Thursday, November 24, 2005

Another week done

Since I have a three-day weekend :)
Although I may well make that a four-day weekend, since the teacher we have on a Thursday is... how can I say... not my best friend. In fact, she hates me and I can't say I love her either. <Shrug>
But she doesn't warrant too much space on my blog, so I'll move on...
Everybody needs to cross their fingers for snow! I don't understand how it can be consistently below freezing and yet the snow and ice can still melt... it's not as if they bother to salt the roads or anything here, there are enough car crashes when there's no ice for it to make any difference. And yet it appears that Britain is going to get snow, while ours is "walking away", as the Russians will have it (although only in one direction and only once, which means it's a very specific verb in Russian... silly verbs of motion). But we want to go skiing tomorrow, and for that we need snow. Which isn't forthcoming. 
Wow all I seem to do recently is complain!
More cheerfully, I have a place to live in Montreal, which is exciting. It's a bit of a convoluted chain though, are you ready... Rob's brother Peter did his degree in Montreal, and lived with a guy called Brian (who I have met). Brian is now living with two other guys (who I haven't met), since Pete has moved to Winnipeg. One of these guys is going off on a cruise ship for 4 months, but wants to keep his room. So, I'm going to sublet his room while he's off working on a boat, and when he gets back I should be leaving the country anyways so as not to overstay my "visa". Yay chance and happenstance! Now I just need the Y to love me and want to pay me...
Tonight is going to be another of those weird ones... We were drafted in to talk to the second year English students at uni, as seems to be the norm around here, and they thought that doing a guide to Krasnoyarsk for next year's students would be fun/ a good project to practice their English on. We agreed, but now we need to meet up with them to decide what to put in it. Well, it'll be more informal than that.
The problem is that we attract randoms on a fairly regular basis, which is a little disconcerting, if a big ego boost... last week was a prime example. We were sitting in a cafe, and a woman comes over with a piece of paper, which she asks us to read. So we did. It was an invitation for us to come and talk English (why can I not type that? Keeps coming out as Englsih) in some school, which had been written by her son who had overheard us talking in English last time we were in that cafe but had been too shy to come over. So sweet! But we really don't have enough time to take on another school, so we had to say no. And twice this week we've been welcomed to Siberia by someone who's heard us talking English. Also sweet, but we've been here 3 months now! I do quite like being welcomed though, it's better than being scowled at. (Swearing doesn't bother me, because I don't understand it!)
I really hope FedEx tells me when they're going to send my tickets or they'll end up in the US for a third time... but now it's Thanksgiving and no-one wants to tell me anything... grr.
That's all for now, going to teach some kids how to play hangman or something.
Coffee is thicker than water...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Post offices

