Sunday, March 16, 2008

South Korea

I am now sitting in my hotel in Seoul, using the free internet access in my hotel room. I'm not gonna lie, I was scared. First, I was worried that leaving Vladivostock, they would freak out about my registration (or lack thereof) and pack me straight back to the states. I need not have worried. When I went through passport control on the way out of Vladivostok the lady asked to see my passport, and my immigration card. She stamped both, and it was all good. No problems, no questions asked, and I didn't even have to pay anything like the lady at the travel agency told me. I got on and ready to fly, and breathed a sigh of relief for a bit. Getting out of the country was the first hurdle. I wanted a break before the next one which was landing and figuring out how to call my hotel to send a car to pick me up.

I would just like to say that God must have heard all of those prayers I was desperately praying on the way to the airport this morning because so far, he's done an awesome job of making this trip go smoothly. (slava tebye Gospod!) The flight itself was nice. I love Russian airlines because even when the flight is fairly short, they serve you "tea" which if you've read my other posts, you know that it's not just gonna be tea. It was great.

It's funny the way things work out. I didn't really talk to the russian girl sitting next to me, but as the plane landed she made a call on her cell and started jabbering away in Korean. Well, that's interesting. Once inside the airport, I had no idea where to go for customs and immigration and all. So I did the smart thing. I followed the girl. ha ha ha. I'm so proud of myself. Anyway, I made it through immigration without any hitch. Then I had to figure out where to go next. There was a big board in front of me, mostly in korean and I had no idea what it said. The girl showed me this number on her ticket stub and in Russian I'm like "I have no idea, I don't have baggage." She seemed rather taken aback. "You study Russian?" she asked. "yeah" I was very proud of myself. She probably thought I didn't know Russian because I had some slight understanding problems with the woman on the plane and the immigration cards. Anyway, the girl said she'd help me, and as we headed to the baggage claim, I explained that I was living in Russia in order to study russian. I found out that she is a student here in Korea and is studying korean. I explained that I had a room reserved at a hotel but that I had to find a way to call so they'd send a car. She very kindly let me use her cell phone.

After trying to talk to the girl at the hotel in English with limited success, I handed the phone to my "new friend" and she jabbered away in Korean for a few minutes. When she got off the phone she told me exactly where I needed to go. In russian. Which was very impressive to me. No english needed. Yeah, it's the international language, but it still helps to know one or two others. :)

After thanking the girl, I headed out on my own to try to find the taxi. (Third floor, exit number 10.) The first thing I saw as I came to the top of the escalator on the third floor was a clearly labeled English sign "BURGER KING" I loved this country already. If I hadn't had a taxi to meet, and had changed some money, I would've stopped. As it was, I didn't. I found the exit with no problem and then waited nervously for the taxi.

I never had any previous interest in learning Korean, or any other aisiatic language for that matter. Being here has changed that completely. Not because I particularly like Korean, but because if I new any korean at all, it would make things ten times easier. language, even basic is communication. Completely being unable to communicate with the people around you is a scary feeling.

Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long or look to hard for the taxi. It showed up with the words Hotel June across the side. The little Korean guy opened the door for me, I hopped in and off we went. When we got to the hotel, I hopped out and checked in. Thankfully, they accept plastic here so I just paid for my room with that. (Mom and dad, that's where part of the money's going)They gave me a key and I made my way to my room.

I'm not gonna lie. For $100 this is a nice room. I started freaking out as soon as I came in. There's a little entrace way with a couple of pairs of sandles. Everything I'd ever read about the exchange students in asian countries came back into my head. Being the culturally aware person that I am (ha) I took off my shoes and put on the sandles. I then explored my room.

It's pretty big. To turn on the main lights you have to put your key in this little slot. Your room speaks korean to you and then lights up. Gotta love these high-tech asian countries. There's a panel with buttons next to the bathroom which turn on various lights. There's a good sized TV. The best part is the bathroom. There's a really big tub with like jet sprays. On top of that you have the toilet. If you haven't heard about asian super toilets, now's the time. On a panel next to the toilet are a variety of buttons labeled in English. The lables include such things as "Massage" "Front cleansing" "Back cleansing" "Water temperature" "Seat Temperature" "Stop" and "water pressure." I fully intened to play with both the shower and the super toilet (Why not? I'm only here for one night and who knows if/when I'll be back) as soon as I finish eating my undeclared apple and writing this blog entry. Oh, incidentally, there's a separate pair of slippers for the bathroom.

