Sunday, September 18, 2011

101 Things: #2, 35, 68, 99 & 101

Here's a quick post on my 101 things list.

#2 - Get a job: So technically this happened quite some time ago, but I started working almost 2 months ago, so I figure I'd go ahead and add it to the completed list.  Teaching 4th grade here at a private school in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  I have a small class (14 students), but they're seriously crazy kids.  Good kids, but more energy than a jack rabbit on crack.

#35 - Get a new hobby: When Ana and I moved into our new place here in SD, we found some plants in much need of care on our balcony. Together we have nursed them to a thriving state, as well as adding some new ones to the mix (Gold Zinnias and we're working on some cilantro) so hopefully this works out well!

#68 - Go to an IKEA: Yes, I'd never been to an IKEA. How? I don't know, but I love it. It's cheap, stylish, fun and they have good food, ice cream and coffee.  I could spend all day everyday at IKEA.

#99 - Watch a sunset on the Oregon coast: Ana and I were able to checkout the sunset this year in Netarts Bay, a nice little place just outside of Tillamook.  The Oregon coast is perhaps my favorite place in the entire world. So amazing.

#101 - Go a week without logging onto Facebook: As some of you have undoubtedly noticed, I've been absent from the online world as of late.  Not because I don't want to, but I've just not had enough time and focus to sit down, despite my promises of doing better. Anyways, in all of that I did manage to go a week without using Facebook. It's not such a weird thing. But I can't let myself get too disconnected.

So Dear Readers, this is how goes my 101 things in 1,001 days list!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Dominican Republic - A long awaited post

I haven't blogged in what seems like years, but it feels like it's time to start picking up the living abroad mantle once again.

So I've been here in the DR almost two and a half months and it is a pretty crazy place, especially when compared with Russia.  The weather is constantly warm, the people friendly and the food delicious (not to say that Russia isn't these things, it's just different over there).  There's been a slew of good experiences so far and a few bad ones, but the good most certainly outweigh the bad (beaches vs. being mugged).

I'm not really sure where to begin with this post, but let me start by saying free time here is quite enjoyable. Just last weekend I was able to take a leisurely trip to the beach...a beach much different than you might see in the Pacific Northwest (pictures coming soon).  But Juan Dolio (a very nice public beach) is a short 45 minute bus ride away.

I've also begun my first real job as a 4th grade teacher.  If I ever thought my students in Seattle were full of energy, it was nothing. Never have I ever seen or heard of kids being as full of pent-up energy as my students or the students in my school.  Recess is an absolute circus and with all the running and screaming and whatever else, I'm pretty sure there's a dead student lying somewhere in the cracks of the building. How there's not a serious injury everyday is quite baffling.

The year is off to a good start though and unlike the last time I blogged, you can most certainly expect more blog posts in a shorter period of time to come. Enjoy Dear Readers

Friday, July 8, 2011

Leaving Russia....

This post is considerably late in coming, I realize this, but at this point it can't really be helped can it?

It's been a month since I left Elista and left Russia altogether.  I still can't believe it happened so quickly and I still can't believe it's over. It was a trip both metaphorically and literally. Here's what I have to say:


I had a pretty amazing time in Russia despite my complaints and despite everything else that might have happened.  Russia is a place that you love and hate and one you most certainly love to hate.  As I was leaving the airport, there was another American sitting there, talking and crying to one of her friends still in Moscow.  We spoke and I asked her how long she'd been in Russia (2 years) and how she felt about leaving, etc, etc.  She told me this and while I've known this all along, her analogy was perfect.

"Russia is like a mean husband and those of us who keep coming back are like the blind wives. We know we should leave him because he is mean and beats us, but we him deeply and we can't help, but to return to it."

This is a perfect way of illustrating how Russia can be. One minute you love it, the next it's your least favorite place on earth.

I had initially thought this post would be very deep and introspective, but as I write I realize that I can't do that in a post about leaving Russia. That will have be more of a post about me and what I learned there and this just isn't the place for that. Instead I will leave you with a brief pros and cons list of what was great about my time in Russia:


  • Living in the dorm (to an extent)
  • Amazing experience
  • Wonderful, fun students
  • Great friendships made
  • Really experience a new culture
  • The food
  • The language
  • The independence
  • The Russian and Kalmyk people
  • Babushki
  • Train rides
  • The history
  • The pride in their culture and heritage
  • The amazement that occurs literally every single day (whether it's good or bad, the idea is an overwhelmingly good one)
  • Everything

  • Living in the dorm
  • The toilets (I'll forever hate these in Russia)
  • Seeing someone get shot the day before my birthday
  • The food (it's good, but not much variety)
  • All the smoking
  • The stereotypes that seemingly hold up (whether ones Americans hold about Russians or vice-versa)
  • The internet
I definitely had my troubles in Russia and did my fair share of complaining, but my friends (both those in other countries as well as my fellow ETAs) and my family helped me a great deal and overall, I just can't believe how great it was.  I would do it again in a heartbeat, but knowing what I know now, I'd certainly change some things.

