Today, we kicked boredom in the butt and just had some fun. We took some wise advice (thanks Michael) and just got into the city to have fun, see some sights, talk to some people, and see what makes Bucharest tick.
First, we let Susie take care of the kids while Jessie and I took a good long walk. We walked about 5 km from our apartment to Palatul Parlamentului (Palace of the Parliament), listed according to some as the second largest building in the world, right behind the Pentagon. Technically speaking, one of Boeing’s factories is bigger (makes sense, right?), as are a number of other similar buildings, but I guess they don’t count.
Either way, Palatul Paramentului is huge. We wanted to get close, but since yesterday they had 30,000 extra soccer fans in the area, it was all sanctioned off. We did snap this photo:
And right across the street is Parcul Izvor (Spring Park), which has a huge play area for kids, outdoor exercise equipment, tons of open space to lounge around in, and a bunch of nice, shady trees. We found a good-looking tree and sat down for a while, enjoying the quiet and serenity of the park in the midst of 3 million busy city-dwellers. The park was pretty packed with people hanging out, mostly in their teens and twenties, but it’s crazy how peaceful and remote it felt.
Here’s a shot of the playground – the kids are so excited to check it out:
After lounging around for a bit, we decided to check out nearby Cismigiu Park, one of Bucharest’s largest and most beautiful parks. The park, again, was packed with people – old guys playing chess and backgammon, young couples walking hand-in-hand, moms playing with their kids, college students studying for classes, businessmen conducting meetings… It’s like a whole little magical world inside a big city. It smells like a state park, there’s giant old trees everywhere, there’s a lake and a canal with boaters quietly uh… boating along. There’s even a really awesome, creatively-designed playground and an old-school carnival. Just adds to the magical feel of the place.
After the park, we started heading back, got lost for a while (nothing makes sense about this city), and ordered fast-food at a roadside kiosk. I got a soda, a big thing of fries, and a huge “hamburger” for $3, and Jessie got a giant chicken shaorma wrap and a lemonade for about $2.50. My “hamburger” is in quotations because it wasn’t really a hamburger. It tasted great, but it wasn’t a hamburger. It was a mushed-up meat and veggie patty that tasted like a bowl of chilli, with toppings of ketchup, corn, cucumbers, and two types of cabbage. It wasn’t a hamburger, but it was really good. And the bun was simply amazing.
Well, we finished our explorations by buying a couple of unlimited monthly subway passes (for under $15 each), taking the subway back toward our apartment, getting lost again, and finally coming home to a bunch of happy kids.
I was tired when we finally got home, but I wanted to do something special with the girls, so I took them out to buy groceries and more water (they really like the experience), and we stopped at a small shop to get ice cream (îngheţată) and played on a really ghetto playground near our house. It’s super small and, like many things in Bucharest, is covered in graffiti and has piles of trash scattered around. Kind of like Milwaukee was.
So today I learned Romanians don’t have the same concept of time as we do in America. In America, you don’t call people after 9pm unless you’re in college, and you definitely don’t come to their house that late. In Romania, it doesn’t matter. Our landlord, Marian, stopped by at 10:30 this evening to check up on us. He’s really an awesome guy, and every time he comes, we feel really happy. Tonight, he came with his wife Monica, his son Aleksander (spellings may be wrong), and their tiny little miniature schnauzer Maia. They speak very little English, and our Romanian is equally bad, so we have a fun time communicating with each other through mime, Google Translate, and broken phrases. He changed out some lightbulbs, brought us a brand-new mop and bucket, fixed the washing machine, and explained that he took care of our crabby neighbor for us. Basically, in as best we could understand, the neighbor is crazy, so Marian recommended not talking to him. Problem fixed. 🙂
While Marian was over, our Chinese neighbor Lai popped out and I found out he speaks fluent Romanian. He and Marian talked for a while and then Lai told me, “Marian is a good man. He is very good.” And then, “Remember, if you need anything, you just knock and I am here. This is a strange place.” Then he was gone.
I love these people!
