29 July 2012

Happy Sunday: We Seek After These Things

In the LDS Church we have what are called the 13 Articles of Faith.  These articles were written by the prophet Joseph Smith in a letter to Chicago Democrat editor John Wentworth, as a response to his question: "What do Mormons believe?"

I'd like to devote a few inches of blog space to the 13th Article of Faith, which reads as follows:

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul--We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and we hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, we seek after these things. 
Ok yeah, so I saw Magic Mike last night, which basically violates every word of the 13th Article of Faith. Don't get me wrong, Channing Tatum.  You are lovely. But you are as far from virtuous as Tug O' War is from being an Olympic sport (oh wait...).  My naivete strikes again! Next time I see that a movie is about male strippers, I won't assume the best and fancy the idea that perhaps it is about male strippers finding Jesus  or male strippers teaching blind children to play the piano. I'll just accept that it is about male strippers...stripping.

By means of repentance I tried to extract any shred of moral goodness that could possibly be found in this movie.  That failed.  So I nursed my bruised conscience by reciting the 13th Article of Faith in my head.  It really is a good one. And perhaps the easiest to forget.  How often can our entertainment, topics of conversation, etc. be constituted as praiseworthy and virtuous?  I'll throw out a completely fabricated statistic and say about 30% of the time, or less.

Little children are far better at living the 13th than anyone else. They are so pure and think and act so purely. I mean, look at these kids!  They're brilliant and angelic in so many ways.  Watch this. And then consider your personal devotion to seeking after honest, virtuous, lovely, chaste things.

Oh, and Happy Sunday.

27 July 2012

...aaaand we're BACK!

...by popular demand!

My 15 minutes of fame spread from regional to national, as I made an appearance on TVR1, Romania's national news station.  Apparently they liked what they saw on Transylvanian news a couple weeks ago and wanted in on the fun.

Again, I really don't understand the fascination.  There really is nothing of interest to report on.  No one cares that the Romanian government collapsed and that President Basescu is suspended from office.  And the "luxury" sex trafficking of young girls to government officials is no biggie. Nor is the fact that there are daily protests against the new socialist prime minister.

Nah. None of that is nearly as captivating as the fact that there are a group of foreigners living in Cluj, learning Romanian for the summer.  We had them at "foreigners."

My colleague, Daniel, and I were invited to be interviewed live by one of the anchors at TVR1 last week.  A 30 min. special all about us. The hot lights and cameras in our faces.  The anchorman desk with bar stools.  The commercial breaks.  I've lived one hour away from Hollywood for the majority of my life and yet I had to come all the way to post-Commie, 2nd-world Romania to make it on the big screen.  

The show isn't on-line, but they're sending me a copy of it in the mail, so I'll see what I can do about getting it up here so you can all see me look like a silly fool.  Some stupid language mistakes but it wasn't entirely horrendous. The best part was that the anchorwoman was definitely not dressed in the typical sold-colored blazer that we're used to seeing sported by our media figures in America.  Oooh no!  Why should she be constrained by codes of professionalism and class, when she can look this this! 

24 July 2012

European Nightlife, Part II

You got a taste of the Cluj scene in Part I.

Now it's time to introduce you to the nightlife in Romanian villages.  And when I say village, I mean so far away from urban civilization that the horses far outnumber the cars and the streets are stained with dung instead of oil leaks.

Welcome to Ieud (Yeh-ood). Say it out loud.  This village embodies its name.

Upon our arrival in Ieud, we were greeted by open-mouthed stares on behalf of the villagers. I've never felt like such a novelty, and that's a lot coming from a short, blonde, fair-skinned Mormon girl in Romania. It was a Saturday night, so obviously we were dying to experience the Ieud party scene.  This is how it works:

After a 3-course mama-made meal of ciorbă, sarmale, mămăligă, papanași, and backyard-brewed țuică (those of you who know what these are also know that I didn't drink the țuică, but I can tell you it smells like nail polish remover), you go to your room in the quaint, traditionally-decorated farmhouse and let the vegetable oil settle for an hour or so.  Then, you make your way past the giant wooden gate that came straight from Middle Earth.  You head out on the town (which consists of one road, about a mile long, lined with more farmhouses) in the pitch black, by light of cell phone, being careful to avoid any piles of manure or bails of hay that may obstruct your course. 

You anxiously scan the horizon, squinting your eyes in search of any fleck of light that might signal a form of life.  You find something about a 1/2-mile down the road.  Romanian pop covers filled with plenty of accordion and electronica beats can be heard. This is it!  Ieud's one and only pub/club/social gathering hot spot that isn't a church. 

