Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fridays are Fun.

I made note of my potential plans yesterday. The weather took a turn for the better and so we did indeed head to the aforementioned festival.

Before we left, I meant to eat dinner but upon opening the fridge was struck by the realization that I had only a tall can of beer. A fitting prelude to the evening ahead.

The bus ride was reminiscent of a train in India. As we approached the city centre the bus became more and more saturated with young and boisterous party goers until it was too full to let people on and the stops became a mere formality. Once we arrived at the festival it quickly vomited it's contents onto the street.

The music festival was like Bluesfest, or any other outdoor music festival I've attended, with a few differences worthy of note:

-It was free, because of the Zlaty Bazant sponsorship.
-There were no tickets or defined festival grounds, presumably because it was free.
-We were able to bring our own liquor, when it did eventually run out the beer was very cheap.
-The stage had a shower, which I would later learn was to facilitate a wet t-shirt contest.

Aside: When you go to a party and meet a motley crew of new people, it's often hard to remember all their names. It's a lot harder when the people you are meeting have names that you have never heard before/couldn't dream up, and for the most part, can't figure out how to spell.

After the music went off at the festival I ended up, fittingly, at a place called Nonsense Bar. My boss and a few other colleagues were sitting around bottles of Sky vodka and Redbull.

My night ended relatively early, I got home around 4am.

To the uninitiated reader: I usually attempt to make my ramblings a little more flowery than this. The majority of my mental faculties however, are being used to "not kill myself." Off to watch Oz to convince myself my life ain't so bad.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In the News

Slovakia is on the way up.

The mafioso remain untouchable.

Wonder if they will get their golf course now?

Swine flu ain't a thing.

No wonder it's so tough for me to get a visa, I'm stealing a badly needed job.

Off to a festival at one of the colleges sponsored by Zlaty Bazant (Golden Pheasant) beer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Walking with [Undue] Confidence

It was a little bit colder today so I decided to stroll to work. I use the term "colder" quite generously, I mean it was windy and 20 degrees by 7am. It took about 10 minutes longer than the usual "walk to bus stop-wait for bus-ride bus-walk from bus stop to work" method that I've been employing since my arrival.

At the office things continued to improve. While I'm not yet a master of my trade I've improved leaps and bounds since a week ago when I first started. I still have a long way to go though and the only way I'll get there is by continuing to push harder everyday. My buddy Zig Ziglar says "The first step to getting great, is getting started." Amen.

Work went a little bit longer than usual, throwing off my schedule in the process. As a result I would have had to wait longer for a bus. It didn't occur to me that walking to work was easy because all of the streets converge towards the city centre. Conversely, the roads out of the city centre are analogous to arteries leading away from the heart, slowly bifurcating and channeling their contents to farther and farther extremes. One wrong turn early on is very difficult to recover from, as I learned. The city isn't big but the skyline away from the city centre is monotonous at best. The hundreds of tower block housing units make the interconnecting residential streets labyrinthical in nature, if I may be so bold. The buildings are packed tight and stretch upwards allowing you to see only what is directly in front and directly behind. This fact alone postponed my arrival home by a significant amount of time.

I ended stumbling upon a Slovak flee market. I was certainly the only one with an iPod. It was weird and had a higher percentage of gypsies than other areas of town. Things were closing up for the day but suffice it to say that there was an impressive array of sub-par merchandise being offered for the price of "cheap as shit."

Today I also learned that their are "convenience" stores located in most of the Panelaks (tower block housing units). And I have been walking to the gas station like a sucker. In reality though, the only thing that these stores sell is wine. I don't know if it's convenient or another testament to the lack of public health protocol.

The Champions League final is tonight, if football is your thing. I'm not that much of a soccer fan myself, but it's an opportunity to go out with people from work and be in-the-know tomorrow when everyone will undoubtedly talk about it. If it weren't for the consistent ache in my right knee that comes with rising humidity (46%, still nothing like Ottawa) I would think it was football anticipation and excitement that made me feel a little sticky (cute, I know).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Photoblogging: The Way to Work

I don't know what any of these buildings are. I just tried to take pictures quickly so as to not look like too much of an idiot tourist.

This is a pretty good idea of what the downtown looks like though...They are in order as I see them on the way to work.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some Racist Thoughts

One of the token expressions among the expat community is that Slovakia makes you racist.

The thinking behind such an expression is that people from all over the world come here to work, and when they see, day in, day out, the stereotypical Slovak (lazy and drunk), and have to wait in extremely long lines, and have to endure absolutely atrocious service (I use the term service liberally) they start to harbor a certain disdain. I was talking to Sarp about it and he said something I found to be extremely intriguing -everyone is just a product of their society. When I get on the bus and older Slovak men stare at me with what feels like ire, it's probably for a reason. These old men have seen things that I cannot imagine, including the exportation of over 12,000 jews, struggles with the perpetually unemployed and uneducated Roma people, coups for power by nazi germany, and communist USSR and corruption of the highest order. No wonder trust doesn't come easy and newcomers aren't always welcomed with open arms.

It's not racism, it's rationality.

For select parts of the last four years I felt extremely uncomfortable for being a white male (there, I finally said it.) It's also worth noting that for two years I worked beside the Social Issues Commission. Ignore the fact that my three best friends were brown and I have a William Ayers quote on my Facebook profile; if I wasn't out spending my day crusading against phobics of all sorts, I was just as bad as the aforementioned quasi-KKK members. That is racism, it's not rational.

Sorry but I honestly had other priorities, like passing school and trying to develop myself as a person.

