Monday, December 29, 2008

You live, you learn

On the one hand my weekend was successful. I ordered food, tea, and a hookah in Russian, I added more days to my metro pass in Russian, I haggled (in English and Russian), and I am continuing to become more familiar with the layout of Moscow. On the other hand . . .

I did not know enough Russian to make sure I ordered more hot water instead of more tea, so I was overcharged. I wish I would have communicated better -- next time I will try harder and just tell him isho voda (more water). I got a little frustrated because I’m pretty sure the waiter wasn’t using simple language, so I just got overwhelmed because I couldn’t understand. Some people are great – when they realize you don’t speak much, if any Russian, they start using simpler sentences and words and involve gestures to ask you the same question (like the metro pass lady who wanted to know if I wanted to put the money on the card I handed her – of course!) – but others don’t even try and walk off as frustrated as you are because of the language barrier.

Today at the souvenir market, I was too wrapped up with buying things, so I really didn’t think about what I was buying until I got home. Now I am suffering incredible buyer’s remorse, feeling like I got ripped off, and wishing that I could return things. Hopefully the feeling passes, and I become even more motivated to find proper Russian lessons! Each day is a lesson in things I need to be aware of and words/phrases I should know. Yesterday I learned the different words for strawberry and plum, but unfortunately, not until I ordered a strawberry mint hookah (not the greatest combination).

Anyway, you live you learn.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Snow and Christmas

It has been exceptionally cold the last couple days with the humidity rising and the temperature dropping. Today we finally got a second decent snowfall! I will have to take more pictures just in case it doesn't last.

Snow falling outside my apartment before I darted inside

Ah, ah, but you want to know about (western) Christmas in Moscow ...
Even though I had to work, Christmas quite nice. I had an excellent day and felt great. It turns out that as long as I get a nice, relaxing, holiday filled morning with a generous breakfast and a present or two - the rest of the Christmas will be great! After Christmas morning at home with pancakes and stockings, Rachel and I went to the Christmas lunch and gift exchange with the other native English speakers. Then back to work!

Fortunately, my students were more than generous for Christmas and didn't mind that the lessons took a less serious, more holiday spirited tone (the teenagers were probably glad of it even though on Christmas proper I only had 3 of the 9 show up!). Many of them were aware that Western Europe and America celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December (rather than the 7th of January), so I heard "Merry Christmas" many times and received way too much candy, which I promptly handed out to anyone and everyone! I have a feeling there is more candy on the way as it is not yet new year and this is the big, commercial holiday in Russia.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wishing for snow and trying to tune into the holiday spirit in Moscow

Though I am homesick, and missing the American version of holiday spirit (especially went it comes to songs in public places), I am finding there is a bit of holiday cheer around Moscow. Unfortunately, there is still no snow on the ground and everyone is wishing for it! Need someone to come and do a snow dance.

The yolka (Christmas/New Years tree) at Mayakovskaya Ploshad near work in downtown Moscow.

Rachel and I being tourists and posing in a fairy tale (I still need to find out exactly which fairy tale this is). Unfortunately the man taking the photo only got one photo even though we switched places and he thought he took more than one picture.

Our little yolka (Christmas Tree) at Kon'kovo.

This morning the sun was shining, and we had a skiff of snow!

Our snow hill at Kon'kovo - they have snow making machines going.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Peanut Butter Cookies

I received the first package my parents sent near the middle of last week. They sent it off on the 30th of October, and according to the United States Postal Service (USPS), the package arrived in "Russia" near the beginning of November. After that point, the tracking number no longer worked (for obvious reasons), but it took 4-5 weeks to get from where ever it was dropped off in Russia to a post office no where near the address it was sent to. Luckily my flatmate, Rachel, had a package she needed to pick up as well, so we went to this out of the way post office together.

Both our packages contained peanut butter and peanut butter candies - very American things that are hard to find here. Because of this and my interest in sharing different things, I told everyone I would bring in peanut butter cookies Tuesday, since I have Mondays off. And like the banana bread, the peanut butter cookies were a hit. I'm glad I made two batches because the cookies disappeared rapidly (this might have been because those who knew what peanut butter cookies were, Americans, took a few instead of just one!) Never-the-less, once again, I handed out the recipe. It seems that many people did not realize there was peanut butter in the cookies until they looked at the recipe - I guess this makes sense considering that many of them might not have ever had peanut butter before, or at least real, American peanut butter. :)

Anyway, for those of you who are interested, here's the recipe. I have marked vanilla as optional because I haven't been able to find real vanilla here and they turned out fine without (though they probably are even better with!)

