Saturday, December 8, 2012

A venit iarnă!

On Dec. 5-6, in the year of our Lord 2012, Tulgheș received its first significant snowfall of the year. For a place that's still attractive in miserable conditions, Tulgheș is quite possibly at its best in white. Winter wonderland: activate.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Sa traiasca Obama!"

“Sa traiasca Obama!” (Long live Obama!)

I heard it this morning on the way to school. Not more than an hour earlier, the election had been called in his favor, and already, one of my friends here in Tulgheș was congratulating me.

Four years ago, I also watched the election called for Obama from foreign soil. I was in the Auckland airport, waiting for a flight home. As I and people from all over the world gathered around the television to watch McCain’s concession speech and Obama’s victory speech, an odd thing happened: When people found out I was American, they began shaking my hand. I shook more hands than I can count that day, and I was proud to do it.

Now, I’m not writing this blog to pat America on the back for reelecting Obama, even if I did vote for him. Nor am I writing it to criticize Mitt Romney or the GOP, even if I tend to disagree with them on how our government should be run. The point I’m trying to make, as I write this from my Romanian village, is this: Whatever we do, the world is watching.

Which is why we need to be better.

This has never been more apparent to me as it’s been since I’ve moved abroad. For the last year and a half, I’ve lived as the only American in a small village in Romania, and whether I want to be or not, I’m an American ambassador by default.

I’ve listened as people talk about their frustrations with Romania and Romanian politics and clenched my teeth as I tried not to tell them how imperfect our system is: how campaign finance is completely out of control, how partisan politics and obstructionism have simply become the norm, how polarizing vitriol has turned what should be a mere disagreement into the end of friendships, and how hot-button issues have completely overshadowed the real, widespread problems plaguing our nation.

Oh, and imagine yourself trying to defend things like “Honey Boo Boo” and Snooki.

Even through all this, I’ve found that, to my friends and colleagues here, we remain an example to strive toward. Maybe it’s just because they toss on their rose-colored glasses when they look west, or perhaps it’s simply because, as Americans, our problems have nothing on the majority of the rest of the world’s. However, they still see us as an example.

Which is why, I say again, we need to be better.

To those in Washington, it’s time to do what you believe is right, not for reelection, not for special interests, but what you believe is right morally, ethically and for US, the people.

And WE need to be better people. Less division, more compromise. Less vitriol, more understanding.

If we want to continue to be a global leader, we need to look homeward and do better. We need to take a step back from the sense of entitlement previous generations earned for us, and re-earn that respect through responsible, reasonable policy and behavior.

Perhaps it’s because participating in yet another peaceful election fills me with pride, or perhaps I’m borrowing my neighbors’ rose-colored glasses, but at least today, I’m going to be hopeful that, in the coming years, we’re going to learn to stop letting ourselves be controlled by hateful soundbites and partisanship, and we’re going to learn to work together.

“I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

“I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting….

“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
– President Barack Obama

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Situation Updation and Continuation

Well, I realize that this summer – and now the following few weeks that have whirred right through fall and into winter for a second consecutive year – has found me pretty delinquent on here.

As of this summer, the excuse was travel. I ain't gonna apologize for that.

As of the last few weeks, my excuse is also sort of travel, as I was in Minnesota for 10 days. However, more recently, I've actually been a bit busy.

My second year of school has started, which has meant a few things for me:

First off, I can't tell you how much smoother it's been this time around. My language is better, I know my colleagues better, I know my students better. It's been wonderful how much easier the start to this second year has gone.

Secondly, this year – the last one for me in Tulgheș and for Peace Corps in Romania – I've decided to do whatever I can to help as many students in our community get some sort of English instruction. You see, we're 3,000 people here, and that includes five kindergartens, five elementary schools (1-4) and one middle school (5-8). For all those students, there is ONE full-time English teacher, aka my inimitable counterpart Ovidiu. Now I'll probably save thoroughly extolling Ovidiu's virtues for a different time, but I'll say that I sincerely look up to him as a man, husband, father and person. Although he wears all those hats well, it's still impossible for him, as a teacher, to get to every student.

That's where I come in.

Essentially, in addition to the 16 hours per week we're mandated to have as TEFL volunteers, I've taken on 11 more with the kindergarten; "zero grade" (new this year, between kindergarten and first grade); adults; an English club and my American Football club, which just means we play football an hour a week. I won't be able to get to everyone from K-8, but we're going to get to as many as possible to at least give them a small push they wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

I'm also still working on some ongoing projects. There's a video project where we're trying to get to Romanian athletes to have them record something in both Romanian and English about why it's important to learn English. We've already scored THE Nadia Comaneci (English, Romanian) and have distributed it throughout the country.