After four years on a campus that was obsessed with the idea of "isms," ('oh wait those doesn't include "phobias" and might exclude another form of prejudice we haven't deemed important yet, better find a new umbrella to group all the haters under') then "sensitivity" ('hold up a minute, we can't call it being sensitive, that's offensive because it implies select groups will be offended if we aren't sensitive all the time') then finally "anti-oppression" ('I think we can call it anti-oppression, we certainly don't want to oppress anyone, I think that covers all our bases') I refute the idea of white privilege ruining the lives of so many at Queen's even more. Such obsession and need to persecute, rather than educate, served only to polarize the population further.

In the last few weeks I've met and seen people that have endured experiences anyone privileged enough to have made it to Queen's could not imagine. I do not mean to trivialize the negativity that some Queen's students may have experienced but honestly, you have no perspective (and I will be the first to admit I'm only just starting to gain some). After four years of being accused of enjoying my "white privilege" I finally come to a place where I meet people from all over the world that could very legitimately hold my CANADIAN privilege against me. And yet they don't. Everyone I have met here, no matter what they have inured has accepted me first as a person and taken me at face value, for that I feel more respect than a (insert your favourite type of) issues commissioner could ever demand out of me. They have not judged me but tried to learn from me and tried to teach me what values they hold as important. They could blame me and the Western world that I represent for innumerable things and make hundreds of excuses for themselves but they haven't. I'm embracing the idea of the global citizen, we're all people first.

I find it quite refreshing.

This is only a few thoughts and reflections on my past experiences. I have not articulated it as well as I had hoped, which probably means the thoughts aren't completely formed. I hope they don't ever completely form, as then they will atrophy. I don't seek to alienate, comments and discussion are always welcome and I'm sure I'll blog more about this topic when the mood strikes me or I feel like I've compiled a little more insight. I'm just getting started.

UPDATE: I hope nowhere in this blog does it sound like I'm hating on Slovakia. This place has been great so far.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Another day on the balcony, another parallel parking disaster observed. Awesome.

Responsible decisions last night prompted a relatively early start today. Following a fairly substantial grocery run I spent the majority of the afternoon alone . Sarp's time was committed to attending a BBQ at the Turkish embassy and later, talking his way out of a ticket for fishing without a permit.

More on my flatmate Sarp: He drinks more Coca-Cola than anyone I have ever met. It is also worth noting that such said enamel-decaying beverage is referred to as Coca-Cola here (or Pepsi-Cola, if that's your style). If you try to order a Coke all you get is a confused stare.

Reading a book about sales, loafing in the sun and making iPod playlists reminiscent of times-past were the activities that punctuated my afternoon.

There's a big football (soccer, d'uh) game tonight that Sarp is going to get riled up about so I will spend the next two and a half hours watching a veritable display of emotional angst and instability.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Same but Different


I just went to gas station to buy some chips and a badly liquid supply of electrolytes.

I wanted salt and vinegar chips but obviously that was too much to ask for. They also only have the orange flavour of Fanta in this country.

Seriously though, I couldn't have asked for them if I had wanted. I also couldn't read the bag. Upon my return home I figured out I had gotten the "mountain salt" flavour, whatever that is.

Dealing with the big things is easier in some ways because they are things that you can anticipate and prepare for. The perpetual erosion of life quality by everyday slights is tiring and starting to get to me.

Not being able to talk to anyone is actually really annoying.

NOTE: I'm more awake and feeling better, the immediate effects of the chip incident have passed. And I found this article:

NOTE II: Stumbled across this article and I quite like it. Politicians aren't business men. I think it resonates with me so much because the city I'm in right now is like a case study on the matter.
Growing Pains

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Worked for the Weekend

Count it.

At the prompting of the office manager I'm going to get my visa application underway Monday. I'm only allowed to be here for 90 days without telling anyone. For whatever reason though, my passport never got stamped and so I could theoretically be an alien here forever since no one knows when I entered.

Last night I got drunk with my Irish boss. We saw a guy pretending to roundhouse kick his friend in the street (Welcome to Slovakia). My boss started mumbling with a suddenly heavy Irish accent along the lines of..."you'll be pickin up your teeth with broken fingers...not so tough when a barstool hits ya in the back of the neck..."

I also learned there is a German term for hangover that translates directly to "There are carpenters in my head."

I commented to a Slovak coworker about how I thought my bus driver was drunk.
He replied with "I hope I die passed out on a bus like my grandfather. And unlike his passengers."

Some things today that stood out to me as odd/weird/different:

-On the way to work I saw two suit-clad 60+ year old men drinking red wine on a patio.

-My thoughts on the complete lack of public safety proved prophetic again when I saw a street light with about 2948293 exposed live wires at my bus stop.

-On the way to the aforementioned bus stop I saw a midget with no arms. Yup.

-I have yet to see a Slovak man pull off a suit. I think it might have something to do with the effeminate wallets/notebooks they carry in their hand

-I guess they can't be that successful. They don't even have Blackberries.

-At our cluster of desks on the sales floor (it's kind of like "The Office"... how appropriate) we have representation from Canada, France, Ireland, Slovakia, America and Mexico. It's more diversity in 8 hours than 4 years at Queen's.

Well I'm off to a toga party. I thought my days of getting drunk in costume were fast gone, not so. Once again, "Welcome to Slovakia!"

UPDATE: Nutella SERVES peanut butter. Europe 1, North America: 0

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Thing or Two

Second day of real work, first day of Slovak lessons.I'm not sure which was more overwhelming.

Truth be told, neither was that brutal.
I got some good advice from my Sales manager after work today. He has been quite intense at work so far, but proved nice after hours. We agreed about not taking life too seriously. He also said he felt odd giving advice because he thought everyone would be giving me advice given my situation. The conversation was lubricated by a fair number of beers, of course.

I learned about Slovak rap music from one of my Slovakian colleagues. He's going to give me a sample soon. It was explained to me that it makes sense for rap music to be so popular here. The same atmosphere permeating the inner-city ghetto of the American urban metropolis responsible for the spawning of gangster rap was birthed long ago on the fringes of a failing communist society. These cities have some of the oldest sub standard housing and living conditions in the world.

