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Archive for the ‘Living in Budapest’ Category

Hey all friends, family, bloggers, readers, creepers (Yes Meg + Bri, I know you’re reading this).

I’m currently playing catch-up with my blog posts.  After my trip to Prague I had midterms week, then a week to clean house before leaving on a school trip to Venice and Vienna.  It is now currently spring break, and my enthusiasm to write ran outside to enjoy the weather.  BreAnna and I went on a free walking tour of Budapest today, and that story is stuck in a crowded room of unwritten posts.

While I’m trying to pound these posts (French-style) into proper grammatical form with a dash of chemistry, I’m going to let my Inner Writer rest and release my Fanatic Photographer Persona.

Photo for Today (currently un-edited):

On our first trip to Margit Island we walked off the bridge, a few feet down the pathway, spotted this festive tree, and decided we were done walking.

Photo Taken: March 23, 2012

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I spent these past few days in a near-panic.  I usually meet problems with a drill, ready to crash through the issues at hand.  In most situations, I believe that “Shit is gonna happen, so you just have to deal with it.”  On any normal day, even if I break down, I’m back on task an hour later.

On any normal day, I’m not in pain.  In most situations, problems don’t terrify me.  I usually have an idea what to do, but this past week was not normal.  Something was encroaching on my body, growing steadily across my back, and adding stress to my shoulders.

A rash ran across the right side of my back.

At least, that’s what I saw on Sunday Night.

Sunday

While packing up items for the following morning, I noticed my back was a bit itchy.  Running my fingers across my back, I discovered bumps and concluded that I must have some bothersome pimples.  I started examining the pimples so I could target them in the shower.  I removed my shirt, revealing a stretch of red bumpy skin running from the center of my back to under my right shoulder blade.  Great, a rash, now what could that be from?  BreAnna indicated my computer bag as the culprit.  My mother suggested a new chemical might be the cause, so perhaps the addition of fabric softener when washing my clothes was a bad choice.  I activated my astounding powers of deduction and concluded that New Fabric Softener + Irritation from Computer Bag Strap = Rash.  However, I still had two problems 1) Yesterday was laundry day, and 2) I still needed to carry my computer around.

My best solution for this issue was to shift my computer bag around so that the strap would run under my left shoulder blade.

Monday

My right side felt sore, but I had to carry my computer bag on my right shoulder because I didn’t want to irritate the area under my right shoulder blade with the bag strap.  I was beginning to worry, and by evening I’d trashed the concept that my muscles were sore.  Instead, I had to accept that my rash was causing me pain, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Tuesday

Each morning I looked at the monstrosity developing on my back.  It wasn’t getting smaller, in fact, it seemed the red area was reaching further under my shoulder blade.  What creature had attached itself to my back?  Could it be a mold?  Why won’t it stop?  It’s hurting worse, and I don’t know how to prevent that.  I’d taken a shower, washed the area carefully, applied skin cream, and in response, the rash claimed more of my skin for its own.

In class, I was accosted by burning sensations alternated with throbbing pain of various degrees.  I wanted to run home, weave a cocoon, and shed the diseased skin from my body.  I couldn’t focus on class, feeling pain each time I moved my arm or shifted in my clothes.  My salsa dancing class was only distraction I received from the alien patch on my back.  Dancing from step to step, learning to keep up with the fast beat, I forgot about the rash until it sent me a wave of pain every time we paused to learn new steps.

I began seriously considering seeing a doctor, but I wondered if I could still possibly solve the rash issue myself.  Then I woke up on Wednesday.

Wednesday

10 minutes after I woke up, I wanted to cry.  Pain was screaming through my shoulder and I located definite confirmation that the rash was taking over my body.  The rash that covered my back had crawled onto my chest in the course of one night.  I started to freak out, saying, “That’s it, I need to see a doctor!”  I arrived at Professor Trader’s to babysit Jade, and I mentioned the rash to him.  He listened to my description of the rash, and said it might be shingles.  I Googled shingles, and learned that shingles is adult chicken pox, appearing as a blistering rash with burning pain.  I reexamined my rash in the bathroom and discovered that the “pimples” on the “rash,” were actually blisters.  Holy Shingles!  I finally had a name for my rash, but the only thing this did was convince me I needed medication.

