by Kevin Kau
I step forward to the metro kiosk. A clerk sits listlessly behind the glass. How do I say that I want a ticket that will get me into the center of Prague? First I try speaking English. “1 ticket please.” A stare. I ask again, this time trying to convey my message with different words. A blink. Finally the clerk rings something up and a number appears on the LCD screen of his register in bright green. I hand him the only Czech money I have, a 2,000 Czech koruna note. Words are spoken by the clerk in a monotone voice, masking his boredom and disappointment with more boredom and disappointment. Finally the clerk speaks words that I can understand “Only 100 or 200,” he says as he holds up each bank note in series on his side of the glass. “But I’ve only got a 2,000 note,” I say as I open my wallet to show him. The ATM’s at the airport only give out 1,000 and 2,000 Czech koruna notes. Again the reply: “Only 100 or 200,” as the same series of bills are held up by the clerk again. I had thought it was abundantly clear what my situation was to the clerk, however at this point all he did was stare somewhere between my shoulder and forehead with his dead fish eyes. If buying a bus ticket was like this, I could only imagine what else was in store for me over the next month.
I had decided to become part of Project “New Eyes” ® (PNE) as a way to complete my TESOL certificate and to get authentic experience teaching English as a foreign language. When I first heard about PNE during the end of fall semester, I had thought to myself that it sounded like a lot of fun. I didn’t think much about it at the time though. Would my parents help subsidize a trip like this? It wouldn’t be like them to help pay for me to have fun. When I finally decided to mention it to my mother, she thought about it for a few seconds and said it was a great idea. I don’t know if she was just in a good mood that day or what, but it was too late for her to take back her words now. I would go to Europe. I did have my fears – this would be my first time in Europe and for once in my life I’d be traveling somewhere where I had no understanding whatsoever of the language. I have always traveled to places where I already had experience with the language, such as Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan, which I return to every few years to visit my parents. However, I couldn’t let my fears get in the way of what could be a very rich and unique life experience. I signed up with PNE the very next day.
My backpack sits heavily on my back as I stand in front of the departure board at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. It has been almost 24 hours since I last slept. Everything I see has taken on a detached cinematic feeling. I hear sounds but have no comprehension of them. I take a moment to force my mind back into conscious cohesion. Where does my flight to Prague depart from? The departure board is constantly flipping through different times, destinations, and flight numbers. How does this work? I don’t see where I’m supposed to go. Oh wait, there it is… and there it goes. I’m hungry. An American voice behind me: “Hey, that’s not fair!” I silently agree. Focus Kevin focus. Wait, I see how this works now. The departure board is organized by departure time, not destination. Each departure has a few different flight numbers and airlines attached to it. Wait a minute, the constant cycling of flight numbers and airlines per departure time are all the same flight! I guess I should start heading that way. As I leave I glance at the American who had spoken while behind me. Is that what I looked like? Mouth agape, hair disheveled, eyes unfocussed. At least he doesn’t have to carry a heavy backpack. My backpack sits heavily on my back as I trudge along in what will turn out to be the wrong direction.
As I stepped out of the metro station in Prague, the first things I saw were ornate and colorful buildings all around me. The next things I saw were grimy sidewalks and graffiti. Such is the paradox of Prague. Most of the buildings were absolutely beautiful with countless detail carved into or added to the buildings. However, once you lower your gaze to the street level, you see sidewalks that seem grimy, and building walls covered with dirt, dust, ash, and so forth. The whole time I was riding the bus from the airport to the metro station, I was surprised by how colorful the buildings seemed, and how there were signs of graffiti almost everywhere. This contrast, however, would not be the one that had the greatest impact on me.
During my time in the Czech Republic, there was one topic that really sparked my interest: the Vietnamese. In the Czech Republic, the Vietnamese constitute a large minority population. Of all the places in the world, why did such a large number of Vietnamese move to and live in the Czech Republic? How did they get here? What was their life like living in such a homogeneous culture? To find such a large Vietnamese population in central Europe was like discovering that many parts of China were once inhabited by Caucasians: Perplexing.
