Destroyer. Giantslayer. Doom of False Worlds. I am Death.
Budapest, Final Night
Lately, I've been thinking a bit about the death and rebirth of the self. Not in the sense of true reincarnation, which I find myself, at the moment, unable to observe, but the smaller vagaries that take place within a single flesh-and-blood construct. Though one grew to become the other, I can hardly be considered the same person as my long-gone five-year-old self. Under normal circumstances, however, it is easy to stitch one's memories together and create a contiguous story of oneself. These are not normal circumstances. Tomorrow, I will awake at 4 in the morning and leave everything I have built since last August behind. My return to the US will constitute a paradigm shift, the close of this chapter of my life, and thus, an ending.
As such, I find myself obligated to draw some conclusions about what I have gained from my year abroad. So I will begin with the most clichéd sentiment: the people really are the same everywhere. Sure, cultures and ideals vary, but wherever one goes, they will find that there really are assholes everywhere. Fools, racists, jerks, xenophobes, and predators exist all over the world. Saying that we humans are ugly people who do ugly things is just as easy as espousing the opposite sentiment. Yet for all the damnations I can throw upon my own people, I cannot justly pretend to such negativity. I have seen too much of the good in people this year for that. The boy who talked to me every day before class during the weeks I needed it most. The teachers who helped me overcome the language barrier and earn passing grades. Most of all, the woman who decided to give the confused boy who visited her house for two weeks his second chance at having a host family.
Though my future selves will be sure to correct me on this point, I believe that I now see with relative clarity. Living bottled up in a town of 9,000 people gave me tunnel vision, and even the occasional international trip did little to correct it. Now, having lived in one of the greatest cities in Europe, I find myself face-to-face with the simple fact that the world is much more than I can ever comprehend. When I say I've never felt more lost, that's not a bad thing. I remember spending a great deal of time feeling trapped, so this is a pleasant change of pace. There are too many paths for me to get hung up on finding the "right" one. Now that I am preparing to enter college, a sea of possibility awaits.
As the sun sets for the last time on my exchange year, loss and anticipation battle in my veins. There is no stopping time from bringing everything to ash, but ashes are what phoenixes rise from.
Which is harder, leaving the life you've built for your entire life for a year, or leaving the life you've built in a year forever?
Budapest, ???-dik Nap
Departure in 8 Days
The months since my last entry have been a bittersweet whirlwind. My last AFS orientation, my last chapter meeting, the end of school here, and my graduation from highschool all signified endings. Yet I remained and remain active in this country, attending both my Hungarian language exam and a trip to visit my host grandmother in Kazincbarcika. Even as the summer heat seeks to drain my remaining energy, and even as the end is in sight, I must not lapse into acedia.
The final orientation, from June 3-5 saw us returning to where we all began, the camp I described in my very second blog post. However, the people themselves were far, far removed from who they were ten months before. That was not just because of all the new people and all the people who either previously left the country or failed to attend the orientation, either. At night, the camp drowned in a tide of alcohol (despite the bags having been searched) and I once again found myself hiding away with the poker crew. Thus I failed to witness the actions that resulted in a broken bench and a broken door.
Drunkeness aside, the orientation organizers did one big thing right; the scheduled activity for the last night of the orientation. Instructing all of us to remain quiet, the volunteers ushered us to form a circle in the dark, a distance removed from the camp. Group by group, we were silently pulled away from the mass and through the camp. Maintaining our muteness, we were brought past re-enacted scenes from throughout the year, before finally reaching the entrance to the dining hall. After receiving the judgement of an imposing-looking man, we were brought into the dining hall, which was wreathed in darkness except for the lights of dozens of candles. One person, one candle. So we waited until all were present. Then, one by one, each and every one of us gave our thanks to someone, or something.
In direct contrast, my final chapter meeting took place entirely under the light of the sun. Yet I think my sight must have been clearer in the dark, because I knew barely a third of the people there. I knew I had become distanced from them to a degree, but the sheer number of new volunteers seemed in excess of what I expected. On the meeting, I have but one further comment; that I find it profoundly interesting that, on my journey to the final meeting of the Budapest chapter, my bus passed a "you are now leaving Budapest" sign.