I'm also working with a few talented teachers on attempting to write an updated English curriculum for kindergartners. The goal is to leave something behind that's an easily packaged, all-encompassing plan that can be implemented even by a teacher who doesn't speak any English, as is often the case for those over 35-40 in Romania.

Finally, we're still working on getting Tulgheș featured on, which I'll post more about when the information goes up. All the information is written; we're just putting final touches on the photos and packaging everything.

So why did I write this blog post so unabashedly patting myself on the back? Well, at first I was using it to provide an excuse for what was originally planned to be a concise (dismissive) post. Now, looking back at the copy that has somehow spewed out of me this evening, I see I'd be better served to use it as an excuse for a future that might find these things more infrequent.

Basically, I'm going to be busy this year. I've decided that, after a refreshing trip home, I'm going to make the most of these final nine months. I’m going to trim some of the distractions and extracurricular activities – yes, blogtopia, that means you – and devoting whatever I can to going out with a bang.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Install a Washing Machine, Romaniamania Style

Since I arrived in Tulgheș, I've been doing my laundry at the local boarding school, a 5-minute walk from my place. This involves not only the walk, but also coordinating with the ladies who work there to make sure I can 1) get a key and 2) have access to the only washing machine there. Clearly, this isn't ideal. (However, I can't really complain, as many people do wash by hand here).

So, when my neighbor Dan, an electrician, informed me that he had an extra one he could lend me for the final 10 months of my service, Dan got an emphatic "DA!" So we headed back to his workshop and loaded 'er up in his red Dacia.

However, upon arriving home and while attempting to install my new old washer, we found, much to our chagrin, that there was simply no way it could fit through the bathroom door.

Ba da.

Cue a handsaw and a little Romanian ingenuity.

Step 1: Measure the height of the washer, then cut out a piece of the doorframe.

Step 2: Squeeze in the washer. Affix in place. (Not pictured. I was actually helping with this.)

Step 3: Fabricate a new piece of doorframe out of scrap wood and attach it where the old one was.

Step 4: Paint the new doorframe to match the old doorframe. (Not pictured, because this will never happen. Clashing is the new matching.)

And voila! This "șmecher" has got himself a fay-ncy new washin' machine, ready to slosh and gyrate its way to clean clothes in 30 minutes.

*Blue coveralls sold separately.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Wanderin'

I like the Interwebs.

Where else can I settle an argument in a matter of seconds, see a cat doing pretty much anything and catch up with old friends without having to go through the rigmarole of actually speaking with them? Nowhere, that's where.

However, it's made traveling way more work. In the last month, I've been fortunate enough to see some of Europe's coolest places in the form of Santorini, Athens, Budapest and Prague. When I toured Europe in 2006, I didn't have a blog, nor was I on Facebook. What I remember from that trip was enjoying it, getting home and getting on with my life. This time around, six years later, I got home and had homework, with my 1,100 professors (friends) breathing down my neck.

I'm kidding, of course. Posting (bragging) about my travels is a labor of love. In the words of Joe Walsh, "My Maserati does 185..." Wait, no, wrong one, "I can't complain, but sometimes I still do. Life's been good to me so far."

Anyway, on with it. As previously mentioned, I spent the last three weeks traveling, first hitting Greece then meeting some friends at București airport to swing through my village, and then on to Budapest and Prague. Because I think chronologically, that's how I'll organize this. Also, I'm only going to hit the highlights. I put full picture albums on Facebook with commentary. I'll link to each one in the city name. (They'll also work if you don't have Facebook, if those people still exist.)

First off, Santorini. Santorini is a small island in the Greek isles whose beauty has been displayed by such cinema classics as Summer Lovers with Peter Gallagher, his eyebrows and Daryl Hannah; Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life; and of course, The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants 2.

Basically, it's a rim of a super volcano that erupted thousands of years ago. Although this brought about a violent end to a whole civilization of people, their loss is our gain, as the result is a narrow slit of land sitting high above the water below providing spectacular views. More specifically, the views from Thira are pretty surreal. Thira is the island capital that faces west and is perched on the caldera (basically the cliff-face).

Views like this:

And this:

The sunsets from Santorini are also world famous, or more specifically, the unobscured sunsets from the northern tip of the island in a town called Oia. We also spent a couple days there, wandering, eating, drinking and figuring out where we're going to take in the sunset. Yes, this sunset:

After an unforgettable week on Santorini, we took the ferry back to Athens for a day to hit some of the most famous sites. I particularly enjoyed the Acropolis, even if my pronunciation slid from Acropolis to Acropolypse to Hypotenuse and everywhere in between.