To those of you who read this and have been to Russia for any length of time, you'll understand my sentiments. For those of you who have not, I apologize because there is truly no way of writing about what Russia really is and what it means to experience it so I'll leave you with a quote I was given by a friend by the poet Tyutchev:

"Умом Россию не понять,
Аршином общим не измерить:
У ней особенная стать —
В Россию можно только верить."

Translated as this:
"Russia can't be understood with the mind,
Can't be measured with a yardstick:
She has a unique characteristic - 
In Russia it's only possible to believe."

So Dear Readers, I leave you with these final thoughts about my time in Russia and what it meant to me. It was a fantastic time and one that cannot be replaced or replicated.

Monday, July 4, 2011

101 Things: #57 - Visit two new Russian cities

So as you can see I've been bad about posting what I've done, but one of the cooler things I've accomplished from this list is to see two new Russian cities: Volgograd and Astrakhan...let's begin

I was in Volgograd for Easter and it was a pretty crazy experience. I didn't realize it was Easter weekend when I left, but I'm glad I went that weekend since Kalmykia is mainly Buddhist and doesn't celebrate Easter, I was able to see more of how the Russians do things (including a midnight Easter service).

I stayed with my ETA friend Jess and we had a pretty cool time.  It was nice to be able to see a bigger city after being in Elista and it was nice to see the water.  I'm also really glad I was able to see Volgograd since it's such an important Russian city (if you don't know why, google it because you should). It was very cool to see Мать Родина as well as the WWII museum.  I had a great time hanging with Jess and was able to meet some of her friends too!

The midnight service was probably the coolest though. Russian Orthodox churches hold services at midnight on Easter and they last for four hours. And if that's not enough, everyone (including the babushki) have to stand the entire time.  There's lots of singing and chanting and it's really pretty fascinating! We stayed for a little over an hour before deciding to bail and get some rest, but it was a really cool experience!  Here are some pics!

It's apparently bigger than the Statue of Liberty and the Russians are proud of that...but we have better roads!

Now on to Astrakhan.  I went to Astrakhan in May by myself and it was a crazy pretty city and extremely old! If you don't know much about Astrakhan I again suggest googling it like I did before I went. It's an old city and was split up into two parts: the Russian Kremlin where the Russians lived and the Tartar camps where the Tartars lived.  The Kremlin is exceptionally beautiful and the churches and museums are amazing.  The city is also located on the Volga river and so the sunsets were absolutely gorgeous!

Astrakhan was also very interesting because sitting where it sits, it's a mixture of Russian and Muslim and I saw Russian and Azerbaijani flags flying together along the streets. It was a sight to see in Russia.  The city was also very poor though, very different from Moscow or even Elista. Some of the homes where people lived in the Muslim section of the city where just tiny shacks and it was pretty sad to see.

I also took a nice boat tour on the Volga and had some nice dark beer and dried fish, even if it was a bit overpriced.  All in all it was a great time! I even managed to navigate the marshrutkas by myself! I was so proud!  Check out the pics!

101 Things: #33 - Live in another country

Well I finished my time in Russia and I think that 9 months sufficiently counts as living in another country, especially considering I was living not in a major urban center, in the student dorms and working there. It was a good experience and I really do miss it!

And now I've moved to the Dominican Republic where I'll most likely be living for the next couple of years so I definitely say I've lived in another country!

101 Things: #23 - Finish Grad School

This is going to be a short post, but I did it! I finished graduate school and now I have a Master's in Teaching and am officially done with the UW! It feels good and it was a long, EXPENSIVE process, but I'm done and I never have to deal with it again! Whoo hoo!!!

StuffRussiansLike - Update: July 4, 2011

Okay, here's another, much overdue StuffRussiansLike Post!

66. Grannies - I find this one to be absolutely hilarious.  No matter who you talk to in Russia, if they're speaking English and their grandmother comes into the conversation, it's never 'my grandmother' or 'my grandma' it's always 'my grannie'. Doesn't matter how distinguished the person is, they use the word Granny.  It's funny and I like it!

67. Shirts Too Tight: I've noticed that many European men, but particularly Russian men, are like the Grinch. Only it's not their hearts that are two sizes too small, it's their t-shirts.  In shape? Tight t-shirt. Really Skinny? Tight t-shirt. Severely overweight? Tight t-shirt. Doesn't matter, the t-shirt sizes in Russia seem to be two sizes too small. It's...weird.

68.  Ice Cubes: This one isn't really so much of a 'StuffRussiansLike', but more of a 'StuffRussiansHate'.  I don't know why they don't like ice cubes. Maybe it's superstition, maybe it's just dislike, but either way it's mind boggling. When it gets hot in Russia, you'd think some ice to cool off your (non-refrigerated) drink would be delicious, but nope. It isn't. It's scary and terrifying apparently...

