Bulgarian Music from Авеню

Years ago when I lived in Bulgaria, the most popular music group was a band called Авеню (pronounced Avenue). I sent a couple of tapes and CDs (yes, it was that long ago) of their music home and much to my surprise my then girlfriend and family liked the music. I lost track of the group after I returned to the States. A few years ago, much to my surprise, I found they had a channel on YouTube and had produced a lot of music over the years. A couple days ago, they released another album and posted one song from that album on their YouTube channel.

Seeing how I've never mentioned this band before, I thought I'd post some of their more recent music videos for those who are interested in hearing music from other countries. Most of the music, if sung in English, would probably find its way to an American soft rock station. Even if you can't understand the word, maybe you'll enjoy the music.

Filmed in Bulgaria: Assassin's Bullet

By accident I stumbled across a trailer for the upcoming movie Assassin's Bullet.  Though the movie looks like your typical spy/assassin/thriller movie, what caught my attention while watching it was the familiar streets of Sofia, Bulgaria. So I did some research and apparently they filled pretty much everything in Bulgaria and are actually using Sofia as the main city in the movie. All I can say is: IT'S ABOUT TIME.

When movies are filmed in Sofia, they're generally used as as a backdrop for other European cities like Prague or Budapest. (Jean-Claude Van Damme has filmed a lot of his movies there.)  It's nice to see Sofia actually getting credit for being Sofia instead of pretending its a more glamours Eastern European city. I have no idea where the outdoor scenes were filmed but I didn't see anything that would make me think that it wasn't Bulgaria.

The only thing that makes me cringe is how the actors say "Sofia." Westerners pronounce it so-FEE-a but Bulgarians put the emphasis on the first syllable: SO-fee-a. Yeah, you'd think they would have done their homework but since when have movie makers worried about accuracy?

You can watch the trailer for Assassin's Bullet below.


The Ukrainian Stray Dog Problem

Apparently the Ukraine is trying to get rid of its stray dogs ahead of Euro 2012.

Animal welfare groups accuse Ukrainian authorities of using illegal and inhumane methods of killing stray dogs that cause long, agonizing deaths. They say dogs are often poisoned or injected with banned substances as officials rush to clear streets ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship next summer.

Euro 2012 organizers deny any involvement in a stray eradication campaign.

Full official statistics are hard to come by, but figures and estimates provided to The Associated Press by authorities in the Euro 2012 host cities of Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv show more than 9,000 dogs have been put to death over the past year. Animal protection groups believe the number is far higher.

"It's a slaughterhouse," said Asya Serpinska, head of the Ukrainian Association of Animal Protection Organizations. "We are convinced that there is an unofficial order to purge Euro cities of stray animals so that, God forbid, some stray dog doesn't bite some foreigner."

Ukraine has a large stray dog population, estimated at tens of thousands in some cities. The dogs, often running in packs, can be seen on streets, in parks and even children's playgrounds. Nearly 3,000 people reported being bitten by stray dogs last year in Kiev and about 1,900 in Kharkiv, according to city officials.

On paper, officials have embraced the internationally accepted practice of sterilizing strays, then releasing them into areas where they pose no public threat, placing them in shelters or finding them homes. Sick or aggressive dogs are humanely euthanized.

But in reality, activists contend, a stray dog handled by authorities has little chance of survival. The only question, they say, is how much it will suffer before it dies. Shelters are virtually nonexistent, pet adoption unpopular and sterilization costly; most dogs are simply put down, they say.

"It's capture and kill," said John Ruane of Naturewatch, a British-based animal welfare group that monitors the situation in Ukraine. "It's just barbaric."

When I lived in Bulgaria, it wasn’t uncommon to see packs of stay dogs roaming the streets of Sofia. (It wasn’t as bad in smaller cities but still existed.) It seemed that every neighborhood had at least one or two packs of dogs that would roam the streets looking for something to eat. When I lived in an area called Lozenets, the pack lived under a balcony of a nearby apartment building. While I lived there one of the dogs gave birth to a litter of six puppies.

