Thursday, December 11, 2008
One of the American families here has all the American teachers out to their apartment for Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, we couldn't take the day off so we had it on Saturday. This is one of my coworkers who had the misfortune to have one of the low chairs at the table (and he didn't get the memo that you could shave you Mo-vember moustache).
A view down the table of everyone wearing their Thanksgiving hats (except the one Korean present and the hostess).
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Well, I have learned my lesson. Never take a trip to Riga too lightly. On the train ride there, one of my colleagues remarked that this trip was nothing more than a glorified TGIFriday's run. We arrived, gave our papers to a document agency, ate at TGIFriday's, went to the movies (saw Quantum of Solace), which were played in English (with Russian and Latvian subtitles)! We expected to come out of the theater and go pick up our passports with our visas, but we were told that there was a new Russian consulate general and that the consulate wasn't working on visas that day.
At this point, we expected the worse. The reason we go to the Riga Russian consulate is because it is one of the few consulates that will issue visas to Americans. If the Riga consulate stopped doing visas for Americans, we would have to send our documents all the way back to the US to get them processed. So, since we couldn't get our visas that day, Thursday, we had to spend the night in Riga. We were in this interesting hostel; it promised a continental breakfast and free tea and coffee during your stay. I woke up in the morning, to find that my idea of continental breakfast and the hostel's idea of continental breakfast were not exactly congruent. No matter, I thought, all I need is some tea and I'll be good to go. Of course, they didn't have any tea.
I had another day to kill in Riga so I went and got a real breakfast, watched another movie (Body of Lies), and walked around Riga. I now know Riga like I know my 5 fingers, as the Russians would say. It turns out that earlier in the day, the document agency had told us that with this new consulate general it could take about 2 weeks to process. 2 weeks?!? Stuck in Riga for two weeks? At that point, the only reason I would have to get back to St. Petersburg would be to catch my flight back to California for Christmas. However, about an hour later, the agency called again and said the consulate-general was calling back to Moscow to figure out what to do with "all these Americans." So, Moscow must have told him to let us back in, because the agency called about an hour after that and said if we bring the money, they'll bring the visas. So, after an uneventful train ride, I made it back to St. Pete yesterday (Saturday).
I did go to TGIFriday's twice, while in Riga. I got the BBQ beef sandwich and the BBQ Burger. I'm missing Fat Daddy's, can you tell?
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Well, in a few hours I'll be going to Riga again. I find it funny how I now look on an international trip of going to Riga, Latvia, the same way San Diego college kids look at a night in TJ. I'm going to take the overnight train there, go straight to the travel document agency, kill the day in Riga going to the movies, get on the overnight train back to St. Pete and be back Friday morning. Although, I am excited about the possibility of eating at TGIFriday's again.
I started reading this book by a guy about his experiences as an American living in Russia during the early 90's. Sometimes I think I missed all the fun, but, then again, I like eating regularly. This book is in English, but it's from a Moscow publisher. I wonder if it's even printed in America; half of the book is an inside joke that only Americans living in Russia and Russians studying the English language are in on. I also started reading Nabokov's autobiography, "Speak, Memory."
My Russian is still improving. I'm at the point now where I can actually have conversations with people. Usually, I preface my conversations by saying, "I'm a foreigner. Speak slowly, please." I wish I could know what my accent sounded like to a Russian ear. One thing that is kind of funny is that the intonation in English is significantly higher than in Russian, and when I speak, I use a high, questioning intonation because I never know if I'm saying something right. I must sound like Mickey Mouse! I've been told that I don't speak with much of an accent, and that my pronunciation is correct. Too correct, in fact, because only foreigners pronounce words correctly!