What is it with Russian post offices? First there were no stamps, then the computer wasn't working. I gave up that day. Then today there was a break just as I was trying to send my parcel (in Russia, as soon as it's time for a break, they're having that break come hell or high water... English girls trying to send parcels are neither of these things and therefore can safely be ignored). Oh and apparently you can't send clothes that aren't new in a parcel... so I lied in my best "confused foreigner" way. <shrug> if you're going to have silly rules, I'm going to break them! Such a rebel. My favourite thing of all, though, was being asked to write the number 9 "normally". Now, my handwriting is by no means perfect, but numbers are generally discernable (ooh good word). Silly Russians.
So having caused a very long queue of Russians to all chant out the price together (cos she said it too quickly and I didn't follow) I no longer need to go back to the post office! This is a cause for celebration. As Vicki said, "I hate the post office... and all who sail in her!" I am aware that the post office is not a boat, but still... it's a good phrase.
Still no news on when my tv debut will be. This is not necessarily a bad thing! Will try to get some copies of it though.
In other news (why do I sound like a newsreader?), Travelocity are rapidly losing my respect. Having sent out my tickets (which I need in less than a month) and had them returned because the Russian courier was far too lazy to do his job and called at the flat only once, leaving no card or any sign that he had ever been there (honestly he may well be a ghost, or a figment of a diseased imagination), I got an email telling me to call a number and give them more info. I duly did this, buying a phone card so I could call the US without bankrupting my haziaika, and then spent a very long time trying to explain to the woman I eventually got through to that I was in RUSSIA, which was why there was a) no state and b) funny names. Then we went through whether Siberia was a country or not (nope, sure isn't) and whether Russia and the Russian Federation was the same thing (yep, they sure are). Eventually I managed to get out of her that my tickets would be re-sent (huzzah!) and that I'd get an email with a tracking number so I could call them again and find out when they'd be delivered (and therefore when to stay at home to sign for them). There was no chance of them being sent without needing a signature (despite the fact that the airline themselves would do that, and have previously).
I don't have that email yet. This is a problem.
Another problem is that the cat died on Friday. She's been around for 15 years, so it was sad.
But, we're going skiing on Friday :) the others went last weekend, but I was too tired :( silly not getting to sleep until 5am! So I'm quite excited about that.
What else... oh yeah, Gulya found out that she could buy my meds without a prescription because she "looked like a normal person". So now might be my chance to stock up on half-price meds! (Half the prescription price that is) as long as I don't get stopped at customs :)
That's all, am off home to eat before yoga. It's quite relaxing, but I don't understand what she's saying so after "close your eyes" I have to keep peeking to check what's going on...
Coffee is thicker than water...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I'm famous!

Or maybe I will be...
It must be said that filming was the single most surreal thing that's ever happened to me. I never did like being on camera...
To start at the beginning, partway through our lesson with Gulya yesterday we get a knock on the door - it's the  lady from TVK and a cameraman, weilding a very large camera. It's quite an effort to get both him and the camera in the room, and as for the tripod - forget it. Even the correspondent lady (I really wish I remembered her name... it was something typically Russian, Olga or Nadia or something) couldn't squeeze in and had to stay outside in the corridor while we finished our lesson (we were talking about our ideal university... not the most thrilling of subjects, but still...). Christine put in a valuable comment - in her ideal university, everyone would be "well dressed". Following on from her earlier comment about her ideal school being only for beautiful children, this caused general merriment. Except to the cameraman, who was busy filming Sophie's dictionary and then Vicki's water bottle.
Then the class was over, and we were told to go and wait by the dean's office while they interviewed Gulya about us. She wasn't expecting that! When she came down to see us just after, she was very excited/embarrassed/confused, all in one go. Which is how I spent most of the day too. We were then filmed walking out of the university, the cameraman running about here there and everywhere to get a perfect shot (and managing to avoid falling on the ice as he did so... impressive). Then came the first interview... Ben and myself were collared to stand in teh snow and answer questions from the correspondent. Ben's went fine, he answered really well. I didn't understand the question and had to get her to ask it again in English. Whoops! Not the most inspiring of first impressions. Then Sophie was asked a few things, and we moved off to the little shop by the bus stop where we had to buy things. I'm not sure why this was of especial importance, and the shop staff looked just as bemused as we felt, but I can at least by things in Russian now so that was ok.
Back outside the shop, and we were asked many random questions about it - did we have such shops in England, did we like the range of food and things in them, what was our favourite thing to buy, etc etc etc. Max and Andrei turned up partway through, and were busy giving their own answers in English, which was amusing. Then we all got on the bus and I was interviewed about buses. Now anyone who's ever been on a Russian bus may well be thinking, "How did you manage that?" as there's usually not enough room to breathe let alone have a huge camera and be interviewed. The answer is that this was the start of the route, and it was therefore empty until we got a few stops further on. Then it got very busy very fast, and we got off the bus (to the relief of hte passengers, the conductor, and also the rest of the Kras crew (as I'm affectionately calling my fellow students here) whose part in the filming was now over). We piled into the TVK Lada (oh yes, I missed those Ladas) and drove back to my building, where there was more filming of me walking up to hte door and stuff like that. I felt like a film star! Except that I was walking through the snow in Krasnoyarsk, rather than along a beach in the Bahamas or something.
Once actually at the flat (on the way up I was asked my opinion of Russian lifts) an unsuspecting Nadia opened the door and was a little surprised to see my accompanied by TV people. But she soon recovered (she had been expecting it after all) and we all piled inside, taking off shoes as is expected (somehow it struck me as odd to have this cameraman darting around the flat in his socks). Then I had to do a guided tour of the flat, pointing out which was my room and anything of interest in it. There wasn't much! I got as far as showing my Russian books, and the foldout bed, saying that this was unusual in England. It was a blatant lie, we DO have foldout beds in England, but they seemed satisfied. 
After that they were busy filming me with photos of home and some Russian music (my Brothers Grimm album saved the day!), panicking when the cameraman knocked over a flowerpot with all his prancing about, and then making Nadia come and invite me to drink tea in the kitchen. I was about ready for a cup of tea then, if not something stronger, so I willingly acquiesced (I've just read Jane Austen's Persuasion, can you tell?). After that I was thrown out of the kitchen while they interviewed Nadia about me (hahah) and I stood in my room, still wired up to the microphone, sipping hot tea and feeling more than a little bemused. It was nearly over though - after Nadia's interview I had to "look wistfully out of the window at the snow and look like I was missing my family" and in truth I think Amy would have found it hilarious. After a few more fumbled answers on the differences of life here and in Britain they were gone, and my last task was to wave at them out of the window. Quite a trite ending, I think (I have no idea what trite means, but it sounds good here).
After all that excitement, playing pool that night with the Kras crew and the Russians was quite a relief. As was the beer.
Before I go, I should just add that I potted four balls in a row last night. This has never happened before, and I feel it should be mentioned for posterity.
When I see the piece broadcast (which may or may not be some point next week), I'll let you know. For now, though, it's off to teach.

