Monday, December 31, 2012

Mid-holiday mumblings and (Happy???) New Year!!

The last week of work for 2012 was intense. Thankfully it was bookended with two nice nights out with some of my students. Saturday the 22nd I went with my intermediate class to a bar called “Suare,” which started at 6pm and which lasted quite late into the night. I left my phone at home, in my backpack from Friday (whoops) and didn’t call grandpa or grandma and they were a little worried about where I was, especially since I came home after public transit stopped running and I was walking alone. Many apologies to grandma and grandpa. However, I will say it was a nice time with my students and since it was outside of class I tried speaking what Russian I could with them.

Then the workweek came and I taught 2 extra classes (and by 2 I mean 4 lessons, but for two classes that meet twice a week). They were both teen classes and the MW class was fine and we seemed to have a lot of fun. The TTh class was also fun, but a lot more challenging. Had to separate a couple of the boys. The highlight of that class though was on Christmas, I was reviewing their vocab from the lesson with a game of hangman and one of the words was “shelter” as in homeless shelter. One of the boys that I separated on Thursday kept saying “Chester” for some reason beginning when the board was blank. When the board looked like       - - e - - e r, it only egged him on. Then the board read - - e - t e r and later  - h e - t e r. Almost “Chester.” Eventually one of the girls got “shelter,” but it was a hilarious way to end the lesson. My intermediate class wanted to celebrate Christmas so they brought cake and pie and candy. I brought champagne (much cheaper here than in the US). I also brought champagne to my Pre-Intermediate class on Wednesday to celebrate both the New Years and finishing the test. My Intermediate class told me it’s bad luck to celebrate before a test, so Tuesday was a Christmas party and Thursday after the test we ate the left over candy (no left over pie) and had more champagne and Tang Tea (courtesy of my parents’ package). They greatly enjoyed the tea so I feel I should share it with my other classes as well.

I ended the week on Friday meeting my Pre-Int class at Pickwick’s Pub and enjoyed some nice English Ale of a quality that I haven’t had in a while. I was also better about both calling grandma and grandpa and getting home at a reasonable hour to take Karma out for her late night walk. I had let her go a little too long on Saturday. No accidents, but not good to make her wait that long.

Speaking of Karma, she has been enjoying actually walking since the weather has warmed up. I don’t think -7C feels so bad to be out in for 15 minutes after she knows sometimes it reaches -21C. The past few days we’ve even been above freezing and she has pranced around in the snow and run circles and barks at the snowman in the park. I think she’s getting a little more used to the northern climes. Or maybe the energy got so pent up she just had to get out and use it. Either way, we’ve taken a few longer walks and played in the parks.

Ella also has more energy and for the last week she meowed every morning for 15-20 minutes waking people up. We give her meat and she’s not satisfied. Then she runs up and down the halls or comes into the room and paws your face until you get up. Not the most pleasant wake up call. But when she’s not acting crazy she plays her cute card and gets forgiveness.

Yesterday after church I walked around downtown taking daytime pictures (I promise I’ll get some photos up during this break; I’ll learn how) of the festive city. I went back out at night to get some nighttime photos. During my daytime walk I went to the “holiday festival/fair” where there sell lots of crafts, you can ice skate, and one of my favorite things from 2010 is the hot mead they sell there. Well, I didn’t order any. I was too embarrassed of speaking despite the delicious looking pastries and the smell of the hot mead. I wanted lunch and instead I ate at a chain café called Teremok where I knew I could pronounce what I wanted. It was anti-climatic. And watching the people skate around, I wanted to skate with Daria and felt completely slighted by this bi-continental holiday.

To add to the lesson of "var" I did get to enjoy some delicious vareniki this week. You wrap something up in dough (ours was cabbage) and you boil it for about 5 minutes. During the summer, it's more popular with blueberry filling. It was then topped with fried onion. Mmmmmmm.

Well, I should see if I could help prepare anything for New Year’s Eve. Not feeling very festive though. Talk to you all in 2013 I guess.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Daria's departure and some random thoughts

So this week saw a big change in the Russia experience. As I was reading through the post I realized this is also reads more like a news update so feel free to allow your head to have the voice of a radio newscaster giving you minute updates.

Daria flew back to the US to do interviews for her internship next year. We knew there would be interviews, but we had hoped they'd all be in January because logically that makes sense. You know, as in organizations receive your applications in November, inform you in December whether or not you have an interview, interview you in January after the holidays . . . . Well, one group in Boston decided that Thursday, December 20th was a great time for interviews, and in the competitive fight for placement, you must take every interview you get so Daria flew to Boston on Tuesday and doesn't return until mid-to-late January. This completely changed our holiday plans, and I don't know what I'm doing now. I have a few ideas, but nothing concrete. I'll also admit that for some reason I took this departure especially hard. I knew it was coming, and it's not the first time we've been apart for a long period of time, but it was hard. She was in France for a year when we were in college, I lived in CA and Daria was in CT for a year after college. Both of these we had some intermittent visitations, but there were still large periods of time between seeing each other. Two years after we were married, Daria spent 6 weeks in Mexico and I stayed in Berkeley. And then even this past summer I was in a foreign element in Moscow as Daria stayed in SPB. I don't know why I took this one harder than the rest, but I did for some reason and it sucked to put it bluntly. Thank God for skype.

As mentioned in the last post, Daria and I went to a family dinner on Friday night. This was followed with a Saturday dinner with Language Link at a restaurant called "Tequila Boom," a name I can only assume comes from the cocktail of half tequila and half ginger ale. I will say it was nice to have some Mexican food (something I do miss dearly and there is a reason I ate a lot of it my last week in CA), and in a place where tequila is expensive because of taxes on all foreign alcohol, it was also nice to have some tequila/margaritas. Some of the food tasted legit, other parts lacked, but hey I was spoiled in CA. The corporate parties before New Years are a really big thing here as many of my students have missed class b/c of their parties and Daria and I got to witness a couple parties when she and I went out to the Paulaner Brewhouse before she left. Our Language Link party was a lot of fun, Mariachi hats were passed around, an MC organized different events for the various parties in the restaurant, and it was kinda nice just to blow off some steam with fellow coworkers.

A few random thoughts to share. First, it's funny that Karma has become the protectorate of the house. Apparently grandma doesn't think there's any reason to set the alarm because we have a "staffordshire" (another name for a pitbull). Yeah we lock the door, but the alarm hasn't been set. It's good to know that Karma is well-loved :-) in the house. Ella is also well-loved, demonstrated by the endless supply of cat food in the fridge.

Yesterday, on my walk back home, I saw some people out playing on the pond in таврический сад as the pond has long been frozen. I decided to venture out as well so I walked around a little bit on ice. Ice never quit got thick enough in Tahoe for us to dare walking out and I must say there is something exciting and exhilarating knowing that underneath there is liquid water. My first experience of this was 2 years ago walking on the Gulf of Finland.

The weather here is crazy. Wednesday and Thursday it was -23C in SPB. In western Siberia it hit -40C and eastern Siberia -50C. In a 24 hour period from Tues - Wed 21 people across Russia froze to death. Not homeless people, but those with homes whose heating went out. This brought the total from Friday - Wed to 45 nearly doubling it. It is currently -19C and the forecast for this coming Wednesday says +4C. Yeah, that's right in the matter of a couple days we're going to swing from temps below that of a freezer to the temperature of a refrigerator. Seriously, when I've wanted my room-temp water to be cool I stick my cup between the two sets of windows and it cools my drink in less than half the time than if I put it in the freezer and yet in a few days it'll be shorts weather. In Michigan shorts did come out in March when it got above freezing. I guess Karma will be happy for an actual walk, if I can manage the time, since even with her coat her walks the past few days have been "pee, poo, back to the door."

