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.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Differences in Educational Culture - Part 2

Okay, last time I left off I was pretty upset with the way my lessons had gone and so I decided to blog about differences in culture between Russia and the US.  I'm here to continue the discussion, but with less exasperation and irritability.  So here goes.

One of the main differences I notice (at the university level) is the differences in types of classes that students take.  Let's focus on language students since those are the ones that I work with most often.  These students have 2-3 professors throughout the week and have several language classes (of the same language) each day.  For example, the typical first year student here will have, maybe, 1-3 classes of varying English lessons (all with the same professor the entire week), the same thing in German and maybe a history class or two.  This is pretty much how their class schedule goes for years 1-5.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this, but as an American I would get a little bored.  It's the same for different departments: economics students have classes that are virtually focused entirely on economics, same with math, law, etc. You get the idea.

As most of my readers know, American university schedules are quite different.  For most of us, years 1 & 2 at university (yes I'm using university instead of 'college' - deal with it) include a huge variety of courses. Maybe a language class, some history, maybe poly-sci, certainly a math and science class or two.  For some of us this extends into our third years and only when we finally choose our majors, do we narrow the focus of the classes we enroll in.  As I said, I don't generally consider this a problem, except I can anticipate that students could very easily get burned out with their fields.  I focused on my undergrad major (European Studies) for maybe 85% of my junior and senior years and by the time I was done, I hated the topic and haven't really thought about it since.  I can only imagine having several language classes a day, always with the same teachers throughout the entire year and with the same group of students for every year (Russian university students move in groups, so 1 group will have the same classes with his/her group for years 1-5...crazy!).  Personally, I'd go insane, but I think this can certainly have an impact on the education students receive.

Writing papers & research. Russians, on average, don't do this, don't know how to research, don't know how to write an argumentative/research paper, or do citations. These things are often part of their requirements and while I've never seen a thesis done, I know they do them in their 5th years, but, as an as an academic, the sheer amount of plagiarism that occurs here is beyond belief.  I cannot, however, make any claim to plagiarism in areas outside the study of English. I believe that students researching in Russian would be able to do this much more successfully (by Western standards), but in English it'

Ask English students to do a project on someone, to write a paper and you will get stuff literally copy and pasted from the internet. They don't bother to correct anything. If they find something in Russian, they will throw it into a translator and just use that.  They often times cannot even pronounce half the words in the report.  Another ETA even had an instance where she was chatting online with one of her students and her student proceeded to copy and paste their chat and use it in a paper.  By American standards, you wouldn't survive a month at university.  You'd fail classes left and right and eventually just get kicked out.  Again, however, I cannot blame students for a lack of trying *usually* because this is the norm throughout Russia and most teachers here take no issue with this.

Now don't get me wrong, I hate citations. I believe you need them, but all these different pointless formats? APA, MLA, Chicago, NRA, NCAA, NBA, CFL, NAFTA, NAMBLA, etc (you get my point); there are so many different types of citations and why we can't have just one is beyond me so long as the appropriate people get credit.  Oh well. Anyways, as a bi-product of this, I am working with my students on teaching them to cite their sources in a very basic way: author, title, date or website, address, date.  I've had varying success, with some students going way overboard and I think listing sources they didn't or wouldn't even use, to students continuing the plague of plagiarism.  Since I work with Access or "school" students, this seems to be a travesty occurring at all levels.

*I'm also going to throw in the concept of cheating in this area.  Much of the focus of Russian education is on memorization, not conceptual understanding, and as such a lot of cheating occurs.  Give students a test in class and they will use their phones, they will blatantly look and copy off another student or they will just plain turn and start to talk and ask if they don't know.  When you don't need a conceptual understanding of ideas and aren't asked to give opinions, thoughts, etc, it can be a breeding ground for cheating. When teachers simply want the right answer and that's it, it can lead to a breeding ground for cheating. *

Russia is working hard, however, in pushing their students to be better writers and to stray away from plagiarism. It's a process and old habits die hard, but they are pushing for this and it's my understanding that significant progress has been made in the more metro regions.  Out here in the boonies, educational reforms such as these are slower to arrive, but they are happening and it's encouraging to see.

