Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Anyway, I'm looking at the positive side of spending Christmas Eve in Moscow...
1) I just woke up to gently falling snow - the beginnings of my first real white Christmas. If I had left on Friday, I would have missed what I really wanted - fresh snow. I mean, what's Russia in December without snow?!
(to be continued later - right now I'm off to play on Old Arbat).
Friday, December 22, 2006
I’m not really sure where I should start. The last 48 hours have been hellish to say the least. Nothing has gone as planned. The really bad news first – I’m still in
I finished packing everything up on Thursday morning and Natasha picked me up at the dorm to take me to the airport. The
As if having to pay the $200 wasn’t bad enough, I had to pay it in cash because they didn’t have a credit card machine. WHAT?! An international airport without a credit card reader?! Yeah, that’s what I thought too. And the balance on my debit card was not enough to cover it. My only option – do a cash advance on my Visa through the currency exchange office. Not only is Citibank going to charge me, but there was a 2% commission as well. Grrrrr. But I did manage to get them the money and get everything settled to get on the flight.
The flight from hell that is. Now, I’ve flown halfway around the world on dozens of planes, but nothing compares to this … experience. I was sitting on the second to last row, right next to a huge oxygen tank. I figured, “Great. If we go down, I’ll be the first to die a fiery death.” It also blocked the view from the window, so my last view of
Even though it was not the greatest six hours of my life, I did land safely in
Our plane landed at 3 pm – by the time I swung by the other terminal and made my way through
Maybe staying out so late wasn’t such a good idea when I had to leave for the airport at 4.00, but you only live once, right? I got a couple hours of sleep, and then headed back to Sheremetyevo for what I thought was the last time. About an hour and a half before my flight, I got a disturbing phone call. It was Natasha in the international office in IGLU saying that they had my visa there. WHAT THE HELL?! I don’t know how many times I asked and had them repeat to me that I had everything in order and was ready to leave the country. I don’t understand how people can be so incompetent. Needless to say, I was unable to get on the plane – the passport control man was not very nice about it either. Fortunately, the poor Lufthansa lady who took the brunt of my emotional outpouring was very calm and nice about the situation and helped me change my booking. Unfortunately, there were only two options open to me. You see, there is only one flight daily from Frankfurt (where I connect from
I did manage to get everything straight, though things aren’t anywhere near where I’d like them to be. Instead of using DHL or FedEx, they’re sending me my visa with Adam, who is flying through
Anyway, long story short, I’m having a really bad day. But the only thing I can do is suck it up and try to enjoy spending a few unexpected days in
I have free internet here and I recharged my phone so call or email me if you feel like offering your emotional support (or have an idea of how to get back at the idiots who put me in this mess).
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
I had two goals for this weekend:
1. Study for my morphology exam that I’m supposed to take tomorrow (not yet achieved)
2. Do as much as possible to make this last weekend in
In retrospect, these two goals don’t really seem to work that well together. Stay home and study AND go out and play? No worries though – my plan is to spend the rest of this afternoon studying (because we all know that I ALWAYS study for tests – wink wink).
On Friday I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Listvyanka. I needed to make one last trip to
Before heading out on this adventure, I went to the movies with a some friends – Karolien, Yoosi, and Bea. We saw the new Mel Gibson move about the Maya. Bloody, but I liked it. Of course, I think that’s because I took that Mayan Art class last semester at the DMA – so seeing it “live” was pretty awesome, even if that did include death, dismemberment, and decapitation. At least I didn’t get sick like I almost did in Passion of the Christ. The cool think about it was the language – because the he used to the Mayan language with subtitles, the Russian theatre actually did SUBTITLES instead of dubbing. Maybe they realized that dubbing the ancient Maya into Russian would have looked really stupid. But I’m proud of myself – I understood the plot and what was going on the whole movie – without word of English in sight :-D.
From there it was to bed – had to get some rest for Saturday’s adventure.
I tried to get a bunch of people to go with me to Listvyanka, but Adam was the only other one who actually did – he’s also leaving this week, so he wanted to say goodbye to the lake too I guess. We got there at about noon, after a few nice conversations with the old ladies on the marshrutka. Listvyanka isn’t a very big place – it’s strung out along the banks of the lake, around the point where the
I was surprised at the lack of ice on the water itself. The lake freezes over completely each year – the ice is even thick enough in some parts to drive trucks across it. Before they had the technology to go through the mountains, the transsiberian railroad used to go ACROSS the lake in the winter time, with the tracks across the ice. So I’m told at least – that could be crap.
The banks in Listvyanka are frozen but the lake is not. Right next to the bus station they’ve just completed an ice fortress – complete with an ice church and a huge slide (which I couldn’t help but notice looks a lot like the one that is almost done on the main square back in
We couldn’t have asked for better weather. Listvyanka is usually quite winding (for the same reason that
We also ate lunch in a little café a ways down the bank. It was seriously the nicest café I’ve been to in
After a late lunch (by that point it was already about 4.30, we walked back down the bank to the ice castle to watch the sunset. It’s definitely getting close to the shortest day of the year (it’s this Thursday in fact if I remember correctly – I will spend it on a plane then hang out on
Once the sun went down, we had about an hour to kill before the bus back to
It was hard to stay awake on the drive home – it’s about an hour on the road to get back. But I called one of my Belgian friends, and found out that a bunch of them were planning to go ice skating that even. Adam had never been before – ever. So we took him with us and had a great time. We stayed until the place closed. I almost got locked out of the dorm (we had to wait 20 minutes for the bus to take us back to the dorms). By the time I finally made it to my bed, muscles aching and smiling ear to ear, I was sure that I had fulfilled that second goal.