The other day on CNN (the only channel I can understand other than BBC) I saw a segment about rap music taking root in Iraq and it showed young kids spitting unwritten rhymes on the streets of Baghdad. Seems fitting.

Like America though, a lot of these Slovakian rappers are felt to be selling out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Working in a Small World

I have finished my first "real" day of work. That being said, the fact that it was the first day takes away from the realness of it, if you know what I mean. The first real day will blindside me a month or two down the road, some idle Tuesday afternoon.

Today was my first stab at what my job will be. Sitting at a desk with a phone and a spreadsheet trying to organize meetings and seminars with senior level pharmaceutical and biotech executives. The shake and stutter of my speech on the first sales call sounded like a remix of the pitch I was supposed to deliver. The second one was a little better. I hope that trend continues, soon enough I'mma sound like this

The more people I can get to attend these things, the more money I get, uncapped. It's that easy, in theory.

It's worth getting good and I guess now is the time to start stepping up to the plate. It's quite uncomfortable right now though, which just means I will have to learn more in order to get comfortable. It's a matter of talking to people, time to start logging my 10,000 hours.

I went to lunch with a coworker today who commutes from Vienna each day. He mentioned that on his bus to the train station yesterday he ran into someone I went to high school with. It's not such a big scary world after all.

Late this afternoon I found myself slightly perturbed because, the man steering the tin can charading as a vector for public transportation was drunk. I am stating that with 62% certainty. The number is based on stereotypes and erratic driving.

Off to bed so that I am well rested for the Slovak lesson tomorrow before work.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Partyslava and Post Bar Photo Blogging

The night was destined to be good from the start.

Before heading to a Eurovision party I stopped by my favourite local gas station and spent 5 Euro on a few tall cans of 12% Beer and a bottle of wine. It was at this point that I realized two of these tall cans was equivalent to drinking a liter of wine. Those extra percent really sneak up on you. The cashier wished me well and I went to wait for the bus.

It was at this point that I was lucky enough to enjoy my best interaction thus far with a Slovak Stranger. A bus that was not the one I needed, pulled up and a man sitting at the window looked at me and smiled. He then pointed at the bottle of wine that I was brandishing in my right hand and started to gesture excitedly as if to say "Give me those bottles so I can chug them with impunity." I smiled laughed and gestured back before the bus pulled away. Recent studies suggest the alcoholism rate is somewhere around 8%

My bus arrived promptly thereafter and I was on my way to Pedro's house to watch Eurovision. It took me about an extra half hour to find my way as I had never ventured there on my own before. I had also never heard of the European song contest before but I think it might very well be responsible for the term "Euro Trash" and all the associated stigma. I have never seen so many people from all corners of the continent excited about such cheeseball performances. It was still a party though and the different snacks and liquors from all over the world hallmarked this get together particularly well. Norway won in a landslide, I think the Republic of Maldova performance deserves an honourable mention. By the time the voting was done and the winner declared so to were many bottles of alcohol. The night was just getting started.

We headed to a cuban themed bar called "Havana." I'm not exactly sure what I was drinking, but the cup was shaped like a skull and I was sure to thieve a couple on my way out Before going in, a select few of our group decided it necessary to chug a 2Euro liter of red wine that someone magically appeared. A conservative estimate puts my liquor consumption at something around 2 bottles of wine before this pass-the-vino charade. After a few hours of salsa music and latin heat we opted to make a move to "Channels." I can't be sure what time it was but somewhere around 2:00am feels reasonable. At this point, though enjoying myself, I was tired and felt like I needed to wrap up the night soon. I committed to my new Australian friend Erin that I would have one drink with her though, so we trekked down to the third basement of the club and she ordered us some double-vodka sprites. While drinks are cheap here, the way they make them is a little different than in Canada. There is no pop gun and the mix is poured out of a 2L bottle. Based on the proportions of each doled out by the bartender, I am starting to think that the vodka was cheaper than the Sprite.

After literally countless Sprite flavored glasses of vodka we headed upstairs, out of the veritable fire-trap that was the basement, to get some fresh air. The lack of public health standards in this country are glaringly obvious. The concept of a fire-escape is something that has seemingly escaped all of the drinking establishments I have been to. I don't foresee the implementation of any happening anytime soon, barring a disaster. Not long after heading upstairs I noticed that the bar was getting lighter. I realized that sunshine was beginning to filter in through the filth-stained windows. I was quite surprised when I realized it was 4:47am. I was more surprised that the bar still toted a diverse and vibrant crowd.

Erin and I headed outside, to begin our foray home. We had been drinking at a furious pace for quite some time and I think the bright light and bird song was a little too much stimulation for our foggy brains. Despite how badly I waned to get home, we made it a priority to play in a kid's park for a few minutes before Erin decided to splish-splash around in the fountain of the Presidential Palace. Unfortunately the party was broken up by the Policia and if it weren't for a polite, articulate Swedish friend Erin probably would have had to pull a stint in Slovak jail before making it to bed.

A few minutes shy of 6am I decided to stop back at my favourite local gas station to grab some nourishment. The same lady who had sold me the wine 8 hours earlier was still working and couldn't help but crack a smile when she saw me in my haggard state. I stumbled outside, at this point feeling particularly out of touch with the world around me, when I saw a construction worker who made me feel more at home than ever. Behind the gas station, at 6am on a Sunday morning, he was pouring a bottle of vodka into a half-filled 2L bottle of Coke.

I woke up around noon and had a huge Turkish breakfast of cheeses, olives, sausage and eggs with the Kayalar family. It was difficult although delicious and I think I felt better for it afterwords.

