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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Unlike the majority of Russians who, immediately after popping out of the womb, are strapped to a pair of skis, I have not been skiing since child hood. In fact, I’ve only been skiing twice now…and both times have been here in Ukhta. And I’ve only been cross country skiing, I haven’t even tried sliding (read: tumbling) down a mountain yet. God help me the day that I try downhill skiing.

It was about -13 C outside, but cold weather ain't gonna stop me!

The first time was disastrous — I managed to ski only 5km. In an hour. That is a disgraceful, sluggish pace. Babushki passed me, that’s how slow I went. It’s not that I’m out of shape (who I am kidding, I’m terribly out of shape), it’s just that I fell about every two seconds. This time, I managed to fall only five times, and to go 10 km. Major improvement.

Struggling to get up. But still having a good time!

Today also happens to be Christmas. Russians celebrate Christmas on January 7th, so today was just an ordinary day. It makes no difference to me, because as a Buddhist, December 25th is also just a regular day for me. However, I usually spend Christmas with my parents or with my friends, so the fact that I wasn’t at home gorging on food made me a little teary. But I figuratively slapped myself in the face, and snapped out of it, because despite having some rough bumps, I’m absolutely loving it here. I don’t know what I did in the past life to deserve this boon, but I am truly blessed to have been able to meet amazing people here.

My first semester has officially ended, and my month long vacation begins in four days. Even though I arrived late (thanks to Oryol’s inability to write a proper letter of invitation!), the semester has still been a long one for me. Teaching is a rough job, and I honestly have a newfound respect for those who do it as their profession. I gave the students that I teach regularly anonymous Teacher Evaluations to do for me, and while most of them were overflowing with praise (I’m not being sarcastic, a lot of my students will be devastated if I don’t come back and teach them. And when I say teach, I mean joke around), the few critical evaluations are the ones I’ve been paying most attention to.

What I need to work on in the classroom:

  • Being more patient. This has been a life long struggle, with me on the losing end. I don’t have patience, and patience is a necessary virtue when it comes to being a teacher and especially important when living in Russia. I usually do not have a problem with my advanced students, because they’re more mature and aren’t bouncing around like my first year students. However, I tend to snap a lot more at my first years, because I get frustrated when they make the same mistakes. Subject-predicate, damn it! However, snapping at my students isn’t very productive to effective learning.
  • Be stricter. I had a few students write this on their evaluations, which threw me for a loop. Be more strict? Aren’t I already strict enough? I thought I maintained a pretty tight grip on my classes. Apparently not. I’ll start bringing a club to class.
  • Being more approachable. This one also surprised me, since I’ve always considered myself to be a very open person. However, I guess I can come off as intimidating, which amazes me, because there’s nothing formidable about me — I’m a short, relatively thin Asian girl who tends to wildly gesticulates. To me that screams “dork” and “nerd,” not “intimidating.” Well, I’ll work on that one, too. Maybe less wild gesticulating.
What I need to work on in general:
  • Not being such a little bitch about the cold. I think that everyone and his grandma here knows how much I loathe the cold. I need to stop complaining about it and learn to just deal with it. Maybe I’ll put on an extra five more pounds. Fat keeps you warm!
  • Be more spontaneous. As a type A, anally retentive person like me, being spontaneous does not come easily. I like plans and schedules, but those tendencies flounder in a country where people just do things on the fly. Less plans, more spontaneity.
  • Not be a little bitch in general. As I like to say, there are two seasons here in the Russian North: winter and almost winter. So, as one can imagine, winter sports are all the rage here. Skiing, ice skating, sledding on ice, you name it! I have a terrible fear of falling, mainly because when I fall, bad things tend to happen. Such as having my right leg split open or breaking my teeth. Fun! And that fear definitely hampers me from enjoying ice skating or skiing. I need to man up, not be such a wuss, and go ice skating.
  • Not get so upset when people tell me they hate America. I swear I am an Anti-American magnet. People see me and are just overcome with the need to tell me how much they hate America. It’s happened a good number of times now, ranging from a 14-year old kid to a 50-something lecherous man from Vladivostok. I really don’t know what it is about my face that prompts them to tell me that they want to spit on America. Maybe it’s the glasses. Perhaps it’s the nose ring. I don’t know. But I do know that I need to stop getting worked up about it.

