Monday, May 25, 2009

This would be ironic

... in the West.

As I walk home from school, I walk past a medical college. I always pass it at the same time, which happens to be in between classes for the med students; they have just enough time to have a cigarette. This is where I get the majority of my allotted daily amount of second-hand smoke.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Night at the Museum

A word of advice: don't go out on Museum Night. Let's just say organization isn't exactly St. Petersburg's strong suite. And the people that are out and about are not the creme de la creme of Russian society. You could read about Museum Night all over the place, but when it came to exact details (which museums, which buses, what the cost was, etc...), all articles referred to the website where all this information was; that website crashed because of the amount of traffic. 

I started out from my place around 9:30 PM. The first museum I went to was the Kirov Apartment Museum. Sergey Kirov was the leader of the Communist Party in Leningrad until he became too popular and Stalin had him killed. This museum is literally a stone's throw from my apartment. It was, of course, not open; it wasn't participating in Museum Night. 

So, I walked down to city center (about 30-40 minute walk from my place). The streets were full of people with varying degrees of sobriety off to enjoy a little culture (supposedly). Anyway, I arrived at the Central Naval Museum which I read was included in the program. I had a little difficulty finding the entrance, but I went in, bought my ticket that would get me into the participating museums for the whole night, and discovered I had actually entered some sort of soil museum. As far as soil museums go, it was the best one I've ever been in. Anyway, I finally found my way into to Central Naval Museum and discovered that I had to buy another ticket to get in. I opted to save my money and go check out some other museums. I walked down Nevsky to the Shereemetev Palace. The line to get in was too long and the people in the line weren't exactly the cream of Petersburg society. So, I decided to walk back to my part of the city and visit the artillery museum. 

There were more lines here and tons of kids. I opted to continue on to the last museum on my list: the Museum of Russian Political History. There were no lines here. This was the one redeeming point of the night. It was great. They had clothes of Khrushchev, the ID card of Yuri Gagarin, anti-American propaganda posters, and expressionist portraits of Brezhnev. I returned home around 3:30ish, less than impressed by the people of the city (I may have called them "peasants"). I got home just in time for the EuroVision song contest finals. This is a HUGE deal here in Russia.  Every country in Europe enters one song and everybody votes for the winner. This year Norway won (if you care).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Victory Day

May 9th was Victory Day (V-E Day) here. This is the second biggest holiday in Russia; it's like July 4th, Veterans Day, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day all rolled in to one. The first thing they do is wake up early (9ish) and head toward Palace Square to watch the first parade of the day. This parade displays the pride of Russia's current military. I got there early to get a good place but there were already quite a few people ahead of me. I managed to squeeze my way near the front and I had about 45 minutes to wait. While we were waiting, a nice officer walked up and told the police to let a few of the small kids through so they could get a better view. It was a beautiful morning and the parade was quite a spectacle but, honestly, not that impressive. Afterward, as I was walking home, I passed one of the vehicles in the parade broken down on the side of the road.

Later, I walked down to Nevsky Prospekt to watch the evening parade. Instead of celebrating the current prowess of the nation's military, this parade celebrated the veterans of WWII. Every veteran in the city marched or rode in the parade. This was a much better parade and the spectators were in a much better frame of mind. It finished seconds before the heavens opened up and drenched the city. Fortunately, I was seconds away from the nearest metro and managed to make it home fairly dry and, since I left so quickly, uncrushed. 

Tomorrow night is "Night of Museums." Many of the city's museums are going to be open all Saturday night to Sunday morning and special, free (FREE) buses will be running all night. The nice thing for me is that I live so close to the city center that I don't even have to take the buses to get to the majority of the museums. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Notes from Dostoevsky Land

"Raskolnikov, we love you!"   -Message written in the hallway of stairwell of Raskolnikov's apartment building.