And given my love of sports, Olympics and hard seats, I also really enjoyed touring the old Olympic stadium.

And cheering...

And VIP-ing...

And running...


After Greece -- I carried on my gold medal -- we met four of my friends from back home at the airport and took them to my site. The next 36 hours was a blur of palinca, beer, wine, translation and hiking.

Then on to Budapest. I'd heard nothing but good things about Budapest but had never been there. With its cool architecture, natural beauty, rich history and welcoming people, Budapest is definitely nagyon finom.

It was a whirlwind two days where we hit many of Budapest's most famous landmarks, but what stands out for me was the nighttime boat trip we took on the Danube. Budapest is a great place, but after dark -- ohhh yeah -- it becomes magical. The combination of the muted city and the illuminated medieval buildings and bridges gave the experience a cool eerie, surreal vibe.

And then there was Prague. As mentioned, I had been there in 2006, but for some reason, this trip made me fall in love with the city. Sitting here now, I can't put my finger on why. There's simply a feeling in Prague that I've never felt anywhere else.

There's Old Town Square with the Clock Tower, Astronomical Clock and Týn Church:

The Charles Bridge:

Wenceslas Square:

And, of course, the Castle:

Like I said, I can't explain it, but Prague just takes me there. Guess you'll just have to come see for yourself.

And never forget:

I miss you, Coach Taylor.

I'm now back in Tulgheș for a few weeks, working on some miscellaneous projects. This week, I'm trying to put together some information on Tulgheș for a site called, which is an NGO that promotes rural tourism in Romania by offering tourists a real-deal rural experience. Here in Tulgheș, we have that, by the bunches. I'll be sure to post something once it's live.

Then it's a conference, then HOME! Once I come back from HOME!, I'll just have nine months remaining of my 27 here in Romania, which is a pretty overwhelming thought.

In conclusion, I always struggle with ways to end these rambling blogs.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Hitchhiking Gone Good

Hitchhiking -- a safe activity here, fret not -- can unfold into a vast array of experiences. I've made friends, enemies and everything in between. This experience, though, is by far the coolest yet.

Sara and I were headed to Recaș Wineries for a final wine-tasting before she left Recaș for good. First, a little background on Recaș Wineries: They produce, by far, the best wine in Romania. They've also been critically acclaimed internationally, and anecdotally from this uneducated palate, they're all well deserved.

Anyway, because a vineyard doesn't typically fall into the category of "walking-distance," we decided to hitch a ride. Within a couple minutes, we had a taker.

Sara: Mergem la crama. (We're going to the winery.)
Driver: Bine. (OK.)
(We get in the car, Sara in the back, me in the front.)
Me: Do you have room?
Driver: So where are you guys from? (in perfect English)
Me: We're American.
Driver: Oh, cool, I just spent nine months in Napa Valley, studying wine.
Sara: Oh, do you work for the winery?
Driver: Yeah, I'm, um, kind of the owner's son.

This unfolded into a great conversation on Napa, his experience there, then into a tour of the grounds in his car, where he shared with us not only the present, but his "dreams" for the future. Formally, and now formerly, a lawyer by trade, Narcis, a twenty-something, traded his robe for flip flops and went into the family business. Following his nine months in Napa, he was making a brief stopover in Romania before moving to Paris for three years. His plan is to simply find a job in a restaurant, doing whatever -- washing dishes, busing tables -- and studying wine there. He'll then bring whatever he learns back to Recaș.

I'm not saying this because, despite what his name suggests, Narcis was simply a cool guy, a laid-back fella wearing board shorts, flip flops and a Hollister shirt, who gave us a free tour. Nor am I saying this to brown-nose because someday he'll probably own my favorite winery (although, admittedly, this is part of the equation), but I think they have a bright future. He's intelligent and passionate and has a fresh outlook on a business that certainly has room to grow. There was even a point in the conversation where I suggested he get his MBA because it's one thing to know the wine side of things, but he's also going to have to know how to run a business. His response? "Yeah, good idea! Thanks! I think I'll do that."

Anyway, after our tour of the grounds, we went through the factory, saw the tanks and the wine being bottled (below).

And then, the tasting began. We had a Riesling, a Roze (surprisingly good considering my Roze experience is limited to anything in a two-liter bottle or a box) and a Feteasca Neagra, which is a Romanian grape and means "Black Maiden." It all went with some potatoes and unbelievably tender pork.

