29 December 2006

It's getting to be a tradition, no?

I will write an update, because I've just been to the doctor, and I'm sure you, my loyal readers, would like to know what happened at the doctor's office.

First of all, I think I drove the doctor nuts. My mom accuses me of being a worry-wart, but if you ask me, informing the doctor (in a calm, matter-of-fact manner) that the area around my incision is completely numb and that my ankle is perpetually swollen and that I can't see or feel my patellar tendon does not constitute obsessive worrying. (Ok, maybe the part about the patellar tendon is a tiny bit obsessive.) I just wanted to make sure he knew what all of my symptoms were, in case there is something wrong. Apparently the doctor is not used to his patients doing this. Or maybe he was just in a hurry.

Second, since I never said (and people have been asking), my ticket back to Russia is for January 22. I don't know if I'll actually be going then, because of bureaucracy (Russian, not US) and a lack of a place to stay in Moscow, but I'll be there for our mid-year review at the end of January for sure. (Thank you, STA Travel easy-to-change tickets.)

As promised at the last doctor's appointment, I got a new brace at this appointment. The most exciting feature of this brace, besides the fact that it's fashioned of sleek, stylish black neoprene (ooooh), is that it allows me to bend my knee. In fact, I now have permission to bend my knee anytime, anywhere, as often as I want. I'm also allowed to put up to half of my weight on the bad leg. The doctor acknowledged that extensive bending and such probably won't happen for up to a week, because there's a pyschological barrier (i.e. a healthy fear of pain and reinjury) that I'll have to get over first. He then proved this to me by challenging me to lift my leg up off the exam table. I couldn't do it. He called me a wimp.

Now, telling someone that their head is the only thing keeping them from moving their leg around seems to me to basically be a challenge for that person to prove their "inner strength." Or maybe I'm the only one who automatically thinks, "Psychological barrier? Pshaw. I'm not going to let any stupid psychological barriers stop me. I can bend my leg right now." But I'm guessing I'm not. Maybe this is the reaction the doctor is going for, since I suppose it could increase the drive to use the leg, but it seems to me that it could also set the patient up for feeling like a failure when, try as she might, she just can't bring herself to bend her knee. Is that really a good idea? Because from where I'm standing (ha), it looks like the only thing worse than the demeaning experience of being pushed around in a wheelchair like an invalid is the feeling that you're not healing as fast as you should be.

I don't know. I'm going to do my best not to let it get to me (in the event that I actually do have trouble with this "psychological barrier"). I guess I've been thinking a lot about patient psychology lately, though. I had read stuff before about how psychologically hard it can be to be a patient, to allow people to treat you like you need help and to cope with people who treat you like you can't do anything for yourself. I didn't really get it; after all, any rational person can see that there's no shame in having something wrong with your body that needs to get fixed. Well, now I do get it. It is hard. It's easy to feel like everything is an affront to your dignity; after the first few weeks, you stop wanting the sympathy of strangers. You get this urge to say to the people who look at you in your wheelchair, "Hey, this is temporary. I don't usually look like this. I can walk just like you." Which is horrible, because of course there's nothing wrong with being handicapped. Unless it's me that's handicapped.

Right. So, anyway, I can bend my leg now, and I have bent it a little, but it feels... weird. And the only other thing that happened at the doctor's office was that I learned that my crutches will be going back to Russia with me. Whatever. As long as it's not a wheelchair.

15 December 2006


My doctor's appointment this morning (first one post-op) proved not to be a disappointment. Many good things happened, including:

1. getting to unwrap my leg, which has been in an Ace bandage and an immobilizer (I believe normal people call it a "brace," but it's apparently an "immobilizer" in orthopedic lingo) from mid-thigh to toe since last Tuesday. It wasn't pretty, but it was happy to see the light of day again. My calf, by the way, is so skinny now! This is the first time in my life I've had a skinny leg. Too bad the other one doesn't match, eh?
2. getting to see the incision! It's gross and 3" long and still has bloody tape on it holding it together, but it's nice to see what it looks like, especially since until now I didn't even know where it was exactly.
3. getting permission to take the brace off when I shower, which we promptly did, which means that my leg and foot just got wet for the first time since the accident (minor spongings excepted). Hallelujah!
4. getting the ok for buying my plane tickets BACK TO RUSSIA!!!!!

Number 4 is obviously the most exciting. We discussed my treatment/recovery course, which the doctor described as "aggressive," since the injury wasn't as bad as they expected. I have two more weeks of keeping it immobile and elevated (too bad, since sitting around with my leg up all the time is really boring), but as of December 29th I'll be able to bend it, and I'll start physical therapy after New Year's. And THEN, after some intense physical therapy during which they'll teach me lots of exercises I can do on my own when I relocate, I can go back to Russia, probably in the 3rd week of January (around the 20th?). YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.

That was all I really wanted: to know when I'll be back.

10 December 2006

To my credit, I'm not entirely shameless...

Because I know that if I stop updating, people will stop reading, I will post another entry. If that isn't a lame reason to post an entry, I don't know what is. I'm a little ashamed to admit that with constant internet access and little else to do, my Site Meter, a web page that tells me how many people are visiting my blog, is one of the most exciting aspects of my life right now. (Yes, that's right, I'm watching you. But don't worry, Site Meter doesn't provide me with names, and even if it did, I don't judge. After all, I'm the one who now visits facebook.com (a site that I vaguely recall thinking I had outgrown about eight months ago) upwards of twenty times a day. That leaves me precious little room to judge anyone else's internet habits.)

All this internet is definitely one of the weirdest things about suddenly being plunked back down in the U. S. of A. At first, I felt (predictably) internet-starved in Russia. The feeling didn't go away quickly - probably because, as a recent college graduate, I'm a member of the most internet-dependent demographic in America, and because I was going through the awful post-college loneliness we all seem to have felt a bit of once we set sail upon life's seas. But by the time I left Vladivostok I had just gotten to the point where internet felt more like a necessary chore than a delight. I say "chore" not because I dragged myself unwillingly to the internet cafe - that is certainly not true - but because I had come to see my posts, emails with friends, and poppings-in on the blogosphere not as lifelines, but as the simple motions it was necessary (and pleasant) to keep going through if I wanted to stay in contact with the people I cared about. I guess you could say I stopped craving an internet connection just for the sake of being online, and started looking forward to individual connections - an email from a friend I was waiting to hear from, or an update to a favorite blog.

In retrospect, I prefer that kind of relationship to the internet to the kind I have now, or the kind I (and most everyone else I knew) had in college. Perhaps when I move back to the States for real, I won't get internet in my apartment.

Oh, and how am I doing? I'm fine. I had surgery on Tuesday, as indicated in the last post. I've been getting progressively better, by which I mean I've been taking progressively fewer dangerously addictive opioid painkillers, and we're hoping tomorrow I'll be able to crutch around painlessly enough to take a shower. I know my hair would be happy. The good news is that they discovered in surgery that my knee wasn't as bad as they thought it might be - no serious cartilage damage, and not nearly as many bone chips (yuck) as they expected to see. So, physical therapy can maybe start a little sooner than they thought. For now, my eyes are on the prize, and that prize is next Friday, which is my first post-op doctor's appointment, when they'll remove my bandage. Hooray!

06 December 2006

Still alive, and I don't think I turned into a zombie...

Since various people asked me to let them know how the surgery went, I will start by posting this to say that the surgery went well and I'm still alive. It was all just fine except the IV they put in my hand, which inexplicably freaked me out beyond belief. (There was even a moment, sitting there waiting to go into surgery and unable to think about anything but the IV, when I wondered whether anyone's ever gone insane from having an IV in their hand.) But they moved it to my arm because it wasn't flowing right in my hand, and that was better. Times a million.

That's all I'll write for now because I'm drowsy from Percocet and worn out in general. Peace out, dudes.

01 December 2006

еще новости!

A brief update from my doctor's appt. this morning:

I'll be getting surgery (outpatient - yay - with general anesthesia - boo) next Tuesday evening. The doctor confirmed that my fibula has a hairline fracture, which will heal on its own. The tibial plateau fracture is worse than they thought, though - there's about 8-10 mm of displacement rather than the 3-4 mm they were guessing from the x-ray. Yikes. This means that I will have a bone graft that actually IS a graft. Of bone. From a CADAVER. I have the option of getting the graft from my own hip instead, but I think I'd rather not have more incisions than are strictly necessary. However, the cadaver-bone carries with it a one in a million risk of hepatitis and a one in 1.5 million risk of HIV. A little scary.

My favorite part of the appointment was the following, although I think the random med student who was shadowing the doctor was the only one who thought it was humorous. Ouch. Guess my funny bone's broken?

Doctor: Now, there are risks involved in accepting grafts from cadavers.
me: You mean like turning into a zombie?

To make this post at least a little Russia-related, isn't the Litvinenko poisoning story creepy?

29 November 2006

medical update number 2.5

I cringe at the idea of using this blog to document my medical misadventures, but since it's where people know to go to find me, and since people (apparently) want to know, I will. At least for now.

So part of the idea in sending me home, at least as it was first stated, was to get a move-on on getting me cut open and fixed up. The doctors in Vlad didn't have any openings in their O.R. schedule until Monday the 27th (one week after my accident), and since my surgery was not urgent, it was deemed acceptable that I wait. Of course, this (along with most other things about the Russian hospital) was not acceptable to the State Department.

