December 2, 2004

‘I do, I do’ — but not yet: More Americans putting off marriage

The Associated Press
Updated: 6:50 p.m. ET Dec. 1, 2004

WASHINGTON - It used to be common for men and women to get a marriage certificate not too long after collecting their high school diplomas. Not anymore.

Census Bureau figures for 2003 show that a third of men and nearly a quarter of women ages 30 to 34 have never been married, nearly four times the rates in 1970.
It’s further evidence that young people are focusing on education and careers before settling down and beginning families, experts say. Societal taboos about couples’ living together before marriage also have eased, said Linda Waite, a sociologist at the University of Chicago.
Jeni Landers, 30, a law student from Boston, said she considered living together a requirement before saying “I do.”

“I don’t know how people got married before living together first,” said Landers, who moved in with her fiancé after getting engaged nearly a year ago. “This is crucial to see how you get along.”

‘They see it sort of as dessert’ Data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey released this week show that the age at which someone typically married for the first time rose from 20.8 for women and 23.2 for men in 1970 to 25.3 and 27.1, respectively, last year.
In 1970, only 6 percent of women 30 to 34 had never been married; the figure was 23 percent in 2003. The rate for never-married men in the same age group rose from 9 percent to 33 percent.

Among younger women, 36 percent of those 20 to 24 had never been married in 1970; last year it was 75 percent. Among men in that age group, the change was nearly as dramatic: 55 percent in 1970 to 86 percent last year.

“The majority of people still want to get married, but they see it sort of as dessert now, something that’s desirable rather than necessary,” said Dorion Solot, executive director of the Alternatives to Marriage Project, based in Albany, N.Y., which aims to fight discrimination based on marital status and to seek equality and fairness for unmarried people.

“People want to be more sure that they don’t make a marriage mistake,” Solot said.
Meanwhile, societal pressures to marry before having children have decreased, said Thomas Coleman, executive director for Unmarried America, based in Glendale, Calif., which also promotes equality for unmarried people. Among the group’s concerns are tax policies that it contends are stacked against single people.

Unmarried births also risingIn 2003, nearly 35 percent of all births were to unmarried women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That’s up from 11 percent in 1970, although the rate of increase has slowed since 1995, when 32 percent of births were out-of-wedlock. Births to unmarried teens have declined since the mid-1990s.

Meaghan Lamarre, 24, a research assistant in Providence, R.I., said she and her boyfriend of 10 months “are not in a big hurry to marry.” Lamarre’s focus is on work and getting into an Ivy League graduate program, possibly in public policy.

“There’s no time frame of when to get married. ... It’s not a goal,” said Lamarre, a member of the Alternatives to Marriage Project. “I’m not opposed to it, but I think I could live happily ever after without being married.”

That kind of talk disturbs David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, a pro-marriage organization based in New York. Blankenhorn said Lamarre’s philosophy was more of a concern to him than those who delayed marriage to focus on school or careers.
Compared with 1970, Blankenhorn said, “there is a sense that marriage has a less dominant role in our society and is less influential as a social institution.”

Having parents or other relatives who are divorced may also make some people in their 20s and 30s hesitant about entering into long-term relationships, said Dennis Lowe, a psychology professor at Pepperdine University in California who focuses on counseling for engaged and married couples.

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the U.S. divorce rate was 2.2 per 1,000 Americans in 1960; it rose steadily to 5.3 per 1,000 in 1981, but it has declined slowly since then, to 4 per 1,000 in 2001.

Census figures also show fewer Americans at older ages who have never been married. In 1970, 8 percent of people 65 and older had never married; now it’s 4 percent.

Landers, the Boston law student, said living with her fiancé was a “testing period” as both dealt with school and their careers. “We already knew what we had was concrete, but the actual act of getting engaged holds a lot of weight with a lot of other people,” she said.

Now there’s pressure to set a wedding date, although Landers said there was no immediate plan to do so.

“It drives people crazy,” she said.

November 28, 2004

Living in Spain - Late November 2004 Update

Dear Friends,

¡Hola! How are you? You probably haven’t heard from me for a while and were wondering, ‘I wonder how Ruby is doing in Barcelona?’ So, let me fill you in a little about what has been going on over here in the crazy, culture-filled city of Barcelona.

First, for those the might not know, I am a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar studying European and Middle Eastern studies at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. I arrived in late August and will stay until July to return to the US for graduate/law school.

The goal of the scholarship is not just studying, but building goodwill and better understanding between countries. Since that goal is very broad, my job is full-time. I am constantly representing the US and Texas throughout my daily life while living in my apartment, going to school, working, speaking at events, coordinating projects, having language exchange partners, and conversations at parties. It is a fun job actually and really love it.

It might help you understand my life a little if you rent, ‘L’Auberge Espagnole,’ (The Spanish Apartment) which is a French film that came out about a year ago about a French Erasmus (European exchange program) student who lives in Barcelona for a year and lives in a shared apartment with people from all over. It is translated as ‘Una Casa de Locos’ in Spanish. I watched the movie about 7 times before I came to help encourage me through all the paperwork and transition I was going to go through to make it to Barcelona for a year.

I live in a shared 6-bedroom apartment with 5 other flat mates with two bathrooms, only one of which works. I share a room with my husband, and then we have 3 Italians, one Spanish guy, and a German girl. It is quite interesting because you know how when you have ever had a roommate or flat mate before, there is always room for confusion/frustration, etc. Well, these people all speak another language other than English as a first language, so that is one place for added confusion and tension. I usually speak either Spanish or English with each one depending on their abilities. Plus, we all have different culture norms which might conflict.

Not to be stereotypical, but it appears I relate most with the German and her efficiency and organization. The Italians are great as well. I love their influence on the coffee I drink every morning (Italian espresso), and how I learn some new Italian recipes. On most occasions though, they can be loud and sometimes have very strong personalities. So basically everyday is like working at the UN.

My flat is on the Entresuelo, which in American terms means the first floor. Luckily, we have a lift/elevator.

In my immediate neighborhood, I have two grocery stores, two video stores, a Tabac shop (which sells stamps), a copy/fax store, and an Internet shop, all just less than a block from my flat.

I basically go to one of the two grocery stores everyday stocking up on whatever we ran out of the day before. Living here is not like living in America when you load up your car with a week or two of groceries at anytime of the day. Everyone lives in a flat (in the city), with small storage facilities (I have only 2.5 shelves in the fridge), and many people don’t use cars. You use a grocery tote cart. Everyone has them, so Burak bought us one.
Plus, the stores are open from 8/9am to 2pm then 5pm to 8/9pm, Monday through Saturday. So, I have to coordinate in my schedule when I can shop because some days I am at school until 9pm. Also, on the holidays everything is closed as well. So I constantly have to look ahead at the calendar and see if we need to stock up for a long weekend. We have one coming up soon! Because I go to the stores everyday, I basically know all the employees and when they work. I have the client (discount) card for three stores in town. I sort of like go to the stores because no one can buy too much, so the lines stay small and also I get to be amongst the community.

My university is a 50-minute commute one way every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The campus is really large and sits surrounded by a forest. It is always about 5 degrees colder than Barcelona, but full of fresh air. I have four classes; International Organizations, History of the European Government, Conflicts in the Middle East, and Demography. I have Catalan, Spanish, and international friends in all my classes. There are not a lot of Americans at my school, and I hang out with only one of them and the rest are non-American.

After a couple of months, I feel really comfortable there. I know how to check out a book, where to eat, which computer labs are the best, how to buy a print card, how to print a sheet at the computer lab, how to turn something into a teacher, where the teachers’ offices are, how to matriculate, how to pay for matriculation, where the movie theatre on campus is, etc. It takes a while to figure this stuff out. It is like being a freshman all over again, but in a different language.

I honestly think I haven’t written a nice, full update since maybe September (sorry about that). I think I need to go back and catch you up on all of that then.

We arrived in Barcelona on August 29, 2004.

In September, Burak and I were taking Spanish classes at a language school. Then we moved into our new apartment that was going to be our place for the next year. We spent a couple of weekends preparing it from shopping at IKEA to painting the room blue to reinforcing the L’s that keep our closet from falling from all the weight. This took about all the weekends of September. At the same time, I was studying for the LSAT to take in Madrid on October 2nd.

I also used this month to start up a Texas Exes (University of Texas) alumni chapter in Barcelona. I somehow bumped into several alumni in town so I have organized meetings once a month at different ethnic restaurants. We have done Mexican and Cuban and in December we are going to a Tex-Mex restaurant. It is really fun to meet up with other Texans once a month and see how their lives are here. I always learn something or gain a new perspective. It is also a nice little home-sickness treatment to be able to talk about streets, places, or restaurants in Austin, and this person you met in Spain knows what you are talking about.

In late September, Barcelona celebrated their patron saint with a long weekend of festivities. I spent the Friday running around to parades, human castle-building competitions, and the Picasso museum (which was free because of the holiday). I also went out that night into the center of town and I couldn’t believe that at 1am the entire Plaza Catalunya was filled with locals. I seriously had not seen that many Catalans/Spaniards in my entire life all together like I did in the early morning for this festival.

That same weekend, I attended a Rotary Scholar conference in Madrid and met a lot of the scholars in Spain. I continue to keep in touch with them and have planned out some trips to other parts of Spain while many have visited me in Barcelona.

