November 2008


Happy Thanksgiving AMERICA!

Curious about what I did on this Thanksgiving?  Or, more importantly, what I ATE?  I’ll show you.

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Exhibit A:  Ketchup flavored Cheetos, shaped like french fries.  They barely had taste, but it was more BBQ, less ketchup.  But still, non cheesy cheetos?  Also, how did I miss this little ketchup bottle?cimg0021

Exhibit B: PIZZA!  At least we ate until we were full, just like at Thanksgiving.

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Pizza is really good with zucchini on it.

Pizza is really good with zucchini on it.

Don’t worry, we are having ‘real’ thanksgiving on Sunday.  More pictures to follow.russian-thanksgiving-024

Now, about spending my money… So, beyond reading and listening to music, there’s really no entertainment round these parts.  Especially at my flat because of our internet situation, or lack there of.  So, I am looking to download either episodes or whole seasons of tv shows from itunes.  ‘Why don’t you go to abc.com or nbc.com and watch their shows for free from there?’ you ask.  Or ‘why don’t you use the many ‘tvshowsonline’ websites that let you watch old shows for free?’  Because the US hates Russia, I guess.  I can’t even get INTO their online viewing stuff.  Pandora doesn’t work here either.  Becuase it isn’t the US. Blech.  Anyway, I set up a poll for ya’ll to give me recommendations.  You should see it below – choose one or recommend another, I am open to suggestions!

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As the title implies, we have finally gotten our fair share of snow here and, as I type this in front of a window at school, I can see that we are STILL getting more snow.  I could guess that we got about 3 or 4 inches over the weekend, all of which stuck or was ground into a disgusting slush by pedestrians.  It’s pretty though – that which isn’t brown soupy slush.

This weekend was full, but not all that exciting to write about. 

Friday night I got pizza with Fiona from a little cafe on the way home from work and then we went down to this bar called ‘the other side’ with Steph and Denise.  It was a good time, just relaxing. 

On Saturday I went with Denise and Steph to the big market to get food as we were all running quite low and had just been paid.  YAY payday – even if it was only for 1 weeks worth of work.  So I got some chicken breasts, some veggies, a few things at the big western supermarket (including honey nut cherrios, thank you!), but my real find was… wait for it… a TURKEY!  That’s right, the elusive turkey.  I was told that he was all but a myth round these parts, that I might as well not try to find one.  But there was ONE at the place where I bought the chicken breasts, and… well, we’re pretty sure its a turkey.  If it isn’t, it is one hellofa big chicken.  But it’s a turkey for now, and that means…. Thanksgiving!  Our apartment is going to have Thanksgiving, hopefully complete with turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and decorations.  I knew there was a reason that we had to make the same craft projects in elementary school.  Those genius teachers knew one day we would need to know how to make these things without instructions.  Maybe we can even remember how to make those pilgrim hats.  Unfortunately thanksgiving might have to be on Saturday because, even though I don’t work ALL day on Thursdays, I have manditory office hours from 7-9:20pm, and everyone else has to work then.

Sunday Denise and I went back to the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood.  When we stepped outside….man what a surprise!  It was nearly a blizzard!  But, she being a ‘tough as nails Aussie’ and me being ‘from Wisconsin’, we wouldn’t let a little snow and wind stop us!  We toured the church and I took lots of pictures which are up now.  I thought my roommates and I were going to go to IKEA then, but it turned out that they would rather play in the snow near the hermatige, so I went along.  AND THEN…. THEN we ate at Carl’s Jr.  Sounds like a cop out, but… I hadn’t ever been to Carl’s Jr anywhere in the world.  So it’s still like a cultural experience, just… an American one.  In Russia.