Ha. I had my first meeting with the orthopedics guy yesterday, at which he informed me that I will be getting cut open and fixed up (to the tune of a metal plate and a "bone graft" that isn't literally a graft), but not until next week, when the swelling and bruising (yes, I have some pretty fantastic-looking bruises, and by fantastic-looking I mean calcified and composed of liver-colored and yellow splotches) have diminished. He claims that it's necessary to wait to reduce the risk of infection and let the soft tissue heal properly, but I think he just wants me to suffer more.

...Ok, I'm just kidding about him wanting me to suffer. But it's hard to feel warm and fuzzy toward the doctor who tells you that it's "a very serious break" and that you'll "need to take it easy for two to three months" for it to heal, no matter how much I remind myself through gritted teeth not to blame the messenger. (Note: I refuse to accept the idea that that will mean two to three months at home. Hopefully at least some of the recovery - like the part where the only things I can't do are sprint, ski, and use a pogo stick - will take place in Russia.)

In other news, I got a CAT scan today. When the doctor yesterday looked at my x-rays, he said he thought he saw a hairline fracture in the femur. Today, the CAT scan guy said no, no femur fractures, but maybe I have a cracked patella (kneecap). Later he changed his mind and said that actually it's the fibula (other shin-bone) that's broken, not the patella. This in addition to the tibial plateau, of course. It amuses me that they're so mixed-up about this, but on the other hand I think I've finally been convinced that it's better to get all this done here than in Russia, since the Russian doctors didn't see any of this and, as far as I remember, couldn't give me a CAT scan because the CAT scanner - like most high-tech equipment in Russia - was broken.

25 November 2006

just so you know...

I'm still alive! That last entry was posted from the airport in Seoul. They made me fly Business Class home so I could elevate my leg properly (oh darn), so I was chillin' in the Business Class lounge, where they give you free (hah) food and internet and everything. Anyway, this post is from home, and I just wanted to let Concerned Readers know that I'm doing ok.

I got home on Thanksgiving and, after eating turkey etc., went straight to the hospital to get x-rayed and remove the (uncomfortable and outdated but very effective) plaster cast the Russian doctors had put on. They informed me there that my tibial plateau is fractured, which I knew, and explained what this means. The tibial plateau is the top of your tibia (shin bone), a flat area that the femur (thigh bone) rests on. It has to be absolutely flat, otherwise you'll get arthritis. When you break it, it usually stops being absolutely flat. This is the case with me, although the break isn't too bad and I only have 4-5 mm of displacement. This will "probably" require surgery (according to the ER doctor). I'm assuming that he, like many other English speakers, over- and/or subconsciously misuses the word probably* and really meant that it will "definitely" require surgery, although even when we questioned him on this point he hemmed and hawed. I guess I'll find out on Monday for sure.

*I've noticed that people tend to use the word 'probably' any time they deliver news they perceive as unwelcome, and also when they're stating a fact that they 100% believe to be true but still don't want to be held accountable for. An effect of our overly-litigious society?

Many thanks to everyone who's emailed me with their concerns and well-wishes. I have a lot of time on my hands, so you'll all get responses soon, but possibly not today because I'm tired.

As for the fate of this blog...? I might still write a few things in it while I'm home. I have at least one good "View from Vlad" entry planned that doesn't require my being there to write. We'll see. If I don't write in it while I'm here, I will certainly start it up again when I get back. So, until then, до встречи.

22 November 2006

I don't even know how to title this post, much less begin it. I guess I'll just have out with it: I got hit by a car on Monday night and broke my leg and now, after lying in a Russian hospital for just shy of 36 hours, I'm on my way home to have surgery and recover.

There's a lot more to the story than that, but I didn't want to keep you in unnecessary suspense. Now, let's continue, if you're interested in hearing more details.

So, Monday night Anya and I went to this AMAZING concert given by a folk orchestra from Yakutia that played both folk music and music composed for folk orchestra (two entirely different genres, as we found out). After the concert we decided to walk home, since the walk was only about 20 minutes through downtown and the buses are usually crowded. Right in the center of town, we stopped and waited to cross the street because the light was red. When the light turned (green for us, red for the cross traffic), I stepped out into the street. Here you need to understand Russian driving habits (and pedestrian habits) to understand my motivation. Russian drivers do not stop for pedestrians who are on the sidewalk waiting to cross; they only stop for pedestrians who step out in front of them. This is how you cross the street in Russia (especially where there's no traffic light) - you step out into traffic and wait for it to stop around you. Harrowing at first, but you adapt quickly. I guess I over-adapted, because I stepped out into the street even though one car for whom the light had turned red was still turning left and there was another car behind him. Unfortunately for me, the second car was not turning left and instead accelerated through the intersection and hit me. I remember all this quite distinctly. It went something like this:
Thought #1: They're not going to stop!
Thought #2: I'm on the hood! I'm not under the wheels!
Thought #3: Shit, I hit my head anyway. (Upon hitting the pavement when the car stopped.)
I also remember the thud my body made hitting the hood (an awful sound) and I remember feeling horror at the sound Anya made, although I don't remember what the sound was exactly. I think she yelled my name.

I sat up right away and also realized right away that I couldn't stand up, because my left leg really hurt. The driver and his wife got out of the car, other people got out of their cars and started yelling at the driver for running the red light, a woman started babbling at me in a completely unrecognizable language, and eventually I was put into the car that hit me and driven (with Anya) to a травмпункт (trauma point - a first-aid station). Friends were called, the driver's wife begged me not to file a police report, I was deposited on an x-ray table, etc. Laura, Mugi and Georgia showed up with my proof of insurance (and other such stuff that I technically should have been carrying with me) while, excuse the language, the quintessential asshole doctor x-rayed me:
Doctor, looking at x-ray: Господи! (God!)
Me: "Господи"?!? ("God"?!?)
Doctor: Ужас! (Awfulness!)
Me: Какой ужас? (What kind of awfulness?)
Doctor: Тихий ужас. (literally "Quiet awfulness", but I interpreted it to mean, "The "be quiet and don't get upset" kind of awfulness.")
He then left, leaving me stranded on the x-ray table with no information. No wonder he doesn't get to work in a real hospital.

So after waiting for an hour and a half for the ambulance (ironically called a скорая помощь - "fast help" - in Russian), during which time I learned that my knee was broken and that I would have to spend the night in a hospital, I got carted off to said hospital, where the real fun began.

Actually, I have next to nothing bad to say about the hospital. Everyone, both before and during this adventure, said that having to go to a Russian hospital is one of the worst things that can happen, but I can't say I see why. True, they are inefficient - I spent a lot of that night lying on stretchers in hallways waiting for stuff to happen - but everyone there was really, really nice and helpful. The doctors all did their best to make me understand exactly what was going on and repeatedly assured me that everything would be ok. I especially liked the guys who worked at night, wheeling me around and waiting with me as I lay in the aforementioned hallways on the aforementioned stretchers - they were fourth-year med students, about my age (med school starts right after high school in Russia), voluntarily working the night shift three times a week in addition to taking classes. They all liked to talk. I also liked the woman who cleaned my room, Albina. She was about sixty and knew more English than anyone else I met at the hospital. I asked her where she learned it and she told me, "In school I fooled around a lot. You see, I was a hooligan (Russians use this word - хулиган/khuligan - a lot more than we do). I had to sit through sixth grade twice. And I learned a lot of English those two years." I don't know if it's true, but at any rate she was quite funny. She popped in several times during my stay, apparently for no reason other than to try out her English skills on me.

My other favorite thing about the hospital was my pillowcase. It was white with a green crisscrossing vine pattern on it, and within the vines, every few inches or so, was printed МИНЗДРАВ - the acronym for the Russian Ministry of Health. I just found that really funny, so funny that I wanted to take it with me. But I didn't.

So anyway, I spent all of yesterday lying in my hospital bed in a single room (they gave me a single room, of course, because I am an American and therefore a celebrity) with a plaster cast on my leg. Throughout the day, as calls from the consulate and embassy poured in, I went from hoping I could just stay in Russia, to hoping I could get the surgery done in Russia and just go home for a few weeks for recovery, to being resigned to going home to get the surgery done and only returning after recovery. This was foisted on me by the consulate/embassy/Washington (I almost fell out of bed when the woman at the embassy said, "I'm going to call Washington and see what they think and then get back to you" - I had brief visions of the direct line from the Kremlin to the Oval Office), all of whom are, in my opinion, completely overreacting, showcasing the tiresomely typical "there's nothing good in Russia/Russia is dangerously backwards" mentality. But then, my friends all also thought I should go home for the surgery, so maybe I'm just biased because I liked the Russian doctors so much. (One good thing that came out of this, though, is that it has convinced me absolutely that I don't want to take the Foreign Service Exam and go into the Embassy/Consular section. My god, what bureaucracy.)

The surgery, incidentally, doesn't sound too bad. I have a plateau tibia fracture (I think that's what it's called), which means my tibia is broken right at the joint with the knee. There are two breaks that come together to form a V, and the reason surgery is required is because this type of fracture usually causes the bone to crumble to some extent, leading to a loss of bone volume that has to be replaced somehow. Incidentally, in case you were wondering, it hardly hurts at all, although it hurt a LOT when they drained the fluid out.

Anyway, this morning I woke up at 6 am, sore all over and tired of sleeping on my back, and called my mother, who filled me in on the fact that I would be leaving Vladivostok in 7 hours. After this a flurry of activity ensued, which involved packing by phone (that is, calling Laura and telling her what to pack me) and leaving in a rush with a lot of loose ends (e.g. my rent, the Institute of Foreign Languages possibly not knowing that I'm gone) untied. I don't know when I'm going back. I hope I am going back, and not just because I left a lot of my possessions there. To be honest, I'm pretty put out about the fact that I had to leave at all, and I hope to return as soon as possible after Christmas. Until then, if any of my readership is anywhere near north central Ohio, I expect a visit. I am an invalid, you know, and Norwalk is boring.

