Monday, 25 April 2011

Student SGH vs. omnipotent bureaucracy – three short stories.

All presented in a bit weird way – as timelines…

Case 1 – Master’s thesis

September 2009 – I took a decision to complete all courses on Master’s studies within three semesters, rather than within four, as it is was set out in curriculum of studies.

July 2010 – To achieve the goal I began writing my Master’s thesis, with a view to submit it as early as possible and part company with my ignoble school.

12 October 2010 – I submitted a Master’s seminar application in the student office (dziekanat). I had a choice either to take two seminars in one semester (technically feasible) or do the first part of the seminar over the third semester and the second over the fourth semester. I opted for the latter to give myself a safety buffer in case I couldn’t make it in the allotted time, having in mind that it would put back a date of my Master’s exam.

5 January 2011 – I made it. Master’s thesis was prepared and approved by the supervisor.

16 February 2011 – I visited the student office to submit the Master’s seminar application for the second semester. Rules and regulations of studying clearly stipulate a student is obliged to do this within first two weeks of each semester. Despite this I was rebuffed and told not to show up there before I got the credit for the previous semester… Procedures clashed with the overwhelming system…

11 March 2011 – Having logged in to my account in SGH’s IT system I found out I had become a fourth semester student…

16 March 2011 – I finally submitted the hapless application, but was instructed not to put my thesis through an anti-plagiarism system, as, according to student office worker, the system was not ready to deal with theses uploaded by last semester student. I was also told to do this next week. Slightly bemused I postponed the process of checking if I wasn’t a copycat.

23 March 2011 – Same old story. Again I was ordered to wait for one more week.

30 March 2011 – I couldn’t leave the office earlier, so around midday I simply called the student office. I talked with another worker who told me I had been misinformed and the system had always been operational. Delay was then two weeks (or six weeks, if I was to count in the delay in accepting Master’s seminar applications)

31 April 2011 – I waded through all regulations concerning submitting Master’s thesis. One of quite bizarre ones was that it was not the student whose duty was to submit the thesis and several attachments by the supervisor in the flesh. I contacted the supervisor and asked him when he could go with me to the student office and handle all formalities. The only possible date was next Monday, around midday.

1 April 2011 – I took a day off at work (tapping my paid holidays) to wrangle with my beloved school.

2 April 2011 – I put the thesis through anti-plagiarism system, printed out the thesis and dozens of attachments, had my thesis bound, arranged a meeting with my supervisor.

4 April 2011 – I went to my supervisor’s work, where he were supposed to meet, unfortunately he couldn’t go out of the office, so he signed all documents and wrote at the back of an envelope a power of attorney for me to submit the thesis and attachments on his behalf. He pointed out the requirement that the supervisor was to do the job was virtually dead. Half an hour later, at school, he was proved wrong. The school followed all procedures… The whole day went down the drain.

13 April 2011 – My supervisor and I finally made it to the student office together and submitted the thesis and all documents. A student office worker, the one who had misinformed me, refused to confirm the receipt of the thesis and attachments and told us not to change workings of her always perfect office. I was also rebuked for reproaching the office over being open only three hours a day in hours inconvenient for working students – I was told to choose either to work and study on weekends or to quit the job and study in day-time mode.

Since then I have received credit for my Master’s seminar and my thesis has been handed over to a reviewer. According to the regulations, he has one month to review the thesis. If he doesn’t he won’t be penalised in any way. And this is the worst – for such misconduct or neglect of duties people should be fined. A fine of 1,000 PLN would make them meet deadlines… Of course now I don’t know when the reviewed thesis will be returned to student office and when the date of final exam will be set, but somehow I don’t hope for the best…

Cases 2 – Driving licence

9 May 2006 – My first medical check-up. A doctor came to a driving school, charged 100 PLN, asked if I was healthy and checked my eyesight. My glasses then weren’t powerful enough and I was prescribed a temporary driving licence, valid five years.

January 2011 – my driving licence was to expire on 9 May 2011 so I took first steps to find out what to do to have it prolonged. I had to do a medical check-up and obtain a doctor’s certificate with no counter-indications for driving. In a health centre I was told to wait until I got a health-care package from my employer to bring down the costs…

14 April 2011 – a real struggle began. I made several call to several health centres. In each I was told to do a different check-up, to visit different doctors, some even wanted to send me to a psychiatrist. I tried to do the whole thing at work and one colleague from different department, who overheard to whole conversation (another ‘advantage’ of open plans) told me to go to a doctor from a chain of health centres at which my bank purchased packages for employees. She said that doctor did the whole job even in transport department of my gmina, so what she said sounded like rubbish. Eventually, after find it out which examination I needed to have done, I was left with the choice either to go to a private health centre 500 metres near my house or to have the check-up in Warsaw. In both centres prices were prohibitive and nothing was included in my package. The case was, however, that according to new transport law I had to have level of glucose in my blood checked and this had to be done on empty stomach. The health centre in Warsaw did it only in the afternoon, so I plumped for early hours on Thursday, 21 April and took another paid day off.

