Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: the good, the bad, the mundane

It's been noted that 2016 wasn't a great year for the world - take your pick of natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, or elections as an illustrating point.  However, I've decided to end on a good note by writing down some of the highlights from my year, starting from the last post.  So, before it's too late, my 2016:

- My friend, Brendan, came to visit from Connecticut and found my 10 tips super useful.  We had a cultural tour of Moscow which consisted mainly of food, but also included museums, parks, and a visit to the Bolshoi where we saw the opera Katerina Izmailova.

- My translations for an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Moscow were published in a bilingual book! And my name was printed! I did not buy the book.  It was expensive.  Instead, I took a picture of the book.

- I went on a field trip to a cheese farm run by an American guy and his family.  There were over a dozen kinds of cheeses, wines, and meats, and I got to befriend the goats!

- There was the annual America trip with the traditional food, New York stop, beach time, and shopping.  Also the Olympics!

- I voted in the presidential election.  It was a really complicated process, but it was important to get done.

-  I finally had the opportunity to travel to Sochi in October, at first for work and then for play.  I spent a day in the botanical gardens, made friends with a monkey, and jumped off of a boat into the Black Sea.

- After that, I got to travel to Kazan twice, this time to train FIFA volunteers ahead of the Confederations Cup in 2017.  I saw the sites in one day and spent the rest of my trips eating Tatar food.

- I had a very American Thanksgiving in that there was an all-you-can-eat buffet with every traditional dish, and eat it all we did.

- There was one weekend where I was without my phone, and I first realized, then accepted, that I am rather useless without it.

- Last weekend we celebrated Christmas together, and it was nice enough to make up for my having been sick with the flu for the past week.

So, 2017: here's to more interesting projects, more laughs, more learning, more love!

In memory of Gene Wilder, a great man and a personal friend - we will never forget you or your kindness.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

10 tips for Moscow

As my friend's Moscow visit gets closer and closer, I've started thinking of things about Russia which I take for granted but would throw newcomers for a loop.  Can I even remember what makes Russia and the US so different now that I've been here for nearly 4 years? Here's what I've come up with so far (note: all of these things have happened to me personally):

 1.  Just because you have an address doesn't mean you even remotely know where it is. 

Russia has this bizarre system of courtyards that you need to struggle your way through to find things sometimes.  For example, you might need to find Ulitsa Pravdy, Dom 20, but on the main road the numbers go from 18 straight to 22, skipping 20 altogether.  (Not so) obviously, this means you need to walk through the parking lot next to you and wander through some courtyards before you maybe find what you need.  
Similarly, there are "korpuses" - so you might need Ulitsa Pravdy, Dom 20, Korpus 3. Korpus 3 may or may not be anywhere near Korpus 1 or 2, and there's a good chance you'll be wandering through more courtyards.  In the US, we tend to just give separate buildings their own numbers.
Another common thing is needing to walk through one store to get to another, because why not. 
Final thing about addresses - sometimes you might be walking down a street which forks, but both sides of the fork have the same street name and even people who work in the area don't know where you are and once you've finally gotten to where you wanted, you can show a picture to the person you were meeting to prove the address you ended up at really does exist.  

 2.  Buying things can be really hard.  

Someone might refuse to sell you something because you don't have exact change.  Or the cashier might see you and choose not to acknowledge your existence for several minutes.  Or, a customer may have (I have no idea how this even happens) put an oranges sticker on his tomatoes when weighing them, so the cashier will have to argue with him about how tomatoes aren't oranges, go look at the tomatoes and oranges on the shelves, get a manager, argue with the manager about how tomatoes aren't oranges, and then finally put the right sticker on the bag and ring them up.  Or you might change your mind about buying something that's been rung up, and then you'll have to wait ten minutes because only one person in the entire store has the authorization to void purchases.  Or there might just straight up not be food on the shelves.  Or you might order from the menu at a restaurant and then get told they don't have that...or that or that.  Or...you can see where I'm going with this.
 
3.   If you come in the summer, there might not be any hot water where you're staying. 

Every summer, everyone gets to experience the fun times of systematically getting their hot water shut off for ten days, regardless of the temperature outside.  And by fun, I mean awful. 

4.   You will likely get shouted at. 

 If you're doing something wrong, you will hear about it; even if you don't understand what you're hearing.  If you're standing/sitting in the wrong place, if you hand over the wrong piece of paper, if you don't have exact change, if you exist - there is a good chance you will get yelled at.  Every time I go back to the US, I'm really surprised by how comparatively polite and not-shouty people are. 
 
5.  However, people might also go out of their way to help you.

There have been a couple of times where I was lost and asked for directions, but instead of telling me and sending me on my way, the people just walked me to where I needed.  Sometimes this comes after being shouted at, but sometimes there's no shouting!

 6.  You really do need to carry your passport with you everywhere.

Think of it like carrying your license everywhere.  But contrary to what a lot of travel guides say, I've often found that a signed and stamped official photocopy of my passport/visa weren't good enough, so it's a good idea to have a copy at home and the real thing with you.  
 
