Friday, December 4, 2009

Prison Break: Cell Phones and Hamster Wheels

Cell Phone

If you go overseas you're probably going to want a cell phone, since cell phones provide comfort. My friend Seth found a good company online called Telestial which offers cell phone packages for under $150. In such a package they send you an unlocked cell phone (yours to keep) and a pre-paid international SIM card (the card you put in the back of the phone that allows you to hook up to the local wireless network). The SIM card offers you both a U.S. and U.K. phone number. If you are a U.S. Sprint customer who has talked with that company about "renting" their cell phones while abroad, you will see immediately why this is a significant bargain.

For travelers, this is the 21st century version of phone cards in public phone booths. The SIM card connects the cell phone to any local wireless network. Your call is directed to a computer which then acts like an old-fashioned operator and makes the connection to the other phone. This somehow reduces the rate of the call. And since you always pre-pay on a SIM card, there's no contract or monthly fees. You can "reload" your SIM card by simply dialing 1-9-1 on your phone, then go through an automated system which results in the instantaneous adding of minutes.

In some European countries Telestial's international SIM card will get you a better rate than even the local SIM cards would. But Ukraine is outside the EU, so the international SIM card, while handy for that first phone call when you get off the plane, is better saved for a rainy day. The rate from the international SIM card to a mobile phone in Ukraine is an astonishing $1.84 a minute. So, there you should buy a local Ukrainian SIM card (I believe these are sold in various mobile phone stores). This would bring the price down to a more manageable 36 cents per minute. And incoming local calls are free.

I will be ordering a phone next week. I will let you know how it goes once I'm overseas.

Running in the Hamster Wheel

A Romanian friend wanted some American Christmas music, and the only person who knows more about old pop music than I do is my sister. So I called her for guidance. She opened up her personal music database (we are definitely related) and then provided a long list of classic and off-beat holiday classics. After getting a good list (including Gene Autry's "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and Burl Ives's "A Holly Jolly Christmas," which will be blended with such tasteless Eurotrash as Crazy Frog's interpretation of "Last Christmas"), my sister and I discussed my impending adventure and my sanity.

Her objections to my adventure were well (and kindly) argued. She spoke of our father, who died in 2002, and the hole that his passing left in our family. Mom lives alone, my sister lives a few hours away from her, and I am currently in Atlanta. My going to Europe for an extended time effectively destroys a large percentage of our cohesion as a family. I think of the world as a small place, but I am in the habit of dropping into Romania whereas many other people are not regular travelers. It is true that if a family emergency demanded my return home, leaving Atlanta is easier to do at the spur of the moment than leaving Ukraine.

Some families are sprawling and busy; others are like a losing "Survivor" tribe, its members picked off one by one until either there's a merge or extinction. My family is on the extinction course. This becomes another reason to take my chances and go on this adventure. I will not find the confidence I need in life sticking to the same routine. I need to find my true identity. Only then can I look another person in the eye and say, you know, I'm one hell of a dude.

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