Incidentally, although I suspect no one actually read this far, my friends Anya, Laura, Mugi, Georgia and Celine all deserve many thanks for doing absolutely EVERYTHING for me, from bringing me food and water and books and clothes and toilet paper to packing for me to getting my insurance info to talking to the formidable LP to buying me a phone card to lending me their phones overnight because I couldn't call my parents on mine. Thanks, guys. I'll miss you all while I'm gone. Please eat the contents of my fridge and watch as many of my DVDs as you want!

17 November 2006

Linguistic Oddities, or Fun with Russian Verbs

One bad thing about studying linguistics is that a lot of linguistic "fun facts" cease to amaze you once you've studied how language works. For example, the old one about "the Eskimos have seventeen words for snow!" is a lot less exciting once you've learned that the language this fun fact concerns is one that concatenates adjectives and nouns so they become one word. So not only do they have a word for "wet snow," they probably also have a word for "wet dog."

Anyway. So when I find a word that still amazes/amuses, it's exciting. The verb недоперепить/nedoperepit', which I learned last weekend, is one such word. Why? Literally, it means "to under-overdrink," which is obviously an oxymoron. But it's a useful verb, especially in a society that drinks to excess. What it means is to intend to drink yourself into oblivion, but fail to drink enough to do so. ("I had an awful time at the bar last weekend. I wanted to drown my sorrows concerning my girlfriend, but I nedoperepil.")

I'd like to note that this is one word I did not learn by doing. It came up, dorkily enough, in the course of a discussion on the amazing Russian verbal prefix system, not in the course of a bottle of vodka. But speaking of drinking, I was checking out the various flavored vodkas and cognacs at the supermarket the other day (there's a very interesting line featuring local berries, fruits and forest flavors like cedar and birch), and as I picked up one bottle I noticed that it was lighter than the rest. It seems someone had unscrewed the lid and downed almost half the bottle! Since the store has (the ubiquitous Russian) security guards posted right near the alcohol, I have to wonder how this happened, and I can only conclude that the guard himself has been taking a nip every now and then. I don't blame him - I can't imagine guarding a supermarket is terribly exciting work.

16 November 2006

The View from Vlad #2 – The Eagle's Nest (?)

This will be a pictorial post, because it requires less typing and I'm tired of typing, having just devoted an hour to a few emails. Please excuse the fact that I said "The View from Vlad" would be a weekly feature and then didn't live up to my promise. It appears so far to be more biweekly, but hopefully that'll be remedied in time.

The Eagle's Nest has a question mark after it in the title, because Lera, the girl I went there with, thought I must be crazy to think it's called the Eagle's Nest, and since she's Russian and the person who told me it's called the Eagle's Nest is not Russian, I don't know who to believe. (The non-Russian claims to have a map on her side, though.)

Anyway, the Eagle's Nest (?) is a little park/lookout point at the top of a hill near downtown. It's a cool place to check out not only because it provides a good view of the city and the bay, but because one way to get there is to take the funicular (you can see the uphill station in one of the pictures below), which is claimed to be one of only 3 funiculars in Russia. It's ok if you don't know what a funicular is; I didn't either, until I saw the one here. It's a cable car that goes up and down a hill. Why does the Eagle's Nest have one? Because, unfortunately for the students, DVGTU (Far Eastern State Technical University) is located both at the top and at the bottom of the hill. And this is not an insubstantial hill; those hailing from, for example, northwest Ohio might even be inclined to call it a mountain, although I'm sure West Coasters would be quick to disagree.

Here I would like to make a quick detour to point out that Vladivostok is indeed home to both DVGU (Far Eastern State University) and the just-mentioned DVGTU. This is confusing even to the locals, and it's become even more confusing in recent years. Previously, DVGTU was a technical school and DVGU was a liberal arts school, but now DVGTU has added a liberal arts curriculum as well, and DVGU is putting more emphasis on the hard sciences, so they're sort of the same thing now. On top of this, they actually used to be one university, until they split sometime in the '30's(?), and they like to argue which university was really around first (that is, which university was the university before the split – DVGU or DVGTU?). That seems completely pointless to me, but humorous at any rate. I've been told that the two schools are "rivals," but – in an instance of obstinate and unabashed Americanness – I refuse to see how true rivalry is even possible without college football.

Anyway. So we have a good view of the city and an uphill cable car so far. The third attraction at the Eagle's Nest (?) is the little park. It's called "The Park of Sun and Soul" or something similarly trippy, and it features a plaque and a modern-looking stone sculpture gifted to Vladivostok by the citizens of San Diego, which is apparently Vlad's sister city. People like to hang around this statue and drink vodka, or at least that's what they were doing when we were there (at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday – happy hour?) More interesting than this, however, is the monument to Saints Cyril and Мефодий, the creators of the Cyrillic alphabet. It's brand-new, like most things pertaining to religion here, and pretty cool-looking, in that it's a statue of two enormous monks holding a book of alphabet letters. (I had to write Мефодий in Russian because I don't know how it is in English, although my best guesses are Mefodii, Methodii, or Methodius.)

Anyway, that didn’t actually require less typing than a regular post, but here are the pictures.

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The view to the southeast. You can see the top of the funicular in the foreground.

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The view to the southwest. That bay is the Golden Horn Inlet, which for some reason is the first one you'll read about if you're reading about Vladivostok in English. I'm not sure why, since there are other, bigger bays in the area as well. Possibly because that's where all the port activity is? One funny thing about the Golden Horn is that they used to have problems with it freezing every winter, which required icebreakers, time, effort etc. They solved this problem by making it so polluted with (nice, warm) industrial waste that it almost never freezes. Yum.

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Cyril and his friend, plus me.

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Another view of the monument.

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One of the buildings of DVGTU, plus a cool shadow from the monument.

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The aforementioned trippy monument to sun and soul/open bar. (Sadly, I didn't get the imbibers in the shot.)

14 November 2006

Russian friendship: reflections at the 3.5-month mark

If you’ve asked me lately how things are going, you've probably gotten the same answer I can't help giving everyone who asks: I'm making friends with Russians!!!! The number of exclamation points varies, but the sentiment is the same – this is definitely the most exciting thing that's happened in the last four months. (Sorry, Djanik.)

This is partly because, as they warned us, making friends in Russia really is the hardest part. The dorm system here doesn't help (the foreigners and the Russians are strictly segregated), nor does the fact that I have my own small safety net of other Americans and foreigners (helped along by the dorm system) to fend off loneliness, nor does the fact that I'm a teacher and I spend my day with students who aren't accustomed to the idea of chilling out with their professors. Nor do any of the cultural differences I've mentioned before (see post "Cross-cultural friendship and other disasters").

So it seems like a minor miracle that I have any Russian friends at all, which makes it feel like a victory every time I hang out with them and enjoy myself. But in addition to this, it's genuinely exciting to have Russian friends because Russian friendship is so different from American friendship. It's hard to explain the differences without resorting to the stereotypes of the Russian and American characters that are by now extremely tired-sounding to me. But since most of you, my readers, are not Americans living in Russia or studying Russian, these stereotypes probably won't be as tired to you, so I'll indulge.

The thing that I've noticed most and like the most is that Russians are a great deal more open than Americans. The veneer of politeness that can be hard to get beyond in all but the closest American friendships seems to disappear a lot more quickly here, which means that you're freer to disagree with each other openly without any sense of stepping on each other's feelings, freer to show both approval and disapproval of each other's actions, and freer to express all of your emotions, along with the kind of concern for each other's welfare that Americans seem to reserve for either family or romantic relationships.

I've read a lot of American reactions to this Russian trait, and they can be both good and bad. As a people, we expect the average adult to know how to take care of him- or herself and treat each other as such, so this constant worrying over whether friends are warm enough (eating right, getting enough sleep, able to purchase groceries on their own, the list goes on) sounds a lot like nagging, especially if you're not expecting it. And it does bother me some of the time, but I often find it charming. The other part – the openness in expressing negative opinions – is more difficult for me to deal with, but also funnier. For example:

Lyuda: So, why did you cut your hair?
Leslie: Oh, I'd had long hair for a long time and I wanted to know what it would look like short. But you know, I'm not sure I like it. I think long hair looks better on me.
Lyuda: I agree! When I first saw it, I thought, "Leslie! Who is the awful person who has done this to you?!?"

Yeah. I'm pretty sure none of my American friends would ever say that. But Lyuda then gave me a hairdryer (apparently she had an extra one lying around) and advised me to buy some mousse – a fine example of Russians' ability and willingness to look after my well-being in unexpected ways.

I spent most of Sunday hanging out with two of my students, Lena and Irina, and Lena's boyfriend Sasha, a ship painter. It was nothing too special – we went to the movies, sat in a café for an hour or two, and walked on the набережная/naberezhnaya, Vladivostok's version of a boardwalk – but at the end of the day I felt such a happiness in my heart (I can't believe I just wrote "such a happiness in my heart" – I think I'm turning into a Russian) and an intense satisfaction at the knowledge that my wellspring of love for Russians seems to run at least as deep as my wellspring of bewilderment and occasional frustration toward Russian society. This is definitely a good thing.

08 November 2006

linguistic mishap #4923

Unfortunately for me (and Russian learners everywhere), Russian is not a language like Spanish, French or Icelandic, with regular, predictable stress patterns. Instead, like English, it's a language with lexical stress – that is, the stress on a word is generally something you just have to learn when you learn the word.

