Posts Tagged With: iPod

Poland: A Beautiful Start, A Violent End

For reasons I will later explain, I am back in Poland. For almost two months, I’ve been hesitant to tell the world what I am now about to tell the world. No, it’s not some deep, dark secret. Sorry to disappoint. But it’s something I’ve largely kept to myself and shared only with a small circle of family and friends and a few acquaintances along the way. If you love sweet, happy  stories filled with tender moments then perhaps you should stop reading now. This is not a sappy tale. It is a story of a day gone awry. A day full of euphoria  that ended with a monumental kick to the face and some serious heart-pounding. It’s also a cautionary tale of a clash of cultures, one day in Poland, one day early last October. Ready?

It was a beautiful autumn day in Krakow, unusually warm for the time of year. So warm that neighbors opened windows to let a slight autumn breeze clear the stale air out of their homes. It was a day to hang laundry out on balconies to take advantage of the bright sun. It was a day made for a walk in the park with an ice cream cone in hand. Essentially, it was a summer day.

I was staying with a couple of friends of friends in Kazimierz, the historic Old Jewish Quarter that was one of Europe’s largest Jewish ghettos prior to World War II when German Nazis marched in and marched out thousands of Jews in this community. They were taken to Birkenau and Auschwitz concentration camps. That is, the ones who were not gunned down on the spot. Auschwitz-Birkenau took in people by the millions from all over Europe. They were subjected to unspeakable cruelty and gassed or hanged or shot in cold blood. When I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau it left me with a chill in much the same way when I landed at Elmina Castle in Ghana, where millions of Africans were held, tortured into submission and placed on ships to be taken to the “new world” as slaves. Never again, the world sometimes cries, but as history has recently shown, “never again” sometimes are empty words.

Krakus Mound

Krakus Mound

Kazimierz today is a place rich with history. It maintains many of those historic sites where man’s inhumanity to man played out. But plenty of shops and restaurants and bars and even nightclubs now occupy some of those buildings that were spared from the destruction the Nazis dealt to other cities across Europe, including Warsaw. The Germans considered Krakow to be historically a German city and so did not indiscriminately rain bombs on the city and rig buildings left still standing with explosives to erase their history. So today much of Krakow’s centuries old buildings still stand, having survived World War II. It’s a beautiful city, Krakow, and on this beautiful day I set out to explore it beyond the usual touristic haunts.

My host suggested several places: an old church in an old neighborhood just across the Vistula River. A walk along a park lined with nice, grand houses in a neighborhood that is just below a mysterious mound. From Krakus Mound, which is located high above Krakow, you can see the whole city, a spectacular 360-degree view. The mound, which dates back to the 8th Century, has puzzled archaeologists for years. They can only speculate about its purpose. At first it was thought it contained the remains of King Krakus, founder of Kraków, the ruler of the tribe of Lechitians, (Poles). But it was dug up and it turned out not to be a burial site at all. Instead, what they found inside was a full-grown tree. The tree, for whatever reason, was buried under the mound, and again, nobody knows why. It is the oldest mound in the city. There are several others, but they are not as grand and don’t offer as amazing a view as this one. Krakus mound is lushly green all around but on the top – which is not visible from below – is bald – just dirt with a marker at its center.

So I spent this day  walking along the banks of the Vistula River, toward the bridge that would take me deep into neighborhoods tourist buses simply do not venture. I was exhilarated and a bit tired from all the walking, but glad I had found the neighborhood, the church, the park and a few more treasures along the way. And as that bright sun was ready to set, I decided to head back home. On my way back, I noticed a directional sign that pointed to the Schindler’s Factory Museum. According to the sign, it was only a few meters away. My feet were burning from all that walking, but I decided to go to the museum anyway. Another unscheduled detour that could lead to more discovery and adventure. Cool.

