Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Just go

This runs parallel to things like "If not now, when?" and the ever popular "YOLO."  This has also (to an extent) been my philosophy of late.  I will elaborate momentarily.

So, 4ish day weekend. 4ISH because I had to go to an EF at Ploshad Preobrazhenskaya on Friday to observe a Life was cold and dark and the school was a little hard to find so I had to call Sarah, who also didn't know where it was, but I eventually found it and everything went fine.  Also the people there were super cool, which made the journey worth it.  After the Life Club, I trekked to meet Masha, Ulianna, and Nicole for our slumber party, at which we did super girly things like drink mulled wine, bake cookies, and watch The Holiday.  All done in pjs.  Ulianna and I followed this up the next day by baking potatoes and watching Harry Potter 3 at my place while Chien had to work (muahaha).

I began my "Just go!"-ing that night by heading to the bar for English Social Club with my friends and ending up at a club until the next morning when the metro have to experience this at least once while in a big Russian city, in my opinion.  And it was harmless as I had both Sunday and Monday to catch up on sleep.  But I had caught up on so much sleep Sunday that I felt lazy and useless on Monday and decided to take a field trip (in the -20C weather). The challenging bit in this decision (besides convincing myself to brave the cold) was where to go because museums are closed on Mondays.  I originally planned to head to Gorky Park and walk around until I got too cold and needed to duck into a cafe, but none of this happened.  Instead, I decided to carpe diem and exit from the other side of the Park Kultury metro station to walk around looking at lights and buildings until I found myself at a women's monastery tucked away in an alley.  After warming up in the basement icon shop (and buying something so as not to be a total loiterer), I ventured into the church and found myself in a line, because I am a sheep.  Luckily the line was long enough for me to figure out what was happening and what was expected of me: bow before icon, get fragrant oil painted in cross on forehead by priest, cross yourself.  There was also supposed to be a kissing of the hand, but I missed that detail and stood awkwardly before the priest who looked at me strangely and expectantly but didn't miss a beat in his chant.  Then I wandered toward the back of the church to look at all of the icons dripping in gold and sit to think/reflect for about an hour before finally heading back home feeling rather satisfied.

One thing I thought about was how churches make me feel simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable.  Comfortable because churches are calm, quiet, welcoming, and smell nice (there's also a good 10 years of Catholic school in there, so church is basically home).  Uncomfortable because I know nothing about Orthodox traditions and am constantly afraid of offending someone and being asked to leave (didn't help that the security guard was intently watching me.  I was probably doing something wrong, but he yelled at someone else instead so I assume everything was ok).  Another thing was that I am genuinely curious as to why everything is dripping in gold and silver.  I'm not opposed to it; I'm not saying that it shouldn't be there or that it should be gotten rid of. I just wonder who came up with the idea and why.  Sure there's the standard complaint of "Why don't you give that money to the poor HMMM?" But there's also "Why do these inanimate objects need gold? Does it please them? Are they aware of their wealth?" And the also standard "Jesus preached the divestment of material wealth, this sort of runs opposite of those teachings." If anyone has any sort of thoughts on the matter, I'd love to hear them. 

This post is already too long, but there are more exciting details: we've finally moved to our new school! It's mostly set up, all of our things have been located and unpacked, and it is adorable.  Adorable is also an appropriate word because it is smaller, but it's also next to a Starbucks so I think we'll overlook the size.  And the fact that the door is down a somewhat sketchy alley near the dumpsters and the entrance has "No Entrance" written on it.  And the fact that we have no water in the kitchen, no hot water in the bathroom, and no idea why the heating system makes some rooms hot and others cold.  Oh, Russia.

Last thing before I finish: shout out to my parents for loving me and sending not one but TWO care packages! I now have enough vitamins for my entire life, some warm things, candy (which was opened either by my mom before shipping or the postal workers in Russia...both are entirely possible. Hi, Mom), peanut butter, 5 boxes of mac&cheese (which comes in Ice Age and Phineas&Ferb shapes now? I love you so much, America. Don't stop what you're doing), CHRISTMAS PRESENTS (one of which I accidentally opened and the rest of which were hidden by Chien to prevent future such occurrences) and a few other things. I'm starting to worry about how I'll get this all back to America, so I guess I'll just have to stay in Moscow for a very long time! With visits in between, of course :) Kisses and hugs, everyone! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... both Russia and my apartment! There's snow everywhere and it's snowing almost everyday, which is a lot more pleasant than it sounds.  I actually enjoy it, due in no small part to the fact that it adds a bit of brightness to an otherwise dreary Moscow.  The apartment is decorated with garland and some ornaments, and while we don't have room for a full-sized tree, I'm planning on getting a mini tree for the kitchen soon.  There has also been a lot of Christmas music going on at home, and most of the stores have decorations up both inside and out.  We even have a tree decorated at work! This is all very exciting. While we work during real Christmas, I plan to educate my students by showing A Christmas Story in class.  Because Orthodox Christmas isn't until January, our vacation falls from December 30-January 9.  Not too shabby, eh?