Attendance here in Russia is also interesting.  Interesting because half the time it seems optional, whether at the university or school levels.  At the school level, in the US, attendance is much more strict and missing an X number of days can result in consequences due to missing lessons, homework and tests.  That is not the same here and students frequently miss classes, sometimes for reasonable reasons (doing Math Olympics, etc) and other times not (playing video games at home).  I am, as a teacher, also discouraged; from the perspective of the students who often choose to skip and parents who don't enforce their children to attend, but also because teachers don't take initiative.

At the university level, it's not so different. I skipped more than my fair share of undergrad classes, particularly the lecture classes where I wasn't going to be missed.  Here they're a bit more brave in skipping since the class sizes are quite small (anywhere from 2-10 students and the teachers know each of the students personally).  I don't think I'd be that brave, but you never know. If I had as much repetition, I just might be.

Finally, I'm going to discuss respect in general.  I had intended this last bit to focus solely on mobile phones, but I realize that isn't enough. There is a considerable gap between what respect looks like in Russia and in the US and it's important to note.

First, students here stand up (at least in Elista) when the teacher enters the class. It's a sign of respect and one I have certainly not become accustomed to, but it's not such a bad thing.

Second, if you've ever been to Russia, you know that Russians mobile phones are attached to them in a way that Americans can't compete with.  This is generally not awful, except during class. Americans turn off mobile phones, put them on silent and tend to not take a call unless we know it to be an emergency.  That's not to say we don't text or use our computers or find numerous other ways to be disrespectful during classes in the US, but we try much harder to be sneaky about it.  Both teachers and students here in Russia leave mobile phones on during lessons. Should a phone ring while the teacher is speaking, he/she will stop, grab the phone and start to talk. If a student's phone rings, they will ask to step out and have a chat.  This is really difficult for Americans to get used to and one that I personally find, at least from a US perspective, very disrespectful.  Just today I asked a student to put his phone away so he looks at me, hides his phone and then turns his back to me like I didn't know what he was doing. The result was me holding on to his phone for the rest of the class. Fun for him!

Finally there is general conversation.  In my experience, and this may certainly not be the norm, when one person who is not the teacher (and occasionally is) is speaking, people chat and they chat loudly.  Despite repeated shh's or quick notes of "so and so is speaking and I can't hear them" this trend persists and again, as an American, is very frustrating.

Overall, Dear Readers, I hope these posts on educational differences don't come off as me complaining (though some of it surely is) or condemning Russian culture.  Russian culture is simply different than what I am used to and it requires adjusting in many different areas. I do have my preferences as to what I think works and what doesn't, but I have no intention of voicing those, although I think these preferences come through quite clearly in what I've written despite my best efforts.  In the end, perhaps these are my observations from the view of a purely annoyed, angered teacher or perhaps they are just general observations from someone teaching in a foreign country. Either way, I'm sure there's several lessons to be learned.

Differences in Educational Culture - Part 1

I'm actually pretty surprised that I haven't taken the time to blog about this yet, but my classes today pushed a button and it just so happens that button was my self-destruct button.

Before I dive into what happened today, I believe a little background info is required.  My main responsibility here in Elista is working with Access students. The Access program here in Russia provides students aged 13-16 (or in 'school' in other words) with after school classes, camps and summer camps all aimed at learning English in an interactive and fun atmosphere.  Well this new semester, I was told that we wanted to make things slightly more American, so I should give out homework, give grades etc.  This was great news for me. It would provide a nice and certainly unique opportunity to finish my graduate work and would also be a big help in preparing me for the trials and tribulations of taking over my own class next year.  I eagerly planned my lessons, readied homework and even created a class contract for my students.  Here, however, is where my excitement was abruptly and unceremoniously cut short.

The other ETAs in Russia can certainly attest to this, but for those of you who don't know, Russian students are notoriously bad at doing homework.  Not that they can't do it, just that they don't. Ever. Sure, there's one or two of the really good students in each class who always do every bit of homework and go above and beyond what's expected, but in general it ain't happening.   I was hoping this semester would be differently precisely for those reasons listed above, but I was disappointed. I let optimism get the better of me and didn't follow the age old maxim of 'no expectations, no disappoints'.

Well today, as I said, pushed a button.  Being Black History month in the US, I had assigned me students to do a presentation on Martin Luther King, Jr.  I gave a lesson on him, assigned this to them two weeks ago, gave them the option of doing a power point or writing a paper, gave them a rubric with parameters that I felt were well within their English capabilities. Well today came and out of the 45 students I teach, 10 turned in presentations.  This upset me a bit, but wasn't what really set me off.