1 c. butter 1 tsp. vanilla (optional)
1 c. peanut butter 2 ½ c. flour
1 c. granulated sugar 1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 c. brown sugar ½ tsp. salt
2 eggs

• Thoroughly cream buter, peanut butter, sugars, eggs, & vanilla.
• Sift together dry ingredients & blend into creamed mixture.
• Roll into 1” balls & roll.
• Put on cookie sheet and use a damp fork to make a criss-cross design on top.

Bake in 375° oven for 8-10 minutes (or until golden brown). Cookies will be soft inside and a little crispy outside.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Flashbacks of a Fool

Oi, learning a new language is tough, frustrating, tiring, and a lot of work. I am slowly, slowly understanding more bits and pieces of Russian, and today I subjected myself to a movie dubbed in Russian. I thought I was being invited to see an actual Russian film, but it turns out it was an American independent film (Flashbacks of a Fool) that had been dubbed in Russian and was shown in the back room of a movie theater with a DVD player and projector. We sat on very uncomfortable chairs - they weren't fold-up, but they might as well have been. The people I was with told me that this is not typical of Moscow cinemas, but maybe it is for independent films -- maybe we should have gotten the hint when the movie wasn't even posted inside the theater! After mostly understanding a film through pictures and picking up a word hear and there, I continued to try and understand conversation, though I don't have the structures or vocabulary to really join in. I can ask - What does that mean? How do you say ...? I learned how to say I like something ... Ya lublu sneg (I like snow). Ah, the joys and frustrations associated with language learning!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Trip to Sergiev Posad (сергиев посад)

Had to go outside of Moscow to find snow again ... gorgeous monastery - Trinity St. Sergius Monastery in Sergiev Posad (about an hour outside of Moscow).

Ryan, my tour guide and co-worker, trying to lure a bird. These birds were very used to people and must have been fed quite often, but they soon figured out Ryan had no food to offer them.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I have noticed that a major cultural difference between my Russian students and myself is the general attitude toward cheating. Because of my culture, personality, and the way I was raised, I have a gut feeling that tells me cheating is fundamentally wrong, and I don't cheat because of it. My students don't understand this feeling and were genuinely shocked when I mentioned it. I haven't yet met a Russian student who understands why cheating is such a big deal for me. They understand that there are certain situations where you need to be more careful about cheating because of the consequence that you might get expelled from the school or university, but it's the fundamental "gut" issue that my students and I don't see eye-to-eye on.

In my struggle to understand their point of view, I have asked many questions and been exposed to a variety of "techniques" for cheating. Students have learned how to cheat intelligently -- They have to know enough to know if what they are copying is worthwhile. And I have learned that unless it's ridiculously obvious, cheating is not even worth mentioning. The students don't seem to feel guilty about cheating - it's just everyday life. They know what I want to hear and will tell me, but they don't understand my association of cheating and guilt/shame. For example, I had three (adult) students who were making up a test they missed. I did not have time to be in the same room as them but would walk by every once in a while. I knew that they were working together rather than alone and thought about not saying anything because I understand that Russian culture doesn't have an issue with cheating, but I finally decided to let my students know that I wanted them to try and work alone. One of the students looked at me, and said, "Yes, of course. We know that this is a test of our own knowledge." Yet, even after this response, all three students missed the same questions and got the same grades on the exam. Obvious cheating. There was at least some creativity in that not all of the written answers were copied word for word. Of course, these were overall good students, and I didn't want to fail them, so I let it slide. What do you do? When in Rome, do as the Romans ... right? This is what the English text books keep telling the students, and I am trying to adapt and do the same myself without sacrificing who I am as an individual and a person.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

No more snow

Unfortunately the snow has all melted and lately we have had nothing but rain, clouds, and fog. The temperature is back to where it is too warm for a winter coat in the morning (10 AMish) but is cold enough that a winter coat is wanted in the evening (10 PMish). It's obnoxious and a toss up, but I have decided, at least for now, that I like the warmth of my winter coat in the evening when I am heading home from work. I hope it gets cold again soon. I didn't get any pictures in the snow with all my winter gear on!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving notes and Happy December!

Pancakes with Cranberry Sauce from the morning after "Thanksgiving"

Sunday Rachel and I hosted our Thanksgiving party. It was great to have people over - makes the place feel more like home. In some ways it was like Thanksgiving, we had the stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce and lots of desserts, but in other ways it was just a great get-together with friends. We almost didn't have enough food for everyone (which certainly isn't quite Thanksgiving)! But those who were vocal about the food sounded like they got more than enough to eat (so that's a good sign). I discovered it is quite a lot of work to host a party like this, especially when we almost didn't have enough dishes! I had to keep collecting and washing glasses, plates, and silverware to make sure everyone had something to eat on and with, but it was a blast! Unfortunately with all my running around, I really didn't get many pictures, except of the food -- but I know others were taking pictures, so I will try to get some of them and post them.