Last thought. So a few posts back I spoke about the deliciousness that is mead. Because of the Latin script the name of the most common mead escaped me. That is until I read part of the label in back where it was in Cyrillic. The name is Medvarus. Мёд or "Med" is both honey and the drink mead. вар or "var" is part of the root for boiling and is found in many words like the ones for brewery (a beer boiler) and for dumplings to the festive "kettle" the samovar. I had this "aha" moment when reading this feeling like, oh hey, the name of the brand is just the name for meadery and since the script was in Latin, they were just being cool by adding "us" as the ending of Latin words (and well-known for a grade school joke mentioned in "Life of Brian" that I won't repeat here for some of my audience). Nope, Daria corrected me. рус or "Rus" is the ending as the short form or Russia. So there you have it, the name Medvarus is "Mead - ery/boiler - Russia." What a better portmanteau than my name Tahodoga.

I'll try and do another Holiday filled post before Christmas, but we'll see. If not, whatever holiday or days you celebrate may they be joyous and wonderful. Since I celebrate Christmas (although it'll probably not be on the 25th for me this year), I will say Merry Christmas!!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sonic Wintry Musings and other trinkets

While of course I hear things every day, this past week has been especially focused on sounds. Actually, most of them from Sunday, but we can say it has carried on throughout the week.

However, for comparison sake let's begin with First Advent. About 2 weeks ago, Daria and I went to the Anglican Chaplaincy for First Advent (something I knew about 7 years ago, was on hiatus 4 and 2 years ago, and while it has been back longer, we learned about it back in October). The service is very basic with standard Church of England script and led by a Finnish Lutheran Pastor on account of his availability and the CofE/Swedish & Finnish Lutheran Concordat ("agreement" for those of you none theological people). Anyway, this small service is very similar to the one I grew up with: fewer than 20 people and an attempt at music with an atonal congregation; spirit filled, but not musically inclined.

Contrast this to Second Advent at the Catholic Church in Russian (so I only understood parts of it), which was in a space with perfect acoustics where the choir was heard at the same volume and same beauty no matter where one stood in the church. The priest has a divine voice to boot. It was so moving that despite my lack of understanding of the words, I was carried away to an ethereal space. My friend Tripp at the GTU is doing his Ph.D. in sonic theology. I could not help but think of him, and I believe that experience could give some people a theogasm. It is precisely the role that music and sounds ought to have in a spiritual experience. This is not to say the Spirit wasn't moving throughout the Anglican Chaplaincy service, but the AC transposition came through words, whereas the Catholic experience was through music and so regardless of language, one was with the Spirit.

Sunday evening, we went to the philharmonic again. However this time it was in the big hall and it was not with our friend playing. The opening concerto was a Mozart piece and after the intermission we had  a symphony from Brookner. What I enjoy about the philharmonics here is that they are easily available to the people. My ticket for a good seat was 400R or about $12. While there are various prices for seating, Russia keeps the prices of the arts down enough that people who are lower middle class can enjoy the arts quite a few times a year, and I would say even completely lower class people, if they so chose, could enjoy the arts at least half a dozen times a year without hurting their finances. While it is true that Daria and I were inhibited by time to see things in San Francisco, let's face it, we were also inhibited by money. I give many thanks to both the government and the private benefactors here that cover the costs so that we can cheaply enjoy the theater and philharmonia. The other exiting thing about the philharmoia experience was that I was able to read most of the booklet. I knew enough vocab and grammar to get the context and then used the context to bypass words I didn't know. I may not be able to speak it, especially verbs in the perfect tense, but I was able to read it, and I felt this was a proud accomplishment.

Well, winter has fully arrived, and with winter comes clearing the snow and massive icicles, some as long as 3 meters quite wide, from the roofs. Men stand atop buildings tied with a cable and armed with a shovel. I don't have a fear of heights, but I don't even know if a cable would calm my fear of a slick icy roof from 4 or 5 or more stories. They mark off the sidewalk where they clear and the men shovel the snow off. It lands with a muffled "thwop" that snow does unless it hits the roof of a bus stop and then it's a thunderous clamor as the metal or plexiglass takes the blow. And for the ice they use the butt of the shovel handle to break it up and try and knock the icicles down which shatter like glass. Despite seeing this all winter every year, I'm amazed at how many people still often stop to watch this spectacle. Although I also stop often because it is mesmerizing.

With winter settling in that also means frozen canals. The small canal near where I work has long been frozen over. This canal may be about 10-15 meters wide. However, the largest canal, Fontanka, perhaps 30 meters wide or so, is slowly freezing (and yes I realize for those people on the west coast, these canals are wider than most of the rivers we know). For the past two weeks I have watched the ice slowly creep over the water the way ivy creeps on a building. It moves in two directions: the first is where it has frozen completely across, but you can still see water and the ice gets closer and closer to the bridge my bus passes over. The second is from the sides as the ice on the embankments get thicker and thicker. Both directions there are noticeable changes and 10 days ago the ice was about 200 meters from the bridge but now it is under the bridge so on the south side of the bridge there is no visible water, but the north still has plenty of visible flowing water. It is a beautiful thing to watch progress.

I also want to give kudos to pigeons, sometimes snubbed the flying rat by people who think of them as dirty city birds. People don't admire them for their beauty, although I've started to notice some very pretty blends of purple and green with the grey-blue or even white pigeons. Additionally, in "Home Alone 2," which has played in the office a couple times this week along with its predecessor, the "crazy lady" is the one who spends time with pigeons. However, last I checked pretty much all other birds have flown south or holed up for the winter. There are some ducks who didn't migrate, but most are gone, yet the pigeons remain to brave the truly subfreezing weather. They even gather around frozen water such as the ponds and canals which tend to be colder than other parts of the city. I think the pigeons deserve some respect for withstanding what other birds and animals avoid.

And to wrap up this post, tonight we had dinner with Daria's grandpa's cousin. The spicy food (read flavorful more than hot, although both are more rare - spice that is as there is plenty of flavor- here than CA/USA) was a nice treat, the conversation was way over my head, but what is worthy of note is the fact that the cousin's husband repairs old books/bindings with old school stitching and an old school press. That was truly something wonderful to see.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Being thankful for dog booties, trains, and Robert Frost

Last Saturday we had Thanksgiving dinner with Olya and Vova and Nadia. On Friday Daria had gone over to help prepare the pumpkin pie (completely from scratch - I mean everything including the pumpkin from the Lisij Nos garden), and the cranberry sauce. On Saturday we went and cooked the turkey (we found a whole bird, 3 kilos - about 6.7 pounds), and made mashed potatoes from scratch, and a salad. We washed this all down with some mulled wine. I've never made the turkey myself, and frankly I really only eat turkey at Thanksgiving, but we did a pretty good job. We stuffed it with diced apples (no stuffing), as well as had diced apples around it in the pan; salt and pepper. That's it, but it was good. The cranberry sauce was the best I've ever had as the mashed potatoes I'd say came in some of the top. Another reason not to buy boxed things. Golden potatoes, good natural butter, good milk, a little salt. Never cared much for mashed potatoes, but these were good. And the pumpkin pie was a great way to end the meal. There was much to be thankful for and it was nice to enjoy a small delicious meal with some good friends. Didn't spend the day with family or even celebrate on the right day, but we did have Thanksgiving. And Olya and Vova know quite a bit about it already because of the TV show "Friends" who have a T-day episode every season. We watched a few as it seemed appropriate. However, it must be noted that while Vova is more than happy to bbq the meat out at the dacha, he was a little shocked that I was helping cook the bird and make the mashed potatoes.

