Wednesday, April 30, 2008

In The Navy

I had a bad day today. First, I thought that I was supposed to do my Rotary presentation because Maria told me last week that I would be doing my presentation about myself. So last night I double checked my power point, and I got my stuff all together and I even wore my Rotary jacket. And then we had different speakers and so I didn't get to give my presentation. And so by the time I got home, I was in a bad mood. I was in a bad mood because I didn't give my presentation, and I had to haul my stuff around, and the waitresses at the restaurant sniggered at my jacket, which looks much better than it did when I left by the way. And I was tired. Tired of slush and mud and wet puddles that are basically little lakes. And I was tired of having a bad accent when I speak, and my friend telling me not to say "Чё" Because it's not really a word. Even though basically everyone says it but her, and I was just irritated and tired in general. And restless again (But more about that in my second philosophy post)

So I got home, unloaded my stuff, changed and immediately decided that if I stayed in the house, I would die a slow and painful death of suffocation. Okay, not really, but that's how I felt. So I threw some stuff in my bag, called to Oksana that I was going to take a walk and headed outside.

The first thing I did was buy some ice cream. I love Russia. I can get a decent sized ice cream cone for like 6 roubles. What a great country! Anyway, so as soon as I started eating my ice cream cone, I started feeling better. Russian ice cream is amazing! I then made my way to Ploshad Pobedy which is Victory Square. I've decided it's a good place to be. I enjoy sitting there and just watching the people. Now that the weather's warmed up, it's pretty busy and so fun to be there. In some ways, it's more exciting than the other squares though I can't really explain why. So I'm walking along, eating my ice cream, and at the far end, there's these millitary guys all marching around, and I'm thinking that's cool, they're probably practicing for May 9th. May 9th for those of you who don't know is a big deal. It's "Den Pobedy" or "Victory Day" big millitary demonstrations and whatnot. Anyway so these young guys are marching around and I decide to watch them while I'm eating my ice cream.

Okay, I'm going to be perfectly honest. I was hoping to see some eye-candy. Mostly it was the fact that they were mostly ethnic Russians. When you see so many Yakutian people, you get a little desperate. So I'm standing there, eating my ice cream and watching the boys march past and I was rather depressed because they were all like 12. Fine, maybe a little older, but still too young. That was depressing, but it was fun to watch them march. I finished up my ice cream and wandered around a bit. By this time, the marchers had a break and they're all standing around having a smoke and chatting. There's space on this bench where an old guy's having a smoke, so I move toward it but and cut off by some twelve-year olds in unifom. This irritates me and so I wander around a bit more, feeling rather awkward when the old guy vacates his spot. I plot down own the bench next to the boys, pull out my paper journal, dig for my trusty pen and begin to vent my frustrations. I was writing away, only paying slight attention to the boys next to me, when all of a sudden I hear "Americans, English" The Russian word for "americans" is like a buzzword. Everytime I hear it, it catches my attention. So I look over at the boys, one of whom begins to act like and idiot and talk about all kinds of random stuff about america. I chuckle at their silliness, and give an ironic smile. After a few minutes, they went back to line up. On the way, the silly boy was like "I am Russian! I am Russian!" I thought about answering with "And I'm American!" But that would've involved screaming across the square and that would've been neither attractive nor appropriate. Probably would've offended people.

So I go back to my writing, feeling better about my day, when all of a sudden a column of boys marches over and stops right in front of me. It took me about ten seconds to realize that this column of boys contained the boys who'd just been sitting by me. Ah, the irony. I happened to make eye contact with the silly one from before, and that got them started. The silly one goes "America!" really loud and I look up, and go "yeah? and what?" in Russian. A moment later I hear in german "Do you speak german?" I don't know German, but this is one phrase I do no. So I look at them and in Russian I go "No, I speak English." Then, realizing that I'm speaking to them in Russian I add hastily "And russian." Well that got them started. It's like a rule in Russia that as soon as someone knows you speak English Natively, they start practicing all their english phrases with you. It's especially fun when you get a group of boys. Today, I got everything from "What's your name" to "Kiss me" I just laughed.