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Minorities vs. Minorities

The idea of minorities hating minorities to me makes absolutely zero since, but it's all too common. Whether you're in the US or in Russia, you see it...and it's disappointing in so many ways.

*What I say about Elista in no way refers to the city as a whole or its people, but simply some of the people I have come across during my year here, many of whom I met in passing. Please know the people here are amazing and amazingly kind.*

In the US, the most visible form of minorities rallying against other minorities is concerned with the LGBT community. While this isn't an issue of race, people belonging to the LGBT community are certainly in the minority.  According to several exit polls, many African Americans (70% according to one poll), Latinos (53%) and Asian Americans (49%) voted in favor of California's prop 8 in 2008.* I'm not blaming these groups for Prop 8 not passing (that rests with California's white voters, of whom 49% voted in favor, but also make up over 65% of CA's voting population), but I just find it interesting that considering the civil rights issues at stake, that these minority groups voted against it.

Another instance in the US is illustrated in the  gay marriage struggle in New Jersey. The instance of minority groups in the US is illustrated nicely (and comically) by the Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac back in January 2010.  Here's the short video:

Anyways, I bring this up because I live in Elista, Russia where the majority of people here (my guess is between 85-95%) are minorities in Russia, being ethnically Mongolian, not Russian.  People here were severely persecuted during purges of Stalin, many being sent to Siberia where their native Kalmyk language was strictly forbidden and as a result is on its way to becoming a dead language (at least here in Russia).

The people here are vehemently against Russia's blatant xenophobia and, as it's called here 'nationalists' who have caused problems in bigger Russian cities, attacking minorities for not being Russian. Kalmyk people are also terrified of this extremism. I had a woman tell me the other day that her daughter in Moscow was to stay inside the whole day (April 20) as it was Hitler's birthday and there is a marked increase in nationalist violence on this day.

I find this interesting because as much as the people here hate Russia's extremism, they are still quite prejudiced against people of African descent (to a lesser extent Jewish people as well - I've had a few people tell me they hated Obama, Medvedev & Putin because they were 'Jews'...hmmm).  Giggles are often inevitable when Black people are mentioned here and there is (not always, certainly not always, but often) a tinge of disgust in their tone of voice.

What's more is that being a minority Republic in Southern Russia, Kalmykia has good relations between some of the most persecuted groups in Russia (Ossetia, Dagestan, Chechnya, etc) and welcome them with open arms. But still this idea of Black people being...well I don't know what word to use other than disgusting, is still common among people here.

Just today I met two guys who absolutely hated President Obama for no other reason than he is Black.  They had nothing to say about his policies, programs as President, but couldn't stop talking about how he was Black and could not fathom how Americans could ever possibly elect a Black president (I saw this with a really old guy in Germany once as well, but the difference here is that it's both young and old people).

I, on the other hand, was (and always am) completely baffled as to how they aren't not struck by the complete irony.  Anyone who has ever been to Russia will notice a very definite lack of Black people here. This is changing (very slow) and you'll see more than what I saw several years ago in St. Petersburg, but regardless the number is infinitesimally small.

Overall, Dear Readers, I am saddened by this. I don't understand racism and probably never will and it breaks my heart to see it here in Elista, a place where they are both victims and (in a way) perpetrators of racism (at least in thought).  I also don't mean to say that this includes everyone here in Elista. Not by a long shot! I've met many, many people (such as the people I work with and my students) who see this line of thought in their home and are as disgusted as I am.

*Here some articles where I was reading about Prop 8 in California: Huff PostLA TimesWash Post

101 Things: Keep my room tidy for a month

I've sort of neglected this list for a while, but have been slowly and unwittingly completing items off the list, one of which is keeping my room tidy for a month, #89 on my list.

I'm usually reallllly awful when it comes to keeping a clean room. I'll clean my room and within a few days or a week it's back to the way it was, looking as though a tiny hurricane had passed through.  It's always been this way and it's been this way so far here also.

So I decided to change...kind of. Once my room reaches a point, I get fed up and clean it. This time happened about a month and a half ago, when it was just....ugh. So I cleaned it. And for some reason, unbeknownst to me, I managed to keep it clean for a month! That includes clothes, dishes, sweeping, the works!  I don't know how I did it, but I did.

Unfortunately though, it is now back to post-hurricane status and it's time for another cleaning.  The bad part of all this is that I eventually let my room get really dirty again. The good news is that now I know I can keep it clean without really thinking about it. I just need to make this a habit. So Dear Readers, here's to keeping our rooms nice and tidy!

Monday, April 25, 2011

StuffRussiansLike - Update: April, 25 2011

Been a really long time since I've update the StuffRussiansLike blog, but I finally have the time (and motivation) to do so! Take a look!

