Thursday, April 24, 2008

Planning the next twenty months - Part 2

Yesterday in the U-Bahn, I saw a two year-old girl, arguing with her mother, in German of course. I don’t know why, but I always get a kick out of seeing little kids speak foreign languages. And German has an absolutely perfect word for two year-olds: “doch.” There’s no counterpart to this word in English, though “au contraire” comes close. “Doch” is used to raise an objection to a point being made, e.g. “You need to go to bed.” “Doch!” or “It’s not a good idea to put toys made in China in your mouth.” “Doch!” Anyway, every other word this little girl said was “doch” and it made me smile.
Continuing on with my lists of goals from earlier this week, here’s the stuff that I’ll actually be doing to make a living here in Vienna. And let’s put the emphasis on “living.” While I’ll never criticize anyone else for their chosen path in life, working 100 hours on Wall Street or for a law firm does not constitute “living” for me. It’s been said that Americans live to work and Europeans work to live. Well, I’ll get plenty of enjoyment making a go of it doing the below listed jobs and such, so for me it’s all good and a false dichotomy.
1. Writing up my memoir for my hike, entitled “On the Road Shoulder”
-Not sure if I can get it published, but it’s worth a shot, and it seems like I met plenty of potential readers on my hike anyway.
2. Working for AFS Austria for 30 hours a week starting in August
- AFS, the exchange student organization that I originally came to Vienna with in 1998, is famous for not hiring many people since they rely heavily on volunteers. I’m very fortunate to have been given an offer from them.
3. Helping out at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)
-I wrote my master’s thesis on nuclear terrorism, and will be going for a doctorate researching contingengy plans if all works well. Being able to volunteer at the IAEA would be great experience, if things work out.
4. Coaching a quiz bowl team
-Have been meaning to do this for years, and should be able to find an international school that will take me up on it next year.
5. Becoming a certified genealogist
-Will be working hard over the summer on my own family tree for a book on my family for my grandfather’s 90th birthday in November. Then, I’ll get certified and do it professionally for others.
6. Going for a doctorate researching contingency plans for nuclear terrorism
-See number 3. Won’t start this until fall of 2009 though, in all likelihood. Before then it would be too much.
7. Setting up the American Student Ambassador Program (ASAP)
-This is my idea to send young Americans living overseas to foreign high schools to talk about life in the USA, with the hope of improving our image overseas. It’s sorely needed, and I’d like to set this up as a non-profit and get a modest salary for doing the organizational work it entails.
8. Rental Income
- I’m in the process of buying an apartment, and according to the real estate agent, I could make close to €100 a night renting the place out to tourists. I just need to find the right platform online, and might even set up my own for other would be renters as well.
9. Trivia
- Will try out for the American version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire this year, the Austrian version late next year, and meanwhile, Jeopardy might come calling for a 25th year anniversary show. At the very least, I ought to be able to crack one of the €1000-1500 trivia jackpots at various Vienna pubs (like the one where I’m writing this now). Three friends and I won another 35€ worth of free drinks (with 18 out of 20 right, just two questions away from 1400€!) on Monday at the Four Bells- we’re saving up the certificates for a big party there in the fall.
10. Setting up the Vienna International Club
-Another non-profit that I will set up could potentially make a little bit for doing the office and organizational work for. Details still emerging on this one, but think of a cool outing club / language club / debating society / random acts of kindness purveyor, etc.

Now that’s my idea of “work.” So now that work is done, here’s a list of ten fun ways to play- just for shits and giggles, as they say.

1. Learn to play the guitar
-Like Oktoberfest and shooting under 100 in golf, this is just way overdue. And with my host brother (hey God, can I drop the “host” please?) Laurenz being a guitarist in a band and a music student, there will never be a better time or place to learn, nor a better teacher.
2. Setting up an Ultramarathon from Vienna to Bratislava
-There’s no other place in the world where you can have a one-day run (realistically) between national capitals. My friend Dominik and I are all over this.
3. Learning CPR. No, for real this time.
-I have done CPR courses before. I have forgotten what I learned before. Meanwhile I have memorized the capitals of the voivodships of Poland. There is no excuse for this, but at least I have already got on the ball with this one and did a 5 hour long first aid course with the Austrian Red Cross yesterday.
4. Learn how to waltz and trip the light fantastic at one, no, make that many, of the balls here.
-This is Vienna, after all.
5. And if I’m going to learn how to dance, I need to learn how to cook.
-Beyond just chocolate chip cookies. Specifically, I want to learn a bunch of Asian dishes that I can’t find in restaurants here, how to make a New York style cheesecake, and a smattering of traditional Viennese dishes. For starters. And main courses, and desserts too, ha ha.
6. Driving stuff
-Including but not limited to, improving my shoddy stick-shift skills, my non-existant tire changing skills, and getting an Austrian motorcycle license. And then doing a whole slew of classic road trips.
7. Setting up a second fantasy baseball league in the USA
-For Brad, Mark, Luke, John, Adam, Nick, and whoever else wants in. Have been planning to do this for years, and will come back to the states for our inaugural auction in March 2009.
8. Knots
-Yeah, knots. Starting with a Windsor, but also going back to all those rotten rope routines that frustrated me in scouts. Hey, I hated running once too, but seem to have conquered that. I’d put studying algebra and learning to play the oboe up here too for good measure, but I’m trying to stay sort of realistic here.
9. Volunteering at least twice at an orphanage in Romania
-I’ve done well with fundraising and donating over the years, but have done pathetically little actual volunteer work. I’m heading down to Romania though in May for three days to help out with Project Centipede and I’m really looking forward to it.
10. Keep this blog up to date.
-Twice a week, if possible, once a week come hell or high water.