It was not until I moved in with my host family in Klatovy that I really began to see the ethnic Vietnamese. While I was in Prague, there were Asians everywhere. However, it seemed like the vast majority, if not all, were tourists. There was one convenience store next to the hostel where I stayed that was run by Asians, but that was it. While my host mother was introducing me to Klatovy, she began telling me about the cheap clothing stores around town. According to her, these clothing stores were all run by Vietnamese people, who were able to sell their wares at incredibly cheap rates because they imported cargo containers of clothing from China without paying taxes on them for the most part. These Vietnamese run clothing stores would open shop in a town and drive the Czech clothing stores out of business. My host mother took me inside one of these clothing shops. The store was dimly lit with a few old florescent bulbs hanging on the ceiling. A Vietnamese clerk stood by a cash register as about a dozen or so Czechs flipped through boxes and racks of clothing. That day I noticed a few more of these clothing stores as I toured Klatovy. Later I would find that most, if not all, of the “Chinese” restaurants and nail salons were also run by the Vietnamese. In Sušice, the small town where PNE was based, I saw even more of the same.Cathedral in Klatovy
Klatovy is a beautiful town. It’s large enough to have supermarkets that stay open until 22:00 where as normal stores close by 17:00, and the countryside is just a few minutes walk away. Klatovy is dominated by the “Black Tower,” a huge clock tower sitting on the corner of the main square. All around town, the “Black Tower” can always be seen, reaching for the sky much like Sauron’s tower in the Lord of the Rings. Not surprisingly, the “Black Tower” is so named because of its color. The stone tower became blackened from the numerous times it caught on fire in the past.
During my stay I came to love Klatovy. Life there was wonderful. The many sweet shops around town had all sorts of coffee drinks and cakes, and around the central square alone were six different places to get ice cream and countless places to get food and beer. In my free time, I would wander around town aimlessly until I was tired, before looking for the “Black Tower” and heading back home.
The more I experienced life in Klatovy, the more I began to wonder about the Vietnamese population. In my daily life in Klatovy I rarely saw any Vietnamese or Asians strolling through town. One thing was for certain; they didn’t eat or drink at the same pubs and restaurants, or even live in the same places as most of the Czechs in town. It was as if the Vietnamese were invisible. Outside of their shops, they were nowhere to be seen.
During my time in the Czech Republic, I had always wished that I could speak Vietnamese and ask them where they lived? What they ate? Where did they buy their food? However, either I was lazy or I felt it was a lost cause. I don’t know any Vietnamese words, my Czech was horrendous, and there really was no reason that I could see where the Vietnamese in town would speak English. However, I realized how presumptuous this theory was. Thus to test the waters, I played the “dumb” American tourist as I approached a clerk in a clothing store.
In English I ask, “Where are your shorts? You know, trousers but without the leg?” No response. I point to my shorts. The clerk speaks in Czech and points to a corner of the store. “Thanks,” I reply. The clerk remains silent. I turn around and can feel his eyes on the back of my head as I make my way past boxes of clothing, bumping into the corner of one box hard. I flip through some shorts half-heartedly and time my exit for when another customer approaches the clerk. That was truly embarrassing.
One day as I was walking past a Vietnamese clothing store while eating a cold potato pancake from the butcher shop, I thought again about why there weren’t that many Vietnamese children in the public elementary schools that I’ve been going to. I had been to two different public schools at this point, and had observed and taught more than ten different classes. Out of the over 100 students, I had only seen one Asian student.
Also, earlier that week I had gone to a pub one evening. After having a few beers, I really had to pee. I looked around but couldn’t see a bathroom. During my search, I walked down a small hallway that led to a kitchen. Two girls were working inside. After I tried my best to ask where the bathroom was, one of the girls nodded and proceeded to walk me to the bathroom, which was separate from the pub. At this point in time I realized that there was nothing more embarrassing in life than having to be walked to the bathroom in public by a cute girl. As I was returning to my table, a drunken Czech standing by the bar in military fatigues looked at me and slurred a string of words, followed by a heavily emphasized and sneered “čínský.” I glanced in his direction and continued towards my table. It was quite clear to me what “čínský” meant, but to be sure, I asked the Czech that had invited me out that night. Sure enough, “čínský” meant “Chinese.” I was a little stunned and didn’t know what to think. However, the more I thought about it the more I was amazed that a drunken military guy was able to point out my ethnicity with such confident assurance. It was time I became more proactive. I decided to ask my host mom about the Vietnamese over dinner.