Before Marian and his family left, Marian asked us, “You… from… England?” “Nu, nu, Statele Unite,” we told him. His eyes light up, “Oh, Americans! Yes! Good. Oraş?” He was asking what city we were from. “Milwaukee, linga Chicago… Milwaukee Brewers… baseball!” “Yes, good! I know.” He’s the second person we’ve met here who knows of the Brewers. One guy, Razvan from the electronics store, watches them religiously.
Well, today I learned a lot. We experienced some of the fun of Bucharest, we learned how to ask for ice cream really well, we found some of the places where people go to chill and relax, we tried out the subway, we discovered some great places for our kids, and, most importantly, I remembered how much I love this country and these people. We’re going to be doing a lot more exploring and wandering and praying. I need it – it opens my eyes to how God feels about this place, and it gets me out there where the people are working and resting and having fun.
OK, two funny stories before I close. I’d heard some statements from guidebooks that Romanians are inherently terrible at giving directions. This is probably partly because 1) their cities don’t make any sense, and 2) roads are rarely labeled with street signs. However, even given these handicaps, today I found out just how bad they are. No Romanians we talked to could help us find where we were going. Even when there was a giant map on a wall that we were all looking at, the Romanian guy sent us the wrong way. He was really, really nice and seemed very concerned that we were lost, but ultimately his directions sent us exactly opposite of where we were going. If our GPS was working, this wouldn’t be such an issue, but it’s having problems with all the tall apartment buildings around. Where is Tyler Marenes when you need him?
Second funny story. Outside the grocery store, there’s a lane of taxis, then a median in the road, then a lane of traffic coming one way, then another median, then some train tracks for the tramvai (trolley), then another median, then a final lane of traffic coming the other way. It’s pretty busy and chaotic and we’ve almost been run over by both cars and tramvaii a few times. Anyway, when the girls and I were waiting in the first median, right before the lane of traffic, this bent up old woman decided she’d had enough waiting, so she just walked out into traffic in front of a car, forcing it to stop. She stared down the driver, waved her cane at him, and then slowly edged out to stop another lane of traffic. She managed to stop all three lanes of traffic by pointing her cane, giving drivers the evil eye, and wandering back and forth between lanes erratically. It was quite an impressive feat, and not once was I worried for her. She clearly had it under control the whole time. Finally, after she stopped all the lanes of traffic, she crossed, just in time for the light to turn red anyway.
Only in Romania. 🙂
We’ve only been here a week, but I’m already really bored. I have a hard time sitting still. I start to twitch if I’m not producing something every couple minutes.
Before moving here, so many things had to be taken care of and finished up that we were putting in 12-18 hours of almost nonstop work most days. I just got used to waking up and going like crazy every day, without much of a break. Support-raising, language learning, packing stuff, selling stuff, throwing stuff out, cleaning, organizing, planning, making phone calls, sending emails, designing stuff, printing stuff, praying, studying the Bible, preparing for discipleship groups, youth groups, and church meetings… It was nonstop. And now basically we’re learning how to survive.
At the height of our busy schedules in Milwaukee, I remember plopping down on the couch as the girls watched “Little House on the Prairie.” I watched a few minutes of this pioneering family battle the elements, hostile natives, and the difficulties of frontier life. I remember wishfully telling Jessie, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live like that? No schedules, no appointments, no full calendars, no long-term goals, no responsibilities beyond survival…” Now we’re in the same boat and I understand why Mr. Ingalls went right to work building a cabin and planting a crop – you get bored if you’re just surviving.
We’re not being lazy by any means, but we’re doing different things that are harder to measure. We’re building relationships, learning the language, learning the culture, finding the grocery store, figuring out the city, setting up our house, buying fans and getting yelled at by our neighbors (see previous post), ministering to people who God sends to us. I had grown so used to meetings and appointments and a packed calendar that all this flexibility and free-time is driving me nuts.
Every missionary we talked to before moving here said one of the hardest things they had to learn was to wait and observe. My friend Eli told me, “You leave and you think, ‘I am superman, coming to rescue these people,’ but then you have to wait and you have to watch and you have to learn the language. And everything you do, you have to depend on other people to help. This is very hard, but you learn to listen to God and wait for Him to move, and this is good.”