Starting to really settle in now.  Things are going well.  Of course, I still have way too much time to think about things here.  Strangely, this hasn’t been a bad thing.  I’ve gone sightseeing some, I have taught ten classes already – each of them being at least an hour and a half long, but most of them have been over 2 hours long.  So far all of my classes are in Petergof, which has its upsides and downsides.  The upside being that I LOVE the people I have met in Petergof.  Oksana – the director there- is an absolute godsend.  The facilities are pretty nice too, except the bathrooms.  I asked my students if the bathrooms in the building were typical Russian bathrooms, and they said yeah… man do they stink.  They rarely have toilet paper or soap, the students said that people steal the soap.  Anyway, there’s ‘typical’ for you.  The downside to teaching in Petergof is the fact that it’s in Petergof, which is at least an hour’s commute both ways.  So I travel for two hours or more to teach for about 4 each time.  I can’t really complain about that though, since I am salaried for once in my life.  Classes get done around 10pm though, so that means I don’t usually get home until after 11pm.  Fiona is usually with me though, and she’s a dear.  I think we get along well together.  Or, as I would have to teach my students the British way of saying it – we get on well.  Weird.

Today, it snowed for hours!  And it stuck, so finally (after a whole 10 days or so, lol) all is right with my Russian world.   I also rearrainged my room today.  If you know me or have lived with me, especially, you know this is a good sign.  I move my furnature around almost constantly.  It makes me feel like it’s finally my room.  Hopefully I can get some not ugly sheets and a curtain this weekend from IKEA, if we go.

I’ve started dreaming about food, both while sleeping and while awake.  Yesterday I wanted chipped beef like nothing else.  While sleeping I dreamed of chocolate chip cheesecake and American grocery stores.

Tomorrow I start Russian lessons!  Woo!  I am so ready to slip back into the role of student.  Give me homework!  Make me learn!  Should probably go to bed if I want to get up on time tomorrow.  Love you all lots, keep in touch.

It’s really strange to think that I am going to be here for such a long time.  Usually when you are in such a different place – and a ‘destination’ of sorts, you want to rush to make sure you take everything in, get those pictures snapped, don’t waste time, etc.  Well, I’m gonna be here a while.  I keep thinking – oh! I should take a picture of that!  It’s SO cool!  But really, its crappy weather or I don’t feel comfortable enough to take the time I need to make that picture look nice, so I should just wait.  So that’s what I have been doing.  Nine months is a long time!

I was so excited to go the market with some other teachers today!!!  I thought they meant we would be shopping at a store somewhere, or at a shopping center – who knows what people call things, I was with an Austrailian, a South African and a Canadian, we could have been going anywhwere.  Nope, they meant the market.  Today was cold – probably in the high 30s and rainy… blech, but we went anyway. How do I describe the market?  It is HUGE, first of all, with hundreds of shops or stands.  The ‘shops’ are grouped by specialty, like… shoe stores line one area, over here you have ‘bagville’.  Each place is usually half in a building… the room is usually about the size of a bedroom or so.. tiny.. and half out of a building, open air with makeshift walls and roof over hangs from the building.  Now, this market sells everyday items, not specialty items.  Things you would go to the mall or to Target to buy.  Like, sheets and towels.  The first impression I got was that if I were to see a shop like this in any US city, I would 100% KNOW everything was stolen.  It is just so dodgy.

Denise (early 50’s teacher from Austrailia, has taught before in Indonesia) was after some warmer, waterproof boots for the winter and Fiona (24, from South Africa – went to university in Britain) wanted a winter hat and a bag.  The Canadian, Gen, wanted an umbrella.  I need a ton of things still, so, I thought I could find something.  I ended up getting a towel and handtowel and a hairbrush!  Woo!  After a while of shopping, we stopped at a street vendor for nourishment.  After pointing to the spinning meat thing in the back, we were presented with things that could be loosely described as ‘gyros’… flatbread with fatty chicken (or some meat, anyhow), lettice and topped with a garlicy cucumber sauce, all rolled up like a burrito, and wrapped in paper.  Now, if you know me, you know that I have a mild aversion to cucumbers and cucumber-y things, but there was no way I was going to not eat this.  Here, I eat because human bodies need calories to survive.  It wasn’t too bad (but brought back sad memories of a couple of years ago when I went to 6 flags and it rained all day, we got gyros there… and it was sick).  I also ate some of the paper because I bit an edge with a bite of food, and, I knew I did it, but I couldn’t find it in my mouth… so I just swallowed.  It’s amazing to find out what really matters in situations like this.

