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Wednesday, June 13th, 2007 | 02:26 pm
Location: still at work!

Well, actually, I don't really have any work to do for now. The activity statement on the European Neighbourhood Policy and relations with Russia that I had to scrutinize is under review at my boss. Until then, I can't do much. There is no instruction that needs to be composed for the rest of the week for my colleague in Brussels, no other urgent memoranda that need to be written for our big boss (Minister of European Affairs), nothing.

Do other people blog at their work when they're bored? I used to Facebook when I'm bored or when I wanted to take a break from work, but that's getting lame these days. Besides, I can't 'stalk' my friends forever on the Internet through Facebook, haha.

I'm bored with my work clothes. I need new shiny suits. Like that sandy/greyish suit Jodie Foster is wearing in Inside Man. I thought that was a nice suit. And I want new shoes, although I just bought a creme-coloured pair.

Did I tell you that I joined a gym? A freekin' gym, my friends couldn't believe it when I told them. They've been trying for three years to get me to join the university gym. Now I'm exercising more regularly than they are cuz they're too busy with their jobs. It's incredible, I'm actually exercising with those stupid steel machines to tighten up my muscles (what muscles?!). And I used to hate them. I still don't like them, but I've gotten into a routine and it's easy to stick to it. Twice a week is all I can do. But I do like the cross country machine because they're right in front of the tv, so I can watch bits of movies if I want to, or football. I saw 30 minutes of Good Night, and Good Luck and Inside Man, both because I was on the cross country at the time.

I'm contemplating whether I should go to Amsterdam tonight to attend the introduction of MSc Political Science, and right after that a sample lecture. It's from 6 to 8. That mean's I'll have to leave the office before 5 to get there on time, and I don't think I can make that. On the one hand I don't want to make the wrong decision and I would like to orientate myself as much as possible with these different universities and their quite similar courses, but on the other hand I just can't be bothered. I'd rather go see the boyfriend. No wait, let me correct that: I always want to see the boyfriend whenever I can.

Hmmm. I feel like a really decent espresso now. Too bad the office had CRAP COFFEE from the machine! Maybe I'm too spoiled with the boyfriend's new manual espresso machine, the Gaggia Baby Twin.








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Can't shake this off

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007 | 01:57 pm
Location: at work, shhhh

I don't know whether I should call this a dry spell or just a loooong hiatus. Got back home from Bulgaria in April, and then almost immediately started my new job, which I enjoy immensely.

But what I enjoy even more is being at home with family, being close to my boyfriend (long distance no more!), and the feeling that I don't need to pack up my stuff after a few months again to move to another country for study/work. This is my place for now, for the upcoming year and a half. And I love not feeling chased up by something or someone.

How different things have become after merely a year. Last year I finished up my final exams and went to Istanbul on my graduation trip with my closest friends, and got all excited about Bulgaria. Now I'm finishing up the preparations for the European Council for next week in Brussels, planning my holiday in Poland and Ukraine, and getting excited about the masters I'm going to do in September. I'm on the waiting list for the one that I really really really want to do. Fingers crossed that one admitted student decides not to attend anymore!

Alright, back to work now. Till the next time!







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The dry spell

Thursday, February 15th, 2007 | 10:10 pm
Listening to: Jeff Buckley - Forget Her

So this unannounced hiatus of mine lasted or is lasting longer than I thought it would be. I've been freakishly busy at the embassy with my paper and weekly political reports that I'm sending to the headquarters (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that I... neglected? forgot? didn't care? about my journal anymore.

Truthfully, the whole hiatus started once I moved here. I hadn't had Internet connected to the apartment yet, and when that finally came around, I was out of the blogging mode, out of touch. It felt a little foreign. Which is weird, cuz I still enjoy writing.

When I saw the 'Update Journal' window again for the first time in months, I caught myself smiling sheepishly at the screen.

The last six months have been... have been, I don't know how to describe it. I can't seem to find the words for it.
They've been exciting.
Thrilling.
Scary.
Most definitely lots of fun.
A learning experience.

But they've also been full of love and affection. The boyfriend has a positive influence on my daily mood, on the way I smile, on the way I feel, on how many times I smile and laugh a day.

I'm done here in exactly two weeks. March 2nd is my last day here. And then I'm off travelling in the Western Balkans. Want to go to Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and yes, also to the now turbulent Kosovo. It'll be interesting what the trilateral negotiations will hold for the future status of Kosovo. No one seems to be happy about Ahtisaari's plans.

But now it's not the time to talk about current affairs and politics. Hopefully I'll be back on LiveJournal soon. I expect this to happen in April, to be very honest. This month I'll be busy with work, next month with travelling (Western Balkans, and a week in Berlin), and then in April I should be back home. I should get that writing bug again.

So until then, take care.








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[day 90] Wise lessons learned

Monday, November 27th, 2006 | 01:44 pm

It's amazing how the press here and the Bulgarian people think that people getting shot in broad daylight is the most normal thing in the world. In Thursday's BTA (the daily Bulgarian news report in English), the following item was under the heading "In Brief":

Former volleyball player Krassimir Dimitrov was shot dead in Sofia on Tuesday night, police said. He received five bullets in the back and the nape.

Short. Simple. To the point. Without any background information on who this guy was, whether there was a family statement, what his spouse said. Nothing. Like as if they're reporting that some little cat got rescued from a tree by brave firemen who put the interest of the cat first.