This causes me no end of trouble – I'm always forgetting the stress patterns on verb declensions or complicated nouns like water and Wednesday, thereby rendering myself more or less unintelligible. But the place where it causes the most trouble (and causes trouble for Russians themselves) is on names. I've had the darnedest time learning how to pronounce my students' last names, which poses a problem when you want to take attendance and there are five Olgas in the class. Finally I got it all sorted out by marking the stress on their names in a little attendance notebook, but the last class for me to conquer was my 12:30 Monday section. For some reason I didn't mark down the stress on their names when I did the others, so there were lingering problems.

So one day last week I was sitting in the department grading papers with some of the other teachers and we got to talking about this, after I proudly corrected one of them on the last name Borisko, which is BorisKO, not BoRISko. I mentioned that there was one name that gave me particular trouble – that of a girl named O. Попова. I now know that her last name is pronounced poPOva, but two weeks in a row I had come to her name in the list, realized the stress was still unmarked, and made a guess. Since in English we say POPov for the last name Попов, I guessed wrong both times and said POPova (which in Russian sounds kind of like "POPE of a," or (relevantly, as I found out) "Popa – va"). This caused Olya to giggle a great deal, especially after I messed it up the second time.

By the time I had finished explaining this, the other teachers had started laughing really hard. "Leslie," one of them finally asked, when they had settled down a bit, "don't you know what попа/popa means?"

"No," I admitted, a cold dread creeping into my heart.

"It means..." and she gestured toward her rear end, still laughing too much to explain. At which point I started laughing really hard too. It seems I had been calling this poor girl something like "Olga of the Butt family."

Sigh. Next time, I'm going for a nice, easy language. Just as soon as I find one.

And speaking of linguistics, I gave my presentation to the phonetics department yesterday. It turned out, however, that the "department meeting" I gave it at was really more of a party in honor of the assistant dean, who just defended her thesis. So before the presentation we all sat around a tiny table and celebrated, Russian-style. This means there was a lot of food and a lot of wine (no vodka - that's only for the menfolk, and there aren't any menfolk in Russian academia). We drank the wine out of teacups and water glasses; I got dealt a water glass (the tall kind, not a tumbler), and the formidable Ludmila Petrovna herself filled it all the way to the top and made me drink the whole thing before I gave my talk! Needless to say, it was just about the best presentation I've ever given.

06 November 2006

Of life and limb (six limbs, to be precise).

Yesterday was a violent kind of day.

First, I ruthlessly exterminated the colony of cockroaches that was living behind my fridge. (Mugi, my Japanese hallmate and friend, should really get a lot of the credit for this, since she both informed me that behind the fridge is where cockroaches live and provided me with the toxic chemicals used in their extermination.) This took up most of the morning and some of the afternoon, since after I sprayed I had to leave for an hour and let everything stew, and then had to air out the room, and then had to spend quite a bit of time stepping on cockroaches (here credit is due to my trusty hiking boots), because many were intoxicated rather than outright killed by the poison, and came crawling drunkenly out of their ravaged home in something like droves. I counted eighteen total that I stepped on and then picked up with a napkin and threw away.

Then, in helping Anya to make a pumpkin cheesecake, I proved that my skills in carving the skin off a pumpkin are nowhere near as well-honed as my skills in carving the skin off my own hand. It's an ugly gash, but not threatening to life or balalaika-playing (thank God).

I acquitted myself well in both these endeavors, I think - the only screams came from Mugi (who had the misfortune of opening the door to my room just as I was pulling the fridge away from the wall) and Celine (the newest addition to the foreigners' dorm, a girl from the Netherlands who apparently doesn't like hearing about bits of skin getting stuck to knives... sorry, Celine...). And probably the cockroaches, in whatever cockroach-y way they might scream. I almost feel bad for the little guys. It didn't look like a very pleasant way to go.

The cheesecake, by the way, was delicious.

01 November 2006

The View from Vlad #1

In the interest of broadening the scope of this blog (and providing a little bit of structure), I’ve decided to introduce a new weekly feature highlighting events, places, or quirks about Vladivostok (rather than about Russia in general) that I find interesting. I will christen this feature "The View from Vlad," just to up the cheesiness factor a bit. Today’s topic: the Hare Krishna café.

Vladivostok has a Hare Krishna café. This strikes me as odd, because I think of a Hare Krishna café as something you could expect to find in a cosmopolitan kind of town (or perhaps a very crunchy town – I could see Oberlin, for example, having one). But, let’s face it, Vladivostok is neither particularly cosmopolitan nor even remotely crunchy. Furthermore, the general lack of religion in Russia and intolerance for most everything but Orthodoxy makes the discovery of less common religious sects particularly surprising (related: one of my students at my volunteer gig is a Seventh Day Adventist!). But nonetheless, there the café sits, in spite of the fact that I can offer no explanation for it. Right in the heart of downtown Vladivostok, no less.

The café is open from 10 to 7 every day, and offers a full menu of vegetarian cuisine. The sign above the door actually says Ведическая кухня – Vedicheskaya kukhnya. That took me a while to figure out, because I'm pretty sure it just translates as "Vedic cuisine," but I'm at a loss for what Vedic cuisine might be. My handy computer dictionary informs me that "vedic" means "of or relating to the Vedas," which in turn (according to the dictionary) are the most ancient of Hindu scriptures. Cuisine pertaining to the most ancient of Hindu scriptures?

Really, it probably just means "cuisine prepared in accordance with the rules set forth in the Vedas," but it's fun to think about the silly ways we use words sometimes. Isn't it a bit like calling kosher food "Torah cuisine?"

But I digress. The café offers a menu of vegetarian cuisine, but if you go at the wrong time you have to listen to chants or lectures on Hare Krishna philosophy as you eat. The only time I tried to eat in the café, it was definitely the wrong time, so I haven't sampled their menu yet. I hear it includes pea soup (no word on johnnycake, though). The room is cozy and nicely-decorated – my favorite part, in my brief foray inside, was the wall hangings that have Hare Krishna chants written in Cyrillic.

However, in the doorway to the café (and herein lies the explanation for how the Hare Krishnas manage to pay the rent on such prime real estate), they do a handy business selling a variety of amazing vegetarian baked goods, which I frequently enjoy as I walk home from my balalaika lessons. If you ever find yourself in Vladivostok (and I hope someday there will be people reading this blog because they are planning a trip to Vladivostok), stop by. My recommendation is the пирожки with curried vegetables (or forest berries, if you're here in early fall), but the ватрyшка is also really good. Both cost ten rubles, which is currently less than 50 cents US.

For the uninitiated, пирожки/pirozhki are little pies, not unlike a small calzone or (and I shudder to make this sacrilegious comparison) a Hot Pocket. They can be stuffed with sweet (apple, berry, tvorog with raisins) or savory (cabbage, egg, liver, vegetables, potato) fillings, and you can buy them on pretty much any major street in Russia. Bатрyшка/Vatrushka is kind of like a Danish – a round bun with tvorog and raisins in the center. I like the Hare Krishna ones because the dough is really light and they're often still warm from the oven.

Bother, now I've made myself hungry!


In other news: I recently received a letter from Katie at the consulate and a postcard from Denise at the dorm (yay alliteration!). These missives are of note not only because they are awesome (the postcard is from Punxsatawney, PA and has a groundhog on it, and the letter contains a greeting in Cyrillic painstakingly copied from a mail-order bride website), but because both made it to Vladivostok in the same month they were sent, which has to be some kind of record for the Russian postal service. Thanks, guys!

31 October 2006

Cross-cultural friendship and other disasters

(Note: at my parents' prodding, I remembered that I wrote this essay a week ago - a week! where is my blog-posting dedication?!? - and decided I might as well post it. Sorry it's been so long! Life here continues to roll on, although I'm finding that I get busier and busier with each passing week (that's a good thing, so far). In other news, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! No costume for me this year, but I'm wearing my orange sweater in honor of the day.)

One of the reasons I often gave when people asked me why I wanted to move to Russia for a year was that I felt that living in a foreign culture is the kind of broadening experience that can really change your perspective on life, turn you into a different person, yada yada, and that everyone should take the opportunity if they have the chance to.

This is obviously just a spiel; tired, trite, obvious, the kind of thing every traveler trots out when faced with someone who doesn’t understand why you’d choose to go somewhere where there’s no hot water six months of the year and all the cold water has to be boiled to avoid giardia and you’re fifteen time zones away from every one of your friends. But it has the virtue of ringing a lot truer than many spiels, and it’s turned out to be less trite than I gave it credit for. So I stand by it.

I’m just at the point in my stay where I’m starting to feel a whole lot less like a tourist. This is true in several ways; most obviously, I don’t get lost every time I leave campus and I now know how to send mail to the U.S. and where the safe ATMs are. Less obvious but more important is the fact that, while I’m still not at the point where I could say I really understand Russian culture, the culture – specifically, the ways in which it really, meaningfully differs from U.S. culture – is becoming clearer to me. By meaningful differences I’m referring to the ones that are less visible than, “Oh my god, most of these people have never eaten peanut butter! And they’re surprised that I’m 22 and not married yet! And they think by letting their child sit on the floor I’m risking that he’ll catch the flu or become sterile!” (Although those – except maybe the peanut butter one, which should be unsurprising to all but the most sheltered Americans – are certainly interesting in their own rights.)