That evening, I was still babysitting Jade because Dr. Trader had a meeting.  Jade wanted to play a monster game, but moving was painful for me, so instead we watched videos on my computer.  Soon, my friends in Maryland began getting on skype, and Jade had a chance to chat with my friends (her new favorite activity).  My boyfriend, Anthony, and I had a minute to talk on skype, and I explained my medical problem.  I nearly cried, but Jade was sitting nearby and I didn’t want to scare her.  The entire week I had been holding back tears, but I wasn’t about to let them lose just yet.

When I arrived home that night, I examined my Hungarian insurance card and discovered that the number I needed was a 24-hour number for people who speak English.  I immediately called, and after some confusion over the spelling of my name, I was told someone would call me in the morning to schedule a doctor’s appointment.  Thank goodness.

That night, even though I had released some stress, I couldn’t sleep.  The searing pain on my back compelled me to shift from side to back to front to side in my bed.

Thursday

I woke up exhausted after only a few hours of sleep.  I’d set my alarm for 7am because I was not going to miss the call for my appointment.  I woke up and forced myself to stay awake.  Every few minutes I checked my phone to make sure the call hadn’t come and gone.  At 8:00, BreAnna and I headed off for school, and I was probably stressing her out as I worried when the company would call me.  Right before class, around 8:20, my phone rang, and I nearly dropped my phone as I tugged it from my pocket.  The insurance company shuffled me around from one person to the next, with frustrating music filling the minute or two between each person.  At one point a man, who I believe was a doctor, got on and asked me to describe something.  I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but after making him repeat himself 5 times, I grasped that he wanted me to describe my symptoms.  When I finished, he told me, “Don’t worry, it’s only a rash.”  I could have screamed loud enough to smash a window.  Instead, I very firmly told him, “No, it hurts too much.  It hurts, and it won’t stop.  I don’t know how to make it stop.  I want someone to look at it.”  By this point, I was frantic, and he shuffled me down the line to the next person.  I felt I was finally getting somewhere with the last woman, but then she told me, “I’ll call you back.”  All I could manage was, “ok.”

I flopped down in my seat for class.  Luckily, we had individual work to complete, so even when the pain caused me to halt my work, I wasn’t missing anything.  When class ended at 10am, and I hadn’t received my call, I was a mess.  Since I hadn’t yet set up the morning appointment I wanted, BreAnna, Clare and I decided to go to the immigration office instead.  On the trolly, I finally received my call, and the woman told me I had an appointment for 1:30pm.  I agreed, determined to make the appointment, no matter what I had to miss.

When I called the insurance company on Wednesday night, I knew if I had to, I would miss class, the immigration office, meeting BreAnna’s friend, almost everything we had planned for Thursday, just to see a doctor.  Instead, I was able to make class, and go to the immigration office.  Then shit happened again.  Clare and I were taken care of within 5 minutes, but after 25 minutes BreAnna was still waiting for assistance.  Since she was supposed to meet her friend at noon, I volunteered to pick up her friend, Elise, who was visiting from Spain.  I met Elise and gave her directions and an update, then rushed off to my apartment.  I got to my apartment at 12:45 and looked up directions to the office for my appointment.

1:00pm, I ran back outside, with 30 minutes to reach the doctor’s office.  I jumped on the trolly for a few stops, located the metro and emerged a few blocks from where I needed to be.  Luckily, I had 10 minutes to find the office.  I reached the correct street, and then had to ask for assistance at which point I learned that I was merely on the wrong side of the street.

In the doctor’s office, I described my symptoms, and he named it as “herpes zoster,” the official name for shingles.  He then took a look at my back to confirm his assumption.  Professor Trader’s guess on Wednesday was correct, I had shingles all across my back.  For more details on shingles, please see: Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

“Shingles,” is a really creepy name, and it fits the disease which is itchy, gucky, and painful.  The doctor gave me three prescriptions; an anti-viral pill, a pain-killer, and an anti-itch powder.  I returned home armed with my prescriptions.  I was relieved to gain the appropriate medicine, but by this point, I was pretty hungry, so I met up with BreAnna and Elise for lunch.  Then, I headed off to babysit for Jade.  However, the pain was still haunting me, and I could only take the pain killer twice a day (once in the morning, once in the evening), so I was waiting until it was nearer to my bed time.

After explaining to Jade that I was in serious pain, she suggested I just relax on the couch.  I tried working on my computer, but I was still in pain, so I took her advice and lay down.  I never intended to fall asleep, certainly not while I was supposed to be babysitting a 6-year old, but I lost consciousness.  I woke up suddenly to find Dr. Trader and Jade debating whether or not I was alive.  Apparently, I scared Dr. Trader because he told me I woke up with blood-shot eyes, and as I tried to get off the couch, I kept wincing.  It was time to take the pain medication.

