Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Moscow & St. Petersburg

Honestly, I have really run out of blogging steam. I will try to write a bit more when I get home, but I would kind of rather just show everyone pictures and tell everyone stories individually. At this point, too much has happened for me to feel like I have successfully captured it by blogging.

I am finally back in a place that more or less resembles the United States. I am not actually that relieved and I am not sure that I like the big cities as much as I liked Siberia, but they are still really interesting. I loved Moscow because it reminded me of New York. It was big and weird and beautiful. St. Petersburg is also nice, but I was already biased against it before I got here. Everyone who has visited tells me how much better Petersburg is than Moscow, which made me root for Moscow because it was the underdog. Then, as I understand it, St. Petersburg is to Moscow is like San Francisco is to Los Angeles. I am personally an LA person and hate San Francisco. St. Petersburg also seems a lot like Venice, which was my lease favorite Italian city. I just don't think cities are supposed to be calm, orderly and beautiful.

Anyway, we took a very unpleasant 1AM to 6AM tour of the setting of The Master and Margarita. It would have been amazing, but it was raining and there was a freezing cold wind. The Bulgakov museum was very cool though and hopefully tomorrow I will be going to the Dostoevsky museum in St. Petersburg. I am going to meet my friend Yuliya's brother, who lives here, which should be really fun.

The hostels have actually been amazing, even though I was kind of scared of them before coming. It was a great way to meet people and they felt really safe and comfortable. In fact, the first hostel was a lot nicer than some hotels I have stayed in even though the rooms were communal.

I am really looking forward to going back to New York. My roommates for next year, Tom, found an apartment for us in Manhattan. The location and the price are really amazing and I will be living right by Central Park.

Here are a few pictures from Siberia and hopefully I will have the energy to upload more later:

1. Just a nice picture of a Siberian village.

2. This is so totally the Russian Andy Sandberg it is scary.

3. Karina taught me how to make this delicious things called Gruzinchiki.

4. Me and Johnny Poops (that is what we eventually decided to call him).

5. Brett and I made Huevos Rancheros for Karina. They actually tasted good, but not entirely like Huevos Rancheros.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I am finally in Moscow

Hello! I just got off the Trans-Siberian Railway at 5:30 this morning and we checked into our hostel. It has WiFi, so I am in internet heaven. I didn't post for a really long time because this got very busy for the last two weeks and I just didnt have time to post much. Now, on the other hand, I have lots of time (besides wanting to see Moscow, obviously), so I will post pictures and more!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


July 30th

On Tuesday night I ended up going to Altaiskoye to see Ted and help him with his lessons on Wednesday. I was just so bored here, I really wanted to actually do what I came here to do and teach English. So, I arrived and we watched Arrested Development (which he had the foresight to bring). Firstly, Ted has kind of a special living situation. He lives in a dormitory and his host mother lives across the street in a one-bedroom apartment. Her name is Natalya Mikhailovna and she is like a very strict, overprotective mother to Ted (who, by the way, is 22 and seems to be able to fend for himself in the world).

In the morning we went to Natalya Mikhailovna’s for breakfast and she was actually fairly nice. She says “to my mind” a lot, instead of “in my opinion,” which made me want to laugh. Then we went to school and met the younger kids. Ted teaches a group of younger kids for 3 hours and then a group of older kids for 3 hours. The young ones were so much fun and so adorable. It was good treatment for my feelings of uselessness here in Belokurikha because the kids were so excited to have me there. Ted does a really great job with them and they uniformly adore him. All of the little girls held my hands/arms when we walked anywhere (minus one, who held Ted’s hand). We mostly just drew pictures and they asked me questions like, “Do you like raspberries?” One little boy, Alyosha, whose birthday was that day, was adorable and carried my camera bag everywhere.

We then ate 3 different lunches and I really started to feel sorry for Ted who has to eat like this every day. We ate with the younger kids, then for some reason the kitchen prepared lunch just for Ted and I (though I think he usually goes to Natalya Mikhailovna’s for lunch), and then again with the older kids. We had about 20 minutes before the next lesson started and so we just sprawled on the bed and rested. The older kids were really great as well. They were slightly harder to keep entertained, but there were a lot of really sweet kids in the group. We started by having them ask me questions, which then turned into a dating game which Ted had played with them before. A “host” asked me different questions and then asked the same questions to four boys, and if our answer matched up they got a point.

