Brother Visited!

Recently my brother, Erik, visited us in Bucharest. It was cool to have a family member visit while living here. He certainly made the most of it. He ran a 10k, saw his nephew at an important development stage and also saw Dracula’s castle (Bran castle). Together we even added a brother’s trip to Rome as the icing on the cake.

My brother hides his adventurous side well. He let it out while here. The boldness to sign-up for a 10k in Romania should be commended. His international experience is limited and Romania is a country Americans do not typically know much about. As a first impression of the country, race organizers were not helpful at telling us where he should pick up his race gear. Finding his gear worked out fine, but it took some detective work on our part by using Facebook. And while running the race, during that exact hour of the day, a hard rain storm hit. So Erik’s first impression of Romania was that of being disorganized with a little bit of unpredictable weather added in.

Upon the race ending Erik spent time with his nephew. Frankly, every day in Bucharest Erik played with Isaac. As the dad I loved it (and Isaac’s mom did too)! Being an uncle is a nice spot in life and Erik is excellent at it. And according to Erik Dracula’s castle was fun 🙂

In the middle of Erik’s visit we got on a regional budget airline, Wizz Air, and flew to Rome. Fortunately for us I have two good friends living in Rome, Stacey Pollack and Adam Avni. These two lovebirds just got married the other day. While staying with our wonderful hosts we got so see both the touristy side of Rome and the local side. All of it was tremendous.

Erik, it was fun!!!

Photos below.

Coliseum at night.
Erik and I at the Coliseum.
View of the Romun Forum ruins from Palatine Hill.
This is Erik. Enjoying what he called, “the best Italian dinner he ever had.”
Erik and I eating the same dinner.
Me, drinking a chocolate coffee.
All four of us, from left to right, Stacey, me, Erik and Adam.
All four of us from left to right, Stacey, Adam, me and Erik.

 

Stacey and me.
View of the Arch of Constantine from the Coliseum.
Window in the Coliseum.

time with family

As life continues its course, we evolve. One of the benefits I see from moving to Romania for one year is spending time as a family unit. Each day I get to spend more time with my son and wife. On top of that the unplanned meeting of unknown family members has even happened – while in Oslo, Norway. All this merges to be a fantastically privileged spot in life.

Right now our son is at his school/nursery/daycare/kindergarten/gradinita – I have found that each of these words is necessary to tell people he is in daycare. That happens with cross-cultural communication. I refer to it as his school in day-to-day conversations. The reason being, he learns a whole lot while there. He has learned manners, saying ‘please’ or ‘thank you,’ how to share, how to be open to new experiences, and much more. Simply put, our young boy’s smile and fun personality contribute to a wonderful life for me. School has helped that. Each day I get time to play with him. Lately Legos are his thing.

Spending time with my wife is another added benefit. Each day we get to know each other at a deeper level. This has its positives and negatives 🙂 At the foundational level we mesh well. The positive aspect of our desire to experience all life has to offer works out. I bet on the surface it appears that we get along perfectly. I can tell you that we do to a point. As with most relationships, this requires tough conversations about what we are each thinking and then discovering potential gaps of knowledge we happen to take for granted. For example, she commonly hears me speak of my career aspirations. From the way I speak a reasonable person such as her would think I equally have 20 to 30 different directions I may go. But the truth is I have only a handful. So I need to communicate that to her rather than assume she can read my mind. Living in a foreign country together has slowly, but surely, improved my ability to communicate with her. Although the improvement may be marginal. It is there nonetheless.

A wonderful added benefit while living here is that our trips around Europe allow the chance to meet European family members. I got the chance to meet some of Brooke’s relatives in Naples, Italy. In fact, recently we were in Oslo. I happened to post on Facebook that we were in Norway and my cousin Susan said I have family members there. Of course, I already knew that I have Norwegian ancestors. But I did not know modern day relatives are in touch. This kind of thing can easily be passed over. So as a nice twist of fate I have also been able to meet extended relatives, I did not know about, in Oslo.

Traveling together has been quite a highlight. However, with all this family togetherness there are some downfalls. I can be quite annoying when spending 24×7 with me. Fortunately, there are other areas of focus for us. It is a lot of hard work and we get better at it every day.

Below are photos, mostly our boy.

 

A visit to Italy

When you visit Italy be ready for pasta and a friendly atmosphere.

A few weeks ago we visited Naples (Napoli), Italy. Brooke is a lucky lady, she has family there for us to visit. So we did the obvious thing. Stayed with them! Kindness from Brooke’s welcoming family members had no limit. Every meal had multiple courses along with good conversation. They even gave up their bedroom for our son to get some sleep. He tends to go to bed around 7:30 PM and we all wanted to stay up later than that. It was certainly a home away from home.

Near Naples you’ll find more famous Italian locations. It was a pleasure to have the chance for day trips to Pompeii and Sorrento.