As I walked down the nearly empty street listening to music on my iPod, I suddenly had company: two tough, half-drunk-looking guys. One of them – a shorter, more muscular one, held a bottle of Zubr, a Polish beer. He walked right up to me left side. The taller, bigger guy remained a step behind, with a goofy smile. Both had approached from behind. zubr

The shorter guy next to me was saying sometime in Polish and whatever it was, he was clearly saying it with anger. After I repeatedly told him I did not speak or understand the language, he pointed to the bottled beer – amber in color – and then made a gesture  to his neck. I didn’t understand. I thought he was stroking his skin. Ah, was he trying to convey sometime about my skin color?.  The gesture in the United States means “stop” or “quit”. At that point, he said a few more words with an even more serious look and at that time I quit smiling and firmly told him that I don’t speak Polish. When I quickened my pace and I tried to put my earphones back in my ears, he grabbed my arm very aggressively and I pulled away. His friend behind shoved me with what felt like a closed fist and I went flying forward. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, I immediately went into gain the upper hand mode: I came around full force with a kick to the face of the shorter guy and he dropped the beer and fell to the sidewalk clutching his face and screaming. The bigger guy behind me tried to come at me – it was like a linebacker coming at an unprotected quarterback. Wasn’t a fair fight even with him alone,  as he outweighed me by at least 100 pounds. I picked up the broken bottle and shouting as loud as I could, I said “COME ON! COME ON! TRY IT!”  I was hoping to attack as much attention as possible, perhaps people would come to their windows. With his friend on ground, his hand over his eye, Big Guy instead rushed over to his friend, snatched him up and they rushed across the street pass an old woman who stopped to see what the noise was all about. As they ran passed her, she said something to them but they kept going. A bit dazed and my heart pumping, I tried to figure out in which direction to go. I was in a strange neighborhood and worried that these guys lived in the neighborhood and would return with reinforcements. I thought it was best to continue on my way to Schindler’s Factory, as it was closer than trying to make it back across the bridge.

On top of Krakus Mound and on top of the world...but later this day....

On top of Krakus Mound and on top of the world…but later this day….

As I ran to the museum I saw five people outside a store who were speaking English. I told them what happened and they said their tour guide was inside the store and they were going to Schindler’s Factory and I should wait and go with them. The guide, a Polish woman, emerged from the store and we told her what happened. She then told me the area is not safe – something confirmed later by others – and that she would never come down there alone. I was surprised about this given the museum is a big draw for tourists. Granted, arrive at the museum in large tour groups, or directly on guided tours. The tour guide advised I take a taxi back. There were many taxis waiting right outside the museum.  Since I was no longer in the mood for a museum, I decided to leave and walked back to the bridge with a Polish man who had emerged from the museum. Once I made it to the bridge over the Vistula River, I knew I’d be safe. My injuries were rather minor compared to that one guy, I’m sure. But the lasting injury for me  is to my psyche. Every time some guy approaches me on the street to beg for money or wanted to speak to me – usually to get money – I get jumpy. It happened just a few days ago in Warsaw as I was walking in the center of town and three men were standing near a doorway. One of them spotted me and immediately came at me speaking in French. I know he was trying to ask for money. I kept my fast pace and told he I didn’t understand anything he was saying. “Thank you” he said, and returned to his friends.

A bridge over the Vistula River in Krakow

A bridge over the Vistula River in Krakow

In the year-plus I’ve so far been traveling, even across reportedly dangerous South America, it was the first time I’ve ever been met with an assault and had to defend myself. Yet, I hesitated sharing this story with the masses because the truth is the people of Poland have been amazing. They are super nice, helpful, giving. At least that’s been my experience. This one incident could have happened anywhere. And still, today I’m left unsure whether this incident was just a big misunderstanding. People in Poland now tell me that the gesture to the neck the guy made means “let’s get drunk” or “I’m drunk” or “let’s go drink” or something to that effect.

So was he trying to communicate to me that he either wanted me to buy him a beer or wanting to go drink with him? And since refusing to drink with someone in Poland is considered rude and disrespectful in some quarters, did he feel disrespected when after his drink gesture I appeared to try to ignore him and tune him out by going back to my music? And his grabbing my arm was a way to convey that my behavior was unacceptable? And his friend punching me in the back really a reaction to him thinking that I was being aggressive with his friend? Did this all escalate because of our inability to communicate? Did they assume that I knew what the neck gesture meant? Questions, questions, questions. I don’t have the answers. All I know is that on that beautiful autumn day in Krakow, the game changed. And with it, I changed. I returned to Poland – after traveling south to Austria and Slovakia – to do an interview and write an article for the English-language Warsaw Voice. I also had to return because I had left a backpack behind. But returning to Poland has confirmed that it’s a great country full of wonderful people – and yes, there are a few bad apples – but don’t we have those everywhere?