Now I just have to do something about that first one…
(I'll try to get the pictures up before I leave but no promises - I'm really busy this week and it might have to wait until I'm stuck in Moscow. My hostel has free internet anyway :-D).
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Anyway, I've got a lot on my plate this weekend. I have a bit of reading to finish up for Olga Lopsonovna, then I'm heading to Listvyanka (on the lake) tomorrow for a last look at Baikal. Hopefully there will be at least some ice. Natasha said that they make ice castles there too, so I'll be sure to get some pictures. The big one here by the stadium is done - now they're working on a bunch of little ones all over town. I love it.
My Polish friends left yesterday. It really made me said, mostly because I too have to say goodbye to everyone next week. Hopefully I'll get over to Poland sometime soon. I like having friends all over the place. Warsaw, Antwerp, Amsterdam, London ... the list goes on and on. Who needs a hostel now? Couch surfing is better anyway.
Here are some stats on my trip home:
1. Total miles to be flown - 9201
2. Total hours in the air - 21 hours 37 minutes (if things go as planned)
3. Total hours spent sitting in random cities and twiddling my thumbs - ~20 hours
By the way, I have a five hour layover in Dallas next Friday if anyone is in town and really bored. I'd hate to just sit on my butt in the DFW airport twiddling my thumbs.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
So I went back to Domino instead. Sigh.
Now that I've checked my email and paid my credit card bill, time to leave this place and go watch some HOCKEY!
Let's start with the weather. It's been one strange week. No wind + lots of sunshine = warm temperature. I'm talking very close to zero. I think right now it's about -2C out there. Not too bad for Siberia. It's been very nice walking around and enjoying my last two weeks in the city. I even managed to find a good pair of pants in the Chinese market (which is open air, even in winter) thanks to the heat wave we're having. Of course, next week is probably gonna suck as far as the weather is concerned - apparently it's supposed to get down to -30 sometime in the next few days. Crap.
Speaking of things getting worse, I'm really starting to get stressed about the academic part of the end of my stay here. I can't seem to get in touch with anyone in the Office of International Education, to find out some stuff I need for my transcript. I have no idea what's going one or what I have to do. And I somehow have to pass these exams. I think I might be more screwed than I thought. But hey - at least I'm not cold anymore.
I saw something kind of random today that made me think of a few people back home. Well, sort of back home - what it really made me think of was my trip to St. Louis last December. I was in a cafe today waiting in line when I saw a sign that said, "New menu item - fried ravioli." Mmmm - tasty. The only other place I've ever seen this was in St. Louis. When Chris and I arrived at his parents house, we were treated to some pizza and fried ravioli. Oh man. I miss my friends.
Holiday shopping on a Saturday in Irkutsk is just as maddening as in the US. I almost just want to start screaming at all the pushy people running around looking for presents for others. This is one of this things I hate about Christmas (or as is the case here, New Years). Will things always be so commercial this time of year?
But that's not all I'm up to today. Yesterday I went back to the high school to talk to the English students again, and was invited by a bunch of the girls to go ice skating tonight. At an outdoor skating rink. This is either going to be really fun (if the weather doesn't change on me) or completely miserable. Either way, it's something that I haven't done yet. Cross one more item off the list of things I need to do before I leave Siberia.
Another item on that same list - go to a hockey game. I'm taking care of that one too this weekend. There's a big tournament in town this weekend, and a bunch of us got tickets to the Russia-Sweden game for Sunday. The only downside - it too is outdoors. I think I'm going to have to resort to the Russian method to keep warm this time - large quantities of vodka.
I still want to try to go to Baikal one more time before I leave. I want to see it at least partially covered with ice. I just don't know when I'm going to be able to - I've so much to do now to wrap things up. It's almost like being back at home - something to do every hour of every day.
Sigh. I guess that just means that I'm gonna have to come back sometime soon...
Oh, and a little comment about the news. I should have become an astronaut instead of a bookworm. I REALLY want to go hang out on the moon colony - if it ever really does get built. Exciting times.
Anyway, I think that's enough jibberjabber for now. Lots of things to do and see today...
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I actually found myself saying that it was warm today. And the day’s high? -10˚C. That’s right. I think I’m actually getting used to the cold.
It really is beautiful though. Whenever we have “warm” days like this something kind of cool happens. Instead of dew on the trees in the morning, there is a snow like substance coating them – so that everything in sight is white. It’s just plain awesome to look out the window in the morning and see everything absolutely quiet and white. As much as I’m looking forward to going home, I’m definitely going to miss this picture. The city is getting ready for New Year’s already. All the “yolkas” (Christmas trees) are going up, along with copious quantities of tinsel and strings of lights. And of course – ICE CASTLES!!! Another plus side of living in a city that doesn’t see temperatures above freezing for several months in a row. The main one is going up in front of the stadium – it’s only about half done, but I think it’s going to be about the size of a Waterview apartment building when it’s complete. There are a couple of little ones already up in various parts of the city. I guess the workmen need something to do to keep their skills up to par in the winter months (of course, construction sites and the outdoor markets are still open even when it’s -20 or more).