And with that, I leave you until February! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays!

 

Apologies for the lack of updates. Don’t worry parents, I’m alive and very, very cold. While the locals are in awe about the unusually warm winter, it makes no difference to me — I’m still cold. Brrr.

This past weekend consisted of everything that an ideal weekend should consist of: lots of laughter, good music, good company, and of course, alcohol. I’m not trying to portray Russia as a country full of alcoholics, but man, the stuff really spices up a weekend, you know?

On Friday, I went to Ukhta’s first ever stand up comedy show, which featured four comics from KVN (Клуб Веселых и Находивчых) : Kostya Pushkin, Artyom Pushkin, Langepas, and Evgenii Mashechkin. KVN, from what I understand, is Russia’s popular comedy channel, so these guys are pretty famous. At least, that’s what people tell me. I had never been to a Russian stand up show, let alone any stand up show in general, so I was intrigued to see if I would understand Russian humor. I don’t have much of a problem with comprehension, it’s just that sometimes humor doesn’t cross cultural boundaries. Overall, I was most impressed with the Pushkin brothers (no relation to Alexander Sergeevich). Langepas and Evgenii just weren’t as funny. One of them made jokes about his alcoholic father, and maybe Russians find that funny, but I just thought that was depressing. In my humble and very unimportant opinion, if something is truly funny, it will appeal to most people, regardless of culture or nationality.

Evgenii and Kostya

Yesterday, I went to a concert. Eka and Anesh, two local Georgian celebrities, are amazing singers, and they held a concert in honor of their mother who had passed away earlier this year. It was very emotionally charged, and I was simply blown away by how well they sang and by the fact that they sang live. Nobody really sings live in America anymore — I don’t think I’d even want to hear Britney Spears sing live. I mean, who sings live now?

As for winter break, plans are slowly but surely solidifying. I’m not going to go home for winter break — I’ll be home in June, but I don’t have a lot of time to travel. So I’m just traveling around Ukraine and Russia for the month that I have off. I leave on December 26th for St. Petersburg, and I’ll be going to the Crimea for some sun and relaxation. My boyfriend’s going to be meeting me in Ukraine, and I can’t wait to see him. If there is one thing that I would have loved to fit into my suitcase, it’s him.

Christmas! Brought to you in part by Lukoil.

And last, but certainly not least, a big shout out to Luba, my dear Americanized Russian friend. You’re one of the only people who reads my blog and I am grateful that you put up with my terrible Russian. I miss you dearly. Here’s your shout out. 🙂

A lot of things happened this past weekend. The Duma elections were held last weekend, and the country has since erupted into an uproar over them, crying fraud and violations. Youtube has tons of videos depicting the most absurd kind of voting fraud…ranging from invisible ink pens to people changing ballots. If you’ve been keeping up with world news lately, the protests in Russia are blowing up the headlines. Moscow’s protests were by far the largest, but cities all across Russia held “Meetings for Honest Votes” on December 10th.

Overhead look of the protest in Moscow

And where was I during all of this? Well, not in Moscow.

In Ukhta, things weren’t nearly as exciting. There was a meeting in Komsomol Square, which I also chose not to attend, mainly because there was nowhere for me to quietly observe — it was all out in the open. And while it would have been interesting to have been there and see what was going on, my presence would not have added anything positive to the protest. If anything, it would only add fuel to the fire that America is behind the protests (newsflash: America isn’t. It’s Russians themselves who are blowing up youtube with videos of election fraud, who are gathering across the country to protest. Hillary Clinton isn’t the one provoking them to move to action).

^ a video from the meeting at Komsomol Square.

So instead, I attended a dance competition. “Dance Integration” is a yearly dance competition within the Komi Republic that features Eastern Dance, hip hop, and other genres. As with any competition, there were some truly amazing dancers, and there were some people who weren’t very talented. Here is a very shaky video of my friend dancing, shot by yours truly. I had a hard time following him around with my camera because he was jumping all over the place.

And last but not least…

I WENT DOG SLEDDING.

Huskies. Puppies. So ADORABLE.