As I become more able and independent I find myself letting my guard down a little and as a result enjoying myself more. I am meeting really great people who just want to have fun and don't take life, or Slovakia, too seriously. As much as I had a great time last weekend this was by far the most fun night yet. It's a lot easier to relax and enjoy the company you find yourself in when you are not fretting about who you will have to rely on to survive. I think that as I get more nimble with the language and integrate myself into society I will find the experience more and more enjoyable.

Click on pictures for full-size.

Subtotal: 4 Euro, if I had shopped at the grocery store instead of the gas station I would have saved about 20%. Note the % of the beer.

No longer limited to Mexico?

Sunday mass anyone?

A royal mess: Bratislava Castle in the morning light.

The Preidential Palace/swimming pool.

Splish Splash I was takin' a bath

The water is a little cold.

Apparently you can't swim in the fountain?

Walk of Shame?

Why do you look so upset Samo?


Portion of the Bratislava skyline circa 5:30am


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Around the Flat

These have been a long time coming. For those wondering what my setup is like:

and a picture of Imran I found on my camera is always worth throwing up...

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Night on the Turks

Now that I've been here a little over a week (8 days and 7 hours) I think some of the initial shock has worn off and a few things are starting to set in.

The flat is buzzing with a little more activity than usual as Sarp has taken a few days off work to accommodate his visiting family and fiance. The end of my first working week was marked by a delicious dinner with the Kayalar family and a myriad of others who flocked to the less than scenic parts of Bratislava for the cheap ribs and beer.

Our dinner party was composed of a motley crew of multinationals, clustered around a few tables at El Dorado, a restaurant located smack in the middle of the forlorn concrete jungle that is Petrzalka, colloquially referred to as the Bronx of Bratislava, where about one third of the population resides. I can't emphasize enough the disparity that the hundreds of concrete tower-blocks impress. The bus ride to the restaurant provided us with telling views of the most industrial parts of Bratislava as well as the Ekonomicka Univerizita , another chilling case study in communist architecture. El Dorado itself was the antithesis of interior design, boasting such things as a glass dalmatian statue, bright yellow walls that looked like they were paper-mached together and ash trays beside the urinals. The food was delicious though, when it finally arrived.

I sat beside Sarp's father, an officer in the Turkish navy who speaks some English. Amazingly, his english improved proportionally to the number of pints we consumed. It turns out that smiles, hand gestures and pivo (beer) go a long way in aiding communication and breaking down language barriers, allowing most points to be well-conveyed.

After dinner we headed to Harley's. Sarp assured me it was the best place to meet local university students. Maybe we were too early, but the bar was dominated by steroid popping skin heads. This was the first place in Slovakia that I paid a cover charge to get into a bar. The fee was only waved for those patrons with motorcycles who were literally able to roll into the bar and allowed park their bikes on the giant patio. It was an interesting sight and I'm glad I went out.

The highlight of my night at the bar was a conversation I had with a native Slovak named Peter. He moved to Bratislava 5 years ago from the Eastern side of the country, about 40 minutes from Kovice, the second largest city in Slovakia. He offered some really interesting perspective as we discussed a wide array of things. I'm learning that things here are the same but different. On one hand, the people here have lived through so much more tumult than I believe the average Westerner could fathom. Peter told me about his grandmother who had lived through era's marked by coups for power, mass deportations and the rise and fall of the iron curtain. On the other hand though, it became more and more evident that at the end of the day we were both just two guys out at the bar looking to enjoy our well-deserved weekend.

I left relatively early, on my own, unsure where I was in relation to my house. Luckily, a cab was waiting in the parking lot and I managed to slur enough Slovak to avoid paying the tourist/extortion taxi rate. When I eventually thanked the cab driver for the ride and hopped out, I saw his face tense as he realized he could have charged me 3 times as much for speaking English. No joke, that's how things work around here.


The weather deteriorated for the latter two days of the working week. Thus no photoblog of my journey to work, yet. Contrary to my usual luck though, the sun has managed to show itself once again, seemingly declaring the arrival of the coveted weekend.

I'm taking a nap and then heading out to dinner with the Kayalar family (my flatmate Sarp's parents are visiting from Istanbul).
It is my hope that some hilarity will ensue and provide further fodder for my musings.

Check back soonish.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Subtle Side Effects of Communisms

Heretofore I heralded socialism as the superior political policy. To the unknowing observer, this could be considered odd, given my concurrent and seemingly contradictory ambition to earn myself the worthiest of livings and my ambitious desires to stack massive amounts of Euros.

At the end of the day though, I'm Canadian and I quite like the idea of everyone being well fed, housed, medicated (when appropriate) and generally taken care of, however naive that may be. I also just graduated from a fairly liberal University (aren't most post secondary institutions?). At first glance, state involvement seems like a good idea, when one is looking to ensure the welfare of the greater population.

1989 marked the end of communism in Slovakia, and obvious scars still linger in ways unfathomable to me less than a week ago.

On a generational level, the country seems confused. There is a great divide between the attitude maintained by older Slovaks and the youth, who are growing up under extremely different circumstances than their parents did. It seems to me, in my so far extremely limited observations, that the youth really aren't too sure what to do with themselves. Furthermore, they don't really have anywhere to look for support, inspiration or direction. I cannot imagine how distressing that would be. I can't help but hope that globalization and exposure to other ways of life have provided some guidance. Much respect to the youth of the city who seem to be meandering along quite well, all things considered.

The infrastructure is interesting. Trams and busses are still Soviet in their era and 90% of them feel and look like they will fall apart at any moment. Beautiful statues churches and palaces are abundant in the old city centre and throughout other public areas of town. It seems though, that a great proportion of the statues dedicated to people are ones with a dark, if not violent tone. Kings and soldiers toting guns and swords, I'm told that this theme is even more prevalent in Russia. Quite the opposite of the Terry Fox monument in front of the Canadian Parliament. In contrast, an excessively large majority of the population reside in massive, filthy, concrete apartment buildings that look ready to turn themselves to rubble at any moment. Most of them are arranged at staggered angles to avoid a domino effect in the event of a feared American bombing that never came.