Here's what set me off. Monday was President's Day in the US so naturally I chose that as my topic for Tuesday's lesson. We had a good time and did some activities and at the end I gave them this homework assignment: complete this sentence with what you would do: 'If I were President of the USA I would (do)....". I gave them a simple prompt and asked only one sentence of them and how many did this? 7. Seven students, including just 1 from my highest level class for whom this was an extremely easy lesson.  Needless to say, I was disappointed, let down, heartbroken. I had devoted this time and effort and nothing came of it.

I was, and am, sad about it, but as the title of this blog reads, this is due, in my believe to differences in educational cultures.  While I was upset with the students for not doing their homework, it wasn't really them I was mad at. It was me for hoping I stroll into their classroom, with my well-planned lessons and change how they think and how they study and learn in a matter of weeks.

I get asked by students, quite often actually, if I think Russian students are more hard-working than American students.  Often times, my Russian students are of the opinion that they are, in fact, certainly more hard working and I usually end up having to dodge this question because from a teaching perspective, I get upset and know that if I don't dodge it, I'll say something regrettable. Not necessarily because I believe it, but just out of frustration.

I don't think Russian students are more 'hard-working' than American students, nor do I think the American students to be more 'hard-working', but I think you have to look at the idea of what a hard worker is within the constructs of each individual and of each culture.

The first big difference, again as any ETA or anyone who's ever taught in Russia can tell you, is the idea of discussion is non-existent.  Ask students, teachers, anyone in a class to have a discussion, whether as a class, in groups or with a partner, and you'll get a bunch of blank stares like you're standing there completely naked...even if they understand you perfectly.  In schools in the US, at all levels, one of the major focuses is on student-oriented learning; getting the students to take control of their own learning, teaching them to be responsible for it and learn to enjoy it, while we, as teachers, are there to provide some information and guidance along the way.

This is not a widespread concept within Russia. The Soviet style of teaching here is still popular where the teacher talks and talks and talks and drills students and instills the fear of God in them (yes I see the irony in this), berates, calls them 'stupid' (sometimes to their face) and evokes a terrifying image that can easily cause a student to shell up. Not all teachers are this harsh and this was a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. This method is changing, but it still has a long way to go.  And as far as discussion in concerned? Not a chance. I've heard this is part of Soviet system as well, but less educationally and more of a fear of sharing one's opinion for fear of repercussion from the authorities.  That kind of true fear can certainly make a large impact on culture.

What does this mean for an American teaching in Russia though? It means you have to adapt in different ways because if you're like me, you can't stand there and talk for an hour and a half, you don't want to even if you could and you don't think anyone gets much from it (I personally get 10 or so of a lecture before I pull out my phone and play games or generally tune out).

  • It means you have to be creative and learn to fill (lots) of down time in your classroom because these 'discussions', 'group work' things are going to go by in a flash because there's not a lot of discussion really going on.  
  • It means your students must truly be able to relate to the content you're teaching them or they must find it very interesting.  The more the students connect with you're teaching them, the more likely you are to find a common ground between the activities, exercises you'd like them to do and a place that's comfortable for them within (or just outside) of what they normally do.  Here, in Elista, students are very proud of Kalmyk culture and I usually find that it's a good activity to relate my lessons back to this in some way.  
  • It also means you have work extra hard to foster this idea of discussion. I also run evening classes a couple times a week and the students who show up every week have become accustomed to my style of teaching and now when asked to work in groups, they set off and get going right away. They are absolutely brilliant at it. Sure, the conversation might be all in Russia, but that's okay because 1) their English may or may not be advanced enough to do this and 2) the end result of the task will require them to create, speak, write, perform or do something in English so they will have to focus on that. This evening class has shown me that, over time and with perseverance, these habits can be changed.
So in this sense are Russian students harder working? No. Are Americans? No. Neither Americans nor Russians would have an easy time if simply plucked out of their classrooms and set down in one in the other country.

Let me discuss the homework differences in this first post since it was one of, if not the main, reason for my writing this. I haven't been to a school (primary/secondary) school here in Russia so I can't attest to homework in those settings, so I'm going to discuss what I see at the university level.