63. Soup: Russians are, in my opinion, masters of soup.  It doesn't matter if you don't like Russian food because you WILL like Russian soup.  Whether it's борщ или щи (borsch or shchie) or any other type of soup, the Russians are pretty good at it. Throw in a spoonful of сметана и укроп and you have a bowl of perfection!

64.  Diplomas/Certificates: Russians love, love, LOVE to hand out certificates for EVERYTHING! Haha I'm not sure how much weight they actually carry, but they give them out like they're going out of style. My dorm has certificates that literally say (in Russian): "Best Dormitory Kitchen - 2nd Floor". This means the 2nd floor kitchen of my dorm received a certificate for being the best. This, to me, is baffling, but hilarious! *Each one is not official too, without that ever-important stamp.*
This one is an actual diploma for university and not just a random one. I'll get a pic of a random one.

65.  Repetitive Calling: This is based on the idea that Russians never, ever turn their mobile phones on silent and that virtually nowhere is an inappropriate place to answer your phone. What this means to them is that it's strange when someone doesn't answer their phone, a fluke. So they call back. And they call back. And they call back. I might be in class and the same person will call me 6 times before finally giving up, but as an American I won't answer my phone in class.  It's crazy.

So, Dear Readers, please keep your thoughts & ideas coming!

Why I Would Make An Awesome Lion

I understand that I haven't blogged in what seems like forever and this blog post certainly has nothing to do with Russia, but I felt that this one in particular needed to be written. What can you do right?

Here's why I believe that I would make the most bitching of lions!

  1. Hair: I am an extremely hairy guy. Those of you that know me know that I have been shaving since I was far too young, my hair is often long and I am always wearing a vest...if you catch my drift. What this means is that if I were a lion, I'd be rocking a serious Mufasa-like mane.
  2. Laziness: I am notoriously lazy and male lions don't do jack. They make female lions do the brunt of the work and while I'm against that, I am good at being lazy so even though I disagree with the process, I'm good at it.
  3. Motivation: What I mean by this is that through laziness, I am motivated by procrastination. When things get down to the wire and need to be done, I can get them done. Much like a male lion chills out most of the time, he does what he really has to when the pride's survival is on the line.
  4. Agility: While I may not look the part, I'm quick when I need to be, some might even say I'm spry...just like a cat, or in this case, a lion!
  5. Roar: Something virtually no one knows about me is that I can roar like MoFo. I sound EXACTLY like a lion when I roar. It's crazy. But don't ask me to roar for you...cause I won't.
  6. Nocturnal: While lions aren't necessarily nocturnal like many animals, they are very nocturnal as am I. I like to go to bed late and wake up even later. It just works out. I'm not a morning person in the slightest.
  7. Chasing Down Animals: While I can't do it in human form, I like to try and chase down animals, though unsuccessfully. I think the fact that I LIKE to do this would make me a more effective lion.
  8. The Sun: Okay, so this one may not exactly apply to lions since they live in pretty warm places in Africa and are more inclined to lie in the shade. It does, however, apply to house cats in the US, so I'm calling that close enough. I, like cats, like to pick a place on the carpet where the sun is coming through and curl up and lie down. The sun is warm, the carpet is warm and life is good.

So Dear Readers, this is why I would make a great lion! Stay tuned very soon for more updates to the StuffRussiansLike blog as well as blogs about black beans, a trip to Volgograd, Easter (Пасха) and a few other things!

Friday, March 4, 2011

StuffRussiansLike - 03/04 Update

Alright so I've got a whole bunch of these things lined up and waiting to go, but for the sake of giving myself something to do, I'm going to be holding off on posting them all at once.  Anyways, here's a few more that I thought the other day whilst walking about the city.

60.  Shaking Hands: Russians are big fans of shaking hands anywhere at any time. If you see someone you slightly know on the street and your hands are full of priceless artifacts from the Ming Dynasty, you juggle them and stop to shake hands real quick.  I'm not a fan of this habit for two reasons: a) people's hands are dirty and generally I prefer not to touch them. For those of you who know or have seen Seinfeld, you'll know that Jerry doesn't like the 'greeting kiss' and is borderline on the handshaking. I agree.  And b) I don't always want to stop and say hi to someone. It's no offense to you, I'd just like to get where I'm going.

61.  World War II (AKA the Great Patriotic War - 'Великая Отечественная Война): Russians love, love. love this. You'll see banners around celebrating the anniversary of the end of WWII pretty much every year. They are extremely proud of how they did during WWII (and let's be honest, without them,  the outcome would have been quite different) and they love to say THEY (not the Americans or British) won WWII, which is something I continually argue with them, saying it was very much a group effort, but of the three of us WE didn't have a secret pact with Hitler...  Anyways, they love WWII.

62. The Morning Beer: I see this a lot less here in Elista (though I've seen it once or twice), but in the big cities you see it a lot.  8 am rolls around, you hop on the metro and there's a man or woman dressed quite nicely, heading to work, downing a beer (I'm not counting the people who've stayed out all and are just continuing to drink).  Maybe this has something to do with the fact that until just a few days ago, beer wasn't considered alcohol here in Russia so perhaps that makes it more socially acceptable.  Regardless of that though, it would surely be frowned upon in the West. Oh well, it's still pretty interesting.

