Monday, February 27, 2012

Adapting to the Old World

Time is obnoxious. When we need a lot of it, it suddenly makes itself scarce. When we need it to go by quickly, it crawls slowly along, as if wading through a pool of molasses that is slowly being filled with Quik-rete. The worst part of it is that it does both of these things simultaneously. Hours drag on while years fly by. A single day can seem like an epic struggle that spanned the eons. Yet, when you lay down that evening, you can remember graduating high school as if it was yesterday. Time crawls and sprints simultaneously.

It's as maddening as it is intriguing. As terrible as it is wonderful.

The National Museum and some statue at Václavské Náměsti
Which is why it feels so strange, yet so normal that I have already been in Prague for over two weeks. 

What a wonderful couple weeks it has been! For the first few days that I was here, I slowly figured my way around the gorgeous city of Prague. With the 3 month public transportation pass, I've been able to take the myriad of subway, tram, and bus lines around the city. Using public transportation to get around to, well, everywhere is one of the bigger changes. The city here is beautiful, as you all have probably heard. Look at the pictures; you'll get the idea. That's not the exciting stuff to write about.

Classes have been excellent so far. Economic Integration of Central Europe to the EU only has 6 of us in it, but seems really interesting. Basic Czech should help me get around town better. Economic Transition is a perfect class to take here in a former Soviet republic. And, Development Economics is taught my an American and looks to be my favorite of all the classes after one week.

But, that's still not the exciting stuff.

The exciting part is studying myself as I spend more and more time away from all of my usual habits and people. One of the first things I've found is that being an American abroad is very boring. Everyone has met an American. Americans are everywhere. We're usual. To compound the problem, many people have already visited America. I can't even tell them about the exciting stuff, because they've all seen it already! Even worse: I don't even have my own language that I can use to make fun of everyone else with my compatriots. 

I've also discovered that I don't remember any notable "first times." I can't really recall my first day in high school. Or my first day alone at K-State. Or my first time driving or riding a bike. Or my first time doing basically anything that I figure most people would note. That's a good thing, though. It comes to the fact that I seem to adapt really quickly to new situations. Which seems odd, considering how easily I tend to get stuck in a rut. I've found that I freak out more if someone is sitting in the seat that I've been used to sitting in than when I'm flown halfway around the world and told to survive without knowing the native language, anyone there or how best to get around. It's hard for my wagon to make small turns, because I'm so far down in the rut, but pull me out and plant me onto a completely different road and I cut deep new ruts without batting an eye.

I also have an adventurous streak in me that I typically try to beat the life out of back home, but here in Europe has been able to gasp for air between blows long enough to get me to try walking into random restaurants, try wandering into new areas, and--it's greatest achievement so far--get me to travel to Vienna almost completely on a whim.

My view of the match against Dukla Prague
That was to go see my second European football match. The first was here in Prague as Dukla Prague hosted my local club, so the speak, FK Viktoria Žižkov. The match went about as I expected. Dukla Prague went up 3-0 after 15 minutes and comfortably held on for the remaining 75 minutes to see off the miserable bottom-feeders. What I wasn't expecting was for nearly 50 Schalke fans to be attending the game after seeing their beloved club draw Czech club, FC Viktoria Plzeň, the Thursday prior. That wouldn't be worth noting without the minor detail that I was wearing my beloved Borussia Dortmund stocking cap.

I knew the rivalry between Dortmund and Schalke was a heated one. I could deal with that. I've lived in the midst of a KU/MU rivalry that has seen some emotional moments, but there's something about soccer that takes rivalries to the next level. At halftime, a calm Schalke fan came up to me while pointing at my hat, simply saying, "no, no, no" in an almost worried tone, as if he just felt bad for me that I would choose to support such a club. After a short talk, he informed me of the large number of Schalke fans present. 

For the rest of the match, I noticed unkind glances from individuals all around me who were wearing Schalke blue. A few even started the throw words--German words--at me. I could only catch the parts where they would say "BVB," short for Ballspielverein Borussia Dortmund. The rest was unintelligible to me, but the tone was obvious. It wasn't happy. Much more hateful. For the first time, I had become a bit rattled by the fact that I didn't speak the native tongue of those around me and the native tongue wasn't Czech! All in all, though, it wasn't all the miserable. If anything, it just made me that much more excited for BVB's next victory over the miserable blue beasts. 

Back to Vienna: I had managed to get in contact with someone who lives in Vienna who was planning on going to the match and could use someone to tag along. Perfect! I booked the train ticket. Hopped on a train at 10:45 AM in Prague and showed up in Vienna a few hours later. After meeting at the train station, we grabbed some food and headed to the stadium for the 300th Vienna derby between Rapid Wien and Austria Wien. To put that in perspective, only one other football fixture has been played more in Europe: Rangers vs Celtic in Scotland. This is a rough-and-tumble, intense rivalry. It was technically a home game for Rapid Wien, who my guide supported, but the match was played at a neutral field after Rapid Wien stormed the pitch at the last game. In protest of being forced away from their home, the Rapid fans generally stayed quiet and didn't provide quite the atmosphere they usually would. The Austria fans tried to fill the void, but it wasn't quite as intense as it could have been. The match reflected the flatness of the crowd, as it slowly petered out to a 0-0 draw. Not a great match, but it was my first big European match and I loved it!
The Austria Vienna ultras supporting their club

I headed back to the train station after the match and arrived back in Prague around 3:00 AM. 

The most surprising thing I've discovered about myself here is that I seem to actually be Asian. I didn't even know! My roommate is from South Korea. And near my room lives 2 Thai girls, another South Korean, a couple people from Taiwan and a few from Hong Kong. A few nights ago, a few of them made some fantastic Asian food that I ate with actual chopsticks. It was so exciting! Although I spent most of my time slowly destroying pieces of seaweed while trying to make simple rolls with them, I did manage to get most of it to my mouth without too much hassle. I even tried some of the spicy stuff. I'm really going crazy!

In future weeks, I hope to be able to attend more football matches. On the top of my list is my treks to my two Meccas: Craven Cottage in West London to see Fulham and Westfalenstadion in Dortmund to see Borussia Dortmund. Outside of that, I have plans to visit Krakow, Dresden, and Vienna through organized trips with the buddy system here. 

The best plan of all, though, is taking place the weekend of April 1st. I will be traveling to Bologna, Italy to meet up with my good friend and fellow Wildcat, Eduardo Alvarado. The highlight of the trip will be traveling to see local basketball club, CS Bologna, take on Angelico Biella. One of the key players for the away side is one JACOB PULLEN. I case you forgot how to read there (which, if so, that can't be healthy; you ought to get that checked out; randomly forgetting how to read means something neurologically is off; I would imagine those flashes are long, though, and you've probably missed all this anyways; shame), I'll repeat that. JACOB PULLEN.

We're planning on going to see him play, to use such an underwhelming word to describe the fluid motion Mr. Pullen is engaging in, and are probably going to walk up to him with our Kansas State wear proudly shown. He'll be taken aback by his hometown fans and want to grab dinner with us. We'll dine at a nice Italian restaurant with JACOB PULLEN and then just hang out with him. We've got it all planned out. 

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