You hear stories about people getting killed in broad daylight in the middle of Sofia all the time. And no one really cares about it, it seems. The Bulgarian UWC people that I met in early September briefed me on how all these mafia people are getting killed here and there, as if they're pigeons getting shot by BB guns from little 6-year-old bullies. "In this country, ordinary people know they aren't the target, so they're not worried. It's the mafia that is in the mafia circuit, so if they get killed, it's their fault for being a mafia in the first place." I guess that has some element of truth in it.

Anyway. All's still very well in Sofia. The weather is crap; misty, rainy, foggy, cold, wet. Definitely November weather. I kind of miss Korea because the weather was incredibly nice (16-18 degrees, not too cold, not too hot), seeing my family and friends, and of course eating lots and lots of gorgeous Korean food every single day throughout the whooole day. Eight days really doesn't cover everything I wanted to do and everyone I wanted to see. I'll probably go back in March and tag Japan along in my two-week holiday to East Asia, my so-called home. Or something.

That's another thing. In more cosmopolitan cities and countries, when people ask me where I'm from, I automatically say Holland (ok, I know, it's actually the Netherlands, but that's such a mouthful and everyone knows Holland, although my ambassador wouldn't like it if I said Holland because "it's the Netherlands!"). Here in Sofia and more so in the rest of Bulgaria, they look at me with this confused blank stare after the word 'Holland', as if they just heard aliens have landed in their backyard. And then they ask me carefully: "No, I meant where you are really from, originally?" "Ah, ok, I'm originally from Korea but I am Dutch." The same thing happened when the Deputy Head of Mission (DHoM, my supervisor) and I went to meet the new Director-General of the NATO & International Security Department from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DHoM introduced herself first, then I introduced myself, and then I got introduced by her:
"And this is /eyewhypee/, our trainee at the embassy. She has studied in the UK and for the moment she's at the embassy assisting us with political affairs."
(DG NATO) – "Ah, very nice to meet you! But where are you from?"
"I'm from Holland."
(Insert confused blank stare) – "Uh… No, I meant where you are really from?"
"Oh, right, I'm originally from Korea."
And then DHom quickly said right after that: "But she is, in fact, Dutch and she grew up in the Netherlands."

Can it be more complicated than this? Yes, it can. But this is complicated enough and the look on people's faces in Bulgaria when you say you're from a Western country when you clearly do not look like a Caucasian makes them very confused. Perhaps if I said I was American they would understand, but that's a totally different story that I won't get into now.

Almost three months here in Sofia, almost half of my internship. Perhaps it's time for a reflection on what wise lessons I've learned both in my personal and work life.

1. NEVER put traditional Latvian balsamic liquor AND the very expensive bottle of virgin olive oil on top of the microwave when you have the kitchen windows open. You never know when the wind will pick up and suddenly make the windows open and close. When that does happen, you're in big shit. Open window by strong wind = shattered bottles of balsamic liquor and olive oil on your kitchen floor, and it looks as if your kitchen floor is a big plate with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on it for you to dip bread in before you have your delicious pasta at an Italian restaurant (I have a picture of it, maybe if I'm in a good mood I'll put it on my picture website).

2. When cleaning it, ALWAYS use old newspapers to get most of the olive oil off the floor with them. You should have at least twenty old FTs, IHTs, Sofia Echoes, NRC Handelsblads and Wall Street Journals at home so that your lovely newspapers turn oily and slippery. So slippery that you may even fall hard on your ass.

3. ALWAYS unclog the bathroom floor when you feel the water isn't getting drained fast enough so that your feet are actually under water. If you don't, you may risk being in the situation that you open the bathroom door and suddenly realize that you hear a waterfall: liters of water streaming from your bathroom floor down via the stairs to the reception hall where ALL YOUR SHOES ARE PLACED NEATLY. Shouting "NO NO NO NO NO!!" you run down the stairs naked, and replace your shoes elsewhere, making sure you pour the water out of your shoes before you replace them. It's too late for buckets at this point of time. All you can do is to get your mop and bucket and absorb all the water that you can while you stand there freezing your ass off.

4. ALWAYS make sure you have your set of keys, even if you are going out for a movie with your boyfriend and he is locking the door with his set of keys. You never know whether your keys are in the other side of the door that will make opening the door from the outside extremely difficult.
Thursday November 9th we (the boyfriend and I) had dinner at home, and then we went to see Borat at the new Mall of Sofia (Bulgaria is relatively new with the concept of 'malls' and 'department stores', only this year two new malls have opened in the capital city). Extremely funny and we were laughing our heads off especially with the wrestling scene, so much so it actually hurt to laugh so hard. Anyway, after the movie, we went back home as I was quite tired. He puts his keys in the door and tries to turn. "Is the door stuck or something?" I shrug my shoulders, thinking it's nothing. "Try to kind of pull the door towards you. That always helps opening the second lock a little smoother." But no such luck. After ten minutes trying everything to open the door, we looked at each other and came to the conclusion that I had left my keys on the other side of the door, thus we weren't able to turn the damn key the other way to open the door.

"Fuck, what am I supposed to do? It's almost midnight, I can't call my landlady now, even if I hate her, and even if I would like to wake her up in the middle of the night saying we are locked out of the apartment."
- "Maybe we can go to our neighbours downstairs and ask whether we can climb up to the balcony. I remember we left the doors open."
"Are you insane?!! Climb up from their balcony to mine? Do you know how difficult that's going to be?"
- "It's our only option. Or we need to camp outside of your door."
"Ok fine, let's hope they're home."