You enter through the veil of smoke that is signature of any public establishment in Romania.  All eyes turn to you.  All 10 of them. It doesn't take long to number the 5 people sitting round the tables inside.  All are men. You order a beer if you're Dutch, a Fanta if you're South African (both of which were cheaper than the water), and nothing if you're an American who never uses vegetable oil, let alone eats an entire bowl of it for dinner. You take your seat at a table and look on as the 19-year-old in charge of the tunes practices his DJ-ing skills and seeks your approval as he proudly plays one horrendous cover after the other. Some more locals will show up, after they were undoubtedly called up by their friends to come on down and see the foreigners.  One of said locals will wink at you if you're Dutch.  You will get uncomfortable because you're male and so is the winker.  Then you go home. 

In the morning, if the 5 a.m. roosters don't wake you up, the 7 a.m. church bells will.  And then you will be sent on your merry way after a breakfast of milk straight from the cow and eggs freshly popped out of the hen. 

Click to enlarge

21 July 2012

European Nightlife

As a non-missionary visiting the land of my mission, I have a completely different perspective of this country. I feel like I'm discovering a Romania I've never seen before, namely its club scene.


Cluj has a whole underground world of pubs and clubs that weave in and out of tunnels and caves beneath the city streets.  And when I say cave, I mean straight up grotto. Phantom of the Opera-style. Musty...dark...Smeagol territory. It's awesome. 

Tanya, Rick and me. Nothing bonds like karaoke. 

And in these grotto-pubs a wealth of treasures can be found. Karaoke here is nothing like in the States. It's one big giant mob of Romania's liveliest bunch, singing along to whatever song is playing, as the actual person with the microphone struggles to see the lyrics on the screen because he/she is being thronged (or otherwise party-boy'd) by a hundred people at once.  It's thrilling. And I always thought Romanian's were all tone-deaf, but I realize now that judgement was only based on the members at church, most of whom sing the hymns louder and prouder than anyone I know, and they all sound like William Hung. But the karaoke stars I've come across so far have got some serious pipes.

Rick is somewhere in there, singing "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.

How they have such pipes is beyond me, because they all smoke like chimneys. And as you can imagine, there is poor ventilation in a cave. My throat hurt for days and my clothes are still saturated with the smell of cheap tobacco.  

Mr. I'm-Too-Sexy-For-My-White-Capris comin' in hot on Tanya, who really
shouldn't be complaining because she's from the wilds of Africa and could
sorely use an easy escape to European residency:)

And what's a club without its stereotypical club-goer (greasy, macho, and wasted)?  Lots of gems like the one above to be had here, should you be looking for easy access to a Blue Card (the Green Card of Europe). As greasy as they might be, I am deeply thankful for them because they provide endless inspiration for the annual Euro Trash Dance Party in Provo.

15 July 2012

Happy Sunday: Be Prepared (and when not prepared, be of good cheer)

Back in the day, during some year that I don't remember, when I was significantly younger, I asked my mom (who used to be a German language tutor) to teach me something in German.  

Whatever provoked my mom to teach me the most useless phrase in the German language was probably similar to what provoked her to put me in the circus when I was 6 years old.  Nevertheless, I always remembered it. Everyone knows it's the useless things that stick with you.  

Then something miraculous happened.  Two weeks ago, I found myself in a car headed to Garmisch.  GARMISCH!!  ICH FAHREN NACH GARMISCH!!!!  I said that blessed phrase over and over, not believing my own ears.  I was actually going to Garmisch!  My mom had incredible foresight. 

Garmisch is a small Alpine town in Bavaria, right on the border of Germany and Austria, and at the base of Germany's tallest mountain, Zugspitze. 

Ah, Zugspitze.  We saw much more of this mountain than we had originally intended. 

You see, we planned for a 6-mile round trip hike.  A day hike.  A mere gander through the Bavarian Alps.  I wore spandex leggings and running shoes and had a bag of Haribo Original Gummy Bears and a sandwich as sustenance.  

The trail got steep quickly.  We weaved back and forth between Germany and Austria.  The air was hot and sticky.  We were in search of a lake, which was meant to be our final destination.  I pictured a shimmering alpine-blue oasis into which I would thrust my entire body, backpack and all, immediately after first sight. 