Keep your submissions coming Dear Readers and check back for updates!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How I (Almost) Got Incepted....Almost

I am 99% sure I was almost incepted last night. Let me explain and tell you about this dream:

The first dream involved a high profile crime with a cast including my girlfriend, several other ETAs, myself and Jon Polito (Lou Breeze from Barton Fink - the movie I'm currently watching).  We ended up robbing someone rich and famous who had wronged us (I can no longer remember who it was) and we stole some form or very important government money this man possessed (some kind of special issue government bills).  In reality we didn't still much in terms of money, only $5 million in total, not very much, but they were of extreme importance so we had to be careful.

Damn you Jon Polito
Damn you...
We stole the money, changed the numbers on it so it couldn't be tracked.  If I remember correctly, we did this by changing it on the computer (I realize this makes no sense).  Then we took off to rent cars so we could make an innocent escape.  I ended up with a Jaguar (which sounds good) because Jon Polito was being a d-bag and didn't want the Hyundai, but I ended up getting screwed because the Jaguar was more of a Formula-1 type car and it barely had room for my bag and it was really cold outside.  I remember Jon Polito driving by me and laughing and me hating him for it.

Anyways, the next thing I knew, I was stuck in my Jaguar in traffic on a hill in a city that was a mixture of Seattle and Liberty City (GTA) and I was going up the hill in reverse.  I should also mention that this was an entirely new dream because as I drove up the hill I remember thinking how awful it would have been if we had actually stolen the money. How much it would have negatively affected my life since there was no way I was going to get away with it.  I continued driving up the backwards until I decided enough was enough and sped off down a side street to get on the freeway.  I took a left (it seemed important in the dream) and I was off and I remember being relieved that stealing the money was a dream.  It was at that moment that Jon Polito drove by me and laughed and I freaked out.  My alarm went off and it took a good 5 minutes for me to figure out what was going on.

It's not exactly like inception, but was certainly a dream within a dream and it was weird. I'm pretty sure there were people in my room while I was asleep trying to do incept me in some way or another. I don't know how they got in, but I know they did.  Luckily my alarm clock went off and scared me (I thought I was way late for class), giving me the kick I needed to wake me.

So, Dear Readers, guard your minds and guard your dreams because people are out to get them.  Evil, evil people......and watch out for Jon Polito...damned Jon Polito...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Surgery...1 Year Later

Okay, so I'd almost forgotten about this, even though I've had it in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks now.  One year ago yesterday, I had major surgery in order to correct my jaw so I could have a more natural bite.  At the time, the only teeth in my mouth that touched were the very back ones on each side and I couldn't eat a sandwich without pulling out everything in the middle.  All in all it was really annoying and my smile was all crooked, but mainly it affected the way I ate.

Anyways, it was a four hour surgery I believe and the 3 weeks that followed were absolute hell.  My face swelled up to 3-4 times it's normal size and I looked like a walrus.  I was on a soft food diet for about a month as I couldn't open my mouth, let alone chew and I lost anywhere from 10-15 pounds in that month.  My mom came and helped and took care of things and Ana was also a huge help.

Things were going fine until I started getting nosebleeds.  During the surgery I'd had some tubes up my nose and down my throat and about 2 weeks or so after the surgery I started getting these nosebleeds that would literally bleed for a few hours because something they did in the surgery wasn't allowing me to clot properly.  The last one happened while I was at the Seattle Children's Theater with my 5th grade class and it was not a fun experience. So I had to go back into the Doc's and he basically put in a nose tampon for a week.  It was awful...really, really awful and disgusting, but it allowed my nose to heal and effectively stopped the nosebleeds.

It's been a year and things have progressed smoothly for the most part, though my jaw now constantly pops and is occasionally painful when it does, but all seems well.  Here are some before, post-surgery and after pics.  There's a pretty huge difference.  And any snide comments, Dear Readers, about the post-surgery swollen face pics will be swiftly deleted and dealt with accordingly (I may hunt you down).

Here's me a few 3 or 4 years ago looking exceptionally drunk, but I actually wasn't at all.
Notice the bad teeth.

The day after surgery I was realllly swollen...LIKE A BOSS!

I said I looked like a walrus and thanks to my friend Kert, that thought became reality.

A little bit later, less swelling

Maybe a month later? Much less swollen, but still pretty bruised.
Almost a year later. Better smile, better hair and better glasses

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

StuffRussiansLike - 03/01 Update

I'm going to start just rolling out updates to the StuffRussiansLike post by adding only the new ones and then posting them all on the StuffRussiansLike page listed up above or you can just click here.

Anyways, here are a few more added to the list!