To resolve Karma's feet and the salt issue we took her the local pet store (well one of about 4 within a 5 min walk from our apartment, but the best of the 4) and got her outfitted with new booties. They let us try them on in the store, the owners/employees daughters helped us get them on Karma the first round and they were just wonderful to her. While she still prefers nothing on her feet, she is much more comfortable with the new ones because they're shaped to curve with the feet/leg. The booties we bought in the US/brought with us are just straight and don't adjust well with the dog. Karma walks a little funky when you first put them on, but then she runs around just fine with them on and she's comfortable walking long distances in them. We've also discovered a park not far from here is small and has only one entrance so we can let her run off-leash and guard the entrance. It is such a pleasure to watch her run through the snow, take a nibble every once in a while to taste the snow and then continue running. As for Ella, well we've been sparingly giving her her meds and she seems fine and healthy with just the special food. I'm happy to report about two healthy pets.

Last week I reported that winter was coming and that it came Saturday according to social media. Well, yes it has. We have an average high of -3C and an average low of -6C. Snow flurries most days which are followed by trucks to clear the road. I want to make this clear, they are not plows. The trucks get parked with an open bed in back and then a few track front loaders scoop up the snow and dump it in the truck. When full, the truck drives out of the city and dumps the snow and the loaders fill up another truck bed. Today as I was walking through таврический сад there were teenagers playing on the frozen pond. While I don't think I'd trust it to be frozen enough, they clearly thought it was able to handle them to run out into the middle. I just hope it held after I left. And for those of you who didn't get my facebook post, last weekend from Friday-Sunday, on a stretch of highway about 100 miles long between St. Petersburg and Moscow over 10,000 cars were stuck for 3 days because of the snow storm. Part of that can be blamed on weather, part on old soviet era infrastructure, but I personally put most of the blame on "why didn't they take the train?????" There is a great rail system here in Russia. Even the old soviet era rails are still pretty dang good. The more modern ones are wonderful. So, why weren't those people taking the train????? And, dear Americans, when are we going to get good trains? Start small like between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe/Reno: winter skiing, summer activities on the Lake or in the Bay depending on which direction, maybe some gambling. I see a win for everyone involved.

And to wrap it up, last night I used "The Road Less Traveled" by Robert Frost in my lesson. With a few new vocab words, it is an appropriate poem for intermediate students, and they quickly gathered the meaning of the poem when they knew the new vocab. They seemed to have loved the poem and it was a great way to end a long, hard day. Let's just say the Russian lesson kicked my butt, and I was glad to have a fun class with a great poem ending the class to end my day. I was exhausted and the two roads in the yellow wood with some great personalities is reenergizing.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Winter is Coming (зима приходит)

Winter is Coming. Tomorrow apparently, according to students I've talked to and things I've seen on vkontakte (in contact), a Russian social networking site similar to facebook, although many Russians also have facebook. Forget that winter officially starts on December 21st.

Although, I must ask why this Saturday. It has been snowing straight for the past 48 hours. Lightly, but constantly. The high today is -7 degrees C (about 20.5 F) with the low at -8C (18.5F) with gusts of wind hitting 40 kph (25mph). Today on my walk to and from work my mustache froze. My beard would have if it wasn't covered with the scarf, and it was difficult to see when the wind blew snow into the eyes. It's a good thing I'm a winter child if this isn't winter and winter is coming on Saturday. Although the weather is supposed to be about the same tomorrow so perhaps winter began yesterday, but people feel like it saying it starts on the weekend.

Russian lesson: вчера шёл снег весь день. vchyera (yesterday) shyol (verb "to go" past tense) snyeg (snow - noun that takes one of the verbs "to go") vyes (all) dyen (day). "Yesterday, it snowed all day." Well I think the spelling is right. Open to corrections.

I will say my Russian is getting better as I have conversations with my boss, the administrators in the office, some students from other teachers (again I'm talking with them in Russ-lish on the street, etc), my students in my classes, etc. I'm also trying to talk to people in my vk (vkontakte: fb - facebook). As my Russian improves, I'm also glad to say my students' English is improving. I was very pleased with the results from the last test they had. I have not had a test (don't know if I will). I am proud to say that many students (from multiple classes) complained that the second test was very hard, much harder than the first test. Yet in one class only one student got a worse percentage and that I am sure is b/c s/he came in after a hard day since in class I've noticed that s/he understands the material (keeping anonymous in case my students are reading this however they can). The rest of the class all improved their percentages and everyone passed unlike the first test. The other class (I haven't given tests in all my classes) has also improved drastically but due to extra credit from the first test I cannot accurately report that improvement. And my classes that haven't had tests, I also see some good improvement.

Wednesday was the last day I wore my tweed country cap, or tam-o-shanter. Or any of the other non-tweed caps of the same style that I'm known for wearing. I've officially pulled out the knit hat, but we'll see how long I wear that. Daria's grandma bought me a real Russian winter hat for New Years (presents exchanged for NY instead of Christmas), but I'm allowed to wear it before if I need to. Well, by real I mean a Russian hat with ear flaps: it's artificial fur. I'm a little sad about that, not because I want to wear slain animals, but because artificial things feel weird against my skin and frankly as much as I hate, hate, hate the way we deal with animals for commerce, it's the methods, not the use of animals that make mad. I believe we can slaughter humanely and properly use leather, fur, wool, etc. A fur coat used for 30+ years by someone is good use (and some older people in Russia might have 30+ year old coats). Additionally, I feel here people actually use every part of the animal. And lastly, using oil to make artificial products kills the animals and the environment anyway. It's just more out of sight, out of mind. And believe me, you need either the animal fur or the artificial products here. So, yeah I think a new mink coat or fox coat every few years is wrong. I also think it's wrong to raise them in cages and take their fur without using the meat and bones. But a free-range type of farm/ranch and the whole use of the animal, I'm ok with a coat of ram's hair and skin. Even that mink one if done well. And keep the coat until it's no longer usable. Nonetheless, I have a true Russian hat to keep my head warm in the freezing weather.

таврический сад (literally Bull Garden, but call it a Tavricheskij Park), near where my business class is, the pond has completely frozen over. Pigeons were sitting on the ice and on the ground and weren't moving at all. On Wednesday it was mostly frozen with a thin layer of ice, but where the ducks' paddling stirred the water it remained unfrozen. Today I'd guess at least 1/2 an inch thick. Oh, and as I had difficulty not slipping in the slick snow with gripped boots, I give mad props to the guy riding a unicycle with bald tires through the park and over a bridge that definitely had ice on it and didn't fall for the duration that I saw him.

The salt on the road last night was not pleasant for Karma's feet. We wonder if it felt like a chemical burn. This morning she was not pleased about wearing her dog-booties (Paw-tectors) though so we don't know how to solve this. She did have her second bath in the tub after the walk though (both b/c of need and to wash the salt off).