Not only have I graduated highschool, I have earned an unusual distinction: I slept through my own graduation ceremony. In fairness to myself, it was at 4 in the morning my time. I cannot, however, claim that my need for emotional closure with my schools has not been fulfilled. I obtained that with JCS spending hours recording the videos for my senior project presentation and graduation speech. I even got to FaceTime in for the presentation, but I couldn't see or hear much of anything so I spent most of the time making dumb faces at the camera. In contrast, my exit from my school here was relatively understated. After the last day of school, I slowly walked away to the metro stop, willing myself not to look back. This would have been a more emotionally-significant moment, but I think it was somewhat undercut by the fact that a couple weeks later I got called back to discuss grades.
My Hungarian exam went about as well as I could have expected. I still don't know how well I did, but perhaps if I did I'd now be complaining about the dishonor of picking the easiest test available and somehow failing anyway. There are a lot of reasons that I did not learn the language as well as I could have, and I do not wish to go into them in this text. Being used to the rigorous procedure of the SAT, I found the ECL rules to be relatively lax, but that may be a symptom of the country and not the test itself. I applaud those who attempted the more advanced tests, and reserve further comment on the subject.
After I missed it on the 10-day trip, my host family demanded that I go to their hometown, the city Kazincbarcika, near Miskolc. So I stayed for three days in the punishing heat, exploring the beauties of the two cities. Miskolc (pictured above) may not have the most impressive downtown in Hungary, but those who search will find Miskolc University, and other beautiful destinations.
Also, I visited multiple caves, a welcome relief from the summer. From hordes of stalactites to an underground concert hall, the caves near Miskolc have much to offer.
When I returned to Kazincbarcika, there was a festival of sorts. The phoenix and witch dancers pictured were among several other attractions, including a stage magician, a concert, and my personal favorite, fire dancers.
Since then, I've been scrambling to make the most of my remaining time in Budapest. From the dark and moody depths of the Terror House, a memorial to the horrors of the Nazi and Soviet regimes in Hungary, to the brilliant view from Buda Castle and the entrance to the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest has so much to offer. Granted, I would have had a better experience with the latter if I hadn't come up 40ft short of buying a ticket into the gallery, but such is life. Also I maintain that the Warcraft movie was severely underrated by critics.
I suppose I'll be writing again pretty soon with my final thoughts about this exchange year. Maybe I can get the creepy hooded guy with the scythe to stop following me around, as well.
In the wake my my fourth Ludum Dare in December, I found myself wishing that I could shake things up a little for the next one. The use of my tools had become mature and streamlined, and I found myself ready for a new challenge. In that respect, Ludum Dare 35 did not disappoint. So, a week later, I publish my post-project recollection.
The first shakeup came with the setting. In stark contrast to the solo nature of my previous 4 LDs, I was able to attend the Ludum Dare gathering at the Nemesys Games office in Budapest. So my first shoutout has to go to the space itself; it's cool. The luxurious open-plan office comes equipped with multiple working setups for the HTC Vive VR system, two arcade-looking racing game consoles, and the best damn foosball table I've ever had the pleasure of playing on. And so, the night before the LD proper began, I finally got a chance to demo a VR system. VR scuba diving certainly doesn't capture the salty taste of the real deal, but as I found myself involuntarily stepping back from a malfunctioning Aperture Science robot as it stumbled toward me, the potential of the system was made clear to me. Being able to phase my hand through the robot kinda broke the illusion though. Still, after this I was quite excited for the coming day.
When I arrived Saturday morning for the Ludum Dare, I found myself ushered to a group of people I'd never met before. Based on the theme revealed early that morning, Shapeshift, they were brainstorming for the endless runner that would eventually become Soulmyst. At first, I was unsure where I fit in the team. As a Flash/As3 dev, I had no experience in Unity/C#, the engine of all the team's other coders' choice. On the other hand, my art skills are well-established to be "programmer art" level. As it turned out, I was concerned for entirely the wrong reasons; my skill as a programmer was up for the challenge, but my computer had a few other ideas. So, I think it's time to break up the wall of text a bit:
- Unity: With my existing tools, picking up Unity on the go was surprisingly easy. I'm pretty sure I managed to meaningfully contribute instead of just flailing uselessly with code.
- The Art Team: Seriously, my credit to the people who did the art for the project. They were able to decide on an aesthetic and absolutely nail it in execution. They even managed to come up with a monster in time to replace our placeholder.
- The Rest of the Team too: Without the rest of the programming team, I surely would have had a far more difficult time acclimating to the tools. They did lots of good work of their own, too, but I'm too self-centered to say that first.
- Pizza: It just seemed like the right food to eat at the time. Probably because it was.
- Sound Design: We never really got around to doing it at all. We ended up slapping a NemesisTheory track on the thing a couple hours before release.