Even with all this, I’m getting excited about being back in
Friday, December 01, 2006
Think about this – it was extremely difficult in the soviet days to find a copy of the Bible. Whether you’re a religious person or not, having a copy of the Bible handy can be very useful when you’re studying literature. So many major (and minor) pieces in the western literary tradition refer to stories and people in the Bible. Faust, The Divine Comedy, Shakespeare’s plays, Milton’s poetry – the list goes on and on. If you’ve never had access to the original stories, how can you recognize the allusions? What strikes me as incredibly ironic is the fact that many of the Russian writers of the “Golden Age” of Russian Literature (aka – 19th century) make allusions to religious texts all the time. Yet reading any of the biblical stories to which they refer would not have been possible for a large portion of the 20th century.
One of the main themes in the novel is the story of the relationship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate – the topic of the book which the Master destroys. If that wasn’t enough to flag the book as subversive, there’s also all the references to the Faust legend and the obvious jabs at the crippling bureaucracy of communist Moscow. It’s not hard to see why the soviet critics weren’t such big fans of Bulgakov’s novel. The history behind the novel is one of the things that draws me to it. Whenever I take a class with Dr. Towner, she makes us write down on the first day what kind of books we like to read. I remember putting down “books that piss off authority figures.” I do believe that this book falls nicely into that category, and I’m glad I took the time to read it again for Olga Lopsonovna. There’s nothing like talking about a book with somehow who absolutely loves it.
Thanks to the organizational (and language) skills of my Polish friends, we were able to reserve a few lanes for bowling on Saturday. I think there were about 20 of us all together - Poles, Belgians, Americans, and Ruslan the Russian. Let me start by saying that bowling is a much classier affair here than at home. While smoking is allowed (as it is everywhere in this country), there was no fog of second-hand smoke to wade through. And no plastic cups of bud light - real glass mugs of imported beer. The place was also a lot smaller, owing to the fact that it's not a popular a past time as it is in America. There were about 8 lanes in one section of a casino-like night club. A really fancy place. We played for about 2 hours. I would have kicked some butt but my skills quickly diminished after the first game. I'm going to blame the Belgians - they drink like fish (you would too if you came from a country was such good beer), and this quality tends to wear off on others in social situations such as this. Anyway, even with the slight handicap, I still walked away with some high scores - I tied with Yoris for first on our lane. Unfortunately I also managed to somehow crack my thumb nail. Not quick sure how that happened, but bowling being the contact sport that it is, I'm not surprised.
Anyway, that was about all the excitement for the weekend. The rest of it I spent reading, seeing as how I had two books to finish by Wednesday, a Morphology test on Tuesday, and the impending arrival of the "zachyotnaya" week - the week for all final grade determinations. Monday I received a call from an English teacher at one of the local schools, who wanted me to come talked to her students about life in America. I made an appointment for Wednesday afternoon. What I failed to remember until I had hung up was that my Tuesday afternoon class had been moved to Wednesday this week - and I had just put myself in the situation of having to be in two places at once! I didn't have a phone number to call the lady back (stupid me), so I had to go find Tatyana Yurievna the next morning to see if we could change our class time again. I hate doing that - it makes me feel like a bad student. Anyway, she found a slot in her schedule for Friday afternoon so that I could go talk to these kids on Wednesday. The meeting was - interesting. I was asked some really strange questions - everything from, "Do you like the band Kiss?" to "Are there really cowboys in Texas?" They want me to come back a couple of times before I leave. I told them I would - they're pretty cool kids. I also think I may have found a place to leave all the books and extra DVDs that I can't fit into my bags. Might as well give them to someone who will appreciate them.
I'm starting to get a bit apprehensive about the last few weeks of classes. For the most part, I think I'll do okay - the only exam I have is in Morphology, and I think I can pull off a good grade if I study hard enough. What I'm really worried about is my grade in the Practical Course of Russian Language. The grading for it is "zachyot" - which means they keep track of everything you've been doing all semester. While I've improved significantly since the beginning, the grammar is really killing me. I never really had a strong grammar background in Russian, and therefore make tons of grammatical errors in my essays. I don't know how I'm going to pull it off. Maybe Evgenia Alexandrovna will take pity on me, knowing that I'm not at the same level as the rest of my classmates (all of whom have been studying Russian in depth for at least three consecutive years). But it's stressing me out. Three more weeks...
Oh, I guess it would be good to announce that I'm officially legal again. My passport finally came back. One thing really pisses me off though - they didn't make it a multi-entry visa like I asked them too. While I don't have time to go to Mongolia any more, they just made it impossible, even if I wanted to get away for the weekend. Grrrr. How long have I been talking about taking a trip there, and wanting a multi-entry visa? I hate it when people don't listen to me. But I guess it wouldn't do me any good anyway. I'll just have to go some other time...
Anyway, I gotta head to class. In my fervor to make up for all the lost internet time that my lack of funds caused, I've just wasted a full hour and a half. Geez. Hannah, out.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
My first Thanksgiving in a foreign land turned out better than I thought it would. Though my search for a turkey yielded a 2.5 kilogram filet-o-turkey rather than a whole bird, I think that was just the right amount of meat for us, so it was alright. The fact that I found any turkey at all is amazing – it’s not really a popular meat here. What was really worrying me was how I was going to cook it. Without a body cavity, how does one stuff a turkey? After consulting Grandma and others, we settled on covering it in butter and the spice mix that Misha the spice man said was good for poultry, and stuck it in the oven for a couple of hours. Luckily Adam’s computer has a Fahrenheit to Celsius converter, so we even figured out what 350˚ is on my oven (~177˚). I was afraid it would be a bit dry but it was really tasty. I found a jar of cranberry jam at the market as well, another rather serendipitous find that I wasn’t expecting. Though a little sweeter than the usual cranberry sauce, it tasted really good with the turkey.
