Tuesday, November 1, 2011

At the 18th Fall Esperanto Gathering (Part 3 of 3)

Legi tiun ĉi blogaĵon en Esperanto.

[This post is the third and final part of a three-part series on my weekend at the 18th Fall Esperanto Gathering.
Here's Part 1.
Here's Part 2.]

Monday, October 10th was the third and final day of ARE 2011. After the official close of the Gathering, I bought a copy of La Eta Princo, the Esperanto version of the famous French-language short novel, Le Petitie Prince.
La Eta Princo, (Esperanto version of Le Petite Prince)
The book itself is beautiful, with a sturdy hard cover, and color drawings from the original author. I read a bit of the original when I was studying French, but it was difficult for my intermediate-level command of the language. I read a lot better in Esperanto, and I definitely understood it better and got more out of it this time.

We chatted (still in Esperanto) on the way back to Albany, and after we had lunch, Chris and Kaitlyn left for Rochester. I spent the rest of the day playing Frisbee at the park with my friends in Albany. It felt strange to speak English, and several times I nearly blurted out words in Esperanto: “iru, iru!” (go, go!) “jen!” (over here!), “ho, ve!” (ugh, damn!), “ĉuu??” (really??), etc.

I was sad to be away from Esperantists, and apparently, my brain felt the same way. 
Kaitlyn, me, and Chris at ARE 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

At the 18th Fall Esperanto Gathering (Part 2 of 3)

Legi tiun ĉi blogaĵon en Esperanto.

[This post is the second part of a three-part series on my weekend at the 18th Fall Esperanto Gathering.
Here's Part 1.
Here's Part 3.]

On Sunday, October 9th, I woke up, ate breakfast, and ran in the forest by the lake. The weather was unexpectedly warm, and the forest was beautiful. I had nearly finished my run, when I passed by the main meeting hall and saw everyone about to take the group picture. Fortunately, I arrived just before they took it.

After that, I came back to the house where we were staying, showered, and cooked a vegan lunch with my housemates. Chris also cooked delicious vegan cookies. Score!

That afternoon, Chris gave a lecture entitled “The other language problem: Why are languages dying? Does it matter?” Minority languages are dying out all over the world, as people are learning more widely spoken languages. For example, Native American languages are disappearing in favor of English. So what? Do ideas and culture get lost along with the language? What can we do about it?

Of course, as Esperantists, we all had a lot to say, so we ended up re-arranging the chairs into a circle, and discussed the topic as a group.

It was still beautiful out, and after the discussion, Normando led us on a walk through the forest, showing us different species of plants and birds. (All in Esperanto, of course – so cool!)
Our walk through the forest

That night, we played board games and card games. My favorite game was the Esperanto version of Bananagrams. If you've never played, it's like Scrabble, but much faster. Everyone plays against each other and races to build crossword grids using all their letter tiles. There are no turns—it happens all at once and it's a race to the finish.
Bananagrams in Esperanto
Another wonderful day in Esperanto-land.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

At the 18th Fall Esperanto Gathering (Part 1 of 3)

Legi tiun ĉi blogaĵon en Esperanto.

[This post is the first part of a three-part series on my weekend at the 18th Fall Esperanto Gathering.
Here's Part 2.
Here's Part 3.]

At the 58th National Convention of Esperanto-USA in 2010 in Washington, DC, I met a lot of friendly Esperantists. Two of them were Chris and Kaitlyn from Rochester, New York. I visited Chris in January, but aisde from that, we hadn't seen each other in a long time.

A while ago, Chris told me about the 18th Fall Esperanto Weekend, which would occur October 8th–11th 2011 in Silver Bay, New York. I now live in Albany, four or five hours away from Rochester, and on the way to Silver Bay, so the three of us decided to attend the convention together.

As a side note, the convention is officially called la Aŭtuna Renkontiĝo de Esperanto, or ARE for short. “Are” (pronounced ['a.ɾe], AH-reh) is also Esperanto for “as a group.” Esperantists seem to appreciate clever names.