I mixed the powdery pain-killer into water, took a sip, and nearly spit it out.  It was a vile mixture that made me gag as I attempted to drink it.  After watching me force part of the drink down, Dr. Trader got me a spoon-full of honey.  Mary Poppin’s advice wouldn’t work in this case.  Sugar can’t coat the tongue in the same way honey does, and I was able to slowly consume the rest of the medicine.  Then, the pain left.  It didn’t completely go away, but diminished enough that I nearly cried.

Friday

I could relax.  I learned what was causing me pain, I got medication, and I knew the rash would soon heal.  I finally cried, sobbing out the pent up fear and stress I had been carrying all week.

Update:

The shingles are officially healed.  I still have a slight rash, but the medication was only for 14 days.  The rash is slowly disappearing, and other than a bit of itching and a few pricks of pain, I’m fine.

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A country where we can buy Alcohol

-Drinking and smoking are the two main socialization activities of young adults and students in Hungary.

-Bars/Cafes are the main hang out places at night

-We decided to try a Lemon Bacardi Breezer Rum Refesher (a wine cooler of sorts). Separately, we determined that the Lemon Bacardi Breezer smells and tastes like Lemon Cleaning Fluid. Eeeeeew.

-Later, we sipped at an orange version of the Bacardi Breezer with better results.

-BreAnna thought the Chardonnay was ok, and I couldn’t drink more than a few sips (I can’t stand strong alcohol)

-However, I have actually found an alcoholic drink I enjoy; orange juice mixed with Malibu.

-Finally, opening a wine cork sometimes draws blood (please see Vegetarian Guylás).

Jan-May, 2012

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Tonight I performed a martial arts demonstration in front of some 100-150 people.  Alone.  As a bit of background, I’ve studied Tang Soo Do for about 12 years.  Tang Soo Do is a Korean martial arts style over 2,000 years old, and is closely related to Tae Kwon Do.  I study under Grand Master Young Ui Min at Min’s Karate in Camp Hill, PA.  My mother runs a preschool karate class called Mini Dragons which my sisters and I help teach.  My father doesn’t do karate because he says, “I have you girls to protect me.”

This wasn’t my first demonstration.  I’ve been a member of the Min’s Karate Demonstration Team for about 6 years.  You can see one of our more recent videos HERE, although the end is cut off because the camera battery died.  Being a demo team member has given me plenty of experience, and I’ve been on stage alone before.  However, each time I was on stage, I had the rest of the demo team nearby, providing support.

Tonight was my first demonstration alone.  We had an International Dinner at the college where I’m studying abroad, McDaniel Europe Budapest Campus.  The dinner involved food from the different countries and a talent show.  Two days ago, I finally decided to sign up for the talent show portion, and wound up with the opening act spot.  BreAnna nearly fell out of her chair, laughing, when I told her.

So, at 6pm this evening I arrived ready to go, full of adrenaline and nerves.  They were soon tamed as the minutes plodded by and there was no announcement for the talent show.  I couldn’t do more than nibble at the multitude of available foods because my stomach was a mess.  I tried inconspicuously stretching in a corner, but the room was extremely crowded and I didn’t want to draw attention (yet).  Finally, close to 7pm, they announced that we had 5 minutes.  I’d been ready to perform since I got myself dressed in sweats at 5:00.  I was very nervous, but I had chosen two forms that I am very familiar with, so I wasn’t overly worried.

I stood in front of a room full of people talking about who knows what.  So, I started yelling my introduction, and they started quieting down.  Trust me, I can shout over people if need be.  After I introduced myself and gave an introduction to my performance I began my first form.

I started going through the form’s motions, and moving across the floor towards the multitudes staring at me.  There was a lot of chatter, which annoyed me because I’m used to people being relatively quiet during a performance.  When I was a few feet from the audience, I threw my kick and kiyaped.  Surprise!  Everyone began freaking out.  There was a lot of laughter and so many eyebrows dancing across the room that I turned and screwed the form up.

I was so shocked by the audience’s reaction that I did the wrong step.  This is unusual because I generally don’t have trouble during a performance.  The misstep didn’t worry me, and I improvised to get back on track (although it reduced the amount of room I could move in).  I returned to the correct form, and continued, expecting the noise to die down, but it continued and each time I screamed there was shocked laughter.  The talking never stopped, in fact they began to talk louder, so I began to increase the volume of my keyap.  I finally completed the first form and bowed to a wave of applause.  The positive reception felt amazing, but I wasn’t finished yet.

