Winter School 2009 & the Buttered Cat Paradox

Winter School 2009 took place last weekend in the national park of the Karkonosze Mountains, Poland. The First Years and anybody else who chose to attend, were put up in two huts, Samotnia and Strzecha, located 500 metres from each other, with the nearest city of Karpacz situated a good 1.5 hour walk through the snow-covered mountains. Given the circumstance, making a quick and painless get-away from the place is near impossible. The logic then for the remote choice of location, as explained by Poldi, is somewhat tautological: Making a quick and painless get away from the Winter School is near impossible. The resulting corollary is that everyone must spend all their time with each other. If you have any doubts about such a model of integration, of forced companionship amongst poor, unsuspecting students from all possible backgrounds, the Winter School is the place to be. Surprisingly enough, the model works.

Walking in Karkonosze

Successfully into its Second Year, the School continues to be a place of great learning alongside intellectual and physical stimulation for its participants. Informally however, it has has been in existence for a much longer time. A strong indicator of its continuing popularity is the fact that students and teachers alike have unabashedly fallen in love with the place, expressing ardent wishes for a continued association with it: these range widely from wanting to be buried there to wanting to be married in the hallowed precincts of Samotnia. Although wry bystanders have marked there might not be much difference between the two.

The On-going trials and tribulations of an Austrian-American living in Japan

(Written originally as an email and adapted slightly for posting here)
Greetings from the east side (of the world). Hope everything is going well over in the Occident, life is rocking over here. I’m loving it here and am seriously contemplating staying for two years. Anyway, there is weird and bizarre shit going on all the time around here, I never quite know what to expect…I figure I should stay the second year so that by that time i can hopefully have some sort of idea of what’s going on around me 🙂 At any rate, I’ve been here 2 months now and it has been really good.
So, getting on with business–some more general observations that I have made in this country, made mostly through the fact that every day of my life here is some ridiculous new experience which is only made that much better by the fact that I can’t really understand what people are talking about half the time.
1. The Japanese have totally got it figured out when it comes to making life convenient. One of the best things ever is that the ATM machines balance your bank book for you. People don’t really write checks here so they don’t have checkbooks, but everyone has a bankbook and you just insert the book into the machine and it balances all your transactions for you. Amazing. Life is so convenient sometimes. Less convenient however, is that ATM’s close at 9pm. Who ever heard of an ATM closing????? Also I love that they come up with the wonderfully convenient idea of balancing your checkbook for you, but then inconvenience you with the fact that you can never use the ATM when you want to. Ahh Japan.
2. The fashion in this country is out of control!!!! I cannot even describe this to you, only seeing is believing in terms of the crazy shit people wear around here. They are all about the layering of totally weird clothes that don’t really go together, which sometimes is pretty cool-very funky and eclectic–and sometimes is just a hot ghetto mess from top to bottom.

The trials and tribulations of an Austrian-American in Japan

(This article was written originally as an email and has been modified only slightly for publication here. It is written in a somewhat hyperbolic, jesting tone and is meant to both amuse and inform).

So I have been living in Japan for about a week now, and am sort of starting to figure some things out. There have definitely been some moments of absolute confusion in which I just stare blankly at whomever is trying to explain something to me, but overall it has been ok. I don’t have internet yet, which is inconvenient, but I can use internet at the school where I’m teaching so it’s not too bad. I also got a cell phone which is totally sweet and does a bunch of absolutely ridiculous and unnecessary things that I haven’t quite figured out yet since the manual is all in Japanese. From what I’ve been able to figure out, there’s a camera, a radio, and a GPS system on it. Yaaaay for technology that I don’t understand!

Alright, as we all know, Japan is famous for its kooky game shows and wacky fashions so it should come as no surprise that things have been a little crazy. Here are a few of my initial observations:

1. EVERYTHING in this country is backwards. Water faucets turn on in the wrong direction; people drive on the wrong side of the road, which has already resulted in quite a few near-death experiences due to the fact that my little Austrian-American mind is seemingly incapable of comprehending the dynamics of left-side driving and the corresponding road-crossing survival techniques; people take off their shoes backwards, meaning they turn around and slip backwards out of their shoes thereby facilitating a quick get-away when putting their shoes back on (apparently this is important in a country where shoes get taken off and put on approximately 64 times a day); people back into parking spaces rather than pulling in from the front because it supposedly makes leaving easier and faster…is anyone else sensing a pattern of behavior geared toward making a quick a get-away as possible? Hmm, sehr interessant…

2. Roads don`t have names, which is the most irritating thing on earth. It results in a lot of confused directions, and having to draw maps for people so that they know where to go. Also, giving directions is always done in the form of “you’ll see a big tree, turn right there and then there’s a big building with a pink sign where you will need to turn left…”. Yeah, this does not really make for the clearest of directions… I’m sure I will get lost many a time because, shockingly, there will presumably be more than one big tree at which I could turn right.