The other sides were a little less traditional. Mashed potatoes are a must with turkey, but Adam decided to do things the Russian way and made them from a box. :-/. I hate box potatoes. They taste like cardboard. But that’s what happens when you leave guys in charge of something as easy and important as mashed potatoes. Aaron, his Belgian girlfriend Caroline, and their Chinese neighbor Yusi decided that since we are such an international bunch we might as well have an international Thanksgiving spread. So they made a whole bunch of dim sum. My, it was tasty. They made potato-filled ones for the veggie-heads who were coming and a bunch with ground beef. It was perfect. We also had a bottle of Chilean wine and (being
I was expecting to get a phone call from some of my family members, so I stayed up a little later than usual, watching Harry Potter. Around 2 I figured they had forgotten to call me, so I started getting ready for bed. Unfortunately, right about then the power went out in the building. Whilst fumbling around for the fusebox, I met some new Russian students. IGLU is hosting a tournament this weekend, so there are some students from other cities staying in our dorm. They insisted that I come have tea with them (I think they wanted to practice their English), so I ended up sitting over in their kitchen until about 3. Then I went back to my room and watched part of another movie. I finally succumbed to my bed at around 4, a bit bummed that I hadn’t gotten to talk to anyone at the farm on Thanksgiving.
Even with the anticlimactic ending, I think things went well this Thanksgiving – though I will be glad to be back at home next year. There’s something about being with all the extended family that makes Thanksgiving special, and it’s the one holiday that I’ve missed so far that I regret missing.
But then, I’ll be home in 25 days.
pan style=""> Woohoo!
Thursday, November 23, 2006
I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban today – the movie, not the book (you may recall that I already purchased a Russian version of the book). I was thrilled to discover that not only does the disc have English and Russian language tracks and subtitles (and the Russian dubbing is actually rather good), but for some as-yet unknown reason, it also includes Swedish and Icelandic. Now I’m rather curious as to why the makers of this DVD found it necessary to include these last two languages. While I’m excited by the prospect of watching the movie in Swedish with Icelandic subtitles, I’m not quite sure how many people in this part of the world would find this feature useful. You’d think they might include Mongolian or Ukrainian or another neighboring language. But who knows – maybe the makers of this version were trying to convince Ikea that the grounds in Mother Russia are fertile enough for more of their stores.
Of course, the language options on this disc are nothing in comparison to the copy of Almost Famous that I bought in
I was half expecting number 20 to be Elfish, but I guess that would really be pushing it.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Look at your calendar. What is today? November 21! What does that mean? IN EXACTLY 30 DAYS I WILL BE ON A PLANE HOME!!!
Now don't get me wrong. Irkutsk is a nice place. I've enjoyed my time here, even if there have been a few downward plunges. But I'm ready to be back in Texas, eating some TexMex and listening to some good local bands play. If anyone is trying to find me on Christmas Eve, you'll probably succeed if you go see the Texana Dames at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in Austin. :-D. That is the only concrete plan I've made thus far. Everything else is by ear.
One thing that's kind of bumming me out about being this close to my departure date is the fact that I haven't made it to Mongolia yet. Well, I hate to say it, but I just don't think it's going to happen at this point. For one thing, my visa STILL isn't ready. In fact, my current one expires today, so until I get my passport back from the visa office next Monday, I'm going to be avoiding the cops like the plague (they don't usually mess with European-looking females, but you never know). Even if everything is in order and I get my new visa by next Monday, that's only three weeks before I leave. At this point, it's too close to the end of the semester (and the exams that that entails) for me to go gallivanting off across Central Asia. As much as it pains me to have gotten this far and not be able to get any further, that's life in Russia. It's so close to everything, yet so far away. Grrrrr. It would be one thing if it was my own fault, but it's not. I have the lovely ladies in the international students' office to thank for my troubles. Sigh. C'est la vie and move on, as always.
Anyway, I'm not letting that ruin my happy month-to-go milestone. Can't wait to see you all. Eat lots of turkey for me....
Since Chris finds it necessary to make us all jealous by describing all the wonders of the world of Swiss cuisine, from chocolate to cheese, I think it’s high time I put forth a food post of my own. Though I warn thee – read with caution. My diet isn’t not quite as gourmet.
It’s a good thing that I’ve not joined the fad and given up the consumption of carbs. Otherwise, I think I would have wasted away by now, because for the most part, my current diet depends heavily upon the consumption of carb-heavy foodstuffs. Let’s look at the last week’s worth of dinners – potatoes, rice, buttered pasta, potatoes, potatoes, pasta, and more potatoes. I usually throw in some tomatoes or the “salsa” stuff that the old ladies make that’s so good, but other than that, it’s basically just a lot of starch. Now, I’m not doing this because I can’t find anything else, and I’ve only just recently become conscious of how bad this diet is. But it’s just so dang easy. Every kiosk and corner store has loads of taters and rice and pasta for sale. But in order to get meat (I mean REAL meat, not sausage or “pashtet” – Russian pate) I pretty much have to walk on down to the market. Which is less and less enjoyable considering how cold it’s getting outside (current temperature at noon =
And carbs taste good. The fresh baked bread is awesome – and only 9 rubles per loaf still warm from the oven. And I’m getting good at adding to my potatoes – different veggies and such. And I can’t forget all the blini and kasha – my usual lunch fare. At the “Blinnaya” café down the street from the university, I can get a double portion of blini with “cguschenyi moloko” (sweetened condensed milk), a bowl of rice kasha with butter, and a cup of tea (with sugar and lemon) for a grand total of 40 rubles. That may not sound like a lot, but as Erica once told me, I “eat like a bird”. I don’t have a big appetite, and this fills me up quite nicely until dinnertime. And the staff doesn’t even have to ask what I want anymore :-D (I can’t decide if this is a good or a bad thing).