Coffee is thicker than water...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Russia really gets me sometimes

Strange things keep happening. Usually it's fairly low key, but today seems to be the day of annoying Sara.
Why is it that I can't seem to send letters from a post office? I tried 2 different ones today - the first didn't have stamps. Yes, that's right, the main post office in the centre of town did not have stamps. Hmm. The second one I'm not sure what happened. She said there were stamps, but then she took my letters and my money and didn't give me any stamps, or put them on my letters. Instead the last I saw of them they were just sitting on the desk, with her writing numbers in the corner of the envelopes. At that point I was holding up the scrum of Russians who wanted to send letters to the Ukraine (and already had stamps, I don't know where from) and complain about the cost. So I left. People may or may not get their letters by March. Sorry.
Also, persuaded my haziaika Olga to phone FedEx in Moscow to organise where my plane tickets (at least that's what I think they are) will be sent. I got an email from them asking me to confirm my addess over the phone, and I did try, but when I called once the office was closed (silly time difference) and teh next time I just got the information line for Krasnoyarsk. How I don't know, but I did. So I gave up, and asked Olga if she'd do it. No problem... today she phoned them, and started to look concerned about 20seconds into the call. This is never a good sign. It's quite hard to worry a Russian. Then she phoned another couple of numbers, each time explaining what was going on. Apparently the tickets were delivered just fine, Rob had put my address in teh system flawlessly. However, they sat in Moscow for a week before someone noticed that they were for Krasnoyarsk, which is always fun, and then the courier here decided that plane tickets are not important and only called round with them once before sending them back to Moscow. Why he didn't a) leave a note saying he'd called and there was no-one home, b) try more than once, c) get a neighbour to sign for them, d) leave them in the post box (which is padlocked) or any number of other things that you'd think would be possible in Russia given the lax state of things here I don't know, but they're now either in or on their way back to Moscow. They may even be on their way back to Travelocity in the States, I'm not sure. There's yet another number to be called tomorrow, so we'll see what that says...
The other excitement of the day relates to a passing comment I made much earlier about possibly being on TV. I thought I'd misunderstood, but apparently not - I had a phone call today from the TV lady asking me if I was free on Wednesday from 2 till 5pm... all a bit odd. Apparently it's not just me - they'll be in the last part of our lesson with Gulya, so all the Kras crew and our favourite diminutive Russian will be on TVK at some point! I'm still not sure what they're going to want to do... I think just follow me around and try to get me to talk Russian. Good luck with that, I say!
More when I'm famous!
Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...

