Saturday, November 18, 2006

I wish I was Swedish

I think Chris and Pernilla would agree with me - Sweden is the coolest.
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

A Texas Care Package

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 Moscow office) does not include delivery in Russia. Were it not for this week-long delay (due to the fact that the package didn’t have my phone number on it so they couldn’t call me to tell me to come get it), it would have been in my hands in about a week - or 1/5 the time of the last package. Tells you something about the United States Postal Service, doesn’t it? If there wasn’t such a huge price difference, I’d stop using USPS altogether.

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 Siberia – that is, the music. It’s hard enough for me to get my hands on a Be Good Tanyas CD in Dallas, much less in Russia. So when I opened the package and saw that Uncle Todd had not failed to include their newest CD, I just about flipped out. I’ve been listening to it over and over again for the past 24 hours. AWESOME! It’s one of those CDs that just keeps on playing over and over again in my head all day long. Aaaah. Love it. And I loved Daddy’s inclusion of “Take the Weather With You” by Jimmy Buffett. I can’t think of a more fitting CD title for this part of my trip. The snow that has been so beautifully covering the city for the past week is melting and now all that’s left is nasty sludge. Wait a tick. This is Siberia – in November. Aren’t I supposed to be trudging through six feet of snow to get to class? Guess not. Whatever the case, today and for the next month, I could really use some Texas weather.

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

Щи и каша жизнь наша!

For those of you who can't read Cyrillic, that's "shchi i kasha zhizn nasha" - or "soup and porridge is our life". My obsession with blini has been replaced as of late by equally obsessive cravings for rice kasha. I can't explain it. All it really is is rice cooked for a long time in lots of milk and butter, but it's just so damn good. I tried making it myself, but like with the experimentation in blini-making, I just can't recreate the taste that the little old ladies create in the various Russian kitchens throughout town. Maybe I need a few decades worth of accumulated grease to make it taste right. But as the saying goes (well, sort of), my life is now being controlled by bowls of kasha. Mmmmmm.
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.