Maybe I’m subconsciously trying to make up for the excesses of this summer. I went way over my personal budget when I was in
Worry not though – I’m not wasting away. I’m still here and going strong. And I’ve got good meal plans for this week, though probably not as good as most of you. The two American boys and I are going to try our best to give each other a taste of home on Thursday. As yall get ready to stuff yourselves full of all the things I can’t get for Thanksgiving (oh, what I wouldn’t give for a slice of pecan pie and one of grandma’s caramel brownies), just picture me scouring the city of Irkutsk for a decent turkey. I asked my roommate yesterday if she knew where I could find one and her answer was, “I think I can get you a live one.” Oh boy. I think this is going to have to be a post of it’s own…
Saturday, November 18, 2006
I know that this seems like a strange comment for me to be making considering my current location. But it's true.
Once a week I have a silly little economics lesson with Tatyana Yurievna (she calls it "Ecological Problems in a Transitional Economy" or something along those lines). Anyway, this week we talked about the "Swedish model" - meaning the social democracy that has been working so well for the past 70-something years. Swedish citizens have it great. From there, we somehow got on the topic of Ikea. I love Ikea. It's just so dang efficient and (possibly more importantly) reasonably priced. Little did I know there is actually an IKEA in IRKUTSK!!! Add that to the list of things that make Irkutsk the "thriving metropolis" that it is. I haven't made it out there yet (since I don't really need anything, it would just be another temptation) but a few of my friends have. While it's not quite as humongous as the Frisco or Houston stores, it's still got all the flat-packed goodness of a real Ikea. And if they don't have what you want, you can order anything that Ikea makes from their catalogue (for a small addition cost, of course). Oh, Ikea - how I love thee.
I love it when I discover how small the world is. I've been feeling dreadfully homesick for the past two weeks, and the only relief (besides actually going home) is when I find something that reminds me that no matter how far away I get (and I'm about as far away as is possible right now), I'm not really all that far away at all.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I got a little taste of home yesterday. After a week in limbo, my FedEx package from Uncle Todd and Papa Jon (aka Daddy) finally made it into my hands. I had to go pick it up myself from the office, because apparently “doing everything in our power to get your items to you” (the motto cheerfully repeated to me by the recording when I called the
Anyway, back to the package. The customs people vetoed the chalupa fixings and burned CDs, but everything else got here. There were some super-warm socks and long underwear to keep me from freezing my butt off, and a couple of head-warming thingies. Also, a pair of pants to help in the layering. Not only is the warmness of the items appreciated, but it’s nice to have something else to wear for a change – even if it is base-layer stuff. I’ve been wearing the same dang clothes for more than six months (and I didn’t take that much with me). And more socks means that I can go longer without doing laundry before my roommate comments on my smelly feet. Hehehe. Just kidding – as much of a pain in the ass as it is to do laundry here, I do wash my clothes rather regularly.
Of course, the best things in the package are the things I have no hope of obtaining in
And of course, I can’t fail to mention how much I appreciate the inclusion of copious amounts of bubble wrap. While this may not have been an intentional part of the care package, I was wondering how the heck I am going to get home with these bottles of Buryati Balzam, seeing as how I’ve not seen a single sheet of packaging wrap anywhere in the last few months. We all have our priorities.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
On another note, I love snow. As if you all hadn't noticed already. I keep thinking that I will eventually get sick of all the cold white stuff floating around, but just the opposite is happening. With each snow fall, I become more and more in love with it. There's just something about waking up in the morning to a fresh blanket of snow, and being the first one outside to make tracks in it. It's like starting from scratch each day. The effects of non-existent emissions-controls aren't nearly as noticeable. The city has taken on a completely different personality. I feel like a little kid (and have been told a number of times that I act like one) when I go out of my way to go traipse through a fresh patch on my way somewhere. It's so much fun. I have to get as much in as I can before I go back to the land of snowlessness.
Okay, enough of my musings. I have to go find the Fed-ex office because the incompetent fools can't find my address on the map to deliver my package to me. Grrrr.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Buses, tramways, and trolly-buses usually operate on the principle that there is always room for one more person. I mean, the more people they have riding at once, the more money they get (even if it's only 5 rubles per person). There is rarely a trip I take on the trolleybus during which I can actually sit down. More likely I find myself sandwiched in with all the other commuters. Yesterday was the worst it's ever been. I think it had to do with the temperature - it was -6 FAHRENHEIT outside (that's -20 Celsius - here's a little converter for future reference), the coldest I've seen the temperature to date. There were so many people on the trolleybus that I had both arms straight down at my side and could not move in any direction. It's a good thing my wallet and passport were beneath three layers of clothing. Otherwise, I might have felt vulnerable (the same situation led to Aaron loosing his passport - for the second time).
Anyway, I just make do with the situation as best as I can. I miss Frodo, the brave little Neon. But I would much rather ride everyday on a crowded trolleybus than try to drive myself through Irkutsk. I'm not sure how driving schools work here, but I think they need to work on quality control.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Renee had set us up with a guide for the weekend - a local lady named Svetlana. Interestingly enough, Sveta has travelled all over Texas. It made for very interesting conversations. We were styaing with her neighbor - a buryati babushka named Lara, her daughter and grandson. Oh my god, the FOOD! Sooooo tasty! Especially the biscuits she made. It was like being back in the south (minus the gravy).