I started school the very next week after the conference and took the first month to find good classes in Castellano that I wanted to take. Also, I used this month to find good friends, start an English-Spanish language exchange, and get adjusted to my university.

The first weekend of school, I went back to Madrid to take the 4 hour LSAT. It went alright and used the night after the test to celebrate that it was over with Burak and another girl I met in the test that day!

The rest of October was about adjusting to my school, apartment, new gym, new friends, attending my Rotary club, keeping up with my language exchange, and applying to law school. I found time to organize a 27th birthday party for Burak with a good group of people we had met in the last month and a half. A friend of a friend came to the party and said, ‘You have all these friends, and how long have you been in Spain?’ It made appreciate that we had found a nice group of people to enjoy our time here in a short time. Later in the month, I also took a 24-hour trip (couldn’t find a hostel) to Zaragoza for a festival with other exchange students. Somehow, I turned in seven law school applications before November 1st early submission deadline.

In October, I learned about my Rotary club and met my counselor for the first time. My club is located 50km from my city so this poses some logistical problems. My counselor picked me up for the 2-hour Wednesday lunch meeting and returned me back afterwards. During the ride, I learned that my counselor’s daughter is ‘Beth’, a famous Spanish singer from a hit TV talent show (similar to American Idol) a couple of years ago. She represented Spain in the Eurovision competition that same year.

When we arrived for the meeting, it was full of members because they heard I was coming. They all were very interested in this young, female Texan scholar. The meeting started late because the restaurant had to set up more tables and chairs for the full attendance. They were very welcoming, and presented me with beautiful flowers. I spoke briefly about myself in Spanish even though their meetings are conducted in Catalan.

Later in October, I was contacted by my scholarship coordinator in Chicago about a project to find housing for a family with a son that has a metabolic disease that was coming to Barcelona within a week to visit a special doctor. The family comes to Barcelona every 6 months to meet Dr. Manuela Martinez (Manuela Martinez Foundation). She is the only doctor in the world that has been successful in helping children with metabolic diseases.

The family had just learned that the Ronald McDonald House was full and they didn’t have a place to stay. I quickly went to a Rotary meeting to find a place we could open up to the family and also had an email sent out to all the Rotarians in Barcelona. I found a place and soon welcomed the family to the apartment showing them the grocery store and metro station. We also attended a Rotary meeting that same week where they told the club about this wonderful doctor and her foundation.

After learning about the doctor’s unique work, I am planning on making it my project of the year to help her out since she is running a clinic with very little funding and many families with sick children are flying in from all over the world to see her. The families must stay at a place with a kitchen available to prepare the special food for their children. They often can’t find cheap housing, because as a tourist town, all the places found on the internet are all marketed to those that can pay 500 euros for a week or something similar. If needed, a project of mine would be to find reliable, inexpensive housing with kitchens and elevator access for the families.

In early November, we had an Austin AIESEC friend visit us from London. We went out almost every night and I took her to Montserrat. This is a mountain about 50km from Barcelona that has an odd appearance and also holds a monastery and the patron Virgin Mary of Barcelona.

Also in November, I had two work opportunities open up. I currently teach twice a week (3 hours a week) for a language teaching company at a place of business. I teach two students English after their work. It is a great chance to learn about Catalan culture from my students. I also teach twice a week at a little elementary school. I teach 4 and 5 year olds English. They speak Catalan at home, learn Castellano at school, and now take an elective of English with me. They now know their colors, numbers, and a few body parts. I received no training for either job and mostly have to make up all my material on my own. Over all, it is very encouraging to watch all of my students progress over time and build a relationship with them. I had never been a teacher like this before over a consistent amount of time so I am really enjoying this. Also, I am forced to speak Spanish with my employers and am learning about working in a foreign country.

The second weekend of November, Burak and I flew to Lisbon, Portugal. My host sister from Belgium hosted us at her place that she shares with her director-boyfriend. Burak had an interview that weekend with an alumnus from Northwestern b-school. I used the opportunity to meet up with a Rotary Scholar in Lisbon. She showed us around most of the weekend and we had a great time with her visiting a castle, monastery, and running around the small, hilly streets. We also drank porto and ginja, ate the cream tart with its famous recipe only the monks know, and also some cod specialties. We used our English and Spanish to get around. I could read the Portuguese fairly well but the accent is so different from Spanish it was hard for them to understand me if I just spoke Spanish to get around. We even had time to watch my sister and her boyfriend’s play, all of it in Portuguese of course.

The last two weeks of November, have also been busy. Burak got a call from a school he had interviewed with in September. The school’s academic counselor had pneumonia and was returning the States. He had an interview on the 19th, started the job and replaced the old academic counselor at an American school in town on the 22nd, and was invited to several Thanksgiving parties later that week.

At the dinner on Thursday, I was talking to a spouse of teacher about my project with Dr. Martinez. I learned that he is a science writer for a group of newspapers in the US and after our conversation, is currently researching to write an article about the Foundation for publication in the US. In the end, Burak found a job in a tight economy, in a foreign country, where he is not only qualified for the position but he doesn’t need to speak Spanish. It is such a blessing!

On a somber note, Burak also got a call from his mom in Turkey this week. His dad has advanced cancer and it is in the final stages. He has already started chemotherapy and seen some improvement, but it sounds like it is just a matter of time. Burak’s sister has already returned to spend her 3 month summer vacation (Australian university) with her family. Burak plans to return next weekend during the 5-day weekend holiday. This really comes as a shock to us. I am so thankful that we are close enough to Turkey Burak can fly home and that we had two wonderful months with them this summer. Our prayers are with them.

This week, also in attempt to keep Burak’s morale up, I had organized a Thanksgiving meal/party at our place inviting all my flat mates and other friends in the city. We had about 13 people or so with all the fixings. I had pumpkin pie mix imported from Texas and received a can of cranberry sauce at the American dinner I went to on Thursday. I was so happy to have all these exotic foods that I can’t find here easily. I made pumpkin pie using a crust I made from scratch. We had amazing traditional American Thanksgiving food made by Americans, Germans, Swedes, and Italians. We even went around, after I explained the tradition, and said what we were thankful for in our lives. A German friend was so happy to have her first American Thanksgiving and another German was so excited to celebrate an American holiday in Spain (she had lived in the US and was going to tell her host family she made sweet potato casserole).

Now, I am sitting at my living room table with my mp3 collection running familiar music with the sounds of the Italian’s TV seeping from his room in the background while Burak tries to sleep. It is cold here (well that is relative to what cold means to you) so we use a space heater to keep our room warm. The electricity went out a couple of minutes ago because our heater, the washer, the TV, my laptop, the electric oven, and a couple of lights were all on at the same time. Another example of the UN-type of work I conduct on a daily basis (J), we have to negotiate which appliance is the least needed and how we can keep the electricity running for the entire apartment. I turned off my living room light and our heater. Now, the clothes can be washed, the tart can be cooked, and my flat mate can continue to keep the volume high on his TV.

I am not sure where to put this in my update but I wanted to say that I have learned many things and that will probably be the topic of my next update. One of those many things is that a cockroach can survive being inside a working microwave oven. This is something I learned accidentally while I was trying to heat up some soup. For the next week, I didn’t use the microwave and started eating less. I cleaned the microwave recently and took out this useless piece that the cockroaches employ as hiding device. Now, I still check for critters before using the micro. When they say cockroaches could withstand nuclear war, I think they are right.

I seriously have been having such a great time. I know that I am not being fair with not sharing regular updates but I get so caught up in running around seeing new things, meeting new people, etc. that I can’t keep up. Today I slept 10 hours and it was such a refreshing needed break.

This weekend, I had a scholar from Seville visit me. We went to the Magic Fountain in Plaza España where the fountain has lights and music coordinated to create a amazing 15 minute show. Last night, I went to a good friend’s going away party. I met a lot of her friends that she always raves about and also a girl that wants to do a language exchange. Someone I had just met introduced me to another person and said that I spoke/understood Spanish very well. I was so happy. My work is paying off!

This coming weekend, I have to go to Madrid again. This time, for a law school interview with an alumni from Northwestern. I then will return to Barcelona for a nice long weekend to catch up on everything I haven’t had time to do. I might even update my website! Also, there might even be three scholars in town using the break to travel to my cool city.

On December 8th, I am flying with a scholar to Berlin to be a group leader at a conference aimed at Americans to discuss world opinion about the US and to bring back this discussion to campuses when they return from their time abroad. I just created plans to take advantage of my week in Berlin to go to Poland. I am still working on this idea. I know another girl from my school here that is going to the same conference and we are planning to take a train to Poland after the conference on Sunday.

I then return to Barcelona for one week before going to Belgium for a 2.5 week vacation. Since I will need to speak French during the break, I started a French-English exchange to prepare me. Burak and I will stay with my host families in Verviers and plan to do short trips to friends’ places in Holland, Germany, and around Belgium. Also, we plan to attend a Rotaract Conference New Years party. This will be the third New Years I have spent in Belgium!