I didn't go anywhere, which I feel slightly bad about, but I don't have any korean won (?) and I don't know where to change it and it felt kind of pointless to change money when I was going to be here less than 24-hrs. And now it's dark, and I don't dare go out alone in a strange foreign country at night. So maybe I wasted my time here, writing this blog entry and playing with the techno hotel room, but when you don't have a ton of time to begin with, what are you gonna do?

I'm so glad that these hurdles are overwith. Next step, getting back into Russia.

Oh and one more thing. It felt weird to be using english with the lady at the desk. Being here I feel more Russian than American, but maybe that has to do with the fact that I flew from Russia and am going back there. As well as the fact that I've been living there for a good seven months.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Lord of the East

So, I'm chilling in Vladivostok. Actually, "chilling" isn't really the word. The temperature was 7 degrees celsius (And yes, that's positive) when I got off the plane yesterday. There was also wind. A lot of wind compared to what we have in Yaktusk. I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac and was like "Wow, it's so warm here!' ha ha ha. There's no snow.

I kind of like it here actually. The landscape is like San Francisco meets southern Ohio. Though I've never been to S.F. So I don't know how accurate that description is. There are lots of hills here, and the city is basically built on them. The hills slope down to the sea of Japan so that's pretty cool. The other landscape feature that's worth noting is that since it's not nearly as cold here as Yaktusk, there are full-sized trees. I didn't know how much I missed full sized trees until I saw them (all over the place) on the drive from the airport and I'm like "oh wow! trees! How cool is that!"

I got picked up from the airport by some random guy. We went to different places around the city so he could get groceries, then took me to an empty apartment, was like "you'll be living here" told me that Yulia, the apartment's inhabitant would be home later, after work, and then left. oooh, fun. ha ha ha. Naturally it was entertaining for me to stand there when this woman comes home from work and be like "uh...hi. I'm Abigail and I'll be living in your apartment for a while. " it was all good though. Basically, I ate dinner and went to bed because I was pretty wiped out. Even short plane rides have that effect on me. Plane rides= Abigail conking out during and after.

This morning I woke up about ten, looked out the window and was throughly depressed. There was a thick blanket of fog over the city and there was rain and a major wind going on (I opened the window.) I spent the day doing absolutely nothing and enjoyed myself immensely. I did not get dressed, and I did not even put in my contacts (gasp!) instead, I spent the day alternately drinking chai and flipping through the tv channels, some of which we don't have in Yaktusk. Not that you care, but I watched such mind stimulating programs as "Mythbusters", "Rugrats," "Woody Woodpecker" and "Scooby-doo". All dubbed into Russian of course. I was half-way through watching "smallville" which is one of those programs that I never watched in america, but I watch here, when Yulia came home. Slightly awkward feeling for me as the TV is located in her room, but she was like "It's okay, watch." So I did. It wasn't long after that when Raisa called from Yaktusk. The conversation went as follows:

"I called earlier why didn't you answer?"
"Did you call the sottovii (cell)?" while thinking Yeah, I'm gonna answer the phone in a near-stranger's house when I've been living here for 24 hours
"What about Korea?"
"Well, I'm not there yet, I'm still in Vladivostok" obviously, since you called me here.
"Did you meet with Eleonora yet?"
"Why not? "
"Call her. Right now, you need to call her and talk to her"
"I'll call you back tomorrow"
"Okay, bye."

I talked to Yulia about talking to Eleonora, and Yulia made a call. We then found out that Eleonora is sick in the bolnitsa (Hospital) and won't be out until next week at which time I'll meet with her. In the meantime I have no idea when I'm heading for the golden shores (?) of Korea. And so I'm relaxing here.

Yulia is a doctor. She does cardiograms and stuff. She has a daughter who's on exchange this year in Taiwan and who, like me, really missed home at first and is doing a lot better now. Yulia said that on the weekend, since she doesn't have to work, we'll go to the sea. NOt that it's warm enough to swim in or anything, but just seeing the sea (and maybe taking some pictures) would be cool.