The reason many of us have heard of Pompeii is that a volcanic eruption in the 1st century AD captured people frozen in ash. Pompeii is so much more than people captured in volcanic ash. At one time it was a large city. The eruption not only froze people in ash it also captured Roman life at the turn of the century. In the photos below you’ll see streets made of rock that are lined with the homes of Romans. There was even an arena in this city. Such an incredible piece of history.

Sorrento is a city along the Mediterranean. When I think of Italy, I now realize I am picturing Sorrento. A small city with a nice coastline, skinny streets and mopeds.

In Naples I saw plenty of Italian fashion on the people there. Look out Seattle hipsters! These guys have style. Perhaps that is why Brooke bought a fancy pants Italian coat. If you get to Naples I suggest not only checking out the fashion, but also trying the gelato and pizza. Both are notably amazing. Wonderful!

In any case, here are some photos. More to come.

Our son finding a rock in Pompeii’s arena
Naples
Naples
Sorrento
Sorrento
Pompeii
Pompeii
Pompeii
Pompeii
Pompeii
Pompeii
Pompeii
Pompeii
Pompeii

Touring Romania: The Danube Delta and a Citadel

Being a long-term visitor in a country allows us to soak it all in. In recent trips I was able to visit the Danube Delta and a citadel officially from the 1300’s (some date it back to the 1200’s). The natural beauty of Romania is tremendous.

Appreciate the Danube Delta

Calling it a biosphere is fitting. Situated where the Danube flows into the Black Sea is the Danube Delta. It sits in Romania, yet it does provide a natural border between Romania and Ukraine. I was privileged to visit and ride around in a boat with an amateur photographer.

Some call the Delta a bird-watchers paradise. But when it comes to seeing animals my timing for a visit was a bit off. In September it is typical for much of the wildlife to have already begun its winter migration. I did get a chance to see a number of pelicans, which I took as a treat.

It was the first and, possibly only visit I’ll have to the region. I count myself as being lucky.

Cool European architecture

In Rasnov there is a citadel some say was built between 1211 – 1215, although the first evidence of it being documented relates to a Tatar invasion in 1335. Who was it built by? Romanians! In the Bran Valley there are other fortifications such as Bran castle. The reason for a concentration of fortifications is that this area was a primary spot to defend against invaders. It is a treat to visit places oozing with this type of history. In fact, Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, led the country’s defense from these locations among others.

You’ll notice in the photos the citadel has much to it. There are a lot of buildings inside. During battles/wars villagers would live inside. In a very serious sense this is how people survived an invasion.

 

How do you encourage innovation in an authoritarian culture?

Introduction: Part of the culture in a post-authoritarian regime is the acceptance that things are just the way they are, no change will occur. People can feel powerless. To illustrate this concept we can use examples I have seen in Bucharest, Romania. The two are:

  1. An acceptance of poor service in the postal system
  2. An acceptance of corruption in medical services
House of Parliament in Bucharest

Post office example: I have encountered an acceptance that the postal service is just going to be unreliable. Here is what happened. A family relative sent a package to our address in Bucharest well over a month ago. It has not arrived. When informing Romanians of this issue, I received a horrified look and a statement that the package will either never arrive or may arrive in a number of months (if we are lucky). Moreover, according to locals, it turns out that postal workers will open our package and steal whatever they want with no consequences.

Medical services example: This is an area of great concern. Again, this information is second hand and taken by word of mouth from Romanians. I have been told the public hospitals’ doctors commonly require bribes to operate on a person or simply administer basic care. Apparently when someone needs a surgery we will need to ask other patients what the doctor’s bribe amount is to get medical attention. In terms of priorities. The post office can take second fiddle to medical care. People’s lives are on the line with this issue.

To be clear all of this activity in both examples is illegal, but no one is punished. The problem is people have accepted both as standard. So when there is such a deeply accepted way of life, that the postal service is corrupt, that doctors need to be bribed, what can be done? How can such a deeply rooted element be separated out from others and changed? How can people see that an accepted standard may need to be updated? To inquire on this topic I decided to look into characteristics of the business innovation culture and see if there are possible solutions.

Here is a list of innovation business culture characteristics from a Forbes article (https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenwunker/2015/07/29/5-strategic-big-businesses-use-to-build-a-culture-of-innovation/#101b16b740eb) .