I’m sitting at the dining table in the kitchen. The kitchen is small, the back of my chair taps against the fridge before I pull my seat closer to the table. There is just enough space to move around the table, however like a booth, those seated against the wall could only get out by having the person next to them stand up. A floral yellow plastic sheet covers the table. On the table are various books and toys from my two host brothers. White diffused light shines through the overcast sky and through two large windows. Most days my host mom sits at the kitchen table reading while her children play outside within view. In my free time, I often join her in the kitchen over a cup of tea or sparkling water. My host brothers are busy scratching away at some sort of art thing, where scraping away at a black cardboard sheet reveals a multitude of colors underneath. The particular one I look at has an outline of a cow or other four-legged animal. My host mother sets dinner out and begins to portion off food for her two kids. After a few mouthfuls of potatoes with tartar sauce and leberwurst, I ask my host mother “So, at public school, I haven’t really seen any Vietnamese kids. Why is that?” My host mother is cutting up a fillet of leberwurst into smaller pieces on one of her children’s plates. Her eyes remain on the task at hand as she begins to reply to me. “Why, it’s because when all the Vietnamese came to the Czech Republic, they came at once.” She looks up into my eyes now. “The people that came here to work and live had kids who went through the school system. Right now those kids are adults, but they are only starting to have kids.” Suddenly she drops her knife and raises her hand in one swift motion, only to bring it down with a forehand motion onto the backside of her youngest child’s head with a small fleshy sound. Words are spoken tersely. I am positive that they were the Czech equivalent of “Stop playing with your food and eat.” I guess it’s not just American kids that have trouble eating their food at the dinner table.
It took me a few moments to really think over what she just said, but with those few sentences, my question was thoroughly answered. There aren’t any Vietnamese kids in Elementary school because most Vietnamese kids aren’t old enough to be in Elementary school yet. Before I came to the Czech Republic, I did some research. During the Vietnam War, socialist Czechoslovakia was a main source of weapons for the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong. After the war, economic and political relations between Vietnam and Czechoslovakia were already established. Vietnam began exporting laborers to Czechoslovakia in the early 1980’s in hopes that the migrants would return with skills and training. The Vietnamese who came to Czechoslovakia were all between 18-20 years old. These individuals were trained at Czech schools and then sent to work in industry for a number of years. After the collapse of communism, many of the Vietnamese decided to remain in the country, thus establishing the roots for a Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic.
It wasn’t until a month after my trip that I began to do any serious research on the Vietnamese in the Czech Republic. While I searched through article databases and the Internet, reading article after article, I began to realize something quite profound. What I was reading about was exactly like the first decades of the Chinese immigrants in America. It was as if I had opened a window to the past. Both the Vietnamese and the Chinese sought to immigrate to a country in order to find good paying jobs. Most of the initial migrants were young and able bodied. In both cases, many of these immigrants decided to stay in the country because life was better. The similarities continue on and on. Like the Chinese, the first wave of immigrants in the Czech Republic did not speak the language. Because of the language barrier, many of these immigrants opened up their own stores in fields that did not require a lot of language, such as restaurants and tailor shops, much like the Chinese immigrants in America. The Vietnamese in the Czech Republic live in their own private communities separate from Czech culture for the same reasons Chinese immigrants banded together to form China Towns, as a way to cope with living in a culture so vastly different from their own. In both situations, these immigrant groups were hard-working and competed directly with the locals, spawning conflict. In America, the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, cutting off most of the legal Chinese immigration to America for over 60 years. The Czech Republic hasn’t adopted such drastic measures, however they have been heavy-handed in enforcing Vietnamese work visas, going as far as establishing a program that pays Vietnamese to go back home. Also, with each new generation, these immigrant cultures are becoming more and more involved with the culture of the host country. It’s not often that you see history repeating itself so clearly in another part of the world.
However as much as there are similarities between the Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants, there are sure to be differences. One of these differences that I noticed while in the Czech Republic was that although Czechs seem to disapprove how the Vietnamese have a monopoly on certain business sectors, they do respect the Vietnamese for being such hard workers. I’m sure Americans did respect the Chinese immigrants as being hard workers, but in so many instances Americans were quick to resort to violence towards them. Only time will tell how similar or different the path of the ethnic Vietnamese in the Czech Republic are to that of the Chinese immigrants in America.
