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.