Collecting ingredients for the dishes I made was nearly painless, but I did have an adventure at the producty (продукты) beforehand. Usually I go to a very western style grocery that is very impersonal and removed - you pick out your own things, and then take them up to a cashier who rings everything up and you can see the price on the register. Because I needed things like ginger and garlic that are harder to find at my regular grocery, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone (and hopefully save some money) by picking up some of my fresh ingredients from the producty (basically an indoor food market). I walked into the market, not really knowing what to expect and began wandering around looking at the different stands and sizing up what was available and what the procedure was. As I was nearing the back of the building, one of the clerks came up and asked me what I was looking for or if she could help me. Of course, this was in Russian so I only had an idea of what she said. I told her in Russian that I didn't understand Russian, but she helped me out anyway. When the people at the stand realized I spoke English and was American they began asking me all sorts of questions -- finally, I understood, the owner of the stand, Marina, wanted me to tell her the English words for the fruits she had at her stand. As we went through, I told her I wanted a few of the things, and also asked her the words in Russian. She was extremely helpful, we laughed a lot, and when it came time to pay she started counting out the price in French! I laughed and said frantsuzky?! (французски?!) and later reflected on how great it is that we ended up communicating in a language we both knew a little of. I got out of there with almost everything I needed, except cranberries. I wanted to be careful, the fruit Marina had given me to taste that looked like a cranberry didn't taste quite like a cranberry, so I decided to them up another day, after finding out the Russian word for cranberry, klukva (клюква).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day in Moscow is the same as any other day

Happy Thanksgiving! My Thanksgiving day is in full swing, and I'm at work! No break for the Americans on our holiday ... thus is life. We do have plans to have Thanksgiving dinner at our apartment (Rachel's and my apartment) on Sunday. It sounds like it will end up just being a big party, but hopefully it's fun and somewhat Thanksgiving-esque. The plan is that everyone will bring what food idems they need for it to be Thanksgiving for them (other than Turkey :). We will be eating chicken instead of turkey because it's easier (as in we don't have to cook it all day). There's a kiosk that sells delicious rotisserie chickens near our apartment, and we have a 24 hour grocery store, so in case we are running low on food or drink we can run and get more!

Snow and clearing snow

While the public sidewalks appear to have been cleared by motorized vehicles, or at least a machine with wheels and a plow, the drive that goes through our apartment complex is cleared by manual laborers. Who these people are or why the complex does not feel it would be better to invest in a vehicle is perplexing. As Rachel and I walked home from the metro last night, and as it continued to snow, we came across one of these workers. He had a large snow shovel and even waited for us to pass before continuing his work. While on the one hand I am blown away by this, it also makes some sense. The apartment complex has cars parked randomly all over, so there’s no real way that a vehicle could possibly be as thorough as a man with a shovel. At the same time, this is like saying that when you are painting walls, you should just use a paint brush because you would have to touch up the corners with a brush anyway.

The snow is simply beautiful as it has covered everything out at Kon’kovo and our forest, Bitsevsky Park is now, as Rachel said, a winter wonderland. I wrote this the morning of the 26th and the snow has continued to fall since then. In the city, the snow is slush, but out near our apartment, it’s still gorgeous.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy First Snow!

It snowed today, but I was indoors and didn't realize it until after work when it was dark. It is currently snowing!

This is the view from my balcony Wednesday evening.

The view Thursday morning.

It is getting dark here earlier and earlier. Monday, when I was paying attention, I noticed that it started getting dark at about 4:30 which feels a little weird.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Starbucks: a taste of home

Today was tough, I'm am trying not to fall into the deep rut of homesickness. With the holidays coming up and no snow on the ground (yet! It should snow Thursday, and we got a hint today!!), I am definitely feeling my heartstrings pulled toward missing family, friends, Thanksgiving dinner, and Christmas decorations, songs, etc.

On the one hand, of course I am excited to be in another country, and of course there are other Americans around to celebrate Thanksgiving with, but on the other hand, holiday traditions vary around the country in America, so things won't be exactly what any of us are expecting.

Additionally, I keep running up against the wall of phrases and cultural references that other Americans don't understand or haven't heard before. I am realizing more and more the regional identities of Americans and why we cling so close to our states. When you ask an American where they are from, they do not typically say "America" like Russian's say Russia, Canadians say Canada, and Scots say Scotland. More often Americans will tell you the state (I do this too). "I'm from Idaho, in the United States. It's in the western part" is my response.