Teaching English in Klatovy, Janovice, Nyrsko, and later on Švihov, was draining. One of the reasons I joined PNE was to get authentic teaching experience, and that is what I got. One thing that classes at the University of Utah don’t teach you is how different things are in reality versus theory. The first few times I stood in front of a class, all the theory and strategies I had learned seemed to melt away into the ether. I also witnessed and fell victim to a phenomenon I call “The Death Spiral.” A teacher stands in front of a class. The teacher is trying to explain a grammar point or definition. “This should be easy,” the teacher thinks. As the teacher explains the point, blank looks answer back. Some things in life are universal, such as the blank stare, parted lips, and absolute silence of complete incomprehension. At this point the teacher tries to recast and rephrase his or her explanation, hoping that the students will understand the point this time around. Again, silence. Beads of sweat are now flowing down the teacher’s cheeks and back. Further recasting and rephrasing only make everything more unintelligible. The teacher panics, suddenly words such as “susceptibility, paradigm, controversial, industrialization, and Quid Pro Quo” start to come out. All is lost. The teacher has dug his or her self into the ground. Not only has the teacher lost all control of the class, the students lose all faith in the teacher and question why they even came to class today.
In the end, teaching became a lot of fun. After I learned to stay calm, plan things out thoroughly ahead of time, and to just take things as they come, everything seemed to move much smoother. It was very rewarding when one of my kids would seem to light up when they finally understood something, or when one of my adult students would surprise me with what they knew. In the public schools, I always took so much joy when students began to open up and participate enthusiastically in the activities I presented. I had some doubts and insecurities before, such as “What if I don’t like teaching? What if I’m horrible at it?” My experiences teaching in the Czech Republic have put these doubts to rest for now.
PNE is not the same for all students. It seemed like most students were placed near Sušice. The two students placed in Klatovy were the furthest away. While other people in the program would meet up to chat and eat, Will and I were left to our own devices in Klatovy. This was not all bad though. Because we felt so cut off from the rest of the program, we focused on our relationships and interactions within Klatovy. Klatovy mattered much more to us than anything in Sušice. Even though we spent two days a week in classes in Sušice, Klatovy was our home. This was also the first year that PNE had placed students in Klatovy. Being the only two people in town from the University of Utah, we would spend almost all of our time away from our host families together.
In our normal lives, Will and I probably would not be the best of friends. However, it was a comfort to have the support of another colleague in such a foreign land. One problem we encountered was that facets of our personalities were too similar. For instance, we would both become slightly disgruntled and build off of each other when we heard about the activities and events that were happening in Sušice during the week. Will, to say the least, was not a balancing force for me during my stay in Klatovy. However, for the most part, we got along well.
Will and I have some time before our next class in the evening. The air is cool with a slight overcast. “I’m hungry,” I say. “Where do you want to eat?” “I dunno,” Will replies. “How about that pizza place over there?” We cross the main cobbled stoned square to a pizza restaurant. We sit down in a booth. A man smokes a cigarette at the bar. Windows open up to a patio overlooking the square. Big umbrellas advertising Gambrinus beer shade the patio diners from the setting sun. It’s dark inside the restaurant. Dim purple lights accent the modern décor. Strangely, photographs of waterfalls line the dark walls. A waitress comes up to us and brings us two crinkly menus. She is wearing a white blouse and black pants. A server’s apron drapes diagonally across her sharp hips. A shock of blonde hair is tied back tightly behind her head, held in place by strategically placed hairpins. A slight scowl of contempt stabs through her piercing blue eyes. Words are spoken by her. I have no clue what she just said. Time to guess. “Velké pivo prosím.” I say, hoping she was asking about our drink order. Success. Will and I proceed to shatter any illusions of being Czech by chatting away in English. “She’s hot!” Will says, voice rising on the later part for emphasis. “Yes she is,” I reply quietly, hoping that Will will take the hint and lower his voice. “I think it’s the way she acts so pissed at us that makes her that hot for some reason. It’s like she wants us dead but doesn’t want to get caught.” The waitress returns with our drinks and places them on our table. ‘ThunkThunk.’ A pizza each and another round of beers later it’s time to ask for the check. After two lackluster hand raises, the waitress returns to our table. Time to ask for the check. “Účet prosím,” I say. The waitress says something in return. “Yes…” I respond in Czech. The waitress walks away, returning five minutes later with two more beers, ‘ThunkThunk.’ Fail. After we finish our beer, a second attempt with the response of “no…” has her giving us our bill. We pay separately and stagger off towards our next class. “She was so hot,” Will slurs slightly.
