Monday, June 29, 2009

Hearing from Old Friends

Just on a lark, I sent my blog address to my high school alumni association in Ames, Iowa in case anybody from high school would find it interesting. The quarterly newsletter must have just come out with my blog address in it because I'm hearing from all kinds of people from my hometown. What enormous fun! I'm glad I did that. Drop me an email if you're stopping by from the Hawkeye State. I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Five Environmental Ideas I Admire from the Czech Republic

Sometimes when you go abroad, it's the little things that bring delight. Here are five environmental ideas that probably exist in other countries but I saw them first in the Czech Republic. I find them admirable, how about you?

#1 In America, retail establishments sell aluminum foil, plastic trash bags, and cling wrap on a roll. Then that roll is put inside a long rectangular box as additional packaging.

Once you have the initial box, why is it necessary to keep buying it? Why not just put the next purchased roll in the first box so it doesn't have to be manufactured and paid for again? I saw these foil rolls sold "boxless" in the Czech Republic and thought this was a great idea.

#2This toilet paper roll is from my neighborhood kavarna, or coffee shop. The user pulls out individual sheets of toilet paper much the way one pulls out an individual tissue from a Klennex box. When you pull an individual tissue out of a tissue box, do you say to yourself, "why am I being rationed?" No, you get just what you need. Same idea here. It has the additional benefit of not creating a bunch of torn scraps of paper all over the floor.

#3 This picture is from a restaurant on Wenceslas Square. All over the Czech Republic there are bright and shiny new bathrooms because there has been so much remodeling after 50 years of communism.

As you can see, the user has a choice to use more water or less depending on the need of the moment. I haven't seen a single toilet like this in America. Maybe I don't get out enough, you tell me.

#4 The most wonderful transportation system I have personally experienced is in Prague. It's an absolute marvel. For $22 a month, I could travel all over the city on trams, buses, and the metro. It's completely stress-free. In a city of 1.3 million, I could go home for lunch frequently. I rarely had to wait more than five minutes for a ride (maybe 10 minutes on a Sunday morning) I love it so much I want to devote much more blog space to it than what I am doing here.

Not only does a great public transport system save gas because people share a vehicle rather than drive individual ones, it also saves the air. Four-story buildings line a typical Prague street. Mobile pollution devices (otherwise known as cars) choke the air with exhaust that doesn't move on.

#5 This vehicle is called a "trike" and is manufactured in China. It's a perfect size for urban living. It seems safer than a motor scooter because there's more frame surrounding the driver. I don't know how much gas it saves, but I'm sure it's substantial.

What do you think are some of the best environmental ideas in Europe that America should copy? What have you seen design-wise that inspires you?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Restoration of Order" has begun in Iran

My English-language church in Prague, St. Clements Church on Klimentska, held this incredibly educational series of program on "what it was like to be a Czech Christian under communism." Wow, was that an eye-opening series of programs. Everyone who went was on the edge of their seats listening to our distinguished dissident speakers.

Our last speaker in the series was an expert on Czech church history and I asked him if it was possible to create a list of "dos and don'ts to share with future congregations on how not to get co-opted by repressive regimes." There was a general chuckle at my naivete because this sort of thing is not preventable. Each generation has to learn for themselves. We've all heard the phrase "those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it," right? Well at this session I learned the phrase, "what we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."

Want some evidence of that (with apologies for sounding so dark, so Czech!)? This article, linked to in my blog post title, shows that the "restoration of order" has begun in Iran. Even the phrase that this young woman uses to describe the regime's actions is the same in English as it was back then in post-1968 Czechoslovakia.

What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My favorite tea in Prague

I just discovered that the wonderful tea that sustained me in every Czech restaurant and cafe is available for sale in the States. The delicious teas of Harney & Sons are served everywhere in Prague, however, I could never find them on the shelf for sale at a Prague grocery store so I could make great tea at home.