The dogs were anything but aggressive. If they did approach you, their heads would be down and you could tell by the skittish way they walked that they were on edge. All you had to do was raise your hand and pretend you were throwing a rock and the dogs would scatter. And they were so hungry they’d eat just about anything. Sometimes if the pack was congregating near our apartment building, we’d drop chunks of stale bread from our apartment five stories up. The dogs would woof it down like we had just thrown them pieces of raw meat. As far as I could tell, there was never any effort made by the city to round them up. Animal shelters in that part of the world were unheard of.

While I don’t know how the packs of stray dogs in the Ukraine are different than their counterparts in Bulgaria, I don’t understand why animal rights activists are upset that the dogs are being killed. While I don’t condone the inhumane methods of killing stray dogs mentioned in the article, having packs of dogs run wild on the streets isn’t good for anyone. The dogs in Sofia were filthy, disease ridden, and looked like they were constantly starving. I don’t see why they be treated any better in the Ukraine. Simply sterilizing strays and releasing them “into areas where they pose no public threat” like the animal rights activists want just stops them from reproducing. It does nothing to feed or shelter the animals. Releasing serialized animals and letting them fend for themselves doesn’t strike me as being that humane.

Sadly, like Bulgaria, it appears the stay dog problem is more of a cultural issue than anything. Unless Ukrainians are willing to invest in real animal shelters and humanly euthanize the dogs, it’s going to return and persist long after Euro 2012 is over.

Lukewarm World Cup Fever

2010 World Cup Fever

I’m not much of a soccer fan but enjoy it when the World Cup rolls around every four years mostly because it’s fun to watch many of my coworkers work get into it.

Most of my coworkers have lived in or are from different countries and tend root for those countries. Several cubes around the office are overflowing with the flags of Mexico, Brazil, England, South Korea and other competing teams. (The coworker on my right is a big Germany fan—albeit it without the insanely decorated cube.) Today I even saw few guys wearing soccer jerseys over their regular work attire.

I’d be more included to join the party if Bulgaria was part of the action but, alas, they couldn’t get out of their European qualifying group. I would have been thrilled if they could have pulled off that upset but wasn’t expecting it. The one thing I learned while living in Sofia is that Bulgaria is the Detroit Tigers of soccer. Occasionally they do well but most of the time their fans are resigned to the fact that their soccer team is destined for mediocrity.

The one oddity is that with all the World Cup hoopla at work, no one seems to be rooting for the United States. I think my soccer-crazed coworkers would like to see the United States do well in the tournament (as would I) and would probably root for the US after their other team is eliminated, but their soccer hearts are with other countries.

It does make wonder that if so many coworkers weren’t born or had lived overseas, if anyone at work would even care that the World Cup was going on. I doubt cubes would be decorated with red, white, and blue or people would be wearing US soccer jerseys to work. I know I wouldn’t care half as much (if at all) if I hadn’t lived overseas and been exposed to how seriously the rest of the world takes the sport.

But during this World Cup I’ll put in a half-hearted effort to keep an eye on the US team and hope that Bulgaria qualifies for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The Bulgarian Ken Lee Phenomenon

When I lived in Bulgaria, bored teenagers would occasionally try to start trouble by swearing at me and my companion in English. Most of the time they had the swear words down pat – even if that was the only English they knew. The best way to handle these situations was to pretend like we didn’t know what they were saying. In Bulgarian we’d ask them what language they were speaking and what they were trying to tell us. More often than not, this would frustrate the potential troublemakers and give us an in to befriending them – thus avoiding any future problems or confrontations.

I was reminded of this when I saw the following YouTube video from the Bulgarian knockoff of American Idol. Here a wannabe Bulgarian Idol contestant trying to sing a Mariah Carey song “Without You.” However, her English still needs some work. (For those who don’t understand Bulgarian, this version has English subtitles.)

For a few of my readers who I know speak (or used to speak) Bulgarian, who want to see how much Bulgarian they can still understand, check out this version.

And for those who want to see a Bulgarian news follow up (with English subtitles) of the “Ken Lee” phenomenon she started, you can watch that below.

(Thanks to HitCoffee for alerting me to this video.)

Update: You can watch Valentina Hasan entire performance below. What's interesting is skipping through the songs and watching the critiques at the end. They really have tried to model it after American Idol thought the Bulgarian Randy and Bulgarian Simon just aren't as good as the American ones. I like the Bulgarian Paula Abdul better than the real one.