The contestants were Ted, a boy named Alyosha who I had met before when I visited Altaiskoye, Misha and Dima. Kind of embarrassingly and hilariously, Ted got pretty much all of the points and his answers were usually exactly like mine. To be fair, we are both American, so that helps, but we also like the same type of music, both play the Mandolin (though I don’t really anymore), etc. I started to suggest questions that we would be less likely to give the same answer to in order to avoid the awkwardness of the students telling Ted and I that we should date, but then we matched on a lot of those too, like favorite flower. Anyway, I managed to put Alyosha in a close second behind Ted by some generous point giving, but Ted won despite my best efforts. The highlight of the game for me was when someone asked me my cup size and then the breast size that the different contestants preferred. If someone asked that question to a female teacher/camp counselor/almost anyone in any position of authority they would be in a lot of trouble.
So, after camp we went to the bus stop to catch my bus. Unfortunately, it turned out that we had misheard the time “shest sorok” instead of “shestnatsit sorok.” The first is 6:40 and the second is 16:40, aka 4:40. Natalya Mikhailovna was very unhappy and said that she knew I had stayed the night before and that she couldn’t see a solution to the problem (cabs are 100 rubles when the buses are running and about 600 when they are not). She seems to have a very weird thing about Ted and I staying together, alone, at night. Anyway, I was under the impression that she knew that I was coming for the night. However, Ted just sort of avoided the subject because of the way she reacted when he visited me in Belokurikha. So, needless to say, she was pissed. I just ended up staying another night, but Natalya Mikhailovna made me take a cab back at 5:40 in the morning for pretty much no reason at all, other than to be vindictive.

I am actually really glad I got to stay another night though, because one of Ted’s students/friends invited him over for his birthday party. His student’s name is David and he just turned 20. He is Armenian and has a huge Armenian family that all live together in one house and are just the nicest people you could hope to meet. I spent most of the evening talking to David who is really an amazing guy. He is a student in Novosibirsk, the capital of this region, and is just amazingly thoughtful and funny. When we started talking he asked his cousin to hand him the computer so that he could use a translation program he had. He said, “I already like you and I want to be able to communicate with you.” Ted, on the other hand, had been over before and they were very happy to see him. They asked him if he wanted wine, champagne, or vodka. He said champagne but they made him be “manly” and drink vodka even though he had to teach the next day.

They kept asking us why we weren’t eating as soon as we stopped for more than a minute, which was especially funny because none of them seemed to be eating. David’s cousin kept telling Ted to ask me why I wasn’t eating my cake and then made me try some of his mother’s pizza. I had a bite and he told me that I had to eat more and that if I was worried about my figure, my figure is fine and this wouldn’t make me gain weight anyway (it was dough, potatoes, and cheese). I started laughing and he quickly told Ted to tell me that he wasn’t hitting on me or anything. Then, as we were trying to leave in order to get back to the dormitory before it closed, they managed to get us to stay for some tea. Tea meant more vodka for Ted and another piece of cake for me. Then, when Ted tried to help me eat my cake, they gave him his own piece.

Oh, this place is so strange.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Only two pictures for now

So I had been tentatively calling this kitten either “Johnny,” after both John Darnielle and Johnny Tsunami (two great Americans), and “Snowball,” hoping that one of the two nice American names would stick. I then asked Karina if she had thought of a name and she said that, oh yes, she was thinking of “Poops.” I was literally struck dumb. In Russian, the word “poop” means “belly button,” and “poops” is apparently a little doll of some sort. However, I taught Karina the English word “poop” maybe two weeks ago, so even if it does mean something in Russian I felt like it should still draw the association in her mind. I am praying that she doesn’t name the cat “Poops” because, not only do I not want to call the cat that, I can’t think of a single nick-name that isn’t reminiscent of excrement.

Beautiful Russia.

More interesting things, weirdly mostly about TV

I have been playing scrabble on my computer a lot since I often just sit in my room while Karina has lessons with students who are too shy to talk to me. I keep getting tempted to write down interesting words that I didn’t know/good scrabble words but I have to keep reminding myself that I am here to learn Russian, not English. I broke down and wrote “dulcet” in my notebook today though.

When I talked to my mom on the phone and she asked me about things that I miss in America, I realized my list was surprisingly close to the half-joking list I made before I left.

I have now seen Law & Order: CI here twice. Firstly, seeing Vincent D’Onofrio on TV in Russia was kind of awesome. Secondly, it reconfirmed what I already knew about CI in English: it is almost unbearably boring to watch. The same holds true in Russian.

My favorite Beatles song has been a hit with my students.

I have now watched The Green Mile, Some Like It Hot, and Shopgirl in English while being here. I keep trying to get her to watch Up in Russian, but she keeps getting distracted.

