Thursday, October 30, 2008

More to follow

I know I haven't blogged in a while (thanks for being a jerk, Noah, and pointing that out). I don't really have time at the moment, but I will write more in the next couple of days. Here's what you have to look forward to:

parent teacher conferences
being dangerously close to not receiving my next visa 
mildly amusing anecdotes from an Innocent Abroad
what I told the Korean consulate-general

Monday, October 20, 2008

No P-Diddy "Vote or Die" death squads will get me...

I voted today. Almost by accident. I had to go into the consulate to apply for a second passport (aka "traveler's passport"). This passport looks just like my regular one, but is only good for two years. 

Let me explain why I needed this second passport. My current Russian visa is valid until November 1. Whenever I apply for a Russian visa, I must send in my passport. The Russians will not allow you to apply for a new visa until your old one has run out. So, I need to leave the country on the 1st, but also send in my passport on the 1st. Catch-Dvatsit-Dva (22). Hence, my need for a second passport. Hence, my reason to go the consulate (to apply for one). Hence, how I ended up voting today.

I thought that there was a deadline before one could fill out an absentee ballot. I was right; it is November 4th. The guy behind the glass said they could fax it to the election board and then once it got verified or whatever, they would send in my sealed ballot. So, I voted. I was little disappointed not to get a "I Voted" sticker.

The Agony and the Irony

If my posts are getting too pretentious, bear with me. Assume it's tongue-in-cheek... or that I'm being ironic... or referencing some movie (24 Hour Party People), song (Blur's "Park Life"), book (The Great Gatsby), or Noah Felsenthal ("In Soviet Russia, dinner eats YOU!").

"There are no second acts in American lives."

This Sunday I boarded a bus and left for Lodenoye Pole (LP), the city I taught at in the summer of '07. As we headed off down the highway, it was interesting to see places that I had stopped at before on the road between LP and St. Pete. It conjured up a host of memories ("Oh yeah, I remember that place. It has squatty-potties." "Oh yeah, this is where the driver had to stop to get cigarettes." "Oh yeah, this is the spot I almost got runover trying to cross the street to get to a market during a break.") The bus ride takes about four hours, so I got comfortable and ended up reading The Great Gatsby most of the way. I read it a few years ago and didn't like it all that much. I picked it up again because I saw it laying around the apartment and it was small and fit in my bag (I am reading Dostoevsky's Demons right now, which isn't as convenient to lug around). I don't know what changed, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe it was because I remembered a quote of F. Scott Fitzgerald: "There are no second acts in American lives." I disagree, especially as I was about to begin mine in LP. It was funny, because I expected to recognize everything in the town and ended up recognizing very little. I like LP better than St. Petersburg. Everything isn't as flash and there's more puddles, but it just seems a little more genuine. Both cities were founded by Peter the Great, but St. Petersburg was modelled after Paris, Amsterdam, and Venice. LP wasn't modelled after anything. LP just was. 

I was going back to visit my favorite Russian family: the Prikhodkos. Their eldest, Olga, was one of my students last year and they were our neighbors. They had us over a few times and took me and Clint out to their dacha. I really enjoyed the family a lot. The mom and dad are wonderful to talk to (through Olga, our translator) and great people. There's another Prikhodko, Kiril, who is about 10-11 years old and is a budding soccer player.

Anyway, I was met at the bus station by Olga with her boyfriend, a tall, bookish gent who is big Miami Heat fan. She pointed out to me her family waving from the window (the apartments overlook the station). We went up and I barely had any time to ask any questions, as I was too busy just getting my replies out. Every now and then, Olga had to leave the room and so I was left without an interpreter for a few moments. In between my improved Russian and Stepan's (the father) military English, we were able to figure out what the other was saying and laugh a bit. Stepan was Soviet army officer for many years in Ukraine. Here's a picture of me with Kapiton Prikhodko looking suitably Soviet:

We had a delicious meal and went for a walk around LP seeing some of the sights, and before I knew it, it was time to go. So, I hurried onto the bus that was going to take me back to St. Pete, after promising to return and stay longer so I can see more old friends, talk more with the family, and go ice fishing with Kiril and Stepan. On the ride home I was awash in an enormous sense of well-being. I realized that it felt like I had just gone home (as in "home") and that's always a nice feeling when "home" is so far away. It was also like I went back in a time machine a year and a half; hearing the words I said then again, thinking the thoughts I thought then, and speaking with Prikhodko's as if I'd just been hunting mushrooms with them at their dacha yesterday.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Nor Cal

I love it when weird things from American culture permeate foreign shores. Like NorCal for example:

"An' the footba' has now robbed him o' the wee good sense he had."

Last weekend I had a great time playing soccer here. There is this group of guys who get together every weekend and play a match. They are all pretty good friends and funny guys (even though I can't understand most of what they are saying, it's still hilarious). For example, one of the guys goes by the name "Seryoga" and so they bought him a jersey and had Seryoga Ramos printed on the back (this is a pun off of the name of a Spanish soccer player, SERGIO Ramos). The best part is that one guy always writes a match report, keeps stats, and gives every player a rating for the day. It's quite organized for just a group of friends in their early 20's who get together for a kick-a-bout. My review for this match praised my technique and my ability to find extraordinary solutions for every situation, but deplored my timidity in defense. Here are some pics of me chipping the keeper and somebody explaining to me why I shouldn't be the one to mark Pavel on corner kicks:

Monday, October 13, 2008

I wanna be famous, a star of the screen

I think I've been in the city too long. As I was walking up the stairs coming out of the metro, I was slightly perturbed that the guy in front of me was walking so slow. He'd take one step, stand for a second, take two steps and stand, and then take another step or two. This was driving me crazy because I couldn't go around him because of the mass of people coming down the steps in the opposite direction. Of course, I didn't get too mad because I heard him talking to himself a little bit. Then we got the top of the steps, to the street when I realize what was going on:

The guy was a reporter and there was a camera at the top of the stairs and he was doing some sort of story about the metro. He wasn't talking to himself, he was talking into a microphone. So, if you watch the news tonight here in St. Petersburg, you'll probably see some slightly crazed, impatient foreigner, peeping up and around the reporter every other step, trying desperately to get around him.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What I did for homework...