7.  Something might stop existing overnight. 

Like those stores outside of metros.  Or like this one time when on my way to work I passed a corner store, and on the way back 4 hours later I passed a pile of rubble.  Or a store might get replaced by a totally different store, also pretty much overnight.  The possibilities are endless. 
 
 8.  There is free Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere. 

And I mean everywhere.  In cafes/restaurants.  On the metro.  Even in a lot of the parks now.  Enjoy!
 
9.  If you get invited to a Russian's house, you'd better be hungry.

Somewhere between taking your shoes off and walking to the kitchen, an empty table will suddenly groan under the weight of all the snacks and drinks your host has pulled out of nowhere.  Cookies, cakes, candy, fruit, sandwiches, meat, cheese, vegetables, tea, etc.  It's rude to refuse, as well as futile.  My host mother once cried because I tried to resist eating dinner at home before going out to dinner.  
 
10.   People might come up and talk to you when they hear you speaking English. 

It's usually in a friendly way, to ask where you're from and what you're doing here, or to offer help.  I've gotten offered jobs after people heard me speaking English.  There were unfortunately a couple of times when people reacted really aggressively, but that's not the norm.  

So I guess that makes this my Top 10 of things to expect when in Moscow! I highly recommend visiting, but I might be a little biased. 
 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A (postponed) year in review

A review of 2015? Of my 25th year? In either case, it's about time I got on with it before I forget everything.  I brought in 2015 from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  A few months later I rang in my 25th birthday back in Moscow.  There was a good amount of mid-year exploring - to Manchester, up and down the east coast of the US, and a brief stint in Romania (they don't have good cheese, but their schnitzel makes up for it).

I started taking Russian lessons again for the first time since college.  I successfully hosted my first Thanksgiving potluck (and without anyone destroying my apartment!) before marching straight into Christmas, which was probably the hardest away from home since I've moved here.  Luckily there were plenty of good friends around to make it easier.

Next up I headed to the land of my people, where Pawel and his family made me feel right at home during the new year's holidays (even without water).  I headed back to Moscow, but not before a side trip to Krakow, where Pawel tried his best to freeze us to death on his self-guided walking tours of the city.  But we lived! And had a great time :)

As for life in Russia? The sanctions are still on, life is still harder, and the ruble is still in a sorry state.  But Russians are really good at handling crises, and I learned about a dozen phrases to express this during my lessons.  In addition to the phrasal verb "to launder money", which became really relevant after the release of the Panama papers.  Spoiler alert, most people here didn't bat an eyelid after their release, and some predictably stamped it as a Western conspiracy.  For some more light reading about the current state of the Russian economy, look here.

Now I'm a ripe old 26, and what do I think I've accomplished? I've traveled a bit; I've become a pretty good teacher; I've worked on translations that were used in an art exhibition.  I've figured some things out, and more importantly, I've figured out some of what I still have to figure out.  So here's to 2016, to 26, and to needing a new passport soon!  


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Once Upon a (summer) Time

My mom asked me to write this so she would "have something interesting to read." A month later, I'm finally getting around to it - Happy Thanksgiving?

Summer was a bit of a whirlwind, partially because I stayed almost a week less than in the past.  In trying to cram an entire year's worth of things into about 3 weeks, I managed to: go to a 4 day music festival, have overpriced brunch in Manhattan with friends from college, stay in a lake house with other college friends, see most of my friends and family, road trip down to DC with 2 hours notice, catch the Milford Oyster Fest, and eat everything on my list of foods not available in the food dessert that is Moscow.

After getting back to Russia, I still had some wanderlust to get out of my system, so I took a quick trip to Romania.  Bucharest was a weird mix of classical European and super Soviet, but had great food and the world's largest Parliament building.  Constanta was really beautiful, and allowed me to finally swim in the Black Sea.

Back to Russia, and work/life have been business as usual.  Construction was finally finished on the square by my house, I convinced my roommate not to move away forever, and I've been SUMMONED FOR JURY DUTY AGAIN.  Again.  For Thanksgiving, I'm having a potluck, in which I'll try to fit way more people into my apartment than is probably advisable.  What can go wrong?

Fun fact before you go: remember when Crimea started being Russia again? Remember how the west was like "Not cool bro, give it back"? It's okay if you don't, people kind of stopped mentioning it.  The Levada Center mentioned it recently when it polled Russian citizens on whether they thought Crimea should be returned to Ukraine; a whole 3% said yes! How about that. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Only holidays, no crises

For those of you who didn't know, Russia has a lot of national (or public) holidays.  This year, for the first time since coming to work here, I had all of them off! This includes the two 4-day weekends in a row for May holidays.  The bad news is that I caught the flu and was so sick that I ended up calling out on one of the days we DID work.  The good news is that in June we had another long weekend, and I was well so I took a little England trip.  The week after that was normal in terms of it being a 5-day workweek, but then I had visitors and got to show them Moscow (and hopefully leave a good impression...I think I succeeded.  It mostly involved eating, shopping, and selfies, so I don't see how it could've gone wrong)! Everyone who hasn't visited, step up your game.  It's been 3 years, the dollar is really strong, and I live in an amazing location.  