To wrap up: Earlier Daria helped at the LGBT conference. Last weekend, through the Women's Crisis Center that she volunteers at, she helped with a conference (and poster display at the library) concerning stopping domestic violence against women and children here in Russia. She was also invited by the chair of the Psychology department at the University here to do some stuff in the department.  On Tuesday she got stopped for a short interview (lasted about 5-10 min) with the local news about the conference/poster display and after editing will be on the local news tonight about 6.30-6.45pm. Just gotta say that I'm proud of her :-)

So Advent starts this Sunday in the Western Church. Even though Eastern Christmas isn't until Jan. 6, Advent already began for the Orthodox because theirs is 40 days. Maybe for me, I'll say Winter is coming with Advent. My Latin is a little rusty (ok, a lot rusty), but I believe "Winter is Coming" is translated as "Hiems Venit" but for Advent, I'll say "Hiems Advenit."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

the bad, the worse, and the ugly

So I have mentioned a few things negative about life here in Russia, but I feel that overall my posts reflect my romanticized version of Russia, and I'm well aware that I romanticize it. To be fair, it's hard not to with the stunning beauty that is St. Petersburg. Therefore, this post has a negative tone. And I will list things by how I view them: the bad, the worse, and the ugly.

The Bad: Many people in the United States are aware of the dangers of life and it is often cited that cities are more dangerous than the burbs or rural areas for crime rates. However, even cities are relatively safe with the exception of certain neighborhoods. For SF, people feel more safe in Pac-Heights or North Beach than say the Tenderloin. And crime usually happens in poorer districts and poorer cities, say Oakland versus SF. Or at least that's the perception. I haven't looked up stats and I know North Oakland now is better and South Oakland and Hayward, etc are worse off. Pretty much anywhere in SPB except maybe on the main street (Nevskiy Prospekt) in down town is subject to hooligans, and even then I probably wouldn't walk around there at 3am either. But certainly around here, you never know behind what corner or in what alley the hooligans might be hanging out in. When I give Karma her late night walk I avoid the courtyards and shortcuts and stick to the main streets in the light. Sometimes I also keep my pocketknife in hand. I definitely notice places of new graffiti on morning walks and if something seems sketchy I cross to the other side of the street or stick near the government building on our corner b/c a guard is always stationed there. One of my co-workers was followed into her building when she and her boyfriend returned home after work last February and they were attacked and robbed in their own building's lobby. Chances are rare that something would happen, but it is a possibility. I only had what may have been 1 possibility, and even then I'm not sure the people were hooligans, just some fast walking teenagers also wanting to get home fast since it was late at night. And because of gun laws here I don't have to worry about guns. Basically, one just has to be aware there are hooligans around and to be perceptive of who is around you and where you are. This is why I only rank this in the "bad" category.

And to be perfectly fair, one would think the north side of the UC Berkeley campus would be a fairly safe place b/c it's full of students and theological schools and up in the hills lots of wealthy people who want to keep their wealth. However, in 4 years of living there, I read more reports of robberies (namely students with backpacks potentially carrying laptops) there than anyone would ever expect. The difference is that the north side, the criminals traveled into the neighborhood to commit the crime, whereas the Tenderloin and SPB, the hooligans are also residents.

The Worse: It tells you something that I find architectural collapse and dirty neighborhoods to be worse than hooligans and crimes. Perhaps this says that either the crimes aren't really as bad as one might think (hence not getting posted about earlier and even when I do post it's the least category) or it tells you something about my taste, or it tells you something about the system itself. Perhaps a little bit of each. With the exception of downtown buildings, many of the buildings in SPB are not as kept up as they ought to be. All those glorious pictures of SPB with beautiful imperial buildings like the Hermitage or Gostiniy Dvor are all downtown. They're bright and colorful and breathtaking. And then you move to the side streets. The buildings themselves remain beautiful. I love the architecture and many times the less bright colors are still beautiful. And the decaying certainly adds character to the city and the buildings, but it's also sad to see so many beautiful buildings that need repair. The plaster/cement has cracked off revealing the brick core of the buildings (side note, Karma and I watch progress of the construction of the brick core of a new building nearby on our walks). A patch over the holes and a new paint job would do many of the buildings good. And it is being done. A few weeks ago the scaffolding came down around a building that I pass on my way to work and it's a bright tangerine color. Some other buildings are getting repaired, and the wall to a car maintenance center a block over has been fixed. However, there is so much that needs to be done the maintenance isn't fast enough.

I place this in the "worse" category though because it helps to demonstrate the poverty here. A stellar imperial city that doesn't look imperial because they don't have the money to fix the things up at a fast enough pace. This in turn leads to higher crime rates, hence why the crime is bad, but the system is worse. The money exists because of oil and natural gas and other things. However, decaying and crumbling buildings are not receiving the money and the people aren't receiving the money.

In addition to crumbling architecture is pollution. There is poor air quality and it gets worse as more people buy cars. The city often has clouds which means pollution doesn't escape easily to begin with. The majority of people still use public transit, but more and more people are using cars, but they're not using them out of convenience. Rather they use them as a status symbol. People are getting wealthier (yes this contradicts the previous statement about poverty, but it is possible to have an impoverished system while people still get wealthier, I just don't know how to fully describe it) and so they drive a car to show that they're part of the class with money. The public transit here is wonderful. I have a choice of a great metro system, bus, tram, trolley, you name it. There is little need for a car within the city, yet many people still choose to use them. I feel a lesson from the 1950s USA would be really handy here.

Pollution is also found in the form of garbage on the street. In many places the city provides garbage cans and I love this. But in some places they don't and there are a few places Karma and I pass that have bottles, and cans, and food wrappers. At least most of the trash is still found in piles, but it'd be nice if it could make it another 100-500 meters to a dumpster or a small curbside bin. Trash is also noticeable in some areas outside the city like a lagoon the train passes on the way to Lisiy Nos.

The Ugly: Ok, this ugliness has to do with both the US and Russia. The ugliness here is another sickness. Daria ended up with tonsillitis. Because the weather is what it is here, a lot of people end up being ill this time of year. The student with whom I share 3 other teachers for her 6 days a week intensive November course told me that her son has tonsillitis (although he's out in Siberia). Two of the administrators from work know someone currently with tonsillitis, and my boss didn't have tonsillitis, was out of the office for 6 business days (M-F and the following M) with something. Daria's ugliness included being homebound for 10 days. You cannot go outside because your body cannot fight the illness and the weather. My boss told me the same was her case. Not even short trips. I had to give Karma all the walks and the grandparents ran to the apteka (pharmacy) to get Daria her medicines. Not the most pleasant experience even when Daria started to feel better. And grandma was quite strict about what Daria was allowed to do. Actually it resembled a parent to a 6 year old more than a healthy adult concerned about a sick adult.

Russian ugliness: weather leading to lots of sickness. On the flip side, American ugliness:

Yes, Daria was sick. However, we had a home visit from the doctor rather than taking her to a hospital. The doctors did all they needed to do in the bedroom instead of rushing off to a sterile hospital bed and/or an ER that is full of other sick people (because that's a genius idea - make all the sick people with various illnesses and their healthy accompaniments stand around together for a few hours filling out forms). Nope, we had a home doctor visit, told what we needed to buy (for cheap) at the apteka, and only if things got much worse do we go to the hospital.

The US needs to get on board with socialized medicine. We spend 2.5 times the next most expensive country for healthcare and our best is in specialization, not general care. I am a foreign national which means my healthcare isn't as good as the citizens and I still get better care than options through the GTU or Daria's school or any other basic package in the US. I'd have to earn $150K + to buy the package that I get here. Absolutely if I need specialized care, the US is the place to go. But why are we 47th in the world behind all other 1st world countries and even many 2nd world countries for general care. Do we need the quality of specialized care because we don't prevent and take care of the general that it gets so bad we need special care? Wouldn't we save ourselves lots of problems by prevention and general care? Why do I as an American in Russia get the lowest package here and I still get a better package than I did in the US?