So we go downstairs, ring their doorbell and sheepishly explain what happened. They tell us to come in and see whether it's physically possible to get to my apartment. Suddenly, I forget about my misery and the door; their apartment is so nicely decorated with warm wooden floors, warm wooden stairs, warm everything. "Focus on the problem, this isn't the time to admire someone's apartment."
Upstairs (their apartment is two floors) we get to their balcony and the boyfriend (who wants to be renamed as 'eternal love') climbs up on the roof, assessing whether he can get to the balcony. "No chance, it's too dangerous, and I can't see anything." I vaguely remember closing the kitchen windows but still ask whether he can get to the kitchen window. "Yeah, I'm there right now but you closed the windows after cooking." Fuck fuck fuck fuck.

In the meantime, Didi (my downstairs neighbour, actual name is Diliana) calls the locksmith's emergency number and tells me the service will cost 100 leva (50 euros). "Has he gone completely mad? 100 leva? This country's average monthly income is just above that!!" I shout in disbelief. "I know, I know, but he knows you don't have any other choice, that's why he's charging you that much." Pay 100 leva or ask the boyfriend to try to get to the balcony anyhow with the risk of needing to call an ambulance ten minutes later and me calling his parents? I could imagine the conversation already: "Hi, this is /eyewhypee/, your son's girlfriend. I wish I didn't have to introduce myself this way but I need to tell you that your son fell from a six-storey building and broke his back. And the shitty part is that it's all my fault. I'm sorry." No. No no no no no. No way. So I ask the boyfriend to just come back and we'll wait for the locksmith.

After his safe arrival back to the neighbour's balcony, Didi's husband (I can't remember his name now, what kind of neighbour AM I?!!) asks whether we would like something to drink. Asking what he had, he replies with "Uh… whiskey, Kahlua, Tia Maria, vodka, Bombay Sapphire, uh… lemme see, come I'll show you what we've got," and I was given a tour of his liquor stash, while the boyfriend is enjoying his glass of whiskey and chatting to the neighbour's friend, who's an art historian. I also learn that Didi is a journalist for one of the leading Bulgarian national daily newspapers, 24 Chasa, that they've been living here for 7 years, that my landlady's two daughters live in Florence and that is why she speaks Italian, and we shared a few anecdotes with the neighbours and their friend. Secretly I was hoping the locksmith would be a little late, as we were having a brilliant time with our newly acquainted neighbours and just drinking, watching tv (tv is a novelty to me, I don't have tv at my apartment!), talking, discussing strange Bulgarian politics and whatnot. But the locksmith came within 20 minutes. "I can't believe it takes stupidity and 100leva to get to know my downstairs neighbours," I said before I left. Hopefully I'll see them around in the building more often, they're really nice people.

5. ALWAYS make sure you're wearing an extra pair of socks when you're out for a football game late in the evening.
Wednesday November 22nd, I went to see one of the most anticipated football games in Sofia ever – F.C. Barcelona VS Levski Sofia. Champions League games are always pretty fun to watch on tv, but when you are actually at the stadium with all these rowdy Levski fans, it's a totally different experience. I texted a few of my guy friends in London, Berlin and Nairobi that I was watching Barcelona live here ("3rd row, players are live size, not miniature Lego men!"), thinking that it'll be much more fun if they were here with me. I didn't expect much of the game, Levski lost 5-0 the last time from Barcelona. Nevertheless, it was fun to be watching it live amongst the Levski fans. To show some support for my adopted hometown, I wore a blue Levski scarf, which for some people was a little strange as they were looking at me with these expressions like: "What the hell is an Asian girl doing here at this stadium with a Levski scarf?!!" I was glad I wasn't in the middle of REALLY HARDCORE LEVSKI FANS. They sit at the rightside of the stadium, behind one of the goals. They actually light fireworks, burn their newspapers that they originally brought to sit on, scream their lungs out, and show their utmost support for Levski. During the game they were holding up a banner saying the following:
"Asparuhov, The Pride of Bulgaria. Stoichkov, The Whore of Catalonia."
Wondering what this meant, I texted the ever-so-jealous boyfriend, who was back home and couldn't join me for the match, asking what this meant. Apparently, Asparuhov was a legend at Levski and one of the best, if not the best, football players ever that Bulgaria produced. Stoichkov plays for CSKA, the main rival of Levski, hence the reference to him being a 'whore'. Anyway. I was hoping to perhaps sneak into the locker room and getting autographs of Van Bronckhorst, Gudjohnson, Deco (still reminds me of Speedy Gonzalez), Rijkaart, etc in the capacity of the representative of the Netherlands Embassy in Sofia to welcome the Dutch players of Barcelona, but I think after the game ended I was in dire need of a hot shower than scoring autographs of these players.

I think I have learned many more wise lessons here in Sofia, such as punching the bus tickets first before elaborately kissing on the bus with the boyfriend and then getting fined for not punching the bus tickets that you did have, or spending two hours at the biggest supermarket of Sofia and getting so much grocery that you can't actually carry it back home, but those stories I will spare for later. In terms of wise lessons on the work force… Well, everything's going really well here, and I haven't heard any complaints yet from my colleagues at the embassy, which is a good thing. I'm getting along really well with DHoM, and her kids are the cutest ever that whenever we have a function or an event where kids are allowed to come, I always ask whether her sons will come, too. She invited me to go ice skating at this old-communist skating ring with her and the family, so I'm very much looking forward to that. The fact that I haven't ice skated for, I think, around 3 years doesn't deter me. I am Dutch, and as every Dutch person, I can swim and I can skate. Or so I tell myself.

More from me towards the end of the week, I promise!