List A

  1. Understand the different types of innovation that you’re trying to foster
  2. Empower champions to push back against bouncers (Friendly spaces to test…ideas, while also providing a level of protection against managers who are charged with focusing on the core.)
  3. Redefine metrics and incentives
  4. Give employees the tools they need to make their case

I found a list of post-authoritarian regime culture patterns. A sampling of key characteristics are below that seemingly apply to Romania. (To research characteristics for cultures in the aftermath of authoritarian rule I referenced the book Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies. Here is a link https://books.google.ro/books?id=H5lCtdhe8scC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false. )

List B

  1. Great uncertainty about outcomes
  2. Fear about the possibility of an authoritarian regression
  3. Constant flux in how the rules…are defined

While reviewing these two lists it appears we may have a fit. For instance, we can put List A: 1 with List B: 1 and 2. Those in charge must understand the innovation to foster. That combined with fear about the possibility of an authoritarian regression and constant flux in rules leads to a potential option. The government can begin a campaign to reduce these two unknowns and reduce these fears. If it is clear the country will not revert to authoritarianism and rules become consistent; then people will have a stable predictable environment. Confidence in the future may be fostered.

Let’s get specific.

Post office example continued: How do we get postal workers to do their job? One option would be to look at List A: 2 and 3. Empower champions while also providing new metrics and incentives. These two can be merged. Provide incentives to reduce mail theft and on-time delivery. On top of that champions in charge of making this change can give a stronger push toward success. In the example from the Forbes’ article success is more likely if the organization picks out a test location for a case study. Once the test locale works out the organization can implement the new policy with a recent success story. That provides buy in, evidence it should work, and therefore a valid reason to forge forward with change.

Medical services example continued: What can be done to reduce the culture of bribery in the medical sector? It may be similar to the post office example. Then again this might be an issue of List A: 3 and 4. Doctors may lack an incentive to refrain from asking for bribes. It may also be a factor that doctors need tools to make the case. Or in other words increased salaries may make the case. Have a look at this Vice article: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kwpzq3/why-are-romanian-doctors-leaving-the-country Doctors are not asking for extra cash out of malicious intent to hurt those most in need. Salaries are low. Another way to reduce corruption is to raise salaries, reducing an incentive to ask for bribes. As can be seen from the article medical services issues in Romania are much more complex than bribes and corruption.

Conclusion: I wish I had the answers. Perhaps raising awareness of these difficulties is all I can do. These topics are tough to write about. On the one hand I genuinely want circumstances to improve for Romanians. On the other hand I don’t want to offend by saying it could be better when many Romanians have accepted this way of life. In no way do I believe I know best. I do think Romanians would have a better life if innovation is attempted to combat the legacy of authoritarian culture.

Genuine Interest in a Topic Really Really Really Really Matters A LOT

Before we set off for Romania a large amount of people asked if we would study Romanian. Immediately I would respond with a “Yes, however fluency in the language is not what I’m after.” That statement of mine has come to fruition. I can say hello, thank you and a few other phrases in Romanian. I can even understand a few. Through the process of using mobile apps, books, blogs and internet sites the language has come to be more familiar than before. Yet after a month my interest in learning Romanian has already decreased.

From what I can tell there are two major reasons to lose interest in studying the language where a person lives; lack of necessity to learn it and interests being pulled other directions.

Flat out, there is no necessity to learn Romanian. Each day I have gotten by using English and other means of communication. Getting to a level of conversational Romanian would take much more of my time than I am prepared to give. Moreover, it is not that hard to understand plenty of Romanian words and phrases when viewing written text. For instance, take a look at the photo of Romania’s National Institute of Statistics. As an English speaking person no translation is needed.

Time is valuable. With limited time to spend on this planet I want to do numerous activities. A funny turn of events occurred with language learning. In the past week I have started to study up on how to write Python code. This is the equivalent of learning another language. The truth is Python is a language I feel will add more value to my life going forward. I also am finding a genuine interest in studying Python. I can’t say the same for Romanian.

It seems to me a lesson I have learned over and over in life is presenting itself again. Our interests will pull us in the direction we should go. So when it comes to studying a language not only do I need to see a long-term use (meaning beyond this year), I also need to have a genuine interest. As a result, another language has jumped in and supplanted Romanian. That language is Python. I see this as having more long-term use and more interesting. Funny how life has a way of doing this kind of thing to us.

Quick Post: Youtube is the cross-cultural communicator

Yesterday I visited the butcher. The same butcher Brooke mentioned in her post the other day. This was the experience.

Before going I knew the three items to purchase:

  1. Cow bones (to make broth)
  2. Ground beef
  3. Ribeye steaks

Prior to going I asked Brooke how she purchased ground meat. I knew the right word and everything. This made it easy for items 1 and 2 above. Item 3 is where it got interesting.

To order the ribeye I did research on what word Romanians use. It is referred to as a ribeye or cowboy (bone-in) cut of meat. It can be ordered at restaurants and, menus even use this exact terminology. As I should have expected the workers at the butcher had no idea what I was talking about. What we have here is a perfect example of a communication barrier. The question: how do we bridge it?