Anyway, the upshot of this, especially in the context of attempting to make Russian friends, is that I’ve gotten a good dose of realizing just how important culture is. That sounds really dumb. But what I mean is that I’m realizing how important having some sort of shared culture can be in shaping our interactions with people. For instance, I only recently came to terms with the fact that as long as I keep using a smile to signal friendliness and politeness (the typical American use for a smile), many Russians are going to think I am shallow and fake.* (Haven’t decided yet whether this means I’ll change my ways – I think training myself to smile less would be very difficult.)

More meaningfully, I’ve realized the extent to which your culture gives you a belief system. When you meet another American, you obviously can’t assume anything about, say, religious or political beliefs (the kind of beliefs we usually think about), but you can and do assume other kinds of beliefs: for instance, a belief in the value of self-reliance and individualism that’s so ingrained in our culture that most people (including me) probably don’t feel like they really have it until they come up against a group of people that looks at individualism differently. As another example, it’s sad but true that when you meet another American you can’t assume anything about his or her beliefs on the subjects of racism or sexism. But you probably make an assumption about what beliefs that individual will espouse in front of relative strangers. It would be shocking for someone to say something like, “I hate black people and think they’re intellectually inferior to whites,” in a polite or especially an academic setting. Here, that assumption is out the window. The rules of what’s ok to say and what’s not ok are completely different. I’ve been floored several times by comments that people I like very much – students and professors both – have said things that in America would be either inappropriate, uneducated, or flat-out ridiculous.

This presents a problem. Your gut reaction in these situations is to start disliking the person, much as you (that is, I) would pass judgment on someone in the U.S. if they made the above comment. But you know that’s not right somehow. It’s especially hard for me with the rampant anti-Chinese racism here. Those beliefs are not ok with me, but these people live in a culture that tells them those beliefs are fine, acceptable, and even the norm, to say nothing of justified or morally correct. Can I blame them for that? I don’t think so. But how to foster tolerance? Is it appropriate to say straight-up that those beliefs aren’t acceptable to me? (This is L’s strategy, but I’m not comfortable with it, especially in the classroom.) My current MO is to always argue when appropriate and use culturally unbiased arguments (that is, nothing that begins with something like, “In the U.S. this would never…” So what? Why should they care what it’s like in the U.S.?).

Anyway, all this is interesting to me. Making friends here requires time. And patience.

Speaking of time and patience, I spent five hours last Sunday shopping for a winter coat with some of the nicest, most concerned, generous, and patient people I’ve ever met. They hardly even knew me, and they drove me around to different markets and stuffed me into about fifty different coats trying to find the warmest, best one. (This was a student from my Wednesday night adult class and her husband.) It was really touching. We finally found one that has an amazing, enormous fur-lined hood that makes me look like Jane Eyre/Little Bo Peep/the cartoon oysters from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland/a daisy (opinions, you see, differ). And starfish-shaped buttons. (Sometime maybe I’ll write about what being in a foreign culture does to your sense of fashion, because it’s… interesting.)

28 October 2006

Posts, or lack thereof

So, it's been a while. I don't have a real post right now, but I just wanted to check in, say hello, and promise that a "real post" is coming soon. And I'll add that this morning I accidentally participated in a vaguely nationalistic school lecture on how Russian is a mighty language which should be respected, cultivated, and protected by all Russians (including - and this is the part that goaded the linguist in me - the ones who are currently busy speaking minority languages like Buryat that are frankly in a lot more danger of disappearing than Russian is...). But afterwards we got to go to the seashore, where I found some nice shells, so I consider myself about even on the day.

20 October 2006

The new hair...

Because I'm short on internet time, I'll refrain from commenting and just give you the pictures.

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and After
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Edit: ok, I caved and bought more internet time (addicted? maybe...). So I will offer the following commentary:

First, the second picture is not entirely representative of the new 'do, since I took it right after I had it cut, and of course the stylist did all that blow-drying and combing and gel stuff that they always do. I own neither a blow-dryer nor gel, so it never looks quite like this, but it looks ok nonetheless.

Second, what do you think? I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I think I like it. For one, I look a bit older, and as Boris Sergeevich reminded me, that's still a good thing when you're 22. (Someday I should write an entry about Boris Sergeevich.) For another, one of the reasons I cut it is because with long hair I just put it into a ponytail or a clip all the time anyway, because I didn't like the way it looked when it was down. The stylist, however, was adamantly opposed to me cutting it short and kept trying to convince me that long hair was better (two things she kept saying were, "Long hair is so much more feminine!" and "Won't you miss having long hair?" (That is, вам не жаль? which I understand to mean something like that, although it may actually mean "Won't you regret it?")). This was a little weird, since she herself had short hair. (Dyed brassy blonde, for a change from the typical maroon.)

Also, my hair is at least twice as fluffy now as it's ever been before, which is exciting and a little weird (I have thin hair, so when it's long it lies pretty flat).

17 October 2006

"When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple..."

Appparently, the Russians have taken Jenny Joseph's sentiment to its extreme, in that old ladies here don't just wear purple; they dye their hair purple. Lavender, to be more specific. I've seen this on several different women here (always exactly the same shade), but I was particularly struck by the vivid tresses of a woman I passed on the way to the internet cafe (and by the fact that she was wearing lipstick that was a perfect match).

I think my grandmother, an active member of my hometown's Red Hat Society, should try this out.

I haven't seen any younger women with purple hair, though, because they seem to be too busy dying it the kind of vivid maroon you see sometimes in the U.S. on someone who was going for a rich red-brown but missed the mark by about two miles. Except here, it's done on purpose.

So the reason I'm contemplating this is that I have a hair appointment in about two and a half hours. I've been toying with the idea of cutting my hair short since August, and I've finally concluded that I'm not going to be happy until I find out what it looks like. I actually thought about selling my hair, since there's ample opportunity to do that here (and admittedly because I was being romantic/dramatic and imagining an entrance like Winona Ryder's in the movie version of Little Women when she bursts into the kitchen and reveals that she's sold her beautiful chestnut locks to support the family). But it turns out that the requisite 30 cm you need to have to sell (40 cm if dyed or gray, which my hair fortunately is not) would leave me with only an inch or two left. And that's not what I'm going for.

So despite the fact that I'm not going to be satisfied until I find out what I look like with short hair, I acknowledge that this is a horrible idea. You see, the above-mentioned dye jobs aren't the only way in which Russian hair fashion differs from U.S. For one thing, rat-tails (you know, the kind the third-grade bully had) are popular (on women and small boys, but not men, it seems), as are mullets and mullet derivatives. If not for the fact that I found a picture of what I want my hair to look like, I think the risk of accidentally coming out with a rat-tail or a mullet would be too great (especially since my haircut-describing abilities are pretty weak in Russian). But I did find such a picture, so off to the парикмахерская/parikmakherskaya (a ridiculously long word that I suspect must come from German, like most ridiculous Russian words (another example: шнурки/shnurki, which means shoelaces)) I go.

However, the picture I'm taking with me is a side shot, so there's still a chance that I'll end up with some godawful bangs or something. (I'm hoping hand gestures will be enough to prevent that.) In any case, if the stylist appears to be reaching for a bottle of dye, my plan is to start running.

10 October 2006

You don't say no to Ludmila Petrovna...

Ludmila Petrovna is the head of ИИЯ, the department I "work" for at the university. I forget whether I mentioned her here before, but I don't think I did.

Basically, she scares the pants off me.

She's a very commanding person, and the first time I met her (under less-than-favorable circumstances, since at the time no one, least of all me, knew what I was doing here) I actually thought she hated me. In fact, she didn't - she just has a very no-nonsense demeanor and that peculiar Russian(?) conversation style that only permits one person (namely, her) to ever say anything.

Anyway, I was in the department today when I ran into her. She informed me that she needed to talk to me after I was done with what I was doing. Uh-oh. I figured I was about to get canned, or at least chewed out for not being a good English teacher or being underqualified or something. I can see Ludmila Petrovna really ripping into someone if she found out they weren't doing their job.

No such luck. In reality, Ludmila Petrovna (a phonologist herself) heard through the grapevine that my "specialty" in college was phonology. She wanted to know if I would be willing to give a talk on phonological research to the department. In addition to discussing my research interests, it would be nice if I could also talk a bit about what I think the most important areas of phonological research are at the present time. Because of the title of this post, I agreed.

I am, perhaps, slightly more qualified to give this talk than a potato would be. But only slightly. The fact that phonology was NOT my specialty (although my senior project could, I guess, be considered phonological in nature) only scratches the surface of the multitude of reasons why, in the USA, I would not be considered qualified to give this talk.

We were warned about our "lecture appeal" at our orientation; a recent Fulbrighter to Estonia told us about how he found himself scheduled to give a lecture on Che Guevara. His hosts just assumed that, being American, he must know a lot about Che Guevara. (No, I don't follow the logic there, either.) I believe he used Wikipedia to get through it. At the time, I was terrified that something like that would happen to me. Now, I just find it hilarious.

In other news: Thanks, Ronli and Denise! I got my birthday cards from both of you today. It felt like my birthday all over again!

08 October 2006

A picture or two...

My "real" update is below ("The Ugly Side"), but to lighten things up a little bit, here are a few pictures from our trip to Russki Ostrov last weekend.

Russki Ostrov (Russian Island) is an island in the bay here. It's quite large, and is home to a now-decrepit fort that was built near the end of the tsarist era (in 1903). For much of the Soviet era it was closed to anyone but army personnel, and was used as a training ground. Now it's where Vladivostok's citizens go on the weekends to "have a rest" (a favorite English expression for the Russians I know) and pick mushrooms or wildflowers.

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I like the view in this photo. The walls you can see are parts of the old fort.