Chris and Kaitlyn came to Albany on Friday, October 8th, and stayed with me overnight. We and three of my friends made a bonfire at my friend's house. It was cold out, so we enjoyed the heat of the fire. We chatted (in English – booo) [my friends here don't (yet) speak Esperanto] about various topics, including linguistics, economics, and vegetarianism.

On Saturday, we left for ARE. First, we stopped to eat lunch and to buy food at the Honest Weight Food Co-op, a cooperative grocery store in Albany. I love that place. There are tons of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers, and also a variety of prepared vegetarian foods.

When we arrived at the convention,
The main meeting hall at ARE
there was a talk about go, a board game originally from East Asia. I've never played, and the talk seemed really interesting, but I unfortunately and embarrassingly fell asleep during it. In my own defense, I was really tired from the previous night and from driving.

After that, we payed for the convention (only $5 each, as students), and went to the house where we would be staying.
Our house at ARE
There were around thirty people in all, and about half of us were staying at that house. We cooked vegan food together (many of us were vegetarian or vegan), ate dinner, and returned to the main meeting hall.

There, Normando Fleury, president of the Quebec Esperanto Society and organizer of the convention led some ice-breakers. First, we split up into small groups, and introduced ourselves to our group. Each of us chose a color from a list, and explained to the other members why he chose that one.
Everyone chose a color, and explained to the other group members why he chose that one.

Next, we sat in a large circle, and everyone presented himself to the whole group, saying his name, where he comes from, and three words to describe himself. I chose the words “thought,” “learning,” and “cooking.” There was a variety of responses, many interesting and thought-provoking, and several funny ones, for example, “I don't know.”

Finally, we each received a small paper that said “Ĉu vi…” (“Do you…” in Esperanto) and wrote a yes-no question on it. Normando collected the papers, mixed them, and passed them out again. Then, everyone read his new question, and everybody either stood to reply “yes” or sat to reply “no.” Again, there was a variety of responses, but the one I most clearly remember is “Do you speak Esperanto with your pet?” I stood up for that one.

I really enjoyed the ice-breakers. In my opinion, Normando organized them very well, and they were especially well-suited for this kind of language gathering. If/when I teach English as a foreign language, I'll definitely borrow his ideas.

After that, we returned to our house, and played Dixit, a card game which I actually played for the first time in Esperanto, at the Summer Esperanto Study run by the Esperanto website lernu! in Slovakia in 2009.

The first day of the convention was great, and I fell asleep smiling, happy to be among Esperantists again.
My name badge for ARE

Monday, September 19, 2011

Remember Yesterday, Plan for Tomorrow, Live Today

Today may be just an ordinary day for the Universe, but for me, it's very special. Twenty-two years ago today, I entered the world.

Life is a precious gift, and I feel I have a duty to enjoy it, preserve it, and share it with others. Every day holds something new to be appreciated and something new to be learned, and today is no exception.
In the days before Hurricane Irene hit New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg held several press conferences. After his announcements in English, he took a moment to summarize everything in Spanish. His accent is pretty bad, and he makes a lot of errors, but he gets his point across. I give him a lot of credit for trying to learn, and for getting up in front of the camera and speaking.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Not Your Garden-Variety Gardens

This is part 3 of a ¿_?-part series on my experience earning my CertTESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] in Cádiz, Spain in the summer of 2011.

When Jordon and I backpacked through Europe two years ago, he met up with his friend Laura in Seville. Unfortunately, I was unable to join him on that part of our adventure and I never got to meet her.  But, on Thursday, June 23rd, I finally did! As Jordon later commented, "this pretty much completes our European trip."

Laura and I had planned to meet at the Seville Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral de Santa María de la Sede), which is the largest Gothic cathedral, and the third-largest church in the world.[1]

Laura and I had never met before, so neither of us knew whom/what to look for. I didn't yet have a cell phone, so I wouldn't even know what to do if I couldn't find her. (How on Earth did people survive before cell phones??)

She eventually found me, and greeted me in English. I responded in Spanish, which became the working language for the next few hours. We were both quite hungry, so she took me to a bustling local bar/café.