Then, I hear one kid talking to another and I didn't hear the whole conversation, but I think the one asked how they knew I spoke English. The second kid was saying something about me writing in English. Ah, that explained it. So them starting to talk about America wasn't a coincidence. The kid who wanted to know how they knew then gets out of line, comes over and glances at my journal quickly before returning to his place. I go "Hey, look, it's in English" and hold up a page. The silly guy asked me what I was writing about and I'm like "you guys." They then started asking me real questions. They wanted to know if I was British and I said that I was American. Then someone asked what I was doing in Yakutsk (Always a fun question) but before I could answer they got yelled at by a superior and went off marching again. I continued my journaling.

The next time they had a break, I was surrounded by basically the whole company since those who hadn't participated in the last conversation had at least heard it. They asked me a bunch of usual questions. What I thought of Bush, Why was I there, What was my name, Why did I come to Russia, How long would I be in the city. I asked why they were marching around (though I thought I already knew) and they told me because of May 9th. They also told me that they go to this Navy Training School thing and when they get done, they go on boats. I didn't quite understand it, but it sounds like a millitary school and then they just go right into it. One unusual question they asked was if in America our navy wore the same kind of uniform and how many stripes were on it. I said I was sorry, but I didn't know. One guy handed me this little pin that says "Yakutsk River Flot." I thought it was really cool and it found a special spot on my Rotary Jacket when I got home. After a little bit, they had to go back to marching. I finished up my journaling and by the time I did, they'd gone.

I guess the point of this story and all the details is that I felt really happy after this encounter. It's one of those stories that I'll keep close to my heart and is hard to tell when you get back because to be sitting there with your friends and go "One time in Russia I talked to these kids from the military school" Doesn't make much of a story. And really it's not that exciting of a story, but the reason I'm telling it here, and telling it with such detail is so that you all back home can understand. This is what it's like being an exchange student. It's having a completely crummy day, and then having something as small and insignificant as a 10 minute interaction with some boys, make your day 100% better.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Philosophy Part 1

I have to go to my Russian lesson in a bit, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect. My mother says we all have these feelings and as a writer, maybe I can take them and put them in some sort of order to make people stop and go "Yes, I understand, that's me too." Or something like that. I'm paraphrasing.

I think I'm an adult. I guess technically I became an adult when I turned 18. But I never felt like an adult. Not really. I think the fact that I've become an adult is something I've been aware of for a while. I just didn't want to admit it to myself. I was chatting online with my brother today and I said "I'm an adult" and just like that I knew it was true. I'm not sure when it happened, exactly, but I know it's happened sometime in the last eight months. Maybe it was the day I got off the airport in Yakutsk? Maybe it happened when I spent a month running around various russian cities with friends? Or maybe it's just happened in the day to day stuff. I don't know, but what I do know is that part of what I've been feeling are the feelings of adulthood.

Sometimes it scares me. I'm going to be perfectly honest. Sometimes I sit on my bed and just want to cry. I want to cry for my childhood and the fact that it's gone. When I was little, they'd always tell me to enjoy my childhood because it's gone so fast. And I did enjoy my childhood. It was a happy one. But only now am I realizing how right they were.

Yet, at the same time I don't know what to do with myself. Feeling this way has got me all confused. It's like buying some new clothes that aren't my typical style but they make me look good. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this yet. Although, there's not much I can do about it. I don't think I'd be happy being a kid forever anyway. Because I can know use my powers of being an adult to influence people, and my life and that's a cool power. But how can I handle this? I'm 19 years old? I don't know anything about being an adult. I don't know much about tax forms and 401ks and work, and responsiblity. When I was a kid, I always thought that one day you just wake up and know all about these adult things and that's when you become an adult. I thought it was a magic process.

I do love the fact that because I'm 19 years old, my host families generally let me do as I please. I love the fact that I'm hanging out in a foreign country. I love the fact that I can go do things on my own, like see museums. But I'm scared. Terrified. When I go back next summer, I have to get ready for college. That in itself isn't scary. If I can handle a foreign country, I can handle a college dorm easy. I'm scared because as an adult, I now have to figure out how to pay for college, I have to get a job, I have to find a place to live, I have to feed myself, and determine what I do with my time. Which I do to some extent now, but college is different.

I guess there's no real point to this entry, really. Just thought I'd share my feelings on this with you all, not that you care. I'm also afraid because I feel like I've learned so much here. I don't mean just stuff about Russia. That's a given. But I feel like I've learned so much about life, and the nature of people, and how things work, and it's all in my head trying to get out, but I don't even know even how to begin to describe it. Which is really bad considering words are my specialty. I guess that I'll just have to keep working it out in my head, and when it straightens out, I'll write it down. For now though I need to go, or I'll be late....

