Monthly Archives: September 2011
So allow me to catch you up on yesterday and today.
Yesterday I taught, it was quite good. We were discussing the differences between movies, books, and theater. Very interesting and philosophical discussion. I am starting to feel like a more effective teacher. I’ve been grading papers and giving the students evaluations New College-style. (Haha, go figure!) The students really appreciate the feedback.
Then later I went to the theater to see Swan Lake [Lebedinoe Ozero] with Tanya. It was beautiful. The whole time I was thinking about all the training those ballet dancers have to go through and how hard it is to effectively put on a show. They were incredibly graceful…I can also see why Russian ballet is so renowned. It was a beautiful love story, but with a sad ending. Still…the costumes, the passion, the music…all were amazing!!! I love going to the theater. I hope to see more shows while I am here. There are several theaters in Krasnoyarsk, including the Theater of Musical Comedy [Teatr Muzikal’noy Komedii].
Today was also good. I went to the university to make sure that I was able to play the movie that I am going to be showing my American Studies class tomorrow, “The Namesake.” (For those of you who have seen it, you will understand the appropriateness of this movie.) Then I went to the English School coffee house to meet with Mac and his boss Sergey. From there, Mac and I bought bread, went to a park located on the Yenisey River, and fed the ducks. I will post pictures of this at a later time, as I am typing this post from the English School coffee house. (Yay free internet!) It was fun. Then we went to the orphanage [detskii dom, literally a “children’s house”] where Mac lives so we could take a break and so he could get some money. We ended up talking for a while. I really enjoy his company. We are meeting again tomorrow for karaoke with a few friends, at a different club than last time.
I feel really bad right now, actually, because I was supposed to meet an acquaintance, Yulia, to go to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah tonight, but I had to transfer busses twice and I ended up getting caught in traffic for about two hours, so I missed our appointed time. I was really looking forward to going to the synagogue. I hope to be able to go soon.
On another topic, I am excited about my upcoming excursion to Moscow from October 13th to the 16th. I am going for more Fulbright ETA training. I have not seen Moscow yet, so I am looking forward to it. I am told it is not a very clean city, but there are some interesting sights. I will have to see it for myself and I’ll report back to you.
Well, moyi druz’ya, I will bid you good evening from here. Stay well and take care.
You know, I didn’t expect anything like this. At all. I expected to stay single for a long time.
“The hell with it, I’m done for a while,” I once said.
But now I’m eating my words. I have found someone I really, really like. And he feels the same way about me.
Mac and I went out yesterday evening to Yurta, the tea house he had shown me on Sunday. We were with his friend Arman, who is very nice.
Let me take a minute to tell you about the place. It’s small—actually, it’s a tent, literally—and it’s decorated with what looks like Mongolian designs. The lighting is dim but with enough light to easily see and flute music plays softly in the background. The tables are low to the ground and there are cushions to sit on rather than chairs. It has a great ambiance.
Anyway, for about two hours we sat there drinking amazing tea and swapping stories about everything. It turns out he loves movies as much as I do and he has a fascination with the paranormal, like I do. We were holding hands under the table the whole time.
Eventually we left the tea house and Arman went to go catch the bus at another bus stop, leaving it just Mac and me. We continued to walk to the bus stop, but at one point he pulled me aside and kissed me, a serious kiss that told me what he was all about.
Oh. My. Lord.
I thought I was going to catch on fire despite the freezing air, the chemistry between us is so strong. I’ve never ever had the weak-at-the-knees feeling before this, but there it was.
Well, this is one adventure I did not anticipate at all. I’ve only known him for a short period of time, but I feel like I’ve known him my whole life. We’ll see where it goes. I am well aware that I am only in Russia for a certain period of time, but my thinking is this: I will never get anywhere if I don’t take risks. I am accepting that it might not last forever. With that in mind, I am cautiously stepping forward. I want to take it slow, get to know him better, and enjoy each moment.
Well, moyi druz’ya, that is what has been happening. I promised to tell you of my adventures, so I could hardly leave this one out. Like I said, we’ll see where it goes. And I look forward to it.
Until next time, take care and be well.
Another incredible adventure, another incredible day.