On Thursday the Russian Lit class at the school had a field trip. They went to Sennaya district of the city to see different sites from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. I was fortunate enough to tag along. We started out in Sennaya Ploshchad (in the book it is called the Haymarket). In Dostoevsky's day this was the poor part of the city and we walked a short distance to see the building where he lived in when he wrote C+P. It was interesting that one of my students lives in the building next to it. About a stone's throw away, was the apartment of Raskolnikov. Dostoevsky was very detailed about places and streets in the book, and from it, we can find just about every place that is mentioned. For example, at one point in the book, Svidrigailov stays the night in a hostel. Today it's a McDonald's. Fortunately, the doors of Raskolnikov's building were open and we were able to go up. Today, it is still an apartment building, and sometimes the doors will be locked because the residents aren't terribly thrilled with tourists hanging out in their hallway all the time. Also, people leave graffiti (as pictured above), saying things like, "Babki (old hags) must die!"

Speaking of old ladies dying, we then walked over to the apartment building of the old pawnbroker that Raskolnikov murders in the book. It is interesting to note, our guide pointed out, that the building of the old pawnbroker is the same walking distance away from Raskolnikov's apartment as St. Isaac's Cathedral (thus pointing out Dostoevsky's message that Raskolnikov has the free will to decide whether to good or evil; he chooses evil). We got lucky there as well because the door to that apartment building was also opened. Afterward, we went and saw Sonya's apartment, the crossroad where her father, Marmeladov, was killed, and the bridge where two characters meet in the short story "White Nights." 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This is the end...

May is here. This is the last month of the school year. This is also my last month before I return to California for the summer. I think I need some time to sit and think about my time here (trans-Atlantic flights are perfect for this): living in a different country, learning another language and culture, finishing another year of teaching, managing to survive for 10 months never once lighting the stove or oven... 

May 1st, International Worker's Day used to be a major holiday here. In recent times it's just become like our Labor Day (except that all the members of the Communist Party go hold demonstrations downtown). The school celebrated the day by working. No holiday for us. But, over the weekend I got on a bus and travelled to Lodeynoe Pole, where I taught English during the summer of '07. I stayed with a family of a former student for the weekend in their apartment. The father of the family, Stepan, is an avid fisherman. Earlier on Saturday, he set a net up in the river; in the evening he left to go check it and he returned with good sized muskies. When I told me my parents about this, my mom asked if that was legal in Russia. It turns out it isn't (which explained a lot, because I kept wondering why his wife kept asking about the police when he got back). While walking around LP, I happened to see a sign I had noticed a few years ago with the picture of a rather mean looking German shepherd, but this time I was able to read it. It said, "Caution: Evil Dog." Another highlight was playing dominoes. It was my first time, and, accordingly, I had more than my fair share of beginner's luck, leading Stepan to comment that I was "cunning like an Indian." 

My time came to an end on Sunday as I headed back to the Big City for another week. I wasn't alone; there were a lot of other who came out to the country for the holiday weekend, so the bus was packed. We had just left the bus station and driven a few blocks when a lady called out, "Stop the bus!" She had forgotten her suitcase. Inside it were all of her documents (ID, registration) and she needed it. The driver let her off and we all waited as the lady ran back to her apartment to get it. Can you imagine that happening in America? This brought me back to something I heard a few months ago from a friend of mine. She had spent some time in the US studying and told about how on her first night she went to a bar to get a drink and was refused because it was after hours. It was literally 3 minutes past time. Can't you make an exception, she asked. Nope. My friend was struck by the lack of compassion in America. Similarly, when Americans are in Russia, they are usually struck by the corruption and willingness to bend/break rules. Americans aren't heartless; they simply have a strong moral compass. Russians aren't crooked; they simply have a big heart. 

I was talking to one of my Korean 6th graders today, explaining the English idiom about children being like sponges soaking up information. So, he said (very earnestly), does that mean Sponge Bob Squarepants is a genius?

On a completely different note, I just recieved a text message from a friend in Siberia. I'm pretty pleased with this; who else recieves text messages from Siberia?