In the States, they are available at Barnes & Noble. I've probably walked by them a million times and never noticed. And of course, they are also available via the Internet but it never occurred to me to look until I wanted an image for this blog post. The tea names are slightly different in the States but I've already figured out which one is Bangkok green tea. Heavenly comfort is soon to be brewed in a teapot near me.

Vaclav Havel laments "consumer palaces" throughout Czech Republic

It's an interesting question that Vaclav Havel's latest interview brings up. He says post-communist Czech society is 'worse' than he expected. Czech people, if you had an idea of what a post-communist society would be like, what was it? Is this it? Do you agree with Vaclav Havel that the lack of moral underpinning in an atheistic society is a real problem?

I don't understand why there aren't more politicians in the Czech Republic like Vaclav Havel. Today's Czech politicians can seem really silly. He seems like such an anomaly.

Just as an aside, the article states that Czechs tripled their gross domestic product from 1995 to 2008. Czech people, you rock.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Understanding the World, Hands Very Much On

Do you have a kinesthetic learner in the house? That is, someone who learns by moving, doing, touching, and experimenting?

In what sounds very much like a children's science museum, 'Orbis Pictus', a collection of 26 interactive exhibits in an old Prague sewage plant, is teaching children to enthusiastically explore their world. This temporary exhibit sounds like it would bring about the inner explorer in all of us. Click on my title to read the whole article.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is it the Velvet Revolution or Normalization in Iran?

The bravery of Czechs in their Velvet Revolution and Ukrainians in their Orange Revolution has been referred to again and again in news coverage of the Green Tsunami (the reform slate) in the Iranian elections. Raman Ahmadi writes in Forbes comparing the current crisis to what's happened before in Czechoslovakian history. Below is an excerpt; you can click on my title to read the entire article.

There are at least two possible outcomes for the current crisis. If the Ahmadinejad's coup is successful, we will witness another post-1968 Prague spring, crushing the reform movement and including a military attempt at "normalizing" society. Mousavi will be forced to appear on television and play the role of an Iranian Dubcek, expressing regrets and calling on people to stop resisting the military regime.

If this coup fails, on the other hand, Tehran may experience the Prague spring of 1989, and the country will be wide open to the possibility of substantial reforms and liberalization, well beyond what was seen in the Khatami era. In either case, the Islamic Republic we have known for the last three decades is gone. That strange, fragile and contradictory 1979 newborn, a hybrid of clerical theocracy and Western-style republic, has long been dead. Some have argued it was a stillbirth. Others have insisted on its potential. Either way we evaluate the regime, it's clear today that only brutal military force can sustain the theocratic element.
If you don't know what normalization is, there's a chilling book that describes the entire dehumanizing process. Normalization is so draconian that it seems it just makes the eventual political explosion that much bigger because no human being can live that way for long. The book is called "The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka. You can read my review of it here.

So my dear Czech readers, do you have advice for the Iranian people how to make 1989 happen rather than 1968? And not to be pessimistic (or as Czechs would say: realistic) what advice do you have for them on surviving normalization, if 1968 happens?

Digital History Being Made This Weekend

Wow, if you aren't on Twitter yet, I can't recommend it enough. It has been absolutely fascinating to see the power of social networking sites when it comes to getting news out about the contested Iranian election. I spent all Sunday "watching the election" on Twitter and the difference between what's on TV and what's on Twitter is fascinating.

On Saturday, one of the huge trending topics on Twitter called "CNNFail" was "where was CNN coverage of the election?" Moment to moment reports of what cell phone networks, satellite networks, landline networks were being censored by the Iranian government were constantly reported. Citizen journalists and real journalists are twittering and videoing and letting the world know what's going on based on what platform isn't jammed and censored.

So here's the questions I have based on the explosion of Twitter reports that provides "power to the people!" It's fascinating to watch various Twitter streams come in from folks in America at the Lakers game, while meanwhile the Iranian students in dorms are worried about their safety, and yet other people around the world are organizing sympathy support by asking the world to wear green tomorrow to show support for the people who feel the election wasn't fair.