Most American shows and movies here that are dubbed into Russian still maintain their English dialogue, but the sound is low and it often gets drowned out by the Russian. I actually really hate it because it is really hard for me not to listen to the English. I want to use my Russian literature words and say it is almost polyphony, but it is actually more like cacophony.

Speaking of polyphony, before I left I was driving to LA with Alexis and listening to Usher’s “Yeah” and realized it is a perfect embodiment of polyphony and, dare I say it, of what goes on in Anna Karenina. It is very much a multi-voiced narrative, both literally and figuratively. I kind of want to tell Professor Kliger, but I think he would probably give me the look he gave me when I told him I read David Sedaris’ new book over the summer.

I have seen a show on TV here that I think is the sequel to the Teila Tequila show (I am pretty sure it is called something like “Sex with Tequila: Twin Edition”) but is centered around two bi-sexual twin sisters. It is, of course, dubbed into Russian, but I can still figure out what is going on. It is probably the trashiest show I have ever seen. I like watching MTV here though because they always have shows like “Next” dubbed into Russian and they are pretty easy to understand.

I have kind of a crush on one of the guys on both “Dom 2” and this really stupid show about people with extra-sensory abilities.

I really like listening to books on tape here. I think partly because I like them in general, but also sometimes listening to music makes me sad. Most of my favorite music has really strong associations to my memories and my friends. If I listen to The Backstreet Boys I miss Amy, The Mountain Goats make me miss Matt, and Aimee Mann just reminds me of feeling sad and walking around New York City.

I am still covered with mosquito bites. I keep hoping I will become immune or something, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

I have to admit, last night I was beginning to feel really depressed about being in Russia. As I mentioned, Karina was hung-over and sleeping all day, I hung out with Tanya, and I really hadn’t done much of anything all week. She finally got up at about 9 at night and seemed in better spirits. She started to make borsht and watch “Dom 2 (House 2).” I was feeling really down and then my mom called me and I got to talk to her for the first time for any extended period since being here. She finally got a calling card that was very affordable and it was really amazing to not have to count every second that we were speaking.

When I got off the phone after about an hour Karina had finished the borsht. It was amazing and I ate a big bowl even though I wasn’t hungry because it was so delicious. It made me feel a little better just having Karina awake and walking around so I wasn’t just wandering aimlessly around the house. Then the two Russian girls that I met last weekend called Karina and asked if I could go for a walk with them today. I wasn’t really looking forward to it because it didn’t seem like they spoke much English from our first meeting. They came to get me today at 10:30 in the morning and took me directly to a cafĂ© and handed me a cocktail menu. We each had a beer (definitely my only morning drinking experience to date) and then walked up to the heath resort again. I actually had an amazing time with them though. Their names are Irra and Anya and they are both maybe 24 or 25. They were very interesting to talk to and with their limited but combined English and my limited Russian we managed to converse pretty easily. Also, they were so excited to practice their English, which made me feel a little less useless here.

Unfortunately Irra lives in Biysk, so I can’t see her very often. Anya lives here though and she asked me to come over and see her house next Sunday. She also seems to be trying to set me up with her 21-year-old brother. I can’t tell if it is a platonic set-up or a date-y set up, but they seem to sort of giggle when they talk about introducing us. Luckily, if he wants me to marry him and take him back to America I will only be here for another two weeks and I can probably dodge it.

Anya and Irra said two hilarious things when we were walking around. Last week they had met Brett and Ted, two of the other volunteers, and so I asked them if they thought that the boys were handsome. They said, “Oh yes!” and proceeded to say that Ted looks like a Georgian. Anya said, “He is very black,” which I took to mean that he has dark features and dark hair. Then she said, “He is so hairy and he looks like a koala bear, but it is good.” Then, as we walked by a bouncy house, which Brett had talked about liking the week before, Irra points to it and says, “It is Brett’s house!” Oh, Russia.

Today Karina and I are going to begin a lesson about Michael Jackson with some of her students. It was most definitely not my idea, and I thought it was hilarious that Karina brought it up. I was talking to Matt before I left about how I hoped that people in Russia wouldn’t be as upset about MJ’s death as they were in America. I personally thought they were insincere responses since most of the country thought he was a child-molester up until his death. Anyway, we are going to sing a Jackson Five song, which I am very much okay with, and then have the students find out information about MJ’s life for homework.