On December 22nd of this year, Burak and I will celebrate 2.5 years of marriage. So, because of the occasion, the opportunity, and price, we bought tickets to have a romantic weekend in Paris for Valentine’s Day next year. Now, I just need to find someone that lives there that we can stay with! J

We will probably learn about the law and business school results between mid-December and early spring. We try not to think about it now. I still need to finish my Northwestern application and additional scholarship applications to a couple of schools.

Next spring, I am going to take a course on making documentaries at a school very close to my house. At the end of the course, from February to April, I have to produce a 12-minute documentary. I am so excited because I have always been interested in film and documentaries but haven’t really had a chance to pursue this interest until now. I brought my video camera and also have that feature on my digital camera, so I am prepared!

Everything is going well over here. It is always great to hear from friends and how things are going around the world so keep in touch!

Un beso,

November 25, 2004

Another case of a little culture shock: Caganer

Ok, I was teaching class last night to my Catalan student of 31 yrs of age. Because the class consists of a lot of English conversation and since it is almost Christmas, we started talking about local traditions.

I was truly surprised when he explained to me the Catalan tradition of the Caganer. Cagar literally means 'to defecate' so you can imagine what Caganer means. I told my student I almost didn't believe him and wanted to research this on my own to make sure since I actually haven't seen any Caganers yet.

Basically, they are squatting figurines in the process of defecating that people locate in a position hidden from the Nativity Scene. It is now popular to buy figurines of politicians and famous people in this position. But it is true, and I found some info if you want to read about and go to the website for a picture of one.

These texts are excerpts from the book "El Caganer", by Jordi Arruga and Josep Mañà.
Also, see

We can define the caganer as an element of popular imagery which represents an individual, squatting with buttocks exposed, satisfying his physiological needs in the open air. The best-known version of this personality is, without a doubt, the genuine and unique figure that is found forming a part of our homemade Nativity scenes. He also has been called "the shitter", "the defecating man", or "the man doing his duty". He is sometimes accompanied by a pig which has eagerly sniffed out the perpetrator. The caganer is traditionally placed under a bridge, behind a haystack, or otherwise discretely hidden, since it would show a lack of respect if this figure were situated in the landscape where he would be visible from the crib of the Nativity or to those who come to adore the Christchild. It is customary for children, when contemplating the scene, to ask, "Where is the caganer?", then entertain themselves by looking for him.

The caganer does not appear exclusively in Nativity scenes, but also in other popular imagery. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, with a preponderance of craftsmen’s unions, we find our caganer appearing as a motif among typical tiles depicting various trades. There are also 19th century ballads in Spanish and Catalan which make mention of the caganer and the action he performs. It is possible that the caganer was first incorporated into the Nativity scene during the Barroque period – at the end of the 17th or beginning of the 18th centuries. This was a time characterized by extreme realism, above all in still-lifes and local liturature, all of which relied heavily on descriptions of local life and customs. Here, working conditions and homelife were used as artistic themes. In this manner, aspects of actual daily life which previously went unappreciated, acquired a more dignified standing. Within the momentum of Barroque and the realistic themes of written works, the caganer takes on all of his significance, crude, ironic and scatologic all at once, representing the human condition and its obligations to nature. It is a figure which is very identifiable with and appropriate to the rural environment of his origins.

The Nativity scene, an artificial representation of the mystery of Christmas, originally could only be found in churches and convents – following the example of Saint Francis of Asisi, who constructed a living crèche on Christmas night in the year 1223. Little by little, idea took shape in private homes. The aristocratic homes of the 18th century were the first to erect monumental crèches, visited by many local people. Later the custom extended to the villages, and its enormous popularity endured so that, even today, it remainsone of the most vibrant elements in our popular art.

The washerwoman, the shepherd boy, the woman feeding chickens, the Magi, the caganer and other figures, along with an assortment of fowl, cork houses and silver-paper rivers, placed on bits of moss and cork in a corner of the dining room, give the illusion of a happy world and add a bit of nature to our homes.

The traditional caganer figure depicts a squatting farmer topped with a barretina, the traditional Catalan cap. He often smokes a cigarrette or pipe as he answers nature’s call. Sometimes his props include an open newspaper, reading to pass the time while completing his task, which will later be put to use in “cleaning up”. In reference to the feminine variation of this popular figure we must mention that 30 years ago or so, these caganera figures also began to be produced. These were first created by Lluís Vidal, a well-known figure-making craftsman in Barcelona. These first caganeras coincided with the time when miniskirts made their appearance on the streets. Among these more personalized types there are also figures dressed in traditional Hebrew apparel.

Each year some craftsmen create unusual caganers in the forms of novelties or caricatures, provoked by some particular current event or just to satisfy collectors. Among these unique models we can include caganers dressed in the colors of the local Barça or Espanyol football teams, the “Olympic caganer”, by Godia at Christmas 1986, the year Barcelona received its nomination as an Olympic city, and the caganer paying homatge to the pilgrims of the “Camino de Santiago” (Santiago Trail in Galicia), presented in 1999 by Anna Mª Pla in recgognition of an anniversary of the route. As with the “giants” which embellish processions during local festivals, some villages and towns have their own caganer figures which represent a special characteristic of the area. The towns of Ripoll, Bagà, Centelles and Anglès are examples of this.

Although Catalunya is where the caganer is the most poular and established and has the most tradition, by no means is it exclusive to this area. We have also found them in créches in Múrcia (Spain), Portugal, Naples (Italy),to name a few other locations. They go by the names “cagones”, “cagöes” and “cacone”, or more simply, “the pooping shepherd”.

November 18, 2004

Muslim/non-muslim divide growing in Europe

Excerpt from an article from the AP:

Death threats are taken a lot more seriously since the slaying in the Netherlands two weeks ago of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a suspected Islamic radical. Van Gogh had produced a brief television movie highly critical of the treatment of women in Muslim families.

Ruby's comments:
This event has caused a domino effect of chaos between Muslims and non-Muslims in Holland and appears to be spreading to nearby countries. There is already the cultural, sometimes language, and religious differences that can divide the groups that usually co-exist around Europe like in Holland, Belgium, Germany, and France. It could have been seen like a bomb waiting to explode and now it appears that it has. Hopefully peace can be returned soon.

Threats push Belgian politician into hiding

Extra precautions taken to protect critic of Islamists
The Associated Press
Updated: 2:40 p.m. ET Nov. 17, 2004
BRUSSELS, Belgium - A Belgian senator of Moroccan origin, known for her criticism of conservative traits within immigrant Muslim communities, has gone into hiding after receiving death threats, officials said Wednesday.
advertisementMimount Bousakla, 32, contacted police after receiving threatening telephone calls last weekend, said a Socialist party official who asked not to be identified. Bousakla showed up for work at Parliament on Wednesday, but now lives at a secret location.
“She again received threats and now has round-the-clock police protection and has gone into hiding,” the official said.
Death threats are taken a lot more seriously since the slaying in the Netherlands two weeks ago of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a suspected Islamic radical. Van Gogh had produced a brief television movie highly critical of the treatment of women in Muslim families.
Bousakla last week criticized the Muslim executive, an umbrella group for Muslims in Belgium, for not condemning the attack. “Because of the murder of Theo van Gogh, the executive should have protested and called on the Muslims to criticize the attack. Instead it did nothing,” she was quoted as saying on her web site.
Over the weekend, an unknown caller threatened “to ritually slaughter her” and she took the threat seriously enough to warn police, the official said.
Two years ago, Bousakla wrote a book “Couscous with Belgian Fries” about the problems of being raised in between the Moroccan and Belgian cultures. She criticized forced marriages, the place of women in society and the role of men within the family.
The Socialist politician also has openly opposed perceived radical and fundamentalist influences in Belgian mosques.

© 2004 The Associated Press.

November 16, 2004

The problem with living in an exciting city..

..You never have enough time to sit in front of a computer and write about your experiences!

I apparently have not unpdated my blog for one month. In the last month, I have started teaching English 5 hours a week, going to Rotary meetings, had a friend visit from London, went to Portugal for a weekend and saw my Belgian host sister, watched movies, eaten a lot of guacamole, and gone to school.

I shall write more......

October 19, 2004

Flat-screen TV emits international distress signal

Monday, October 18, 2004 Posted: 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) -- TV hardly gets much better than this.
An Oregon man discovered earlier this month that his year-old Toshiba Corporation flat-screen TV was emitting an international distress signal picked up by a satellite, leading a search and rescue operation to his apartment in Corvallis, Oregon, 70 miles south of Portland.
The signal from Chris van Rossmann's TV was routed by satellite to the Air Force Rescue Center at Langley Air Base in Virginia.
On October 2, the 20 year-old college student was visited at his apartment in the small university town by a contingent of local police, civil air patrol and search and rescue personnel.
"They'd never seen signal come that strong from a home appliance," said van Rossmann. "They were quite surprised. I think we all were."
Authorities had expected to find a boat or small plane with a malfunctioning transponder, the usual culprit in such incidents, emitting the 121.5 MHz frequency of the distress signal used internationally.
Van Rossmann said he was told to keep his TV off to avoid paying a $10,000 fine for "willingly broadcasting a false distress signal."
Toshiba contacted Rossmann and offered to provide him with a replacement set for free, he said.