I met up with Mac today at the English School. That seems to be a convenient point to meet at, so that’s where we meet. From there, we went to a Chinese restaurant. (Hey, YOU try reading a Chinese menu in Russian!) We had a really delicious mushroom soup. Mac is a vegetarian, so it was his suggestion. We split the enormous bowl of soup. For 500 grams of soup, we only paid 200 rubles. Not too bad…that’s about $6.70 for A LOT of soup.
Then Mac offered to show me where he lives. I didn’t know this, but he lives in an orphanage, where he helps take care of the kids.
I was stunned when he showed me the building. It was tak krasivo, so beautiful. It’s owned and run by one of the richest men in Russia, whose name presently escapes me. Mr. Somen, I think it is. Anyway, it was not what I pictured a Russian orphanage to be. Mac told me that it’s unique…most Russian orphanages are not nearly so nice. There were kids running around the place, well-dressed, well-cared for. They came up to Mac and hugged him. They clearly adore him and he most definitely loves them back. They were interested when Mac would introduce me as his “amerikanskaya podruga” (“American friend”). They know a little English, so they would say “Hello!” though not much more than that. They were really sweet.
After that, we went to an Indian restaurant and tea bar. It was really nice. We ordered a pot of rooibos almond tea with marzipan for only 100 rubles, which is about $3.30. It was delicious. As we drank, Mac and I were talking about our lives, our families, and ourselves. It was really nice to get to know him better.
Honestly, I was in awe of him, because today I realized what an incredible person he is: kind, intelligent, caring, clever, and observant. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty good-looking, too…) We’ve only known each other for a week and he was able to describe me quite well. He said he could sense these things about me and he was right on the mark. I was amazed. In some ways I feel like I’ve known him all my life.
We kept looking for more things to do, but it was raining and getting dark and Mac had to go back home. So I hopped a bus and went back to the house. We walked all over the center of the city today, so I’m pretty tired but really happy. We have plans to meet up on Tuesday morning and go to a museum. He also wants to take me to this really cool Mongolian tea house. It’s in a tent behind one of the many museums in Krasnoyarsk and we went inside today but it was too crowded, there was no place to sit. So we moved on. More than that, there are other places he wants to take me—to a nearby city, to the church on top of a hill where you can get the best view of Krasonyarsk, Stolby.
And I can’t wait.
Well, that is all for now, moyi druz’ya. I will write more later.
I am back.
Yesterday was a most pleasant day. I went with a few people I’d met from SFU (Siberian Federal University, where I teach) to the zoo. Normally, I don’t advocate zoos, but this place is also a rescue place, so I was okay with that. I still felt bad for the animals (zhivotiye) as I walked past their cages, but I was glad to get the chance to see some of these creatures up close. Some I’d never seen or heard of before, such as an unusual turkey that was striped much like a tiger. I have no idea what it’s called in English. My favorite, of course, was the white Siberian tiger they had there. He flopped out on the ground to sleep. (I couldn’t help but think “Flop a kittie—flop a big kittie!” I always say “Flop a kittie” whenever I see a cat flop down on the floor to sleep.) We also saw a polar bear (FLUFFY!) and penguins. All in all, a very good day.
Another thing, the zoo is next to Stolby National Park, which is a nature reserve protected by the federal government here in Russia. It’s so breathtaking, you could see some of Stolby from the zoo. (It’s huge, so you can’t see all of it.) I look forward to going to Stolby.
Then I met up with my friend Mac, who is an English teacher here in Krasnoyarsk hailing from India, and his friend Nastya and we went to a karaoke club. It was awesome. I sang both Russian and English songs. Mac sang in English. His voice was amazing, although he says it’s not as good as it used to be. (If he thinks he’s not good now, I’d like to hear how he used to be!) He managed to pull of Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” quite well, so he has impressive range.
The weather is getting quite chilly now that it’s autumn. I’m told it will get even colder soon.
That’s about all for now. I will write more soon, ya obeshchayu! I promise!
Take care, moyi druz’ya!
I am sorry I have not written for a few days. I did not have internet until today. I shall write today since I can now.
Something wonderful has happened.
I have a solid grasp on understanding Russian.