- My Technical Difficulties: This was my real problem with this Ludum Dare. I'm going to make a subset of bullet points just for this.
- First some code that really should have worked stopped working in MonoDevelop, so I tried to move to Visual Studio. Things went wrong, and I ended up rebooting. That did not fix my problem. My MonoDevelop is still broken, and I ended up fixing the original problem in Notepad++ while waiting for Visual Studio to reinstall, thus setting my personal record for the number of IDEs used in a single day.
- Later, something went horribly wrong with Git. The result was a Unity project folder that instantly crashes Unity every time I try to open it. I ended up having to pull all the code back off Git and rescue my changes from the broken folder.
- At some point after all that, TortoiseGit decided to vanish from my computer for no reason, so I had to reinstall that too. The same thing happened to my Firefox Flash Player Plugin.
- So I was a bit freaked out when, shortly after the LD ended, I plugged my iPod into my computer and it failed to begin charging. That was just due to lint buildup in the lightning cable port, which is easily fixed by cleaning it out with a needle, but in the wake of all the above I was afraid the cable had broken or something.
All's well that ends well, anyway. You can download and play Soulmyst on its LD page here.
A.K.A. The 10-Day Beer Run
Magyarország, Majus 6-15 (259-269-dik nap)
As a student at Jefferson Community School, I became accustomed to the tradition of yearly Expeditions. Each year I was granted the opportunity to step away from my ordinary life and just travel for a couple weeks with the rest of the school. Understandably, this opportunity is not available to those who live on a different continent. Faced with this fact, I was delighted to find an opportunity that, at face value, appeared similar. In conjunction with Hermes Tours, AFS-Hungary offered a 10-day sightseeing trip exploring a number of cities in Hungary. Though I signed on with hesitation, I soon found myself hauling my bags onto the tour bus.
As it turns out, AFS and JCS are very different organizations, and this fact is very evident in the way trips are handled. AFS-Hungary failed to demonstrate the ability to hold its students to the same standard that JCS does, with both interesting and dangerous ramifications. Most evidently, a massive amount of alcohol was consumed during the course of the trip. I mean, sure, JCS students and chaperones sometimes drink on trips, but they are expected to at least try to cover it up somehow and be in decent shape for the following days' activities. With AFS, people were vomiting and blacking out on a nightly basis and volunteer-sponsored beer runs were a daily occurrence. We left a trail of beer, wine, and liquor containers in our wake. Despite this, I assure you that AFS students are always attentive and respectful under the light of the sun. Except by "attentive and respectful" I mean "no one could ever hear the tour guides over the sound of 60 people talking." Honestly I'm impressed our guide put up with us for so long.
So what I'm really saying is that when we left a completely trashed tour bus behind, I wasn't surprised, just disappointed.
If you're wondering how my teetotal self handled 9 nights of drunken orgy, the answer often ended up being "play poker until all the drunk people shut up." Anyway, I suppose I should exposit on the non-alcoholic elements of the trip as well.
Day 1 - Eger
From Budapest, the bus immediately began travelling East toward the city of Eger. On the way, we stopped for an excruciatingly slow-paced nature hike. There was supposedly-drinkable water in pools near the pictured location, but most of us were too sketched out to do more than just throw it at each other. Afterwards we set up camp in a hotel-like building in the center of Eger. Though it had a prime location, the building came with the minor inconvenience of only having one bathroom. All the drunk people somehow made that work out. Also, Eger has some pretty cool street art:
Day 2 - Travelling South
Back in the day, Hungary was the front lines of the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and their European rivals. Midway through the 16th century, the Turks had steamrolled most of the country when the commander Dobó István led a heroic defense of Eger Castle. For this deed, he and his champions are immortalized with a number of larger-than-life statues. This contrasts directly with the medieval torture museum housed in the same castle, which I will touch on no further than remarking that having a weight suspended from one's balls looks particularly unenjoyable. We stopped for the night at a nice housing complex with a hot tub, and prepared for the rural portion of the trip.
Day 3 - Hortobágy National Park
Continuing south, we entered Hortobágy National Park, a World Heritage Site and Hungary's largest protected area. Hortobágy is the largest semi-natural grassland in Europe. This day was dedicated to exploring traditional Hungarian life, as we rode around in horse-drawn carriages and looked at farm animals. The highlight was a formation of horsemen with whips, who I was too busy watching to take pictures of. That is not the last time I'll be saying that this post. On a brighter note, that night we had the best housing of the trip; a small village of houses with solar panels, hot tubs next to a swimmable river, and a lawnmower robot.
