equivalent of $1,000 USD. We also know from experience that you cannot do the currency exchange and immediately receive it in cash. So, this will be a two day affair. Make sure I have enough tax receipts and matching salary slips. Make sure I don’t go to the branch that does not accept the new tax receipts. Go back a second day to get the cash OR go to a second branch on the same day to get the cash as they will be blissfully ignorant that it is a same day transaction.

Now, any Americans reading this post next time you are in the bank and you can perform a transaction using only your bank card and one picture ID and it takes less than 15 minutes, you should thank your bank profusely for their good customer service. Grab your teller and give him or her a big old sloppy kiss on the forehead.