Now I can see your faces and your reactions (“Whaaaaat?”) What I mean is, I am no longer afraid of speaking, because now I can understand what people are saying. Even if I don’t know all the words they’re saying, I can discern them and guess what they mean.
I had a conversation with a babushka tonight. Her name is Lila. She was here tonight visiting my host family. I came downstairs and she, Kseniya, and Valera were preparing to go outside.
“Spokonoy nochi,” I said. [“Good night.”]
“Nyet,” Lila replied. “Poshli s nami, davaite.” [“No, come outside with us, come.”]
Happily I agreed. We walked up and down the street of the neighborhood side by side. She was asking me questions–what I was doing here in Russia, how old I am, whether I have any siblings. Then she started pointing things out and asking me what they were in English. It was adorable watching her try to pronounce the words. At one point she pointed up at the sky.
“Zvyozdi?” she asked.
“Eto–stars,” I responded.
“Stah-ers,” she slowly sounded out. “Eto pravil’no?” [“Is that right?”]
“Pravil’no,” I affirmed.
It made me so happy to talk to her. I felt my Russian coming alive. I started explaining to her that my family is Russian by heritage, that my great-grandparents had emigrated from Russia to the United States. She was interested in the fact that I spoke so many languages. She asked me about Spanish, especially. She said that it is a beautiful language. I agreed. She asked me if it was difficult. I told her I didn’t think so and explained to her that I live in a part of Florida where they speak a lot of Spanish, so I get to practice a lot.
“Oni ispantsi?” she asked. [“Are they Spanish?”]
“Nyet, mnogie priekhali vo Floridu iz Kubi,” I replied. [“No, many of them came to Florida from Cuba.”]
Eventually we went inside, as it was getting cool outside. It is the first day of fall here, after all.
I am very happy with the progress I am making. It is one step closer to my goal of becoming fluent in Russian.
Eto tak zamechatel’no! This is wonderful!
I hope you are well, moyi druz’ya. Take care until next time.
Last night (Sunday night) was amazing.
One of the prepodavatel’nitsa, Yulia, invited me to join her and her students at a coffee shop in the Center called the English School. (It was more of a pub than a coffee shop, but I loved it regardless. Great atmosphere and good food.) Yulia speaks Russian, English, Turkish, and Hebrew, so for the first half an hour she sat down and taught me some Hebrew. She teaches Hebrew to children at the synagogue here in Krasonyarsk, so she offered to show me the synagogue sometime. She is such a sweet person.
The rest of the time we all ate, drank, played cards, and sang pyesni [songs]. We sang songs in both English and Russian.
One girl started singing “Naked” by Avril Lavigne. The other students smiled as I joined in. Then a few more Avril Lavigne songs followed (apparently she is quite popular here). Eventually we got to Evanescence with “My Immortal” (which I sang by myself) and “Bring Me To Life.” They really liked my singing voice. One girl told me that I have “the voice of an angel.” I thought that was very kind of her.
“Chto Vui!” I said in response. [“What are you saying!”] (This is a very Russian thing to say when you get a compliment.)
Apparently the students gather there every Sunday, so I think I will start joining them. I met a lot of wonderful people there last night, and I really enjoyed myself. I handed out a lot of my business cards, which has my contact information. The question I got most asked was, “Do you have Facebook?” They were quite happy when I said yes and added that I also have Vkontakte.
At last, I am starting to get a group of people I will start to call friends. Some of the people I met offered to take me to various places in the city and to Stolby, which is a national park located about 30 minutes outside the city. I’ve seen pictures and I want to go so much.
Well, moyi druz’ya, I know this has been short but I must go. Till next time, take care and be well.
Today I didn’t have classes, but I did have tutoring. I’ve been tutoring a neighboring family: Liza’s eight-year-old friend Vlad; Vlad’s brother Valera, who is 15; and their mother Tanya.
I have to say, there is nothing more adorable than an eight-year-old Russian trying to sound out words in English. Depending on the word, he either says it without an accent or with a heavy one. It’s most adorable if there’s an “r” in the word; then he rolls it harder than a Spanish-speaker. SO CUTE.