That’s not it. There’s lots more in fact. But this is a good start, and just about everything listed here is doable. Welcome to Vienna. Anything goes in a place like this…

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Planning the next twenty months - Part 1

I was reading "Rabbit, Run" by John Updike today and Rabbit was listening to a radio broadcast about Chinese communists battling Tibetans in Lhasa. That was in the 1950's. The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?
So I realized that now that I've planned the next ten years, it might not hurt to get down to business as to what I actually plan on accomplishing while I'm based out of Vienna. I get asked this question on a daily basis (sometimes an hourly basis, or so it seems), so here's one way of answering it, for the blog and for the record. While at the gym today, I decided to make a list of forty goals I'd like to accomplish by the end of 2009. I tend to do better at accomplishing things when I know what I'm gunning for, so hopefully this can serve as a to-do list of sorts in the months to come. Not that this list is by any means all that I'll be up to, but all of the below listed goals are doable, don't depend on outside circumstances (well, by and large at least) and even if the list seems a little manic, it will all be a rollicking good time! Here are the first 20, in sports and travel. The second twenty in Job Stuff and Just for Shits and Giggles will turn up later this week.
1. Run a marathon under 3:00.
I've got a decent shot at running Vienna in 3:30, or close to it. In January, I ran my first marathon in 3:51. So at this pace of improvement, this can be done.
2. Go to skydiving school in the Czech Republic.
Won't get to it this summer, but plan on jumping out of airplanes for 3 weeks in August 2009.
3. Climb the Matterhorn.
Precisely because it's so cliche. And because Teddy Roosevelt did it, enough said.
4. Shoot a golf round under 100.
This one is just way overdue.
5. Take Krav Maga lessons.
This is the martial art used by the Israeli Special Forces. And a friend of my host brother Laurenz is a trainer in it.
6. Learn Snowboarding.
Filip, if you're reading this, we are hitting the Alps next year, or I am ending our friendship.
7. Try out the luge and the skeleton.
I've wanted to be a luger since age 6, when I watched the Olympics from Calgary. And skeleton looks even cooler.
8. Learn how to surf.
Preferably in Morocco, as doing this in Austria might involve some difficulties (though I'd like to learn windsurfing too, and that's a definite go)
9. Learn the hammer throw.
And compete at the Highland Games in Scotland in 2009.
10. Ironman Triathlon
This one's set for September 8, 2008 in Dorset, England. And I'm training two hours a day for it already.

1. St. Patrick's Day in Ireland (an absolute must)
2. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (have heard great things about Central Asia- beyond Borat)
3. The Faroe Islands (because who the hell visits the Faroe Islands?)
4. Oktoberfest (absolutely embarassing that I haven't made it there yet)
5. Road trips through the Balkans, Italy and the South of France (the Balkans show kicks off on May 11)
6. Easter in Jerusalem (I had originally thought of doing Easter in Rome, then remembered that it's always better to go over the top)
7. Roskilde (arguably Europe's greatest music festival- it's Woodstock, Danish style)
8. Hogmanay (New Year's in Edinburgh- much better than being in cramped Times Square)
9. Family tree research trips (to Germany, France, Croatia, Scotland, Ireland and England. And Austria, but that doesn't count)
10. Tracking down the elusive and endemic Corsican nuthatch in its remote pine forest habitat. (don't ask, unless you're a birder, in which case this probably sounds like more fun than everything else)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Planning the next ten years