Even more telling though, is the most photographed statue in Slovakia, which is only a stone's throw from my new office. The irony behind the "Man at Work" statue of course, is that he is just hanging out in a manhole watching the fairer sex stroll by, not working at all. While light-hearted in nature and amusing to the tourists, the insight it provides into the attitude of society is of a significant magnitude. In the modern day, this mindset is put on exhibit when one steps into one of the many bars or restaurants in the city. While my service experiences have been limited, they have been equally atrocious.

Customer service is a notion that literally does not exist here. The customer is seen as a burden. Which makes sense, when one takes circumstances into account. If you were getting paid the same amount as everyone else, regardless of the work you do, why bother working at all? God forbid someone come in and demand a drink.

Maybe I'm crazy. Probably I'm crazy, but in my day to day jaunts around town, I don't see people smiling. I've really tried to look for it.

The immaculate (countless teams of workers sweep and clean the streets) and beautiful downtown tries in the most extreme of ways to convey a sense of pride and accomplishment. Unfortunately, the attitude of the people and the crumbling infrastructure convey something entirely different.

So Naomi Klein, while your ideas may be well intentioned, I fear they lack practicality. Let me show you around Bratislava before you espouse any more of your views. To Milton Freidman, well played, good sir. At the end of the day, I can probably spend my own money better than anyone else can, with regards to maximizing my utility.

I know that extremes, one way or the other are something to be wary of, but this experience has certainly helped me to re-calibrate and objectively question my political leanings.

NOTE: This is by no means a complete post and I'm sure as I allow myself to further permeate into society I will stumble upon more and more evidence, one way or the other. I could be completely wrong, just some initial observations...

NOTE II: I am really afraid I haven't conveyed the full feelings I have here. You need to experience it.

This is Real Life

Who would have guessed that I would ever lock down a full time job. I'm finally becoming a real person.

Today was my first day. It was very low impact and I felt very saturated with information by the end of the day-long training session. Another week or so of learning before I really get down to business but it was extremely refreshing to be able to spend the majority of the day with people who could communicate with me.

Getting back into a routine will probably be great for me after an undefinable period of lofting around waiting for my life plans to unfold. I'm still enthusiastic, naive etc. but the office seems like a great environment and all the material I was given resonated well with me, especially with respect to company culture and the way that they do things (read: heavy financial incentives). I am going to do my best to make it go well.

Time to start being super proactive.

I think I might photoblog my trip to work tomorrow. Check back at the start of your day/end of mine.

Who Said Microwaving Was Easy?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My last day of freedom. Rats. Tomorrow, I'm a working man.

I met some people from work for lunch, which was comforting and sort of gave me an idea of what to wear. I'm going to do my best to fix up and look sharp (I actually hate that song, for the record).

A few notes from my adventures downtown today:

At first I was beginning to think that I fit in here, as this stunningly beautiful girl stopped me on the street and asked me a question that I didn't come close to understanding. My reply of "Ja som Kanadsy, you speak English?" ("I'm Canadian" - that's a soft "J" by the way, they are all the rage in this language) was not well received and she carried on her way, presumably with a conundrum still on her mind. I wasn't too upset though because as my luck would have it there was some sort of cheerleader convention happening in the downtown. The legions of ultra-fit girls wearing next to nothing was just shy of epic.

The number of hot girls here is really just not fair to all you other suckers around the world. And to me, who can't communicate with them, yet. Motivation to learn Slovak is literally everywhere.

Unfortunately for me, everyone else was able to spot the expat from miles away. The cashier at the grocery store talked to me in broken English before I even opened my mouth to to try a "Ako so mate?" ("how are you"). It must have been the way I lined up or something. The only other interaction occurred with this annoying Roma lady who tried to distract me by getting me to sign some petition so she could reach into my pockets. She ignored everyone else walking by and picked out the foreigner no problem. Luckily, she tried the same stunt on me yesterday, TWICE (It turns out this city isn't so big after all) . I was wearing shorts that didn't have pockets though so her trick failed.

I saw someone with a pair of iPod headphones today. It was a first. I was beginning to think they had not made it this far East yet. It seems like people here are way more into listening to music on their cell phones than anyone in Canada (save David Ally), iPhones exempt of course.

Coke has made a lot more inroads than Pepsi here. It's a lot harder to find pepsi, especially diet pepsi, which is the most delicious beverage on the planet (with or without Jack Daniels, I might add). They also use the word "light" instead of diet. I wonder why. Maybe it's too wimpy for the diabetic skinheads so they changed the name.

I found a new grocery that might alleviate me from having to rely on frozen vegetables. The plasticity of the tomatoes and peppers at the supermarket yesterday was unbelievable. It makes the A&P in Kingston look like a farmer's market. I spent too much time yesterday getting rotten banana all over my hand as I struggled to find ones that weren't brown or bright green.

Going to start taking pictures to try and throw up here to give you a better idea of what it's like. From the veritable visual cacophony that is the view from my apartment, to the beautiful architecture of the old city centre

Sarp and I are off to go swimming!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Independence Day

Another beautiful day in Bratislava. I feel like I'm on vacation, that's probably because I'm not working yet.

I thought today might be tough, sitting alone at home all day while the rest of the world worked. Luckily I managed to keep myself busy running all over town doing things that would not be impressive at all if I were in Canada.

My grocery store expedition went very well, until the cashier started asking me questions.

I spent the rest of the day taking busses and wandering around the old city centre, perpetually getting lost and then found again. I even managed to get a cell phone. I had to show my passport though, and the clerk promptly joined me in cursing out the Ruskys.