It was really kinda cool to experience a home visit from a doctor. No, Daria didn't like getting the shot she received, and the pills and the gargling twice a day sucked, although the pills are easily affordable. I think the 10 days under house arrest by illness was the worst of it. However, I place all the health issues in the ugly category because one, getting sick really is ugly. No one likes it, it feels terrible and you can't do anything. But it's also in the ugly category because the American system for healthcare is ugly. To all my American family, friends, and acquaintances: if you don't like Obamacare and are the type who wants to repeal it, please do so; but if you do replace it with socialized + private option. The wealthy still buy better packages of health care, and the wealthy here opt for a better option than the socialized one. I do not advocate no private options for those who want to pay for it. But frankly we'd be better off with universal healthcare + private option.

Now to a happier topic. But first Michigan and the school that shall not be named. GO BLUE!!!!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

shoes, mead, malls, and apple goblins

So I've had the thought about mentioning the use of my old shoes for a while now, but I didn't want to make previous entries longer, and my shoes was one of the least important aspects about being in Russia. Well, now they get a mention. I know it seems trivial, but it becomes slightly more important, well maybe just more of interest, when I state that part of the Russia experience is traced back 13 years. Near the start of my sophomore year of high school during that brief moment I was trying to become part of the "popular crowd" before returning to the people I fit in best with (and who were much better to me) I asked my parents to buy me what I now best describe as a hybrid between dress shoes and hiking boots. All the "in kids" were wearing something of the sort. Well it didn't take long for me to put those shoes on the shelf and to return to skater shoes and chuck taylors, and on the shelf they remained until last winter. I was at my parents and needed something good for the snow and pulled those boots out and traded in my Doc Martins that need a sole replacement (at the house waiting for my return). The hybrid dress/hiking boots followed me to Russia and have seen quite a bit of action. Sadly, while almost the entirety is solid leather, the cuff where the heel goes into the shoe is fake something or other and shows signs of use that should not be there. If only they would have done that in leather or sturdy cloth/canvass instead of whatever it is.

These are not the only shoes to make more of an appearance in Russia. I bought a pair of black dress shoes in 2006 for both substitute teaching and to wear to my brother's wedding. Well, those of you who know me know that I prefer the casual shoe (used to be those converse until they changed manufacturing and a pair only lasted 2 months and then kangaroo Adidas Sambas took the spot of which two pair has lasted 7 years and became my shoe of choice) or bare feet. The Sambas might be work appropriate, but I haven't pushed that button yet and frankly with the rain and the snow, I won't until next spring or summer. However, black dress shoes are extremely popular here (although mine are flat toes and about 85%+ are pointy here) and definitely fit in with the "smart look" I have to wear to work: none of you would recognize me. While I bought them to help with subbing before my first day teaching I found out that Sambas, or a different pair of "smart" casual shoes with jeans or decent trousers (yes I did just use that Britishism), would work, I may have worn them once, but certainly not more than that. I wore them to a couple weddings (my own included), well actually, I think they've pretty much seen 2 days of use that weren't weddings before coming to Russia and they've seen 3 here on 3 different trips. Another half-dozen times and account for some lapse of memory they'd be lucky to have been work 10-12 times. Enter the black dress shoes, those same trousers from 06/07 or a pair of jeans, and shirt + vest and/or tie.

So, two pairs of shoes, one 6 years old and the other 13 have seen far more action in Russia than they ever had while I lived in the US. While it's a strange tale of shoes, I feel it is worthy of note.

As to the non-shoe issue of De Karelia. First, any of you who have not tried mead, you're missing out. Spelled мёд (pronounced more like m-yod with a long o), this honey beer/wine is one of the sweetest treats humanity has ever known. It is delicious hot or cold, dark or light. In fact I'm having one as I type this, but only because Daria and I were able to find some in a store we went to yesterday. The meadery is actually right next to Language Link, my place of employment, but we cannot find any bottles at any store here in the central district. I smell the brew about 3 days out of 5 when walking to work. The spiced air is torturous and it's only when we go far distances out that we see it. A local fast food place carries their own brand on tap, but as with all things tap, it is more expensive and we'd be quite content having a bottle at home. I believe there are between 2 and 6 meaderies in the US. If you don't live close enough to one, start demanding it either from a favorite local brewery to make their own or to import from one of those few.

And onto the non-material. Classes are going well, both those in which I teach and those in which I'm taught. Last week I started my new business group and I must say they are fun. They're near Tavrichesky Park that Daria and I walked through a few weeks ago. All the leaves are gone, but it still looks stunningly beautiful with all the skeletal trees. There are 3 students, they're elementary so if I reach my brain back a few weeks, it's almost the same lessons as I had in Russian and I can translate if I need to. I also went in early on Monday and Wednesday this past week. On Monday I did my lesson plans for M night, and two lessons for Tues. On Wednesday I did Wed night and Thurs. This freed up two very hectic days, enabled me to also get more of my Russian homework done without feeling stressed, and I was able to perform better both as a student and a teacher on T/Th. My Russian also improved quite a bit this week I think and on Thursday night I met someone else's student on the bus home and we had a decent convo in Russ-lish. I learned how to describe things like books and movies, both learning vocab and genres but also using "of" and "about." Additionally, for you Breaking Bad, Mad Men, or Mentalist fans out there, I've recommended them to my teacher since she finished watching House and was interested in something new. I haven't seen Breaking Bad, but I know many of people like it so I put it out there.

And to wrap up the week, yesterday we went with Olya, Vova, and Nadia to Mega, a gigantic mall on the outskirts of the city. I don't think the word Mega describes how big this place is. For starters it has a full-sized Ikea and a Super Wal-Mart/Target-esque store called Ashan with "everything and then some - food items included" in it (Ashan is where we found the Mead). Then Mega has all your regular mall stores, and a full sized playground, toddlers area, 5D (yup that's right) entertainment center, a mechanical bull, a carousel (which Nadia rode), and who knows what else. It was a fun time, but not much was bought. A trashcan, rug, and some food on our end. The rest was shopping and not finding what we wanted and then just having fun watching Nadia have fun. So much that she didn't want to leave after about 4.5 hours.

Today Daria and I went out to Lisiy Nos for various reasons. It also has lost all the autumnal luster as winter, зима, zeema, is slowly settling in. But while the colors and leaves are gone, the magic still looms in the trees. And by magic I might include myself. I had to help get the rest of the apples that clung to the branches after the last leaf had fallen. I began by using the apple grabber which is a cut up water bottle attached to a stick by the mouth of the bottle. I accidentally dropped one perfectly on the wire fence and sliced it part way. After a while, the tree fairies decided shaking the tree was more appropriate so I donned whatever Poseidon wore when he decided to quickly turn away from the sea and cause a terrible rumble. We also did the normal fire, eat a meal, and enjoy ourselves. And yes, it was quite cold anywhere outside of the room that the fire was in. Oh and for those of you who know what it means to me, I have a gigantic bag of dried apples. Mmmmm mmmm good.