Taking all of this culture shock into consideration, after work today, I went to Starbucks for the first time since I arrived in Moscow. I did not expect it to be the same. I expected it to be a spin off of the American themed Starbucks, like McDonald's isn't typically what American's think of as McDonald's (even if they do serve exactly the same food). But when I walked up to this Starbucks (that is a two minute walk from work!) and looked in the window, it seemed so familiar (despite the Cyrillic which phonetically spelled Starbucks: СТАРБАКС), and when I walked it I felt like I was in the United States. The decorations were Christmas themed red and green. The drinks were all exactly the same ... caramel macchiato, mocha, and the Christmas themed drinks, peppermint mocha and gingerbread latte. The merchandise was the same, the wall colors and furniture types were the same! I was so relieved and happy, I am almost ashamed! I think that anytime I start feeling the pangs of homesickness, I will go to Starbucks and be greeted with a smile, a joyful "добрый день! (Dobry Den!)" - "Good Day!" and the friendliness that Starbucks has a trademark.

The Myth about blue jeans in Russia

Before I came to Moscow, many people suggested that I should stock pile name brand jeans and sell them here. When I arrived, I got the impression that this actually might not work as well as many people thought. Everywhere I looked, people were wearing jeans. As I observed this, I felt slightly out of place because I only brought one pair of "blue jeans" with me, and Moscow is surprisingly prolific in jeans. I believe that the myth about the demand versus supply stems from how things were in Russia the decade or so following the opening of the iron curtain. After clothes shopping yesterday, I know that while you might be able to sell SOME jeans on the street, prices would have to be low, low, low because jeans are in an overabundance here. I was looking for work clothes yesterday -- nice trousers and tops -- and some shops I went in had nothing but jeans, jeans, jeans wall to wall (and this was true in several shops, not just the Levi's store).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I know it's early for Christmas stuff

Ok, ok, so maybe it's a little early to be decorating my blog like it's Christmas. I know it's not even Thanksgiving yet! But in the United States, once Halloween is over, the store decorations and street decorations change to a Christmas theme. This is not true in Moscow. In some stores I have seen small "Christmas" sections, but it is nothing like the overboard decorations, Christmas music, and overall sentimental feeling of stores, streets, and people in the States. So, I guess I'm working toward creating that feeling for myself. The weather helps because it is cold, and I associate Christmas and Thanksgiving with snow. (Side note: There is still no snow on the ground.) I also associate Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and close friends, so being in another country for the holidays will be a little difficult. The upside is that I am not the only native English speaker sticking around for the holidays, so we will have a pseudo-Thanksgiving (probably not on Thanksgiving because we will all have to work), and we will at least have a nice lunch together on Christmas.

So, you may be wondering ... why are things different? Why wouldn't Russia celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas? Well, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and Christmas is a Christian religious holiday (so yes, some people do celebrate Christmas, but it's not as we know it in the states). Here they do the presents and the tree for New Years - a holdover from the secularization of Soviet times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The requested recipe (banana bread)

Banana Bread
Bake 350ºF (170ºC) for about 35 minutes or until golden brown (time really depends on the oven)

½ Cup margarine (or butter)
1 Cup sugar
2 Eggs
4 Overripe bananas, crushed
½ Cup chopped walnuts (or pecans) - OPTIONAL!
2 Cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
dash of cinnamon

Cream butter, add sugar, eggs, bananas, nuts. Add flour, salt, cinnamon and soda together. Put in loaf pans (or one 8x8 pan) that are sprayed with cooking spray and coated with sugar.

Sharing banana bread is better than eating it alone

I decided to share my banana bread today and not be selfish. Often in the teacher's room there is some sort of common food, and this was my first real contribution. (I don't think cheese crackers count for much!) I'm glad I shared because as I had guessed, many people had never heard of or tried banana bread. It was great to hear the pleasant exclamations as I worked in another room preparing for my lessons. I had three requests for the recipe, and this made me think of how information is exchanged between cultures. While information and cultural exchanges can be seen as good and bad, I feel that in this situation it was a good exchange - something pleasant for the taste buds and a way to use overripe bananas. :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Nothing like successful banana bread

I should have taken a picture of the banana bread that fell flat as a comparison. It was tough, had a thick crust, and was gooey inside. Gross! I couldn't even talk myself into eating more than two pieces of it.

This time, success. Without measuring cups, baking takes a little training. I have a tendency to add too much flour at once, but there's no reversing that (adding liquid just creates too much gluten). So I'm learning restraint. It's much better to add a little flour at a time until you achieve the right consistency! Anyway, the banana bread is delicious and now I have a dilemma ... to share and brag at work (not sure if they even have banana bread here) or to keep it all to myself!