As I mentioned, I like Vladivostok so far, but it was the weirdest thing yesterday, I was sitting at dinner and thinking about how it's like starting exchange over again, with a random family, but at least this time I know the language and more culture, and then all of a sudden I realized that I missed Yakutsk Yes, you read that correctly. I actually miss that Frozen, tiny, town stuck in the middle of nowhere. Maybe because it's familier, maybe because it's been home for seven months, or maybe because I really do like that city more than I realized. Whatever it is, last night for the first time I was homesick, not for home in Ohio, but for Yakutsk. Funny how that works.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Growing up, Weekend with the Baptists, and Travel

I hate growing up. Yet I wouldn't want to be Peter Pan either. It's just growing up can be such a pain sometimes. Especially lately, I've felt I had to be more of a grown up than a kid and it was really depressing. I don't always want to be a grown up. I like being able to act silly and have a good time, it's just who I am. But I understand that sometimes stuff happens, and when you're 19 years old and ten-thousand miles away from your parents, you have to deal with that stuff on your own. Mommy and Daddy can't just make it all go away, and make it all better. Sometimes I wish I was seven again so they could.

Having said that, the good news is that I did get to feel like a kid again this weekend. That made me feel better. We had a holiday on saturday, march 8th. It's called "international woman's day" which I can't figure out because they only celebrate it in Russia. They probably also celebrate it in other eastern european countries too, and that's where they get the "international" when stuff is "international" here that usually means that it's happening in the former soviet states as well as in Russia.

Anyway, I basically spent the weekend doing various church-related activities. Saturday night was the weekly youth meeting, which I went to and that was fun. One of the guys, Egor had a nice lesson on how God sees women, and what the bible said it. In honor of March 8th. It was also easier for me to follow since he had a nice power point with all the verses written out so I could read along as he read. Made understanding easier. hurrah! At the meeting, one of the girls, Sveta invited me to go to a girls youth meeting in Namtsy, a nearby (two-hour drive) town. Sunday after church. I was like "Okay, why not?" So directly after church, I ate lunch at Anya's (One of the preacher's daughters remember?) and then Her sister, Maria and I headed to meet the group going to Namtsy.

It was a long day, but fun. We got to Namtsy maybe about three and sat in on a women's meeting that was run by men. Which I couldn't quite figure out. The best part was that we sang songs not only in russian, but in Yakutian as well, which was fun for my tongue, but was interesting to practice reading Yaktuian, which is related to russian in alphabet with enough different/extra letters and different sounds to make it interesting. We were accompanied by accordian and guitar. After the meeting ended, Maria, Sveta and I went out side to strech our tired bottoms.yeah, try sitting jammed in a van for two hours and then sitting in a hard chair another hour and a half. Not fun. So we frolicked for a bit. Then, about six we had a meal. I love the way we eat communal meals in Russia. It's just so...communal. We had the ever present plov which is like the ultimate quickie, feed a lot of people dish here. Good thing I like it. It's usually rice, meat of some kind and carrots all fried up together. Awesome!

After the meal, we girls cleaned up i.e. Did the dishes. I find it odd that back home at church I always tried to avoid helping clean up,while here I don't mind. I find it odd because there's actually a lot more work to clean up here since we wash all the dishes (even the throw away type) while back home, we just throw it all away.

After the meal, we had our girls meeting. There were three girls from Namtsy and then our six or seven girls. we watched a video of a woman talking about purity which I found rather interesting. Afterwards we headed home.

Going was really good for me. Not just for the church thing but because I spent time with Maria and Sveta. Got to know them better and deepen some friendships. I also got to feel like less of an adult, which was a good feeling.

In other news, i'm leaving the day after tomorrow for Vladivostok. Since I've got issues with registration, The rotary club decided to send me to Eleonora, the woman who's the district coordinator for the exchange students in the Russian part of 5010. she is going to help me get out of the country, and back in so that I can renew my registration. Then, we have orientation and our trip to Moscow and Peter. I'm actually really looking forward to spending some time away from yaktusk. Not that i don't like it here, it's just going to be nice to have a sort of vacation and see some other places. i'm really looking forward to meeting and hanging out with the other inbounds. Yay!