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My Sixth Sense

I have a sixth sense.

But if only I could learn to read it and harness its power, I could use it for evil. Joke.

This week, I had that strange feeling I’ve had many times before – about a person, a place or some thing. A person or place or thing for no apparent reason suddenly pops into my head and lingers for hours, sometimes days. It’s like that obnoxious song you can’t get out of your head. It happens at the most random of times and try as I might, I just can’t rid my thoughts of him, her or it.

Generally, the thoughts are of someone I know, but more often they’re of some celebrity or public figure. Sometimes they’re of a country or more specifically, a city or town, and not necessarily some place I’ve already visited. The strange part comes into play when a day or two later or within the week, boom! Big news breaks about that person, place or thing. Then I think to myself, I was just thinking about that person or that place or that very thing.

Will and Jada

I’m not sure it’s some sort of superpower or how is it even useful, but I almost always dismiss such nagging thoughts of whomever or whatever and go on with my day. Much more pressing things going on in my head push those seemingly mundane meanderings aside. It’s only after the news emerges about that thing, person or place that I then recall how much I had that subject on the brain only hours or days ago.

So I ask, does this ever happen to anyone else out there? Am I unique in this regard? Is it just all coincidence?

On Tuesday, I had a feeling something was up at Apple Inc. I don’t know why, I just did. It was a strong feeling that popped into my head. I wasn’t reading about Apple or doing anything that would make me think about Apple. I was simply tidying up my room, doing some other household chores. Then wham!, here comes Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs into my head. As always, I pushed the thought aside – or at least tried – but it kept coming back. It lasted off and on throughout the day, well into Wednesday. It was so strong that at one point I thought maybe Apple was about to make some big announcement about one of its popular products and my sixth sense was in high gear. A new iPhone? A significant product upgrade? Maybe a new iPad? An iPad 3? Ah, that’s it. Ah, yes, that’s it, a new and improved iPad, maybe one that finally supports Flash, good heavens!.

iPod Touch

So now I had the iPad on my mind. So much so that while I was on Facebook I began to update my status with: “Look for Apple to soon announce the iPad 3! If you’re in the market for one, wait.”

But before I posted the admittedly bold statement with no backing or sourcing other than my wild intuition, I stared at what I had written for about a minute and thought, “no, that’s not it,” and erased it. Still, I launched Google to double-check how long the iPad 2 had been on the market. Just maybe it was time for a new version of the iPad, no?

So why was I now obsessing about Apple. I like Apple products – own some of them myself – but I am no Steve Jobs “fanboy”. Those who shed tears when Steve Jobs walks on a stage to plug his products need to have their heads examined or at the minimum to get a life. Or just get a grip! [Where is slap-happy General Patton when you need him?]

The fanboys may think Steve Jobs is the Messiah, but he is – gasp! – not. Talk about belonging to a cult, not knowing it, and attacking as stupid anybody else refusing to join!

Cult Leader and Apple CEO Steve Jobs

When Wednesday came, I woke up very early in the morning to get to work, and after the routine swearing at the alarm clock, I took a shower and prepared a light breakfast. Somewhere between pouring the milk and the Mueslix, guess what popped into my mind? I then tried to explain it away: last week I had lost my iPod Touch at work, and I had been thinking about it off and on. I wasn’t so much obsessing or upset about it as I was thinking more along the lines that all my precious data was stored in that little glass and aluminum device. Who, just who had it in their sticky hands and were they using it for evil? No joke.  The very act of keeping what is so not yours is evil. Looking at someone’s private information is evil. Any person who does that is evil. Oh well, an excuse to buy the latest generation iPod Touch, was my thought. Move on.

I walked in to the cavernous building at work, made a cup of Ceylon tea, and sat down to figure out the student lineup. Then as I walked to the office of my first eager-to-learn-English junior executives, one of the department managers – also a student of mine – approached holding up an iPod Touch. “Is this yours?”