All my love, kisses, and hugs,

Your eyewhypee

PS: Tomorrow I'm turning a year older so I'm expecting lots of virtual kisses and hugs from you all. If not, I'll get the Dutch Secret Service to hunt your ass down.






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[day 62] New location, same ol' globe trotter

Monday, October 30th, 2006 | 03:52 pm

Just because I'm in a new town, new country, new continent after flying 15 hours on three different flights doesn't mean that I have changed, or that the content of this journal has a different spin to it. Of course, not only will I cover the topics 'What the Hell Has Eyewhypee Been Doing In a Whole Month in Sofia Without Updating Her Journal?' and 'Fucked Up Bulgarian Presidential Candidate Siderov' but also 'How Eyewhypee's Family Is Trying to Get Her To Marry Soon' and 'Things That a 1.5-Generation Korean Finds Very Humorous in Korea' are on the agenda.

Now that I've mentioned the M-word, who the hell is this Mysterio that asked me to marry him? Or her? I mean, you never know, maybe I have a female admirer but that is totally besides the point. As a comment to my last entry, some person only identifying himself as 'Mysterio' wrote on 2 Oct 2006 20:17 hours the following message: "eyewhypee... marry me."
Right. So. Uhm. Let me give you a tip, Mysterio. If you really want some girl to marry you, then for the love of God, don't do it on the Internet. I know we live in this web-based world now where no one can leave the house without their golden handcuffs a.k.a. mobile phones and BlackBerries and where no one can live without the Internet, but proposing on the net is not the way forward.

Ok, that's done. So... Let me ask you how you guys have been. Is life as sweet for you as it is for me? I've been pretty good in Sofia. The internship is still very interesting, and the Counsellor has made me write lots of reports these days including one on the position of homosexuals in Bulgarian society, which ended up being a 4 page report covering things like the so-called underdeveloped 'pink' market, the Penal Code (sexual crimes committed by homosexuals is more severely punished than when done by heterosexuals), and the reluctant attitude of the government to make the lives for the LGBT-community better.

Hmmm... Shit. My mom just got back from her hair cut so I gotta wrap things up here. I think ShamRock and some others will be VERY pleased that today's entry is this short, but what does it matter to him anyway? He confessed he doesn't read my journal!! It came as a shock to me, but ShamRock, don't worry, I still love you! *muah*

Ok, briefly why I'm in Korea. My favourite cousin got married yesterday and with that reason I asked for a 5-day holiday from the embassy to go to Korea to attend his wedding and see my extended family. It's been good so far, I'm eating lots of Korean food, taking lots of pictures of weird things here in Korea and I'm excited to meet my friends again in Seoul.

Gotta go now to see my grandma and my uncle (dad's brother). Leave messages, they make me happy and make me want to write even more on this journal.

Love you all,

xxx eyewhypee





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[day 34] Happy, happier, happiest

Monday, October 2nd, 2006 | 01:59 pm

Beautiful photos of Sofia. I for now do not have any pictures for you to show at the moment of my place, or the city that I live in, as my camera's broke and am waiting for my mom to come with her uberfancy D-SLR that she got as a present from my dad.

Anyway, here's my latest travel journal entry:

(written on Sunday 1 October 2006, 22:34)

Thank you for all your messages so far. They contribute immensely to my state of happiness that I strangely find myself in these days. I don't know why I deserve this happiness, nor do I care for that matter.


REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 1:

Bulgaria is also happy as they are officially joining the EU on 1 January 2007. No delays, but they do have quite a few so-called 'accompanying measures'. Not really safeguard clauses, but measures whereby the European Commission has asked the Bulgarian government to brief them every few months on the progress on, let's say, fight against organized crime and corruption. The first report is due on 31 March 2007, and once they report to the Commission, the latter then reports to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Anyway, I wonder where I'll be on 1 January 2007. Would like to be here in Bulgaria and party with the Bulgarians (and hopefully with a few friends from home) the accession and the New Year. I'm pretty sure there'll be some party (or parties, plural's even better!) organized by the younger crowd of the Delegation of the Commission... Anyone up for that?


REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 2:

I'm looking forward to a football-filled, football-crazed, football-maddened weekend. But before I tell you about this, I must say I was THIS CLOSE of getting a (black market) ticket for the Levski - Chelsea Champion's League game last Wednesday, but when a friend was just about to confirm that we wanted that ticket BADLY, it was snatched up by someone at the British embassy, I believe. Damn those Brits, they've been bugging me for the last 3 years already in the UK and they're STILL after me here in Sofia! Anyway, it was an amazing atmosphere, I heard. Too bad I couldn't witness the first Bulgarian team ever to qualify for the Champion's League and even score against Chelsea, but at least I've got the Holland - Bulgaria qualification match that I definitely will attend on October 7th, this Saturday! The whole embassy is going, and 7,000 supporters from Holland are expected to come to Sofia. Looking forward to a (football-filled) weekend!


REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 3:

I finally got my stuff on Friday! After all the papers, the approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Consular Section, the clearance we got from customs that my stuff is INDEED diplomatic cargo, delivering those papers to TNT and the final call to TNT confirming that they can deliver it to me on Friday, I now have officially, officially, officially moved in! The packing before I went to Sofia was madness: first the stuff I shipped from England to Holland. Unpack, pack, and repack was the only thing I did for the last week before my due date to Sofia. But it was all worth it - now I can cook with my own stuff, I sleep with my own duvets and pillows, and I got lots and lots and lots of Korean food essentials from my mom. This is the sixth year that I live out of home without my parents, but I am still looked after carefully with a survival kit like this including 2 big bags of rice, brown rice, sweet rice, soy sauce, cooking sauce, fish stock, etc etc. So for those of you who are still coming to Sofia, not only will you sleep in the finest sheets you'll ever feel on your skin, you'll also be treated to Korean home-cooked meals in the Balkans. Now where else will you get such hospitality, right?


REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 4:

I'm meeting more and more new people to hang out with. The ones I hang out the most, though, is the Danish intern that I met 2 weeks ago, and he's a cool guy to have a drink with and a laugh. The German intern's also good company, and so is my ever-so-lovely Juliette. Last Friday, I met two Italian interns from the (obviously) Italian embassy, and they seem to be people with whom I can check out the international DJ line-ups at Sofian clubs. With Juliette I checked out Satoshi Tomie at Chervilo (a club called Lipstick, popular place for maffia and not so maffia but would like to dress like them and wear sunglasses in clubs like them crowd). The Japanese DJ was ridiculously good, and the cool thing was that I got free drinks from the bartender cuz he thought I was his sister, haha!


REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 5:

My supervisor, the Counsellor, invited me to come with her and her family to a ballet performance at the National Opera last Saturday. Being the ubergeek and culture snob that I seem to be, I obviously said yes yes yes, I'll come, and joined them on Saturday evening for 2.5 hours of pure enjoyment. It was the opening performance of the season, and the ballet dancers were performing on the music by Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, and Stravinsky. Unfortunately, I don't know much about classical music, but Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring was soooooo cool. The spider was very very good, and the whole decor was in the spring theme - lots of oversized giant flowers, a giant frog, and a giant spiderweb, as the ballet dancers were ants, crickets, grasshoppers, and other little insects. My supervisor's kids are adorable - they're 8 and 5, and the five-year-old is such a cutie. He loved it, and when his older brother wanted to go home after the second one because he was tired, he said he wanted to stay because he's having such a good time, and that he "like[s] the music!" When he said goodbye at the car park, I asked him: "How should we say goodbye? You want a hand shake, kisses on the cheeks, or a hug?" Sheepishly, he said a hand shake but he promised a hug the next time we see each other.


REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 6:

I hiked in the Vitosha Mountain on a beautiful, gorgeous, sunny eh... Sunday. A friend and I walked to town to the Palace of Justice, where tram no. 5 goes to Ovcha Kupel bus station. Dutifully, we buy tickets for the tram, and wait for no. 5 to pass by. I remember no. 19 going there as well, so when that one came first, we asked the tram driver whether he was going to Ovcha Kupel. "Ne," was his stern answer. "Maybe it's no. 9 then that goes there." After waiting for almost half an hour, we get a little suspicious. How come is tram 5 not coming around?!! The last time when I was waiting for a different tram, the no. 5 passed by at least once every 5 or 6 minutes. Turns out, tram pet ('five') doesn't run today but tram 19 DOES INDEED go to the bus station. What the hell?!! At that point, my friend and I felt really sheepish and stupid. We both think we're such seasoned travellers (he backpacked through most of Asia and he knows Eastern Europe by heart!) and we figure out 30 minutes later that tram 19 (that conveniently passed by TWICE!!) does go to the bus station.

Once we get to the bus station, after a few not so decent words and feeling disappointed in myself, we have a difficult time knowing which minibus to take to Zlatni Mostove (Golden Bridges) on the Vitosha Mountain. That's the thing in Bulgaria that I cannot appreciate: people who work for bus companies, or in public transportation do not know their stuff that they're supposed to know as ticket officer or bus driver. Uninterested, they tell us that they don't know. First in Bulgarian, then in despair they yell out I DON'T KNOW. Ok ok, take it easy. So after 30-40 minutes, we finally find out that minibus no. 10 will take us to our destination from a random person on the street. "Stand at that big junction and flag the minibus down with no. 10 clearly marked at the front." Thanks to him, we then stand at the junction we were before 5 minutes ago when we were trying to find out for the longest time whether there'll be a bus, ANY BUS, that could take us up to the mountain.

You don't know how happy my friend was when he spotted the no. 10. We get in, pay 1.50 leva each (75 eurocent!!), and fifteen minutes later we're somewhere in the mountain called Zlatni Mostove (Golden Bridges, beautiful picture here). For the rest of the day, we stroll around in the mountain from here to there, sit in the sun, breathe FRESH AIR, be thankful that we escaped the city, have a coffee, and enjoy the view of the whole of Sofia. This is another thing I do like about Sofia: in half an hour, you can escape the city with its dirty air, lots of cars, the street noise, etc, for fresh air, beautiful scenery, and peace and quiet that one needs once in a while.

Dinner was at a well-renowned Serbian restaurant called Pri Miro that is a one minute walk from my apartment! Yummy fish soup, pepper and aubergine mash with hot Serbian bread, Serbian cabbage dumplings stuffed with meat, a big salad to share, and a 'pljeskavica' (Serbian burger) only set us back 10 euros. All that for 10 euros is NOTHING. I feel retarded for paying 30 pounds at a so-called fancy restaurant in London (ok, Hakkasan is fancy actually). Why did I do that, I wonder... Anyway, this dinner should probably be REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 6B, and 6A being the hike up in the mountain.


