Saturday, August 31, 2019

Made it to Shanghai, China

I finally made it to Shanghai.  Here's how it all started.  I took the Student Agency bus from Brno to Vienna Airport.  No problem.  I went to check in with Qatar Airways and then the fun began.  The check-in agent wanted to see my Chinese visa.

I explained that I don't need a visa because Shanghai permits 144-hour visa free travel for those en route to a third country.  For an American citizen a Chinese tourist visa is $140.  But if you're flying to/from another country then you can stay for 144 hours.  And the 144 hours starts at 00:00 following your date of entry so depending on when you arrive you can actually stay more than 144 hours.  For transit purposes, China considers Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries.

For some reason the agent didn't know this and wanted to see my visa.  I had to explain it a few times in both English and German.  Then the supervisor got involved.  I explained it again.  Eventually, they were able to verify it, apologised for the delay and 45 minutes later I was checked in.  On my way to the gate I took advantage of my Oneworld  Sapphire status and popped in the lounge for a quick bite before heading to the gate.  I queued up when they called for priority boarding and the fun started all over again.  The two gate agents wanted to see my visa.  Again I explained that I'm travelling visa free but they just couldn't grasp it.  I told them that I had just gone through this and to call their supervisor.  I was told to wait to the side while they proceeded to check in everyone else.  About 40ish minutes later the supervisor I dealt with earlier showed up, apologised for the second delay and allowed me to get on the plane.  Everything was fine once I got on the plane for my 5 hour flight to Doha, Qatar.  I only had an hour layover so I was really hoping that no one would ask me for a visa again.  Everything was good when I landed and I went straight to my gate on boarded my 9,5 hour flight to Shanghai.

My 144-hour visa
Once I landed in Shanghai I went to the 144-hour visa queue.  I showed my passport, hotel confirmation, and proof of my outgoing flight to Taipei, Taiwan.  The border agent wanted to see proof of payment for the ticket.  So for this visa it's best to have a printed receipt from the airline to show as evidence.

After passing immigration, I picked up my luggage, bought a SIM card and headed for the maglev (magnetic levitation train).  The maglev goes non-stop from the airport to downtown.  The 30,5 km (18.95 mile) distance only takes 8 minutes.  It has a top speed of 431 km/h (268 mph).

301 km/h = 187 mph
The maglev opened in 2004 and it is the oldest magnetic levitation train still in operation.  It's still the world's fastest commercial electric train.  A single ride costs ¥50 (~€6).

I feels good to finally be here.  The plan is to explore Shanghai for a few days.  One day I want to catch the bullet train to go spend a day in Nanjing.  The forecast predicts a lot of rain over the next few days and my food tour for tonight was cancelled.  But hopefully the rain won't be too bad while I'm here.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

No Vowels

I'm still taking Czech lessons several days per week so that I can pass my B1 language exam.  Even after all these years I am still amazed by the lack of vowels.

There are four single letter prepositions that are consonants.

K = to, toward
S = with
V = in
Z = from

The shortest word, more than a single letter without a vowel, is hl which means "he moved".

The longest word without any vowels is čtvrthrst which means "one quarter of a handful".  A real difficult one for me is the seven letter word zcvrnkl which means "he flicked".  Fortunately I hardly ever need to say it.

Three crazy sentences without any vowels are:
Prd krt skrz drn, zprv zhlt hrst zrn.  A mole farted through grass, first swallowing a handful of grain.

Chrt pln skvrn vtrhl skrz trs chrp v čtvrť Krč.  A greyhound full of stains burst through a cluster of cornflowers in the neighbourhood of Krč.

Plch pln skvrn prch skrz drn prv zhlt čtvrthrst zrn.  A dormouse full of stains escaped through grass after first easting a quarter handful of grain.

At least I can now finally say these two tongue twisters.

Strč prst skrz krk.  Put your finger in your neck/throat.
Vlk zmrzl, prst zvlhl.  Frozen wolf, wet finger.

Oh my poor tongue.  Sometimes I feel that trying to speak Czech will cause my tongue to break.  Or at least get a serious sprain.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Million Moments for Democracy

Milion chvilek pro demokracii, Million Moments for Democracy, is a Czech protest group that formed in January 2018.  It was founded by Mikuláš Minář and Benjamin Roll, who were theology students at Charles University in Prague.

It started off with a challenge to get one million signatures supporting the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.  Among the reasons for protesting against the PM are alleged corruption, his staying in office while under police investigation and that he was an StB operative under the communist regime.

The group is not affiliated to any particular political party.
They have organised demonstrations across the country.  In June 2019, with over 250,000 people, they staged the largest protest since the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Extended Paternity Leave

Another good EU rule is coming.  No later than 1 August 2022, Czechland needs to extend paternity leave from seven to ten working days.

In 2016, the Czech government introduced seven days of paternity leave allowing fathers to claim up to 70% of their salary.  The seven days became effective February 2018.

The government also passed an amendment to the parental leave law that by 2020 will increase benefits from 220.000 to 300.000 Kč (~$9224 - $12,579; ~€8252 - €11.253).

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

50th Anniversary of Protests

21.8.1969 Brno
©Moravské zemské muzeum Brno
Today is the 50th anniversary of when Czechoslovak forces fired on their own citizens.  Following the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia which ended the Prague Spring, was a period of time called "normalisation" which basically meant an end to Alexander Dubček's liberal reforms and a new hard-line communist government.