Sara's dad testing out the waters

The trail started getting steeper.  We persisted, certain the lake was only a stone's throw away.  Then the hiking started getting technical.  Glaciers, loose slate, scaling rocks.  Where the Garmisch is this lake???  9 miles from the trail head, we found ourselves nearly at the top of Zugspitze, beaten and exhausted, at a tiny lodging for mountain climbers.  Yeah, because people don't do this kind of thing in one day.  They were all outfitted in hiking poles and big ol' hardcore boots and looked at us like we were a bunch of clowns.  Spandex and gummy bears represent.  

Germany in front, Austria in back.

We learned from one of said mountain climbers that the top was only about one mile away, but would take about 2 1/2 hours to reach.  We wanted to take the train down the mountain, but by the time we'd get there, it would have stopped running. So we opted to head back down on foot from where we were.  Another 9 miles.  

That is me gracefully scooting down the mountain on my butt,
 creating a rock slide that could have taken Sara out as
she posed for this picture.

Moral of the story: BE PREPARED (well, first, learn how to read a trail map).  Running shoes are not meant for hiking in the first place, but especially not 18 miles of Class IV technical climbing.  Also, gummy bears are fun to eat but provide little to no nutrition.  
"If ye are prepared ye shall not fear." (D&C 38:30)    
          "Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing." (D&C 109:8) 

And when you're not prepared, BE OF GOOD CHEER.  When we finally accepted that this "lake" was nowhere nearby and/or did not exist, we wanted to tally ho and keep going, curious as to what would be around the next corner.  The view was stunning!  The scenery breathtaking!  We may have been lost, but it was a gorgeous place to be lost in and we had plenty of battery life in our cameras and gummy bears to enjoy.   
"There will be nothing in this world that can defeat us....Fear not. Be of good cheer....Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family." (Thomas S. Monson) 

The ol' Zug was the most vertical, exhausting mountain I've ever climbed, but absolutely worth the adventure.  Next time I'll be more prepared.  But there ain't no mountain high enough to keep me from being of good cheer (sorry, I had to).

Sara and me 18 miles later, with Zugspitze in the back

09 July 2012

2nd-World Problems

I'm not even surprised...

...that I've been in Romania one week and the water has been unexpectedly turned off for an entire day

...that there is a planned power outage for nearly the whole day tomorrow

...that one of the classes that is part of this summer course is "Painting Religious Icons on Glass."

...that my shower has no shower curtain and not even the option of a rod to fashion one myself

...that our tour guide at the Turda Salt Mine was wearing a t-shirt that said, "Sex Instructor: First Lesson Free"

...that I was interviewed by a Transylvanian news station, proving a severe lack of entertaining or otherwise pertinent news to report on [watch it here; read it here--I look like a fool and of course out of a 5-min. interview they chose the most retarded 30 seconds]

...that my room has 2 heaters and no AC.  [It got up to 98-degrees and like a million % humidity here in Cluj]

...that I can walk exactly one-sixteenth of a mile and hit up 4 different pharmacies [I did that today, during a break from class, and bought de-waxing ear cones and dirt cheap Retin-A--more Romanian gems]

Dearest Romania, I've missed you and all your quirks.  

08 July 2012

Happy Sunday: Frankenstein and the Creator of Mankind

While in Munich last week with my friend Sara and her family, we hit up a local theatre that broadcast the London National Theatre's production of Frankenstein.  This show is all the rage.  And I'm not surprised, as it showcased some of the best acting I've ever seen.

I read Frankenstein for the first time in February.  We discussed it in my European Philosophy class.  Not many books on my required reading lists made me cry.  Actually, that's not true. A lot of the ultra pedantic, scholarly crap that I don't understand bored me to tears.

But Frankenstein was a different case. It's a deeply emotional, spiritual look at Creation and the divine nature of man.  Really makes you think about where you came from, what your Heavenly Creator endowed you with from above, and the importance of love in the development of a human.

Before the film started, there was a short behind-the-scenes segment, including an interview with the play's director, Nick Dear.  The interviewer asked him, "Why is Frankenstein such a timeless story?"  Nick responded something along the lines of: "People are fascinated with where they came from. They want to know who created them and how they were created."

One can't help but suffer with the creature as he spends his life absolutely tormented by the same questions.  I imagine his suffering is much what it would feel like to have no idea concerning your divine heritage.  The creature wants to love, but doesn't know how.  He desires a purpose, but knows not where to find it.  All he knows is the here and now, for that is all that exists for him.

I'm blessed to know beyond the here and now, and to feel the peace, clarity, and sense of purpose that knowledge brings.  God is real.  He really created you.  He is Dr. Frankentstein and you are his creature.  But unlike the creature in Mary Shelley's novel, you were created with a purpose and endowed with the capacity to love and be loved.