Teaching English in the Czech Republic was an experience, the beer was great, and the women sure were pretty, but my most memorable experiences in the Czech Republic involved my Czech language partners. Part of PNE required us to find Czech language partners who would teach us Czech without necessarily using any English. At first I had imagined that I’d meet people in the pubs and befriend a few to teach me Czech every week over beer. I quickly learned that I had neither the confidence nor the charisma to pull this off. My host mother came up with a great idea for me though. She posted an ad at the front of her language school, advertising free private English tutoring in exchange for Czech Language instruction. The exchange was my idea. I figured that it was only fair for my Czech Language partners to get something in return. At first I was skeptical of how effective this ad would be, but within a week I had almost more people than I had time for.
Working with my Czech language partners was entirely different from teaching English at school. For one, there no longer was the pressure to follow a set plan, or to cover the material required for the day. Instead, my interaction with my Czech language partners was much more genuine. We were more or less equals. I was good at English, they were good at Czech, and we both wanted to learn more about the other. At first, my meetings with Czech language partners consisted of nervous attempts at conversation over coffee or tea, but by the second week I felt like I was making a real connection with them.
Learning Czech from Czechs was an amazing experience. As teachers went, these were the most patient, helpful and cheerful people I’ve ever met. What was great was the different approaches they took in trying to teach me Czech. Milena, a German teacher on maternity leave, took an academic approach. She would bring flash cards and handouts while trying to teach me the basic grammar structure of Czech. Veruška and her friend Blanka were two teenage girls who were eager to practice their English. For Czech, they made me photocopies out of some of their books, listing all sorts of objects, colors, weather, animals, jobs etc. in both English and Czech. What touched me the most was that they had colored in all the colors and circled many of the key points for me, all by hand. Erika was an adult student from one of my company classes. She would always bring her stepdaughter Magda, and other members of her family. For our meetings, I would have Erika and friends try to convey the meaning of a tea menu or children’s book using only Czech. At first it must have been embarrassing for them, but by the end we were all having a lot of fun. Stanislava was a really quiet teenage girl who spoke almost no English. When I asked her what she’d like to work on for English, she didn’t really have a response for me, so I just talked and talked about everyday things. When it came time to teach me Czech, I decided to try another children’s book and have her teach it to me. It was amazing how shy this girl was, but by our last meeting it really seemed like she had opened up and was having fun, albeit still in a quiet and shy way.
My favorite Czech language partner was Vladislava and her boy Bojan. Vladislava had called me about being a Czech language partner, so we arranged a time to meet. As I waited for her in front of a shoe store in the center of town, a lady pulls up in a small red car. “Kevin?” She says? “Yes,” I reply. She waves her hand, implying that I should get into her car. I do so. Vladislava does not speak much English. She smiles kindly at me while we drive out of town. “What’s going on?” I think to myself as I clutch my backpack tighter to my chest. I had thought that we would hang out at a sweet shop for our session. Now, I have no clue where we’re going.
On the outskirts of town we pull into a small village and stop at a house on top of a hill. Vladislava smiles at me again and gets out. I follow her through a gate and walk around a white farmhouse overlooking the rolling green hills of the countryside. She leads me to the back of the house, to a gazebo with picnic tables and chairs. She then introduces me to her son Bojan, who was playing with a soccer ball on the gravel driveway. I instantly recognize him as one of the students from the language school. “Sit,” she says as she goes into the house. A few minutes later Vladislava comes back out, followed by her mother who is carrying a tray of coffee and cups. Vladislava’s mother does not speak any English, however her warmth and hospitality could cross any language barrier. Vladislava sits down with me with some English workbooks and we start chatting. Her mother reappears moments later with a tray of homemade cakes. Our English lesson does not last too long, however, and we soon switch into Czech. Vladislava’s mother starts pointing to things around the garden, speaking the Czech name of each item. As our session ends and Vladislava walks me to her car, Bojan runs up to me and begins speaking to me in Czech. I understand bits and pieces, but Bojan is speaking really fast and his tones sound a lot different from the adults. “Yes,” I reply in Czech, a shot in the dark. Bojan starts speaking again, this time slightly faster. “No,” I reply, guessing yet again. A questioning look crosses his face. Guess you can only play the yes/no game for so long before things stop making sense.