Monday, November 14, 2005

The weekend of frantic busyness

This weekend (or in fact week) has been pretty crazy. Friday involved shopping (well really, it has to be done) and after much deliberation a trip to Gagarin, one of hte clubs here in Krasnoyarsk. This should have been a simple matter, however nothing in Russia is simple. Allow me to explain. "If we get there before 12, it'll be free for girls. Otherwise it's 300roubles". Excellent, it's now 10.30 and we're on our way. "OK, stay quiet and walk in with a Russian, in pairs so the bouncer doesn't think we're a group and tries to charge us anyway". Ok, no problem, we lurk around the corner in pairs and go in at intervals. I go in with Julia, who's very cool (and also complimented my Russian - it's amazing what a little Dutch courage does for your language!). She walks past the bouncer without a problem, I (dutifully staying silent and affecting the Russian bored look which I've practiced on buses) get stopped by an arm that almost clotheslines me. Julia asks why, the bouncer doesn't answer but it's clear he thinks I should buy a ticket. We both go outside to wait for Ulyana. She arrives, Julia (sadly) leaves, we try again. Same result - Ulyana walks in, I get stopped. I throw caution to the wind, and ask the guy what I need to do to get in. He answers "Buy a ticket." (Well, makes sense, but I was angry). I shake my head, storm off down the stairs, buy a ticket, come back up and practically throw it at him (not quite cos he's a big guy and I don't want to get beaten up) and then he has the cheek to want to inspect my bag. I don't have a bag - just a kind of purse on long string (sounds weird, looks good). I summon all the venom I can and muttering "What can I possibly have in my bag, blah blah blah" and give the dirtiest look I've ever managed. I was proud of it. He seemed immune.
After that it was a good night though, despite the strippers. Apparently they're a normal part of club life here, who knew?
Saturday was another of those surreal days. We went to the dacha owned by our boss at the language school. It was amazing, log fires and the biggest kebabs I've ever seen! Too much food, as is traditional, wine, tea etc... and playing in the snow with 2-month-old puppies. So cute! We got very high-pitched and girly over them, so Ben got jealous and tried to pelt everyone (and the dogs) with snowballs. Hmm.
We've just been to see Swan Lake, possibly the most beautiful thing ever, although now I want to be a ballerina. This is not a good thing, as I possibly have the least style and grace of any aspiring ballerina ever... those of you who've seen me after a few know exactly what I mean!
Well, should be off now, uni tomorrow and then more teaching... not actually had time to do any of the homework yet, could be a late night!
Sara xx
Coffee is thicker than water...

Friday, November 11, 2005

We're just too busy

Who would have thought that such a simple thing as being English would get you such a social life? We just keep getting adopted by various Russians who want to entertain us!
The concert thing on Monday that we got volunteered for was hilarious. It was more like a talent show than a concert, with some guy on the balalaika and the (really intensely questioning) twins demonstrating some gymnastics... and then us doing a campfire-type skit along the lines of "If I were not in Krasnoyarsk, I would be..." and then having different professions - with actions! I was in the precarious position of having Christine swinging her arm over my head (and often forgetting to stop when the rest of us did, with the result that I was smacked in the face) on one side, and Ben pretending to be a footballer and taking a penalty kick over my head on the other side while I ducked and tried desperately not to get a kick in the face in front of about 150 people. Exciting! But afterwards we all went to a place called smaik (cmauk, if I could persuade the Russian keyboard to actually type in Cyrillic) which is cheap and has lots of skis in it, bizarrely, where we met up with a load of hte first years who'd also been in the show and who came over and were generaly rowdy with us for a while. Then they were heading off to a club, but we arranged to go out on Friday (tonight) instead. Whether any of them will actually turn up tonight remains to be seen, but it'll be fun anyways!
Then tomorrow the head of the language school we're teaching at wants to take us all to her dacha, which will be very cool although she does want to leave at about 10am, which after a Russian club might be interesting. Maybe we just won't sleep. After that, also on Saturday, there's some kind of weird party thing at the museum (I don't really understand either) where someone called Vika will be with her American friend who wants to meet us so that he can speak English, as he says he never gets to do that here. Sunday we have tickets for Swan Lake (oh yes, I'm so excited!) which cost us all of 150R (about GBP3) - bargain! And then it's Monday again, and we're supposed to have done some work at some point...
So it's all a little crazy here at the moment. Only a month left now until we leave Krasnoyarsk (sob) and head over to Moscow for a few days, and then I get to go to Chicago and see my boy! Which is also very exciting. Whew.
But then again, being busy is good. Although we never do seem to have time to do anything, because we're always doing other stuff!
I'll stop now, time to go and meet the others and have a look for presents for people...
Sara xx