Then, because it was a beautiful day, and life was coated with the glossy glow of afternoon wine-drinking, we retired to the outdoor area to enjoy an afternoon-cap overlooking the vineyard.

And, the day wouldn't have been complete without a picture with our new homie.

In the words of Ice Cube, "It was a good day."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Venit Vară!

Scoală e gata! Am scăpat de griji!

As of today, June 21, 2012, I am officially done with my first school year in Romania.

One year. According to a real sing-y group of New Yorkers, it’s merely 525,600 minutes. What I found in those minutes is that I’m staggered at how much I can come to care about my students in that time.

Teaching has a plethora of challenges, one of them being devising a way for students to remember the word “plethora.” Patience. Flexibility. Adaptability. Perseverance. Compassion. Chalk dust. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done, and that takes into the account that some days are only 2-3 hours long.

However, amidst those challenges, I found a wealth of relationships. Never did I think a group of fifth-eighth graders could affect me the way these kids have, but I now know that I’ll be invested in them long after I leave here. It may sound cliché – probably because it is – but I guess I hope I had a fraction of the effect on them, that they had on me.

OK, that being said, in the words of the poets Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, “Summa summa summa summa time. Time to sit back and unwind.”

On the docket for this summer are some pretty great travel, a few camps and the continuation of some projects.

First, I have another volunteer’s camp at the beginning of July, then Greece! We’re going to hit Athens for a few days, then unwind (see above) on Santorini. And no, it has nothing to do with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. (Read: It has EVERYTHING to do with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.)

Then, we fly back into Otopeni, eat, drink a beer, and wait for four of my friends from back home to fly in a few hours later. I’m then going to take them to Tulgheș for a day and a half, translate and pretty much overall impress them with my skillz, then we’ll move onto Budapest for a couple days, then Prague.

Come August, I’ll be compiling information for my village to be included on a cool NGO website called, working with a few volunteers on developing a yearlong kindergarten curriculum to leave when we close our post here, doing another camp and having a meeting.

Then school starts again in September. Oh yeah, speaking of September, I’ll be in Minnesota Sept. 7-17. The Fat Kid is getting married, and my mom’s memorial golf tournament, the Janette Paulson Classic, is happening. You might also want to reserve a front-row seat at Ham Lake Lanes Karoake night, because “Walkin’ in Memphis” has been aging for more than a year now, and it’s starting to smell pretty sweet.

I guess that’s all for now. Prepare yourself for some radio darkness for a bit, as this summer already looks to be all fulled up. However, I’m sure I’ll be putting up musings on Facebook and Twitter, so you can feed the need over there.

I wish you all a great summer, and remember, whether you’re, “riding around in your jeep or your benzos, or in your nissan sitting on lorenzos,” don’t forget to sit back and unwind.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wait, what? An American?

So ever since I arrived in my village, I’ve had these fantasies about coming across a lost American in need of help.

“Why, yes, sir or ma’am, of course I speak English. I’m American! You too? Welcome to Romania! Come! Let me show you my village! Meet all my friends! Yes, of course I can translate for you because I speak another language! Yes, it is very impressive. Why am I here? Well, I’m a Peace Corps volunteer; I teach English. What’s that? It’s an extremely noble and selfless thing to do? Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I appreciate you saying so. Yes, I’m so glad I could help too. I just figure, if we can’t help each other, what are we doing here? Yes, my parents did raise me well; that’s very kind of you to say. What’s that? I saved your life, and you want to put me in your will? I’m not sure I… OK, if you insist. Yes, that would be fine. Coincidentally enough, I have always wanted a house in Tuscany.”

Despite the fact that I’ve thoroughly choreographed this hypothetical meeting, I had long ago accepted that it’d never happen. You see, I'm pretty isolated. The only way in or out is via one winding, mountainous road with nauseating mountain passes about 15 miles on either side of us. Despite the fact that it's well worth the journey, Tulgheș is not exactly a random stop. If you're here, you mean to be here.

Well, last week, it happened. Maybe not exactly like the above fantasy, much to my chagrin, but it was in the ballpark.

It was Friday evening, and we were waiting for the bus at the “station,” which is really just the intersection where the main road passes through my village.

A guy pulled up on a bike.

“Me too! I’m from Boston.”
“Ummm, what? Really?”

We soon found out that our new friend, Denis Beaudry, whose blog can be found here, is a 50-something doing a solo ride across Europe and into Asia. It’s the 12th international trek for Denis, who’s also ridden across the U.S. At that point, he had left Madrid 25 days ago and had been averaging about 90-100 miles per day.