REASON TO BE HAPPY NO. 7:

Still enjoying my internship, and it's only getting better and better. Bulgarian foreign policy is so interesting, especially now that they're joining the EU. What will their contribution be to the Common Foreign and Security Policy? Will they be very vocal and put pressure within the EU for the EU to make promises of accession for Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and other Western Balkan countries? Will the EU develop better relations with Russia and Ukraine now that Bulgaria is about to become an EU-member state? Attending these seminars and lectures, hearing distinguished scholars speak about the stabilizing (or not so stabilizing) situation in the Western Balkan and especially in relation to Kosovo, meeting other diplomats and sharing our views on these topics, and meeting Bulgarian high-profile ministers such as Meglena Kuneva (Minister for European Affairs, in the run for the Bulgarian European Commissioner position) is all very exciting. I'm learning lots, I'm actually using my brain for once at work after the tedious, mindblowingly boring internships that I've had at an investment bank and accounting firm for the past two summers, and every day I do what I love doing in my spare time anyway: reading the news, reading about foreign policy of countries that I'm interested in, and discussing this with people.

That's all for now, folks. Remember, the more messages, the happier I get.

Love & xxx,

eyewhypee





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[day 29] Musings, again

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006 | 04:10 pm

Not having regular mindless Internet access 24/7 for a whole month does something to a person.

First, I now notice that LiveJournal has changed its lay-out.

Second, my friend's LJ's lay-out also changed, and it's prettier now!

Third, you miss out on reading about huge events like that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, had died. What the hell, I thought, when I read this article. Stabbed by a stingray? Then I had to read what they had written on the day he died, September 4th.

But I am now far more up-to-date on the EU accession stuff, went to the European Commission's official presentation on the Monitoring Report yesterday at the Sheraton Hotel in Sofia, and on developments in Bulgaria in general.

The past month has been very good for me so far. Been having a lot of time, a lot of fun, meeting a lot of people, and I've met someone as well. It came out of no where. I did not expect things to happen like this, or that we would feel this way for one another, because it's a rather... unusual situation how we know and how we've met. We went away to Belogradchik for a weekend, but it was more than clear the days before that weekend that, you know, we both had an interest in each other.

I can't complain about Sofia besides the rain and the cold, and the sudden change of weather. The sudden changes in life have been good, though.

And I'm happy. Incredibly happy. It's an I-cannot-explain-this-state-of-mind happy. Let us all wait and see how long this will last. The jet-setting, 'globalized' life ain't good for my love life. Now, which one is more important is the question...





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[day 28] Almost a month in Sofia

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006 | 02:32 pm

So I was thinking of separating the two journals, but whatev. The original post is here. I miss LJ-ing, I miss reading your journals, I miss my online life, however SAD and PATHETIC that sounds. But, it got heavily compensated with an amazing internship, the great time I've had so far at the embassy and Sofia, and the wonderful people I've met so far. Hope you are all well, my LJ-friends.

Leave messages, either here or at the actual travel journal!


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Contrary to popular belief, I have not died ('HELLOOO have u died???'), nor have I been kidnapped and held ransom for money ('seriously concerned - I don't trust Bulgaria.'), nor did I forget about you or this travel journal, nor did I slip off one of the rocks at Belogradchik and broke my leg, or any other scary things that may happen to a person. Bulgaria is (relatively) safe, although this may go against the view of some people reading this journal, Sofia is also (relatively) safe, and I am alive and well!

Lots of things have happened since the last time I wrote. I feel so guilty that lots of people, the darlings in London, Kenya, Hong Kong, Bolivia, and some other random places, were worried about me when, in fact, I am having the time of my life. Good news (or bad news, depending on your view) is that I no longer moo anymore at the supermarket. Milk is 'mylako' without me having to moo followed by the motion of drinking. I point less to things and say more words, and get the same result, which is fantastic. I no longer guess whether that's pork or beef or both.

To get a good overview of what I have been doing, saying, thinking, experiencing, and everything else around it, here's a list for you to check out.


I HAVE BEEN THOUGHT OF BY BULGARIANS AND NON-BULGARIANS AS THE FOLLOWING THINGS:

1. A kung fu master.
A bald Bulgarian guy was making kung fu noises when I was in line for the toilet at a club in Sofia, pairing the ever-so-loud noises with hand motions a la Bruce Lee. "Very funny," I said, in a rather mocking I-am-not-interested-in-you-so-leave-me-alone-tone. Then he shouts: "It's a joke, dear." Rolling my eyes, I thought I had shaken off this guy when I hear him shout from the top of his lungs: "I AM SPEAKING TO A JAPANESE KUNG FU GIRL IN EEEEENGLIIIIIISH!!!!!!!!"

2. A rich Chinese girl who's here with her flashy Chinese boyfriend from a dodgy Chinese company.
First, they speak to you in the ever-so-limited Chinese that they know: "Ni hao." Ok, truth to be told, that is the only Chinese I know as well, which leads me to utter the words "I'm not Chinese," with an accompanying glance that should convey the message LEAVE ME ALONE. Instead, that message doesn't seem to translate in Bulgarian, so they go on: "Chinese? No? Yes? Ne? Da?" Coincidentally, there's a Chinese man standing 5 to 7 meters away from me, so then the guy points at him and asks: "Husband? Boyfriend? Rich, yes?" I seriously doubt whether emancipation is well-established here.

3. An Asian girl who is not American but sounds American but interns at a European Union member state's embassy.
Granted, I am thought to be rather weird when they are trying to place me where I'm from. It's a tiresome, continuous thing that I can't shake off. The expat circles are rather small here, so word gets spread around quicker than fire and quicker than at university where some students spend more time gossiping and being up to date on the latest who-pulled-who-and-who-went-home-with-who news than being up to date on the latest who-bombed-who-and-who's-giving-aid news, to give you a small example. Anyway, so I'm at a German intern's farewell dinner, and people trickle into the restaurant. Before I could even open my mouth to say hello to the new people, one of them shakes my hand and says: "Yes, I know who you are. You must be the new Dutch intern." Yes, that's correct, do you happen to know my birthday as well?