Monday, April 28, 2008


So, Yesterday we celebrated Easter here in good old mother Russia. As you may already be aware, the orthodox church still runs on the old calender. Hence the reason we're only now celebrating easter while all of you celebrated it weeks ago. Anyway, thought you all might like to know how it went down. I didn't go to my Baptist church because my host dad told me that we could go to the Orthodox church. My day started around nine with this random banging sound. I came out of my room to find the family all gathered around the door to one of the bathrooms. Misha was trying to fix the doorknob, and Dennis was banging a screwdriver on the floor. heh heh heh. It struck me as hilarious. I prepared for the day. i.e. Put in my contacts, got dressed and we sat down to breakfast. We had Pirozhki with potatos and some with egg in them which were interesting to try and not too bad. We had put these little plastic decoration cover thingies on hard boiled eggs the night before (no one had egg coloring). Apparently there's a tradition where you whack the end of your egg against someone else's. The one who's egg cracks, looses. Naturally, my little host brother Tolya had great fun with this.

After breakfast Misha said he'd take me to the Orthodox church. Tolya and Natasha came too. I was rather disappointed that we missed the service, but found out when service times are and so will hopefully be making a trip to actually see an orthodox service in the near future. We did look around the church a bit, light a few candles, and Misha was explaining some stuff about Orthodoxy too me, even though they aren't Orthodox. They aren't church people. While we were there though, Misha saw an aquaintance. He asked said aquaintance to explain to me the orthodox church. What followed was a twenty minute lecture on the history of sin (Could've done without that) a history of church in general (Also basic stuff I knew) and then when he finally got to the good stuff, I was having trouble concentrating. Even after almost eight months sometimes it takes a lot of concentration to listen and understand. I did learn that Orthodox Church here is based as much if not more on legend as it is the Bible. For example, the aquaintance told me this story of why the Orthodox Church uses Icons. Apparently, the first icon came about when Christ wiped his face on a towel (Possibly after his baptism? I don't remember.) and it left an image. Personally, I was reminded of "Forrest Gump" But I digress.

When we finished our expedition to the church, we returned home and prepared to go to the dacha where we were going to have shashlik. For those of you who don't know what Shahlik is, it's basically barbecue, but without the BBQ sauce. You could I suppose also translate it as shishkebob since the meat is cooked on skewers. I was in such a good mood while we were there. First, I helped carry stuff to the dacha (We've started opening it up so we can stay there in the summer), then I helped dust a bit, then Tolya, Natasha and I made snowpeople which was really fun. The only dowside is that by the time we were done, they'd already started to melt. I was very proud of mine because I carved out face, arms and her dress. I'll have to get some pictures up.

After a bit of a wait, we ate. By the end of it, I was absolutely stuffed, but it was so good. I love shashlik. With it we had little roasted potatos, pepper, tomatos, and this stuff that's like a tortilla but has a different name. So so good. For desert, we had cookies and traditional easter cake which I thought was rather dry.

After a couple hours and a nap, we headed back home. I hung out with my host siblings. Watched a movie, that sort of thing. All in all, I really enjoyed the day and was feeling good at the end of it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Family

Just a quick update. Can do more later as I know have better internet access at home. Anyway, for those of you who don't know, I have officially moved to my third family. I'm now living with Misha, Oksana and there three children. Natasha-14, Tolya-6 and Baby Dennis who I'm not sure how old he is. He's walking, not talking, has one tooth and is afraid of me. You can figure it out from there. heh heh. Anyway, they live in a large apartmen (Two bathrooms!) in the neighborhood where I lived at the beginning of exchange, but a different apartment block. I arrived here yesterday (sunday) and so far it's been interesting. I love my little brother Tolya even though he drives me crazy. He talks to me and I was wrestling around with him last night. Not that the rest of the family doesn't talk, just haven't ever gotten to have a little brother before. Or any little siblings for that matter. Oh by the way, this family is ethnic Russian so it's going to be interesting. Actually, I think it's going to be fun.