We started the day with a tour of the city, starting with Soviet Square, which is dominated by the world's largest "head of Lenin". No joke. Check out my pictures.
Later that day, we headed out to Ivolginsky datsan, the main center for buddhism in Russia. It was absolutely beautiful. And there are some interesting historical stories (read about it here).
On Sunday, we were supposed to go out to the Old Believers Village, but when we got there, the guy who was supposed to me us and open the museum didn't show. Shot down once again. But no matter - we had a good time just wandering around the little town, eating lots of good food.
Monday was spent at the Ethnographic museum. It was a lot like Pioneer Farms (for all you Austin folks) - a big park with lots of examples of native life in past centuries. And they had a little zoo. It was a really nice day (though still cold).
That night we went to a show at the State Buryati Academic Theatre of Drama. What a great building. Lots of beautiful carvings and murals. It was so soviet - very impressive. The main mural reminded me a lot of Diego Rivera's stuff in Mexico City (though with a slightly different set of references).
I was absolutely exhausted by the time we boarded our train to go back to Irkutsk. I slept soundly until about 1.30 in the morning, when a women boarded the train with her small son, who insisted on screaming (not crying) for hours on end. What a nightmare. But I can put up with a lot these days.
We got back to town at about 7 in the morning. While I technically could have made it to my 8 oclock class, I went home and took a shower and a nap instead. Then I showed up for my literature lesson with Olga Lopsonovna. I had managed to actually read all of Crime and Punishment in about 5 days, and I didn't want to have gone to that much trouble for nothing. It was worth it - one of those rare classes that just seems to fly by.
I’ve come to a conclusion in the past few days – a realization that is difficult for a photographer like me to accept. There are some things in this country (and this world) which simply cannot be translated to a photograph. What is hardest about this fact is that so many of my favorite moments on this trip cannot be preserved other than in my memory and in an occasional blog entry. For example, on the train home from Ulan Ude I was suddenly and for no particular reason awoken. I looked out the window (possible at this point only because all the lights in the cabin were off) and saw something quite miraculous – a full moon gave me a wonderful view of the snow-topped mountains surrounding Lake Baikal, while in the sky, framed perfectly in my window, was the constellation Orion. It was one of those “right-place-at-the-right-time” kind of moments, and one that I will probably never experience again. But I think I will always remember lying there, as the train slowly chugged along the lakeshore, staring in wonder at all the natural beauty that was passing by my window. While my studies are interesting and I’m learning a lot about Russian language and culture, I count these moments as the ones that make my trip halfway around the globe the most worthwhile – the moments for which it is worth it to put up with the -10˚C (and lower, as I suspect the temperature will yet drop before I return to the sunny Lone Star State).
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I could only find an electronic copy of Crime and Punishment. I'm frantically reading it, but won't be done until sometime next week. I've put off my normal Thursday afternoon literature lesson until I finish it - she insisted that that was the best plan. Which I'm fine with - I'm always happy to have one less class to go to in any given week.
I nearly lost a finger the other day. Damn bus driver closed the door on me and my middle finger got caught. Good thing no one seemed to speak English around me - I have to admit I let one or two obscenities fly. But all is well - got the finger back in one piece and it didn't even bruise that badly.
The powers that be at UTD have finally released the course listings for the spring semester - a week before registration starts. Which means I only have two days to decide on my schedule, since I'll be gone from Friday until Tuesday (more in a minute) and have to email someone back home to register for me because the stupid login times for registration don't jive with the time difference + working hours of the internet cafes. Luckily, Gina is da bomb and is helping me out. THANKS!!!
I'm in for a rough semester next spring. 18 hours again. And 5 days a week too, three of which start at 9.30. But at least it's a better schedule than the one I have now - where I have to be at the university at 8 am four days a week. Ugh. And I'm taking some pretty interesting classes - "Oz, Narnia, and Hogwarts" (yay for Dr. Towner), "Native American History (19th c.)" (yay for Dr. Edmunds), "Native American Cultures", "Gallery Management", and "Modernism" (woohoo - another DMA course). The only downside - "Literary Analysis". I need to stop skipping prerequisites - they come back to haunt you. It's like when I was a senior in high school, sitting with a bunch of freshmen in a health class. Oh man.
But after this semester, there's only one more required class left for me. Everything is just a bunch of electives. Woohoo!
This Friday I'm heading to Ulan Ude (capital of the Buryati Republic, the region on the east side of Lake Baikal). It should be pretty interesting. The crew at SRAS set it all up for us. I don't really know yet what all we're going to do, just that I don't have to plan anything (always a plus). This means I'll be out of touch until about Tuesday, if anyone is looking for me. Hehehe. Yay for disappearing! :-D
Oh, and one more piece of news. Lies has been replaced. My new roommate is a grad student named Maiya. She's Korean-Chinese (meaning she's Korean by descent but grew up in China). While she doesn't speak English, her Russian's REALLY good (she's been here for five years already). So far everything's good. Our room is pretty now :-D. She put up curtains and stuff. Hopefully the room will stay pretty.
The best part - she claims to have internet on her laptop - we'll see about that.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Thursday, October 26, 2006
First of all, I had a ticket to see The Sound of Music at the musical theatre - IN RUSSIAN! It was at the same time both the worst production I've ever seen (of anything) and one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen. Especially the children. Oh man. Liesl was quit the little whore and Freidrich kept on making moves on Maria. Let's just say it was VERY Russian. It was only about $8 - a price I was willing to pay for a good laugh.
(I still want to go back there to see the Harlem Gospel Choir when they come next month - I think it could be equally entertaining).