Well, that should about wrap it up. And speaking of wrap up, it's almost time to wrap up in a heavier coat when I leave the house. I'll push the layers of sweaters and this coat just a little longer, but it's getting cold. Especially with so much moisture in the air. It is often as though there is a perma-(something greater than a mist/fog, but less than a sprinkle/drizzle). And then of course there is actual rain. And 90% of the time it doesn't get fully dark out. Ironic considering our geographical location, but thanks to the inventiveness of humankind and the clouds provided by nature, our light pollution makes the night into an orange glow of counterfeit embers.

Night all. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rus-lish and polychromatic michelin kids

Working to prevent another 2.5 month lapse.

So I have to say while I like my job, I like teaching, I like all my students (which is fortunate), and I like learning Russian, I am not a fan of the swing shift. I want to be able to get up early in the morning work throughout the day and then relax in the evening. However, I tend to wake up around midday, work through the evening, and stay up late at night almost to time that I'd prefer to wake up, not finally fall asleep. I know some people are good at waking up early, doing things throughout the day and then working swing shift and going to bed immediately upon coming home. I really need to learn to do that because that is not how I naturally am. I also loved canvassing for Citizens Campaign for the Environment in 2007-8, but I suffered the same thing at that point of staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning and waking up between 10 and noon.

I need to learn to break this pattern, and it almost got me in trouble this past Thursday. My individual student, Sergei, is off in DC and so I picked up another individual for the month of November. Her name is Guzel and she's doing an intensive course for one month, 6 days a week at 4 academic hours (3 astronomical hours - 1 acad. hr = 45 minutes) a day and there are 4 teachers splitting the time with her. I teach her on Tuesday and Thursday from 11am-2pm. My Russian lesson is from 2.15 - 5.15 and then I have my 7.20 - 9.40 class. Well Thursday I woke up at 11am and I had to walk Karma. Oi.  I immediately called the office and told them I'd be there at noon. When I apologized they said it was fine, every teacher has a day or two like that. Guzel was able to do noon - 3pm, and fortunately my Russian teacher was flexible and could do 3.15 - 6.15, although if she couldn't I would have just lost an hour of my lesson. This left little time for lesson planning for my evening class, but we were able to make it work.

On other notes, Ella is quite the entertaining cat. She not only sleeps in the wardrobe, but she has a spot near the window where she hides behind the curtain and curls into a ball, sometimes she sleeps nearby on top of the laptop case that I don't use because I don't take the computer anywhere, and last night we found her on the floor by kitchen radiator. Many Russian cats have beds or towels on top of the radiators, so we put a towel up there and showed her how to get to it, but so far she hasn't chosen that as one of her many sleep spots. She is doing quite well and is much healthier than a few months ago. She's back to her normal self and has been playful with Daria's headphone cord and even has her hour of insanity in the evening where she meows and then runs full speed up and down the hall from one room to another with no apparent purpose: an activity she used to do in Berkeley from the bedroom to the living room on most nights. All good signs. And Daria's grandparents spoil both Karma and Ella with meat and treats and Karma gets sausages. Daria's grandma even went out and bought about 8 containers of Ella's prescription pate when we were only buying 2-3 at a time.

Karma had her first indoor bath yesterday. We hadn't given her one since the summer house, and in Berkeley we always did it outside. She was traumatized by having to be in the tub and since I had to lift her in and out, she was a little mistrustful of me for the next hour or so, even after I gave her treats. Alas, she smells like a clean dog right now. The other major difference with Karma, is that we can no longer give her a quick bathroom break. Sometimes in Berkeley I'd just take her out, maybe even in my pajamas if it was early in the morning or late at night for a 3 minute break. Here we always have to get dressed and take her for a legit walk. Sometimes that sucks when you're not ready to be dressed. Oh well.

And as winter is coming, I must say I love how Russians dress their kids for the cool weather. Our neighborhood has quite a few kindergartens, детский сад (detskiy sad - pronounced sod) in the singular, and so I see a bunch of kids when I walk to work. They are in puffy coats and winter pants of the type I normally see for 3-5 year olds at a ski hill, or maybe when the kids run out and play in the snow. But the kids here wear the suits against the cold, not just for snow activity. We could say they look like polychromatic Michelin Men, but in a terribly cute way. It always puts a smile on my face to see all the kids out running around in big puffy clothes.

And to wrap up this post, yesterday I went to gather some of Daria's surveys that she had given to a family friend to take to work to distribute and collect. The woman knows English and she and I had a brief conversation of Rus-lish or Eng-ian, however you want to call it. It was nice to practice with someone new though. I also went to a pirogi cafe and was able to order and on the way home I stopped to pick up Daria a shawarma, a certain type of Arabic sandwich. My ordering skills put to use again.

Anyway, all is well, and for tonight's game against Northwestern, Let's Go Blue!!!!

Monday, November 5, 2012


So the month of October has seen things more settled down. Daria was (and still is) busy with internship applications, so we haven't had any big excursions which we still want/need to do. As I mentioned in the previous post, we did have a few day trips out to Lisiy Nos.

The cool weather has definitely come settling in and mid-late October we saw the first snows, although much of that has melted away again. While it was getting cool in September, the apartment was also cool because the city controls when the heat is turned on. So late nights in September I'd walk around with a sweater. In October the heat was turned on, through radiators which we have some control over but not much, and so I am able to walk around with shorts and a t-shirt inside. It's a little unsettling, but that's the way it is. Don't put the coat on until you're ready to go outside b/c otherwise you'll roast.

My Russian is certainly improving, but not at the speed I had hoped. However, when we went to visit Olya and Vova and Nadia on Friday night I was able to converse minimally and they noticed and appreciated my improvement. We have seen them a couple times throughout the month. Daria meets with Olya about once a week and then Olya's birthday was the last week of Oct, so we went there for a party and played a little poker with the chips, but without the cash.

Daria has also actively gotten involved volunteering her clinical skills once a week at a local center. Additionally, her supervisor invited her to participate at a national conference for LGBT rights that was held here in SPB. Whether you agree or not with the right for LGBT people to marry, Russia does a pretty good job completely suppressing the LGBT community from society on all fronts. The idea of someone who does not fall completely into a hetero-normative category isn't just shunned or mocked, they're ignored and not spoken about as though they don't even exist. In addition to the one center, Daria is trying to get involved at another crisis support center, but that one is a little slower in the uptake.

While we haven't gone anywhere, at the beginning of October we went to a rock club where 4 bands played covers of 90s Russian rock songs. Each group played about 7 or 8 songs, and while I didn't understand the lyrics, the music was fantastic. Russian groups like ддт, корол и шут, алиса, and сплин and others that I cannot remember. I have since updated my music library.

To bookend the beginning with rock, near the end of October we went to the philharmonic. Olya's brother Philip was one of the cellos, which was part of the reason we went that night, but we want to attend such things anyway. This was at the "small hall" of the two philharmonics here. Wonderful performances of one of Mozart's pieces, and then Tchaikovsky's "Florence," which is tumultuous b/c it is allegro, but in a minor key. I'm glad we were able to experience that.

As for Halloween, well it's really not a thing here like it is in the US. However, Language Link decided to decorate the office and we did Halloween themed lessons anyway. My intermediate class loved it, but my pre-intermediate class was indifferent. I wonder how much that is b/c of vocabulary or just class temperament.

As the temperature was cooling Ella loved to crawl into the wardrobe and curl into a ball near the shoes. Apparently cats like dark, enclosed spaces prior to drastic temperature drops. Well she predicted it well. Then she comes out and as we enter November we've seen warmer weather and autumnal rains.  From days of -1C we are now back up to 5 or 6C. Although the forecast puts us back to -1 for Saturday.

