Come to Prague the City of Architecture

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“Of all the triumphs of life-haters today, of fun-haters today, of beauty haters today, of thought-and-love haters today, of the Forces of Satan, if you will, the one that most troubles my heart is the inducement of some Czechoslovak politicians and police to behave like cannibals toward the most humane and generous and gifted members of their society. […] These people are rooted like the saplings in a tiny nation whose people have created a major fraction of the Earth’s most important architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, imaginative prose and most recently motion pictures. […] If a flying saucer person were to ask me what Earthlings considered to be their most habitable city, architecturally speaking, I would reply without hesitation: Come with me to Prague.”

Kurt Vonnegut- Taken from an archived article in the Czeský Rozhlas 

Prague truly is a beautiful city. Architecturally speaking, I agree with Kurt Vonnegut (RIP). I will admit that I haven’t been to all of the cities of the world, and that there may be others more beautiful than Prague, but it would be hard to beat this city of spires. Even on a bad day it kept me going; I had a difficult time losing myself into the depressive depths of me because Prague’s buildings kept grasping my senses, and I couldn’t get away from how lovely it was to walk through its streets. I’ve been to Prague four times. Twice to visit and twice to live. The first time was in 1997 with two of my friends. It was a bad trip to tell the truth. It was filled with a lot of fighting. The kind of fighting with friends that I think you only experience in your early twenties. Your twenties are much more difficult then anyone ever lets on. We are supposed to be adults, but adult-ing can sometimes take a lifetime to figure out. You think you know it all, but you still have little control over your emotional reactive responses, and you haven’t picked up the many communication skills that can ease an argument. It’s just a lot of yelling, and the word bitch get’s thrown around a lot (or some other pejorative). Still, the arguments are filled with learning points. What kind of friends and people do you want to surround yourself with, and what kind of person do you want to be? Where do you focus your self-reflections? Do you reflect? It’s all learned as we grow (hopefully) or perhaps it’s learned in Prague. Even amongst the fighting, Prague still left a huge impression on me. How could it not? Its spiraling towers touch the clouds, and its angels reach for the soul.

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I went again in 1998. A much better trip, and no fighting with my travel companion. It was a very short trip that also included a visit to Budapest. In 2000, I moved to Prague. It was while I was there that I was inspired to write about this city in a book. Again, I returned to Prague in 2015. This time may have been even more powerful than the last because I felt I had built a family in Prague. A family who is still there. It was the only time I cried when I left a place. In my heart Prague is another home.

What is it that is so spectacular about Prague? So resplendent? Much of it has to do with the architecture. Prague was fortunate to not be bombed and destroyed during WWII (except for the snafu bombing by the U.S. military in 1945- way to go U.S.A) and because of this it has been able to retain the history that has been embedded in its streets, buildings and houses. You can find gothic, romanesque, renaissance, baroque, rococo, and if you visit the Spanish Synagogue in the Jewish quarter you can also see Moorish revival which was influenced by the Alhambra in Spain (another must see).

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Nearly every part of Prague has some incredible sight to see, but it isn’t only a walk through the histories of the far past, if you visit the Dancing House or any of David Černý’s strange and fascinating pieces hanging throughout the streets, you will be awarded with architectural modernism, post-modernism and contemporary designs. This building, The Dancing House, which is a hotel and hosts art exhibits, is an amazement of deconstructivist architecture. It was built in 1996 and is the site of the accidental allied bombing of 1945. It is also call Fred and Ginger as it sways like the two famous dancers. It’s crown is a metal birds nest.

Most people when they visit will stick to old town, and head up to the castle district, but in every neighborhood from Vinorady, to Mala Strana, and from Vyšehrad to my favorite neighborhood Žižkov (my heart belongs in Žižkov) there is beauty to behold. So please, take my hand, and come with me to Prague, because I plan to return.

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Hlavní Nádraží’s station was stunning. The prodigious dome, with its illuminated stained-glass windows, and the colorful matted walls with winding plants that undulated in whips of movement had caused me to pause for a moment. There were statues leaning from the corners of the walls. Their faces with carved blank eyes, all more than a century old, stared down at me. I was crossing platforms that had been crossed by hundreds of thousands of strangers. People just like me, and people nothing like me, but we were all traveling. The colossal doors with sweeping archways were framed by statues of supine women draped in stone fabric that looked to flow and breath. The marble women, with their down-turned mouths and closed eyes, curved like open yawns over the arched windows of the doors. The station was a reminder of a time when travel was ostentatious and reserved for the wealthy.  And here I was. I had decided to move to Prague because someone had told me that the Prague of the nineties was like the Paris of the thirties, and I was a romantic.