October 16, 2004

Absinthe (banned in America) - tastes like the licorish-tasting Ouzo from Greece

Last night, out with friends, I tried a very little of this banned in America drink called absinthe. It didn't taste that much different from the licorish-tasting Ouzo from Greece, as in, not good. :)

Here is a little history about it since it is a little interesting it is banned in America:

Absinthe is flavoured distilled liquor, emerald green in colour, turning to cloudy, opalescent white when mixed with water. It inspired many prominent artists, writers and poets. Just to name a few - Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Manet, Ernest Hemingway - in fact his masterpiece " For Whom The Bell Tolls " was written under the influence of "The Green Fairy". Absinthe was first produced commercially in 1797 by Henry-Louis Pernod, who purchased the formula from a French exile living in Switzerland.


The Origins of Ancient and Modern Absinthe
Absinthe was considered a vivifying elixir long before it could be ordered in a cafe. When Madame de Coulanges, one of the leading ladies of the seventeenth-century French court, became ill, she was prescribed a preparation containing wormwood. When it calmed her stomach, she wrote to Madame de Sevigne, " My little absinthe is the remedy for all diseases."
Hippocrates recommended absinthe for juandice and rheumatism. Ancient absinthe was different from the liquor that Verlaine and Picasso imbibed, generally being wormwood leaves soaked in wine or spirits. Most likely the word absinthe derives from the Greek word apsinthion, which means " undrinkable " presumably because of its bitter taste. Pythagoras recommended wormwood soaked in wine to aid labor in childbirth. Hippocrates prescribed it for jaundice, rheumatism, anemia, and menstrual pains. The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder called it apsinthium in the first century A.D. and noted that it was customary for the champion in chariot races to drink a cup of absinthe leaves soaked in wine to remind him that even glory has its bitter side. He also recommended it as an elixir of youth and as a cure for bad breath... Over the centuries, however, wormwood drinks moved away from being just bitter medicine. Independent distilleries were producing absinthe made from the dried leaves of wormwood steeped in equal parts of malmsey wine and " burning water thrice distilled." The " Purl " of Tudor England was compounded of ale or hot beer and wormwood, and although it was mainly popular with the working classes, Samuel Pepys reported in his famous diary that he had enjoyed several glasses of wormwood ale one night " in a little house...which doubtless was a bawdy house." These dusty tales convey something of the mystique surrounding absinthe; one imagines a flask of it sitting beside the alchemist's crocodile and the mandrake root. Absinthe incorporated Olympian legends of debauch and rather downhome peasant notions. Modern absinthe allegedly was invented in 1792 by an extraordinary French doctor called Pierre Ordinaire, who fled France's revolution to settle in Couvet, a small village in western Switzerland. On his periodic journeys by horseback, Dr. Ordinaire is said to have discovered the plant Artemisia absinthium growing wild in the hills of the Val-de-Travers region. Like most country doctors, he prepared his own remedies, and being acquainted with absinthe's use in ancient times, he began experimenting with it.
Dr. Ordinaire's recipe probably included the following herbs: wormwood, anise (Pimpinella anisum), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), dittany (Dictamnus albus), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), Melissa (a type of mint), and varying amounts of coriander, veronica, chamomile, parsley, and even spinach. The 136 proof elixir produced in his sixteen liter still became popular as a cure-all in town and early on was nicknamed La Fée Verte. On his death, he supposedly left his secret recipe to two Henriod sisters from Couvet, who then left it to a visiting Frenchman, Major Dubied, whose son-in-law was named Pernod, and the rest is history.

Absinthe comes to America.Absinthe soon found its way to the Little Paris of North America, New Orleans. The drink, which was spelled absynthe in an 1837 New Orleans liquor advertisement, enjoyed a vogue under such brand names as Green Opal, Herbsaint, and Milky Way. (Today, one can still find a version of this made without wormwood and marketed under the name Herb Sainte.) Of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans's famed French Quarter, none has been more glorified by drunks and postcard photographers alike than a square, plaster and brick structure at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets. " The Old Absinthe House " with its scarred cypress bar was visited by many famous people: Oscar Wilde, Lafcadio Hearn, William Thackeray, Walt Whitman, Aaron Burr, and General P.G.T. Beauregard are just a few of the many who relaxed over a green absinthe in this shady retreat. Alexis, Grand Duke of all Russians, drank here, and the chairs once creaked under William Howard Taft's presidential bulk. The great O. Henry was just a struggling newspaperman named William Sidney Porter when he came to dream over an absinthe frappé.
The building was constructed in 1806 for the importing and commission firm of Juncadella & Font, two Catalans from Barcelona. In 1820, after Francisco Juncadella died and Pedro Font returned to his native Spain, the place continued as a commission house for the barter of foodstuffs, tobacco, clothing, and Spanish liquor. Relatives of the original owners turned it into an épicerie, then a bootshop. Finally, in 1846, the ground floor corner room became a saloon known as " Aleix's Coffee House," run by Jacinto Aleix and his brother, nephews of old Senora Juncadella. In 1899, the Aleix brothers hired Cayetano Ferrér, another Catalan, who had been a barkeeper at the French Opera House. In 1874, Cayetano himself leased the place and renamed it the " Absinthe Room " because of the numerous requests he had for the drink which he served in the French manner.Stationed along the long cypress bar were marble fountains with brass faucets which slowly dripped cool water, drop by drop, over the sugar cubes perched above the glasses. Over the years, the place became known as " The Old Absinthe House." Absinthe was also drunk in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, which had a popular restaurant called the Absinthe House. Up until 1912, many of the more exotic bars in New York would serve an absinthe cocktail. One can imagine a piano player at one of these watering holes singing this Victor Herbert melody with lyrics by Glenn MacDonough:
I will free you first from burning thirst That is born of a night of the bowl, Like a sun 'twill rise through the inky skies That so heavily hang o'er your souls. At the first cool sip on your fevered lip You determine to live through the day, Life's again worth while as with a dawining smile You imbibe your absinthe frappé.
But on July 13, 1907, Harper´ s Weekly noted, " The growing consumption in America of absinthe, 'the green curse of France,' has attracted the attention of the Department of Agriculture, and an investigation has been ordered to determine to what extent it is being manufactuired in this country." Just five years later, on July 25, 1912, the Department of Agriculture issued Food Inspection Decision 147, which banned absinthe in America.

Learning second language changes brain Bilingual people have more grey matter in key region

Updated: 6:58 p.m. ET Oct. 13, 2004

LONDON - Being bilingual produces changes in the anatomy of the brain, scientists said on Wednesday in finding that could explain why children are so much better than adults at mastering a second language. advertisement They found that people who speak two languages have more grey matter in the language region of the brain. The earlier they learned the language, the larger the grey area. “The grey matter in this region increases in bilinguals relative to monolinguals -- this is particularly true in early bilinguals who learned a second language early in life,” said Andrea Mechelli, a neuroscientist at University College London. “The degree is correlated with the proficiency achieved.” Learning another language after 35 years old also alters the brain but the change is not as pronounced as in early learners. “It reinforces the idea that it is better to learn early rather than late because the brain is more capable of adjusting or accommodating new languages by changing structurally,” Mechelli said. “This ability of the brain decreases with time.” 'The bigger the change the better the proficiency' Mechelli and his team used structural brain imaging to compare the size of the grey matter in the brains of 25 monolinguals, 25 early bilinguals who learned a second language before the age of five and 33 late bilinguals. All the volunteers in the study, which is described in the science journal Nature, were native English speakers of comparable age and education. INTERACTIVE • The brain An interactive road map to the mind In the bilinguals, the grey matter in the left inferior parietal cortex was larger than in the monolinguals or the bilinguals who picked up the second language between the ages of 10-15. “By looking at the size of the change (in the brain) I can tell whether someone is very proficient or not because the bigger the change the better the proficiency,” said Mechelli. Grey matter in the brain is made up of neurons, or brain cells. The scientists do not know whether the change in bilinguals means there is an increase in the size of the cells, the number of cells or the connections between them. “The next step would be to understand the change better at a small-scale level,” according to Mechelli. He and his colleagues are planning further studies with people who have difficulty learning languages to see whether their brain behaves differently. They also plan to study speakers of several languages to determine whether the increase in grey matter is proportional to the number of languages they have mastered.

October 10, 2004

My week in review - October 3 - 10

Well it is 9:34pm on a Sunday evening and for some reason I have a strong enough internet connetion from my neighbors that I can adequately update my blog for this week.

Sunday, October 3rd
I previously covered this date with my trip to Madrid for my LSAT. I spent this day at the Prado museum and with Burak at a park fighting off his food poisioning. We got back to Barcelona late Sunday night and I left my really great bday gift for Burak on the bus but luckily I can try to find another one and it wasn't too expensive.

Monday, October 4th
I went to my only class for the day covering the EU. I had coffee with my new friend and classmate, Natalie who happens to be from UC Berkeley. We figured out that we were both at Berkeley in May, both in DC in June/July, and now happen to be living just 2 blocks from each other and going to the same university in Barcelona and well take 2 of the same classes.

She told me about an awesome computer lab on campus and I camped out there for 5 hours. I had so many people to email and things to do now that I was done with the LSAT.