One of my hobbies for some time now has been sketching out where I want to live for the foreseeable future. I learned very quickly back in 1998 when I first lived overseas (as an exchange student here in Vienna) that there is no substitute for living in a place if you want to get to really know the people that live there, what makes them tick, and above all, master their language. Given that moving around becomes severely more disruptive once future children start heading off to school, now's the time to seize this bull by the horns.
And so today on the back of a napkin while I was downing a falafel, I sketched out precisely where I will be for the next ten years of my life. Of course, tongue is planted somewhat firmly in cheek here, and obviously, plans will change on a daily basis, but for now, here goes:
thru Dec. 2009 Vienna
Jan-Oct 2010 Scandinavia
Nov 10-Aug 11 St. Petersburg, Russia
Sep 11-Mar 12 Italy
Apr 12-Oct 12 South of France
Nov 12-Oct 13 Marrakesh or Fez, Morocco
Nov 13-May 14 Barcelona
June 14-Feb 15 Latin America (3 months in Mexico, 1 in Central America, 2 in the Andes and Southern Cone, and 3 in Brazil)
Mar 15-Oct 15 India
Nov 15-Aug 16 China
Sep 16-May 17 South Africa
And then after that back to the states- either New Jersey or Vermont. Now count the languages: 1. English, 2. German, 3. Swedish (with additional Scandinavian languages possible depending on where I end up) 4. Russian, 5. Italian, 6. French, 7. Arabic, 8. Catalan, 9. Spanish, 10. Portuguese, 11. Hindi, 12. Chinese, 13. Afrikaans, 14. Zulu
Here's the best part too: assuming I can make a go of professional genealogy, writing books, getting a doctorate in security studies and doing independent consulting work, helping friends with their projects, setting up my international club idea, and setting up the American Student Ambassador Program (ASAP, ha ha) there's really no reason I shouldn't be able to make a go of this. And clearly, additional entrepreneurial ventures will come along, as will more traditional jobs like working for AFS. Also, I just found out I can earn up to $2000 a year selling blood plasma in Vienna- which, don't laugh, actually works out to about $35 an hour.
And while the above listed timeframe might not allow enough time for perfect fluency in the above languages, I know that I can become conversational within 3 months in any Romance or Germanic language, or 6 months for any other language. It just takes a lot of grunt work, but that's okay.
So there you have it- with luck I'll be about to turn 36 with kids about to start kindergarten and be able to speak 14 languages. You only live once, so why the hell not?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Austrian names are fun

When it comes to last names, Austria finds itself in the same league as Sri Lanka, Georgia, and Thailand (home to such whoppers as, respectively, Jayasinghe, Shalikashvili, and Chulalongkorn) Witness the quattrosyllabic names of three prominent Austrians- Danspekgruber (a professor of mine at Princeton), Gusenbauer (the current Austrian chancellor) and Schwarzenegger (him you know).
But while Austrian last names are definitely longer on average than the average last name in Germany, the city names here in German are often quite short, with a particular plethora of four letter words. Witness Wien, Graz, Linz (the three largest Austrian cities), but also Ybbs, Wels, Melk, Gurk, Steyr, Lienz, etc.
Still, two Austrian city names stand out above the rest. The first is Fucking which I've known about since 2000 when I read an enlightening article on the town in that distinguished journal of arts and letters, Maxim. While browsing through the above Wikipedia link, I also learned that in neighboring Bavaria, one can find the towns of Kissing and Petting. Better visit those first. And just for the sake of thoroughness, once you're done with your, uh, romantic tour of cities in Bavaria and Austria, be sure to visit the district of Wedding in Berlin.
The other city name that makes me laugh out loud- and I only found out about this one this week when I saw it on the license plate frame on a car- is Rottenegg. Scroll down on the wikipedia link and you'll see it's a part of the town of Walding. Insert your own obvious joke here about the town's air quality...
For more procrastinatory fun with geographic names, click here. I had the great good fortune to pass by Intercourse, Pennsylvania while on my hike, and while doing research for a book project in Wisconsin in 2007 also unexpectedly came across the Bong Recreation Area. Good times.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ups and Downs (but mostly Ups)