Other than that the day was pretty uneventful. I'm starting to feel more independent and able, which is nice, and hopefully a relief for my flatmate Sarp.

The only other thing of note, or sliver of insight I may have glimpsed was when I went to Tesco. It's a giant store with the one stop shopping factor of Wal-Mart but is not limited to such bottom dollar inventory. As a foreigner, it was mad convenient to only have to go to one store and be able to find suits to pumas to coffee to speakers. Not that I bought all of those things, but, once I start stacking some Euros...

I am getting more excited to start work.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fun in the Bratislava Sun and Video Tours.

The weather has been spectacular and all signs point to the same thing this week. We managed to take advantage of the lovely day by playing rugby and touring about town. Once again Sherisse was a godsend of a tour guide. I am feeling very capable on the trams and busses now because of the help she and Sarp have provided.

It's still Slovakia; however, and our afternoon tours around town were delayed by about an hour because of two different trams breaking down. Whenever there is a problem with one tram it messes up all of them and you soon see a long line of trams stuck idle blocking large portions of the street. Makes you feel like you are not the only one being screwed, and gives some insight into the pace of life here.

My new favorite hobby while Sarp smokes on the balcony is to stand with him and watch people try to parallel park on the street in front of our building. The 9 stories separating us from the ground provide a great view for when things go wrong. Since I'm in the mood for sweeping generalizations I will say that Slovaks are horrible at parking, as I saw two bumpers get scratched up this afternoon.

Some quick YouTube searching might give you an idea of what life is like here:

LEGIT video tour of Slovakia, albeit with weird music.

Driving around Bratislava:
1:01 the UFO bridge. That's the one the communists built in place of the synagogue I mentioned yesterday. There is a rotating restaurant at the top.

1:17 Bratislava Castle.

1:24-1:48 is St. Nicholas' Cathedral. Right across the street you can imagine a bunch of drunk kids. If you note the really skinny yellow building on the left that is a clock museum. Most boring museum ever. It also marks the older Jewish district, located outside the city walls for reasons I'm sure you can fathom.

3:49 there are these Enrique posters at bus stops everywhere. I guess he is all the rage here.

4:51 an accurate if not small sample of what most girls here look like, from my experience thus far. Hair colour varies. If you want to do further research into what the girls are like youtube provides a plethora of evidence.

5:18 might as well be the garbage tram I was on today. Another huge church in the background. I'm not sure which one this is.

Other than those times the rest of the movie is pretty whack.

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pedro's Piccolo's and Azil

Today was a little better than yesterday. I'm hoping that that trend will continue at least over the next three months.

I actually slept for a good part of the day. My flatmate Sarp brought me a big plate of strawberries for breakfast. He has been an amazing host and I hope I am able to find a way to show him my gratitude.

Around 7 I was picked up by my coworker Sherisse who hails form Scotland and her friend Santiago from Columbia. We took the same bus I will be taking to work to their friend Pedro's house. It was a sweet flat in a building that was probably at least 200 years old. It was here that I was privy to my first real meal in Bratislava. Pedro cooked up a feast of Portuguese proportions, the highlight of course was the Blood Pudding. Sherisse smirked at me when I took the first bite and while I had the faintest notion of what it might have been I asked her not to tell me what it was until I was finished. It wasn't that brutal at all.

The coolest thing about Pedro's though, was the multitude of nationalities that made up his living room. It's an extremely disarming experience to all of a sudden be interacting with people from places you didn't know existed, when you are used to the blonde-lululemon wearing, toronto private-school graduating, face-eater sunglass donning, near-aryan complexion homogeny that surrounds the five block radius that is the heart of Queen's campus. It's worth noting that the latter is not nearly as bad as I just made it sound. There were two native Slovak's there as well, one from Bratislava and the other from much nearer Ukraine. They offered some really interesting insight and perspective and I enjoyed talking to them.

We spent a long time at Pedro's digesting our food before finally making a move to the bar. There really isn't a lot of pressure to deal with lineups or get to the bar on time. If the bar you want to go to has a line you can go drink somewhere else for a few hours and then come back. If there's still a line: chug a red bull and repeat. On the way to our final destination, a hole in the wall colloquially referred to as Azil, we saw a temptation that we couldn't resist.

If Azil was a hole in the wall then Piccolo's was a cave or a fissure, that God had only allowed to happen by accident. None the less, we couldn't resist the sign on the door that announced a mere 70 cent price tag on vodka shots. The lighting was dim green and an assortment of skinheads hid behind a near opaque wall of Marlboro smoke. The vodka was obviously the filthiest thing I have ever drank and we promptly climbed back up the steep stone staircase and continued on to Azil.

Azil actually turned out to be the bar that I managed to miraculously find my way home from on night one. As I reflect on that more and more it really was lucky, haha. To enter the bar you need to go down a steep set of stairs that opens to a small room with a bar. There isn't really much distinction as to where the front or back of the bar is, as everyone is mingling everywhere. The bar is composed of a labyrinth of stone tunnels with ceilings no higher than 6 feet high connecting a variety of themed rooms (although most of them have dark red upholstery, presumably to hide stains of all sorts) culminating in a dance pit/time machine. The music selection at all the establishments I have been to thus far is subject of another blog post entirely.

I wasn't feeling particularly rowdy so I only had a drink or two. We actually spent most of our time outside sitting on the curb as friends talked and smoked (not me mother, don't worry). It was a really nice night and the scenery is something else. St. Nicholas' Cathedral is located directly across the street in a courtyard below and is lit up beautifully at night. It's a glimpse of the old town. I also learned that their used to be a synagogue directly facing it. Unfortunately when the Nazi's needed to build a bridge across the Danube River they decided it would be a great opportunity to pave over it.