I got another chicken sandwich (I feel so guilty...going to defer this again, I promise I'll explain at some point) and at Laura's recommendation, ordered a tinto con limón (red wine and lemonade). It was delicious, and has become my new favorite drink. I also tried gazpacho for the first time. I'm not a fan. It was cold, spicy, and disagreeably bitter.

After lunch, Laura took me to the Royal Alcázar of Seville (Spanish: Reales Alcázares de Sevilla). The site was initially a Roman settlement, and when the Arabs conquered Seville in 712, it was converted into a palace-fortress.[2]

Laura studies architecture in school, so she taught me about the different styles, and gave me a crash course in Spanish history. It was quite hot, but a refreshing breeze ran through the palace's immense hallways, so we weren't too uncomfortable.

The palace was incredible, and its enormous accompanying gardens were breath-taking.

My favorite part of our visit to the palace was the labyrinth: a colossal web of narrow walkways walled with towering hedges snaking around the center of the gardens. For you Harry Potter fans out there, it was totally like the third task in Goblet of Fire. Yeahh.

We got our fill of the palace, then cooled off with some ice cream. It was only my second day in Spain, and speaking Spanish was wearing me out, so I reverted to my mother tongue for a while. Laura seemed anxious to practice her English anyway, so it was good for both of us.

I'd worked up an apetite exploring the palace, and wasn't sated by our ice cream, so she took me to a nearby tapas bar. We ordered more tinto con limón, and I tried swordfish for the first time. (I knowwww... I'm a horrible person.) It was tasty, but my ethical uneasiness detracted a bit from the experience.

After a great day together, Laura and I parted ways. By the time I returned to my hotel, showered and played some piano, I was hungry again. Determined to find a vegetarian meal, I approached a promising-looking restaurant just down the block.

The tomato slices topped with a hunk of cheese weren't bad, but the creamed spinach with garbanzo beans was quite disappointing. The salad with Russian dressing wasn't great either. Spanish food is nothing like Latin food, and I definitely prefer the latter.

Packing up at my hotel, I turned on the TV, and was surprised to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, dubbed in Spanish. I chuckled to myself, then flipped through a few other channels: news, sports, and American programs were about it. I finally settled on a channel playing classical Spanish guitar music, which was quite nice.

Making sure to set my alarms, I settled in to bed, content, but slightly nervous; tomorrow I would travel to Cádiz, where my TESOL* program would begin on Monday.
*Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Thursday, June 23, 2011

¡Bienvenidos a España!

This is part 2 of a ¿_?-part series on my experience earning my CertTESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] in Cádiz, Spain in the summer of 2011.

Part 1

My last few hours in the US were spent at Chipotle with my friends. Mmm, Chipotle. I departed from the Albany airport at 5PM on Tuesday, June 21st, and after a connection in Newark, I set out for Madrid.

I wasn't able to sleep on the plane, so I watched Meet The Robinsons on my individual TV. Each movie was free and available with either English or Spanish audio. (I chose the Spanish audio, of course.)

I impressed myself by keeping up with the Spanish, and I even got a little teary at the end. (It's one of those feel-good kids movies…don't judge.)

It was comically easy to get through customs. After waiting in a short line, I greeted a bored-looking security agent with, "buenos días." He looked at my passport, looked at me, then waved me on. Nobody asked me any questions or even looked at my bag.

Although I wanted to check out Madrid, I was tired, and weighed down by my luggage, so I decided to head right to Seville. This turned out to be a very good decision.

With some difficulty, I asked around and found the train ticket office. I had looked up the schedule, so I knew which train to take. But there was one problem: this weekend is Corpus Christi, a major Christian holiday, so there were very few trains to Seville. Fortunately, there was one leaving soon, and I managed to get a seat.

On the train, I chatted with the woman sitting next to me, and confirmed that Seville was the last stop. I asked her to wake me when we arrived, then slept the whole way.

From the train station, I took a taxi to my hotel. I had asked at the station how much to expect to pay, and the driver's offer seemed reasonable. He dropped me off down the block from my hotel. (it's on a very small street inaccessible by car).

I paid him, along with a small tip. He smiled and thanked me. (I later found out that tipping is not customary in Spain.)