I should be coming back to Yakutsk sometime around April third or fourth. i don't know what the internet situation is going to be like while I'm traveling and frankly, I'm not going to worry about it, so it's very possible that you won't hear anything from this end until I get back.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

What is Russia? Part 2

It's your friend telling you he's given up drinking every time he sees you/talks to you, it's the weather warming up and getting to start removing layers, it's spending a good part of the day walking, it's really tasty yogurt, and awesome juice. It's your dictionary falling apart, and not having english class because your teacher is in moscow again. It's having another american occasionally show up and you not feeling american. It's telling the woman at the kiosk you want a small sprite. It's drinks without ice, and fighting a loosing battle with the governmental beauraucracy. IT's listening to the Rotarians talk about everything from health fairs, to what they're going to do with you, and understanding. It's chewing gum that quickly loses its flavor and feeling good everytime you have personal contact with someone. It's forgetting that in russian nouns and adjectives have genders and making your tutor laugh. It's finding time to use the internet. It's laughing while your non-yakutian school mates speak yakutian even though you don't understand a word of it. It's your computer teacher randomly showing you pictures of her family and trip to paris and you actually enjoying the look into her personal life. It's the little kids staring at you as you type quickly in english and waiting for you to move so they can have the computer. It's feeling happy and at home in a country that didn't start out as your own.

Russia Update #5

Yeah, I know, I'm really behind. What can I say. Life here just kind of gets me involved and it's hard to find time to do these updates which take longer, and I have to think about more than my weekly blog I encourage all of you who want to know about my adventures in more detail to check out said blog at

That having been said, On to the rest of my letter.

A lot's been going on in the last couple of months. For those of you who are behind on the times, I changed host families right after new years. In Mid-January. It started out as a temporary family while my first host mom, Raisa, was on a business trip. I really liked the family, got along well with them, so I got to stay with Elena Ivanovna and her daughter, Sasha. I'll probably be staying with them until mid-april. I'm not sure if I'll have a third host family or not. I'd like to, but the last I heard, Raisa was talking about having me move in with her again. I don't know what's going to happen and at this point I'm not going to worry about. I've got other problems.

Some of said problems are little things that are no big deal, and just part of the every day stuff. Some of the problems are a little bigger. like the fact that my registration ran out on the 29th and so I'm living here illegally right now.

You may or may not remember that at the beginning of the year i had some slight problems with my visa. Actually, from what I found out, my visa is fine and is good until august of 2008. My problem is that the law here was changed in October. basically what happened is that you are only allowed to be registered in the city/country for 6 months. then you can't renew it anymore. in order to be able to remain in the country until July, I have to leave the country for at least 24 hours and then come back in. yet another adventure in Russian bureaucracy.

I don't sweat it though. I was really anti-wanting to go. I was completely freaking out about it. (you can ask my parents lol) and I finally figured out why. It's because I trust the Russians. Perhaps, those of you who don't know any better are laughing, but it's the truth. I've been living here so long (over seven months now) that i feel comfortable with the culture. Yeah, it's a crazy culture and I'll probably never understand completely or be able to figure some things out, but I've got a good hold on it. Enough so that I kind of know what to expect from Russians. They were talking about sending me to Korea. by myself. which scared me. and maybe you're thinking 'but abigail, you went to russia all by yourself," And maybe that's what scared me, because it would be like starting the exchange all over again. i'd be in the middle of a random country where I don't speak the language and don't know the culture. not that I'm a wuss, and wouldn't enjoy such an experience again under the right circumstances, it's just the fact that I'm kind of being forced into having to go. which isn't so cool. I sucked up my issues, and so I'll go, and it'll be alright. It's just another adventure that's part of the exchange.

Actually, the good news is that i'm really enjoying myself. The other day I was walking down the street thinking. Yeah, I could see myself living and working in Russia. Maybe not Yakutsk, but Russia in general. I'm comfortable enough with the language and with the culture that I could do it, and I would enjoy it.

As I'm writing this I have four months, and six days left. Four months and six days from now, I'll be crawling into my bed in Ohio. That kind of scares me too. just the fact that I'm going to have to leave. i have a friend here who spent some time working in america, and It's like each time I see him, his english is worse. nothing hugely major, like he hasn't completely forgotten it, but he is forgetting, and that scares me because I think "This is probably going to be me". I think that's my biggest fear. I'm terrified of forgetting. Forgetting not just how to speak, but forgetting this place and I'll I've seen and done here. Sometimes it's really hard for me to make an effort and get close to people because I think "You know the closer I get to people here, the more it's gonna hurt when I go home." Not that I never want to see home again, but it's just confusing. It's like i'm both looking forward to and dreading the day I go home.

And so I try not to think about it.

That's about all the philosophy I've got for right now. once again, if you're looking for something other than emotions, if you want the everyday stuff. check out my blog. The updates, have become more of an emotional journey, I think.

Until next time