Well I'm off to go grade some short writing assignments, but that should catch us up to the current state of things. I'll try not to let it slide by 2 months.


So there is a lot of catch up on since I’ve come back to St. Petersburg. I’ll try to recount in one September post, and one October post.

I arrived back in SPB in the beginning of September. I started teaching on Thursday the 6th even though I did have to go to work a few days prior to get things in order. I have three classes. Well two classes and an individual student. I teach one pre-intermediate class on Mondays and Wednesdays, one intermediate class on Tuesdays and Thursdays (my first class), and my individual student, Sergey, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He is a business owner and I meet in his office. Unlike the classes, which follow a book form/schedule, he tells me what he wants to work on (he knows the grammar and is just focused on new vocabulary, and mainly speaking faster since while he knows the rules he sometimes has to think about it when speaking). I am fortunate that I actually like all my students and I think they are all great. I know that with any kind of teaching this is not always the case.

I have also started taking my Russian classes. While sometimes I struggle with the case endings, mostly I suffer the same as Sergey in remembering what goes where. I know it, but it takes some time to think about it. Although I know far less about Russian than he does about English as he knows almost all the grammar rules whereas I know very few, I grasp the rules easily and thanks to Greek and Latin I understand declining nouns/pronouns/adjectives and conjugating verbs. Where I struggle even more though is pronunciation, most notably with the letter ы. Additionally, there are some consonant sounds that I have a hard time with because I’m not used to putting them together. For example the word for “yesterday” is вчера, vchera. Although, that one I’m a little better with. I almost always put an extra vowel sound between the ‘m’ and ‘n’ in мне, mne, which is a declined form of the 1st person. There’s another word that I struggle with a lot, but I’m too lazy to go get my book and look up how to spell it right now, but some consonant sounds are tough for me. I will admit though that I like the Indo-European connection for the word “to know.” In English we have the silent ‘k’ followed by an “n.” Greek begins with “gn” as in the Greek word for “to know,” γιγνώσκω, gignosko, and knowledge γνσις, gnosis. Russian знайте, znaite (or some transliteration like that; I don’t know how to differentiate between и and й when I transliterate. I guess many have й as j so znajte. Anyway, there is a “zn” beginning to the word. The Romantic languages like French, Italian, and Spanish all come more from the Latin “sci” root, but hey, it’s neat nonetheless. And the more important part is that I’m enjoying my Russian classes.

The first weekend back in SPB was Daria’s cousin Masha’s wedding so we donned our fancy clothes, went to the neighborhood courthouse (which has a beautiful imperial interior, but the legal ceremony lasts about 10 minutes so you don’t enjoy it for long). Outside we throw 10 kopek and 50 kopek pieces (the equivalent of cents and 50 kopeks is about 1.5 cents) at the bride and groom as they exit and we toast them with champagne. From there we traveled to take pictures around the city, but on account of rain, the only place we went to was the greenhouse. However, inside the greenhouse there was a butterfly house and they placed butterflies on us for pictures. The main celebration took place as a local restaurant where there were a variety of meats and salads, vodka and champagne, followed by dancing and hookah. The following day we spent out at the Lisiy Nos with Daria’s grandma and the newlyweds and Karina.

Daria spent the first 3 weeks or so of September out at Gorkovskaya, so I went to visit her on the weekends. I received phone updates about the sightings of hedgehogs, but when I went on the weekend, there must have been too many people who also went out on the weekends b/c I never saw a hedgehog. However, we had nice walks in the forest, save when Karma would roll in poo, and gathered mushrooms.

Toward the end of September Daria came back to the city. I do have to admit it was quite comical that Karma knows which of the four doors at the landing is ours, but she does not know what floor. Even now in November, she still has a little trouble. One sad event we saw on one trip when we were both walking Karma was a person burying what we presume was their cat in a local park. The person dressed in black and jeans and shading his eyes with sunglasses, had dug a hole under a tree. There was a shoebox that was eventually laid in the hole and it was evident he was saying some kind of prayers/goodbyes. A little dirt would be tossed in and more whispered words were said. A little more dirt and repeat. We didn’t watch the entire thing, but we were there long enough to witness the box being placed in the hole, a couple prayer cycles, and the man crossing himself during each cycle. This had an impact on us as Ella wasn’t doing well and was very frail and sallow, from which she has thankfully recovered.

The last weekend of September Daria and I took a day trip up to a city called
выборг, Vyborg, which is near the Finnish border. The architecture is quite Germanic/Scandinavian; much more in line with the likes of France and Amsterdam than with Russia. There are old Viking ships resting for tourists like us to see, and a castle on an island in the middle of the bay that dates to the 13th century. Frankly, very strategically located. The tower is 40 or 50 meters tall, but from the top one can see everything in every direction. We went out to a park and walked around, as well as walked through the city. There are many buildings still in ruins either from WWII or something else. Frankly, all you need is a developer willing to restructure the downtown apartments and I’m quite sure they would be taken. There is also an interesting house upon a rock, which is basically a boulder with a house upon it.

An overlap between the last few weekends of September and the first few of October saw Daria and I taking a trip to Lisiy Nos. We would feast on something or other from the garden and return to the city with bushels of apples all from one tree. We also returned with plums on one trip and while most of the plums got thrown out, we made jam, which turned into 3 jars. A tasty treat to top pancakes. We also returned with applesauce made by grandma, to which we gave some to my coworkers. Apparently that was the best applesauce they’ve ever had. It was good. It had a sweet carbonated taste as though it was applesauce champagne.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

So 2.5 months later

So two and a half months since I made a blog post and even longer since I made one on the experience of Russia. Here is a catch up, but unlike earlier catch up posts, this one will not be divided by dates. I wrote this in piecemeal some beginning on the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. This post will be the end of my Moscow experience and the timing in some paragraphs reflect the time I wrote them, not based on the end of October.

Most of our (my fellow trainees’/interns’ and my) days have been spent in our own classes throughout the day getting trained for various things. We had lessons in grammar to make sure that we knew the grammar we would be teaching; we were given lessons in methodology; how to handle various classes ranging from young learners (think kindergarten style class even if the ages is a little wider range) to full adults; are they learning English for pleasure, business, forced by parents, etc; do we have to teach to a specific English test they are looking to take (perhaps a certain business test, a test to study abroad in an English speaking country, a test when they graduate high-school called YEGE – all subjects encompassing and students can add an English portion if they want).

We were taught many different things throughout the day, and then in the evenings we had to teach 8 times in the past 3 weeks: 6 in the first 2 weeks and 2 times this past week. All the classes for the training period were adult classes and I must say the students were a lot of fun. These were broken down into their level of English as 1 Elementary class, 1 Pre-Intermediate, 2 Intermediate, and 2 Upper Intermediate for a total of 6 classes. The first 2 weeks we each taught every class once and then this last week we taught 2 of the classes. I had one of the two upper int classes and one of the two intermediate classes twice, and then the other 4 I only had once. Sometimes we might talk to the students from other classes that we had previously taught before classes began or after the class was over. The last night a few of the students came to the bar next to Language Link where many interns were having a “last night hurrah” and there were some good conversations happening.

The lesson planning began really rough and I had my first three days in a row so I was not able to learn from my mistakes before creating my next lesson. However, for the second week I was able to take a nice long look at my reviews and incorporate the suggestions and I was able to navigate the lesson planning process better, so even though they graded harder the further along we got, I still had higher grades which was nice. While some of the lesson planning was a drag, overall it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed both making lessons and teaching the classes.