Day 4 - Adventure Park
Passing through the city of Szeged was about the apex of our tourism for the day, as, in direct contrast to the previous day's focus on Hungarian culture, we found ourselves spending most of the day in an "Adventure Park" featuring Airsoft and an aerial obstacle course. The former was of particular interest to me because for several years, seemingly all the boys around me were into Airsoft, but I never joined them. At the time I rationalized it by not wanting to make a large monetary investment in something I wasn't sure I'd enjoy. I do not regret that decision, but I'm glad I finally got a taste of what I missed. Unfortunately for my teammates, that particular word choice also aptly describes my gameplay. In my defense, airsoft guns have a bad habit of not functioning as intended after I pick them up. As for the aerial obstacle course, I approached it with skill and valor. On second thought, wobbling on a tightrope screaming "fuck my life" isn't really reflective of either. I did somehow make it to the end of the course, but after a while I just ended up taking ziplines whenever possible.
Day 5 - Pécs, Cave
I apparently did not take any pictures this day, because there really wasn't much to take pictures of. We passed through Pécs, marking the southwesternmost extent of our journey, then began travelling East toward Kaposvár. We stopped in the rain to visit a cave. Then we kept travelling.
Day 6 - The Competition
The southeasternmost extent of our journey was marked by our arrival at a farm outside of Kaposvár, where we split into 8 teams to compete in a variety of events, with the winning team getting free alcohol. The events included mock fishing, rolling dice, stacking blocks, projectile weapons (I missed the javelin, throwing cross, bow&arrow, and the beanbag throw, but landed the bolas perfectly somehow), whip use, fitting lots of people on top of a wooden horse, a teambuilding-exercise setup with stumps and wooden boards, stilts, team path-laying for a marble, and horseshoes. After all that the winner was a a team with an Italian name that translated as Team Blowjob-Givers. I suppose that's easier to work with than explaining the in-joke behind my own Team Cinquenta y Cinco.
The other advertised event for the day was horse-riding, but that wasn't quite as exciting as advertised.
There we are. That's the horse-riding. One hops on a horse, rides around that little area, and then gets off the horse.
After that, we visited Kaposvár. It's a very pretty city - my favorite of the ones we visited during the trip. That's in no small part because I found this gem of a statue:
Day 7 - Balaton in the Fog
After visiting Kaposvár, we sped back toward Budapest, reaching the Lake Balaton. The biggest lake in Central Europe, Balaton is referred to as the "Hungarian Sea" for good reason. When the weather is good, it offers stunning vistas and peaceful swimming. So of course we got fog and rain.
That's not to say the day was ruined. Indeed, this was my favorite part of the entire trip, because this was the day we went hiking in the rain. Starting from the shore of Balaton, we went up into the hills. Spirits were low, as rainfall and hunger dampened morale. After merely half a kilometer, the whining attained a crescendo pitch. So the quarter of the group who were willing to go all the way ditched the losers and pressed onward. Half a kilometer of stairs and a rolling ascent later, we managed to reach the apex of the trail. Even more impressively, we oriented ourselves and managed to go down the correct way as well. The steps flew by even as the full force of the storm hammered through the canopy to drench us through and through. When we emerged from the forest, the storm unleashed its final fury, inflicting yet more wetness on those who did not take cover under umbrellas, before abating at last and leaving us with our victory.
Oh yeah, and our weird hotel with doors that refused to open, some rooms with yellow water, and at least one shower that flooded an entire floor. I guess you can't win them all.
Day 8 - Zoo
After waking up to the present surprise of actual visibility on the lake, we headed to Veszprém Zoo. All things considered, the zoo had a very impressive collection, but this entry will be dedicated to one animal in particular, and an incident I really wish had been caught on film.
See, in the modern world it is easy to get disoriented. There are many challenges that nature simply could not have prepared us for. However, sometimes one finds a situation wherein therer are some basic, primal, rules that ought to apply. Rules that make the difference between reproducing successfully and dying painfully. Rules like "don't piss off a tiger" and "especially not on purpose."
As it turns out, my survival instinct is capable of accounting for fences, because for some reason I pissed off a tiger. The results were, to say the least, absolutely stunning. Now don't get we wrong - I've seen tigers in zoos before, but they've always been sedate, at a distance, or simply well-concealed. Not this time. This one looked me directly in the eye from across the exhibit. Moving with all the power and elegance of an apex predator, it strode over to my side of the exhibit and began pacing not two meters away from me, growling as it went. So of course I decided to tense my entire body and grin at the thing.