The other great thing happened to me when I got back to the dorm from the theatre. The babushka at the door handed me a note - from my roommate, Lies.
"I know this is kind of sudden, but I'm leaving you today..."
I didn't know the words "I'm leaving you" could be happy words! Apparently she found a way to get into the other building, so she decided to move. I am now roommate-less! It's wonderful. I don't know how long it will last, but at least I don't have to room with her anymore. She said I can move too if I want. While I'd like to be in that building, if it means being her roommate again, forget it.
Plus, I've gotten to be friends with all my Chinese neighbors. So for now at least, I am free. Free at last.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Also, I completely screwed myself over on the visa thing once again. Apparently, they have to re-do all my paperwork for visa renewal since I dropped that stupid regional studies class. Great. At the rate I'm going, I might not ever get out of this country.
But the trip to Ulan Ude (on the other side of the late) is going as scheduled. It'll be next weekend. This weekend, I have lots of reading to do...
Monday, October 23, 2006
It's still really pretty outside - a big fluffy blanket covering just about everything in sight. Of course, I think most of the snow will be gone by this evening. Considering it snowed for about 6 hours straight yesterday, I find it amazing that there is not a cloud in the sky today - the sun is shining bright. It's still kind of cold, but the sun can work miracles.
The best part about today is that I have absolutely nothing to do. The university is hosting some conference, so they cancelled classes for the day. Woohoo! I think I'm going to try a new trick - refried beans from scratch. Should be ... interesting.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
I couldn't help but relate to this quote this morning. When I left for class, I figured I'd be alright in just jeans and a t-shirt underneath my coat. I didn't count on such a drastic change in the weather in just an hour. As I walked from the trolley stop to the university, the wind suddenly began to gust. I thought, "Here we go again - another wind storm." What I didn't expect was a SNOW storm. It's been far too warm for October these last two weeks - meaning that the temperature has been hovering somewhere around 5-10 degrees (centigrade). Everyone was saying that October is the worst month here - all cold and rainy; once it starts to REALLY snow it's beautiful.
As I sat in my early morning Morphology class, I kept noticing how hard the wind was blowing outside. And how hazy it looked. "Wait a tick - that's not haze! That's snow blowin' around!" Yes, indeed, the heaviest snowfall I've ever seen in my life had begun. Now some of you more accustomed to life north of the great state of Texas may be laughing at me right now. Of course there will be more - it's SIBERIA! But after two months in Irkutsk, I still find snow particularly fascinating, and find myself grinning every time I see a fresh patch of powder to go traipsing about in.
I think it's about time I head home. I need to but on some warmer clothes - and drink some of the yummy hot chocolate my granny sent me :-D. (USPS stinks by the way - but more on that latter).
Saturday, October 21, 2006
I didn't feel too bad about lying this morning. Lies woke me up not once but twice on one of my few mornings to sleep in. First, she woke me up when she stumbled into the room at about 7 am. Any normal person coming home at such an hour might try to be a little courteous and be quick. But not Lies. Rummage, rummage, rummage. Then she got up again at 9 am, and instead of going to the kitchen, as I would have, to do what ever it is she felt necessary to work on that early on a Sunday morning, she woke me up yet again. Arrgh.
I need to stop ranting about this. I can't change her habits - can't even really do anything without being rude. All I can do is hold out for the next two months - and hope she finds a host family real quick.
Friday, October 20, 2006
I have to admit, last night's was not nearly as rowdy as the party's I'm used too. For one thing, we only had one little room - we couldn't really spread much farther than the kitchen for fear that the wrath of my evil neighbor might present itself. And the dorm nazi can only ignore so many things (even with a blini bribe). It was nice though - all my friends showed. I was trying to count how many languages were being spoken and here's the tally - Dutch, German, Flemish, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Polish, English, Chinese, and Korean. Whew. I'm suprised my head didn't explode.
The only real problem with having a party in the dorm is that the dorms are locked at 11 pm - which means anyone who doesn't live in the building has to go home before then. And most of my friends live in the next building over. Sigh. I'm probably the only American alive to manage to turn 21 without getting drunk (because two drinks isn't enough to intoxicate ME). And I went to sleep at 11.30 pm. I feel kind of lame. But that's the way things work here - everything just kind of shuts down around 11. I could have gone to a club if I really had wanted to, but there were two things holding me back - 1. I don't really like clubs - I'm more of a bar/pub kind of girl, and 2. I didn't really feel like staying out ALL night. Especially after Lies went to bed without helping clean up, leaving me to scrub all the pots and pans. Did I mention what a great roommate she is :-/.
Anyway, I did have a nice day. Oh, and I finally got my care package from Grandma - complete with bluegrass CDs and fajita seasoning. It's going to be a good weekend.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I just made a huge batch of chili and Karin is bringing something yummy for the vegetarians. It should be a killer party.
Of course, we'll have to see how I feel about it tomorrow morning...
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Mongolia, here I come (in a month or so, anyway).
Some bad news - I just found out that the evil babushka is on duty at the dorm on Friday night. This does not bode well for my party plans. Maybe she can be bribed with chocolate...
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Well, there's only one thing to do in this situation. Let out a heavy sigh and say, "C'est la vie." This is the way things work in Russia. You have to shout at the top of your lungs over and over again to get things done right, and you'll still probably have problems. But at least I'm still legal and everything. The stupid people in the international office screwed Aaron over even more - by completely forgetting to fill out his visa extension paperwork. Oops. Luckily they admitted their error and paid the fine for him - before he got exported. Hehehe. Oh, silly Russians.
