Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Are Czechs getting even more polite?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Category: Articles

You want to cross the street without getting run over. What do we do? Look for the zebra path. Drivers are supposed to stop there when they see a pedestrian. I’ve heard people complain that drivers don’t bother stopping at zebra crossings, especially in Prague. So then why do they stop for me?

In China they have zebra crossings on each street, but only about 15% of the people are aware of them. Why should they be? Most drivers are too busy on their cell phones to notice the lines painted on the street, or the blue signs by each crossing, reminding them to yield. Even the pedestrians who walk over to the zebra path end up skirting traffic, so most people just cross wherever they want. The drivers expect the people to proceed cautiously, stop and let every passing car go by, and then take a few more steps till the next car whizzes by.

What about Czech drivers; do they stop and let people cross the street? Many locals say that drivers are rude, inconsiderate and don’t stop unless you’re halfway across. Czechs don’t have a good reputation amongst each other when it comes to driving and the fatality statistics back this up. They are reckless on the highways, that’s for sure. But in towns and villages I’ve found Czechs to be courteous to pedestrians (if less so to bicyclists).

In China, crossing the street is a sport that you have to have a strong stomach for. Everyone there knows how it works: people are the lowest form of life on the roads after trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, bicyclists, cart-pushers and dogs. At least I was usually on a bike/moped. Chinese pedestrians are conditioned to proceed slowly and stop for moving vehicles, even for bicycles. In the West, bicyclists tend to curve behind pedestrians, effectively giving them the right of way, provided they KEEP WALKING. Not the Chinese. Bikes are bigger than pedestrians, so they don’t bother to yield. They know the walker will stop, even take a step back. Needless to say I hit several people with my bike. Usually they weren’t surprised or angry; just grateful to be unhurt. One time I ran into a retreating young man on a major road, whose friends surrounded me, looking angry and at each other quizzically. Remember, I’m a white guy in China. I yelled at him: “You’re strong man, you must move forward, never go back!” His friends glared at him reproachfully, and they moved on. But I digress.

Czechs drive like maniacs when they can. Most of them will let me stand there at the crossing (in other words, they will not stop) unless I’ve already placed a foot in the street. And if I turn my head in the driver’s direction, 99% of them will stop and let me cross.

It is, after all, a two way street.

Former jobs you won’t find on my CV

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Category: Articles

10 jobs that led me to where I am today


Newspaper carrier: from the ages of 13 to 16, every day the Long Island edition of Newsday magically got delivered to a route of 30+ homes in Plainview (it took about 2 hours a day; less if my brother or sister helped me, longer if I took my baby brother or the dog). In addition, I had to collect the weekly fees and tips from each customer on the route. There were always people who were hard to reach, or just didn’t like to pay. Looking back, it was an unlikely livelihood but what else could I do? Length of job: 2.5 years

This opened up for me the worlds of responsibility, independence and perseverance. Probably time management as well.

Baseball cards: over 150,000 cards flowed in and out of my parents’ house during my childhood until I was 17. I must have done 500 transactions, including selling by mail order. This was all before internet, so I placed ads in trade papers and county weeklies. My nearsightedness is probably a result of reading and memorizing the stats on the back of the cards. I financed my first two European trips, bought countless books and gadgets and still have thousands of cards I don’t know what to do with. Teenage years, then later sporadically liquidated inventory.

I was dealing with much older geeks, who all had a lot more experience than I did; I learned how to negotiate. This must be how I manage to come up with the answers to the most difficult questions in seminars

University Security Department “Escort” service. If someone felt unsafe walking around campus at night, they could call Security and they would call us by walkie-talkie: who to escort where. Between escorts I would monitor the peace and all fire extinguishers in the dormitories, basements, lecture halls etc. I started this job in my first semester.  1.5 years of night-shifts.

I learned how to wield authority= professionally and friendly, even as a ‘security guy’.

Oxygen service: summer job delivering liquid oxygen tanks to dying patients all over Long Island and the City. Good money thanks to the on-call and hazard pay, and heavy tanks. I regularly visited these patients, each deathly afraid of not getting their O2 on time.  4 summers

I learned to organize my schedule so as to deliver the right amount of oxygen at the right time.  And practice bedside manner.

