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!