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The "ship graveyard" was my favorite part of the island. It was really still and quiet there, except the sound of some power tools coming from across the inlet where they were harvesting scrap metal from one of the ships. The contrast between nature and the junky, rotting man-made stuff gave the place a kind of surreal feeling.

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This is my favorite picture, just because it turned out so well. And because after seeing all the litter on the beach, it was reassuring to know that *something* can still live in the ocean there.

The Ugly Side

Disclaimer: I think this is the first post I could legitimately get into trouble with the university for writing. As a disclaimer, the following is my own account of events that I have no material proof actually happened. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see it. If a university official informs me that this account is incorrect, I will notify my readers immediately. As an additional note, throughout this post, I use the term “Russian” to refer to an amorphous group of people who identify as ethnically Russian, which often includes people with some Ukrainian or Belarusian heritage but emphatically does not include every citizen of the Russian Federation. I also hope people recognize that I’m speaking in generalities; things I say here do not apply to every Russian, or even most Russians.

There was a Chinese holiday on Friday. I have to confess my cultural ignorance by saying I don’t know what the holiday is called exactly (Moon Festival? Lunar New Year? Something along those lines...), but that’s not important at the moment. The point is, several of the visiting Chinese professors who live in our dormitory were celebrating this holiday on Friday evening. They were having this celebration on the sidewalk outside the dorm; I’m not sure why, but it probably had something to do with the dorm’s absolutely-no-alcohol-ever policy. Anyway, the dorm is on our relatively closed campus, so it’s not like they were just on the street. Nonetheless, some (presumably drunk) Russian guys came up behind them, started chasing them and throwing things at them, and eventually hit one of the teachers in the head with a brick. Besides that guy’s very bloody head wound (no concussion that I know of) and some scrapes on a girl who fell down trying to run away, no one was injured. Which is good.

But still.

Racial and ethnic hatred is, I would say, a big problem in Russia. In Western Russia, the brunt of the xenophobia is felt by Caucasian people – that is, Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis – but many Russians feel dislike for all sorts of non-Russian groups, from Jews to East and Southeast Asian immigrants to simply any foreigner who clearly doesn’t fit in. Maybe some of you saw the recent New York Times article about the ethnically-motivated bar brawl in a village in Karelia that culminated in businesses owned by ethnic Georgians being vandalized (need I compare this to Kristallnacht?), and ultimately caused a large portion of the town’s ethnically Georgian population to flee to the regional capital. Or if you followed the news about the Moscow market bombing in August, you know that it wasn’t a result of warring between the Chinese and Vietnamese merchants there (as was first suggested), but was planned by a group of Russian nationalist university students. I also heard something about a Spanish student in Western Russia having recently been murdered, but I don’t know any details about that.

Russians give various explanations for dislike of immigrant groups; one excuse I’ve frequently heard is that Caucasian immigrants are involved in shady business dealings. I don’t buy it. Maybe it’s true, but I don’t think it’s the real reason for the hatred. I don’t have a clear answer for what the real reason is, but I think it has a bit to do with the instability caused by the fall of the Soviet Union, a bit to do with the continually poor economic situation for the average Russian (sure, the ruble’s gaining strength, but it’s all oil), and a bit to do with a long history of xenophobia here. (Alas, even Dostoevsky, one of my favorite authors, had some issues with xenophobia.) Perhaps it also has something to do with the “demographic crisis” (a hot issue here). The birthrate is critically low, and at least here in the Far East, immigrants are pouring in, which leads to the opinion I’ve heard both here and in Moscow: Vladivostok is being overrun by Asiatic peoples.

I have no solution for the situation, besides time and increased socioeconomic stability. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling almost daily outrage about it, along the lines of, “Good grief, people, shouldn’t we be DOING something?!?” This now strikes me as funny; until I came to Russia, I didn’t realize that the tendency to want to fix everything that’s wrong is a uniquely American trait. But a Russian once remarked on this to me. The exact quotation was, “You Americans are always trying to save the world.” I think there’s some truth to it; Americans are certainly conditioned to believe that they can change things they don’t like. Righteous indignation is like a national pastime for us. We write letters to the editor. We start movements and protests. At the extreme end of things, we invade other countries and try to bring them democracy (although I realize that many Americans would take exception to being included in that “we”). Essentially, just seeing that something is wrong or unjust is, for us, a call to arms.

You could of course contrast this attitude with that of the Russians, especially ones who grew up in the Soviet Union. But I find it more interesting to contrast it with the attitude of one of the Japanese girls here: “Это не моя страна. Я – гост. Поэтому надо терпеть." ("This isn't my country. I'm a guest here. I've got to put up with it.") It's probably better for your blood pressure and a lot wiser than my Lone Ranger reaction, really. It strikes me as especially funny that she, a potential target for violence, said this to me, who is at much less risk of ever being seriously harmed by xenophobia.

I like the American attitude. I think that in most cases it's one of the better ways in which we differ from other nations. But for now, надо терпеть.

05 October 2006

первый блин является комом

Yesterday was a good day.

First, during my balalaika lesson, this woman bursts into the room, says a bunch of stuff to Natasha that I don’t really understand, and starts accompanying my (painfully slow) balalaika-playing on the piano. She turned out to be really friendly and contagiously energetic and later said a lot of stuff I did understand (including an adorable story about a friend of hers who studied in Anchorage and then in Boston and then married a guy from Anchorage and thereby gave hope to all Russian women who haven’t found true love yet), but I still have no idea who she was. Situations like this are always funny when you’re functionally alinguistic, because you get this sense that there’s information missing from the picture, but there’s no way to figure out what it is. (Of course, that can also be frustrating, but not in this case.)

Second, as I was scurrying around trying to find a place to print the lesson plan and handouts for my evening adult class, the following conversation ensued (in Russian, of course):
Woman at the photocopy center: So, why do you speak with an accent?
Me (amused): Because I’m from America.
Her: Oh. What were you doing in America?
Me (more amused): Umm... well, I was born there.
Her: Oh. But you’re Russian, right?
Me: What? No!
Her: OH. Hmm. In that case, what are you doing here?
Me: Oh, I’m an English teacher at DVGU, etc. etc.

She thought I was Russian! That’s always exciting, especially if they keep thinking you’re Russian after you’ve spoken more than one sentence. As I was leaving, she said, “Come again, and we can practice Russian!” Cute! I love how kind people here are.

Third, after the adult evening class (which I was half an hour late for, because of rush hour), I said something in Russian and one of the students exclaimed to another, “She talks so fast! And with such a strange accent!” This is a compliment because speaking as fast as a Russian in Russian is hard; and having a strange accent might not be a compliment, but in my book it’s better than having an American accent. And when I asked her what she meant, she explained that my accent is “cute.” Whatever that means!

Then I went home and accidentally dumped an egg crate with four eggs still in it onto the floor. Three of the eggs fortuitously landed in the empty trash can (completely empty – no bag or anything) and the fourth oozed under the TV stand. It didn’t ruin my good day, but it provided, shall we say, a counterpoint. I never noticed before what an interesting consistency raw eggs have.

So, I’ll have to get around to putting up pictures from our trip to Russian Island last weekend (facebook users can see them in my facebook profile). I’d also like to write about the election that’s coming up this Sunday, because learning about it and observing the campaigning that’s going on has been an interesting window into Russian culture (and politics, of course).

02 October 2006

Who Djanik is and why he has my phone number...

After my last post I realized that you can't mention things like Russian men professing their love for you by text-message without people asking things like, "Who is Djanik and why does he have your phone number?" So here's the Djanik story, which isn't as funny in print as it was in real life, but I hope it'll be enjoyable anyway.

So it was my very last day in Moscow, and I was scurrying around trying to get all my packing done and loose ends tied up before the taxi came for me and L at 4:30. At about 3:00, I realized I didn't have any money left on my cell phone, and I needed to add some so I could call people from the road (expensively, since I'd be roaming, but nonetheless it's nice to have a way to contact people when your plane is going down in flames over Siberia, which was at that point more or less what I believed was going to happen). Since I was short on time, I went to the convenience store across the street to use the cell phone money-adding machine, instead of walking to the supermarket, where you can hand the money to a real person and she'll add it to your cell phone for you.

The problem was that I didn't really know how to use this machine, the cell phone equivalent of an ATM, and the directions were all in Russian. I bet I could have figured it out if I had stared at it long enough - I do speak Russian, after all, at least in some sense - but I didn't get a chance to try, because someone came up behind me, obviously waiting to use the same machine. I gestured to him to go ahead, saying (in Russian), "You go first. I don't know how it works." Being a nice guy (or a desperate guy), he then volunteered to help me, and even helped me get change from the cashier when the only bill I could produce was a thousand-ruble note (about forty dollars).

So I got the money put on the phone just fine, and that was about when the trouble started. Knowing that I couldn't use the standard Russian girl's excuses of either a) I don't have a cell phone or b) there's no money on my cell phone, he requested my number. Naturally, when I explained that I was moving to Vladivostok that very day, he didn't believe me, figuring this was just the best excuse I could come up with now that he knew I had a phone with money on it. So he insisted, in that slightly pushy way that I've now concluded all Russian men must study in school or something. At this point, I decided that giving in would be the easy way out, since I was getting rid of that phone number (a Moscow number) as soon as I got to Vladivostok anyway.