More about Tanya and other things

I have had an interesting last few days. Last Thursday Karina and I went to her mother’s to pick cherries because two of her students cancelled their lessons so we didn’t have to be back at her house until 7:30. We didn’t get to pick for very long though because it started raining too hard for us to continue, but it was very fun while it lasted. I love picking berries/eating berries, so it was kind of a dream come true for me. That being said, cherries are really different here. They are very small and sour (I am not sure if they are actually all just sour cherries or if there are other cherries elsewhere that are even more sour). Karina said that in other places there are cherries more like the cherries we are used to, but not really in Siberia. Anyway, the cherries we picked are the classic Russian cherries and I thought a lot about Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard while we were picking.
That night we had one lesson but I didn’t really contribute a whole lot. I am really not doing much teaching now, as I mentioned before. I don’t want to be too pushy about teaching during Karina’s private lessons since the students are paying her to teach them English. I just come talk to them when she asks me to and sometimes we sing songs or play games. Some days it is fine and we have fun anyway, but especially recently Karina hasn’t wanted to leave the house much. I do enjoy watching Russian TV, but I also would like to leave the house occasionally.
I have taken a few walks around the town by myself to take photographs or just get fresh air, so I think I will keep doing that when Karina wants to stay at home. I could always call Tanya, but then I would have to listen to her talk about Barnaul and coming to America next summer. I don’t know though, that is starting to sound better than sitting at home.
On Friday I helped Karina with lessons in the morning and then went to the Post Office to use the internet. I got an email with some bad news about a friend of mine, so I felt pretty depressed for the rest of the day. I put more money on my phone so that I could call her but the money ran out really fast, especially because the first time I called her she didn’t answer. After that I was even sadder and I just felt angry that I was here in Russia so far away from everyone I love. It just made me feel so helpless. It was funny though, as if by some miracle of fate, one of Karina’s students gave her a kitten that evening. I, of course, wont say that kittens make everything better, but I think they really do help when you are sad. He was so little and scared, I just sat with him and tried to make him feel more comfortable. Just having something to take care of helped me feel better. I also talked to Matt and Ted on the phone, and they were both very sweet.
On Saturday I slept in really late. We were supposed to go to Karina’s mother’s to work in the garden but it was raining really hard. We watched TV and I played with the kitten. Then Karina made Gruzinchiki, a really delicious meat/dough thing. We listened to Avril Lavigne and The Jackson Five. Then we danced around to Justin Timberlake. She didn’t feel like leaving the house, even to go to the store. I left once in the morning to put money on my phone and she asked me to put money on hers too. Then she wanted me to go out and get beer in the evening. I felt confident that I could easily go to the supermarket and buy a few cans of beer, but she wanted me to go to a special beer store where they fill the bottles to order. She actually gave me a hand-written note to the shopkeeper that said, “This girl doesn’t speak Russian, please give her such and such beer.” It would have been really humiliating if it wasn’t so funny. I am pretty sure that I could have made that transaction by myself, but I just kind of went with it. She also wanted me to get her a pack of cigarettes and I managed to purchase those all by myself. The whole thing made me feel like the 4-year-old daughter of an alcoholic.
That night, Karina fell asleep on the couch at around 9:30 and I just cleaned up a little and went to bed as well since I was really tired. A few hours later I heard the door buzzer and her friend came over and they talked loudly and presumably drank for several hours. I was happy to be in bed with the kitten and not have to deal with it. He is really so cute. I can tell he is starting to feel more comfortable because sometimes he will bat at my hand with his little paws. He likes to hide under the covers and behind pillows, but Saturday night he slept right next to me in the open.
Sunday I waited around for a while for Karina to get up, but around noon I just decided to go for a walk and take pictures. I walked around the city center and then up past the heath resort. I specifically wanted to take pictures of this really creepy playground that I had seen earlier, but the sun went away right when I got there and there were children playing and I didn’t want to be that creepy person taking pictures of children at a playground. Anyway, Russia is famous, or at least I knew about, for its really strange playground statues of deranged-looking animals. After my nice long walk I still didn’t feel like going home and just sitting around, so I called Tanya. I am not sure if hanging out with her was better or worse than going back to my room and listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on book on tape, but I suppose it was at least something to do.
She, as always, talked to me about coming to visit me in America next year and about how much she likes drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Today she graced me with a description of her ideal career, which was actually hilarious. Firstly, she asked me if we have resorts in America. Then, she said that more than anything she would like to work as a receptionist in a hotel in Las Vegas. I asked her why and told her that I think Las Vegas is disgusting, and she told me that it is the city of rich people. What really surprised me is that she was getting a college degree to work as a receptionist, not just in America but also in Russia. I mean, I understand getting a degree in tourism if, for example, you want to be a hotel manager or start your own travel-related business, but a receptionist? I am actually starting to feel bad that I have no intention of having her stay with me in New York next summer. I mean, she did invite herself without asking if I was even going to be in America next summer, but she just seems so excited.