Since I didn’t want to take up too much time I had to shout over the chatter to bring the students’ attention back to my act.  I gave a brief explanation about using everyday items as replacements for the weapons that we’re trained to wield.  The point of this was to clarify why I was using a fork for a knife form.  Mainly it was because the person who I talked to about the demonstration wasn’t comfortable with the idea of me using a butter knife.  So, I compromised and used a fork, promising not to kill anyone.

As I started my form there was still a large amount of chattering, and as I keyaped, once again, people were startled.  Across the room from me, people flinched.  Maybe they weren’t expecting the intensity or concentration I displayed.  I don’t claim to be amazing at martial arts, I’m pretty average, but perhaps there were people who hadn’t seen a demonstration.  Maybe to them, I was a kick-ass black belt stepping out of the movies into real life (maybe I’m dreaming).  I know the room held people from all around the world, Spain, Iran, Germany, China, Norway, Israel, Japan, etc.  I don’t know how popular martial arts is in other countries, or exactly what the students were expecting when I announced I was doing karate.  Martial arts is often viewed as a male sport, and I’m a small female.  My appearance isn’t intimidating, until I start doing karate.

The talking, however was still annoying, and didn’t just color my act, it continued into other acts.  Most of the audience was polite during the performances, but the few people that were talking really bothered me.  It particularly annoyed me when they were talking during music acts.  A student played Bach on his violin, and people were talking!  It was a group of guys in the back of the room who were being rude, and inconsiderate.  If they were so bored, they should have just left.  There wasn’t a moment of solely violin music, for every second there was an unwanted vocal accompaniment.  I felt bad for the guy.  If I was unnerved by the constant chatter through my performance, which in normal performances evokes some surprise and laughter, then how did he feel, playing his violin and hearing people talk?

Overall, I very much enjoyed the talent show.  I had fun demonstrating Tang Soo Do as a representative of Min’s Karate and a representative of the U.S.  The acts that followed me were amazing, except a slapped-together, albeit funny version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  It was funny solely because it was uncoordinated and the guys weren’t serious about it.  The final act was my favorite.  A group of guys, I believe from Spain, put together a brilliant and funny act.  They used black sheets to make it seem as though there were three midgets dancing on a table.  Two people made up one midget.  The front person became the midget’s head and chest.  He used his arms as legs with shoes on his hands.  The back person slid his arms through the front person’s sweater to give the midget arms and hands.  The black sheets prevented us from seeing the back person, effectively completing the illusion of three midgets dancing on a table.  Then, they went through a selection of songs, moving and dancing about.  It was hilarious and very well coordinated, particularly since the midgets could slow-motion jump or float at will.

March 1, 2012

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Hungarian Structures

How Hungarians Structure Apartments:

– Apartment buildings are built above stores. The doors for these apartment buildings are nestled in between storefronts. Their grays, blacks and browns cause the doors to disappear between shiny groceries and bright cafes.  In order to reach the actual apartment doors, you have to enter the building, and climb up stairs to emerge onto a floor’s balcony.  The floors’ balconies encircle a courtyard, and around the balconies are the apartment doors. It’s unnerving to consider the thin metal that provides us with an entrance and exit for our apartment. The guardrail looks sturdy enough, but I won’t be crashing into it simply for a test run.

Sketch-Tastic Elevators!

– Appear to have the innate ability to break down at any point…. good luck

Architecture Making us Feel Small

– Hungarians love ridiculously high ceilings. Our apartment has an extra 1/3 height that will never be used.

You'd need 3 of me to reach the ceiling

– They’re also partial to doors that are not only tall, but heavy.  Even the bathroom doors at McDaniel Budapest are skyscrapers.  I spent nearly a full minute staring at the bathroom door the first time I saw it because I had to be sure it was actually the one I wanted.

BreAnna vs the Massive Bathroom Door

Jan-May, 2012

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Ms. Feline

On the second day in our new apartment, we encountered the feline tenant.  Tromping down the final few steps of our apartment’s drafty staircase, BreAnna and I paused when we spotted a cat occupying the courtyard doorway.  With little time to spare, we passed by, earning a nasty glare.  The prissy kitty was ensuring we didn’t tread on her toes or mash her tail.

It seems to me that Hungarians tend keep to themselves and they minimize interactions with strangers.  Even the dogs walking through the city, whether they trot on a leash or wander a block ahead of their owners, go about their business ignoring the human traffic parting to either side.  A slightly curious dog may extend a sniff in the direction of a particular foreigner, but they rarely approach strangers for pets.  I have met a few dogs that were inclined to request my attention, providing an opportunity to exchange smiles with a stranger.