At one point outside, a Slovak man e in his early 30s wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt and giant black skate shoes with white laces overheard I was Canadian. After putting a hand on my wallet I ended up talking to him for about half an hour about California, Michael Moore and of course hockey.

Tomorrow afternoon Sherisse is picking me up to play touch rugby with people from work so hopefully I will get a better idea what the deal is with that.

Happy Mother's day from Slovakia!

Where Am I?

For those of you wondering, this might provide some insight

For the record it was actually filmed in the Czech Republic and things are a little more expensive with the introduction of the Euro. Good thing I came in the summer!


It turns out I WAS jet-lagged.

The original plan was not to go out yesterday night. As 11:00pm rolled around that plan was quickly aborted, however. We went to a few bars and had a few drinks. The local beer, as it turns out is 12%. Ironically, that made a few things more clear to me in regards to my condition the previous night. It's important to note however, that this is not some dirty malt liquor found in the depths of Hull Depaneurs. Somehow it is delicious. I also learned that Budweiser is actually originally a Czech beer. Interesting, Europe is doing a few things right.

I had some trouble falling asleep but had more trouble waking up. I finally dragged myself out of bed and am going to try some adventures today, hopefully I will have more to report later when I return from the real world.

The real reason for this post though, is that the internet is making this transitions way more manageable. It's still pretty tough for the obvious reasons but between Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter and the ability to read all kinds of news I am getting by a little better.

Crossing my fingers that this wireless doesn't suddenly crash!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Real World Bratislava, I

It has been an adventure thus far, I don't really know where to start.

I had to wait at the airport for 2 hours as my ride was late. It turns out they thought I was landing in Vienna. I tried to keep my cool but would be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little anxious. It is an extremely humbling feeling to be in a country where you literally don't know anyone, and in which no one speaks English or French. To further my dilemma, the one contact number I had wasn't working and that was only after an hour of trying to figure out the cryptic/Slovak instructions on the pay phone.

Needless to say, when someone came up and asked me in a Welsh accent if I was Jeff, I was elated. We went to my flat, beside the hockey arena, and got taken out for a night on the town. The old town centre is remarkable and I will hopefully get some pictures taken/posted soon. We drank some beers on a patio and watched the beautiful women walk by (in the least creepy way possible, I promise). The local beer was delicious, although the pear brandy was pretty strong. If it weren't for a bunch of loud English Stag parties crashing the party, we probably would have stayed longer.

From there we hopped from one club to another. In the old town centre all of the buildings are 500+ years old, so some of the clubs are pretty cool, if not a little cramped. Circa 2:30 am (after 2 days of traveling, hungover no less) I found myself in a bar called "The Alligator" with a few of my co-workers, including Patrick (he later told me he wants to start calling himself Pacho) a fellow from Seattle who arrived 4 months ago. I talked to him on the phone in March in an attempt to try and find out more about what I would be getting into. "The Alligator" played rock music pretty exclusively and aside from having to order beer (Dva pivo prosim!) it felt a lot like home. Thusly, I wasn't that surprised when the lights came on shortly after last call at 2:30. I was ready to go home when Pacho informed me that it was only this place that closed early. I soon found myself in another club/labyrinth of underground rooms and stone tunnels where we stayed for another few hours.

Patrick/Pacho and I ended up going to get some Kebobs and then headed home. The number of shawarma and bad pizza places made me feel surprisingly comfortable. By the time all of this went down it was about 5am. Pacho had to leave for Amsterdam at 9am. Rather than sleep for four hours at his house and then trying to get home I decided to try and adventure home. Keep in mind a few circumstances: I had been to my flat only once, I was all kinds of tired and had been drinking hard for the majority of my time in the Slovak Republic. I think I can blame the chirping birds and quickly rising sun for the false sense of confidence which was suddenly instilled upon me. I convinced Pacho I would be fine to get home and went on my way.

I headed in the right direction until I realized I didn't have a clue where I was. I stumbled upon two taxi drivers and tried to ask them where I should go. I quickly realized communication was certainly a barrier. I ended up saying "hockey hockey hockey stadium" while pretending to take slapshots. It got the point across and a 6 euro cab ride later I was across from the flat, snuck inside and promptly slept for not long enough.

Another note, everyone smokes here. Packs of Marlboros are about 3 Euros and sold everywhere. The hardest part for me about going out was dealing with the literal fog of smoke that shrouds the rooms full of chain smokers.

The Flat:

I'm living in a "newer" Panelak and while the lift (elevator) and exterior are a little sketchy the flat itself is actually very nice. I would classify it as an upgrade from student housing in Kingston. My Flatmate is a 26 year old Turkish guy named Sarp. He works as a cost control analyst for IBM. He took me to the super market this afternoon and I got some bread and Nutella. We are on the 9th floor and the view is pretty nice, although somewhat scarred by the filthy communist housing blocks.

I need to unpack but I really don't want to. I might take a nap or just sit on the balcony for awhile. It's 24 degrees and very sunny. I think I will spend the rest of the day trying to get settled and maybe working on some Slovak. I need to get a cell phone and bank account amongst a few other administrative things.

All in All:

I want to take this opportunity to do a lot of traveling around Europe. I am really excited to start working, if only to bring a little structure to my life. I have enough errands to do now but I'm afraid that I will start to struggle if I don't keep busy. I am really happy that I have the internet and as a result don't feel completely out of touch.

Live Blogging: The Final Leg

We will be landing at 6:20pm it is currently 20 degrees and sunny in Bratislava, I am told.

I'm brushing up on my phrases, although I still have SIGNIFICANT work to do. Prague gave me a pretty good idea of what I will be getting into, I made my first Euro transaction at the airport. Redbull. They don't have any of that sugar free stuff, I guess the calorie free sweeteners are to wimpy for Central and Eastern Europe.