Never thought I’d see that iPod again. It had been more than a week. It had mysteriously appeared on his desk, left there in plain sight. My iPod was reportedly spotted on the desk by another mining executive, not one that I teach English to every week. How had the iPod turned up on this desk is still a mystery. I suppose I could have security review the cameras, but who cares. The important thing is I got it back.

I think the person who found it and kept it had remorse and decided to return it, slipping it onto the desk while no one was looking. Just about everyone at the company knew I had lost my iPod and would ask daily if I had found it. They were genuinely concerned about finding it. This isn’t a company where stealing is tolerated, one of them said to me. From the security staff the housekeeping staff, they all were on the lookout. The messages I sent to the iPod’s screen may have also scared that person into turning it in.

For the uninitiated, if you lose your iPhone or iPod Touch, you can engage a feature called “Find My Phone” that locates it via GPS just about anywhere in the world. You can also remotely through Apple’s Mobile Me Website send any message you want to the screen -“Hey, you #$@&!! return my iPod! – or  instantly slap a password on it to lock it and prevent its use. And in a final act to preserve your privacy, erase all the data. All this remotely from your home computer or laptop.

My messages that the device belonged to me and that it be returned or face doom, may have scared the person into doing the right thing. At least I’d like to think so. One thing: the GPS-backed function to locate the iPod on a global map did not work. Otherwise, I would have known where to go find the device. A chemical engineer at the mine, a pretty smart guy, attributed the GPS failure to our desert location where there isn’t a strong signal. I don’t know. It worked great elsewhere, most recently in Chicago when I misplaced it there. A map popped up on the computer and zoomed in on the building, and voila! Found it. Amazing technology and smart thinking from Apple.

So on Thursday morning, I had my iPod back in hand. By Thursday night, on that very same device came a breaking news alert from the New York Times: “Steven P. Jobs Is Stepping Down As Chief Executive of Apple.”

Say what?

The iPad

“I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” Jobs wrote in a statement released by Apple. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

So iPod Touch back in hand, it alerts me of the news from…..drum roll….Apple! There’s the big news, is what I thought, of course. Bigger news than the release of an iPad 3. Hey, I never said this mind power was about predicting the future. Just that some event – good or bad – is about to unfold in involving the people, places and things that invade my thoughts.

The very same week, I had actor Will Smith on the brain, but not to the degree of Apple. Then word comes the next day and spreads by Facebook and Twitter that he and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith are getting a divorce after 13 years of marriage. Okay. Coincidence?

I think that’s all I will reveal about my superpower…err…gift…err…weirdness.

One thing’s for sure: when it comes to travel, I do listen to my sixth sense. We refer to it as a “gut feeling”. But my gut tells me this sixth sense is about something more.

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Sixteenth Hour

Still on the bus. Six more hours to go. We just stopped in a town called Abancay. We are at the bus terminal for a routine stop. I must say I’m not feeling 100 percent myself. Sinus issues coupled with the high altitude made for restless sleep. When I get to Cuzco I will try to get some real rest.
All and all, it’s still been an amazing journey crossing the Peruvian Andes. I lived in the Pacific Northwest of the United States for many years so I am not entirely unaccustomed to mountain ranges. But these Andes Mountains have been touched by the hands of God – or a higher power – if you prefer. Sitting on a hulking powerful bus and feeling it struggle to get to the top and squeeze through narrow passages is breathtaking. All the while your ears pop with the ascent and you struggle to catch your breath. I am now used to the altitude but every now and then the mountain tells me don’t get so cocky.
Last night a young woman on the bus was having a pretty rough time with the altitude. She was in tears. The bus attendant and some other passengers tried to comfort her. Not much you can do in the middle of nowhere. Tea – specifically coca tea – they say helps.
At this very moment we are back on the road. Making our way through snowcapped peaks. There is an amazing blue sky. A guy on the bus is listening to his iPod and singing out loud and very badly. Sounds like a dying crow. Twenty-two hour bus trips bring out the best and worst in us. Hey, I will take the off key singer anyday over the phone yapper.
By the way, I’m filing these on my BlackBerry. Not easy on the fingers but hey 🙂

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