There were protests a year later across the country against the government and the Soviet occupation forces.  The government used security forces against the demonstrators.  This included the People's Militia which was the communist party's own armed forced made up of ordinary people dedicated to the communist regime.

About 2.500 protestors were arrested and five people were shot and killed, three in Prague and two in Brno.  No one was ever punished for the killings.  Czechs aren't fond of the 1968 Soviet Invasion but many feel that 1969 was worse because this time people weren't killed by invading armies but by their own people.

On 22 August 1969, the Federal Assembly passed legal measure n.99 to consolidate public order.  The "baton law" was used to suppress dissent against the government.  If you said or did anything against the communist order that you could be fired or expelled from university.  And by anything they meant anything.  Any form of art, song lyrics, a poem, or even a joke that went against the state would result in punishment.  The police could now detain people for up to three weeks instead of just 48 hours, and the trial process  It also expedited interrogations and the shorted the trial process.  In December 1969 it was implemented into the Czechoslovak criminal law and the labour code.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Handwriting

When I was a kid, we learned how to write in cursive in the fourth grade.
I remember all of the worksheets we had to fill out and we were supposed to write at a 45 degree angle.
Nowadays I don't believe that they even teach cursive in school.


Czech Cursive ABCs
In Czechland and Slovakia, the upper-case S and lower-case T always seems odd to me.  The upper-case S looks more like an L without the bottom flourish.

The lower-case T kind of looks like an S or an A to me, depending on who writes it.

The upper-case Zed looks like an L and I can never quite tell what a lower-case Zed reminds me off.

Sometimes my cleaning lady will leave me a note.  She doesn't speak English and I don't have any problem with a note in Czech.  It's just that sometimes I can't quite figure out which letters she's used.

At least it's not Germany.  Sometimes I feel completely illiterate there and here's why.

Fraktur is a common German blackletter type that came about in the mid-16th century.  It just seems so busy that I struggle to read it.  And by "struggle" I mean that I can't read it at all.


Then there's Sütterlin script that was taught in German schools from 1915 to 1941, although some schools still taught it up until the 1970s.  
Even younger Germans today have a difficult time trying to decipher Sütterlin.  I find it easier to read Russian than some German texts.  I may not know all of the words in Russian but I can at least I understand all of the letters.  Cursive Russian is a different story.
Russian printed and cursive letters
Update 2020:  I gave my old Fitbit to a friend's son and I received a handwritten thank you note.  Notice the "T"s?

Golden Tram Ceremony

Yesterday was the official 150th anniversary of Brno public transit.  The official ceremony took place at Moravské náměstí with an honour guard in period costume.  There were a few speeches by local officials.

There was an unveiling at the spot were at 19:00, 150 years before, the first horse-drawn tram made its first trip to Královo pole.

After all of the speeches and the balloons were released the golden tram was there to take people on a short ride to Královo pole and back to commemorate the first Brno tram ride.

I got to sit in my sponsored team for the 10 minute ride.

I'm glad that I sponsored a seat.  Brno has become home and it's cool to think that I was able to give even a little something back to the city.  

Friday, August 16, 2019

CEFTA

The Central European Free Trade Agreement, or CEFTA, was formed in 1992 by the Visegrád countries - Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary.  After the Velvet Divorce both Czech Republic and Slovakia became independent members.  The purpose was to work together towards integrating political, economic, security, and legal systems with western free-market economies.

Over the years, other countries have joined CEFTA.  However, once a country joins the European Union it must leave CEFTA.  Former members include Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Slovenia.  Basically being a CEFTA member servers as good preparation for eventually joining the EU.

Current CEFTA members
CEFTA seems less "Central Europe" and more "Balkans" to me.  The seven current members are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia.  Combined the CEFTA countries have a combined population of about 21,5 million people and a GDP over $290 billion.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Central Europe

One of the things that learned many years ago is that Czech Republic is located in Central Europe...not Eastern Europe.  If you look at a map Czechland really is right in the middle of Europe.  Czechs get offended when people say Czechland is in Eastern Europe.

Post WW2 Iron Curtain
After World War II, the Iron Curtain split Europe in to Western Europe and Eastern Europe.  Many people still divide Europe based on political systems that disappeared +30 years ago.  Geographically, Vienna is east of Prague but Vienna gets labeled as western while Prague is considered eastern.


The countries considered to make up Central Europe are Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, and Czechland (right in the middle of them all).

Eastern Europe is pretty much all of the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.  Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Another arbitrary split is Central and Eastern Europe.  The CEE countries are Czechland, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bosnia & Herzegovina.  CEE doesn't include Germany, Switzerland, Russia or and former Soviet republics (expect for the three Baltic countries).  

Sunday, August 11, 2019

2019 Prague Pride

This weekend was 9th annual Prague Pride.  IBM was one of the sponsors and participated in the parade.  I'm not quite certain how, but somehow, I ended up in a toga on the float.

Unfortunately, it rained on Saturday.  But even with the rain it was still and awesome day.  I hear about 30,000 people participated in this year's parade.

This was my third Pride parade this year after Vienna and Bratislava.  This was by far the most fun.

Here's a short YouTube video that our executive sponsor put together.

©Christian Noll