I'm taking Russian lessons and I had homework the other day. I had to translate a paragraph into Russian. Now, it might not seem like much, but I thought it was pretty cool that I was able to do it without reaching for the dictionary too many times (two). Here is what I was able to translate:

A lesson is in progress now. This is the teacher. This is the boy student and the girl student. The teacher is reading, and the boy student and the girl student are listening. They are listening carefully. Jim and Mary understand the text well. Then Jim reads. He reads quickly and correctly. The teacher says, "Jim, you read well." Then they speak Russian.

I'd type up of the translation but that would take about 5 hours. So here's a picture with my wonderful handwriting:

Friday, October 10, 2008

On the run from the law...

Ah, the miracles of bureaucracy! When a foreigner comes to Russia, he has 3 business days to register with the local authorities of the city he is in. That's the law. When I arrived 2 months ago, I gave a copy of my passport and visa to the school's lawyer and merrily went about my business. Little did I know at the time, but the school's lawyer was away on holiday for 2 weeks. Of course, he told his assistant to take care of stuff like this. And, of course, this assistant didn't. The good news: 99 times out of a hundred, registering late isn't a huge problem because there's so many different registrations to keep track of that it is easy to slip through the cracks. The bad news: we (me and 5 others from the school) didn't. 

So, on Wednesday I got a nice little break from school to go down at the Migration Office. We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, my turn came. So, I went into the back, signed a document saying I didn't register on time and so I will pay a fine to make sure that it doesn't stay on my record. The kicker was I had to write in Russian: "I understand Russian. I don't need an interpreter." I can write in Russian, but only with the same speed and accuracy of a 6 year old. I get about halfway through when they realize how long it's going to take me to write this out. They wrote it out for me on another sheet of paper to copy. Of course, it was in the Russian cursive, which I have trouble reading in the best of times, but especially when the handwriting is poor. So, another guy from my group just took the pen and finished writing it for me. Apparently an "affidavit" has a different meaning here... 

I then was thumbprinted. Then fingerprinted. Then handprinted. I don't know if you have ever been fingerprinted, but the ink they use is very sticky and difficult to remove. It is of greater difficulty when they don't provide you with anything to clean your hands with. Fortunately, we had come prepared with a pack of babywipes which left my hand smelling mountain air fresh all day. Then we waited, and waited, and waited, and then were told the fine we had to pay. The school took care of the fine and so I am now completely legal, almost. I still have yet to receive a new registration paper to erase my old (illegal) registration. 

I discovered  Highway 61 Revisited to be an excellent album to listen to while walking to work. 

I proofread one of my Korean students'  English paper. It was an essay on "The Road Not Taken." This kid is extremely intelligent. Maybe a little too intelligent for his own good. This 7th grader's interpretation of the poem as a social satire critiquing capitalistic society using neo-Marxist terms would be exhibit A. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

My roommate

When they talk about Moscow, they are referring to Moscow, Idaho.

My First Russian Lesson

On Friday I had my first formal Russian lesson. I'm pretty excited about it, because I felt like I'd kind of hit a wall. The first lesson wasn't really anything I didn't know, but it was good practice; and it's nice to have a formal time to sit down and study with someone.

I've known the alphabet for a while and I can read Cyrillic pretty well now, but there's a slight difficulty. The cursive. The cursive is ridiculous. I think it was specifically designed to make people who are used the the Latin alphabet go crazy.

It felt pretty good today as I walked home from school that I could understand different conversations of people. Ya panimayu luchshye chyem gavoryu ("I understand better than I speak"). I'm at the point where I can catch a few words in the sentence and I can construct and inferr the basic the idea.

On Saturday I went and tried out a Mexican food place just around the corner from me called "El Machete." I went in not expecting much. Everything is so expensive here, especially restaurants, that I was pleasantly surprised to find it very affordable. I ordered a burrito. It was horrible. It was NOT a burrito, actually. It was a tortilla with about 4 beans, weird rice, and a tiny amount of hamburger meat. It was an enchilada really, but it was topped with this weird Russian dill sauce. It really was awful, but at least it's kind of a cool place to hang out. I'm going to give it one more chance, try something different. See if I can find something there I like, because it's so close and it could be a nice spot to hang out at.

"Renior! Renior!"

The Hermitage was free again last Thursday so I went and checked out the collection of French paintings there. I wandered through the different rooms and I really enjoyed the French impressionists. Here are some paintings that caught my eye (Kudos if you know who I'm quoting in the title).

Camille Pissarro: "A Fair in Dieppe, Sunny Morning"

Francios Flameng: "Reception at Compeigne in 1810"

Claude Monet: "Waterloo Bridge. Effect of Fog"

Kees Van Dongen: "Lady in a Black Hat"