I was teaching him how to say the word “pencil.” He kept saying it “pen-kill,” which was cute by itself. But the question we were trying to answer in his workbook was, “How old are you?” The answers given were (a) It’s a pencil case and (b) I’m seven. He was asking me what option (a) translated to into Russian. When I told him, he giggled and said: “Mne karandash let!” [“I’m pencil years old!”] It made me laugh and I told him, “Ti sozdal noviy yazik!” [“You just created a new language!”]
Later I was tutoring Valera and he and I started talking about politics. He asked me what I thought of Barak Obama; I asked him what he thought of Dmitriy Medvedev. He explained to me some interesting things, particularly his political position (let’s just say he’s not a member of Putin’s party, Yedinaya Rossiya [United Russia]). But he was also telling me that Russia is essentially split into two parts: European Russia and Siberia. He told me that it is in Moscow’s best interest to keep Siberia relatively weak in order to maintain control over Siberian resources. Very insightful and enlightening.
All in all, a pretty good day.
But there’s an interesting topic I’d like to broach now that came up today.
I was told that even though I’m overweight, I’d be accepted, even adored because I “have a body,” that I’m not skinny.
It seems this is not the case. I’m even being made fun of by children. I guess being overweight at my age is neobykovano [unusual] in Russia. At least, it appears to be so, since I haven’t seen many overweight or obese people here. (Of course, it’s a big city, but still.)
I’ve been losing weight, although I don’t know how much I’ve lost.
I feel bad, because I know I’m contributing to the stereotype that the average American is overweight. (It may be true, but I’m not helping the negativity that comes with it.) I also feel bad because it makes me stick out like a sore thumb.
In recent months I’ve come to terms with my weight, but now I’m rethinking it. Liza was talking about how I need to lose weight…I have too much “mass” as she put it. Vlad, who was with us, was far more tactful and encouraged me to exercise more.
I suppose I shouldn’t let what children say bother me, but you have to understand that my weight is a problem I’ve struggled with my whole life. I’m not mad at Liza—I don’t think she was being hurtful on purpose, and besides, how could she possibly understand my fight?
I am not writing about this because I’m complaining. I’m writing this because it seems to be an important issue. The purpose of this blog is to inform people of the aspects of Russian culture I observe, and this is one I’m very much observing. This blog is meant for both American and Russian readers, so I invite you both to comment if you wish.
I’m surprised I didn’t feel self-conscious sooner since everyone around me is thin. When I say the Russians tend to be thin, I mean that in general they are thin but still at a healthy weight.
Of course, no one is ostracizing me for being overweight. In fact, people have been very warm and kind to me. But I wonder what they think about my weight. Not in the sense that I wonder what they think of me personally as a result, but more in the sense that I want to know about the topic better in a cultural sense.
So as I watch the sky turn pastel colors in the sunset over Krasnoyarsk, I wonder how much weight I’ll lose over the next ten months. Well, nine and a half now. It’s been two weeks since I arrived here.
I also have to wonder what Russian ideas of krasota [beauty] are. What makes someone krasiviy [beautiful/handsome]? What’s not attractive?
I will leave you with those thoughts, moyi druz’ya. Until next time, take care.
I am sorry I have not written in a couple of days. Being sick tired me out and I have gone to sleep early the past few nights.
There is not much new going on at the moment. I am adjusting to my schedule.
I’ll write about some of the things I’ve tried over the past couple of days and some interesting foods I’ve had.
I recently had Russian doughnuts, called ponchiki. (To my friends Jeff (Sir Sprinkle) and Mark (the Donutator) you will find this of particular interest.) They’re smaller than American donuts and are usually covered in a syrup, jelly, or powdered sugar. They are usually eaten warm. They are so ridiculously good. There’s a shop near the house that sells them, along with a few other things, among them schawarma and hot dogs. (Odd combo, I know.)
I have tried both the schawarma and hot dogs at this place, actually. The schawarma was nothing like what I’m used to, but it was still good. The hot dog was interesting. There were choices of toppings and I chose the molochniye cocinki [milk/dairy toppings, I think is the best translation] because it was the only one that I could remotely recognize. I received a very HOT hot dog covered in shredded cheese and a transparent red sauce with some kind of herb mixed in. I don’t know what it was, but it was really good. I also had a milkshake, which they call a molochniy kokteil [milk cocktail]. I got the hot dog and milkshake today for 70 rubles…less than $3!
