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.

Things 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. Length of job: seriously for over 5 years, then later sporadically liquidated inventory.

I learned how to negotiate. I was dealing with much older geeks, who all had a lot more experience than I did; I needed to be quick on my feet to not get ripped off. This must be how I manage to come up with all the answers in my seminars. That was useful experience.

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. Length of job: 1 year of night-shifts.

I learned how to wield authority= professional and friendly, even as a “security” guy.

Oxygen service: my summer job was delivering liquid oxygen tanks to dying patients all over the City and Long Island. There was extra money thanks to the on-call and hazard pay and heavy tanks. I regularly visited these patients, all of them deathly afraid of not getting their oxygen on time. Of course no one died on my watch. Length of job: 4 summers.

I learned to plan and organize my schedule so as to serve all customers and earn all that free time. Not to mention taking responsibility of other people’s oxygen supply on my shoulders. Literally. And my bedside manner was ofttimes commended!

Red light district bartender at the Last Waterhole, Amsterdam: arguably the most fun job I ever had. There was a band every night. One time one of the Angels fired a 38 at a slot machine. When the police came we were gainfully instructed to say we’d never seen him before. I loved that job. Length of job: almost 1 year.

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

Illicit interpretor I was responsible for translating deals and damage control. I quit after the second hassle. Length of job: 2 weeks.

I learned severe diplomacy and that dirty business is unacceptable.

Cook: if I couldn’t find a better job during my 10 years in Amsterdam, I worked in restaurants. I’ve tried out every job possible in a restaurant. But usually I was a cook. Length of job: 3 years out of 9.

I learned how to feed myself simply or lavishly by using my 5 senses. Cooking has become like a meditation.

Rhetorical consultant, “Network CV” – a CV and resume writing service. I made flyers and placed ads in employment agencies (they let me do this for free). Eventually interview-coached job candidates at all levels.  Length of job: about two years. I lost interest when I got the job at the Academy, but I still help friends do their CVs.

I practiced and taught manipulating language – verbal and nonverbal, for the purpose of persuading someone.

Sauna Fenomeen: One day I noticed a sign at my favorite (illegal) sauna club in Amsterdam; they needed some help running their meetings and getting legal. Their days of total freedom were over; they had to start paying taxes. I joined them as a volunteer on their board for two years, in addition to my regular Sunday evening shift behind the bar. During this time I had to regulate operations in an anarchistic vereniging and release certain long-standing employees for a variety of violations. Just before leaving Holland for Prague, I made sure that one guy got removed from the board. It was not an easy fight and I lost a couple of friends but we managed to vote him out. Three years later he was back on the board and getting thrown out again, these times without my intervention. The sauna is now unfortunately defunct. Length of job: 2 years.

I learned a lot of diplomacy. My mandate was to respect the anarchy, help draft and maintain rules, and pave the road for the future. It was not easy. But it was fun, and such a healthy place.

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. Length of job: 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, can be summed up in one word. If you’ve read this far, thank you and feel free to email me for that word. The first one who does will get a voucher for free entry to a future course.

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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?