21 April 2011 – I reported to the nearby health centre. On the door I saw the sticker advertising medical services provided in partnership with the chain of health centres I have my health care package with. To my surprise two out of three check-ups were covered by my employer and I only had to pay 70 PLN instead of 149 PLN. One nice surprise. I had my driving licence prolonged by ten years. In the transport department things went on quite smoothly, after queuing up for some forty minutes. After forking out 154 PLN and tapping a day off I wait for a new driving licence, which I won’t probably pick up before my old one expires, but this is really a minor issue.

Case 3 – Cyfrowy Polsat (this one dedicated to Scatts)

1 October 2009 – after terminating the contract on Neostrada we bought a subscription to Play Online Mobile Internet and wished it delivered a better service than Tepsa

2010 – Play Online sucked… Couldn’t wait to the end of the contract. They declared the maximum connection speed would be 1 Mbps. Actual speed reached in peak hours around 60 kbps, as much as on my first dial-up modem in 2001…

March 2011 – I researched mobile operators’ mobile internet offers. I ruled out Play out of hand, then what three main mobile operators offered didn’t seem interesting and in the light of the fact their networks were already congested even off-putting. Once I found a leaflet advertising Cyfrowy Polsat, checked their page in the internet and settled on their plan 3 GB + 9 GB for 50 PLN. I told about it my parents and my father, after he heard the name of our new provider, immediately hatched the idea of buying the internet connection bundled with satellite television.

2 April 2011 – my father and I set off to the nearest shop of Cyfrowy Polsat in Piaseczno. It was supposed to be open on Saturday from 9:00 am. We arrived there at five past nine and it was closed. We hung around for 40 minutes and the owner failed to turn up. I called CP’s customer service and heard they couldn’t help it as this was an outlet run under franchise contract and the closure was its owner’s business… Back home I found the old leaflet which contained the number of CP’s sales representative. He agreed to visit us at home and came around some two hours later. A man in his 50’s seemed to have had problems finding a better job and was forced to foist CP upon people. Clunky but honest, he didn’t persuade us to buy a mobile phone with CP, nor to order extra TV packages. Having acquainted with offer we plumped for internet + sat TV bundle and placed an order. The rep was to hand over the order to a technician who would be supposed to contact us and deliver a satellite dish, a decoder and internet devices.

14 April 2011 – till then nobody got in touch with us. My father called the rep, who said he had forgotten about the order, but promised to mend his ways.

15 April 2011 – the technician called and said he would turn up with equipment and contracts the other day. He told us to wait all day long for him because he didn’t knew when he would be able to come…

16 April 2011 – a quarter before nine the technician called to let us know he would be in ten minutes. My father told firmly the technician and his assistant would start installing the dish only after he finished reading the contract. Ten minutes upon their arrival technician were drilling holes in the wall of our house and my father handed me the contract and attachments to read it, as he didn’t… The contract included two factual errors (wrong prices), three understatements and lacked all attachments. I called the customer service of CP, learnt they have three lines, one for TV subscribers, one for internet and mobile phone subscribers and one for potential clients. Having talked to seven consultants after forty minutes I established I was right to have deemed the contract flawed. In the meantime the technician mistook the cardinal points and drilled four holes in the western wall of our house, which turned out not to be the southern wall. The holes remained but Mr technician did not give up and decided to fix the satellite dish to the existing aerial mast with terrestrial TV and radio aerials. He accidentally dismantled my FM aerial which provided excellent signal to my Hi-fi system, my father didn’t bother because the thought this aerial was totally superfluous. Finally we ended up with not signed contracts, satellite dish hung and wires attached to the outer wall and pulled into the drawing room. An hour after the technician left wires came off the wall. The rest of the day was spent on fixing the wire back to the wall and laying it under baseboards in the drawing room.

21 April 2011 – they came again, installed everything and now it even works.

Internet connection, compared to Play Online works like a miracle, TV is OK, hope further dealings with customer service will not be a pain in the neck…

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Not the country for disadvantaged people

I've promised to post today, so I'm doing this, but just not to go back on the promise. Unfortunately I spent almost the whole day running errands with doctors. I had taken the day off to sort out the prolongation of my driving licence (expires on 9 May), but to boot I caught a cold (or rather developed one not properly cured from the beginning of April) during a business trip and earlier in the office and had to visit a GP...