In all actuality the sugar free version of Redull was made special for the owner of the company for three years before it was released to market, for exactly the aforementioned reasons. Seriously.

I don't know what I'm seeing but we are flying over these 8 stacks that are emitting giant amount of smoke. They look like the nuclear reactors in the Simpsons.

I am getting excited, for awhile this afternoon I was secretly hoping that I would never arrive, I'm not sure why I felt that way. Regardless, it's just about game time so I'm going to take the last 15 minutes of the flight to get in the zone.

Live Blogging: Prague Airport

9:36am EAST -->3:36pm GMT+1

Got off in Prague, the descent over the city was long and really pretty. You could definitely see all those communist housing blocks. They are massive concrete apartment buildings all clustered together. They are positioned at an angle such that they would not domino one another in the event that the Americans bombed them. I am hoping that I will have a good view when arriving in Bratislava [editor's note: since I am posting this delayed, I can say that it was a much quicker and less scenic descent into Bratislava], hopefully the Google Maps research I have done will pay off.

I am unable to get internet without having to pay more, unfortunately, so this posting will be a little bit delayed.

The washrooms have two buttons of different sizes in the place of the North American handle/lever mechanism that we are familiar with. I pushed the smaller button on a whim and everything went as I was hoping. I still do not know what the big one is for.

The airport in Prague is really nice and way less hectic than Paris where a lady pretending to be deaf and mute tried to get me to sign something while robbing me. Lucky for me I was in a rush and so didn't stick around long enough to get taken advantage of.

I tried doing some serious laundry in the bathroom as my pants have a musty puke odor on them from the FrenchAir Beefdish debacle of 2am-3:30am May 7th, somewhere over international waters. I am lucky I brought extra clothes in my backpack! I'm just chilling in shorts now, which is fine since it is a very sunny 18 degrees.

There are really hot girls rollerblading around the airport, presumably they work here.

I have about an hour and a half here, I might get a drink or just relax and do some reading. I'm extremely exhausted but I have a fat bottle of caffeine pills that I might use to try and get pumped about this last leg/my arrival. I don't want to be boring and sleepy even though that is exactly what I am!

Going to do some reading and look for funny things to write about.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Taking the Plunge: LiveBlog Move to Slovakia.

May 6 2009

4:37 leave home for the last time in awhile.
4:52 realized I have no contact info for anyone in Slovakia, hope they meet me at the airport.
6:27 forcing myself into eating some food with mom and dad. I feel like I want to puke, could be anxiety or hangover.
8:44 taking the plunge, I just got through security, feeling very alone!
8:56 just found a bar and ordering pints of
Ricards red and listening to dave Matthews band. Takeoff in two hours, have a little more drinking to do.

May 7 2009
11:22am arrived in Paris the airport is gigantor but loads of windows and the people are very nice. I am not feeling intimidated about my French which is a nice change from Harvey's in montreal. Highs and lows of the plane trip included an empty seat beside me and projectile-like air sickness. I think it was the gross food?

12:12pm waiting at what I think is my gate to go to Prague!

Fly Out

It's about to go down. I still need to cull a pair of shoes and a few white t's to keep my bag from weighing the plane down too much. I also need to do something about the writhing headache that quietly follows in the wake of Jaeger and Sauza abuse. I've "wasted" a bunch of time this morning hanging out with my friends/wrestling a hangover but it was fun and thus not a waste. I am a little rushed now but this way I just have to do stuff and don't have time to worry and be emo.

I am also about to get rid of my cell phone which will make me feel pretty disconnected.

For those of you following along at home,

Fly Out of Montreal around 10pm, layovers in Paris and Prague before touching down in Bratislava tomorrow around 6pm local time. With the drive to Montreal it works out to be a 24 hour adventure. I am stocked up on gravol and red bull enabling me to fully manipulate my sleep schedule.

I'll try to blog on the regular as soon as I have internet.

Going to try and live blog in an airport depending on the availability of time and internet.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Stocksense is the best blog. If you have any interest in the stock market do yourself a favour and start reading it regularly.

Today I sold out of about half of my positions and I will liquidate the rest tomorrow because of travel plans and what I think will be a market meltdown, based on all that I have been reading.

Sells included CROX, S, and EZCH.

Tomorrow I am going to get rid of the rest of CROX and S as well as UNH. I will hold XPH indefinitely.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


I'm currently putting phone numbers onto a file on my computer. My rolodex is getting culled in a big way.

Excited to pack this afternoon.

Let's do this!

I am not able to go to my convocation so here's a link to a great speech.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Picture How I Feel

I hope this bird can fly...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Threaded Tight

It feels good to purge my belongings. Mostly because I get to replace them. For some reason I am confident that I will be making copious amounts of coin soon so I am spending with reckless abandon, racking up debt by the boatload. On my parents credit card, no less.

I had an engaging evening yesterday, getting to see some old friends. It was funny to be put into a room with a gang of old friends. It was easy to see how people have changed, or more often, remained the same. I don't think it is appropriate or necessary to try and judge whether or not these old acquaintances are better or worse off then they were 5 years ago. They're my friends, and I want them to be well; but who am I, with my extremely limited view of their realities, to attempt to judge and quantify their emotional contentment. Once again, I think that self-awareness is clutch. All I can hope for, when hoping for someone else's happiness is that they are cognizant of their situation. With that awareness, they can pursue the tools to change, or decide they are happy the way things are.

In completely unrelated news, I haven't been writing about the market much but I have held a few long positions with minimal selling. Mainly S, CROX, EZCH, UNH and XPH. I am holding XPH indefinitely and will continue to add to the position whenever it dips below $25.

Here's a link for a cool podcast I listened to today about market fallacies. Anyone thinking about being a lawyer should check their logic.