BUT ACTUALLY I HAVE ADOPTED THE FOLLOWING ROLES THE PAST FEW WEEKSCollapse )





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[day 4] It's just another manic weekend, oh oh oh

Saturday, September 2nd, 2006 | 01:41 pm

'Where the HELL is my passport?' I thought when the hotel owner's wife rudely woke me up from my sleep at 10am so that she can register me and get me to pay for my stay.

"Passport! Money money!"

Yes, yes, I'm looking for my passport right now, please be patient with me and don't shout at me because I am not myself in the morning.

I look around the room and my stuff's EVERYWHERE. My jacket, my scarf, my shoes scattered around the floor, books and magazines spread out on the two beds, and my huge 30kg suitcase in front of the radiator, asking me to unpack that I cannot do at the moment.

And I look. And I search. And I frantically go through my magazines and newspapers that I have been reading, maybe it got stuck there. But alas, no passport to be found.

And then the panic, oh the panic, sets in. The owner's wife looks at me curiously, asks me something in Bulgarian that I obviously do not speak. Fuck, where the hell is it?

Suddenly, my brain and memory start to work again, a good 5 minutes later. I had hit my money and passport MYSELF between my clothes in my suitcase. Thought that'd be a safe place as no one would really look through clothes, I thought. I guess I was right, because even I didn't look through my clothes.

As you can tell, all's good here in Sofia. It's my fourth day and I officially had my first panic attack a.k.a. dumb moment. Well, it would be my first dumb moment if you don't count the fact that a) I forgot to pick up my sleeping bag from the baggage claim, and b) I lost my UK phone... I had it yesterday morning because I used it as my alarm clock, and then I didn't use it again because why would I use my UK phone when I have a local mobile number? So it either got stolen out of my bag or I stupidly dropped it somewhere and now I have lost most of my contacts AND my dearest Winnie the Pooh phone strap.

I went to say hello and introduce myself to all the staff at the embassy on Thursday. The embassy's neighbour is the British Council, and the embassy is built around it in an L-shape. Everyone I met at the embassy is supernice, and the two people I'll be working with the most are the Deputy Head of Mission and the Deputy Embassy Secretary, both who oversee the workings of the political department. I have my own 'office', which is on the same floor as the Ambassador's and Deputy Head's offices. I like my office as it is situated in the corner of the building, which means I have two huge windows that make it very bright inside.

Officially I start my internship on Monday, but I kind of started yesterday already. The Deputy Head asked me to go to the supermarket with the ambassador's driver and fill out a survey that measures an expat's living cost standards. This study is very important so that people who get sent by their respective governments, European Commission, or the UN get adequate compensation according to the prices of their local supermarkets. So I had to fill out a 50 page survey on the prices of spaghetti, long grain rice, canned tomatoes, oranges, sanitary towels, diapers, etc AND write down the brand, the weight (or how many pieces), and the price, of course.

You may think this is an easy task, and I thought so too, but if you don't really master Cyrillic then it's very hard to decipher whether those oranges are from Kenya indeed, or whether those courgettes are from Brazil. At one point I couldn't find the milk, and asking in English didn't work, so I had to moo like a cow to get directed to the milk section. There I am, in black suit trousers, a shirt, and high heels with that survey in my hand mooing at the Bulgarian supermarket woman. Something I don't think I'll be doing again in the near future!

Sofia is surprisingly more modern than I thought it'd be. Not only does the supermarket have Kikkoman soy sauce, I spotted a Mango store on Vitosha Boulevard (the main shopping street, remember?)! They've got boutiques with luxury goods as well as any other European capital city, but what I really like about Sofia is the cute bookmarket where they also sell Bulgarian for Beginners books (maybe useful for me?) and the fruit stalls that are all lined up next to each other like the orange juice vendors in Marrakech. But I haven't really had the time to properly explore the city, but these coming 6 months surely will be enough time.

Oh, and I found an apartment! It's a 10 minute walk from the embassy in a nice and quiet neighbourhood on the 6th floor. The 6th floor is also the top floor, so the apartment's full of natural light, two balconies, and a cool view of the Vitosha Mountain. I can also see the Alexander Nevski Memorial Church from my kitchen window. It's fully furnished with a proper double bed, and I have a separate laundry room (with quite a low ceiling though) with a Zanussi washing machine that funnily enough has instructions written in Dutch! It hasn't been lived in for a long time so I asked them to clean the apartment before I move in (I guess this answers why-8-n-n-why's BURNING question!), and get me a new microwave and curtains, too. I wish I could move in this weekend but not only does it need to be cleaned, the water and electricity had been shut off since it was unoccupied for a few months. But from Monday onwards I'll have my very own apartment where I am more than happy to be your hostess.

Tonight I'm having dinner with my supervisor the Deputy Head and her family at their home, and I don't really know what to wear for that. Would jeans be ok? Or should I wear something classier? Argh, I don't know, I don't know. All I know for now is that I need to get some lunch and get out of this Internet cafe cuz the screen's giving me a headache!

xxx

PS: I know I owe quite a few people personal emails, but as you can read it's been pretty hectic here and I will get to them as soon as possible!