Food is cheaper here than in the U.S., which is a nice change.
I’ve also been eating at some of the cafeterias on the university campus. They have things like soups (borshch is a perennial favorite), kotleti [chicken and beef cutlets], ris [rice], makaroni [pasta]. Best of all, they always have kompot, which as I’ve mentioned before is a fruit drink. Traditionally, it’s made with dried berries boiled in water and sugar, but recently there is a trend of making them with fruits like apples, peaches, oranges, and apricots. For a school cafeteria, it’s really good.
By the way, I haven’t gotten this question yet, but in the anticipation that I will, I will write it here: Russian Coca-Cola doesn’t taste much different from Coca-Cola in the U.S. Fun fact: Krasnoyarsk is actually a production center for Coke. Who knew?
As for other drinks, I usually have goryachiy chai [hot tea] with each meal, that or kompot. What I find absolutely adorable is that the sakhar [sugar] comes in tiny little blocks, although I never take my tea with sugar.
P.S. I have a great quote from one of my students. We were talking about languages in English class today and one student, Kseniya, said, “I think to be a good language learner you have to have a crush on that language.” I couldn’t help but smile.
I’ve divided this post into two parts, the first dedicated to the 10 year-mark of September 11th and the second to my doings yesterday.
Part I — 10 Years Ago
It has been 10 years since the September 11th attacks. I never thought I’d be here in Russia during this landmark.
It was odd. I watched the Russian news today, but there was very little mention of the anniversary. Then again, it wasn’t like I watched it all day. (Nope, I spent most of the day in bed with a cold. Aghhhhhh.)
I have been almost afraid to ask what people here in Russia felt about the attacks. I’m almost certain I know how they feel about the resulting wars, but not about the attacks themselves. It seems to me that they did not (and do not) approve of the acts of terrorism that day. At the same time, it is a very awkward subject because of the later events that it’s linked to.
I hope that everyone will take a moment of silence in remembrance today. Just a minute. Please.
Part II — The Univermag (and some random observations)
You may be asking, what is an univermag? The word comes from the phrase universal’niy magazin (a universal store). It’s kind of like a shopping mall. Okay, it basically is a shopping mall. But it has a gipermarket—a hypermarket, or better known as a supermarket. My host family went out for the day yesterday on business, so I hopped a bus to Planyeta, the largest univermag in Krasnoyarsk. It was nice to walk around and look. I did buy a couple of things. I was hoping to purchase a new watch and some of the pushistiye russkiye shapki [fuzzy Russian hats], but they were waaaaaaaay too expensive. (I’m talking more than the equivalent of hundreds of U.S. dollars!) I’ll have to look for those elsewhere. Also, as a note, I haven’t forgotten about sending you postcards…I just need to find a store that sells them! There’s got to be one around here somewhere, yes?
It’s nice to be able to hop a bus for 13 rubles (about 50 cents) and go where you want to go. You know, on the way to and from Planyeta, I made a lot of observations about the city. It seems normal to me by now, but some of you might find some of these observations rather unusual:
—There are a million flower shops and shoe shops around the city. I mean TONS of them. I can explain the flowers—it is customary for guests in Russia to their hosts when they visit. The shoes…um, well, I guess they’re in high demand? Oh, and there are also a lot of shoe repair shops to go along with it. Strangely, many of these are at bus stops.
—Street signs are not on their own posts, but rather attached to buildings (at least, in Krasnoyarsk). So it can be really easy to get lost if you’re not observant. You have to look at buildings in order to make sure you’re on the right street.
—I have to say, I like how two of the three biggest streets in Krasnoyarsk are named after Karl Marx and Lenin…but hey, they’re important figures who made big contributions in Russian history.
—Many of the buildings are brightly colored. This is the mayor’s idea, because he wanted the city to look bright even in the dull gray days of winter.
—Some cars have the driver sitting on the left, others on the right. There is no consistency there. However, they do drive on the right side, like in the U.S. Also, I thought drivers in the U.S. were insane, but I’ve seen some crazy drivers here. Every night I can hear the screeching of tires as people speed down the street.
—Oh yes, that’s another thing. NO SPEED LIMITS.