My hotel is music-themed, with various instruments displayed in the lobby. My room has a comfortable bed, a microwave, and my own bathroom. There's even a little stereo and a few CDs with classical music. Oh, and a piano just down the hall.

I showered, then set out for a meal. The receptionist had recommended a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, but when I got there, it was closed. Many places here are open in the morning, closed from around 4PM to 8PM, then open again until two or three.

I ended up eating vegetable paella at a small bar. (Paella is a very popular Spanish dish containing rice, spices, and usually seafood.)

The vegetables weren't very fresh, but I was starving, so I didn't mind.

Back at my hotel, I discovered the rooftop patio. I grabbed my sunglasses, my iPod, and the latest publication of Redes Para la Ciencia ('Science Networks'), and relaxed in the evening sun.

After that, I came back to my room, got on the free Wi-Fi with my MacBook, and looked for something to do. I wasn't finding much, so, after some hesitation, I put on decent clothing, and took to the streets.

Most of the streets here are cobblestone, just wide enough for a one-way car lane and a sidewalk, and well-lit at night. Following the sounds of people chatting and laughing, I found my way to busy plaza.

A bit nervous speaking in Spanish, I asked some young-looking people to recommended a nearby local bar. They pointed me to a small place, brimming with lively Sevillians, and devoid of tourists.

Here, I asked more young-looking people what to eat, and how to order. They amicably welcomed me to their table, and we chatted for a while over beer and chicken sandwiches. (Non-vegetarian, I know…. I'll explain in a future post.)

I was jet-lagged and my brain was pretty fried from speaking Spanish all day, so I headed home 'early' (around 1AM) and fell right asleep.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Phonological Note

A phonological note is in order regarding my last post, entitled 'Cadiz, Please'. When naming a foreign place (or, more generally, when using a foreign word), one usually adapts its pronunciation to whichever language one is speaking.

So, for example, if my Canadian friend is telling me about her recent recent trip to Montreal, she'll probably pronounce it [mʌn.tʃɹi.'ɔːl] 'mun-tree-AWL'. If I'm trying to impress her, I might spell it Montréal, and use the French pronunciation [mɔ̃.ʁe.'al] 'mohn-rhe-AL'. But that just sounds silly.

Similary, I'll be staying in Cadiz, [kə.'diːz] 'kuh-DEEZ', but spelling it Cádiz, pronounced ['ka.ðiθ] 'KAH-theeth'. The locals might make fun of me though; they'll be pronouncing it ['ka.ðis] 'KAH-thees.

Oh, and one more thing: 'España' is pronounced [es.'pa.ɲa], not [eθ.'pa.ɲa]. Just a little pet peeve. (WIkipedia explains this phenomenon pretty well.)
One thing that's always bothered me about Mac OS X: the green plus button. You expect it to maximize windows and apps like your old PC used to do, but it simply doesn't cooperate. RightZoom does the trick. This lightweight app runs in the background, and makes this belligerent button do what makes sense: maximize the window. (via Switching To Mac)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cádiz, Please

This is part 1 of a ¿_?-part series on my experience earning my CertTESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] in Cádiz, Spain in the summer of 2011.

Part 1

When I began documenting my sooth-seeking in March 2010, I was planning a trip to Spain. I hoped this blog would be a good way to remember my experiences and to share them with others.

Unfortunately, I didn't end up going to Spain that summer. I have since traveled to many other places, though, so I've grown accustomed to documenting my adventures.

Now, at long last, I will embark on my Spanish journey: six weeks in sunny, historic Cadiz. I won't be vacationing, though; I'll be taking courses to complete a TESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] certificate through Trinity College, London. The certificate is recognized internationally, so I'll be able to teach wherever I want. Spain is an obvious first choice, but France and Russia are also on my wish list.

Words fail me to describe my excitement. I have studied Spanish for over ten years, but have had little opportunity to use it. Sure, I'll read an occasional article from El País ('The Country', a Spanish newspaper) or watch an episode of Redes para la Ciencia ('Science Networks', a Spanish TV program akin to the Discover Channel), but I have limited experience actually speaking the language.

When I have had a chance to speak, it's usually been with bilingual Spanish-English speakers. Never have I needed to speak Spanish to get by.