My question is "how do we judge credibility of those tweeting? It seems pretty darn easy to set up an account and pretend you are an Iranian student or demonstrator, but how do we know? Where's the corroboration? And my second question for all citizens of the world is "gee, if they were to shut down all these networks in your home country, how would you deal with it? How would you communicate?"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Welcome to Capitalism!

The DOX Museum Terrace
There is a fairly new contemporary art museum called DOX in Prague that opened within the last year. The museum has excellent marketing because I saw it's inaugural exhibit advertised everywhere. Or maybe it was just the arresting nature of the exhibit title that I noticed: "Welcome to Capitalism!"

What a European idea to have an art exhibit devoted to capitalism. To an American, it's as if someone proposed an art display devoted to breathing. Up until the financial crisis, it's not something one actually thought about - capitalism. It just is. Didn't the Cold War prove that?

Alan Greenspan -
at least the main icon of capitalism is still American

What do I know? With even 82-year-old Alan Greenspan revising his lifelong assumptions about the markets, and conservative Republicans of the last administration proposing socialist bailouts of the means of production, the relevance of such an exhibit has never been greater.

"The Sediment"

'The Sediment'
by Matej Kren hit me first in the gallery. His art is composed of layers and layers of books. I loved his representation of ideas as geology. To me, it was an alternative view of a library, with humanity depositing deeper and deeper knowledge with each generation. Where are the fault lines in this sedimentary material like there are in real geology? Spots where ideas have been stopped cold, hidden, destroyed or redirected? That's happening in places without capitalism today. This exhibit was created long before the financial crisis but the crisis sure showed that capitalism has plenty of fault lines of it's own.

CEOS of Mercedes-Benz and Apple, Inc.

There are multiple artists in the exhibit but the majority of works come from Spanish artist, Jose-Marie Canos. Mr. Canos proved canny in his selection of subjects. No slouch when it comes to capitalism himself, his subjects probably represent some of the biggest global art budgets with egos to match.

Hundreds of years ago, architects used to build their masterpieces for bishops or royalty. Now they create their magic for this century's deepest pockets - global corporations. Mr. Canos' art portrays the 21st century's version of royalty: corporate titans.

Could there be a greater status symbol to a global CEO than selection as one of the pen and ink drawing in the Wall Street Journal? You could almost feel each portrait subject preening in the room, comparing who is represented among the Wall Street 100 and who is not.

I imagine these portraits go quickly on an individual basis, but there is great power to their collection in one place. In art, these symbols of capitalism are on the bottom floor of DOX where they are most accessible to everyone. In life, these are the success symbols of capitalism we see on a daily basis. Isn't that what our media holds up to society the most, the successes? Again this exhibit was created before the crisis when it was much harder to see the failures or victims of capitalism.

Mr. Canos conveys the anxiety by those who aren't necessarily the successes. If American media symbols are well represented through his Wall Street Journal 100, British media messages are enshrined in art created using the peach pages of the London Financial Times.

In the tower of the new building, Mr. Canos shows a seedier type of financial transaction, much less likely to be seen in life as in this exhibit layout. I chose not to show a photo of them here. The paintings reproduced Spanish-language advertisements for prostitutes.

Seeing these ads made me mad, because I couldn't see their relevance to the subject. Why were they in another language when everything else was English? How were these ads relevant to the exhibit?  I wanted the artist to do more of the other end of the spectrum in capitalism. The people who are capitalism's victims. If downstairs were the global CEOs, where were the people losing their homes? Or without access to opportunity? Or education? Wait a minute -- there they were. Hidden. Not glamorous. A commodity. Devalued. And likelier than not, not residing in the English-speaking world.

DOX is a beautiful contemporary art museum with a very hip gift shop and cafe. If you live in Prague and haven't been yet, I highly recommend a visit. The "Welcome to Capitalism" exhibit came right before the financial crisis hit. It will be interesting to see if the curators continue to bring in such prescient thought-provoking shows. Bravo on the inaugural show!