—And one more thing…road lines here are merely suggestions, not rules. In fact, some areas of the countryside do not have road lines.
—There are a lot of fountains in Krasnoyarsk, but it really adds to the charm of the city.
—Gas is actually about the same price here as it is in the U.S. At first I thought it was cheaper, but then I found out that they sell it here by the liter, and at about 25 rubles ($1) to the liter, that would make the price about $3.78 per gallon here in Russia.
—Very few people here speak English, unless you’re at the university. I found this out the hard way, but I managed to get by. People were understanding and they liked that I could speak Russian at all.
I do have to mention…there was a man on the bus with his little son (no more than a year, a year and a half old) and he was talking to the boy in rapid Russian. I smiled at them—the kid was absolutely adorable—and the man had the boy wave to me. Then he proceeded to teach him how to blow kisses. That was the sweetest, most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time.
I ended up getting off at a bus stop about 2 miles from the house, because I didn’t realize that bus didn’t go all the way down the street I live on. (There’s a stop right in front of the house.) The way from that particular bus stop to the house was all uphill at a fairly steep climb. So I had to climb 2 miles in 45 degree weather in the rain. (And you wonder why I have a cold today.) At least I was smart enough to bring my umbrella. It was a good walk, but I’m sore today.
Well, that’s about it for today. Until next time, moyi druz’ya, be well and take care.
Yeah, so I was totally on Russian TV yesterday (Thursday for me). You will find the clip above. The clip with me in it starts at 13 minutes in, almost at the end. (To those of you learning Russian, you should watch the whole thing…very interesting.) The actual interview was a minute or so longer than what they show. They asked me how long I’ve been in Krasnoyarsk, how do I like it, and what I am doing there. The clip they showed goes like this:
Interviewer: Kak Bam nravitsya u nas v Krasnoyarske? [How do you like what we have in Krasnoyarsk?]
Me: Eto ochen’ krasiviy gorod. Vchera…ya khodila po gorodu. Eto…pravilno? Tak krasivo! [It is a very beautiful city. Yesterday…I walked around the city. Is that…right? Yes, it’s so beautiful!
Interviewer: Ne tak vo Floridye? [It is not the same in Florida?]
Me: Nyet. [No.]
I walked into the director’s office of the Institute of Philology and Language Communication (the institute within the university I work for) and Elena told me about the phone call that she had gotten earlier that morning—that they wanted an interview with me! I was surprised but delighted. She asked me if I was comfortable doing it in Russian. I said I would definitely try. I was a little nervous, but once they started asking me questions, I was all right. I messed up once or twice but they understood what I was trying to say.
At the house we were tuned in, watching the news very closely to see when my interview would come up. Finally, it did. It was so surreal to see myself on television. I was really glad I was dressed nicely…although I wish my hair wasn’t so wild. (There is a lot of humidity here in Krasnoyarsk, so it won’t lie flat!)
It was quite a nice day yesterday, besides the interview. I taught my second English class…unexpectedly, it turned out to be the same group of students from the day before, so once again I had to improvise my lesson for the day. I spent some time with Liza and her friend and neighbor Vlad. Dinner was great…pumpkin soup with croutons and sides of fish and carrots. I love the food here, it’s awesome! I also got a tutoring gig for Vlad and his brother and his mother. His mother, Tanya, reads and writes English well but doesn’t speak much, so my focus with her will be conversational English.
Today I woke up and found myself missing Alex. For those of you who do not know, she was my best friend. She passed away two years ago and I miss her terribly. She wanted to visit Russia so much, but she died before she got the chance. At least she got to go to Japan.
I found myself remembering the time we went to a Bon Jovi concert with our other best friends, Sasha and Jamie, and we were interviewed for a YouTube video about the bomb threat that had been received. We stood outside for three hours in the sweltering heat, waiting to be allowed to go inside. Eventually we got in. It was a fantastic concert, uplifting as always.
Griffin, I wish you were still here. I wish you could see what I see and experience everything: the food, the language, the sights—everything! You would love it here, I know you would. I also know you’d get a kick out of the fact that Fulbright decided to place the girl who grew up in South Florida in the middle of Siberia!
In any case, I must go now. Until next time, moyi druz’ya, take care and be well.