As I mentioned above, the last night there was an intern hurrah at Vokzal, the bar next to Language Link, where we had that first Saturday get-together. It was a bittersweet moment as we were all glad to be done with the ITP, but at the same time we knew that many were leaving the following day and who knows if or when we’ll see these people that we became bonded to during the past 4 weeks.
For those of you interns reading this, much love and I will miss you all. I’d love to visit, and you’re always welcome to SPB (St. Petersburg).

My mother-in-law’s stepson Andrei lives in Moscow and I brought some things from the US that I was supposed to give him. Instead of just a short meet-up he decided to invite me to his dacha to visit with his friends as they celebrated the last weekend before school began, so my third weekend in Moscow I went out to his dacha. Overall it was quite a nice dacha, but I must say, their outhouse, while a little more than a wooden shack, had a bucket that requires emptying every so often, in place of the hole in the ground that Daria’s outhouse has in SPB. I prefer the hole, but alas. Andrei and his friends were quite nice and many of them spoke enough English that I could talk quite fine, and surprisingly it provided me with an opportunity to practice my teaching as I did lots of error correction for pronunciation and missing verbs, articles, or wrong words. They were quite thrilled to have the corrections and for the ability to practice their English, although once again it left me with little chance to learn Russian. Well one guy tried to teach me some swear words, but I only remember one of them.

Friday night was basically a small fire in the woods, about 7 people, and a couple beers. Saturday night, however, was a much bigger event, as it was “the party of the last weekend before school.” About 25-30 people between the ages of 18-30 – not all in school, but they’re part of the young crowd so they still go out – out in the woods, again with a fire, but also with a makeshift table out of two-by-fours (or whatever their metric equivalent) and a door off it’s hinges to house both a fully stocked bar and speakers and the DJs equipment. Of course it helped that 2 of the people who live there are a bar tender and a DJ in Moscow for their jobs. Getting the generator started for it was quite the comical experience though. It as an American built Honda generator, sold in Russia, with an instruction booklet in Italian, Dutch, and German. At first they didn’t read which languages were in the book so they were excited to have me try and help them start it since “I could read the booklet.” Of course I couldn’t so we had to find other ways, did it wrong and by the time we figured out how to do it, we had broken part of it.

It’s a good thing Russian men, yes the men, even in this group which I would identify as more in the American style feminist, are good at mechanics and stuff, even if they’re in brainy jobs. These guys do their own car repair and maintenance; do their own plumbing, electricity, heating, and the rest of the manual labor. Well, ok, so for the generator mechanics we had to take it to someone’s dad who fixed it, and the party was able to begin.

I’m told, some people stayed out as late as 10am although most left around 7am. Still, I even as much fun as I had, I left much earlier than that and got a reasonable sleep, did some work Sunday afternoon, and returned to the city. Of course my work was limited since even though I brought my computer, I have the fortunate experience of having a new-old computer: my brother’s old laptop to replace my old broken one. I had a trial period of MS Word, which expired that Friday and I wasn’t able to download/order my new Word until Tuesday or Wednesday when I got back to the city, work that required Word was not achieved last weekend.

Sadly, while the ITP has been fun, we also had some plague of some sort going through the office. About 6 or 7 people had it over the last 2 weeks. Out of 28 people, that’s a high number and I was one of those (un)fortunate souls. I missed work both Tuesday and Wednesday laying in bed unable to do very much. I’m just getting it all out of the way, you know. Giardia, and whatever that sickness was, I figure I should be good for my quota now for the rest of the year. I almost went to work Wednesday afternoon thinking I could make it for half the day. Got dressed, almost out the door, and I buckled over from stomach cramps so I went back to bed. I had actually been feeling sick Monday, but I taught anyway, even while feeling faint. When I got my review on Thursday, one of the nice compliments he gave me was, “well if that’s how you felt and that’s how you taught, being sick could be good for your teaching. Not that you want to be sick, but you did a great job.” Of course that’s my paraphrase, but his compliment made up for the previous two days.

My homestay was also very nice to me during my entire stay. Truly wonderful people that I will miss dearly. Bruce and Katy, I hope you are reading this, but they reminded me a lot of you two and the kindness you showed me that year in Turlock. It brought back some fond memories. So Maxim and Tatiana sent me off with four chocolate bars (2 of their favorite type, and the 2 they learned that I like a lot while drinking tea), some grub for the journey, and now some fond memories of my Moscow homestay.

I posted on Facebook, but I’ll do it here as well, 1 Sept is called “knowledge day” because that’s when kids start school (well Monday since it’s a Saturday). Even though it was the weekend there were festivities down in the courtyard between our buildings where the kids gathered and there were speeches and songs and other various things. It was only an hour or maybe a little more, but quite a nice thing to listen to while packing. Sometimes I ventured to the window and I could see smiles on the kids’ faces, even from the 17th floor. If only American kids were that excited about going to school. I think many kindergartners are, but here even the older kids in 5th/6th grade were excited. I didn’t see the teens (different school location), but I suspect they have a similar angsty thought about returning. Oh well, still nice to see people excited about learning and knowledge.

Lastly, I’d like to thank Chris Riordan from my internship for loaning me “Game of Thrones” those last 3 weeks. An excellent book for anyone who might be interested and a much better way to spend my time on the Metro than my iPod. 806 pages completed in just under 3 weeks going back and forth 40-45 minutes on the Metro (and I didn’t even get much done while sick because I couldn’t focus that long; additionally I’d like to mention that I travelled 15.4 miles in 40 minutes to work at the cost of about 85-90 cents). I won’t give any details, but let’s say I was enthralled and it was very hard to continue lesson planning at home after work, but I was able to keep to my schedule well. Of course, Chris and I also bonded over other things like progressive metal such as Tool, Dream Theater, and a new one he showed me I want to say Porcupine Tree, but I can’t look it up on the internet right now. I may verify before posting or maybe not. As we said last night, his and my many discussions about various things, we are братъя, brothers.

Well, ta for now, and again much love to all my fellow interns that are either remaining in Moscow or travelling to some other far off city. May your travels be safe, your teaching productive, and your experiences wonderful. And many, many thanks to my homestay Maxim and Tatiana. They were extremely kind and hospitable.

PS. I had a post thought as I am riding the train from Moskva to Piter. Another reason why the US needs to adopt more trains, especially high-speed, for transportation. Sure, trains may not be productive for the person who needs to get between LA and NY very fast, but for the shorter trips, it could certainly prove useful. Even SF to LA could be done by train instead of flight (a good high-speed might be able to do it in about the same time if you consider the time one must wait at the airport, but even if it takes an hour more, honestly I think we could all adjust.

But as to my reasons I say first and foremost, give me the legroom. I have great legroom on this train. I can stretch out relax, sit comfortably, most side to side a little. I can get up, stretch my legs, walk around, walk to the food car, etc. I mean if it were me, and I was going on a business trip, I’d certainly take the extra hour or two spent travelling for the extra comfort on a good high-speed rail. And as I’ve said, both for public transportation in general, trains and metros are so much nicer than driving anyway. But, yeah, plenty of space to get business work done, honestly a train ticket is still cheaper than the plane ticket and if you’re buying business class. Sure it’s the company, but hey the company could save money, you could still ride in comfort. Seems like a win for everyone but the airlines (who as transportation companies more often in debt anyway, maybe only a few should stay in the air and most turn toward ground travel. They might save themselves money too).