The МЕГА (Mega)

Friday was payday, so I went shopping for something other than groceries Saturday after work. Luckily, I was able to control my pent up consumerism and didn't buy everything in the Mega (a huge mall not too far from Kon'kovo). I now have a couple blankets for my bed, some decent kitchen knives, a kid-cheater (spatula or rubber scraper), a whisk, some mixing bowls ... and other practical household items that I have been wanting. Next weekend I plan to go clothes and Christmas shopping, and hopefully that trip is as successful.

The Mega is a short bus ride from the metro and it has everything from clothes to furniture to groceries to an ice skating rink. It's like an American mall, but larger. Maybe it could be compared to the Mall of America. The concept of the Mega seems to be to consolidate and centralize shopping options for this area of Moscow (keep in mind that there are multiple Megas around Moscow). Millions of people, thousands of cars, and hundreds public and private buses and vans make for what initially looks like a big mess. Parking looks like a nightmare (but at least there's a parking lot, in downtown Moscow people resort to parking on the sidewalks). Why would a city or area planner agree to create such a huge mall with no metro access, no parking garages, and inadequate road access? It's absolutely crazy! The benefit of having this mall out in the middle of nowhere (if there can be such a place in Moscow) is that the number of people are limited. If the metro stopped at the mall, I'm afraid the place would be packed at all times. Regardless, it was an adventure to be endured only once or twice a month max!

Monday, November 3, 2008


Thanks to Bingham County, Idaho's early voting set up, I voted before I got on the plane to fly to Russia. Now I am anxiously awaiting the results of the election.

Trip out of Moscow - Kolomna

A few of us from EF took a day trip out of the city today. The change in pace from Moscow to Kolomna was absolutely wonderful. We left Moscow via bus at about 10 this morning, arrived in Kolomna at noon and left at 6:30 via train. In the sunshine, we wandered around the ploshad (square), visited the monastery, saw a camel?! then grabbed a relaxed bite to eat at a great little art cafe. The prices were amazingly reasonable, as compared to the hyper-inflated prices of food in Moscow, and the food was delicious. Because we had no real need to be anywhere, the trip was slow-paced, meandering, and refreshing!

Kolomna Ploshad (square)

The Leaning Tower of Kolomna

Kolomna Ploshad from afar

The Wall

Smiling in Moscow

Smiling ... it's something we all do and something Russians have a reputation for not doing. While at first I argued that the lack of smiling was symptomatic of being in a large city, after a little over a month of being here, it seems there is something deeper going on. Of course, I cannot speak for all Muscovites, let alone all of Russia, so I will mainly stick to self-analysis.

Over the weeks I have been here, trying to emulate the composure and straight face of those around me, I gradually began to notice the effect not smiling had on me, emotionally. Just as I get grumpy and a little out of sorts when I do not get enough hugs, me-time, quality time with friends, etc. I got out of sorts and mopey when I attempted to not smile. I finally internalized this this morning and have been working on reversing the no-smiling curse. Smiling releases endorphins, hormones, and generally makes me feel good, so why, why, why should I deprive myself of this?

I am not sure of the reason for most Muscovites, but I think it has something to do with the general feeling of instability, what will life be like tomorrow? For almost a century, Russians invested in the Soviet system. They understood it, it was familiar to them, and in general, it worked. With the fall of the iron curtain and the economic ups and downs which followed, has come a general feeling of instability for Russians. How can you plan for the future? How can you think about what you are going to do with your friends next week, let alone your children in five years, and your grandchildren in forty? So, in essence, what is there to smile about?

I'm alive. I'm healthy. I have enough to eat and a warm place to sleep. Those I care for are in the same boat. Life is not too bad, and right now, it seems too short not to do my best to embrace the positive aspects of it. So, I am vowing to smile on the metro, in public, and in general.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Something strange is in the air

Halloween is tomorrow (of course), and because it's a holiday primarily of English speaking countries, EF is encouraging us to bring the topic, the lore, and the holiday into the classroom. While this goes over somewhat well with teenagers, my adult class today was less than thrilled to talk about Halloween ... Even when I brought in a BBC article about Russia's overall attitude toward Halloween, they didn't want to compare and contrast their own feelings. Perhaps, what really happened is my own lack of enthusiasm for the holiday rubbed off on them!