I knew the tiger was angry. I knew that baring one's teeth is a sign of aggression. I was still caught off guard when it roared at me.
Remember what I was saying about primal instincts? As far as scary things that can happen to a human in nature go, hearing a tiger's roar from a meter away is pretty near the top. That's my excuse for flinching so hard and I'm sticking with it. Had the fence not been there, I might be counting myself among this year's tiger mauling victims. As it was, it is my place to pity the tiger, being trapped in an undersized cage with little protection from gawking zoogoers.
In conclusion I probably wasn't perfectly moral there, but I'm going to choose to focus on the fact that tigers are awesome.
Day 9 - Visegrad, Esztergom
Those last two days pretty much marked the climax of the trip for me. Visegrad is a pretty cool castle, but it also happened to be one I'd been to before. Which I appear to have failed to write about the first time. After that, we went to a big Catholic church in Esztergom, before returning to the hotel for the final night. A lot of people were planning for an all-nighter, but the chaperones intervened in favor of people sleeping at about 2:30 in the morning.
Day 10 - The Return
Though the trip was advertised for 10 days, the 10th day was really just the bus ride back to Budapest. We said our goodbyes Hösök Tere where we began, made promises to meet again for the final orientation in a few weeks, and hugged a lot of people.
So, now that the trip is over, I get to return to my normal life here in Hungary and continue with my Senior Project and preparations for the ECL Hungarian Language Exam. With all that pressure to actually get stuff done, I'm glad I don't have some kind of giant doomsday clock counting down my time before my life gets massively shaken up again.
51 Days Remaining
See? It's not a giant doomsday clock. It's just text.
What happens in Prague stays in Prague.
Except this time, apparently.
The weekend before last I went to Prague. This trip began in the most sensible of ways; getting on a bus at midnight to make the cross-country journey. Naturally, despite the late hour, I found myself among the few with a genuine interest in rest. It is a testament to the constitution of many of our group members that no one, even after the 2:30am beer run, vomited on the bus floor. As light began to pierce the foggy Czech morning, the tone of the trip was very well-established.
In my previous statement, I do not intend to disparage the aesthetics of Prague. The city is expansive, dynamic, and beautiful. The distinctive and powerful architecture encloses one as one walks the streets, and the cobbles below one's feet give a distinct impression of the city's age and dignity. This was only augmented by the events of the day, as a half marathon attracted a total of over 8,000 runners. We had to pause for a solid 15 minutes to wait for the stampede to clear from a street crossing.
Yep, I assure you that everything about Prague is dignified. Especially the street artwork. Incidentally, the statues above are standing in a pool shaped like the Czech Republic. I will leave the symbolism here as an exercise for the reader.
It was after we visited the hotel and deposited our luggage that things became interesting. As we met with the Czech-local AFS students, it quickly became clear that people had every intent of making full use of our night in Prague. Beginning with a visit to the sculpture pictured above, the ever-ticking Metronome, my journey would prove to be interesting. After the group that I departed the Metronome with fractured, I apparently decided to attempt to find my way back to the bus to the hotel on my own. Though my technique for locating the heart of the city turned out to be flawless, it turned out that I had sucessfully located entirely the wrong location. And yet, by some stroke of fate, I still managed to stumble into a group of exchange students. Surely, this meant that I now had a solid plan for the rest of the night.
Two bars later, I and the small mob of extremely noisy drunk exchange students somehow managed to lose track of eachother. So that left me back at square one: find my way back to the hotel alone. Fortunately, I knew how to get there using the metro and buses. Easy, right? Naturally, the metro decided to close for the night halfway through my trip and leave me even more lost than before. A quick trip to the local McDonalds' WiFi and the aid of a local boy allowed me to determine that it would be another four hours before any useful public transport.
So I had to call a taxi to get back to the hotel. A taxi that I didn't actually have enough money to pay for, as I was unable to use my card in the country. Meanwhile, it turns out that the mob of hammered people somehow found a bus. Truly my finest moment, right there.
As fun as that little adventure was, I was rather more relaxed the following morning. On the way home, we stopped at this little castle, the coloration of which makes me think this might have been what a certain Port Townsend building was aiming for.
And yet, even hours away from the heart of Prague, I once again located a statue with a visible penis. Such is life.
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