Polished Thoughts 3

By now, I have a pretty good-sized list of differences between Poland and the US, so it’s about time I write a few more of them down. I was made aware that some Polish people who read our blog were intrigued by the differences that had caught my eye. I hope everyone enjoys a few more observations.

Windows almost never include screens, as they do in the US. On the other hand, windows often include a cool feature that windows in the US don’t have – they have the option to open just the top of the window, leaning it inward. In my observations, windows always open inward, without exception. Of course, there are differences  from an apartment setting to a business setting.

Apartments always seem to have drapes, but rarely mini blinds (Venetian blinds). If the windows have blinds, it’s a roll of vinyl that’s fastened to the part of the window that can open. This means that you can’t have the window open and the blind closed at the same time. (Or if you do, the blind will be rendered useless.) It’s also very popular for windows to have a thin, lacy drape. Maria and I agree that we have never ever seen a window that slides open in the same manner as an American window.

Phone numbers are usually 9 digits long, or they could be 11. The two digits that often don’t get written are the country code: +48. (Don’t know why it’s always written with the + when it’s written.) Polish people can’t seem to decide how they want to group the rest of the numbers. I would say the most common that I’ve seen is three groups of three. For example, my cell phone number could be written 535 397 141. Also fairly popular is a group of three, then three groups of two. Then, my number would be 535 39 71 41. I think (but I’m not totally positive) that with land lines, the first two numbers are the area code.

Walking around Mińsk, you’ll see a lot more people on foot or bike than you probably would in the States. Specifically, you’ll see a lot more strollers, because moms (or grandmas, or whoever is taking care of the kids) tend to go for walks with the kids. Pedestrians have more right-of-way here than they do in the States — at crosswalks. At stoplights, however, don’t try to jaywalk! It’s not very socially acceptable. But at crosswalks, I’ve seen people step into the street without even checking for cars.

There are very few stop signs here. When needed, they prefer to use a yield sign, but generally, they avoid the problem by using roundabouts (rondos). There’s a sign that I think is slightly humorous, but it takes a bit of explaining.

The cross street that is supposed to yield has a yellow triangle sign to show them this.

On the other street, there’s a sign with a yellow diamond inside a white diamond, which means, “don’t yield.”

And on the street that is supposed to yield, about 20 meters before the intersection is a sign with a yellow diamond inside a white diamond, and then a black slash through it, which means, “don’t not yield.”

That’s a little of what you might see if you took a walk around Mińsk.

Now for some random ones…

At the train station, the taxis waiting for customers keep their engines off. This means that when the first one in line gets a customer, all the rest in line, keeping their cars off, move forward by pushing.

The napkins in almost every public place are these tiny little delicate tissues. It takes about 3-6 per person to make it through a meal. We call them “finger wipes.”

Lawnmowers are a bit of an extravagance. More common are electric push mowers, and weed eaters. In fact, about half of the town is routinely mowed by a small army of men with weed eaters. Noisy.

Well, that’s certainly enough for now. I hope this is interesting for you!


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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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