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[travel journal] Second day in Sofia

Friday, September 1st, 2006 | 10:51 am
Location: at the embassy

A fairly long post about my stay in Sofia so far, but hope you guys will enjoy reading it.

Bookmark your browsers! The URL is http://eyewhypee.whereareyou.net/ for all my stories about Sofia and interning at the Dutch embassy.

Only 122 more days to go until Bulgaria joins the EU (IF they make it). Hoorah!

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So I'm writing this at the hostel I'm staying for two nights. It's 11:17 in the morning, I have had breakfast that's provided here at Hostel Mostel, and thought I should let the world know that yes, your global nomad is alive!

Yesterday was a superhectic day. After only sleeping for 2 hours, I woke up at 4:30am to get to the airport on time for my 06:55 Lufthansa flight from Amsterdam to Sofia via Munich. Having checked in already on the Internet, I only needed to drop off my bags. My big suitcase was a whopping 29.7kg, but the lady saw my KrisFlyer Elite Silver card and said: "In that case, 30kg is allowed for you." I guess having a mileage card does pay off well in these situations!

The flights were fine and arriving around noon in Sofia went perfect as well. The embassy said the driver will pick me up at the airport and drop me off at the hostel I am staying, so I was at least not worried about how to get to the hostel by myself with the 30kg bag, my 12kg cabin suitcase (that I obviously didn't mention when I dropped off my other big bag), my black shoulder bag filled with books, and my handbag.

Todor the driver has been working for the embassy for 15 years already, and also works at the consular section issuing visas and such for Bulgarians and helping Dutch nationals with their passports and the like. I'll have around 20 colleagues at the embassy, which is quite a small number. Whilst driving to the centre of Sofia, he pointed out what the main buildings are such as the Sofia University (impressive building), the Alexander Nevski church, and the like.

The city seems like any other middle-sized European city. You can compare the main street of Sofia, the Vitosha Boulevard (named after the Vitosha mountain) with the main shopping street in Istanbul in Taksim, or like Oxford Street in London but without Selfridge's or any other luxurious department store. Sofia itself is located 550m above sea level in the mountains, which apparently makes it for a pleasant climate. It was 29 degrees Celsius yesterday, so I guess that statement is true.

The room I'm staying in at the hostel is a single private room with two simple beds and no curtains. The first thing I noticed when I entered the room were the men working in the garden that could look right into my room. I was like: "So uhm, where are the curtains?" The lady sheepishly answered that there are no curtains in the room. So much for the privacy added into the room, right? But I can't complain: breakfast AND dinner is included in the price, as for free Internet and meeting loads of cool people travelling around Eastern Europe.

Around 3:30pm I met up with the lady from the real estate agency in town in front of the Central Library. There is a quaint and interesting book market in front of it, which of course sells books written in Bulgarian. One thing that annoys me is that all the street signs are in Cyrillic, and it's not that I'm annoyed at the fact that it's written in Cyrillic, but that I can't read it properly as yet. I'm relying on my knowledge of the Greek alphabet and just trying to guess what that funny looking letter might be.

Anyway, I went to look at two apartments yesterday. They are both in a nice neighbourhood of Sofia, which is in the eastern part of town, and also at a ten minute walk from the embassy. The first one was on the ground floor and despite having beautiful wooden floors, the overall impression I got was that it was grim and dark. The furniture was very basic, and where you'd normally find the stove and oven in the kitchen, the washing machine was there. Thank God we had another apartment that we went to look at, because that one was a Godsend compared to the first one!

The second one is bigger (90sq.meter!), a proper kitchen, a bedroom with a double mattrass with NO bed (interesting...) and a huuuuuge living room and dining area. It's on the fifth floor, there's a balcony on either side of the apartment. The bedroom faces the west side, the living and dining area the east side, meaning that I'll have the sun in the afternoon in the bedroom. Interesting how the washing machine is in the wardrobe in the bedroom. The apartment's been on the market for 2 months already, and the real esate lady Geri told me this is perhaps because the building has no elevator, and thus we could negotiate a cheaper price. It's 300 euros per month for a 5th floor 90 sq. meter apartment at the moment in a nice neighbourhood.

Today I'm hoping to see 2 or 3 more apartments, and Friday as well so I can pick one before the weekend. I start work on Monday September 4th, and it's really scaring the shit out of me. What if I suck at the work? What if they don't like me? What if I don't like the work they give me? I'm also meeting my colleagues and my boss and the ambassador for the first time today before I go and see more apartments.

I think this is a long enough, or perhaps too long an entry for some of you. But please don't complain about the length of my entries or the future emails I'll be sending, you'll just have to read every single word of it! If it's too short and you want to read more about it, then please do tell me. If you have any questions, do ask me. Whatever you want to tell or ask me, do so by commenting on this entry and I'll reply to them in my next entry.

Oh, one last thing. I thought landing and arriving in Sofia went smoothly. But once I arrived at the hostel, I noticed I did not pick up my sleeping bag from the baggage belt! This is actually the first time EVER that I forgot to pick up something from the baggage belt. And it's not as if I'm a rookie traveller, right? And a sleeping bag is something essential, also because once I move into an apartment, I won't have my bedding yet. So yeah, I gotta go to the airport and pick up my sleeping bag. Great...

My contact details for now are either texting to my UK number or my Bulgarian mobile number, but I'll email you my Bulgarian mobile number to you as I don't want to leave it here on this very public journal. So text or call me there!

Everything is lovely here and I'm having a great time meeting people and exploring the city. The only thing I don't like about this all is that you guys are not around to share this with me.

xxx

eyewhypee

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