We were, in fact, the first Americans he had met on his journey so far. And needless to say, he was the first American I’d met in my village, at least the first American I’d met in my village whom I hadn’t brought there.

Unfortunately, Denis couldn't stay long. Darkness was approaching, and after I helped him decipher what was to come via his map, he was off to his final destination for the evening, a slightly larger village about 18 km down the road.

However, before he left, he casually slipped in, “So should we do the picture thing?” I was pretty glad he did, because it was certainly cooler than how I had recited doing it in my head: “This is sooo cool! Can we take a picture? Can we take a picture? Please please please please!”

And then, just like that, as mysteriously as he arrived, he was gone.

A few days later, I checked back into his blog, and sure enough, there we are, just as he promised. Unfortunately, no mention of his will.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

O Săptămână Bună (A Good Week)

It all started Saturday, when I and four of my best students went to a English conversation camp about three hours away. It started at 9 a.m., so if you're doing the math, that means we had to leave about 5:30 a.m. Well, just to be safe, we went with 4:45 a.m.

The contest lasted about eight hours, so we were back on the road about 5 p.m. With an ice cream pit stop, we made it home about 8:30, so that would be... OK, pencils down: just south of a 16-hour day, a 16-hour SATURDAY.

Anyway, I'll get to the now-buried lead. The kids from our small village took fourth out of 15 teams from throughout the county. This fella was – and still is – proud. They were initially disappointed, but after some pickup – and ice cream – from Dle. Matt, they were "delighted" by Monday, or so my counterpart reported. I'd call that mission: accomplished.

OK, fast forward to Tuesday night. I was a bit sick but determined to get my adult classes restarted after a month-long break for vacation and some other miscellaneous obstacles. I was on my way to school when I happened upon a gaggle of bikers from Radio Mures, a big station that broadcasts throughout our region. After a short discussion, I discovered that they were doing a bike tour of the region promoting local tourism, and after a bit more discussion, I had committed to a radio interview after class.

So, as promised, I swung by after class.

I was greeted in perfect English, "OK, are you ready to do an interview?"
"In Romanian?"
"Umm... sure."

So, this is the final product. (Just scroll down until you find my name.) For those of you who can speak Romanian, be kind. For those of you who can't, it's super interesting.

And for those of you who don't know what a remote radio interview looks like these days, here you go:

Also, the text above reads: "Surpriza cea mai mare a venit când l-am cunoscut pe americanul devenit tulgheşean, Matt Paulson, şi care le predă copiilor din Tulgheş limba engleză. Minunat om, vorbeşte perfect româneşte, iubeşte Tulgheşul, Ardealul şi România, a învăţat să facă sarmale, a îmbrăcat portul popular din Maramureş şi a călătorit cât nu au reuşit să o facă mulţi dintre noi, probabil."

...and translates to: "The biggest surprise came when I met an American turned Tulgheșan, Matt Paulson, who also teaches the children of Tulgheș English. A wonderful person (oh yeah), he speaks perfect Romanian (boom), loves Tulghes, the Ardeal (name for the area) and Romania, has learned to make sarmale, has dressed up in our traditional costumes from Maramureș (another area) and has probably traveled more than many of us have (in Romania)."

I also did a live interview with their main news program, also in Romanian, and even told a joke! I dare say, am ajuns! (I've arrived!)

And here are some of the bicycle enthusiasts on their way out of town, escorted by some of our kids:

Come Wednesday, I had an observation from the county inspector. In the name of brevity, I’ll just say… NAILED IT. To make things better, the new principal was all smiles after she heard the report.

Then, two classes later, I found this when I entered:

Yes, of course I promptly chided them for the incorrect use of the pronoun, but I privately enjoyed the moment. 

So, in conclusion: four kids who loved the competition I was fortunate enough to bring them to, a live radio interview in which I was told I speak “perfect Romanian,” a stellar observation from the county inspector and an affirmation from my eighth graders.

In the words of Sam Elliott in "The Big Lebowski," "Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you." Well, so far this week, Stranger, I got him.

This weekend, we have the second “Let’s Do It, Romania,” a nationwide day dedicated to cleaning up Romania. After that, another week of school, then a language weekend, where we’ll learn slang from another volunteer’s high school students. It should be a weekend that would make Ghița Carlin proud.

Then, more school until the end of June when summer starts. I find it hard to believe that I only have a month and change left of my first school year, but we’ll leave the deep soul-searching for another day. Now? Ready, set, vin.