And here it came to be a surprise. Normally it is actually very hard to make an immediate appointment with a doctor when you are in urgent need, if the situation is really bad you have to fork out around 100 PLN for a private visit. Many Poles cannot afford to pay so much, but eventually do, as health is more important than other consumption expenditures. My parents ended up shelling out 100 PLN for a home visit in October last year when my fever surged to +39.5C...

And those who can afford to pay... Get it for free, not because they are insured in national health service system, but because, as I, also have health care package bought by their employers. Waving my health insurance card today allowed me to consult a doctor immediately, while other, worse-off patients were waiting... I can't say I feel well about this. Is it fair that a private health centre which has contracts both with state-run health insurers and with private companies puts well-off employees of well-off private companies in a privileged position against ordinary people? Does it square with your sense of justice?

Or maybe it is fair because my employer has pulled down walls and in open plans germs find no obstacles (walls and doors) to fly around, forty colleagues around me cough and sneeze, everyone wants to have a bit of fresh air and open windows create draughts?

Over, the post about struggling with Polish bereaucracy due around Easter Monday, I'm going to bed to heat myself up and recuperate (needless to say I refused to take a sick leave, as I need to pull off a critically important deal by Tuesday at the latest).

Have a good Easter...

Friday, 15 April 2011

Perfect - Autobiografia - the third stab at it

These days, where ordinary pulp stands for popular music it's good to look back on the days I can't even remember and reminesce the timeless, magnificent songs. Those with lofty lyrics, carrying several messages between the lines, telling remarkable stories, memorable, embedded in deeper cultural or historical context, are particlarly hard to translate into a foreign language.

One of such songs is Autobiografia, by Perfect. The song was released in 1982, in the dead of martial law and tells a story of one man's life, set in the gloom and hopelessness of socialist Poland.

I've long planned to translate it into English. The task was to be particularly difficult, a few times I set out to do it, to no avail. Just a few days ago I discovered other English-language bloggers had read my mind and had done the job. Pacze Moj dedicated two posts, with two different translations, one more literal, the other more poetical. Then it turned out Pan Steeva had another try on it. As native speakers they've done a great job, I, as a Pole, would not be capable of. But after all I read Pan Steeva's version and decided to enhance it a little bit.

The final translation below (copyrights generally attibuted to Pacze Moj, Pan Steeva and Student SGH).

I was only ten:
We first heard about him then;
In my basement was our club.
My pal's radio played:
Then 'Blue Suede Shoes' I first heard
And I couldn't sleep that night.

Wind of change would blow
The imprisoned were let go
Once again, we laughed and joked.
Café’s buzzing scene,
Like tornadoes, jazz blew clean:
Just to play
My wish was.

Father, God knows where
Those days he would go astray.
Me? My finger nail came off,
Shavings out of picks
Played the guitar, learnt the tricks.
And I found the thrill of sex.

Music Postcard craze,
Found five hundred in those days;
Not a single pair of jeans
Come Saturday night
Was Luxembourg, drinks, free house
And we felt
Lust for life!

There were us three.
Though in our blood we were free,
With one goal stuck deep in our minds:
In several years,
Have the world at our heels,
Never hard up.

Alpaga plonk,
And discussions 'til dawn,
Our spirits were always awake.
Who punched whose nose?
And whose tears for this flowed
Things happening.

Separated us,
Perfect Pola Raska's face;
All ready to lay down our lives.
On a summer night,
On a blanket in moonlight,
What I wanted then, I found.

She said quick to me that our problems they might be.
I just had my homework done;
She turned up the heat.
After some time, we don't meet.
Once again,
Me alone.

Roles go in vain,
they can't relieve my pain
Life has taught me much more than they did.
Dossed on the floor,
I was wasting my time.
My greatest time

Pub far away
Klezmer asked me to play;
So much rubbish that still I go red.
One certain day,
Figured out that I knew:
Nothing at all.

Hearing my past,
Overcoming at last
Coming real was my greatest dream then
The thousandth crowd,
Drinking words from my mouth,
All loving me.

A hotel, a fan,
Saying "recorder I ran
That's just how a real throat should sing".
I open the door,
Saying nothing at all:
Walls never can

So it was doable. Are there still untranslatable songs, or does it just take a skillful translator to render the lyrics, rhymes, subtexts?

Hats off to all skillful translators (no, not to me).