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The Day My Cat Died

I’ve created a new category titled Accidental Vagabond. This section is part of the answer to the question, how did I get here. How did I become an accidental vagabond? How is it that I am reposting a blog about the death of my cat while I am sitting in an a apartment in Seoul? How are theses things possible? Are they connected? Do they matter? It’s funny to think back on it, but the death of my cat was a starting point for returning back out into the world of travel. It didn’t happen right away, but a few years after Boo died I left the country. I had wanted to leave before, but my cat prevented it. Not that I couldn’t just give her to someone, and then go. I knew and know that’s possible, but I didn’t want to. I loved my cat, my pet, and I chose to stay in places where I was able to have her. That’s what happens to us in life. We make choices, and some of those choices mean giving up other things in life. We have pets, we get married, we have children, we decided to help our parents. There are many things that we choose for better or for worse, and at times we may wonder what would have happened if I made a different choice. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter if you made a different choice because you live in the choice you made, but that choice back then does affect you in the present. It built you. It’s part of your foundation.
After my cat died I was free to travel. I didn’t have to worry about her. There was a freedom, but I was happy to have spent the time I did with that precious animal. I know some people don’t think animals have much value in our lives, but for those of you who understand loving and caring for a pet, you know what I mean.
I’m reposting this as a reflection because I’m about to have a change in my life, a new pet. This time it is a different animal. A dog, and the dog is not mine, she belongs to my boyfriend. There are many choices being made, and this choice does affect my ideas of travel. In fact, many ideas or thoughts and day dreams have to change and adapt. I’ve chosen a man and his dog to be apart of my life. We are building a new life, and a new foundation together. I wonder, in a wonder without remorse, but purely curiosity, will we be able to travel the world as I fantasize? If so how? At least years from now I can check back to this post.

An Accidental Vagabond

My cat died today. She died in my arms. I hope it was the right choice, I hope she was ready. Its difficult to tell with animals. I wasn’t ready. I would never have been ready. I dug her grave this morning, and eerily and somewhat comically she watched. She even peered her head into the grave as I dug. At first I laughed, but then I told her it was too macabre and she should go. Then we watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind until the vet aka Dr. Death came. I didn’t want to let him in. It was all very fast. He said she was very weak and she probably would go fast and she did. She had a couple types of cancer and it was all a race to see which one would kill her first, and neither winner would be a pretty death. That…

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Let’s Take Teacher to Kaifeng Part 1.

I left Portland in the summer of 2013, to begin a new adventure in China as an English Literature teacher for EFL Chinese students who were prepping to move to the U.S., and Canada to continue their educations. It was really a whim. I had been feeling trapped and stunted, doing my usual, what am I really accomplishing in this life lamentations. This a usual lamentation that I’ve been singing since I first left college in 1997. It’s a familiar song that is on a fairly continuous loop kind of like when a horrible pop song gets stuck in your head. In truth, I’m sick of the song, but at times it can lead me through interesting doors, albeit I’m generally singing the same tune too loud to be able to pay attention to my  immediate surroundings. Surely, more then once I have missed an opportunity to grasp some enlightening notes to help me in the great quest of purposefulness. Regardless, if I had the overwhelming desire to be a great teacher or to experience China, or to be an avid traveller (all of which I have at one time or another felt) I ended up in China. It was more a case of who I knew than what I knew, but the outcome was the same; I was in China.

As I write this post from a coffee shop in Busan, South Korea, the days tick away from my time in China, and four years have past. Since China I have moved to the Czech Republic and traveled to parts of Eastern and Western Europe then returned to Portland, and now I sit in cafe called Coffee Farm in Saha-gu in Busan. This post will remain static on this page, and the days will continue to tick. Perhaps you have stumbled across this blog while looking up something on China, and as you read, five more years have passed since I’ve posted, and who knows what I’m writing and where I’m writing. Will I still be traveling? Will I be writing? Will I be alive?  I haven’t posted much about my experiences because thoughts have been in the way, more personal, more emotional thoughts and feelings that have been an impediment to sharing my general experiences in China, and in the other places that I have been since then. Occasionally, I am able to force myself to the page, but the moments are far and fewer between. Yet, that need to record my life, maybe in some attempt to have some relevance beyond death, is still there; small as a wisp, but still there.

There are moments when my thoughts are drifting and some brief yet strong memory from my year in China resurfaces. I never know what triggers it, but it always brings a smile to my face, and a slight nod to my head, which at times baffles and amuses me because I struggled in China. It goes to show that things can become better when nostalgia sets in. Even though I discount my pleasant experiences there I will state that it wasn’t all a struggle or at least that there weren’t moments of joy in the experience of struggles. I do hope that in the coming years that I can and will devote more time to the practice and art of writing so that one day I can accurately and succinctly convey the emotions, and the experiences that triggered those emotions, in a way that can take my readers to China. Can I reach the ability to tell my history like a poetic story? Can I transport you with my words to this place without sounding sentimental or whiney? I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to do such a thing, but if it’s true that practice and deliberate practice bring about true growth, then I have to look at each post, be it about an event from the past or this current present, as a step toward learning to create that transportive storytelling.

