Monday, January 31, 2022

Squash After 9 Years

Today I got a message that some folks were going to play squash after work and did I want to join in.  It's been a good nine years since I last played squash at a team building event. 

It was so much fun!!  I still miss racquetball but it felt good to be out on a court, even if the racket and ball still seems odd to me.  

I went non-stop.  I'll for sure sleep well tonight but I know that I'll feel it tomorrow.  

Sunday, January 30, 2022

A Night Out

Aleš has a karaoke party planned next week at the chata but we kind of had an early celebration last night.  A few of us got together last night at Tomáš and Betty's place for a few drinks and hors d'oeuvres before we all headed out to Lemon, which is the one gay nightclub here in Brno.

Jose brought a couple of friends from medical school to join in on the festivities.  It was fun to hang out with everyone and to do some dancing.  

I can't remember the last time that I went out dancing.  Unless you count me and Tünde jumping around like fools listening to German pop songs.  After Lemon, we tried to hit the local karaoke bar but it was packed so ended up calling it a night.

Down 24 kg

Well I'm still on my diet and exercise kick.  As of this morning I'm now down 24 kg (53 lbs).  My goal of losing 25 kg is now within sight.  

That's just 1 kg more to go.  It doesn't sound like much except then I remember that 1 kg is 2,2 lbs.  Ugh, this damn metric system!  

The other frustrating thing is while I hit -24 kg this morning, who knows what I'll weigh in at tomorrow morning?  

I just need to remember to not get frustrated and to keep going.  

Update:  I hit my goal weight.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

2021 Social Risk Index

Euler Hermes is an insurance company that in 2020 created the Social Risk Index.  This was to measure business climates across the globe, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, during one of the worst recessions since WWII. 

There are 12 factors and each country gets a score from 1-100 for each of the 12, the scores are combined for an overall score.  The 12 factors that are evaluated include trends in real GDP per capita growth, labour force participation, income inequality, public social spending on education, health and social protection, political stability, government effectiveness, corruption perception, trust in government levels of vulnerable employment, imports as a percentage of GDP, currency depreciation, and fiscal revenue as a percentage of GDP.  

All of this boils down to ranking countries according to potential economic and political instability during rapid change.

Last year, the USA came in at #23 and Czechland ranked #28. This year, Czechia came in at #19, while the USA is at #35.  The reason that Czechia jumped up nine places was the countries response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the stability of the labour market here despite Covid. 

Scandinavia topped the rankings as the countries usually do when it comes to any type of social score.  Europe did well with 16 countries in the top 20, and 13 of them are EU member countries.  New Zealand was the top placed country outside of Europe.  Most advanced economies saw improvements from last year but the USA, France, Portugal, and Greece all saw large declines.

Here are the 2021 rankings...

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Sweden
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. New Zealand
  7. Germany
  8. Austria
  9. Luxembourg
  10. Iceland
  11. Canada
  12. Ireland
  13. Japan
  14. Australia
  15. Netherlands
  16. Estonia
  17. France
  18. Portugal
  19. Czechia
  20. Slovenia
26. Slovakia

35. USA

The five lowest rankings belong to #181 Zimbabwe, #182 Nigeria, #183 Afghanistan, #184 Sudan, and #185 Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Security Information Service (BIS)

Bezpečnostní informační služba (BIS), is the Czech Security Information Service. 

The BIS has its headquarters in Prague and, with about 1.000 employees, it reports directly to the Prime Minister and the President and it is overseen by a permanent commission of the Chamber of Deputies.

It is the country's domestic intelligence agency and is responsible for Czech Republic's national security both here and abroad.  The primary focus is on terrorism, counter-intelligence, cybersecurity, organised crime and proliferation.

Its motto is Audi, Vide, Tace, which means "Hear, See, Be silent."

The BIS is not the direct successor of the StB, the Czechoslovak secret police, which was dissolved in 1990.  The service has no police powers so it can't detain, arrest or interrogate suspects.