Another busy weekend ahead, next posting comes probably on Thursday, when I'm taking a day off.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The fateful day

Tuesday, 11 September 2001. Afternoon was warm and sunny. I was then at the beginning of my second year in middle school. Classes finished at 14:25 and some 10 minutes later I was home. My father was on holiday and watched the newly launched first Polish news channel - TVN24. A few minutes past 3 p.m. TV showed a burning WTC tower, then it broadcast live the moment another plane hit the other tower. We thought this was a quite interesting catastrophic film, but couldn't make out why it was broadcast by TVN24.

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction...


3,133 days later...

My head felt heavy for the third day in row. I somehow felt tired after Easter break filled with job-looking-related tasks. Maybe I had slept for too long, maybe too short. I could just mope around the house, do the toiletry, clean my room. I turned the computer on, left a comment on another blog, then turned the computer off.

My mother and I talked for a while about the work/school - life balance. I think the conclusion wasn't reached, because I set about filling in another job application, that time for an internship in a treasury department at the state-controlled bank. I asked myself whether I really wanted to work there. On second thoughts I decided to give it a try. OK, name, surname, address, history of education.

My radioclock was on, tuned to RMF FM. At 09:26 the boring routine of entering personal data was interrupted by a terse news item that a Polish plane had had problems approchaing the runway in Smolensk. I stopped for a while, reluctant to carry on. "President would be walking on crutches", I thought.

There are things that go far beyond comprehension. Planes crash rarely, planes carrying important politicians don't crash in civilised countries. It can happen to a dictator reigning an African country. Some people can be injured, nobody surely died. Such a huge tragedy seemed unbelievable.

TV was on. The chaos was indeed hard to describe. As it now turns out, first, unofficial news about the disaster were in newsrooms just after 9:00, everyone was waiting to confirm it... TV stations were showing either news programmes informing about the tragedy or broadcast commemoration ceremonies in Katyn.

The first person I called was my close friend who repeatedly wished death on president Kaczynski. I felt odly curious to see his reaction. His flatmate picked up the phone, I asked if I could talk to my friend. I asked if he already knew, he said he didn't. When I told the president had died I left him speechless for a few seconds. Then he asked if I meant Lech Kaczynski and quickly added this was not a heart attack, but a big disaster in which tens of other people died. He was devastated...

The truth began so sink in and loom much more shocking as the list of passengers was unveiled.

Two questions were in my mind on that day: if the Polish state's continuity procedures would work properly and who the hell had allowed to put so many state officials on board of one plane...

Around quarter to eleven I turned another TV on. A woman in her 50's was shouting: Ruskie na pewno maczały w tym palce, to u nich się stało...

We watched the history in the making...

A year has gone by. Lives have gone on. People looked for jobs and some found them, films were shot, suburbs were flooded, presidential election was held, computers crashed, people rowed over politics and contemplated the eternal, crosses were put up and removed, money was lent to gamblers, but discussions on the causes of the Smolensk disaster never ceased, questions remain unanswered, Poles remain divided, MA theses were written, carrers started, natural disasters hit innocent people out of the blue, financial markets remained ruthless, pension system in Poland was reformed. Business as usual...

Rememberance should be fostered, but... business as usual...?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The day before

'We're going to Praktiker in Janki to buy the wall tiles to kitchen, are you going with us'? My mother shouted from the ground floor to let me know my parents have finally decided to do something to bring the refurbrishment of our kitchen to an end. I replied I would. As far as I'm concerned it was around quarter past three in the afternoon.

The weather was typical for a gloomy, dejecing spring day. Temperature was somewhat around +10C, sky was overcast. I sat on the back seat. Whenever we all travel by car and my father drives don't sit next to him, because my mother refuses to fasten the belt. I don't know why she embraces the old belief that fastening safety belts on a back seat is unnecessary, but she does it. To avoid something bad I tell her to sit on the passenger seat. Just in case.

At 15:38 my mobile phone rang. It took me too long to take it out of my pocket and I didn't manage to answer it. I called the number it had displayed back, but no one picked up the phone. I was livid. Some two weeks earlier I began sending out my job applications for summer internships and I was totally aware recruiters from some companies call applicants only once. This was a potentially accidentally wasted chance; it proved later someone had misdialled the number. Of course I couldn't know at that time my decision to go in for Grasz o Staż contest would prove fortituous.