Nonetheless, I feel confident in my ability to speak. All the necessary tools (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation) are in place, and I simply need an arena in which to combine them all together and make the jump to fluency. It has been so intellectually frustrating to know that I have this ability, but to have limited opportunity to exercise it.

I've been planning this trip since March, and I leave in a little over a week. I have lots of emotions about leaving Albany, my comfortable home for the last six months. But that's outside the scope of this post.

Seek The Sooth goes global in just nine days. Stay tuned!
GQueues is a free online task manager (or $25/year for extra features). The interface is simple and intuitive, and you can log in with your Google account. Definitely helps me stay organized.

Wordreference is an invaluable online language dictionary and forum. It includes translations to and from fifteen different languages, and verb conjugators for Spanish, French, and Italian. The forums contain a wealth of information about idiomatic expressions and word usage.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Goodbye Seattle

This is the third part of a three-part series on my recent trip to Seattle. Check out Part One and Part Two.

On Thursday, May 26th, I woke up around noon. After a light breakfast, I went for a refreshing workout at the rooftop fitness center in Jordon's temporary apartment building. I had been enjoying a few more desserts and beverages than usual lately, and it felt good to burn off some extra Calories.

When I returned to the apartment Kate told me that Jordon was out at Pike Place Market again. I showered, grabbed a quick snack, and headed out to meet him.

Seattle's street grid is pretty easy to navigate, and I already knew how to find Pike Place, so I took my time and enjoyed the walk. One hears that Seattle is perpetually windy and rainy,

but today was pleasantly calm and sunny. I meandered down the hilly streets toward the Market, snacking on yummy gouda cheese, local artisan bread, and a fresh peach I had bought the day before.

Jordon and I met at the apparently famous Fish Market, where we observed the apparently famous process of someone ordering a whole fish to be wrapped up: A man in fisherman's rubber boots and overalls (known as 'waders') lifted a large beheaded fish, and began chanting with his fellow fishmongers. He hurled the beast through the air, and a man behind the counter deftly caught it with a large sheet of thick paper. I clapped with the rest of the crowd, somewhere between nauseated and amused.

After exploring the Market some more, we opted for a fish-free lunch at a small Indian food stand. On our way back to the apartment, Jordon snapped the obligatory picture of me in front of the original Starbucks.

Notice Mr. Creeper on the left, totally checking me out…haha

That night chez Jordon, we sat around talking and joking about everything at once, and nothing in particular. Jordon and Kate went on Yelp and reviewed some of the restaurants we'd been to, and I caught up with my friends back in Albany.

Our friend Mark had invited me out again, and although it was getting late, I'd so enjoyed the previous night's dancing that I decided to go. Tonight's club was hosting 80s night, and although I wasn't very familiar with the music (which apparently makes me a culturally deprived gay man), I really enjoyed the beat.

Returning to Jordon's before too late, I showered, packed up, and slept a few hours before my late morning flight.

Friday morning, Jordon walked me to the train station. We said our goodbyes and see-you-soons, and I began my long journey back home.

It was a wonderful trip with many enjoyable experiences. The only thing I regret is that I didn't make it to the Space Needle (although I was very close to it on several occasions). I'm sure I'll hit it next time—there will certainly be a next time!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Seattle Day 2

This is the second part of a three-part series on my recent trip to Seattle. Check out Part One. Part Three coming soon!

On the morning of Wednesday, May 25th, I made everyone French toast for breakfast. I had brought real maple syrup from New York as a gift, and it was big hit.

After breakfast, Jordon and I did a little Russian lesson with Kate. Jordon has an audio course on CD, and we listened while Kate helped us.

It was raining today, so we wanted to do something indoors. First, we visited the Seattle aquarium. There were lots of cute fishes, but the clown fish were my favorite.

Marlin and Nemo! Next, we stopped for lunch at a quaint local diner. We each got something we liked: chicken soup for Kate, steak and eggs for Jordon, salad and asparagus soup for me.

Our last tourist activity for the day was the Pacific Science Center. We arrived just in time for an IMAX movie on volcanoes. It looked really interesting, but, unfortunately, Jordon alone enjoyed it; Kate and I slept through the whole thing. (We were both really tired.)

