Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Winter First

I woke up this morning and decided to indulge in my favorite Russian breakfast: bliny (crepes) from the little Teremok stand around the corner from my apartment. It was a beautiful day today, which is incredibly rare here, regardless of the time of the year. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. The downside of this was that it was much colder than usual. As I was walking, I noticed that my snot was starting to freeze in (and just below) my nose. I had plans to walk around a little bit today, get out and do something, but snot-freezing weather changed those plans.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Official Residency #2

As I was crossing the street last night on the way to watch my first ever professional hockey game, another opportunity presented itself for me to flash my offical resident credentials. I still had 3-4 seconds to cross the street with a green light, so I hopped down off the curb. As I hopped down of the curb into the street, the car nearest me chose that exact moment to start forward to get a jump on the light. I stiff-armed the car and bounced out of the tackle to make it across the street safely (for a first down!).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Official Resident

I am now an official resident of Russia: I had a drunk guy try and get into my apartment in the wee hours of the morning.

I woke up at 4:00 AM this morning to a buzzing. At first I thought it was my phone (which is also my alarm clock). Then I realized it wasn't my alarm, so I checked to see if I missed any calls. Nope. Then I realized it was the doorbell buzzer. 4:00 AM? I figured it was just a drunk guy, but I figured I'd better go and check, just in case. I looked through the peephole and I saw... a drunk guy leaning on my door buzzer. Fortunately, he was just mumbling to himself and ringing the doorbell and not pounding on the door and screaming. He did try the doorhandle a few times, but it was more of  a confused attempt than an aggressive attempt, so that was nice. I watched out the peephole as he grabbed his bag (of bottles, it sounded like) and headed downstairs, came back upstairs, paused to look at the number of my apartment, continued on upstairs, came back down, and proceeded to lean on my door buzzer again. After a few minutes he got frustrated, grabbed his bag, went downstairs and left the building. At this point, I was wondering if it was bettter to just stay up until school or go back to sleep for an hour or so. I ended up going to sleep for an hour or so.

Put me in, Coach!

Last week my life seemed to revolve around basketball. The school was abuzz with the first game of the season. Well, abuzz because every single guy in the high school (with two exceptions) was on the team. It's difficult to find teams to play against so "league games" are any and every game they can scrounge. On Thursday night, the IA Cossacks were set to play the faculty, extemporaneously dubbed "Green Machine." I never played basketball in high school. I was about to say ",but I always wanted to," but that would be a lie. I never did. I always wanted to be asked to play (which I would have refused), but never was. However, Thursday night found me in a small gymnasium on Khrestovskiy Ostrov ready to dominate my students. We only had 3 faculty able to play so we filled out our ranks with a few Russian ringers (2 of whom could dunk). We (Green Machine) ended up winning by 10. To those of you who saw me in my basketball heyday (7th grade), I still got it. 

Also, I've been going to more Spartak SPB games lately. It's my new hobby. Everytime they do their starting lineup they play "Final Countdown" and I picture Gob warming up at center court.

Here's the IA fight song "On Cossacks," sung to the tune of "Anchors Aweigh":

On Cossacks to the goal,
We'll take command!
Loy-al to the red and white,
With courage bold, let's fight-fight-fight-fight

Defend and score with zeal!
O, can't you hear
A shout of victory?
Let's give our all and fight for one more cheer!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day: or "American Exceptionalism in the Political Sphere"

My favorite item of the 2008 election. I like how they both look really creepy. That should be an issue.

Well, it's Inauguration Day (it's been Inauguration Day here much longer than there). All day, I've had people asking me if I was going to watch it. Ya, I guess, if it's on I said. But why would it be on? We do get a Russian news channel on our TV, but this is usually dedicated to the minutiae of Putin, Medvedev, and Co. I turned on the TV just to find what station the news channel is and I know I am there when I see a photo montage of Obama and the 2004-2008 campaign. I was looking at the BBC news webpage and just before the page loaded, I knew exactly what was going to occupy the most space.

So, does the rest of the world just have a problem with voyeurism? or are we, America, that interesting? 

Lately, I've also noticed the emphasis the rest of the world puts on the fact that Obama is the first African-American president of the United States. Or maybe it's been like that in the US, too, I dunno. Or maybe I haven't been indoctrinated by 24 hour news channels (which are a pet peeve of mine) to recognize how historic this. I guess it's a mark of how my generation has grown up (or maybe how I grew up, in total isolation of mainstream attitudes in the foothills of northern California), but I really don't think Obama's race is that big of a deal. I mean, ya, it's historic, I'm sure. Does that change how I think of him as a senator, a man, or President? Thank God, no.