At 16:00 we listened to the news in the Polish Radio Programme 1. Two news items to hit the headlines in the afternoon were:
1. huge, one of the biggest in the history of Polish banking, breakdown of PKO BP computing systems, as a results of which millions of the bank's clients couldn't use their e-banking accounts nor take out money from cash machines,
2. currency intervention carried out unexpectedly around midday by the National Bank of Poland, aimed at weakening zloty, as in the central bank's view, apprecation of Polish currency could hamper economic recovery in Poland.
The almost unprecedented move made by the central bank (that was the only intervention on the currency market in the first decade of 21st century) was backed by the ministry of finance and the Monetary Policy Council. Speculators who had bet on Polish currency strenghtening had to cover their positions with losses. The last year's EUR/PLN quotations proved the central bank's success in deterring speculators. Funnily enough, many younger dealers in banks' dealing rooms didn't know what had been going on, as they had seen zloty falling one per cent against Euro within a second ...

We had actually no problems choosing the tiles. My father and I loaded them onto a trolley and pushed towards the till. On our way back I noticed fog began to linger. Visibility was lower and lower. Somewhere between Lesznowola and Nowa Wola, where a junction on S7 dual carriageway is to be bulit in a few years, I regretted not taking a camera. I couldn't snap the ultimate beauty of spring gloom. As I recall the day I still have it in mind and this was an ultimate beauty, but it carried something worrisome. I had an inkling of something really dreadful, I felt it deep under my skin. I had this feeling a few times in my life and one of my friends aptly described it as "if you were to head for the Satan's Grand Ball (from The Master and Margarita)" and since then I've experieced it once, on 18 March 2011. For no apparent reason it felt really pleasant...

In the evening we watched Władysław Stasiak giving an interview in TVN. He spoke something about the importance of president's next day's visit to Katyn. Then we turned over to another channel...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

How the tide has turned...

Probably the last follow-up to the story of 1,000 PLN I lent to my ex-classmate over 10 months ago, the money I've never seen again.

Now the issue is no longer about money. I haven't got a single zloty back and totally got over the loss. I don't hold out much hopes to recover it, but Karol's family pledged to give it back to me as soon as it gets warmer and their heating expenses go down. Time to keep my fingers crossed for the weather ;-) I'm sticking to my resolution from the previous year to relieve the part of that debt as soon as they begin to pay it back. Their financial (not only) situation is far from enviable, although they said it was a matter of honour for them to pay off everyone who had trusted Karol and had given him money. They also admitted they had had to give money back to those of Karol's friends with who Karol had signed loan agreements and who had threatened to take Karol to the court. And because my ex-friend has long been insolvent this would clearly mean Karol would end up in jail, the scenario his family wanted to fend off most.

I spoke to his mother twice since my last post. Now I know I was wrong and he doesn't suffer from schizophrenia, and others who told it was gambling were right. I can't even say I'm surprised. He won several times a few hundred zlotys in the pools by betting results of football games back in 2003. I even found an article in my high-school newspaper dated December 2003 in which his brother, Adam, had extolled the betting as a quick way to come into some money. As it usually is in the case of gambling, he would win many times, got some more money, felt much more self-confident, began to bet higher stakes and... The losses began. Not hard to imagine how it probably went by...

I won't reveal much details from what I was said, but this is generally shocking. He is now absolutely aware what he has done, he does have remorse and his prospects on returning to normal life, as his mental health, are bad, very bad.

A few years ago, if somebody had told he would end up like this, I would have found it hard to believe, but I wouldn't have ruled it out. As I wrote in the first post, he had the proclivity for wheeling and dealing (kombinowanie), which few people discerned. But actually almost everyone who has known both of us would say Karol would probably be better off in life than me. Given his IQ (surely higher than mine, his mother was told this intelligence dragged him down in critical moments) and resourcefulness, he was predestined to achieve bigger success in life than me. The tide has turned, unexpectedly.

This should make us ponder upon social mobility and what its determinants are. Some people come from poor families and are not very skillful, but by dint of their determination and hard work (plus a bit of luck) grow from rags to riches. Karol's family was well-off (before he incurred debts of around 150,000 PLN), well-educated and he was extremely intelligent and apt. He destroyed all ample opportunities life had given him at his own behest... How come, I ask myself almost every day...

I feel now most sorry for his family. His brother doesn't understand the pernicious addiction is to blame. His parents try to bring him back to life, but are at the end of their tether... Uncertainty is what life is about. Now it's OK, but I don't know what happens in a few months or years. I cope with it by not taking for granted everything will be alright. It sometimes helps fend off mishaps :)

The length of today's post is sponsored by:
1) a purchase of a new LED TV (my parent's 18-year-old TV set has given up the ghost),
2) grappling with putting my MA thesis through anti-plagiarism system, printing it with dozens of attachments and having it bound...,
3) inauguration of gardening season,
4) cycling shake-down day. I just came back from a short ride around Nowa Iwiczna and Mysiadło. Weather permitting next week I shall cycle at least 10 kilometres.