I rushed home to go grocery shopping before the stores closed at 9pm. I had another friend coming over later that night. Katy offered to take my suitcases and store them in her room. She had a lot of extra room and our suitcases were taking up too much in ours. We hung out and then Burak took out suitcases to her place since I had to go to bed earlier my long day of school Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 5th
I had my first class at 11am but I had almost 4 classes today. I had lunch with Natalie after doing some computer work in the lab.

Go to my blog about 'Going to university in Catalonia' to understand my last two weeks at university.

I came home by around 9pm from my last class and Burak came home around 10pm from teaching. We ate dinner and caught up on the day and went to sleep.

Wednesday, October 6th
Ella's party
Cops came

Thursday, October 7th
Cancelled interview
Texas Exes

Friday, October 8th
School - computer stuff

Saturday, October 9th
Fix up the room
Prep for party
Party - 18 or so people - you know all these people in one month?
La Paloma - home by 5:00am

Sunday, October 10th

Going to university in Catalonia

Ok, let me explain my university. I live in Barcelona, the center of Catalonia, where they speak Catalan but use Castellano (what most people call Spanish and what I studied in school for ages) to communicate with Spaniards from outside of Catalonia and people studying Spanish.

At a meeting welcoming exchange students, we were told that during Franco's time people were not allowed to teach in Catalan. Now, that this oppressive rule is over, professors have the right to choose whichever language of instruction they want. Hence, it is a highly political issue and the language they choose to teach with is not listed for the students anywhere. Now the only problem is when foreigners and Spainards outside of Catalonia try to take classes in Catalonia, well they might have to take them in Catalan.

Now, how often in life are you going to the first day of class and you not know what LANGUAGE the class will be taught in UNTIL the professor opens their mouth for the first time? Well, that has been my life the last 2 weeks as I and other exchange students have been shopping around not necessarily basing our descisions on subject content or liking the professor but merely is the class in Castellano or Catalan.

I studied Spanish for ages in middle school, high school, and college and now I might be taking classes in Catalan!

Background: Catalan is basically another miniority latin/romantic language that is spoken only by about 7 million people in the world. It, coming from the region between France and Spain, looks a lot like a mix between........French and Spanish. Therefore, whatever French I remember from my year (4 years ago) in Belgium and the Spanish I have studied for ages, is being mixed with this beautiful thing called Catalan. :) Now, the blessing is that I can usually read the Catalan I see and have been able to pick up about 30-40% of spoken Catalan in a class, but the problem is that I am forgetting how to spell things in Castellano and I don't remember which language I am reading or writing at some times.

So, basically, I am convinced that the only reason a person that wants to improve their Spanish would come to Barcelona is to live in a fun, exciting international city on the beach. I think the beach must be on almost all exchange students minds when they choose this city. Or else, no one really realizes that Catalan is a language and that they speak it here! :) I might be a little harsh but I am just enjoying writing out my thoughts about this peculiar situation.

My first class I sat in was in castillano and I was sooooo happy. But then I realized it was over the environment and I had thought the Catalan title .......medi meant that the course was about population and movement but then I realized medi was Catalan for medio ambiente in Spanish. Therefore, even though I found a class in wasn't about a topic I was planning or intersted in studying.

Good news though, after some class shopping and exchange student networking, I have set up a nice little schedule where I only have classes on Monday for 1 hour, and then all day Tuesday and Thursday. This means I do not have classes on Wednesday and Friday! Which is really wonderful because it is a 50 min commute to my university so I just camp out and make the trips worth it on Tues and Thurs. Plus, I use the lunch time to catch up on lunch with friends and doing computer work.

I was really stressed on my first day of classes on Tuesday, Sept 28th but now after 2 weeks, I am pretty happy with how it all worked out. Plus I have classes with people I like and we help each other catch all the notes from the professor.

Yeah, happy ending to my university adventures!

October 4, 2004

Weekend of the LSAT in Madrid - Oct 1-3

On Friday, October 1st, Burak and I hopped on a bus to Madrid. We arrived late at night and quickly found the last double room at a cheap hostel in Sol before 9pm. We wondered around trying to find some food because we were quite hungry. We eventually found a tapas-style place called the Museum of Ham. Yes, that is its name, no joke. :)

Afterwards, we walked down the small narrow streets almost getting lost. We popped into a grocery store, by the way most stores open past the normal Spanish hours of 9-2pm and 4pm-8/9pm are usually run by immigrants, but this might be another topic all together.

When we were in the store we were being watched as we searched for items to buy, I almost felt like a criminal even though I hadn´t done anything wrong. The store had an elaborate security system set up. They even had small cameras in the store and the screen showed 4 different views of the store at the cash register.

Well, either it breeds a stealing environment or the extreme security is needed in this area, because a man in line in front of us tried to steal 4 bananas. It was quite an ordeal. I was trying to stay calm with my LSAT just the very next day. In the end, he bought two of them and admitted to stealing them beforehand.

We went in early for the night so I would have a good rest.

Saturday AM I wake around 10am. The test is normally given at 9am in the US but in Spain we were being administered the test at 2pm for some reason. Maybe because at that same time people in the US would be in the test and no one can send answers or suggestions to anyone else in the world. Hmm..not sure.

I eat an omlet and have 2 cups of coffee, the 2nd coffee was a mistake, and try to stay calm and not get overly excited that today´s performance would determine the REST OF MY LIFE! :) Just kidding.

I arrive at the university an hour or so early which was all a great idea because they started registering folks 45 minutes ahead of the time they said they would. I meet other people, mostly Americans, arriving to the testing site.

It was a weird place to meet other Americans in Spain that all wanted to go to law school next year. We had this rendezvous point of Avenue de Valle, 28 in Madrid, Spain at 2pm on October 2nd. People flew in from Morocco and other parts of Spain from what I learned from those I spoke to. It was quite refreshing to be asked, ¨Wazzup?¨ I wasn´t quite sure how to answer.

I ask to go the bathroom one last time before I start 1.5 hours of testing and I was permitted to go - thank goodness! I take 3 sections of 35 min each then get a 15 min break to breathe, eat, and get some blood circulation. Then I go in for 2 more 35 sections. My 4th section was games which means answering questions about scenarios of hypothetical situations.

Like, Sally has to interview Alpha, Beta, Catrine, David, Emily, and Flo in three days. She can´t interview David and Emily on the same day. If Catrine is in the PM, then Flo is in the AM. When is Beta going to be interviewed if Alpha is interviewed on Friday PM? Well, they are a little more coherent than this but this is an example of how you have to set up a diagram and follow the logic of the situation.

I love those so I was happy to come back from the break with some fun stuff. After 5 sections of 35 min, they ask you to write a 30 min essay. By this time, your brain is fried. Good thing about the essay, there is no right answer.

After the test, I asked one of the girls I met during the breaks if she wanted to go celebrate and go out that night. She agreed and we met Burak in Plaza Mayor for some sangria.

After cleaning up and getting out of grubby LSAT clothes, we went out to 4 different tapas restraurants and ended up in a discoteca called Sweet. At this place, we breathed enough second hand smoke to have smoked about a packet of ciggerates that day. In the end, it was fun to let loose after the LSAT.

The next day, Emily (the girl we hung out with the day before) and I met for breakfast and then went to the Prado museum. The Prado has a great collection and is free on Sundays! After about an hour or so we had walked through most of it and the rest of the Spaniards had decided to wake up and take advantage of the free admission. We headed out, bought some postcards, and then met up with Burak at a cafe.

Burak got food posioning from something from the day before. Emily said goodbye and Burak and I searched for the closest 24 hour Pharmacy for some medicine.

We bought some medicine and food and sat out in a park reading about the Kerry-Bush debate and other news while watching other Spaniards sit out and watch other people and watch dogs on leashes try to attack each other. After a couple of hours, we were back on the bus to Barcelona.

During that ride, we crossed through the Greenich Time Meridan. Quite interesting!

I came home with the LSAT behind me and a cold overcoming me. Happy ending I´d say!

Note about Air Conditioning - part 2342656

Ok, I knew documenting my thoughts about living in a new place would really help me watch my views evolve over time. In the beginning, ie the late summer, I was complaining about the heat and no AC.

Now, I would like to complain about AC being so rare to me after 3 months without it, that I am now getting sick anytime I am surrounded by it. Take for example, my 7.5 hour bus ride to Madrid in AC and then my 5 hours of LSAT in AC and then my return 7.5 hour bus ride back to Barcelona. I am officially fighting off a cold once more.

Anyway, I knew the irony had to be admitted. Ok, so many this place only needs AC for maybe 2 months (July and August). What I am really curious about is why do I not get sick in AC in America?

September 27, 2004

Lunch Posted by Hello
Conferencia de becarios en Espana Posted by Hello

September 23, 2004

This past week Sept 17-22

Where have I been and what have I been up to?

This is a good question. Well, let me give you a brief update on my last week.

Friday, Sept 17th
After class Burak and I went to a really nice gym called LA Fitness. We got free passes from our language school. I don't want to publicly admit this, but it was the first time I worked out in a gym since sometime in July when I left America. I was so happy to run and do weights. Plus they had a sauna (wet and dry). We later learned we can go once for free for each week we went to school at our language school so we plan to go 3 more times for free!

Saturday, Sept 18th
I went shopping in the morning because I was scared I would go hungry all weekend because of the odd hours the shops keep. There is almost nothing open on Sunday. I just need to tell myself I am in a place like Belgium because the hours were very similiar there as well. No American 24/7 places here. Well maybe one or two but that is all and they don't have everything you might need.