Every time I would meet with Vladislava, she would drive me to her house on the outskirts of town. Each time, more people from the neighborhood would show up. Soon there were four or five other adults along with their children who would come to my meetings. All of these neighbors belonged to an English club, or rather, came together to learn English from one person in the community who had lived in England. Claudina, a mother of two, had worked as a nanny in England years before. Her English was quite good, which explained why the others that came were able to speak English well. I was fascinated by this. Whenever someone didn’t know how to say something in English, other members of the group would jump in to help. As a whole, their English was fantastic, but individually they all had different strengths and weaknesses. What a great learning community though! They were there to support each other.
On my last meeting with Vladislava and her small community, they held a barbeque for me. Everyone showed up with homemade foods. Vladislava’s mother and another neighbor, who was a butcher, tended the grill. Bottles of beer and liquor were set on the table. Everyone was talking and having a good time. Occasionally someone would make eye contact with me and speak some English. I don’t know if it was the alcohol, or maybe I had finally learned a good bit of Czech, but it felt like I was able to understand the gist of most of the conversations going on around me. “Eat, eat,” people would tell me as another klobasa would be passed to me on a three foot long metal fork straight from the grill. “Drink, drink,” people would tell me as my shot glass was refilled with herb liquor. In between drinking, eating, and chatting, I had to check in on my two host brothers whom I had been babysitting for the evening, as they played with all the other neighborhood kids in the yard. It was a strange feeling and most likely a strange sight as I tossed a few of the kids into the air after every few bites of food and shots of liquor.
What made this whole experience so memorable and touching for me was how accepted I felt. It was as if suddenly I had another family. Even though I could understand a bit of Czech, I couldn’t really speak it well. However, this didn’t stop these people from talking to me. Everyone was so warm and accepting of me even though I looked completely different from them. I was proud of myself too. First, I could understand what was going on most of the time. Second, I was able to drink with Czechs without worry of embarrassing myself. I guess a month of drinking really builds up your tolerance. I could definitely see myself living here with these people. Maybe this is what it’s really like to be part of a small community. I’ve moved around all throughout my childhood, uprooting any relationships I ever make with the people I meet. This was one of the few times in my life where I felt like part of a community. The remainder of my trip was full of melancholy. I never realized how hard saying goodbye was as I bid my Czech language partners farewell day by day. It was crushing. In all likelihood, I would never see any of these people again. It was at this time that I realized how much I longed to travel again, to experience new sights, and meet new people who I could connect with. In the Czech Republic it felt like I was a rock star. Everyone I was introduced to seemed so pleased to meet me. People would pay attention to what I had to say, and would offer me food and drink from time to time. The students I met in the public schools would wave and greet me every time they saw me walking around town, or in the hallways of their school. Soon it would be time to return to the real world and back to reality, where life doesn’t seem as exciting or special. I would be just another face in the crowd again.
It’s hot. It’s very hot. I pull up to the white building in my car. The air conditioning hasn’t been working right ever since I got back. I roll down my window and squint at the man that approaches me. “Oil change,” I say. The man wears a dirty Jiffy-Lube jump suite. His hands and arms covered in grease. Sweat drips down his cheek as he looks at me with an insincere smile. “Second bay,” he tells me as he turns around and yells “Oil change on two.” Echoes ring out as the other employees in the building repeat his words. I leave my car an am escorted to a small waiting room. Oily chairs and a soda vending machine dominate my view. I flip through the magazines, nothing but old car and sports magazines in various states of abuse and decay. Someone has poked out all the eyes in this Newsweek. Creepy. 90 minutes, an oil change, and a front differential flush later; I stand at the counter as the same man who greeted me pushes away at buttons on the register. “Total’s going to be $220.” I quickly and unconsciously convert that into koruna. “4000 koruna,” I think to myself. “Wait. Stop. It’s dollars again.” I hand him my credit card. I have returned to America. I get into my car and roll down the windows. The sun seems too bright, the clouds too flat, the land too rocky. It’s hot. It’s very hot.
As I drive away, I think back to my last day in Prague. There was a Chinese restaurant that I ate at the night before I left. The moment I entered the restaurant, I was greeted in Mandarin by a Chinese looking woman, and asked how many people were in my party. I answered in Mandarin, and for the rest of the evening in the restaurant, all conversation from the waitress was in Mandarin. As I ate, I tried to pinpoint where the waitress was from. Her Mandarin was clear and had no real accent to it. As we got up to leave, I decided to ask her. In Mandarin she replied, “Oh, I’m from here.”