That’s right, world. I went dog sledding. My friend’s brother in law (I think) is training his huskies to be sled dogs. They started practicing today at 11 am, which was when we were supposed to get there. Roma didn’t wake up until 12:30, so we didn’t get to the forest until a little past one, and by then, the dogs were already tired. But Slava let me drive the dogs a little bit…and I fell off the sled twice, because I’m a complete klutz when it comes to driving things  — sleds, boats, cars, you name it, and I can’t do it. But now I can say that I’ve gone dog sledding. I can now die happy. Video soon to come…as well as a Russian translation.

Babies.

Besides vodka, cold, snow, communism, Cuban Missile Crisis, and literature, what usually comes to mind when one thinks about Russia are the amazing pianists and composers. Rimsky-Korsakov, Kabalevsky, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Mussorgsky…just to name a few. Russian pianists are the best of the best, which is why I have decided to take piano lessons in the country that breeds musical talent.

^ Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. Basically the soundtrack of my winter.

As a young Asian-American child, I took piano lessons, just like all my other Asian-American peers. However, unlike my peers, I was never any good. I knew notes, I played moderately difficult pieces (Moonlight Sonata, Claire de Lune, Nocturne in C-sharp minor, for example), but I never really played with any skill — it was all perfunctory. Then, at the age of 13, I decided to drop piano all together and start playing a sport, so my piano muscles atrophied and withered away.

So here I am, at age 22, at the music school. Which, by the way, is for children. I am surrounded by little Russian tykes. Little Russian children who love to stare at me.

My piano teacher is a formidable looking woman, with intense black eyeliner and steel grey hair. I was initially frightened, as I tend to be in this country, but I soon realized that she was a very sweet woman. The lesson itself was something I have never experienced before. I am currently practicing Waltz in C-minor op. 69, no. 2 by Chopin, and as I’m playing, the teacher grabs my wrist and all but slams it onto the piano keys. “You must feel the notes. FEEL the notes,” she emphasizes. I try again, putting more of my body weight into the piano keys. Apparently, I’m not feeling the notes enough, because she then puts her hands onto my shoulders and pushes me some more.* I’ve never been so manhandled by a piano teacher before in my life. “You must put your body weight into it. You must put everything into it. If not, then it is not music.” A pretty apt metaphor for life, I must say. The lesson was enjoyable though, and I’m glad that I’m learning how to play again.

*Cultural difference between America and Russia: in America, we don’t touch each other. It’s just not what we do. We have this thing called a “personal boundary.” That term, I’ve realized doesn’t translate into Russian. Russians in general stand much closer to each other than we would in America. There’s also a lot more touching than I’m used to. I never got used to this closeness when I was in St. Petersburg, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to here.

2012 is a big year in politics for both America and Russia — in February, there will be the Russian presidential election, and in November, the American one. Tomorrow is the parliamentary election for the State Duma (GosDuma). Western newspapers, such as New York Times and BBC, are closely following what’s going to happen next. And I guess, so am I, mainly out of curiosity. It’s not as if I go around trying to ruffle some feathers* or incite anger, but I am interested in the political scene here.

Whenever the topic of politics comes up, however, people seem pretty resigned and apathetic about the upcoming presidential election. “The difference between America and Russia is that in America, you don’t know who’s going to be president, and in Russia, we already know,” one student remarked when I was teaching a class on the American government. Even when they joke about how their vote doesn’t matter and that United Russia is going to win anyway, it just sounds so defeating. When people just resign to the fact that they can’t do anything about the current situation…it’s almost heart breaking.

Speaking of United Russia, I haven’t heard anything good about them, despite their plakarts being placed prominently in the city. Actually, I take that back. Remember the guy who didn’t really like America? He said that he would tattoo Putin on one half of his chest, and Medvedev on the other. He could have very well been sarcastic, but I just never know with that guy.

There are a good number of United Russia signs around here. I haven't seen anything for the other parties though.

I wonder what the nature of our relationship with Russia will be like, especially after Medvedev’s speech and the new radar in Kaliningrad. The speech and the new radar was nicely timed right before the Duma elections. It’s sad that there’s Cold War language being flung about again, and sometimes I think that America and Russia will just be cautious acquaintances at best. Why can’t we just all get along?