Our landlord took Burak to the paint store to buy paint. I cleaned out our room once again and when they returned I took a LSAT while they painted the living room salmon and our room sky blue. It looks awesome! We spent the entire day moving things, painting walls, cleaning up, and then putting our things back into the room. By the evening we were worn out and just rented a movie, Lost in Translation. We watched it with our roommates during dinner. It was a nice relaxing evening to a productive day.

Sunday, Sept 19th
I had already researched a church in the city but for some reason couldn't get my body up. Between being exhausted from the gym, the painting and moving, and the Spanish, my body wasn't cooperating at all. We spent the first few hours awake reading and officially unpacking our suitcases now that the room was painted.

Burak stayed home to prepare for his classes he was going to teach the following week and also his business and law school applications. I finally took up a new friend's offer to listen to reggae on the beach on a Sunday evening. I went to Barceloneta for my first time and tried to figure out where this club was she was talking about. She just said it is the third place right after a figure of boxes. Amazingly enough, I found it. I knew others that would be attending and we all put out towels and sat out near the music for about 4 hours. It was so awesome. I met a guy from San Antonio, Texas that went to UT and majored in Government whose parents are Mexican. Now basically we have all the above in common except my dad is from Missouri. :) Why is it you always meet the people most like yourself in far away places?

Sinead, my new friend, and I went to a magic fountain in Plaza Espana where they have a show of music, colors, and water. It was quite beautiful.

Monday, Sept 20th
I took a LSAT in the morning and had 4 hours of classes in the afternoon. After class, a new friend, Katy, from Texas came over to my place to talk about starting a Texas Exes chapter here. We brainstormed, ate dinner, and hung out with my flat mates. I later emailed out an email to a list of alumni I had received from the headquarters of Texas Exes. We plan to organize a Thirsty Thursday in early October. I already know 4 alumni not including myself here in Barcelona.

Tuesday, Sept 21st
After Spanish classes, Burak and I went to a free class about the Civil War in Spain that was between 1936-1939. Wow! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Just 70 or so years ago Spaniards were killing each other on the land that I am living on. I can't believe how brutal it was. I will write more about this. I really enjoyed the two part class I attended and plan to read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia after the LSAT. I am borrowing it from a friend.

Wednesday, Sept 22nd
I took a LSAT this morning and did better than I had been doing in Spain. I think the Spanish is really slowing down my brain in thinking in English on a complicated standardized test. I went to the internet cafe for 15 minutes because the free wireless connection we receive at home off of someone else's connection has been weak so that is why I haven't written to people much or updated the blog.

Wednesdays are my days to meet up with my new Spanish friend, Annabel. We share one hour in Spanish and one hour in English. We have been meeting at the KFC in the Sagrada Familia for the last two weeks and then venturing to a nearby cafe somewhere to chat. She is really nice and I learn a lot about the city and more about the culture with her. We plan to meet every week from now. I am really happy to actually have a Spanish friend because it might seem weird but living in a city of Spaniards it is easy to just hang out with foreigners. All but one of my flat mates is a foreigner and so are the students at the language school. When I start university it will be different.

Now, in true procrastination fashion, I need to prepare a presentation for my last class tomorrow. It is 11:11pm and I need to translate some info about the Dave Matthews Band and also put together a cool little presentation with music and maybe pictures. I know I might go crazy with this even though probably have the class won't even show up.

September 22, 2004

Can drinking less tea defend a nation?

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taiwan people should drink less tea and use the money saved to help pay the United States for a big weapons package that will protect the island from arch-foe China, the defense ministry said on Tuesday.
Faced with criticism that an $18 billion arms offer from Washington is too expensive, the ministry is issuing pamphlets to rally support for the special budget, which has to be approved by lawmakers.
“A cup of pearl milk tea for national security,” the ministry said in a colorful cartoon, which pictured a boy holding a giant plastic cup of tea next to photographs of a submarine, Patriot anti-missiles and submarine-hunting aircraft.
“We can buy top-notch equipment to protect our country (if) everyone drinks one less pearl milk tea every week,” it said.
Pearl milk tea, also known as “bubble tea” is a popular drink containing small white balls of glutinous sago.
Opposition parties have vowed to block the budget, saying the money should be spent on education and welfare. The military says the weapons are vital to counter a build-up by China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be brought back to the fold, by force if necessary.
“It’s very sad that we have to use the milk tea analogy to seek support for the arms purchase,” Defense Minister Lee Jye told parliament. “But we hope to use the simplest terms to tell people the arms budget is not too big.”

September 16, 2004

Day 16 of constipation or my cold....

I got your attention!

In Spanish to be (estar) constipado means to have a cold or 'constipado' is a cold. My new Spanish friend emailed me this last week about how she was so constipated she couldn't talk at work. What I told her today when we met up for the first time is that in English to be constipated is something other than having a cold. She realized this error and laughed a lot when she figured out what she had told me.

I still have my cold and I think it has turned into a sinus infection on my right side. I don't have any more American medicine like Nyquil or Alcasezer (sp) Cold and Flu and I don't know if this Spanish medicine is strong at all. The weather is getting much colder and I am going to have to quit wearing shorts. At night our room gets really cold and I am underneath a bundle of blankets.

Between the changing weather, the stress of change, and the AC in my classroom 4 hours a day my cold has resisted any form of healing.

My health shall resume again one day! I will keep you posted.

September 12, 2004

Getting to be 'in the know' in Barcelona

When you first arrive in a city that you plan to live in for an extended period of time, you have to learn about how to learn more about the city. When I lived in DC for two years, learning about websites like and other tidbits of info like being on university list servs really enriched my living experience those two years.

I asked about websites here in Barcelona when I arrived to find places to live, furniture, people interested in language exchange, and also jobs for my husband, Burak.

Just in case there is anyone in the same predicament, I have found out about the following sites:

All sites include classifieds ranging from work needed, apartments available, and people in search of language exchange.

I find my place I live in right now from the first website. I have already inqueried about used furniture and currently plan to meet up this week with someone I met that wants to exchange English for Spanish.

There are also many ads for places to hang out, cinema, theatre, and upcoming events. With so much going on in this town, it is almost too overwhelming. I feel like I have barely done anything in the last two weeks in terms of going out. But in reality, I have been settling in with a place, registering to school, taking Spanish classes, and now buying furniture for my new place. We have gone out several times but I know we have just scratched the surface of the night/cultural life.

Corner of our room before we arrived Posted by Hello

New Room Posted by Hello

Moving Into my new Place

Theoretically we were kicked out of our school's flat on Saturday, September 11th at noon but Burak slept until 2pm and I was typing up blogs and somewhat packing for most of that time.

At 3pm, we decided to get serious or well, Burak decided to get out of bed, and we started to really pack up our 5 suitcases and many random pieces of things into a series of about 10 grocery bags. We called our new landlord/flat mate and asked if we could move in at 5pm instead of 10:30pm like we previously arranged. He agreed on short notice and now our only task was to take all our luggage 5 floors of stairs (with no elevator/lift I remind you) and find a van taxi to take us all in one trip.

The taking our things DOWN the stairs was not as bad as taking them UP the stairs two weeks ago. We even had help from a flat mate. Then we called the taxi service. They told us a van taxi was on its way. We waited outside with our things. We looked like a mix between homeless people with all the groceries bags and tourists stuck out in the middle of the street.

Well, I knew it was a Catalonian holiday on September 11th but I wasn't sure how serious they were about celebrating it. I noticed flags up on many of the balconies as I waited for a taxi. Then we got a text message on Burak's cell saying that there were no van taxis available but they would try again in a couple of minutes. I had to use a dictionary to read the entire text because there were a few words and I didn't know and at the same time we were about 15 minutes from our meeting time with our new landlord, David.

I called the service again and learned that no van taxis are available because of the holiday but they could send a normal one. Ok, I thought..what other alternative do I have anyway besides hiring two taxis. Burak was on Las Ramblas trying to flag down a van taxi.

Finally our regular car taxi showed up and he looked at our luggage with an expression of doubt. I asked if we could put it all in and he said, 'Lets see.' We started loading it all in. Two huge suitcases in the truck, 1 in the backseat, 1 in the front seat, and then bags filling all the cracks between the suitcases. Burak and I were the only things left to have to get in. With our bodies covered in sweat from the 83% humidity that day and the heat coupled with the lifting, we squeezed into one seat in the back half on top of each other with our legs scattered where ever we could find room. And we were off........

We arrived in about 6 minutes since our old and new places are not far apart. You always get charged about 1-2 euro per suitcase for luggage in a taxi even if the taxi cab driver doesn't appear to touch some of the pieces. For that 5 min drive we were charged 15 plus euro. I gave him 17 just get it over with since David was there helping take our stuff out of the taxi and get us moved in. The taxi cab driver was happy and said thank you for the tip. One note of observation: The tipping etiquette in America is not the same here in Spain. Most service people are accustomed to no or very little tip. I will research this one a little bit more but I have read and heard about this. I felt happy to make him happy but at the same time the American rules inside of me felt bad to only 'tip' him about 1.5 euros for his work. But it was a tough call because he sort of already added his tip with the crazy price per piece of luggage. But on another hand, I moved from one flat to another for only 17 euro!