After a while we split up.  Gen went to find her umbrella and then went home.  Fiona had to go back to the apartment to grab the key to the school in Petergof.  Denise and I stayed together so that she could take me to the food market, about 5-10 minutes walking from where we were.  Thank GOD for Denise – she is just what I need.  She doesn’t know Russian either, but has a lot of experience living in foreign lands.  She kept telling me where we were and referencing places she knew I would know.  She made me buy things on my own, telling me that it was perfectly fine that I looked stupid, but I needed to do it.  At the ‘food market’ I bought 3 tomatoes, a bulb? of garlic, and shampoo and conditioner.  Then we walked home – about half an hour or so of walking.  Having another day under my belt with new experiences is priceless.

Bullet point style update!  Random things I have noticed…

  • Black, high heeled boots with tight tight pants – totally hot right now, as are mullets.
  • Everyone smokes, and a pack of cigarettes costs like $1.  As one teacher said, its almost insulting to not smoke at that price. (oh, stop worrying)
  • PECTOPAH (in Cryllic) sounds like RESTORAN, meaning just that, restaurant.  To me it means ‘Food you can’t have even though it’s RIGHT HERE’.
  • Russia has McDonalds, Subway, and KFC.  I can still barely eat at these places.  McD’s doesn’t have their meals numbered… But I have eaten at subway 3 times and tried KFC today and ordered the TBECTEP, which when you sound it out is tvister.  Yeah, the twister wrap!
  • There are upsides to not understanding the national language.  There was a crazy street preacher on a bridge today with a megaphone.  Totally didn’t have to try to ignore her.  When someone asks you for change… you don’t even know it.  Can I give you directions?  Nope.  Is that even what you are asking?
  • Want to lose weight?  Move to a country full of gruff people who don’t speak your language.  Also, leave your car behind.  We call it ‘the Russian diet’.  It would be a big hit if it weren’t for the up front costs.
  • Sleeping through the night totally rocks.
  • There are security guards everywhere.  We have one on the inside of the gate to our apartment complex.  If you knew what our complex looked like, you would think this was strange too.
  • When the unlock button on our gate is activated by a key fab, the sound that it makes while you open it sounds EXACTLY like Pac Man when he eats those dots, except the ‘bloob bloobs’ aren’t in an even rhythm.  They are paired like ‘bloobloob…..bloobloob’.
  • You can totally ‘happen upon’ world famous landmarks, like I did this afternoon.  I knew the Hermitage was close to the apartment, but when I turned the corner and realized where I was, I almost laughed.  How do you accidentally find something like that?  It’s like if you were to go on a walk and stumble upon the Brandenburg gate or the statue of liberty.  Well, I guess you would have to randomly swim by the statue of liberty, but you get my point, right?  It seems like I should have planned to go there, and then sought it out. But I guess that gives you an idea of our proximity to landmarks.  I am right in the city center.

My walk this afternoon was pretty refreshing.  My main goal was to at least double the number of places I felt I could eat at without feeling like a complete idiot.  Previous number: 1.  Subway.  And you can only eat at Subway so many times… Today I found KFC.  YEAH! 2!  I want to try ‘blini’ or something.  They are basically filled crepes, but I want to watch someone order one in English before I do it.  Such a wuss.

I CANNOT call anyone until I have a sim card.  I have a cell phone now, but I need the card to make it work.  And, no, I can’t get one, because I don’t speak the language, so I have to get someone else to get me one.  My boss, Zahra (who’s also my roommate) speaks fluent Russian, so I am hoping she can go with me to get one tomorrow.  I also don’t know how I am going to pay my credit card bill and loans when I don’t know how to get a bank account or wire money into my USBank account.  Citibank is here though, so I might set up an account online, and then see if I can transfer money from bank to bank that way?  I don’t know.