Honor that. It's golden.

Happy Sunday:)

06 July 2012

Grim Reapings in Transylvania

Cluj is the capital city of Transylvania.  And boy howdy does it live up to every stereotype that just went through your head when you read "Transylvania."

Today I saw Grim Reaper (who, I'm sure, is some distant cousin of Dracula).

I kid you not.

I was sitting behind the building where my classes are held.  The university borders a little forest--more like a  thicket of trees.  And out of nowhere creeps the Grim Reaper!  Some old, psychotic-looking man with a massive sickle that I never imagined I'd see outside of a completely exaggerated horror film.  And I don't watch horror films. So basically I never imagined I'd see one of these things in the flesh. Grim just kinda creeped through the trees, gazing at the ground.  It was frickin weird, I tell you!  I would have taken a picture but we were far too close in proximity and that blade was far too threatening.

Should you happen to read any headlines in the near future, just remember you heard it here first. 

The Grim I saw wasn't wearing a cloak, but he was dressed in black.
The sickle is entirely accurate.

05 July 2012

Who are you and what are you doing here?

And why in Hell's Tarnation are you studying Romanian??!

This was the general attitude as the 15 of us students met each other for the first time Monday morning.  Everyone sort of just looked at everyone else in awe and disgust and confusion.  Many had sort of pained expressions on their faces as they wondered what could possibly be attractive about studying such a random, obscure language.

I admit, I imagined that I would be one of two students registered--the other being a Chinese boy who needs to learn Romanian so he can go to medical school here for mere nickles and dimes.  Turns out everyone imagined that, so we were all a little stunned to see a rather substantial group of 15.

Quite a slew of countries are represented among us.  I am the only American.  And probably living up to every stereotype that these people have of our kind.  I made sure they all remembered to honor the 4th of July. I celebrated the  best way I could, which was to buy a red and white striped shirt and get a drink at Starbucks.

In the line-up we've got:
South Africa
South Korea
Canadian ex-pat living in Norway
2 from Switzerland
2 from the Netherlands
3 from Poland

Most are here because they already know like 70 foreign languages and Romanian was last on their list.

But not Mr. South Korea.  This is his first time out of the motherland.  The poor kid was probably shell shocked before his plane even touched ground.  Come to find out he's majoring in Dutch but Holland is a bit pricey, so apparently Romania was the next best option?  And what is his minor, you ask?  You probably didn't ask and I wouldn't typically either, but I'm glad I did because his answer put me in stitches for at least the next hour.

Volcanic Eruptions.

Yes. A minor in Volcanic Eruptions.

"Are there many volcanoes in South Korea?"
"One. And it's dormant."
"That's fascinating."

Next time any of you question me for majoring in European studies, remember that there are poor starving children in Korea who are studying volcanoes. Who have never seen a volcano.  And be grateful you live in America.

God bless the USA and Happy (belated) 4th to you all!

With Tania from S. Africa and sporting my patriotic apparel

02 July 2012

Hobo Part II, or Why Cheapskating Isn't Always Worth It

Ok, first of all, I'm not really a cheapskate. I don't buy 88-cent crepe paper toilet paper, nor is my freezer stocked with Tombstone pizzas.  I still have my dignity.  So for dignity's sake, let's call me thrifty.

This is where my thrifty ways cost me my sanity.

I thought I was being clever buying a plane ticket to Paris instead of directly to Romania.  It was about a $500 difference.  I figured I could hop on a cheap inter-Europe flight, ride a train, or even hitch hike on the back of a gypsy wagon to get to my final destination.

It sounded so simple in my head.

This is what my travel plan looked like. Beware: you'll feel like you're on drugs.

1. Plane: LAX to Munich to Paris--13 hours
2. Sleep in Paris airport (total hobo status)--6 hours
3. Take a cab in the morning to train station
4. Train: Paris to Munich--6 hours (yessss, I went BACK to Munich. I tried to convince the airline to let me just stay there the first time, but they said if I messed with my flight plan, the return ticket would be void)
5. 3 1/2 amazing days in Munich with my amazing friend Sara! (The only perk of this wack journey)
6. Train: Munich to Budapest--9 hours
7. I arrived in some no-name train station in the middle of nowhere, so I took a bus AND a cab all over this godforsaken city to find a train station with trains to Romania.
8. Wait in train station like a bum--3 hours
9. Train: Budapest to Cluj--9.5 hours
10. Cherry on top: that final train ride was hotter than Hell. I have never been so completely doused in sweat in my entire life.

Moral of the story: just spend the extra $500.