On the bright side of things, our landlord Marian is amazing. He’s going to talk to the crabby neighbor for us, he’s trying to fix our washing machine (still haven’t been able to do laundry), he fixed a bunch of broken dresser drawers, he’s going to paint our bedroom walls, he mopped the floor for us, he fixed the girls’ wardrobe, and he said not to worry about the shelf Naomi destroyed. He doesn’t speak much English, but he’s trying, and he loves our kids. He came over tonight to do some work on the place, and it really cheered us up, especially since we had another, even more intense, run-in with our crabby neighbor.
Well, tonight the city is abuzz with soccer. 30,000 Spanish soccer fans arrived for the Europa League final match between Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid, which should begin in about 5 minutes. There’ll be fireworks, a big-screen projector downtown, and lots of crazed soccer fans. We might go check it out…
So I decided to save some money today and bought a couple of really cheap fans for our rooms, to help as the weather gets hotter. I went to the mall, and after 20 minutes of walking, almost 2 hours of buying the fans (yes, literally – I’ll explain later), and 3 hours of assembling them without instructions, they still look like they were built on a boat. 🙂 If you’re not from Romania, that means the Chinese were too busy building everything else that’s “Made in China” to worry about this particular item, so they just pulled it together on the boat coming here. It’s really chinzy and ugly… but it works.
Now, about the fan-buying experience. I’m still learning how everything works here when you buy stuff, and sometimes it’s a little exciting. In the mall there’s a huge store that sells pretty much everything electronic. It’s called Media World or something like that. Anyway, I needed some fans, a printer, and some laptop speakers, so I went shopping for the best quality and cheapest ones I could find. After looking around and finding some speakers that looked and sounded good, I picked them up, only to have a young Romanian man (Razvan) grab them from me and explain something sternly in Romanian. I told him, in Romanian, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I don’t speak Romanian very well.” So he explained to me in English that we had to get a “guarantee” for the item. I didn’t know what he meant so I just let him do what he had to do. What followed was almost 2 hours of running around at high speed from one department to another, following Razvan’s orders, picking up items, setting them down, opening up boxes, signing papers, negotiating return policies, waiting on clerks to run to the warehouse, etc. I got a good workout, and at the end of the 2 hours, I owned the items I was looking for, had made a new friend in Razvan, and had warranties filled out for all the items, guaranteeing their quality of construction.
Everything else I bought is great, but these fans definitely look like they were built on a boat. In fact, however, they were built on my rug. They came almost completely disassembled, and without instructions. Not that instructions would help much, because I didn’t have tools either. After trying to screw the fan base on using a tweezers, a steak knife, a butter knife, and a potato peeler, I gave up and asked one of our neighbors if he had a screwdriver. Lai is a really awesome neighbor. We met him earlier today, and not only does he have 2 big old Chinese goldfish and some sort of yellow bird, but he also had a screwdriver, which upped him on the awesomeness scale. Lai moved to Bucharest 20 years ago from China, still barely speaks Romanian, and never stops smiling.
Jessie and I went out to get a full load of groceries today, stocking up on all the essentials like flour and sugar, and on our way back we experienced our first “scolding of righteousness” (see here). Our arms were filled to the brim with grocery bags, we were trying to get on the elevator, and an older Romanian man came walking quickly at us asking us, “Where are you going?” I told him as best I could, and then he rifled into a 15-minute high-speed, super-animated monologue of Shakespearean proportions. His arms were flying everywhere, we interjected with useful phrases that signified our lack of understanding, like “Nu vorbesc Româneşte,” “Nu ştiu,” “Nu înţeleg,” and “Am fost jefuit,” but he kept talking faster and faster and getting angrier and angrier. Eventually, we calmed him down by telling him, “I understand. I’m sorry,” and he turned around with a look of disdain. I think he was upset about the party for Naomi last night. Too much noise I think.
Later, I told Lai about the incident. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” he comforted me, “Everyone is like that here. He doesn’t mean anything.” Then he added, “But be careful here. Romania is a crazy place. If you need anything, I am here for you.”