56.  Blini (блины): It's boggling to the mind how I forgot to add blini to this list, but considering this week is Масленица (AKA 'Butter Week') where the Russians eat a ton of 'pancakes'.  I prefer to call them crepes in English because, to me, that's a better representation, but to each his own.  Anyways, aside from this special week, these things are a Russian staple (though not as much here in Kalmykia).  They're also super delicioso.  They can be eaten as a meal itself with meat, cheese, onions, etc; they can be eaten with sour cream & caviar or they can be a dessert with chocolate, maybe some bananas or strawberries. Your choice and you'll rarely encounter a bad selection.

57. Caviar (Икра): Again I amaze myself by leaving out some of the most well-known items. Weird.  Anyways, Russia is THE caviar place.  There are a ton of different kinds ranging from really crappy fake stuff, to the amazing, super expensive black stuff.  For those of you who don't know, true caviar comes from Sturgeon, 4 main types: Beluga (caviar from this fish is considered the best, but you can't legally buy this in the US and several other places in order to help protect the species), Sterlet, Ossetra and Sevruga.  Caviar is pretty decent, though the thought of fish eggs sounds less appealing....

These next two come from Mr. Pat Passarelli if Ufa, Russia.  You should check out Pat's blog here or it's over <--- to your left there.

58.  Public acceptance (or at least passive allowance) of blowing snot-rockets and/or spitting..whenever, wherever: Yeah, I've seen this one and it's not an overly enjoyable thing to watch.  I mean we've all blown a snot rocket or two, ALL of us have at some point or another, but it's rarely ever a clean take-off (if you know what I mean) and as such is simply disgusting.  Also, spitting. This one is slightly less disgusting as a habit, but still pretty gross.  The area just outside the entrance to my university is littered with three things: bird poop, cigarette butts and wet spots from everyone spitting. Yuck.
It's more disgusting and more dangerous here

59.  Superstition #1 (there are MANY) - 'That drinking really cold water will give you a stroke': How they continue to believe in this one, it beats me, especially after the blistering summer they had here  in Russia last year. To be honest, though, I've not come across this one in Elista, but then again it gets up to +40 or more pretty regularly during the summer so they know what it's like to be hot.  I don't know where this belief comes from (I'd like to know) but it's there and it's not going anywhere.  They also never use ice cubes, but we'll discuss that at another time.

So, Dear Readers, I welcome your submissions! Keep them coming!

The Little Things: What Makes Me Happy in Elista

As I mentioned here, I want to create a list of the little things here in Elista that help to not just keep me happy, but keep me sane.  There a great many thing here that can get on my nerves and I tend to focus on these.  It's high time I start focusing on what I LIKE instead of what I don't.  Let's begin.

1.  Getting laundry done without getting yelled at - this seems like it would be something that wouldn't be a problem, but the dorm ladies here are fiercely controlling about when you can and can't use the washing machine downstairs. I'm not here to talk about them though, but rather the great sense of accomplishment and joy I get when I ask if I can do laundry, they say yes, I bring it down and eventually pick it up later.  No hassles, no screaming, no accusations, no requests. Simplicity. I like that.

2.  Mornings when everyone else is at class and I'm the only one on my floor - All the Chinese students on my floor have (generally) 8:30 class and I don't.  So I like to hang out a bit till they've all packed off and then I just relax.  I can use the bathroom and/or shower in peace and sit in my room and do work, etc in peace and without fear of being disturbed. I love it.

3.  Using the shower just after it's been cleaned
- The other students on my floor seem to shower in packs, passing the key around from one person to the next so that by the time they're done, it's pretty disgusting (remember...just 1 shower for the whole floor).  So in the mornings when no one is on my floor but me (see #2), the lady *usually* cleans the shower.  I like to wait till she's done and then I've got a nice clean shower that usually has plenty of hot water.

4.  The sunset from my room - The view, from my room, of the sun setting over the Steppe is least when the weather is nice.  I love being able to watch it go down nice and slow, until it just disappears (wow...that came out a bit dirtier than I had intended).  It's quite beautiful.

5.  Being alone in the teacher's lounge - I like this because it's dead quiet and it's when I feel I'm most productive, at least when it comes to being a teacher/student.

6.  The Temple - Whether it's being around the temple or inside it, the Tibetan Buddhist temple here (the largest in Europe!) is stunning. Its architecture is gorgeous and inside is one of the most peaceful places I've ever been. I must make it there more often!
7. The Pagoda at night - The Pagoda isn't quiet or peaceful, but it makes it seem as if I'm in another place, most notably China.  The Pagoda is at odds with Russian architecture and at night, when it glows red, it's quite the sight.

8.  Piroshki - There's a little place not far from the university that sells delicious cabbage piroshki for about 55 cents apiece.  They are delicious and while I am wary of the fact that I could find hair(s) in them at any moment, it doesn't stop me from swinging by and picking up a couple or 4.