Coffee is thicker than water...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I wish I could understand the news here. We learned about the madness in France only by chance, when a teacher mentioned it to us when we were talking about our future plans for the year abroad.
The film "9 Rota" was excellent, although very very sad. Sorry to all those who got texts saying confusing things like "That was awful... but brilliant" cos that doesn't make any sense... Truly well filmed, and just amazing (but heart-wrenching). Needless to say, I'm going to buy it and inflict it on all of you too :) (there are versions with English subtitles out there, so that won't be an excuse!)
Just read this on the BBC website - "The [US] Senate has passed legislation banning torture, but the Bush administration is seeking an exemption for the CIA spy agency." This scares me quite a lot.
And now, having caught up on the news thanks to the BBC, I'm off to write letters and drink coffee while waiting to go and see the opera (yes aren't we posh?!) "Evgeny Onegin". It's an epic poem by Pushking, turned into an opera by Tchaikovsky. So now you know.

Coffee is thicker than water...

Friday, November 04, 2005

Abhorrent Villager-Abducting Terror Addicted to Rage
Snatching Abomination from the Ruined Abbey

It's cold here now

It's finally becoming more like the Siberia I was expecting! Apparently it's about -10C today, which isn't bad for the 3rd of November. The town looks a lot prettier in the snow!
Apparently when it gets really cold we get steam from the Yenisei. I found this hard to believe, but it's all scientific (probably why I didn't understand it). <Puts on white coat and intelligent-sounding voice> You see, the Yenisei doesn't freeze due to the fact that there's hydro-electric dams on it which keeps the temperature up (cos trying to get electricity from ice is a little hard). So, when the temperature around the river is much lower than the temperature of the river, you get steam all over the city. Sophie described it was being like a city-sized banya! I don't think it's going to be that warm Sophie, but...
This is a sad story. The lift wasn't working one morning so I walked down the stairs and found a tiny puppy cowering in the corner. There was a piece of cardboard and a bowl of something there too, so I assume he wasn't completely abandoned, but he just looked so sad and pathetic... I picked him up and stroked him a bit, and he seemed happier, but when I put him down he couldn't even stand up and just fell over and then lay and stared at the wall again. It was like he was trying not to be there. I had to go to uni and couldn't take him with me, but I made up my mind that if he was still there when I got home something was going to have to happen. But he wasn't, and I haven't seen him since. I hope that means that he was taken in by whoever owned him, but I can't be sure. I really hope he's ok though.
What else? Oh yes, it turns out that I had understood the woman from the TV station correctly. She phoned my haziaika to check it was ok (or something) and so I was greeted at home by her being all excited and me trying to follow what was happening (as is usual). When she'd calmed down a bit, I managed to understand that she'd been called by the TV person, and that something involving me being on TV was definitely going to happen. She said something about "after the 19th", so as soon as I know more I'll post it!
Going to see the film "9 Rota" (9th Company) today. It's THE Russian film of the moment, and it starts in Krasnoyarsk! The rest of the group have already seen it, but I was ill :( so Sophie and Christine said they'd watch it again at the cinema so I could get the full effect... Ben was confused, since both he and Christine (and possibly Sophie) have the DVD with English subtitles, but the girls were adamant that I needed to see it at the cinema. It's supposed to be really sad, everyone I know who's seen it (ie everyone) has said they cried. Boys too. Maybe I should go and stock up on tissues.
If it's good, I'll buy it too and then I can inflict it on everyone, hahaha!
That's all for now, hope everyone is good etc etc xx