Here's a short video I found out on YouTube about the BIS.  It's in Czech so at least you'll get to hear what Czech sounds like. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Long Road to Ukrainian Independence

There is always something going on at náměstí Svobody.  Today there was an exhibition about the long road to freedom and Ukrainian history in the 20th century.

Ukraine was an independent country for a couple of years following WWI, but in 1992 it became a founding member of the USSR as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Under Stalin, Ukrainian nationalism was put down.  Due to Stalin, millions of Ukrainians starved to death during Holodomor, the Great Famine and another 7-8 million more people died during WWII.

Ukraine declared independence on 24 August 1991.  When the USSR broke up, the country was a nuclear power.  It surrendered all of its nuclear weapons to Russia in 1996 on condition that Ukrainian territory would be respected.  That hasn't exactly worked out so well for Ukraine.

While Ukraine wants to eventually join the EU and NATO, Russia wants the country to stay aligned to Moscow.  In 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea.  This is popular here because many Czechs see the resemblance of Russia annexing Crimea to Hitler annexing the Sudetenland in 1938 from Czechoslovakia.  Russia is also supporting separatists in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine.  

Brno, like Czech Republic, has a large Ukrainian population.  There are more Ukrainians here then there are Slovaks.  Signs of support for Ukraine are not uncommon here.  

Here's a short 5-minute video I found out on YouTube talking about Ukraine's history up to 2014.


Post-Quarantine Fun

Yesterday we had some post-quarantine fun.  We went over to Lucie's for some Nintendo and a little karaoke.  

Nothing wild but it was nice to get together.  Everyone who was ill before is now felling better and out of quarantine.   

Fortunately, I never felt ill and I tested negative.  I'm still up for some more Korean BBQ.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

2022 Passport Power

The Henley Passport Index is out and once again, Japan has the world's most powerful passport.  Since 2018, it has held the #1 spot.  Having a Japanese passport allows one to travel to 193 countries either visa-free or visa on arrival.  Only 34 destinations require a visa or an e-visa.  Last year, a Japanese passport "only" got you to 191 countries and 35 countries required a visa.  

There's no such thing as an EU passport.  There are just passports issued by EU member countries and they tend to dominate the rankings.  22 EU countries rank amongst the 11 most powerful passports.  

  1. Japan (193)
  2. Singapore, South Korea (192)
  3. Germany, Spain (190)
  4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg (189)
  5. Austria, Denmark, NetherlandsSweden (188)
  6. France, Ireland, Portugal, UK (187)
  7. Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, USA (186)
  8. Australia, Canada, Czechia, Greece, Malta (185)
  9. Hungary (183)
  10. Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia (182)
  11. Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia (181)

The three weakest EU member passports belong to the three most recent joiners.  Romania ranks at #16 with 174 countries while Bulgaria and Croatia both come in at #17 with 173 countries.

My American passport is still ranked in 7th place with only 41 countries requiring a visa to visit.  In 2006 and 2014, the U.S. passport was ranked #1.

A U.S. passport gets you in to Australia, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, Mongolia, and Pakistan.  Czechs need a visa to visit these countries.  Americans are still eligible for a 3-year visa for Russia which isn't available to Czechs.

A Czech passport will still ranked in 8th place with only 42 countries requiring a visa to visit.  In 2006, a Czech passport was ranked #21.  In 2014, it cracked the top 10 and has stayed there since.  Czechs are able to visit Belarus, Iran, Turkey, Myanmar, and Venezuela while Americans need a visa to visit them.

I need to get on the ball and submit my paperwork for Czech citizenship so that I can get my Czech passport.

Update:  Here's a 10½ minute video from Faultline that I found out on YouTube that talks about passports, visas, and travel.


Update: 2023 passport power rankings.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

New Testing Rules

The Czech Ministry of Health has some new rules.  Prior to 11 January, the quarantine period was 14 days, but with a negative PCR test it could be stopped at seven days.

As of 11 January, the mandatory quarantine period, after receiving your first positive test, is now only five days.  There is no exit test but after leaving quarantine you have to wear a respirator for five days.