Just finished making it two weeks in a row at the pub quiz at Johnny’s Irish Pub. Tonight, we won by a quarter point since we knew that “A Ticket to Ride” was a song from the Beatles movie Help. So we needed Help and we got it :)
The best news from this past week was that AFS, the exchange student organization I first came to Austria with back in 1999, agreed to hire me for a 30 hour work week starting at the end of August. Granted, it might not be the most lucrative job in the world, but for a whole slew of reasons, it’s more or less my dream job here in Vienna. For starters, AFS is a non-profit that does great work, so the part of me that feels the need to work for a higher purpose is happy. Also, in addition to being an AFSer myself, my mother and aunt were both AFSers when they were in high school, my family hosted an AFSer from Indonesia two years ago, and I have worked for AFS on a paid basis before in Germany and as a volunteer for them in Egypt. So I’m on familiar territory. Finally, from a logistical standpoint, it’s not easy to find a job without a work permit (AFS will support my application for one, though many employers wouldn’t), a job where I won’t be starting for another four and a half months, or a job where they’ll let me work thirty hours a week when I want to. All of that, of course, is essential for me in order to continue with my other projects apace.
The worst news from this past week was that my apartment situation, which I thought had worked out very nicely, is now completely back to square one. The primary renter in the apartment where I’ve been the last week is a weirdo to say the least. Matters came to a head when she waltzed into my room on Sunday morning, glass of wine in her hand at 10am and more than a little shitfaced. She insisted on telling me some rambling and cockamanie story about her night before in some club even though your average imbecile, drunk or sober, would have noticed that I had utterly no interest and was trying my best to ignore her. That’s when she accused me of not having greeted her appropriately at one point when I was in a hurry the previous week- even though this was a few days ago, and on Saturday night, she had been with my friends and me, enjoying wine that I had bought, and all seemed perfectly fine. She then said she wanted to rethink the contract with me for this slight infraction. Somehow this all seems to clash with her stated desire to have “friendly and uncomplicated” people in the apartment. Meanwhile, I had baked cookies for everyone before I moved in as a friendly gesture, and a few days ago she helped herself to a carton of strawberries I had bought without asking me. To top it all off, her dog took a shit and pissed on the floor in my bedroom on Saturday and this woman has apparently never wandered down the deodorant aisle in the local supermarket.
Yuck. And sorry for the rant, but I have to speak to this woman tomorrow to tell her I’m out of here, so I guess I’m using the blog as my oppoprtunity to get all my arguments lined up. As a parting gift, I’m going to give her a bottle of Lady Speed Stick. Hopefully by tomorrow, I’ll have a new place (of my own) to rent, although I’m planning on buying an apartment by mid-June, at which point I’ll have finally settled the housing issue for good.
On a more positive note, I continue to do loads of training each day and have literally more energy than I have ever had before in my life. Highlights from this past week include doing my first biking hours in a beautiful part of Vienna near the famous “Wienerwald” or Vienna Woods. And then today, I was running to the gym through the beautiful historic center of Vienna when out of nowhere the theme from “Chariots of Fire” started playing. That made me smile and gave an added burst to my run. It’s so funny how in high school, when it was obligatory and involved going around in a circle at 8am, running was my least favorite thing in life- even more than my traumatic relationship with algebra. But now, as running involves barely more effort than walking, when I can run at high speeds for miles – faster than I ever have before in my life, I find that running, as well as my other time spent training, has brought me to a point that I’ve never been to before- and it’s only going to get even better. Noticing such progress and overcoming my limits is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, and it is noticeably leading to an increase in something that I have had far, far too little of in my life since 1999: joy. And with all due respect to the hokey pokey, that’s what it’s all about.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Quick update

We won the pub quiz :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How life should be lived, if I don't mind saying so myself

Greetings from Cafe Central- a beautiful, typical Viennese coffeehouse in the middle of the first district of Vienna. A few years ago, an American political scientist named Robert Kagan wrote a little book called "Of Paradise and Power." His central thesis was that Europe had moved beyond being overly concerned with the Hobbesian nature of international politics and had settled rather nicely into being some sort of post-historical "paradise." Of course, this was only possible because the United States was acting as the world's policeman, projecting its power all over the place so Europe didn't have to.
Well, that was all before a minor bump in the road (see catastrophes, Iraq) and now's not the time to debate systemic changes in the post-Westphalian, post-9/11international system. Suffice it to say, a day in my idea of paradise would be spent much like the current one. I've now been at Cafe Central for over three hours, and have dined langouriously on Gulaschsuppe and a Viennese specialty called Kaiserschmarn (sort of like french toast with plums) while drinking coffee and an Austrian beverage called Almdudler. I've been writing postcards to friends and family in the USA and have been corresponding with friends old and new (especially one particularly awesome new friend...:) via Couch Surfing (more on that in another post) and Facebook. Along the way, I've been studying Swedish, German, and English vocabulary and reading select articles from the New York Times and the Economist. And listening to my Ipod and making liberal use of the free wireless internet access here. Earlier I was even sitting outside in some unexpected vernal sunshine, though about an hour or so ago I moved inside to recharge my laptop and avail myself of the impending piano concert.
A little later on, I'll be moving into my new apartment- also in the first district next to the university- lifting and running at the gym, continuing my memoir of hiking the length of the USA, and meeting with friends with the objective of inflicting utter terror on the Vienna Pub Quiz scene.
It's at times such as these that I really regret my decision to forego law school or the ninety hour work weeks on Wall Street. Sigh.