David helped move us in our new place. We had this very small antiquated elevator to take up our biggest pieces of luggage. With 4 people helping, we were moved in in no time. He showed Burak around for the first time and it was a good to check out the place once more since last week. The kitchen and bathrooms looked so much better than I remembered them last week. They were cleaner and had more lighting that in the pictures on my website.

We learned that our new flat consisted of two German girls, one Canadian ballet dancer, once Italian guy, the Spanish landlord, and then us two Americans. Everyone seemed nice. We still didn't meet the ballet dancer though and we are curious if he is the French or the English speaking type.

So unlike in America where I would have to have had a credit check and paid a huge deposit, we had no credit check and the deposit on the room was only 180 or a half of a month's rent. We are paying 360 for two people to live in a room in a shared apartment with all the water, electricity, and gas included. This is an absolute steal compared to everything I have heard in the city. Plus, I have this huge window that I am working beneath at this moment and have a nice view of the apartment across the street and a neighbor putting her laundry out to dry.

We had all our things in the room and then started to move the furniture around. We moved the beds together and discovered that one wall is not perpendicular to its other walls or in other words the corner we want to put the beds in does not have a 90 degree angle. How is this possible we wonder? Oh well, is our response.

Then we began to discover major dust everywhere! So we decided to evacuate the room of all our things and sweep and mop this place as it has not been cleaned for many moons.

So as seen in the photos of my website of the room, there were several pieces of furniture in the room for us to use. Yesterday I was dreaming of very cute room filled with IKEA furniture in every corner and now I have mix and matched pieces from a garage sale, nothing like my vision. We planned to go to IKEA on the day of the move, but then we learned it was close due to the holiday so we decided to just take out what we needed from our things and then we would go on Sunday.

After loading and unloading a taxi, loading and unloading our room, cleaning and rearranging furniture, and then reloading our room, we were quite exhausted to say the least. We cleaned up and enjoyed our new shower/bathtub. It was the first shower we enjoyed in the last two weeks after having to use that small portal at our last place. We then went out to a local place that happened to be open on the holiday. We ate sandwiches, had an order of olives, and drank a 1.5 liter of water all for about 8 plus euros. Life was going to be cheaper farther away from the touristy Las Ramblas.

It began to rain hard as we left the restaurant and walked a couple of blocks to the Sagrada Famila. Burak saw it for the first time. It is amazing that we are going to be living just a couple of blocks from an attraction people come all over the world to see. It is quite a site.

We had plans earlier that day to go out at night and meet up with these people at their flat before they headed out to a club. Luckily they lived only about 7 blocks from us so we had a nice stroll minus the rain.

At the flat, on the 6th floor, we had a beautiful view of the lightning in the sky and a wonderful fresh breeze. We hung out with mostly 3 English girls, an Irish girl, and a Spanish guy and then a mix of French, Italian, and Belgian came. There were three languages flowing around the room. I felt bad for Burak who doesn't know French or much Spanish. For me it was just really cool to hear things and understand them, but not really care as to what language it was.

But before long this new group left and we were back to speaking English. It was a lot of fun and we learned about where Burak could find teaching jobs and how much would be appropriate to charge for tutoring. How the average Spanish income per person is about 800-1200 euro per month. We heard that once a Spanish person finds a job that gives them a set income in the above range, they are happy and set to enjoy their free time. It reminds me of Belgium where they only work enough to enjoy life but in America where we seem to live to work. It was interesting hearing the observations of foreigners in Barcelona after they had lived in the city for a few years.

We had arrived at 10:30 pm and somehow it was about 2:00am or so. They decided if they didn't leave then, they would never get to the club. We figured going home now would help us get to IKEA the next day on time. With the rain gone, we slowly walked back home and crashed into our new beds not caring that we had no pillow nor sheets nor blankets. We were tired.

September 11, 2004

Catalonian Eating Hours

I received this awesome book from my university about the city of Barcelona and about the culture in a nutshell. One of the articles I read was about the eating hours and general customs. I tried writing about it earlier this week but now I have proof!!

There are usually 4 meals in the day. A light breakfast between eight and ten, if you are up around that time. Then lunch is between two and three. Then this results in dinner's being later. There is usually a snack sometime between lunch and dinner. Few people have dinner before nine, and it is not uncommon, even on weekdays, to have dinner after eleven. My books says that all meals are quite heavy especially lunch. The lightest and most unsubstantial is, unlike in other countries, breakfast.

Culture and Political talks in Spanish class - New Nudity Law

Because yesterday was Friday and not many students go to language classes on Friday, there were only about 4 students in my class which was a huge difference from the regular 8 students.

We turned the class into a soley conversation class which is always fun because then you are forced to speak, express yourself, and also learn some interesting things at the same time. We talked about politics in our own countries (we had an Italian, Swiss, Swede, and American for students with a Spaniard as our teacher).

Then we were asked what shocked us as we arrived to Barcelona and Spain in general for the first time.

One thing I said was that Barcelona seemed very liberal and to have a lot of hippy-looking people. Everyone agreed. Actually, our teacher explained that recently in Barcelona voted in a more liberal government.

In fact, he said, they a new law was enacted this last Thursday that said it was LEGAL to be nude in public places. My teacher even said he saw someone walking nude down the street on Thursday. I was just thinking about how in America, walking around nude in public places is called "indecent exposure" and can get you a fine or jail time. Interesting.

Air Conditioning - My two-week long cold

All my life, in America at least, air conditioning was in all the houses I lived in. It was a standard.

When I lived in Belgium for a year there was no need for AC.

When I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico, the city of eternal spring, there was a need for AC but there was no AC in private homes. Coming from Texas, I had a hard time adjusting to no AC in my room. We had a fan but my roommate couldn't sleep with the fan on but I couldn't sleep without it on. Anyway, it was so hot during the day that you just wanted to go home and sleep. I would sleep for a while but then would wake up after a couple of hours and realize I was sweating in my bed and that I had to get up, take a cold shower, and get to school before my brain fried anymore. You see, my university had AC.

It was actually ironic that I WANTED to go to school not for the learning but for the AC and I would often camp out there a long time in the internet room just to beat the heat and not be too lazy.

I lived in Turkey this summer without AC. In most cases just opening your window and letting the fresh air in was good enough. Sometimes, we had to turn on the fan that we bought when we arrived just to get a breeze. I actually got accustomed to no AC.

Then we moved to Barcelona. Well I should have realized that almost anytime you live near a beach in a hot place (like Houston year round or DC in the summer), you are going to be living with massive humidity. Oh yes, that is what we have here - Humidity with a capital 'H'.

Burak and I sleep with our room doors open to the rest of the flat just to get some 'fresh air' (because our window to the balcony faces the street which produces noise all day up until about 4 am). When we walk up the 4 or 5 flights of stairs at our language school, we are always sweating from the heat and humidity. I am basically sweating everytime I walk out my door. I never use concealer (makeup) because it would sweat off like oil running off water. I almost don't even use my powder makeup on my face because I am constantly sweating it off as well.

Oh so yes, I sweat a lot here. But the main reason I wanted to bring up the AC issue was because of my 2 week long cold.

At my language school, they have AC in the rooms to keep us motivated and awake. It serves a good purpose. But it is actually the only time when anyone comes into contact with AC for a long period of time while living here and actually causes many colds. Many people are sick or fighting off a cold but the alternative of turning off the AC produces this environment that makes you want to fall asleep.

Anyway, I hope my cold goes away sometime. This is quite peculiar.

Air Conditioning and Culture

After living the US, Belgium, Mexico, Turkey, and now Spain, I have observed how AC helps a culture not only not die from the heat but also create a higher productivity level.

I truly believe that there is a correlation between the places that are naturally hot and do not have AC in their lives with apathy and general low productivity levels as seen in their culture. Then in the places with AC or that don't need AC because it is not hot, have an increased drive to be more productive.

It almost reminds me of the invention of electricity and its affect on mass productivity. Before we had electricity and light beyond the time when the sun shared its rays with us, we could only work and produce during sunlight. Now with electricity and the light bulb, we can work 24/7 if we wanted to. It dramatically changed the way the world worked and in a way exponentially increased productivity. We were no longer dependent on the sun's time frame.

I parallel this with AC and the temperature of our homes. If we could function with a stable, comfortable environment that is not too hot keeping us from being tired and lazy, then we could be functioning at a peak level all the time and we wouldn't have to take an afternoon nap just because the sun's heat is at its highest.

I was asked Friday in my language class, how do we survive in Texas with the heat. I told them that everyone has AC (for the most part this is very true) and that I was sort of shocked that they didn't have it in houses in Spain. My Spanish teacher then added that many elderly people die of the heat especially in the South of Spain. This is why I am shocked. AC exists so why not evolve and put it in the home? He said it was a matter of money. It is a tough issue I guess.

In a way, a Texan could not fathom living without AC but yet it is the default not to have it in the home in many places in the world. It could be an issue of money, an issue of culture, and/or an issue of infrastructure.

It appears to me that the culture is extremely affected by the heat and its effect on the body in places that are hot and do not have AC in the homes. This might seem simple or it might seem dumb for me to bring up but I am quite curious as to whether there is a study on how heat affects the culture.