Asbestos removal, South Bronx, NY. OK I wasn’t actually removing the asbestos, but I had to don a hazmat suit at 8am to set up the air meter and at 4pm again to take it away. In between I either slept in the car and/or wandered around the most dangerous neighborhood in NYC.

Bartender, Red light district The Last Waterhole, Amsterdam: arguably the best job I ever had. Live band every night. One time one a Hells Angel fired at a slot machine. When the police came we were duly instructed to say we’d never seen him before. 

I learned how to persuade drunk and sometimes aggressive people to go home at closing time. I never had to use the emergency line.

Illicit interpreter I was responsible for translating deals and damage control. Quit after the second hassle. 2 weeks.

Cook: various restaurants in Amsterdam. Mostly American and Indonesian food. Usually alone in kitchen. 3 stints

Rhetorical consultant, “Network CV” – a CV and resume writing service. I made flyers and placed them in employment agencies (they let me do this for free). Eventually coached job candidates at all levels. About 2 years

Sauna Fenomeen: Weekly shifts behind the bar, volunteer on the board. My mandate at this official, anarchistic club was to regulate operations, it turned out to be more diplomat the situation. The legendary sauna is now defunct. 2+ years.

I learned a lot of diplomacy. And how some people are just blind. 

Telemarketing fake lottery tickets, Amsterdam: selling international lottery ‘tickets’ to Brits. I eventually figured out that we did not have agents in each country buying tickets. In fact the company was acting as the lottery. That pissed me off but I completed the contract. 3 months

Suggestopedic teacher: even before I got into teaching, I was reading books on alternative learning methods. I tried some out, picked up Dutch and some other esoteric stuff. Then I got a teaching job and so experimented with the music and games. This turned out to be my professional entry into Prague. Sporadically for 10+ years.

I learned the delicate art of communication, to groups and to individuals. This has been useful to say the least in my current challenges as coach and (group) trainer.

Last and least, my horoscope. West: Taurus; Chinese: Fire Horse. This combination, according to the rare sources on such detailed matters, is particularly (in)auspicious. I guess I just have to live with that.

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News from China 2

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Category: Articles

bee larvae

Hi from the tropical island of Hainan!

It’s only 16 degrees C (61 F) but I cannot complain; back home in Prague it’s -6 (12 F).

Today I was at a government business lunch — it had nothing to do with my business but they invited me anyway; they like to measure my progress in the local Hainanese dialect. On the menu this time were bee larvae and turtle meat, in addition to the ubiquitous sea creatures I’ve become more than used to. The larvae were delicious, I think it was the first time I’ve eaten insect larvae. The turtle, on the other hand, has never been my favorite. Why do they always order the most expensive things on the menu? Yes, I enjoyed the crab and the fish as always, but to be honest, I’m getting tired of cracking crab shells. Next time I hope they serve oysters: they’re so much easier to deal with.

After lunch I was escorted to the government offices to do my own work, this time gathering information for the tourism video I’m creating. It was quite a trip, seeing all those civil servants running back and forth, making phone calls, searching among the bookshelves, just to answer my questions. Tomorrow I’ll visit the forestry ministry to get the lowdown on the local flora and fauna.

Now, it’s not my “normal” job to be putting together a video for foreign tourists. I never fancied myself a film director (though I do like to be on camera and I love a good microphone), but this assignment is a chance for me to prove that I can do things intuitively when I’ve never done them before. Not to mention the perks are good and I get to spend the winter in the tropics.

The Chinese language is coming along; I’m at the point where I make children’s mistakes and that means I’ve advanced to pre-intermediate level. In this town English speakers are few and far between, so I have lots of opportunities to practice.

I tried the betel nut yesterday but didn’t achieve the hallucinogenic effect. Unlike my friend, who got dizzy and had to lie giggling on the grass.

OK time for dinner. This one’s on me so I’m going to be conservative: tofu, eggplant and maybe a fish.

By the way, do you think it’s fair to eat bee larvae, when there are so many infertile bees out there trying so hard to conceive?