We still don’t have internet besides that which we steal from some neighbor.  It’s completely iffy and a tease.  One minute we will have it, the next min it will be down for a day.  And it super slow, so I don’t think I can even get skype.  To get internet, I have to talk to Vadim at school and have him ask our landlord if we can put in the cable, and if they say yes, then we have to get Zahra to call that company and set it up.  Hoops!  Hoops I tell you!

I am offically registered with the government.  I can’t leave the city without reregistering both before leaving and upon returning.  And yes, I mean the CITY.  If I was caught outside the city with my registration, I could be fined 5,000 rubles – thats about 4 or 5 days pay for me (the rate right now is about 28 rubles to $1, so 5,000/28= $178).  The other thing that is kind of funny is that if I left the country right now, I wouldn’t be able to come back… ha ha!! Somehow if I forgot and took a day trip to Helsinki, I would be in trouble!  Soon I will have my multi entry visa though, so then I would be ok.

Think I will go and read or watch a movie.  No responsibilities tonight.

So.  I made it to St. Petersburg.  For only having been here for a day and a half, so much has happened that I am lost as to where to start.  Mostly I have been exhausted, confused and afraid, in that order.  Oh, and hungry.

It’s so weird how food can be the thing that really gets me down.  It just sucks being hungry all the time and knowing that to GET food, I will have to either order food at a restaurant (impossible, truly.  Trust me.) or go to the grocery store and get flustered because I don’t know what anything is, and the check out is intimidating.  Then if I actually acquire food, somehow, it isn’t what I was looking for, exactly, so it isn’t as satisfying.

Ok, maybe I should try to stick to the positives here.

Um, I am learning the Cyrillic alphabet pretty quickly.  Nothing is written in English, so when you hear someone say a word and can see it written, its easy to pick out the sound/letter correlation.

I made it home by myself from Petergof last night.  It might have taken twice as long as it should have, but that’s not my point.  I rode a bus from a nearby town to the subway station, took the right train, made the right connection to the second train, and walked home.  BY myself.  It wasn’t without some misunderstandings and a moment of sheer terror when I thought I got off the bus too early, but I made it home alive.

I also survived my first 4 hours of teaching last night.  They were absolutely TERRIBLE lessons because I was only given 45 min to prepare for them, I hadn’t eaten and I was jet lagged, but I didn’t run out of the room (which I considered more than once).

One day at a time, right?

Today is election day.  Surprise!  If this is news to you, I surely hope that you are lying in a hospital bed, slowly waking up from a long term coma.  Congratulations, you are going to live.  Now – get someone to wheel you to a polling place.

This election is big for everyone, obviously, but it sure is a strange one for me.  I voted probably two weeks ago, so today isn’t marked by the actual act of making my mark, but I get the feeling that today is very important to how the next 9 months (at least) will play out in my life.  It isn’t often that the place you are moving to is a major political topic mentioned in debates and on the news and talked about around the country.

The difference in statements between Obama and McCain on the topic of Russia is a subtle one to most Americans, but I am getting the feeling that semantics matters to the people of Russia.  Saying that you will support Georgia and Ukraine’s admittance into NATO is slightly different than saying that you will support them IF they meet the general requirements for admittance.  Not a huge difference there (just an omission), but I guess it matters to Russia.

This election matters to more than just the US and Russia too.  The whole world is watching us.  They want to see if we can wise up and try to correct the mistakes that have been make in the recent past.  Lately most of the world has thought of us as being very religious, obese, lazy, and uninformed (our laziness makes us stupid).  From what I can find online, the rest of the world heavily supports the election of Barack Obama.

Here is a map of the ‘global electoral college’ results – if the world could vote according to polls taken by The Economist.  Here is their analysis and explanation of the results.

I am genuinely concerned about stepping off of my plane on Saturday and representing the whole nation’s voting practices, especially if I end up representing a choice that is overwhelmingly seen as naive and a threat by the general public locally.  Hopefully, I won’t have to deal with all of that.