As of 17 January, companies have to test employees twice a week.  I'm still working from home so this doesn't apply to me.

Before yesterday, two PCR tests per month were free as they were covered by public health insurance.  Now, up to five free PCR tests per month are covered for those who are vaccinated.  As long as you've had the first vaccine dose and are waiting on the second then you also qualify for up to five free PCR tests per month.  Children also qualify for the five free tests per month.

As of yesterday, unvaccinated adults, those over the age of 18, are no longer entitled to a free test.  They now have to pay around 800 Kč (~$32) for a PCR test.

I tested on Sunday, the 16th, and got my results on Monday the 17th.  So I guess the Sunday test counted as one of my two free tests per month.

Monday, January 17, 2022

My First PCR Test

So after our Korean BBQ adventure, a couple of people are ill, one tested positive for Covid and another tested positive on a home kit but later had a PCR test and the results were negative.  I feel fine.  Just to be on the safe side a went for my first Covid test on Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday I went online and booked an appointment at St. Anne's Hospital for a PCR test.  St. Anne's is in the city centre.  It was established in 1786 and is Brno's second-largest hospital.  Like Bohunice, it is a teaching hospital for the Faculty of Medicine at Masaryk University.

It was pretty easy to arrange the test online.  I showed up at the testing site, showed my ID card, my health insurance card, and my passport.  I was then called into a room where a nurse performed the test.  I was in and out in about 15 minutes.

Today, I received an SMS that my results were ready.  I received two e-mails that were each password protected.  I had to enter my Czech birth number to open them.  The first was my lab results saying that I tested negative.  

The second was my official medical health certificate showing my PCR test results that I can use to cross the border.  It is printed in three languages: Czech, English, and Ukrainian.

I felt fine but it was nice to get the official negative test result today.  I guess the booster shot worked.  No Omicron for me.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

2021 Preliminary Census Results

Last year, the Czech Statistical Office conducted the country's first online census.  It's amazing to me that I've been living long enough here in Czechland that this was my second census.     

The Czech Statistical Office was created back in 1969.  I was told that from 1969-1995, some statistical control was actually in the hands of local governments but as of 1996 the CZSO has complete control over statistics for the entire country.

Here are some of the preliminary results.

About half of the population, 48,2%, live in one of four regions: Prague, Central Bohemia, South Moravia, and Moravian-Silesia.  Prague has the lowest average age (41,4 years), the lowest amount of Czech citizens (86,1%) and the most university-educated people over 15 years of age (33,7%).

The national average age is 42,7 years with women slightly older than men at 44,1 and 41,2 years respectively.  For people 15 years and older, 32,1% are single and 45,6% are married.  I don't know what category the other 22,3% fall into.  Perhaps a combination of registered partnership or widowed.

Foreigners make up 4,7% of the population.  Foreigners from within the EU make up 1,5% of the population while foreigners from outside the EU, like me, account for 3,2%.  The largest group of foreigners come from Ukraine (1,4%), followed by Slovakia (0,9%) and Vietnam (0,5%).

It will be interesting to see the full results of the survey once they're available.

Here's about the 2011 census and the 2011 census results.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Korean BBQ (and More)

After Lucie's birthday last week, a few of us made plans to go for some Korean BBQ.  Mộc BBQ, is a Vietnamese restaurant in Slatina is the only place Brno for Korean BBQ. 

We had quite the feast for five of us and surprisingly it wasn't tragically expensive.  If only it was in the city centre and not way out in Slatina.

Oh how I miss Korean food.  While Korean food isn't easy to come by there is one saving grace and that's the Korean grocery store, Shin K-Food, in the city centre which is where I can get kimchi and gochujang (chill pepper paste).

It seems that there's more history between Czechland and the Korean Peninsula that I previously thought.  Here's a video I found out on YouTube that talks about Czechoslovak Legionnaires supporting Korean independence from the Japanese.   

