Why are we waiting?

As a kindergarten teacher in Korea, I worked in one school, where I had my very own classroom, which took me about 3 minutes to walk to from my home.

In my new job, I also live right beside the school, but my only room there is a big staffroom with dozens of other teachers milling around at any given moment. Some of them teach at the school, but most of us are dispatched to various schools around Prague to teach our classes every day. It’s a very different experience for me, as someone who likes to become familiar with my teaching environment and have everything organised and ready for when the students come in – now, I’m the one arriving in their classroom, where they’re all waiting for me to start as I’m taking off my jacket and hanging up my bag – even when I’m 15 minutes early.

I will say this, though – there is no better way to become fully acquainted with a foreign city’s public transport system. Good grief. I’ve only done two days of this, and already I feel like I could guide any visitor through the most efficient route to any destination in Prague.

The transport here is great. It’s a relatively small city, and it’s easy to connect using the three metro lines, the buses, and – hurrah! – the trams. I love trams. I have no logical explanation for this, I just love them. When I was living in Tallinn, just the sight of a tram trundling past along the uneven cobbled streets made me go right to my happy place. They’re so… quaint, or something. Prague is a lot like Tallinn in that respect. Not quite as stunningly beautiful (I’m saddened by the amount of graffiti on all the gorgeous old buildings. Not the fun, artsy kind of graffiti, but the sort that’s an eyesore – scribbles and things, probably swear words and insults.), but full of character, history, and of course my beloved cobblestones.

Because my job involves so much travel, the school pays for my expenses in the form of an ‘Opencard’: Prague’s travel card, allowing the holder unlimited use of public transport. The catch was that I had to go and apply for/collect it by myself. Not a big deal, right? Gah.

There has got to be a better way, seriously. I have never had such a pointless, wasted day in my life as I did yesterday. My first class of the day was cancelled as most of the kids aren’t starting until next week, so I had a few hours free in the morning before I had to go to my afternoon school. Perfect – I would take my paperwork (helpfully supplied by the school, and already dutifully filled out by moi), my photo (I now – in uncharacteristically organised fashion – carry around a little pack of passport photos, as I’ve discovered that you always need one for something or other when you travel a lot), and my passport to the Opencard office in the city centre, get the card, and then have a nice leisurely lunch on a sunny terrace somewhere before leaving for the school with tons of extra time to spare in case I got lost trying to find it.

Obviously, that is not what happened.

I found the office, and discovered that it was a huge government building with the most ridiculously inefficient system I have ever seen. You take a ticket in the entrance hall – the kind with your number on it, which you then wait to see flashing up on the screen next to the desk you have to go to. My number was 451. I looked at the screens. The numbers currently flashing were: 17, 22, 23, 27, 28. Lovely. Well, time for a coffee! I purchased a coffee, drank it, poked my head around the door to check the screen. The numbers were: 31, 33, 34, 37, 38. Feck.

There were people everywhere, everywhere. I sat and waited… and waited… and waited. I went for a wee stroll down Wenceslas Square. And waited some more. In the end, I had to abandon ship and head off to work, in the fear that I would get lost (which I did) and be late for the class (which I almost was). The numbers were only in the early 300s when I gave up.

So that was a morning gone, anyway.

Because of the afore-mentioned cancellations, I ended up having the rest of the afternoon off, so I wearily returned after just the one school, and took a new ticket. This one was 545. The first number flashing up on the screen when I looked was… 1. ONE. I could’ve bloody cried, honestly. Well. I went for dinner. I browsed in a bookshop and accidentally bought three books. I went for another walk. Then, exhausted and craving my sofa and my pyjamas, I crawled back to the building to discover that the numbers were in the early 300s again. The next dear-knows-how-long was spent curled up in a corner on the floor, half-asleep, quite possibly being mistaken for a homeless person.

Now, here’s the thing. When my ticket number was eventually called, I staggered in an extremely knackered sort of way into the office, gave the girl my papers, photo, and passport, and she pushed a few buttons on her computer. As if by magic, my Opencard appeared with my name and photo on it. Not 2 minutes later, I had paid and was leaving the building. TWO MINUTES. I spent a whole feckin’ day growing to gradually hate everything about that damn building, all for two sodding minutes of someone’s time. Surely there is a better way? SURELY? I would quite honestly prefer to pay for my own transport for a week or two and do the whole thing by mail, just to avoid an experience like that.

But anyway, I have the card now, and if I ever lose it I will probably quit my job and move to a different country, because I am never doing that again, ever.

On the plus side, I am very much enjoying sprinting down the metro stairs to jump on to the departing train, and then transferring to my bus or tram when I go back above ground. I feel very grown up, somehow – as if I’m actually a real adult, travelling around a European capital for work, expenses paid for by my employers!

It probably won’t last, of course. I don’t actually claim to be a real grown-up…


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