So I agreed. Here the situation took a tragicomic turn, because he wanted to write down his number to give to me, but he had a broken arm and was holding a bag of groceries in the other hand and didn't have a pen or paper. But eventually this was all solved by borrowing pen, paper and table space from the cashier, and I had the name "Djanik" (Armenian?) and a number written in an uneven left-handed scrawl on the back of my cell phone receipt. And he had my
number, because of course I couldn't convince him that I would call him (and he was right to doubt me - that receipt was headed for the garbage as soon as I was out of his sight).

From there things only got more tragicomic, because he called me only an hour later, literally while I was carrying my suitcase and rucksack down the stairs. Too flustered to explain that I was tied up, I just said, "Uhh... you have the wrong number!" and hung up, rationalizing that he had failed miserably at pronouncing my name and thus it was conceivable that I could have really not known who he was looking for.

He called a few more times while I was in the taxi, and I ignored it (rude, I know). I made my fatal mistake when he called while I was in the airport ticket line, by text-messaging back: "I'm in the airport and I can't possibly talk right now!" I hoped that this would convince him that I really was moving to Vladivostok and was therefore not worth pursuing, but instead it just caused him to text back in poorly-spelled Russian: "Please call me when you get there, I can't explain how strongly I have fallen in love with you. I kiss you. Djanik." I felt so guilty. This poor sap! (Or poor sap who wants a rich foreign girlfriend?) But not guilty enough to call him back and explain that I wasn't interested. So he called me a few (that is, ten) more times while I was on the road, I ignored his calls each time, and I bought a new phone number (not to avoid him, but to have a local Vladivostok number) a few days later. And that was that. But I half expect that if I were to put my Moscow SIM card back in my phone, I'd find a hundred missed calls, all from Djanik.

Next time, I'm just going to hold up my right hand (the wedding ring hand in Russia) and say that I'm married.

27 September 2006

In over my head...

I just had my second balalaika lesson. It went alright in general, but near the end of the lesson, disaster (?) struck. Bear in mind that this whole conversation is in Russian; my teacher, Natasha, doesn't speak any English.

N: So, are you in Vladivostok to study Russian?
L: No, no, I'm an English teacher.
N: Oh, I see.
Her eyes start to twinkle. She glances over at her son, a boy of about seven who she brings to the lessons for reasons I don't entirely understand.
N: Say, I have an idea. How about instead of you paying me money for the lessons, I can teach you balalaika, and you can teach Slava English?

I swear, in that moment, my life flashed before my eyes.

I don't consider myself a pushover (note: I readily admit there might be a bit of delusion in my self-perception), but I often find that in Russian, my hands (and tongue) are tied. I could think of a million reasons why this type of in-kind payment is a bad idea: I have virtually no pedagogical training and the training I do have has nothing to do with little kids; if Natasha isn't satisfied with my teaching - or if I decide I don't want to teach the kid but do want to keep learning the balalaika - the situation could get awkward very quickly; planning lessons is very time-consuming; I'm not sure how this kind of work jives with my grant agreement; etc. Unfortunately, I was struck more or less dumb - not exactly because I can't say these things in Russian, but just because it seems the combination of (awkward situation) + (foreign language) leaves me unable to function normally. Someday maybe I'll tell you about Djanik, the guy I met in the grocery store who ended up professing his undying love for me via text-message. But that's another story; the sum of today's story is that I'm teaching Slava his first English lesson next Wednesday and all I can do is laugh at myself and pray that it all turns out ok.

Something good did come out of the lesson, though: Natasha and I picked out a song for me to study, and the first one she suggested was the TETRIS THEME SONG. If any of you know how much I love Tetris, you will realize how exciting this is for me.

24 September 2006

Last (Moscow) Picture Post

Sadly, we’ve come to the end of the Moscow pictures. But on my list of goals for October is a photo tour of Vladivostok, so hopefully I’ll be getting out with my camera for a few hours one of these days and can show you the results.

Anyway, these pictures are from when four of us went to VVTs (ВВЦ – Всероссийский Выставкий(?) Центр), the All-Russia Exhibition Center. VVTs is basically a huge fairground. It was built in Soviet times, and it consists of a big midway that's surrounded by seventy 'pavilions' (they looked more like 'buildings' to me) that represent all the ethnicities and nationalities of the Soviet Union. So there's a Karelian pavilion, an Armenian pavilion, a Georgian pavilion, a Buryat pavilion, and many others. The center now houses all sorts of exhibitions – on the schedule I saw, there was a teen fashion show and a home and garden show coming up – and it's also generally a good place to walk (or rent rollerblades), eat at outdoor cafes, do a little shopping (at least a few of the pavilions now have stores in them), ride carnival rides, and enjoy the sights. The pictures really explain it better than I can.

First, here's the entrance. Notice the crowning glory: members of the victorious proletariat holding up a sheaf of wheat from the Soviet Union's bounteous fields. Hooray!
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Second (although actually this is before the entrance), a monument to Soviet aerospace achievements. It's really tall and shiny. At the bottom, there's a mural of all the people – from signal operators to engineers to astronauts to Lenin – who made space flight possible. There's also a lot of grafitti. I guess not everyone's into aerospace achievements.
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I don't know who this guy is, but he seems to be enjoying the view.
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This is the golden fountain of women of different nationalities (all in traditional garb).
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Look, ma, I'm a pilot! There was an old Aeroflot plane there that you could go in and explore. You could even walk out on the wings. My comrades (who were lucky enough to not have to fly to their host cities like I did) made a lot of jokes about how it was the only time you'd catch them on a Russian domestic carrier, how it was probably the safest plane in Russia, etc. Har har.
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There was also a rocket ship! You weren't supposed to explore this one, but one member of our group who shall remain nameless scaled the support beams and explored it anyway, with a group of young Russian dudes. Then the cops drove by and we had to lay low. Then we met a Russian guy, and we all went on the Ferris wheel. The view there was nice, but unfortunately the glare on the windows prevented good pictures.
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Obligatory 'art photo' - A rocket, a plane, a bike.
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One last picture: some army guys feeding the pigeons outside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It would have been even better if the shot had included the monk who was also photographing the soldiers. But maybe it's for the better – he probably would have yelled at me.
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21 September 2006

What do you do with a drunken sailor?

The answer is "schmooze," at least some of the time. A Navy ship, the USS Chancellorsville, is here for the week, and being government-sponsored if not exactly government-employed, L and I were invited to a reception on deck for consulate people and important Russians (and also, incidentally, several of my students, who were serving as student-interpreters for the sailors). We both almost fainted with joy when we saw the:

1. Mozzarella sticks,
2. Chocolate chip cookies, and
3. Open bar,

although we lamented the fact that the ship didn't turn up in November or so, when we're REALLY missing all the unhealthy American food you can't get here. But hopefully the pint(s) of Guinness and multiple types of fried appetizers I sampled will hold me over until Christmas. I smuggled several cookies home in my purse. :)

Anyway, the sailors were all really drunk by the end (and some unfortunate guys who had had lunch on a Russian ship were drunk even at the beginning, having apparently ingested about a liter of vodka each). All I can say is that so far, Russian men are truly no match for American sailors in terms of sketchiness. Even the captain was drunk (and behaving in a very drunken manner)! But to their credit, most of them were really quite nice, and I even got a mini-tour of the ship. I just hope my poor students were able to resist their romantic advances - they (my students) don't do much to dispell the myth that all Russian women are blonde and beautiful, which is perhaps not an advantage in the company of sailors.

17 September 2006

"He was my first love, but we split up because he was a gold digger."

So, it’s been a while. It’s been a busy week for me – my first week teaching! – and internet complications (as in, sometimes it doesn’t work, even at the internet café) made it even harder for me to find the time, energy and money to get online. So now that it’s finally the weekend, here’s an update!

1. Teaching. It’s hard. I like it and am especially excited about getting to know my students better, but it’s more stressful and wearing than I expected. I’m teaching fourth-year students, which is not what I expected, so it’s more difficult to feel like our class time is really valuable to them than it would be if they were beginners or intermediate-level students. I think I had this idealistic vision that after every class I would walk away feeling like I had done a lot to improve my students’ ability to speak English. That’s not really how it works – partly because they’re so advanced already, and I think partly because that’s just not how it ever works – and that’s hard to adjust to. Other challenges are feeling out exactly what my role is, as an “authority figure” who’s so obviously almost the same age as my students (most are 20 or 21); and just getting used to being on the other side of the teacher’s desk. For example, silences that I would likely have just accepted or ignored as a student now seem deafening and awkward and a problem that is a) my fault and b) my job to fix. Whew. I’m guessing I’ll get better at this at some point.

2. Q: How is living in the university dorm in present-day Vladivostok like living in “Little House in the Taiga?”
A: There’s no hot water! And there won’t be until October, because the city shuts it off in the summer to conserve energy. So I take pioneer-style baths that involve boiling a lot of water pot by pot and filling a small tub with it, then using my sole saucepan to pour water from the tub onto myself. The only difference is that the tub is Rubbermaid and the water gets boiled in an electric kettle. And Maw and Paw and Laura and Mary and baby Jack don’t all have to share the water.

The tub does triple duty as my bath reservoir, dishpan and laundry tub. Yesterday the following exchange took place:
Anya, pointing to a bath pouf floating with the dirty pots and pans: Is that for the dishes?
Leslie: Oh, no, that’s my bath pouf. I wonder how it got in the dishwasher?
Anya says this is an indication that I have the right attitude about life in Russia.