I figured that the cat’s disdain seemed to fit the Hungarian mood.  However, after passing by the feline sentry 3 days in a row, I decided it couldn’t hurt to say hi.  I squatted down and waited.  She stared at me, ears flattened.  Suddenly her legs straightened, sending a stretch down her back to her rear.  Poised in the air, her tail dropped, relaxing her body and releasing from her mouth a massive squeak which zipped passed me and fired around the room.  I nearly fell over in shock.

Trotting from her doorway post she immediately wound herself by me, expressing perhaps the first friendly Hungarian interaction after a week of being in Hungary.  I’ve found that my feline friend keeps odd ours, and I never know if she’ll be at home to greet me or out prowling about the city.  When I open the building door, I always glance about in hopes that I’ll see the crafty cat.  If I’m lucky enough that our schedules allow us to meet, I know to expect the cat’s special meow, her ridiculous squeak.

Jan-May, 2012

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Out of all the people I’ve had to leave at home, my puppy dog was one of the most difficult.  My dog Angel is a border collie, and I miss her terribly.  When I came home from college this past December for winter break with all of my stuff, I could tell she was confused.  Believe me, she’s a smart puppy, and knows very well that the boxes of supplies and college tools leave in fall and don’t return until spring.  As I began to pack my suitcase for the flight in January (I pack way ahead of time), she was inconsolable.  Usually she lazily trots behind me, or relaxes while watching me race around the house.  When I pulled my suitcase out and began washing clothes her nose magically glued itself to my heels.  I couldn’t turn around without tripping over her.  My puppy shadow turned into a puppy can’t-leave-me-behind.  I felt terrible, and I wasn’t leaving for another 3 weeks.

I completed most of my packing ahead of time, adding a few items as the days passed, and Angel settled a little.  Only a little, mind you, because any time I headed out the door she frantically glanced to ensure my suitcase wasn’t with me.  The final week at home was day after day of incessantly packing items that I’d been waiting upon, stressing over baggage limits, and judging what to take and what was unnecessary.  Angel was once again stuck as close to me as possible without actually standing on me.

During the school year, I return home at least one weekend each month.  There’s also school breaks and minor opportunities to see my Angel.  However, with a 4 month stretch ahead of us, I didn’t know how to promise her I would return again.  I figured it would be good for her to have a safety-blanket of sorts.  She’s been with me for 9 years, and knows I come home, however I’ve never left her completely for more than a few weeks.  My parents discouraged stuffed animals as puppy toys (they didn’t want the dogs chewing on our actual stuffed animals), but I wasn’t sure she’d like a blanket.  Besides, I didn’t want to BUY her a toy that smelled like a store and not me.  I knew she needed something with my scent.

I decided to sew her a pillow.  I’ve had some experience sewing pillows, although the design I wanted to create was a bit different, and it didn’t turn out perfect.  It doesn’t matter that the heart design is overly lopsided, what matters is that it was functional and that she saw me making it.  Being stuck to my leg, she was there as I picked out the material from my vast collection, cut out the patterns, pinned the pieces, and sewed everything together.  Finally, I stuffed the pillow and presented to her.  Initially, she wasn’t overly interested in it, but since I’ve been gone, she’s been sleeping with it most nights.  I’m incredibly happy, but also terribly sad because I miss her a ton.

It’s especially difficult here in Budapest where many people own dogs.  I pass a variety of dogs each day, and for the most part they ignore me.  A lot of dogs are walked off-leash in Budapest, and the dogs are well trained; they’re within their owner’s sight, and generally ignore other people and dogs.  It’s also difficult because I can’t walk up to someone and say, “Can I pet your dog?” because there’s a 50% chance they won’t understand me and a 99% chance I’ll feel that I’m being a bother.

So, when my friend Clare announced that she had two dogs, I was thrilled to indulge in some doggie interactions, aka puppy love.

I truly believe that happiness is found in a warm puppy, and I found happiness with Judae and Buddy.

Clare’s dogs, Judae and Buddy provided plenty of comfort and attention.  Even though seeing them made me miss Angel even more, it also helped a great deal.  I hope to have many opportunities to visit Clare, Judae and Buddy.  BreAnna and I already had some puppy healing time (cuddle time), and puppy play time at the park.  Here are some photos:

Feb 23-26, 2012

BreAnna and Judae

Buddy

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