Here is the beginning of one such deliberate practice of a storytelling:

Once upon a time, I had a complete and total meltdown at school, number 47 middle school, where I taught high schoolers,  in Zhengzhou, China.  I was in the office talking to one of my best and favorite students when one of the staff dropped a little bomb on me. On all of us. In a typical Chinese administration fashion, a set holiday was taken away from the teachers and the students in a very last minute non ticket refundable manner in order to use the school for Gaokoa practice testing space. Gaokao is this brutal future life determining test  that all Chinese students who want to attend higher education have to take in order to have a hopefully prosperous future. It is considered one of the most difficult tests in the world. Post test results are the top students have their photos in the national papers, and a number of suicides which are not reported in the same papers. It is stressful, and also status building. So it means nothing to the administration to forgo much needed and desired vacation time for students and teachers in order to be the poster school for testing. I, of course as can be determined by my current tone, don’t think this test is the be all to life, and at the time pretty much lost my shit at the knowledge that I just lost my vacation-days days before they were to take place. I had no concern for mianzi or guanxi. These are Chinese words for saving face or keeping up appearances and relationships that are far more complex, yet central to Chinese society, then I can effectively explain. Needless to say, my “face” exploded. I lost it in full view of my student and my Chinese co-workers.

When I think back on this 20 minutes of pure fury which I experienced in some bizarre out of body fashion, I wish that I had a camera rolling so I could watch the horror that my co-workers appeared to show on their faces and in their bodies, and the shear madness that I was unable to control. I really went mad. I was a thin line of consciousness from physical destruction. It was this outer body entity of myself that was watching me lose it that was the only thing that managed to keep some small about of sanity about me. I screamed and railed about how this was the very reason why people hated China; and no wonder they don’t return; and how the administration and the bosses treat people like shit even their own citizens; and it just keep going.  I’d grip a desk with a blinding passionate need to over turn it, but this calm voice of reason would wash over me and say, “you look crazy, right now, and this is not their fault, and your student is standing right there. Let go of the table.” So I would release my grip of what ever object I had in my grasp with a rapid snap of force, and scream out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I know it’s not your fault!” And, immediately my wrath would return, “BUT this is bullshit!” and I would frantically pace the room seething and looking for something to destroy. It was truly a moment of madness where my personalities had split. I would even begin laughing at myself at the ridiculous irrationality of my behavior. I would laugh thinking, oh my god you can’t un-do what you are doing right now. The terror on my co-worker’s faces would only mildly pause my raging. It was only my student who was able to calm me. Unlike my adult co-workers who couldn’t move and just stood in shock staring at me, it was my 16 year old student who threw her arms around me and pulled me into an embrace, and held me in her arms. “It’s okay teacher. It’s okay.” I wanted to cry and collapse into her arms, but a new I needed to pull it together and be the adult I was supposed to be. “We won’t let this happen.” She said, and then she ran from the office.

I slumped into my chair, my head drooped forward over my desk, tears heavily forming into the base of my eyes. “I’m sorry.” I whispered to the still stunned Chinese staff. “It’s just…it’s just not fair.” I sighed, and looked at them. “I know it’s not your fault. I know it ruins your vacation too.” The head teacher held her hands up in a calming manner and said, “just, just wait, I will talk to the President, maybe something can be done.” And she left the office.

I don’t remember much else except that my student returned to the office to declare that her and the other students had decided to protest the change and that they would refuse to go to school on that day. “And if that doesn’t work teacher, we’ve decided that we will take you on a vacation after school is over.” I smiled lightly at my student. I had just incited a tiny revolution, which although oddly charming could result in me getting arrested for subversion, but what a story that would make.  This mini-revolt didn’t take place because the President of the school decided to allow our department the day off. I assume that the head teacher painted a very clear description of the foreign teacher’s utter decent into raving madness. It ended up making me a minor hero among my Chinese colleagues because they were able to maintain guanxi yet keep their vacation time. One teacher came in and spoke to the lead teacher in Chinese and after a moment leaned  toward me and whispered, “Thank you.” I may have been permanently marked the unstable one, but I had my uses.  I know that other foreign teachers had had outrages, but based on the frozen fearful faces of my co-workers I was fairly certain they had never seen anything like what came out of me on that day. Hell, I had not experienced that level of a tantrum soberly in a long-long time, and it was more than I had ever released. I knew it stemmed from the pressures of work but more so from the repressed grief that I had been carrying over my mother’s death. Still, I was shocked by my behavior. I didn’t know that I had an actual demon possession lying dormant inside me.

I suppose in all other circumstances I would have been embarrassed, but China had a way of taking bizarre events that would have what you would think to be a predictable outcome and flipping it into an unpredictable result. Everyone went on vacation, and at the end of the school year, six of my rebellious students took me on their mini vacation which was a complete surprise and a contradiction of expectations.

“Teacher.” My student said during the last week of school. “We want to take you with us on our holiday. Will you come. You just pay for your room and we will do the rest.”

It seemed a little unprecedented to me a teacher going on vacation with students–not as a chaperone, but as invited guest on their trip. It would never happen in the states. I said yes. My students took me to Kaifeng. It was me, six teenagers, and three e-bikes.