On the flip side, productivity is not everything. Everytime you mention heat in terms of Europe, people talk about how the culture of southern Europe is so much more friendly and jovial probably because of the good weather or sun exposure they get. While in northern Europe where the sun doesn't shine as often and it can be rainy, foggy, and depressing, they are usually a bit more cold and there are a lot of suicides. Of course this is a generalization and how do you really measure this, but it is interesting to think about.

My new University - Bureaucracy

Let me start this tema or topic by covering the definition:
bu·reauc·ra·cy ( P ) Pronunciation Key (by-rkr-s)n. pl. bu·reauc·ra·cies

Management or administration marked by hierarchical authority among numerous offices and by fixed procedures: The new department head did not know much about bureaucracy.
The administrative structure of a large or complex organization: a midlevel manager in a corporate bureaucracy.

An administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action: innovative ideas that get bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.

Now, I think I wrote last week about how I knew we had bureaucracy in the US so I didn't mind it here in Spain. Well maybe that was becuase I had only seen the tip of the iceburg.

I went to my university my first week of arrival in Barcelona and learned that I had to matriculate/enroll before I could get my international student card. Then I had to take the 30 min train back home and prepared to return back later the next week.

This Monday, I returned for my second trip. I got in line at my new Department's offices (Sociology and Political Science Dept.) that is only open from 10am-1pm through this process. Once I got to the front of the line, I learned how much I had to pay for my first semester's tuition. I promptly took out my credit card, (Even though my scholarship money had not come in yet, I wanted to speed up the process so I decided to pay on my own because I would receive the money soon anyway.) and then was told I could not pay with credit card at this location BUT had to go to the bank on campus to pay and then return to the office to prove that I had paid.

Ah! Ok, this can't be bad but it was already 12:55pm and my department was about to close. I ran to the bank on campus about a 5 minute walk and I got in line. There just happened to be about three Japanese students holding up the line having communication problems and the rest of the Spainards were waiting in line to pay their tuition as well. I could see the frustration from the bank teller trying to speak Spanish to the foreign student and then reverting to English before back to Spanish. In the end I don't think the student understood what was going on. I only overheard parts of the conversation and was dead set on getting back to my department before they went to lunch.

So I waited in line. I was right after the Japanese student for the bank teller that was struggling to communicate to the student. I could tell when I spoke my first word of Spanish she could hear my foreign accent and was probably dreading another similiar frustrating conversation. Well as it turns out, I was at the right place but I had to pay with a bank card or with cash. I didn't know if I had enough money in my checking account on my bank card and surely didn't have 1000 euros of cash on me. So, I left the bank and figured I would have to wait until another day.

I went to the international office to ask a couple of questions. I learned that I had to pay my tuition to finalize my enrollment to get my international student card to be able to go to a local police station in Barcelona and extend my student visa beyond 3 months as well as obtain my NIE, or the foreign identity number. So, I was waiting on the scholarship money to continue this entire process to be able to stay in the country.

I went home and later checked out the classes I had signed up for back in April when I first contacted the school. I realized there were much better courses out there and there were conflicts with the previous courses. I poured over the schedules and made a new course list for my return to the unversity.

I received my scholarship money on Wednesday, September 8th, so I knew I could go back to the university. I chose to return on Friday and prepared to arrive earlier so that I could finish in time.

Basically this went on forever. I waited in line and then they asked me why I wanted to change my classes. Well, first of all it is my scholarship money paying for the courses I am interested in and also why can't I change? Anyway they said I could change but they wouldn't let me take the courses in the morning like the schedule I had planned and instead only in the afternoon. So, I had to go back to the drawing boarda and check which courses would work well together and not conflict.

By the time I figured this out, the line was about 10 people long and there was only one person handling the students at a time. I ended up waiting for an hour in that line in total. Finally they helped me. There is something else to complicate this mess - I am not a Erasmus, i.e. European, student but a visiting student (from America). There are different prices and rules for Erasmus and visiting students. They aren't used to my type. There are not many if any at all Americans at my university.

So, they reconfigure my tuition, rewrite the forms, stamp several sheets, make copies, and then I am sent off to the bank again. This there were was a short line and I paid without a problem. I ran back to the Department's office and just happen to see the lady, Sara, who has been soooooo helpful to me this entire several month process, about to walk into the restroom. It was already their lunch time but she saw me and took my proof that I paid and told me that the form I had from the bank was proof enough that I paid and could now register through the international office.

Yes! Well I had to run to the photo machine to get passport sized photos for my id card and this took a couple of minutes. Then I ran to the international office that was even farther than the bank. I run in with 5 minutes to spare before they close.

After a couple of people cut in front, what language am I supposed to say - excuse me in anyway?, I get helped. Well, as a unique, non-Erasmus student, the guy at the desk had to stare at my paperwork for a couple of minutes before asking someone else what to do with me.

He then told me he needed a copy of the form that proved I paid. I said ok just go ahead and make one. No problem. Then he told me as he pointed to a copy store on campus that I needed to go to the copy place and make one copy for him to prove that I paid for my tuition. (Now you see, the Erasmus students don't have this problem of having to pay the department before enrolling but just visiting students like me.) And then, with 2 minutes to spare before they closed and the fact that I had origionally arrived at the international office 9 days ago to start this entire process and this was the 3rd time for me to be there without anything happening, I blurted out, 'Oh, God!' I know this was wrong but I think it was a moment of weakness where the pressure of finishing this entire paperwork process had gotten to me - not to mention the 30 plus degrees (C) with intense humidity unlike any other day.

The man aiding the man that was helping me heard me and told the man assisting me to just make a copy in the office. You see, there was a copy machine in the office just 10 feet away from me in fact. He made the copy and returned to me. He gave me my form back and then lots of goodies for the new students. He then said, " Come back Monday to pick up your ID card." Oh darn, I thought. It takes me 35 min one way just to get here and I am going to have to come back Monday just for this card? Of course this is the card that I need to go and get my NIE.

I tried to plead with him - I live so far away can't I just wait for it today? No, appeared to be the final answer. I asked for the free backpack all the students received but he told me that I couldn't receive that until I got my student ID card on Monday. Funny, how they give you books, folders, maps, etc. but they can't give you the backpack to carry the goods unless it accompanies the student ID.

So, when I share this story with other Spaniards or others who have lived in Spain for a while, they just laugh, smile, and knod and share with me their sympathy. This is typical of Spain and is worse in other cities and regions. "Just wait until you go through the process to get your NIE," a vetran foreigner in Barcelona told me, "you haven't seen bureaucracy yet."

My new University - The joys of Catalan

Monday, I went to my new university to 'matriculate' or in other words, register or enroll. I am not sure if you have seen the movie L'Auberge Espangole but there is a scene where the French Erasmus students complain to the Catalan professor at the University of Barcelona that they do not understand Catalan but would like him to speak in Castillian, what we usually call 'Spanish.'

Well, I have a feeling that scene in the movie will be echoing throughout my next year because my university is in the heart of Catalonia and most of the forms and signs are in Catalan. They even offer a free course to foreign students and give you a Catalan-English dictionary when you enroll at the International Office.

So I am really curious how this is going to work out. My Castillian has been improving over time and that is the one I had to prove that I spoke to come and live in Barcelona. I can read Catalan signs becuase the language reads like a mix between Spanish and French. But then I heard someone say that it doesn't sound like how it reads.

Anyway, I figure I will pick it up and that I will probably gain an understanding of the language even if I don't know how to write it nor learn the grammar. At least I can write my exams and papers in Castillian if I want to for school so that will be nice!

September 7, 2004

Apartment hunting - the Spanish way of life

As soon as I arrived I had this uncontrollable concern deep inside me that I had to find a place to live after my 2 weeks were up at our school's flat that we had previously arranged the accomadation.

I flew in on a Sunday, had a cell phone by Wednesday night, and starting searching online by Thursday morning for an apartment.

Now, lets go back in history a couple of years to set up the situation. I lived in a dorm room for one academic year in college with another student (who actually became an awesome life-long friend). Then I moved into a 2-2 apartment with my own room and bathroom. Then I lived in a 1-1 apartment with my husband in Austin and then when we moved to DC, we could afford a studio apartment which was hundreds more than our last place in Austin, Texas.

When we planned to live in Barcelona, we dreamt of our own studio where we could host guest occasionally and have our privacy.

When I arrived on Sunday and started talking to people that lived in the city and soon my dream of a studio quickly vanished. Instead of my own apartment, I was going to be searching for a ROOM/HABITACION in a shared apartment/flat/piso.

Now we are currently living in a room in a shared flat and we luckily have really cool flat mates. As soon as I realized we would be living in one room in a shared flat for the rest of the year, I started to prepare myself for a new way of life.

Burak joked about the irony of the situation. The older, maturer, and supposedly more financially secure we get, the smaller our place appears to be. We went from a 1-1 apartment to a studio and now, to a ROOM! :) But oh well, when in Rome, you must live like the Romans. Or however that annoying quote goes. (Just kidding)

Anyway, I then had a problem of finding a place that would allow two people to share the room. When I said that it wouldn't be a problem for my husband and I to share a room, they would tell me that the room was too small for two people.

to be continued....