Then there are summer holidays, or summer vacation in American - I'm coming home for a few weeks this summer to swim, sun, shop, and stuff my face.  Please pencil me in.

In other news, there's no "deep" crisis, whatever that means.  So everyone can calm down.  Everything is casually at least twice as expensive because THERE IS NO CRISIS and everything is totally fine, in case you were wondering.

Lastly, the Guardian recently did a really well-written, interesting, and informative series about Moscow called Moscow week - I strongly urge everyone to check it out; most of what they say is really accurate and will give you a much better idea of what Moscow is actually like, in addition to maybe explaining a little why I like it here so much.    

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Things have changed

A big change: The roommate and I moved to a new apartment! While Steve was in England getting a new passport, our old apartment sprung a major leak - the latest on a long list of things wrong with the crumbling housing. The landlady decided I was responsible for paying the plumbers, while Steve and I decided we'd had enough. In short: Wednesday there was a leak, Thursday we'd decided we were moving. Friday Steve sent me a list of places to check out and I made a call, Saturday I viewed a place. Saturday afternoon I started moving, Sunday evening I finished. It was a marathon. The place is much nicer, in the center, and about the same price (finally we benefit from the crisis!).

Other changes:
1. I'm 25 now! Cue quarter-life crisis.  Not really.
2. Almost every expat I know has either left or will leave before year's end.  This makes me quite sad.
3. I've now cooked over 65 different recipes successfully! I guess it's a solid hobby now. Come get fed.
4. It has finally stopped snowing, we can rejoice - and put away our winter coats.
5. I've been summoned for jury duty again. No, I still can't serve because no, I still don't live in Connecticut.

If you're thinking of visiting Russia from the US/Europe, now is the time. Your currency is strong, meaning things will be cheap - but it won't stay that way forever (fingers crossed, I need the ruble to perk back up!). Plus you'll have a free tour guide :)


Monday, February 2, 2015

New Year's in Kyrgyzstan (and then some)

As mentioned in my previous post, I spent New Year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan - a former Soviet Socialist Republic in Central Asia (it's near Kazakhstan, of Borat fame). So first - why? Answer: I'd actually wanted to visit Kazakhstan after a student recommended it, but the flights to Kyrgyzstan were cheaper.  At any rate, I wanted to visit Central Asia, and this certainly qualified.  I wanted to get further from Europe to somewhere that not many Americans (or Westerners in general) often visit.

What was it like? Though I was in the capital, the city itself was quite small and uncrowded, with fewer shopping malls, bars, and restaurants than you might expect in a capital.  It was fairly warm during the day (around 4C/39F), but the temperatures dropped drastically once night fell (-4C/24F).  Nearly everyone I met was really friendly, and people in general seemed quite happy.  The architecture is overwhelmingly still very Soviet, since the country is rather poor and doesn't yet have the funds for large construction projects.  The food was amazing - lots of noodles with fried meat and vegetables, dumplings, soups, and horse meat! There was also a fermented horse milk drink that I tried and didn't hate.  Everyone in Bishkek seemed to speak fluent Kyrgyz and Russian, and all of the store and street signs were in both languages as well.

What did I do? On New Year's Eve I went to the main square, where people were buying explosives on the side of the road and lighting them in large crowds of people (lots of families, in fact!) as the police looked on.  There was a concert, there were fireworks, the president's speech was broadcast in Kyrgyz and Russian, and there were taxidermied bears and lions, in addition to people dressed as Santa Claus, Tom from Tom and Jerry, sheep (because for some reason, in Russia and former Soviet countries, they use the animals from Chinese New Year), and rams.  There were bunnies, doves, and big displays you could have your picture taken with.  After midnight I went back to the hotel (because nearly every single thing in the city was closed; I did not anticipate that) and had a mini celebration that the hotel staff invited all of the guests to.

The next day, the entire city was still pretty much shut down, so I walked around a run down amusement park and ate some of the aforementioned delicious food.  During the rest of the trip I managed to visit the state department store (TSUM, which was essentially just a lot of random stalls selling even more random items; Moscow TSUM, on the other hand, is stocked with luxury brands), the State Historical Museum (the most Soviet thing in the city, except for maybe the giant Lenin statue out back), a museum dedicated to Mikhail Frunze (who won the Eastern front for the red Army pretty much single handedly), visited bazaars, saw the circus, the eternal flame, and travelled to the mountains to eat dinner in a yurt, among other things.

For me, Bishkek had two major benefits: the first being that it was completely different from anything I'd ever experienced, and the second that because it's in Central Asia, the crisis didn't affect prices much.

After getting back I spent a lot of time trying new recipes and relaxing.  I also went to see the Phantom of the Opera, which I highly recommend if you get the chance to see it!

Work is now back in full swing, but I'll think of a new adventure soon enough.