Also exciting is the fact that at long last, we are moving to our new school location next week.  Even more cause for joy is the 4 day vacation this gives us while things are transported; as someone who normally has 1 day a week off, I'm truly thrilled. However, when I announced this to my Saturday class they sensed my excitement and asked with long faces whether this made me happy.  While I am happy to have a day off, I realized that I actually would miss them and told them as much, to which they replied that I should write on their class blog...if only they knew that they were occasionally featured in mine (to check out what they've written, follow this link.The theme is English in Our Lives, and I'm super proud of them)!  As for my upcoming mini vacation, I foresee a lot of sleeping, slumber partying, and perhaps a trip to St. Petersburg to visit Jackie.

And now for a few life tidbits. One of my favorite parts about post-grad life is that I actually have time to read things, stay current, and do research if I so please without the pressure of classes and deadlines and pending unemployment weighing down upon me.  I've read several books and generally kept up with the news.  I've also spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be foreign in Russia, what some major differences are between Russia and the US, and whether every foreigner walks around thinking about how they're foreign and wondering whether other people notice (spoiler alert: they don't unless you open your mouth).  This has led me to realize that I've been studying Russia(n) for so long (language, history, politics, literature, film, food, art, culture...I damn well earned my degree) that I have absolutely no idea what is general knowledge and what isn't.  For example, I thought it was common knowledge that Russia is no longer communist (and hasn't been since 1991. Please, for the love of God, read a book or even newspaper once in a while, guys).  Nor did I realize that most people are aware of the word babushka and know what borshch is.  This makes selecting things to tell those of you back home a serious challenge, so know that I'm doing my best and that if you want info about specific things you should ask in no uncertain terms.  On a related note, Jackie showed me this article earlier today and it does a really good job at touching upon some of the small differences that come together to build the dichotomy between American/Russian life - check it out!  


Monday, December 3, 2012

All Russia, all the time

After my mishap the other day, I finally made it to the post office to buy stamps for my postcards (for those of you who provided addresses: get excited) and have successfully sent mail! I feel that you'd be missing out on some serious Russian culture if I didn't share my experience with you, so here it is: going to Pochta Rossii, the Russian Post Office, is like being in an American DMV (most of you will understand exactly what that means).  I got there and took my place in line, which turned into a 40min wait. To buy stamps.  During this lovely wait, I got to sit next to a guy who looked like he wanted to shoot everyone, listen to a babushka arguing with the woman helping her ("Girl, can't you move any faster? I have things to do. This is taking forever. Blah blah." "Calm down." "Blah blah some service!" "That's right, what service!" etc etc), and have more people come in and ask who was last in line.  Then some jerk and his wife came in, looked at all of us waiting, and cut right to the front. I WAS NEXT, so I said excuse me sir you aren't next. He tried to tell me he only needed an envelope, to which I replied "That's nice," and then he ignored me, repeated himself, and ignored my "Yeah? And what? I only need stamps!" I wanted to say rude things to him, but the next window opened up so I just got my stupid stamps and left.

Since this blog has been more about my inane thoughts than about the culture here, I'll give you some more Russianess in this one.  This weekend, a friend of mine threw a get together to celebrate her birthday.  A big difference between Russians and Americans is that while Americans expect to just get things from people on their birthdays, Russians give things to people (ex. Americans expect to get cake on their bdays, Russians expect to give cake on their bdays).  So for her birthday, Nina had a few of us to her apartment and fed us a bunch of food as we enjoyed each others' company and played games.  For the party, we prepared 3 different salads (1 with lettuce/tomatoes/peppers/cucumbers etc, 1 mayonaise-y kind with fish/eggs/onions/cucumbers, and 1 less mayonaise-y kind with fish/avocado/I forget what else), chicken, mashed potatoes, sandwiches, oranges, grapes, peanuts, and 3 cakes. And sparkling wine and juice and tea.  In general, if a Russian invites you to his/her house, he/she will feed you.  I love this tradition and definitely plan to participate/already have snacks in my house specifically for if guests come over.

I'm so used to living here that I forget I'm still a tourist and haven't seen most things yet. I remembered this when someone brought a visiting Brit to Nina's, and so I decided to join him for sightseeing on Sunday (after finally buying some winter boots. Significant life improvement).  After passing it 3 times and seeing a monkey wearing a fur coat sitting on a motorcycle (I can't make these things up), we made it to the Cosmonaut museum! This was super cool and reminded me that I need to get to more museums while I have the opportunity to live in this amazing city. 

Aside from my new-found touristness, I still happen to be a teacher and had the most rewarding moment of my very short career the other day.  At the beginning of our session, my student told me she'd had to write a letter at work to a company her office deals with.  She read it to me and asked about several things she wasn't sure about, but in each case she made the right choice. The last thing she asked about had to do with articles: "Should I have said 'We received the Invoice #12345, or we received an Invoice #12345, or we received Invoice #12345?" I said no article, she exclaimed "I AM A GENIUS!!" because that's what she'd done.  Everything we've been working on over the last month was at play in that letter, and she got it all right! It's clicking! We high-fived, and I finally felt like a good teacher. Also, sidenote, the twins with the pigheaded father who detests drawing from the last post had them switched to a male teacher, and they are a nightmare for him as well. So it wasn't just me, which is nice to have validated.  Th-th-that's all, folks!