3. On Wednesday there was a ‘holiday’ for all the foreign students and teachers at DVGU. It was the most amazing, hilarious, touching, totally Russian thing I’ve ever seen. They herded us all into this auditorium and kicked off the celebration with the playing of the international students’ anthem (Gaudeamus Igitur – ring any bells, Yalies?), followed by speeches from the director of the International Department, the rector of the university, the director of the Oriental Institute, the director of the Russian School, and other luminaries. Each one gushed about how great it was to have foreigners here and how welcome we were, etc., but the best part was the bizarre cross between fanfare music and lounge music that literally blared from the speakers as each person entered and left the stage. That and the fact that the vast majority of people in the auditorium had no idea what any of the speeches were about, because so many are beginning Russian students.
After that, we were treated to performances by a Russian folk dance group and a group of folk singers, all DVGU students. It rapidly became apparent that these were only the opening acts to a full-blown variety show that ended up including dance troupes in white bodysuits, Mardi Gras/Vegas dancer dresses and Tarzan attire, singing groups in sailor outfits (two), songs in English and Chinese as well as Russian, an accordion performance, and this incredible jump-rope dance troupe whose performance was worthy of America’s Got Talent. (Any Slavs reading this? The girls yikked as they jumped.) The show culminated in a stirring rendition of the DVGU student song, Я иду в ДВГУ. ("I go to DVGU.") To call this song godawful would be to give it too much credit; it was the cheesiest, peppiest, poppiest, most canned-sounding jingle I've ever heard. In short, AMAZING. I've decided to learn all the words; for now, I just go around singing ДВГУ, ты просто класс! and ДВГУ, ты лучше всех! under my breath. ("DVGU, you're just so cool!" and "DVGU, you're the best of all!") If you ask me, Yale could use a few songs like that.

4. News in brief: I got the package of books my mom sent me (along with a birthday card from Doug – thanks, Doug!) and much excited squealing ensued over the fact that there was a cookbook in it. We made banana-nut pancakes last night in celebration. This week a Navy ship is visiting V-stok, and L and I get to go to a fancy consulate reception on deck and participate in the Navy volunteer project at a local children’s hospital alongside the sailors. I’m considering volunteering as an English teacher at an adult-education program at the local Catholic church. I’m starting balalaika lessons on Wednesday. I met a Russian girl who studied abroad in Mt. Gilead, Ohio during high school. Next Saturday we might go to a kindergarten with Anya and play with kids and teach them English. I’m coming home for Christmas.

Yep, I think that’s all for now. Oh! One more thing. I now have an address. It’s more practical to send letters to me directly than to the State Dept., so if you want to send stuff, email me and I’ll give you the details.


PS - The title of this post is a line from a dialogue written by one of my students after we learned new vocabulary in the "American Dating and Romance" lesson.
PPS - There's another new post! Keep scrolling down. I actually wrote it almost a week ago, but couldn't get it posted until today. Enjoy the pictures!

12 September 2006

Picture Post 2!

Here are some pictures of the famed Novodevichy convent (famous at least because it’s where the nun yelled at me):
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And here are some pictures of the legitimately-famous-but-completely-underwhelming Moscow Kremlin. Cannons commemorating the victory over Napoleon:
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A view of the steeple with the star on it (it’s famous here, but I can’t remember whether it is in the US):
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And the tsar’s cannon, which is HUGE:
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And, for fun, here’s a picture of the trolleybus we rode for an hour or more. Moscow is laid out as a series of nested rings, and one of these – the Garden Ring (which has no gardens, by the way) is now a major thoroughfare. One very hot day in early August, four of us decided that taking a trolleybus around the Garden Ring would be a good way to see the city. It wasn’t. It was just hot and slow. We did get to see a few of Stalin’s Seven Sisters (huge Gothic skyscrapers built in the ‘50’s – some of the most menacing-looking buildings I’ve ever seen, which I guess is suitable for something Stalin thought up), but overall it wasn’t worth it, and we jumped ship two-thirds of the way around the Ring. One of the Seven Sisters is in the background of this picture:
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07 September 2006

Picture post!

Picture post!!!

Since I’ve finally found an internet center that allows me to use my flash card, I have Moscow pictures to show you! There are quite a few, so I’ll do it in a few different posts. Today I’ll show you my pictures from our trip to Yaroslavl, Kostroma and Ples, even though that was actually at the end of our time in Moscow.

First, a somewhat hazy view of the Volga:
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This little spit of land was somehow important to the city, so there are fountains there, which you can see, and 996 – Yaroslavl’s age – spelled out in flowers, which you can’t see.

Now some cupolas! No old Russian city is complete without cupolas.
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Here’s me in the bell tower of the monastery with some different cupolas.
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It’s hard to see in this small picture, but the thing on top of the spire is a bear with an axe, the symbol of Yaroslavl.
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And here’s the same tower viewed through a window in the bell tower.
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It was Kostroma’s “city day,” a holiday celebrating the founding of the city. There was a concert and fireworks and stuff, and I came across these little guys (presumably out for the festivities?) in the park.
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Lenin looks more like Lenin than I look like Lenin (I think that’s a good thing). This monument has a funny history: it was started in 1914 as a monument to the tsars, but then WWI came along and work was halted. After the war came the revolution, of course, and there was no longer any need for a monument to the tsars. The half-finished monument sat around for several years more until Lenin croaked in 1924. Kostroma, jumping at the chance to be the first city with a monument to Lenin, melted down the half-finished statues of tsars and made a statue of Lenin instead.

This is what Ples looked like:
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This is what my jeans pocket looks like. (After several hours you just get tired of listening to Russian and can no longer process anything the tour guide says. And you start playing with your camera.)
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For Denise, this is a picture of the sign to the Levitan museum. The big word at the bottom is “Levitan” (except it’s in the genitive case, so it has an A on the end).
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05 September 2006

Все хорошо, что хорошо кончается

Vladivostok sits on a collection of hills that slope down to the bay. The main part of the city is on the mainland, but is surrounded by water on two sides because of the shape of the piece of land it's on. There are also two regions of the city that are on peninsulas that stick out at odd angles, forming smaller bays and inlets (including Golden Horn Bay – бухта золотой рог – which for some reason you hear about more than the others, even though I can't see anything special about it). I really like coastal cities, and Vladivostok seems especially nice because with all the hills you can find yourself in the middle of the city and turn around and find that you have a beautiful view of the bay and the mountains that lie on the other side.

The hills are otherwise not that great, since it means a lot of uphill climbing (which I can now attest – from personal experience – is actually easier than going downhill if you're wearing high heels and the hill is steep). I've done a lot of walking so far, including a two-hour jaunt yesterday in search of the American Corner that was eerily reminiscent of my attempt to find the Center for International Mail in Moscow. (I never did find it, at least not before I gave up and came home.) An acquaintance who was here last semester mentioned that, like most Russian cities, Vlad seems a lot smaller than an American counterpart of a similar size would (600 to 700 thousand people). In a way, he was right, because the downtown area takes up maybe 6 to 9 city blocks – so, not much bigger than New Haven's. But unlike other Russian cities I've seen, Vladivostok has a huge, massive, sprawling collection of "bedroom districts" (as they're called in Russian); that is, places where people actually live, with fewer stores (although there certainly are stores), more markets, and lower prices than the center. Maybe I just haven't noticed how extensive the "bedroom districts" are in other Russian cities, since I've only really been through as a tourist (except Moscow and Petersburg, which are in a class by themselves anyway). But man. I could have an hour-long commute to the university every morning if I wanted to. And if the university would permit me to live that far out (but that's another story).

As for the feel of the city, I've decided that at least economically, "Little Moscow" would be an apt name for Vladivostok. The two cities both seem to be showing the same pattern of economic growth (Russia is on a big economic upswing right now): lots of shiny new buildings downtown, construction of luxury high-rises and an explosion of new upscale stores (Vlad has a Bang and Olafsson – isn't that ridiculously expensive???) that the general populace can't even begin to afford yet. So in general, a lot of high-end growth and not much improvement for the middle (aka poor) class. I guess this is what one might expect if the country's economic growth is coming from oil or, in Vlad's case, probably a lot of black market smuggling money. (That's just a guess; I'm no economist and I don't really know what goes on here on that front, beyond what I've heard from other Americans.)

I wouldn't call Vladivostok flashy by any means, although there are several of the aforementioned clean and shiny new buildings downtown, and new brick sidewalks (with mosaics of fish, anchors and sailboats in them – how cute is that?). I was worried that the city would be ugly, since it was only founded a hundred and twenty years ago as an outpost town – not the kind of ancient, monastery-ridden Russian town I'm used to. But there are a bunch of lovely turn-of-the-century buildings around, and I've hardly missed all the onion domes! In general the city feels very open – nice wide streets winding around all the hills, plus the constant views of the sea, and we've been having sunny, breezy weather that makes it nice to be outdoors. Of course there's also the obligatory ugly, crumbling Soviet architecture, especially in the huge apartment buildings in the bedroom districts, but hey, it wouldn't be a Russian city without a lot of dirty gray concrete!

So in case you're wondering what I've been doing, the answer is, "not much." Both L (the other Fulbrighter) and I have been sort of sitting around waiting for people to get around to helping us during the flurry of beginning-of-term busyness. I have a meeting tomorrow with teachers from the Institute for Foreign Languages and my first class is on Friday! I'll be teaching English conversation to fourth-year students (translators, teachers of English, and general philologists). That should be exciting. I also learned at the consulate today that I'll be able to do some work at the American Corner – in fact, L and I are going to do a guest lecture there at the end of September! – and the English Language Fellow (an Embassy program) who's here wants me to help her set up an English Writing Center. Sounds like I'll have plenty on my plate in a little while!

Also, today I bought a hot pot, two carrots and a pepper, and some cashews at the market. I almost bought galoshes, too, but decided I didn't want to carry them home.