9.  Shashlik at Uralan - Uralan is the big sort of bowling alley/pool hall/arcade/restaurant/night club all rolled into one kind of place in the center of town.  It's a nice place and I feel safe there, but the shashlik they have at the restaurant is delicious. I don't eat that often because it's quite expensive, at least by Elista standards, but that makes it all the better when I do.

10.  Paprika Pringles - Okay, I understand that a lot of these are different foods, but I don't care. I like food.  Anyways, these little bad boys are way overpriced, but they're delicious. I've never seen Paprika flavored Pringles anywhere else and it's a shame because they're good, really good.  On the flip side however, the 'Chili & Cheese' Pringles sound good, but are something I regret buying each time I do.
Even more delicious is absolutely correct
11.  Blogs of other ETAs - These are quite the joy to read as they give me some serious insights into other parts of Russia and the different ways we live and the differences within Russia.  Plus, they're all great writers and I think you should check out their blogs (look to the left here and you'll see a nice little blog roll to get yourself started).

12.  Skype (when it works) - Skype is a godsend, but here in Elista it doesn't always work (the first 4 months, it hardly worked at all). So when it does and I can talk to friends and family back home, I love it. Also, if I have to take care of 'business' back home (I think you all know what that means) then I can use Skype.

Alright Dear Readers, those are just the ones off the top of my head. I'll be adding more to this list in the following days/weeks/months.  For the other ETAs, I'm curious as to what little things keep you going!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Valentine's Day

This post is a bit late, but for a couple of reasons.  I had a pretty kick-ace if, not belated Valentine's Day, but that's no one's fault save for slow mail going around the world.

Ana and I exchanged gifts for Valentine's Day. I sent her a bouquet of white roses (her favorite) and a canvas of photos from our trip to the Dominican North Coast, courtesy of Shutterfly, which she tells me loved, which makes me ecstatic!

For my gift Ana mailed me a pretty awesome care package.  In reality, it should have arrived just after Valentine's Day, but judging by the state of the box when it arrived, I'd be will to bet it spent a considerable amount of time in hands of a Russian customs agent. Oh well, I don't care! It arrived and it was SPLENDID!

Here's what she sent me:

3 Boxes of White Cheddar Cheese-Its, which she knows I absolutely love and are a serious snack food weakness of mine! (I'm trying to go through them slowly to savor them and truly enjoy them, but that plan isn't going as well as I was hoping)

A pack of new socks. Now this doesn't seem like much, especially if you were to consider the sheer amount of socks I originally brought with me to Russia (why I brought so many, I've no idea!), but Ana also knows I LOVE new socks and I wish I could wear a new pair everyday of my life! They feel amazing! Anyways, she got me a pack of six, part of which are specifically for me to wear when I leave Russia so I can stay fresh, which is incredibly sweet and why I've saved 3 pairs for exactly that reason.

Some books to read: Including her favorite poet (Poe) and some books in Spanish so that I can continue to practice and study Spanish on my own! I'm stoked about this! I'm currently using livemocha (check it out - it's like Rosetta stone, but free!), but that will run out long before I leave Russia so this is awesome!

She also got me a Guinness t-shirt, which is hands down my favorite beer and for all you beer drinkers out there, you should know it's hands down the best beer in the world, even if you do think it's a meal in a glass.  Anyways, the shirt is great and is a perfect fit! I love it!

Finally, the best thing she sent was a picture of us and a picture of her as well as a series of letters from her, which were very thoughtfully written and really made me smile! Also, there were some quotes from young kids (4-8) about what they thought love was. Here are a few of my favorites:

"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love." - Girl, 8.

"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other." Boy, 5

"You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget." Girl, 8

Even though, I'm quite a long ways away from her, it was far and away the best Valentine's Day I've ever had!  Thank you Ana! I love you!

But also, I spoke about Valentine's Day with my students and had them write letters to friends telling them why they're glad they are friends, what they mean to them, one thing they'd always wanted to tell them, etc. For my higher speaking class, I left the idea more open and got one very interesting response! Here it is (and pardon her English):

You are the best friend I’ve ever had. I’ll always remember every moment, every day, when we ride a bicycle, watched Gossip Girl, read Cecilia Ahern’s books.
I appreciate you in absolutely all thing.

You’re the Serena to my Blair, you are the Shiloh to my swei (fwei? I couldn't read this), you are the Kenzie to my Blondeau, you are the smile to my face, you are the Vob Populi (?) to my 30 Seconds to Mars, you are the “Look At Me” to my “P.S. I Love You”; you are the godmother to my child, you are the flash memory card to my 16mb, you are the South Korea to my China, you are the pain to my head and you are the rainbow to my life.

I'm not sure what a lot of those things are, but I loved the the bit about the flash memory/16mb and South Korea/China. Brilliant and hilarious at the same time!

Anyways, Dear Readers, here's to hoping your Valentine's Days were as amazing as mine!