In other news, I was told expressly not to go to school today since the 11th graders were all taking a practice test for the state exam in Math. I was like "forget that" so instead, I spent the day walking (literally) all over the city and mostly buying souvenirs for some of you lovely people back home. Although I will admit I did buy a few things for myself, such as a new notebook for my paper journaling, a pin for my blazer, and a new khomus. Nothing huge. The gifts I bought for people back home, I think I'd better wait and just show you. Heh heh heh. Why did I buy a new khomus? Well, because I wanted one that sounded different from the one I have now. The one I bought is tiny. And honestly, that's about all I've got from the land of Sakha-Yakutia. Look for more updates soon as, like I said I can now access the internet from home. Now I've got to go write an essay for my tutor that I've put off too long.

"Russian Idol" Reaction

Sorry guys, but this having a Russian theme, I just had to repost and comment. First of all, I want you to know that this wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. There were some things I found funny. I was worried about it because having lived for over seven months in Russian culture, I thought I would hate it and think it entirely sterotypical. So here's Abigail's analysis.

Have you watched the video? Good then what I'm saying will make sense. The first thing I'd like to say is that Robin Williams has a bad Russian accent. A really bad Russian accent. It got slightly better by the end of the sketch, but it was still pretty bad. Secondly, for those of you who want to know. Most of the song he's singing isn't in real Russian. He says something like "I love you" and then the rest of the song is nonsense. I was sitting here listening to it and my ears were trying to make sense of it before I realized that it wasn't anything. What did I find funny? Well, the whole "so you think you can drink" Thing was pretty funny. Oh and I loved the fact that he pronounced "Hollywood" as "Gollywood." That's actually how the Russians say it. The song title "Babushka, use my woman now" was mildly amusing just because babushka means grandma. I found it interesting that the Beetles were mentioned, not because of the whole Lenin/Lennon thing but because the Beetles are actually pretty popular here. The Lennon song "Yesterday" in particular. I can see what would be amusing about the whole Lenin/Stalin thing to an American audience but I didn't find it funny. Nor did I really care for the whole women looking like men thing. Anyone who knows Russians knows that Russian women are known for dressing up. All the time. Even in Siberia. Oh and the gay thing. Didn't find it funny at all. Maybe because Russians are weird about gay people. Maybe because it added absolutely nothing to the point of the sketch. I'm not sure. Oh and for reference, if anyone cares. "Russian Idol" in Russian is Fabrika Zvyozd Which is like "The Making of a Star" or something to that effect.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Trip Part 2

so before I continue on with my story, I thought I'd say a few things. First of all, they raised the price of our bus fare which made me rather irritated. I went to the center this morning to catch my bus, and realized it was two roubles more. Don't worry, I had enough money, but it was still irritating. 12 roubles. come on. Also, it snowed yesterday. A lot. and now we have calf-deep drifts all over the city. Which is funny considering everything previous to the snow had basically melted away.

Having said that, on with my story. It's kind of hard to sort everything out in my head. A lot happened, and I'm still working on sorting it out, but it was an amazing trip. I tried to relax and just enjoy myself. And I did. A lot. From getting right off a train at 5am and seeing Red Square in the early morning hours, to body mod in Vladivostok, the trip was interesting, awesome, scary, and sometimes depressing. I'm going to share some pictures with you all on here, as the stupid school computer won't let me get on Flickr. Hopefully I won't be having this problem much longer as I'm supposed to be changing families at the end of the week and I'm hoping the new one has internet access at home.

Here's how the trip worked. We flew from Vladivostok to Moscow, then from Moscow we took a night train to St. Petersburg. We stayed in Peter for five days then took a night train back to Moscow where we spent four days. From Moscow, most of us flew back to Vladivostok and dispersed from there, with the exception of three or four. I think my favorite time was in Peter. Just because of the hanging out, and some of the stuff we saw.

I loved the way our program worked because we had excursions in the morning (But thankfully not to to early) which finished around three or four. We then had the rest of the day to explore and do stuff on our own. This meant shopping, exploring, and hanging out.

I should really give you the highlights since I keep talking about how awesome it was but haven't given you any details.

In St. Petersburg, we went to Tsarskoya Celo which is where this palace for Catherine the Great was. I saw was because it was pretty much destroyed in WWII. (Leningrad Blockade anyone?) Fortunately, a good portion of it has been replicated and you can see the how the palace would've looked Back in the Day. In all it's overdone splendor. Yeah, that's right. I personally thought that the palace was completely overdone. Too lavish for my tastes. Though the reconstruction of the Amber room was cool.