In these circumstances the best way for me to communicate is visual. So body language is useful. But also videos and pictures. I found this video on youtube to show what I wanted. It is a butcher carving every steak from an entire cow. In it you will see the ribeye at minute 11:27. Armed with this video I was able to show the butcher where in a cow’s ribcage the steak comes from. It is not an exaggeration to say as soon as the butcher saw the video, me gesticulating at the steak video and all the other shenanigans a lightbulb illuminated in his mind. He put his finger in the air, gave an “ah ha!” and ran to the back. In his hands was a large piece of meat. It had all the rib bones removed since these are used for soup broth in Romania.

One other point about the steaks, cost. It only cost $6 (23 lei) for four steaks. Total weight of approximately 2 pounds.

All in all – Good times! The steaks are aging now. Tomorrow night we eat.

 

 

Bucharest by Bike

An image many of us hold about Europe: people traveling about the city by bicycle. Typically, this is a person in the Netherlands, even politicians ride to work there. In Eastern Europe let’s introduce another side of this story. Yes, people ride bikes. Except it is more like NYC than the Netherlands. Cars speed right past within inches and at a number of locations there is no sidewalk or bike lane.

Where there are bike lanes, designated paths and obvious ways to get around (which is about half the time) it is phenomenal. About a week ago I bought a bike from a local guy here in Bucharest. His name is Florin. I met up with him near his home in Sector 3. The ride back home took me on a five-mile route providing a nice tour of the city.

It started in Old Town. An area the gives the look of what we envision for Europe. Old architecture with detailed design and cobble stone streets. While riding I had the thought come to mind that this is what I want. That cool European essence from classic buildings.

After leaving Old Town I had an abrupt change of scenery. The Soviet-era architecture here is such a sharp contrast to the classic European style that it almost gave me whiplash. At this point, I had a realization, the Soviet imagery mixed with European is a great way to describe Bucharest.

To this building’s left is the Soviet bloc apartment below

The city has two, if not multiple, stories behind each unique element. In this case I am only speaking of architecture. This topic could easily include more than Soviet and old Europe, but I’ll stick to that. When in a traffic circle a person can see a Soviet-era bloc apartment building, turn 45 degrees left, and see a beautiful French-style building. This is due to heavy French influence at one point in the past.

As I rode north leaving the traffic circles with eyesores and beauty next to each other I came upon acres of green-space. Parks in Bucharest are a highlight. The rest of my ride was full of large trees, green grass, wide bike lanes and a cool Eastern Europe evening.

Bucharest is a complicated city. At the same time as having picturesque French architecture and wonderful parks it also has its Soviet past. This creates a country and culture not quite sure what it is at this time. Is it more a beautiful western European city or is it a post-Soviet gray eyesore? At this moment it is somewhere in the middle. My thought is that as time passes between the present and that Soviet past Bucharest will work its way back to beautiful.

[a few more photos]

While facing this direction turn left and you will see the picture below
Soviet style building.

Me on my ride.

Want to lose half an inch off your waistline?!

Want to lose half an inch off your waistline?! (heat, walking around and food quality)

We have been here two weeks. A phenomenon has been observed. Brooke first brought it up. From the fit of our clothing, we noticed each has lost about an inch off our waistline. After throwing ideas around with Brooke, there are three likely reasons; heat, walking all over the place and food quality.

Isaac is in love with ice cream. First, he adoringly gazes.

In my earlier post the heat was brought up. Yes, it was 90 to 100+ Fahrenheit each day. But we have adapted. Here is a screenshot of the temperature on August 3rd.

That was our second day here. It was toasty. That said, it didn’t have too big of an impact on us. Except for when we walk around…

Then he eyes it up. Gets a strong idea of how good it will taste. Eats it!

Walking in our neighborhood is currently the best way to get around. Once we get bikes we will be riding for our errands. Until then, we are walkers!! While getting our ~ 10,000 steps a day, we are shedding those pounds. As many of you know we need to go for walks with our dog, Jethro. He really needs it. We also walk the area to learn the neighborhood and city. We walk to get household goods (which can be difficult to figure out). Lastly, we walk to get food…

Gets bored with it and goes to the grassy park nearby.

Food! This is different in Bucharest and, quite frankly, Europe. Different standards are in place. Almost every other day (maybe closer to every day) I have had a chocolate croissant, or in Romanian, corn cu ciocolata, or a lot of labels use French so they say pains au chocolat. The taste is different. The cause for the different taste? The flavor is simply chocolate and bread. No added corn oils. No added dyes. To me the flavor is much better and more to the point, the food is a healthier. Another factor with food is portion sizes. We have stopped to get ice cream a few times now. The portion size for a scoop is around ¼ the U.S.

This is an example of packaged chocolate croissants. The freshly baked ones (not pictured) are what I have been eating.

Not everyone is able to jump from the U.S. to Europe for a year. So most cannot do the ‘leave the U.S. for a year weight loss program.’ The point is we notice differences. The impact on our bodies is great. And Isaac loves the foods, especially the ice cream.