Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hannah Banana and the Blustery Day

Yes, that's right. The cold weather has returned. It's not like I wasn't expecting it - it is Siberia after all. But I am a little irritated that it's getting really cold right before our little excursion to Oshon. It's still on for this Friday, rain or shine. I was going to skip my Syntax class (I'm thinking about dropping it anyway), but apparently we're not having class this week because the teacher is going to be at some conference. So things are going as planned (except of course for the weather).
When I left the dorm this morning I was fine in just my long sleeve shirt and hoodie (and this was at 7 am, mind you). By the time I left he university at noon, it was absolutely freezing. And the wind is blowing really hard. You know all those nice pictures of the golden tree leaves? Well, now there are more floating about on the street than on the trees. It's kind of cool. And it definitely feels like I always imagined Winnie the Pooh's "blustery day" must have felt like.
I tried to go to class again this afternoon. That damn regional studies course. I was thwarted once again. But once again, IT'S NOT MY FAULT! I was in the right place at the right time - there were other students there as witnesses (all very nice by the way - loved that I was from Texas). But no teacher. GGGRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. I guess it's just not meant to be.
Of course, no class means I can go home, curl up with a cup of cocoa, and watch a movie. I found a copy of Casablanca and Notorious, so I can finally quench my thirst for the classics.
As always, if you're sick of the heat back there in Texas, give me a call and I'll tell you tales to bring your temperature down.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oh wait, there's more...

I just stopped by the university to get my books for my new class and ran into the Dean. She grabbed me and rushed to her office - apparently she had 30 minutes to translate some important paper and she needed a proof-reader. Talk about pressure. I think she was pleased with my work though.
Also, she said she was coordinating some private lessons for me - an extra hour of literature, to give me a three-hour credit, and some sort of history class that is on Tuesdays. That's all I could get out of her in her hurried state. But at this point, I'm just taking things as they come. I never know what's going to happen next.
Also, I just uploaded a bunch of new pictures to flicker - see them here.
Now time for some serious studying. I have a huge pile of homework waiting to not get done.

A Wonderful Weekend

This weekend is definitely going down as one of the highlights of the trip. It wasn’t exactly because of one thing I did, but because the weekend as a whole was just plain awesome.

Friday went by as most – I sat half-heartedly through my Syntax class (definitely not the easiest to understand), then headed to the internet café to do some conversing (with those still awake back home) and email-writing. I desperately need to talk to someone in OIE or the Arts and Humanities department at UTD, to help me sort out this mess with my schedule and credits. I think I’ve gotten my schedule as good as I can get it, so now I have to go about finding out how things are going to transfer (if at all).

I ran into Karin (German friend) on the way home, and she reminded me that we might be going out of town this weekend. She and a few of her flat mates (three girls from Poland and a guy from Belgium) wanted to go to Oshon, a village near Lake Baikal. Unfortunately, waiting until the day before to buy tickets was not the greatest idea – they weren’t available. So we chatted for a few minutes and came up with an alternative – we decided to take the electrichka (cheap electric train) to the lakeside village of Sloudyanka, about three hours away. With plan in hand, we headed upstairs to the party at the other Belgians’ place. It turned out to be quite an eclectic group – Poles, Belgians, Americans, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, and a Korean (who was lamenting the fact that he had no one to speak to in his native tongue – though he speaks nearly perfect English and Russian). I had to go home early because the party was in the building next to mine and the doors lock at eleven. But I needed to get some sleep anyway.

I woke up early, donned some warm clothes, packed my chacos and camera, and headed over to the other dorm to meet the others. The tickets to Sloudyanka ended up being dirt cheap – 40 rubles there and 20 rubles back, for a grand total of about $2.25. I think the whole trip (food and beer included) only cost me about $10. The train ride helped put into perspective just how huge Russia is. While Irkutsk is right next to the lake on the map, it’s still about 100 km to the southern tip (where Sloudyanka is located). The train ride was three hours of sitting on a hard bench, for those lucky enough to get a seat. Even so, the scenery was beautiful, in spite of the fact that it was raining (Karin’s weather report wasn’t entirely accurate). The train stopped every 15 minutes or so to let people off. Sometimes there was a platform but most of the time the stops were simply little trailheads on going off into the hills. Kind of a cool idea – hop on a train and get off for a hike.

When we first got to Sloudyanka, we all thought, “What now?” It’s not the largest of places – kind of like a small version of Morgan Mill (my family might understand that) nestled between a huge lake and little mountains. But once be got to roaming around, we found it to be an amazingly cool place. The lake was awesome – you could see just about every rock on the bottom. And the rain stopped about that time, so we could finally take out our cameras to document the occasion. Frog was quite popular among the Polish girls – they made sure he got in all the pictures.

After sitting on the shore for a bit, we walked up a stream into the mountains. I think I shocked the others when I took off my shoes and put on my chacos (world’s greatest sandals), to wade into the water – which was ABSOLUTELY FREEZING! That’s just another one of the crazy things I’ll do for a picture – the view from the middle of the stream was a lot better than from the bank. :-D. It’s not like I was in there for a long time – and once I was out my feet felt great (I guess it’s one of those things like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer – it just feels so good when you stop).

We spent a good three hours just roaming about in the town and the surrounding area. We knew we had to be back at a certain time, and there’s not really anywhere to sleep without a tent, so we had to head back to the station eventually. When we did finally decided it was time to go, we had just enough time to buy some fish and bread and beer (see picture) for a great dinner on the train. All in all, I think the outing was a great success. Hopefully next weekend’s planned trip to Oshon will be just as cool.

On the train we met some fellow students (from Irkutsk State University, not from IGLU) who grew up in Angarsk, which is another city about an hour to the north. Karin and I were already thinking about taking a short little trip up there, and these new friends said it was worth it, so we decided to do that on Sunday.

Lies (my roommate) invited herself along, and the three of us headed out around noon on Sunday. At first, I didn’t think much of Angarsk – just another grimy Russian city falling into decay. But once we got to the city center (a difficult task in a town that doesn’t see a whole lot of tourism), our impressions changed. Like in Irkutsk, a lot of renovation is being done on the main streets, so that many of the facades look wonderful, almost as if they were new buildings. The park near Lenin Square was pretty cool – one of those overgrown places that you feel like hasn’t seen a gardener in twenty years (I like them that way though). There’s also this cute little place called the Lover’s Alley – cool, but entirely too overrated.

We didn’t spend a whole lot of time there. Other than walk around there’s not much to do (though they do have a Baskin Robbins). And Karin and I had bought tickets to a show at the theatre which started at six, so we had to hurry back (we got there about two minutes before the show started).

I didn’t understand much of what was being said in the play, but I’m pretty sure I knew what was going on. It was a play by Valentine Rasputin – Прощание с Матерой – about the destruction of a village to make way for progress, and people who are affected. The old women were pretty good actresses, even if I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying.

So, all in all, I had a great time. I suspect that more weekends like this are on the horizon, but I can’t say for sure. Depends on the weather and whether or not I get to go to China or not.