Happiness In the Little Things

Here's a website that I recently discovered that does exactly what it's supposed to do. Make you a little bit happier.  It's called '1000 Awesome Things' (you can check it out here) and it's just that.  Neil Pasricha started this in 2008 and is working on completing 1,000 awesome things.  Most of these are just little things we take for granted, but actually really love.  Some are secret loves. And some, I don't agree with.  But this list is a seriously nice little pick me up for my time here in Russia where it seems like the little things can make or break you.  I hope to come up with a little list of my own little things that keep me happy here in Russia.

Here's a few of my favorites:

#345 When the Christmas tree gives the only light in the room
#378 Finally making it past whatever was causing traffic to slow down
#404 When someone’s leaving the bathroom at the same time as you so you don’t have to touch the door
#528 When your pet notices you’re in a bad mood and comes to see you
#953 When cashiers open up new check-out lanes at the grocery store

Anyways, check out this video of Neil.  His reason for starting the website is pretty valid, albeit sad, but I'm glad he did it because, for me, it's achieving its purpose. So, Dear Readers, here's to remembering all the little things in our lives that make and keep us happy.  

Why the US Should Sell Idaho to Canada

Here is another post completely unrelated to Russia or anything I'm doing here, but one I kind of feel like writing.  This is an idea I've had in my back pocket for quite some time and decided I might as well start really fleshing out these ideas.  I've also been known to include North Dakota and Utah in this mix...for obvious reasons.  Anyways, here goes: 'Why the U.S. Should Sell Idaho to Canada'
  1. Money - The US has a huge deficit right now and we need money.  I'm not sure how much Idaho is worth (not much to be is Idaho), but I think it could be a nice starting to point to launch some sort of new reform; money to be spent on jobs, education, something. Bottom line: The US needs money, it doesn't need Idaho.
  2. Potatoes - I'm not sure if Idaho is still leading the nation in producing potatoes, but even if it isn't, it certainly has to be close.  Well, where do most Americans presumably eat potatoes? Fast food places. And if the US has to import more potatoes, it's possible the cost of importing might force fast food places to raise prices, making their meals slightly less affordable and thus forcing families to cook healthier meals at home and to become more creative and use ingredients they might not normally use (Jaime Oliver should LOVE this idea).

3. Landscape - As the song goes, America IS beautiful. We have extremely diverse ecosystems and landscapes from swamps in the South, low-lying mountains in the East, deserts in the American Southwest, towering, snow capped mountains in the West, a non-tropical rainforest, the Grand Canyon, gorgeous coastlines all around, Great Plains and I haven't even started on Alaska or Hawaii.  Point is, while Idaho does have some beautiful areas and landscapes, America has enough to more than make up for it.  Yes the Rocky Mountains pass through Idaho, but c'mon, let's face it. These are the crappier parts. Everyone knows the 'true' Rocky Mountains are in Colorado.  And is Canada going to care? No, they've got enough forests and mountains, a few more aren't going to hurt.  I mean I know Idaho is pretty. Lake Coeur d'Alene? Gorgeous. But I'd feel a lot better about going to Canada to see it instead of Idaho.  Also, if we want to go out and enjoy the terrain located within Idaho, then it's not like it's difficult for Americans to get into Canada. 

4.  Sarah Palin - She was born in Idaho and then eventually went to the University of Idaho. That's reason enough to get rid of this state.               

5.  Neo-Nazis - Anyone familiar with northern Idaho knows that there is a significant population of these neo-nazi d-bags roaming around, burning crosses, being racist and generally causing annoyance to everyone with half a brain.  Give them to Canada. They'll have less to complain about with fewer immigrant problems and people in the US won't have to worry about them as much.

6.  Borders - Let's face it. The central and western border between Canada and the US is pretty boring.  This bit of border is a man-made straight line. Lame. Who wants that? No one, that's who. We want some variety and if we throw Idaho into the mix, you'll really give it that variety.
      Then... Look at how much more exciting that border is now!!!!

7.  Vancouver, B.C. - It's possible (not likely, but possible) that by selling Idaho, Canada might be willing to part with Vancouver.  Sure, it's really their only Pacific port, but c'mon? What's Canada importing/exporting that it can't import/export to/from the US? Nothing, that's what.  So we lost Idaho, a boring state by all measures and gain Vancouver. An exceptionally beautiful city with lots of diversity and a generally fun and exciting place to be. We want Vancouver.

*Since Idaho is largely agrarian and Americans are fat and lazy and generally prefer to NOT do manual labor, such as farm work (and yes I include myself in all of that), we can assume that there is a large portion of immigrants, legal or otherwise, working on the farms in Idaho.  Therefore we could also assume that perhaps culturally, it might make more sense to sell Idaho to Mexico, however, I believe that this would escalate the illegal immigration problem and most certainly Mexico's serious and deadly drug wars, which would be regrettable indeed. So while it is an option, I still believe Canada is the better choice.

That, Dear Readers, is why we need to sell Idaho to Canada.