One of the best places I went in St. Petersburg was not on an official "excursion" a couple of the other kids and I decided that since we were in the west, we might as well take the opportunity to see some things that our guidebook (Yes, we all have the same one, go Lonely Planet for making a guidebook that includes Eastern Russia.) said were interesting, but that weren't on our official itinerary. So one day a group of us decided to go see the Memorial to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad. If you ever get to Petersburg, this memorial is a must see. Not only is the outside moving. There's a statue and music playing and a huge oblesk, but the inside is moving as well, featuring Murals, little displays, lights that look like bombshells accompanied by the eerie sound of a metornome which is apparently all that the Leningraders heard on their radios during the war.

We were there for like an hour, just looking around and taking in the atmosphere. I haven't been that moved since the first time I went to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. It was amazing. When we were done looking at the displays, one of which included a tiny piece of sawdust filled bread that was a ration for the Leningraders, the Babushkas played a short video for us. It was film clips from the war years, starting with young men going off to fight, covering the years of hardship and famine and ending with Liberation accompanied by music.

It was just amazing.

Peter itself was an interesting city. People here have told me it's like the Paris of Russia since Peter the Great wanted it to be a very Western city. Having been to Paris, going to St. Petersburg was an interesting experience. Because, yeah, I could see how some of the architechture resembled Frances, but at the same time it's its own city with a distinctly Russian flair.

One thing you should definitely know about Moscow and St. Petersburg. They are different cities. Not from each other. I mean that's obvious. What I mean is that they're really different from where I'm living. Different from Eastern Russia. As soon as we got to Moscow and Peter, I looked around me and said to myself. "This is a different world." because it is. McDonald's abound, (I ate Micky D's six or seven times during the course of the trip) the buildings are different, the people are different. It's really hard to describe unless you've been to both Western and Eastern Russia, but it's like there's a different atmosphere surrounding Moscow and St. Petersburg. I wasn't sure I liked it.

One of the best parts was finding people who speak English. Not many people in Eastern Russia speak English. They're everywhere in Moscow and Peter because that's where all the tourists are. I'll never forget our first day in Peter. We were walking along, and we go past some people speaking english. One guy is like "Hey, Foreigners" and I was like "yeah." then it was like "wait, we're foreingers too." Funny how technically i'm a "foreigner" but i don't feel like one anymore. Yeah, I was being a tourist in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but I felt more like a Russian tourist than a real foreigner. Just like I felt more Russian than American when flying to Korea. I love those times.

I have so many stories, of my trip. Stories I don't have time to post here, some stories that probably aren't appropriate to post here, but I wanted to give you some hightlights, show you some pictures, and let you know that I had an awesome time.

When I got back to Yakutsk, I had a shock though. I got back and saw that the ice on the river has started to melt. I saw that the land itself is not nearly as frozen as it was. I found out that I have one month of school left, and realized I'm almost done with my exchange. Do you realize I now have less than three months? It's a scary thought. I've only now realized how comfortable I've become here, how much I'm enjoying myself, and how much I'm going to miss it when I have to get on a plane and don't know if I'll ever be back.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm Not Dead Yet

okay, so it might take a couple of entries to tell you all everything, but basically I left you guys in korea. The good news is that the rest of my time in Korea, which wasn't long went really well.

When I got back to Vladivostok, I hung out for three days before I finally finally got to meet some other inbounds. And it was a really interesting first impression too. I will never forget walking into a cafe and there's three inbounders and my host sister. I walk up to them and greet them in Russian "Hi Everyone!" As soon as the words leave my mouth, this blonde girl goes "Don't speak Russian, we don't speak it. If you speak it, we won't talk to you" How's that for a first impression. It completely blew my mind.

Thankfully though we were on an island, neutral territory for orientation and we all got past our first impressions. There were fourteen inbounders. Well fifteen originally. One girl we never met because she was getting sent home, and the kid from france didn't meet with us until Moscow. So there were thirteen of us on the island.

It was interesting. We spent the first few days just comparing our various experiences. It was amazing how similar our experiences are, even though we all are so far apart. Maybe it sounds weird to say that, but it's just that Russia's such a diverse country. Our shared experiences pulled us together, and started our friendships. It was a jumping off point.

And Now I must leave you all in suspense as I've been online a while, and am paying for it since I'm at the internet cafe. I will update more in the next couple of days.