While I am currently blaming Halloween, I have learned that if something is working in your classes and the students are satisfied with the book, then don't stray from it UNTIL they get bored. A preemptive change merely leads to confusion and speechlessness for most students.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Metro and the Militzia

There are many rumors (not without truth) about the Russian militzia and their habit of demanding money and bribes. At first stories of abusive militzia harassing foreigners just for a few extra rubles put me on edge. Anytime militzia were around, I worried, laid low, and kept walking without making eye contact. But on the metro at night, the militzia seem like a different breed. Rather than being frightened by them, I am continually impressed with their diligence and ability to keep people safe on the metro. I have two first hand examples supporting the idea that militzia protect the public, and zero first-hand, but a few second-hand, stories about militzia harassing foreigners.

One night after work, Rachel and I got on the metro at about the regular time, 10 PM. This seems like a reasonable enough time to be on the metro, especially considering that people are still in their business suites. On this day like any other day, we hopped into a random train car. Rachel sat in an open seat, and I stood by. Not long after the train started moving a fight, between two grown men, erupted. A small old lady rushed to grab a seat near Rachel, and I stood and stared, dumbfounded for too long before realizing that this fight could easily escalate to the point where I might be in the line of fire. (This realization came when one man started ramming or pushing the other toward our area of the car.) As I moved to change my position and put more people between me and the two men, I began to wonder if anyone would do anything. It had been about 30-45 seconds in reality, but it felt like minutes. Finally, one man stepped in to try to break up the fight. It took another long 30-45 seconds for another man to realize that he should also step in or the fight would keep going and maybe become larger. This fight, of course happened in-between stops, while the train was moving. Finally, the two men separated the fighters, and it seemed everything would stop, but people did not move back to their old seats, and there was a large bit of empty space around the men. When the train stopped at the next stop, I expected at least one of the fighters to get off the train, so as to prevent another fight, but they just sat there next to each other mumbling things back and forth. After the train had stopped for a split second and other passengers began to trickle on, the men were at it again! Perhaps they believed our protectors had stopped paying attention, but whatever the case, the militzia came running, grabbed the men and took them off the train. This was my first experience seeing the militzia in action, and I suddenly felt safer and not so frightened by the men and women in uniform.

The second example is less eventful. Last night, Rachel and I headed away from a housewarming party and raced to catch the metro before it closed at 1:30 am. We caught the last train out to Коньково (Kon’kovo), and as we boarded at Октябрьская (Oktyabrskaya), I noticed the militzia watching people on the platform. At first I was confused and a little nervous, but as the train moved onto the next station and the next, I realized we had definitely caught the last train. The militzia were making sure that no one was left on the platform, and if there had been a fight or a problem, they would have taken care it. No incident occurred last night, but I was happy to know that the militzia were there, just in case.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Photos of Moscow

Victoria, our 24 hour supermarket

This is the lovely pond near the school (Patriarshiye Prudy)

St. Basil's

The Moscow River on the left, Red Square on the right, and rush hour traffic

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Living in a city that's older than the legend of El Dorado

Ok, so I realize it's been a while since I posted. I had a wonderful weekend last weekend, but I didn't take any pictures of the city. (The picture below is the only one I took, and I was just showing Victor how to use the stitch tool on my camera.) So, for now, until I take more pictures, a written description will have to do.

If I ignore some odd smells and the litter, Moscow is a beautiful city. Anywhere in Moscow, I am not more than a 10 minute walk from at least two parks (or so it seems). And if I can ignore the modern signage and huge advertisements for the likes of Audi, Pepsi, and Nokia, the historic buildings, ponds, and occasional cobblestone sidewalks are awe inspiring. It's hard not to think of the billions of people who were here before and the changes that have occurred over the last ten years or over the last century, let alone the last millennia!

In addition to my imagination, the architecture and plethora of parks inspire an interest history. In the metro and around town, Russia displays its abundant natural resources and cultural heritage. Granite and marble tiles cover most metro platforms, and each park showcases the pride and respect that Moscow has for her historical and literary tradition as many parks and metro stations are named after noted poets and contain large scale statues of / monuments to their namesakes. I am fascinated and enthralled by history and art, and Moscow encourages me to indulge in both.

I realize that so far I have barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. Over the weekend, my new friend Victor gave me a tour of various places in Moscow. He's has been here for eight years, so his knowledge of where to go and how to get places was invaluable. We went to Tretyakov Gallery and walked around downtown Moscow, avoiding the metro for as long as possible. Tretyakov Gallery is huge! It is definitely not something you can do in a day, and I don't think we saw more than a tenth of the artwork. We worked through eighteenth century portraits, moved our way to nineteenth century genre painting, and finally made it to late nineteenth century Russian impressionism. Next time I think I will get a map! The gallery is a large collection of all Russian artwork and like the parks, streets, and metro stations, it displays an almost overwhelming sense of respect for history.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cheese and Eggs

So, earlier I guessed that I would have problems in the grocery store with cheese, but so far it has been a great success. I found a fairly mild cheese that tastes something like provolone and has the consistency of cheddar. Whatever it really is, it melts nicely and goes well with the fabulous, spicy mustard Rachel helped me find with her Russian/English dictionary. Generally I am able to figure out what things are in the grocery store due to packaging, location, or cognates, but sometimes none of these suffice. My Russian lessons are going slowly, so I continue to feel helpless in the face of words I am able to sound out but have no idea their meaning.