So, getting back to this idea with the rest of the world as voyeurs... My own personal theory is that race, especially in Europe, is a HUGE issue, and so that's why European media is covering the Inauguration so heavily. Because America has proven that it doesn't have to be an issue, she has shown the rest of the world it can be done. At the risk of using a word that may or may not have been trademarked by the Committee to Elect Barak Obama, I daresay it provided a lot of ...hope... to Europe. In my American history class the other day, I was teaching about "Manifest Destiny" and so we started talking about American exceptionalism. It's not at all surprising (or maybe it is) that out of all the nationalities represented in the room (Turkish, Korean, Finnish, American, Russian) there's a cultural parallel. However, I don't know how many of you watched a live broadcast when Tarja Halonen was sworn in as president of Finland back in 2000, or Lee Myung-bak, Abdullah Gul, or even Dmitriy Medvedev; draw your own conclusion.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"I will sleep in the next life."

I have been so tired the last few days. During my free periods at school I go and look for places to steal a nap. My evenings consist of fighting against the urge to go to bed 4 hours early. I succumbed this afternoon; barely managed to get up and finish my Russian homework.

In my Russian history class we've been looking at the Westernizers and the Slavophiles. Without going into too much detail, these were two literary/social groups that debated about the direction Russia should go in the middle-late 19th century. The thing I thought was interesting was that both sides saw the premise that culture, specifically literature, could transform a nation (and thus impact world events) as a given. It makes one wonder where the writers of LOST plan on taking America, now doesn't it?

Sometimes I wonder if the smiley face [e.g., :)]  has given new meaning to parentheses to members of my generation. Everytime we see a parenthetical phrase, it elicites an emotional response.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Body confusion, a healthy dose of selfishness, perfective verbs, Master and Margarita

Jet lag is a funny thing. The first day I got back (Friday) I slept from 9:30 PM to 9:30 AM. Saturday from 11 PM to 11 AM. No jet lag here, but on Sunday night (the night before school started up again) it began to rear its ugly head and I couldn't sleep at all. I went to school rather dazed (fortunately or unfortunately no one seemed to notice) on Monday. I returned from school determined not to take a nap and tough it out until the evening. I made it until 9:30 PM and then let myself go to bed. I wake up convinced it's time to get up and get ready for school. It's 11:45 PM. After some period of time, I go back to sleep. I wake up again. 2:45 AM this time. Unable to go back to sleep, I start getting my stuff ready for class. Finally, at 4 AM I'm able to get back to sleep. I wake up again at 8:15 AM (15 minutes after I am supposed to be at work). Fortunately, on Tuesday chapel is first period, so there weren't any problems. I am just confused as to why my body wants to sleep all the time, but won't allow me to sleep ever. 

 While I was in California for Christmas, I was hoping that I wouldn't have too many negative feelings once I got back. But, since I've returned to St. Pete, I've noticed how nice it is to be back. Surprisingly nice. I've tried to figure out and dissect why. I believe part of it is that I've gotten myself settled here. It might be for selfish reasons: Russia, St. Petersburg, more specifically, is mine. While I was back, that was something, an experience, that was definitively MINE. No one else had it. I have all but committed to  second year here. I'm beginning to wonder a little bit; if I'm still enjoying it so much could I be here for longer than 2 years? 

This brings me to my next topic of consideration: the language. If I am planning on even just a second year, I want my Russian to be much better than what it is. I live with 2 other Americans, work at an English speaking school, and spend time with Russians who speak very good English, so I could go days or weeks without speaking ANY Russian. This may be comfortable, but I really want to pick up as much language as I can during my time here. So, I'm wondering if I should think about looking for a living situation with some nationals. I'm not thinking about this until next year, so in the meantime I've decided to be more disciplined about spending time outside of class working on a few things. Call it a New Year's Resolution, if you will (I won't).

I started watching this Russian adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita Youtube. I read it a few years ago in college (mainly on the bus going to away games, so I think I missed a few of the finer points of the novel). It was alright; it didn't thrill my soul, so to speak. However, I am really enjoying this mini-series a lot. I found this channel that has a lot of Russian movies and TV with subtitles. If you are feeling yourself Russian (a little joke about how Russians use reflexives, often to humorous effect when they speak English), you can mosey on over to:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

English, English, English

The school I work at is an international school; consequently, the majority of kids there are ESL. Supposedly, they speak English. I have a few students where I have yet to see any evidence of said language ability. 

In case any of you are wondering what that looks like when it comes time to grade papers, let me give you an example. I received a little plastic game at white elephant Christmas party. There is no brand name except "Toys" and "Made in China." These are the instructions to the game:

Intelligent Marble
Intelligent add Lucky

1. Marble is a kind of game that is very modern now. It collects exciment fasciration. It's a very interesting game. It can cot only trains lover's skill and intelligence but also is a best way for lover to make friends. It's an intelligent game for a family to be a happy field. Spring your miracle, competite you level

2. You'll surpass yourself intelligence and skill the -Ough a sernies of intelligent ompetition actions, competite your intelligent and you skill, partic-lpate in together. Plagways. The two parites will judge winning or losing, according to the highest Grand total. The one who get the highest grade is a big winner. Before a game begins, players may Also engage to shoot the five provided plastic teas-ed pearl early or late getting the grand total. We winner according to how many points it can reach.

3. Where there is a will, there is a way The training Of will, intellivgence, skill will be your best ladder of success, it is your best training way of defeating Everything.