Just for laughs...
When I opened Internet Explorer at the internet cafe today, Google popped up - in SWAHILI! How exciting. I love it when I see random stuff like that. There are cool people from all over the world roaming around just as I am. Kind of makes me want to go to Africa (it sure as hell would be warmer than Siberia).
Saturday, October 14, 2006
I also managed to follow up my success in the kitchen (taco meat from scratch) with an even better creation - a big pot of Texas-style chili. I even managed to find some chili powder (though it wasn't easy - not even Misha the spice man had any in the market). I think I'm going to have to repeat that creation this Friday for the big birthday bash. If I have to celebrate my 21st birthday in a foreign land, might as well have a little bit of home around for the occasion (though I don't think I'm going go so far as to purchase the bottle of Sauza I saw at the market the other day - they wanted 1000 rubles/40 dollars for it!).
I can't remember if I mentioned it or not, but I found the phantom class. And it sucks - one of the worst classes I've ever had to sit through. And that's in addition to it being on Saturday, which ruins all of my weekend plans for the next two months. I think what makes it so aweful is the fact that I don't understand a damn thing that's going on. It's not what I was led to believe it would be. I'm hear to study Russia - its culture and people, how people live and have fun. I'm not interested in learning economic theories - especially not in Russian. And what's even worse is it's not taught for foreign students but for the local Russian students - which means the instructor talks at about a million words a minute and it's impossible for me to take notes. We had a quiz yesterday, and I had to turn it in blank, with an explaination that I had no idea what I was supposed to write or even where to begin looking. I think the odds of me surviving this course are pretty slim. I hope Natalya Alexandrovna will help me get out of this mess. The class were her idea to begin with.
Okay, enough ranting. I'm going to go get some blini. Mmmm. I can taste them already. Then I'm going to snuggle up with my Harry Potter book (in Russian) and enjoy my day of rest - before all hell breaks loose once again tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
As I sat in the hallway, cottenball pressed to the inside of my elbow, I couldn't help but be amazed at how old fashioned the poliklinika is. First off all, it appears as if the building has not been renovated in about 60 years. I'm not just talking about paint. The chairs, the slop-jars (old-school bio-hazard containers), the signs - everything looked like it was out of a movie. The best part was the level of technology. Not only were there no computers at all, in the entire building, but they didn't even have calculators. What did they use instead? Drumroll .............. An ABACUS!!! Kind of scary really, when you think about it. If anything happens to me while I'm here, I'm at the mercy of this place, and the really mean nurses.
But as long as they give me the paper I need to make myself legal, it's all good.
Then I can go about tackling the even larger problem of getting a Chinese visa...
Sunday, October 08, 2006
On a happier note, I found the coolest sentence on the planet on wikipedia today - "Unlike English, Latin, and various other languages, Russian allows multiple negatives, as in никто никогда никому ничего не прощает "No-one ever forgives anything to anyone" (literally, "no-one never to no-one nothing not forgives")."
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Friday, October 06, 2006
I think what is making it so cold right now is the wind - we've had high wind advisories all week. I'm find when I'm inside - they've finally turned the radiators on and it's nice and toasty (even a little too toasty on sunny days). But that walk to the bus stop is aweful. I need a hat, before my ears fall off.
I did brave the cold last night to go to the movies with some friends of mine. That's right - the movie theatre. I haven't been to one of those since early April. We saw "The Devil Wears Prada" - dubbed into Russian of course. Why is it that movies are just more fun in Russian? At least this one had more than one person doing the voices for the entire movie.
The theatre was actually really nice - plush seats and a good bar. And it was only 70 rubles (about $2.50) - just a hair cheaper than buying a DVD here. :-D That's right, I'm still addicted to the damn DVD shops. And now, I'm been finding a lot of good mp3 CDs too. I need to stay away from there. It's sad that I spend more on entertainment than on food each week. Heck, I spend more on the internet each week than on food. Sigh. The downsides of our modern society.
I also managed to do something completely awesome last night. I went to the market, bought half a kilo of ground beef and a bunch of spices and veggies, and made taco meat from scratch, for a shell-less taco salad. OH MY GOD!!! It was soooooo good. And spicy. I think I may have gone overboard with the red peppers, but it was so good. The chinese neighbors liked it too. I'm so happy - got a little bit of a Mexican food fix. Now if I could just find some refried beans...
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
What am I supposed to do about this? I can't beat her at her own game, because I just don't have it in me to be as rude as she is. I can't tell her, "Why don't you make your bed for once?" or "When was the last time you took a shower?" I'm far too passive-aggressive. There's no way out. I'm stuck with her. Crap. I miss Lindsay.
Maybe I'll just start sleeping on Aaron's floor. It's not like my bed's that comfortable anyway.
With the exception of the horrible roommate and the chronically disorganized university, I'm having the best time. Every day is different, whether for good or bad. I love this part of Russia, so much more than St. Petersburg. The people are nicer, the air less polluted, and the Lake is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Even as the days get shorter (and colder), I'm glad I'm here. We all need a change every now and then. While my has maybe been a bit extreme, it's working they way I intend - changing the way I see things here and home. And though the bureaucracy at IGLU has been nothing but troublesome, I do feel like I'm learning a lot in my classes. Which are all entirely in Russian now, by the way.
Oh, and one more bit of news. I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban yesterday - in Russian. I figured I'd read something I know to help build my vocabulary. Now I can say lots of fun words - quill, parchment, wand, muggle, etc.
I also stumbled upon the Russian word for "wench" the other day. It made me smile and think of Erica.