©Arirang News

Back in the days of socialism, Czechoslovakia was one of the first countries to recognise North Korea.  Diplomatic relations were established in 1948.  After the Soviet Union and China, Czechoslovakia was the third-largest provider of economic aid to Pyongyang.  The North Korean embassy in Prague serves both Czechia and Slovakia.

Diplomatic relations weren't established between Czech Republic and South Korea until 1990.  Today, more than 70 Korean-owned companies operate here in Czechland employing over 16.000 people.  

There are more than 90 Korean companies operating next door in Slovakia.  Kia Motors produces around 200.000 cars a year in Slovakia and I still love the marketing of SlovaKIA.  

In Prague, there's the Czech-Korean Society which is a non-governmental non-profit organisation connecting people and institutions between Czechland and Korea.  They have educational and cultural events but I need to see if they ever do anything in Moravia.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Gregor Johann Mendel

Gregor Johann Mendel was a biologist, a meteorologist, a mathematician, an Augustinian friar and an abbot.  He is known as the Father of Modern Genetics and he was a local Brno boy.  This year the city celebrates the 200th anniversary of his birth.

He was born Johann Mendel to a German-speaking family on 20 July 1822 in Heinzendorf bei Odrau, Austro-Hungary which is now Hynčice, in Silesia, Czech Republic.

He became a monk in part because it allowed him to get an education for free.  When he joined the Order of Saint Augustine at St. Thomas' Abbey, in Brno, he was given the name Gregor.  In Czech his name was Řehoř Jan Mendel.

While at the abbey he engaged in scientific research.  He coined the terms "dominant and recessive factors" now called genes and his experiments led to what's known as Mendel's Laws of Inheritance.  

In 1868, he became the abbot at St. Thomas' and his new administrative responsibilities basically put an end to his scientific work.  

Mendel died, at the age of 61, on 6 January 1884.  Leoš Janáček, the Czech composer, played the organ at his funeral.  His work in genetics wasn't recognised until more than three decades later at the turn of the 20th century.

Here's a short video I found out on YouTube about him. 


There are a number of activities planned throughout the year.  At 11 am, a Mendel-inspired marble will fall from the Brno Clock at náměstí Svobody.  

Brno's Mendel University is named after him.  

I still haven't visited the Mendel museum yet.  Guess I need to do it this year.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Lucie's Birthday

Yesterday was Lucie's birthday so it was a great excuse for another karaoke party out at Honza and Aníčka's cottage.  

Lucie has been patiently waiting to rebook her holiday to Korea which was cancelled due to Covid travel restrictions.  That and her love of K-pop meant that we had an Asian inspired birthday party complete with  K-pop karaoke and Soju.   

Honza & Aníčka

It was a lot of fun!!  

I seem to have made the list because after Vašek's birthday, I was invited to both the Christmas party and New Year's parties.  Now Lucie's birthday and it looks like Aleš will have his birthday at the cottage in February.  

I did my best to sing a bit of K-pop but I only know a few songs.  Not that my singing in English, German, or Czech is anyway better.  Next week several of us are going out for Korean BBQ in Brno.  I can't wait for that!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Feast of the Three Kings

The Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany, is on 6 January and it officially marks the end of the Christmas holidays.  Even though the last Christmas public holiday is 26 December for St. Stephen's Day

If you haven't taken down your Christmas tree yet then today's the day to do it.

The day commemorates the adoration of baby Jesus by the three kings Balthazar, Caspar, and Melchior, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  

The tradition is to write on a door frame, in white chalk, the initials "K + M + B", the initials of the three wise men.  In Czech it's Kaspar since the "K".  And the little "plus" isn't a plus sign, it's a Christian cross.

Out on YouTube I found the traditional Czech Christmas song My tři králové jdeme k vám (We Three Kings are Coming to You).

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Happy 2022

Happy New Year!!  Šťastný nový rok!!  Today is Czech Independence Day which is not to be confused with Czech Statehood Day.  Czech Independence Day celebrates the establishment of an independent Czech Republic (and Slovakia) as a result of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Divorce.

Last night was a karaoke Silvestr party at the cottage.  Lots of fun!!