Along with cheese, I have been eating eggs which are a blessing here because meat, excluding chicken and bologna, is very expensive (of course I would argue this holds true in the U.S. as well). I had my first egg from what I assume must have been a Russian chicken last weekend - it was absolutely delicious, but the color seemed a bit odd. Rather than the reddish-orange yolks we are so used to in the states, the yolk was more of a creamy lemon color. It almost looked like lemon icing. Despite this odd color, I decided I would eat it anyway. I rationalized that the color had something to do with the diet of the chicken, but I really had no idea. I wanted an egg, so I ate it! After eating the egg, over easy and with a soft yoke, I googled yoke coloration. Surprisingly, my rationalization was spot on. The diet of the hen determines the color of the yolk. In some countries farmers even feed their chickens coloring so the yoke turns the nice orange color we know. Perhaps if I had eaten more eggs from local farms in the United States I would have already known this, but I am learning that being in Moscow teaches you more about yourself and your own country than you would ever have thought possible.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Kolomensky Park: I love Fall!

Before I arrived in Moscow, I thought for sure that I would miss fall. It was just beginning in Blackfoot, and I thought it would be over in Moscow. Lucky for me, I arrived about a 2 or 3 days before the leaves began to change, and now fall is in full swing. Today was absolutely gorgeous. At a comfortable 60 degrees Farenheit, the rumors about Moscow's winter having started already were just that ... rumors. Kolomensky Park was the place to be today with such wonderful weather and the leaves falling. This statue is adorned with one of the leaf crowns the locals were putting together. Unlike in the states, Russians don't seem to be interested in raking up leaves and playing in them. Instead, they like to make leaf crowns and pose for various photo opps. Though the park was packed, it was still quite enjoyable, and I can only hope the weather holds out for next weekend. One weekend of fall is never enough!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mayakovskaya Square: Vladimir Mayakovsky

This is the statue of the poet Mayakovsky that adorns Mayakovskaya Square near EF in downtown Moscow.

Locating milk before its expiration date

Rachel and I live near a grocery store, and when I first got here, I had no idea what to expect the grocery store to carry and was too tired to venture out. I quickly learned that it carries almost anything you would like, but the issue is you have to check expiration dates. My first shopping experience, I bought toilet paper, water, cereal, and what I thought was milk. Excited to have some food and something familiar, I poured myself a bowl of cereal, opened the "milk" and smelled it (because Rachel's milk had gone sour and had smelled funny). Unfortunately, though I checked dates, this "milk" also smelled funny. Then I read the label. This was not молоко, this was кефир (kefir) a specialty Russian beverage that is basically fermented milk. None-the-less, I decided ok ... it smells a little like yogurt, I will pour it on my cereal, and it will be fine. And actually it wasn't bad, but I wanted milk, moloko, not kefir.So, last night, after another day of realizing how hard it is to get along when you cannot communicate due to a language barrier, I went back to Виктории (Victoria), our local, 24 hour grocery store and tackled the milk shelf again. What had happened before was that I stopped looking at the labels telling me what the beverage was and only looked at the expiration date, so this time I was determined to pay attention to both the name and date! When I got my moloko with an expiration of 07.10 (7 October), I almost could not wait to get home and have some. I cannot believe how much of a relief it was to finally taste milk after craving it for almost 5 days! Beautiful! So, wonderful, in fact, that I cried ... and now I wonder what will be next on the list of frustrating food stories ... probably cheese.

First day of class and a power outage

My first day of teaching and the power went out in my side of the building during the evening class. Although it's a tad different because I was prepared for class, the power outage reminds me of the time I got out of failing a human physiology test in high school because the power went out. I had skipped the day of the test because I forgot to study and when I came to class the next day ... I unfortunately still had not studied. As I struggled through the test, (not a multiple choice, by the way) feeling embarrassed that I had not studied, (even with an extra day!) and knowing I would fail, the power went out ... We all sat in the dark for five minutes, and then the principle came to tell us we could all go home. Hallelujah! I had another day to study for the test. That night I ensured that I could correct my mistakes and pass with flying colors. Talk about a getting a break!