Coffee is thicker than water...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Yes I know I've been excited about it before, but now there's actually more of it. Although as I'm typing, it seems to have turned to just cold rain. Boo. However, the presence of the fabled white stuff was enough to prompt Sophie and Ben to start a snowball fight, much to the consternation/complete bafflement of the Russians.
For all those that got my text yesterday saying something along the lines of "I've accidentally become a teacher", it's true. Scary. Here's the story:
Way back in those days when Mongolia was still a dream to us, we met (or were hunted out by) a girl in our department who teaches English at a language school in town. She asked us if we wanted some work (paid of course) to which we replied with a resounding yes, us being poor students and all. She re-found us yesterday after our long absence, and asked whether we'd like to see the school after our lessons at uni. Sure, why not - we're gonna be working there after all. So off we trundled, sat and had tea and biscuits etc, all very civilised. And then came the question none of us had expected. "So do you want to start teaching today?" Erm... we had no lesson plans, no idea what to expect. But since we thought we'd just be helping out, we thought why not? Ben and I soon found out why not. While the others were led away by teachers to just help out, we were led to a classroom by the girl, who said to the class "Here are your teachers. Speak English." - and left us to it with the advice "Just talk to them". Right. They're twelve years old, slightly mutinous in the way that kids are when there are new and untested teachers, and we didn't have a clue what we were doing. It was scary!
But having exhausted the usual introductory things we had the brainwave of talking about animal noises. It may sound crazy, but I'd really enjoyed it when we did it in uni, so off we went. "What noise does a dog make in Russia?". The answer came, a little confusedly to be sure - "She goes gav gav." "Well in England, it says woof woof." Much hilarity ensued - "What says...", "What says ...". Success!
Next time I'll need to be a little more prepared though.
The next lesson (we were feeling confident by now, so stayed for another) was with older kids, 14-15 kind of age. We split them up and chatted to them about allsorts. There were lots of questions, mostly loaded ones which I had to be careful about answering! Two of my group kept bickering and I know I should have stopped it, but it was far too funny. "You not pretty girl." "Shame on you! You donkey." and so on.
Explaining to my haziaika that I'd become a teacher accidentally was equally amusing. She's a teacher too, so she was very enthusiastic, but she couldn't quite believe that I didn't know I was going to teach until 30 seconds before-hand! She kept saying "But you need to prepare!" Yes, yes I did, but that wasn't an option!
Another very strange thing happened to me today. We were sitting waiting for a class, and in came the teacher with someone else. We're kind of used to being shown off as attractions now, so we took no notice. But, when Elena Vladimirovna left the room, she began to talk to us, and although it was in rapid Russian I think she said something along these lines: "I work for the TV company TVK and I want to make a documentary about the university life of foreign students. How do you fancy being in it?" Now this was strange enough, there's lots of foreign students about including some Canadians who've been here since January and therefore speak much better Russian than we do. However, she then turned to me and said directly to me, "Sara, can I have your mobile number and house phone number, and we can arrange when to meet up and do this recording." How she knew my name is still a mystery, not just to me but also to the rest of the group.
So it appears that I might end up on Russian TV. How weird is that?!
I'm slightly dazed by all this.
Thanks to Amy for saying I'd make a good teacher though, that gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside! (A warm fuzzy is a good thing. It looks kind of like a fluffy ball when seen in its natural environment, and likes to make people feel good. That's for those who don't know already, which you all should.)
Well, that's about it for now. I was going to write more about Mongolia, but I've got caught up in the moment and can't really remember anything of note without photographs here to help. Bad memory.

coffee is thicker than water...