The rest of the exhibits were pretty exciting: we explored the butterfly garden, and lots of interactive activities about the human body.

After that, we stopped at a camera store. Kate needed some equipment for her hi-tech-looking camera, and I bought a memory card reader for my low-tech-looking camera.

I've been using Google's Picasa software to manage my photos (love it), but it hasn't been playing nicely with my camera. The card reader did the trick, and now uploading photos is easier than ever.

The guy at the camera store was really helpful. I have a Canon Powershot SD790 IS, which is apparently a fairly nice camera. I had no idea, and I guess I've been using it all wrong. He showed me a few tricks, and now my pictures are now coming out much clearer and crisper. Thanks, guy at the camera store!

We parted ways at this point: Jordon and Kate retired to the apartment, while I went to check out Seattle's vibrant gay nightlife with out friend Mark. I was surprised and pleased at how many people were out on a Wednesday night.

I've always been a self-conscious dancer, but I'm getting much more comfortable lately. Now, all it takes is good music and a few drinks, and I'm having a great time!

Returning home after a late night, I feel asleep with a smile on my face.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hello Seattle

This is the first part of a three-part series on my recent trip to Seattle. Parts two and three coming soon!

My friend and old college roommate Jordon recently moved to Seattle to work for Amazon. (Quite recently, in fact—one week ago as of today!) I'd only seen him once since I moved to Albany in December, and I was excited to help him 'seattle' into his new home. Our Russian friend Kate was also in Seattle, and I was anxious to see her as well.

Jordon, Kate, and I met in 2009, at the Summer Esperanto Study in Slovakia. I would tell you to 'Czech' out Jordon's detailed account of our travels (including meeting Kate at SES), but as of 1993, Czech Republic and Slovkia are separate countries. Alas…

Aaanyway, back to my trip to Seattle. I decided to go rather spontaneously—about a week before I planned to leave—so it was tough to find a reasonable fare. Kayak was a helpful site, and I managed to find something decent after scouring many major airlines' websites.

I left Albany on Tuesday, May 24 at 6:30AM, Albany time, and arrived in Seattle at 11:00AM, Seattle time. 7½ hours in total, so not too bad. Jordon met me at the airport, and we took a train back to his temporary apartment. It was a comfortable one-bedroom with a cozy living room, a full kitchen, and the feel of a fancy hotel suite.

After I showered and relaxed a bit, the three of us set out to explore. For $59, the Seattle CityPass got us into six major Seattle attractions. We each picked up a pass, and started with a scenic boat ride around Elliot Bay, which included a nice view of the Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier.

After the boat ride, we made our way to Pike Place Market, where we bought some fresh local produce, among other things.

Jordon had two appointments later to check out potential apartments, and Kate and I planned to join him. But first, we stopped in a grassy seaside park for some group photos. Many of them were quite silly, but we got a few nice ones, too.

After apartment-hunting, we had dinner with our friend Mark who also recently moved to Seattle, now working for Microsoft. Four friends from four different places—Mark, from Central Florida; Jordon, from South Florida; Andy, from Albany, New York; and Kate, from St. Petersburg, Russia—all met only a few years ago, and now gathered in a new place, enjoying time together.

Exhausted from the day's activities, we made our way home and went to sleep for the night.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mindful Procrastination

Things have been pretty busy here. Business at the chocolate store is picking up for Easter, and I'm preparing for my graduation from University of Florida (less than three weeks away!). In my spare time, I've been playing racquetball, practicing trumpet, and enjoying my subscription to Netflix.

It seems that for every item I cross off my To-Do List, I add two more. There just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I'd like to. My yoga instructor shared something with us last week that's been helpful.

"Do not allow thoughts of other times and places to spoil your experience of the present moment. Trust that whatever is waiting for you will still be there later."

Easier said than done. But as with anything else, it's a habit that will get stronger with practice.
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How about all that change accumulating in your penny jar? Learn how to carry a certain combination of coins so that you can make any amount from 1 to 99 cents with as few coins as possible. (Via The World of Stuff)