Friday, June 12, 2009

World Blog Surf Day: Try a Crunchy Warm Euro Dog

One of the top ways author Rolf Potts recommends stretching one’s dollars with the goal of seeing the world affordably in his book “Vagabonding” is to take advantage of “street” food. While wandering around Prague’s Andel metro station with a rumbling stomach one day, I saw a hot dog stand advertising Euro Dogs. I would not go out of my way to eat a hot dog in the States. But a Euro Dog…I had to try it.

There are no words to describe what an improvement it is on the American version! What is most fabulous in an American hot dog? The meat and the fixins, right? The bread is just kind of there to hold the whole thing of ketchup, mustard, chopped onions and pickle relish together. Not so with the Euro Dog!

The Euro Dog is actually vertical, rather than horizontal. Rather than laying the dog down in a trench ala American style, the Euro Dog is planted in the bun like a post in a post hole. And what bread! There are no words to describe how perfectly toasted and yummy the bread is in a Euro Dog. It’s done to a crunchy warm perfection. Because the bun is vertical, the sandwich can’t support onions (at least they weren’t offered) but there is slathered, delicious mild European mustard, not our bright yellow kind. The Euro Dog is fantastic! Cost = $3.75 or 75k.

Want to read about more expat food experiences? There are over 30 expats writing about their food adventures for World Blog Surf Day - a carnival of experiences organized by my friends Sy and Sher in Prague.

Here's the link to all who are participating in case the chain accidentally gets broken:

or if you want to keep traveling around the world to the next expat in line, a nice young woman in Prague name Sezin who shares her experiences of Ethiopian food, click here:

Sher has this thing so wonderfully organized there's even an expat tweeting about World Blog Surf Day! Power to the people! Check out Anastasia, her bio and her tweets:

Twitter Home Page: Thandelike

"Anastasia Ashman (Thandelike) is an American cultural producer based in Istanbul, and is a creator of Expat Harem, the anthology by foreign women about modern Turkey. Her Tweetstream focuses on women, travel and history, and she shares resources for writers/travelers, expats, Turkophiles and culturati of all stripes. "

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Missouri family's Christmas photo turns up in Prague

Your local Czech family, right? Wrong. Click below to read about how a Missouri family's Christmas photo ended up as advertising for a Czech company.

Missouri family's Christmas photo turns up in Prague

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Czechs Cool to Presence of Workers From Asia

If I were Czech, one thing I would be deeply proud of is having created a free market economy in less than 20 years that attracts immigrants. Unlike some former Communist outposts, who can't employ their own people, let alone someone else's, it didn't take long for the Czechlands to adapt.

I don't know though, how it would feel to be part of a homogeneous culture like the Czech Republic, and have people from a culture so different start to populate my country. If you define your country by your ethnicity, how do you keep that going in such a globalized world? Is that even a possible goal anymore in the jet age?

In America, we welcome all those immigrants cause, at a minimum, it usually results in great restaurants. At a maximum, when we're lucky, we get Vietnamese immigrants (who create more businesses in America per capita than any other immigrant group) or Indians (dot not feather), who seem to be this generation's overachieving doctors and IT business creators. But then, the more diversity the better, IS our American culture.

I look at my Vietnamese-American friend Nahn, studying full-time in Prague to become a medical doctor while he works part time as a mechanical engineer to support his family and think "Hey Czech Republic, you don't know what you've got!" Nahn is an example of classic American immigrant ambition and the kind of person who makes my country great.

The article I've linked to in the title talks about Czech struggles with their Asian immigrants from the East. It fascinates me that all the business startups by Vietnamese immigrants in Prague seem to be created by North Vietnamese, not South Vietnamese. Isn't it ironic to see Hanoi citizens having fought for socialism and the end of imperialism then leave to practice capitalism? Click on the title to read more.
Travel Sites Catalog All Traveling Sites Expat Women—Helping Women Living Overseas International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory expat Czech Republic website counter blog abroadWho links to me? Greenty blog