Anyway, my first day of teaching - other than the power outage - went well. My planning is a little rough around the edges, mostly because I cannot bring the books home. Of course I have things I can improve upon, particularly giving instructions and error correction. This will come with time - once I get my footing with teaching and lesson planning, I will be able to focus more on error correction. I would like to get my bearings with the books and figure out an overall strategy, but alas, I am unable to take much of my work home with me. There are many more teachers than there are books!

All said and done, I am glad to be working again!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Red Square

Last night was Rachel's (my roommate's) birthday, so she got a group of us together to go out for the evening. After dinner we walked through Red Square: Krasnaya Ploshad -- words and badly photographed evening pictures cannot describe how awesome it is. St. Basil's, the icon of Moscow, is definitely a sight to behold, and I would suggest that anyone who has had an inkling of fascination or admiration for the building should go and see it in person. As I told one of my coworkers when we were walking around it, seeing the full three-dimensionality and being able to interact with it, St. Basil's is so much better than pictures could ever capture. Just like any sculpture - seeing it in the round is the only way to truly appreciate it. Perhaps it is the euphoria of knowing that I will be able to see this building almost whenever I would like for nearly a year or the honeymoon effect of being in a new country, but St. Basil's and the feeling in Red Square is indescribable!

I have included a couple photos taken in the evening without a tripod ...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sattelite imagery

Well, I know this isn't quite the same as the pictures I didn't take today ... but it gives you an idea of where I am located ... and if you go to you can find out where Konkovo is in relation to city center. Just type in "Konkovo + Moscow, Russia"

My first successful day in MOCKBA (moskva)

Today I went with my roommate downtown. We got on the metro at Kon'kovo: КОНЬКОВО (near our apartment), got off at Teatralnaya (next to Red Square) and wandered down Tverskaya Street to the school. I should have taken pictures of the cars parked all over the edges of sidewalks and all over in the street! Aside from their driving and parking, Muscovites on the whole don't seem half bad. While I had heard stories that no one smiles here, after wandering around downtown, I realized this feels like any other large city - most people don't smile at strangers or just because you bought water from them. I would argue that not smiling really isn't as big of a deal as it was made out to be.

I start teaching on Tuesday - while it would be nice to just bum around, I am glad I will be teaching soon. The philosophy of the school I will be teaching at is that native speakers should be teaching more high-intermediate to advanced students, which makes sense ... but because I trained teaching beginners and then pre-intermediate/intermediate, I definitely would feel better teaching beginners. Anyway, hopefully it's a quick learning curve!


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Arrival in Moscow

Well, I survived the long trip after all. I'm hoping to actually sleep tonight and get on some sort of regular sleeping schedule, so I decided not to just sleep and sleep like I wanted. In two hours my new roommate will be home - we have only met in passing, but she was very helpful in getting me into my room and the apartment.

I have included pictures of my room, the shower room (toilet and shower are separate rooms), and the view from my window. While the bed is pretty comfortable, the person that had it before me broke it ... and it would be nice to have a bed that wasn't on the ground! We'll see if I actually do anything about it in the long run. The room has a balcony ... but it seemed a bit unstable when I went out on it - it probably will serve as a place to dry clothes and not much more!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Leavin' on a jet plane...

don't know when I'll be back again. Well, the flight boards in about 45 minutes, and I am tired enough that the man who helped me check my baggage got a $25 tip (forgot about my change). In truth, he deserved it. If he would not have been so congenial, I would have paid $381 for my overweight luggage! My reaction was to say "Shucky-darn", and then hesitate for a very long time. Then say, well so I guess there's nothing that can be done. I either have to go through my luggage and take things out ... or pay the money. It finally occurred to me that I could use my "emergency" credit card, and after a delay I decided I would just pay the fee. I spent enough time packing and debating what to bring that I don't think I could pick out 21 pounds worth of stuff to make the bag meet the 50 pound limit ... Then, out of nowhere the checker (no idea if this is the right term) said it would be $125. He said he would just charge me the domestic fee and assured me my baggage will arrive in Moscow. So, I thanked him and forgot my change! I realized this later and decided that rather than going to ask for the change, I would just allow him to keep it. Hopefully he took it as a tip.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Packing and anticipation

After months of anticipation and waiting, the flight to Russia is now less than 9 days away. I know that I am about as prepared as I can be. The CELTA prepared me to teach, and I have made and remade many checklists to make sure I am prepared to live. It's been a roller coaster of emotions since February when I signed up to teach English, and now, all the emotions I experienced over the months are barreling down on me all at once. I'm not sure what I feel anymore, but I look forward to an end to the anticipation!