Students here are often given homework, but as with my classes, most of it does not get done.  I've seen this as an outsider, but also took over a teacher's lessons for 3 weeks and not an extraordinary amount of homework got done.  And why should it? At worst, the usual repercussion of failing to do so is actually being forced to do so.  I hate saying this as a teacher, but I'm also saying it because I've been a student, still am a student and have much more experience being a student: part of doing homework comes from the idea that something bad will happen to your grades if you don't.  This idea is not the same in Russia.  In Russia, from what I've seen they don't often have presentations, certainly they don't have the idea of mid-terms and as such littler tests, etc are also not very common.

The big thing in Russia are final exams at the end of the semester, most of which are oral (perhaps all, but I'm not sure).  When there are tests or homework, cheating is extremely and as for researching or doing a project, plagiarism is the name of the game (we'll get to that in the next post, it deserves it's own section).  These things, combined with virtually zero weight being attributed to homework means that it doesn't get done or it doesn't get done on time.  I've also noticed that many of students, when it comes to turning in homework, want to speak out orally and do it; the idea of turning in homework (with my Access students anyways) seems completely foreign to them.

Anyways, all of this is extremely frustrating for me and I haven't figured out a way around it yet.  Really guiding students, giving them options, making topics relatable, none of it seems to work.  I'm certainly not assigning these topics to punish them, but to, at least in my mind, help them process the information I'm giving them and help them with their English, but it's not working.  As with discussion, the idea of being 'right' here in Russia is what most teachers look for and what most students want to give, so when it comes to homework I give, part of it clashes with this cultural idea of always being right and plays a role in the homework not getting down, but then again what do I know....

So again, is one or the other more 'hardworking'? No. i think Russians would be overwhelmed in America and Americans would be terrified in Russia.

Stay tuned, Dear Readers, for part 2 coming up in a day or so.  But for those of you might actually take the time to read this long piece, I'd love your feedback, thoughts, insights, corrections, judgments, opinions, etc because I feel I may have taken a few too many liberties with this idea of Russian educational culture and what I think it is.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

101 Things in 1001 Days - The List

Here is a list of 101 things that I hope to accomplish in 1,001 days.  The purpose of this is to set tangible goals that can be measured or clearly achieved, the idea being that all too often people set goals and completely fail to realize them or can't seem to find the time. These goals are ones I hope to complete in 1,001 days and while I don't know if I can do all of them, I'm planning on trying.  This list will be continuously updated (it will be it's own page as it's updated - look next to the 'about me' section under the title & picture) as I move through the list and slowly knock off items.  Also, the list isn't in any particular order, but rather just things that came into my head, that I saw on the internet or other suggestions from the website.

I have my good friend Phil Duncan to credit for getting me into this. He's a brilliant writer and a whiz with pretty much everything, so I suggest you head on over his website and poke around a bit.  Also, my list can be found here if you're curious and if you feel like setting up your own (I recommend it!) then just head on over to the Day Zero Project!

As of writing this, this list must be completed by November 21, 2013. Here goes...

  1. Get married
  2. Get a job
  3. Buy a suit
  4. Learn to cook 10 new meals
  5. Spend a week backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail
  6. Take a photography class
  7. Read 'War and Peace'
  8. Become fluent in Spanish
  9. Learn to dance (salsa, bachata, merengue)
  10. Build a snow fort
  11. Watch 26 movies I've never seen starting with each letter of the alphabet
  12. Maintain a flower garden for one season
  13. Get 'Elite' status with my frequent flyer program
  14. Get a tattoo
  15. Attend a Real Madrid match
  16. Try (and hopefully like) foie gras
  17. Learn to do Tai Chi
  18. Join a softball league
  19. See a polar bear in the wild
  20. Buy a sitar
  21. Start a retirement fund
  22. Camp on the San Juan Islands
  23. Finish graduate school
  24. Start and finish a book of crossword puzzles
  25. Do at least 1 month of field-based non-profit work
  26. Fill up my passport
  27. Learn to brew my own beer
  28. Learn to fly fish
  29. Watch every Academy Award winning 'Best Picture' movie
  30. Get over my fear of spiders
  31. Go to India
  32. Perform one random act of kindness everyday for a month
  33. Live in another country
  34. Swim in the ocean at night
  35. Get a new hobby
  36. Complete a 365 day photo challenge
  37. Blog once a day for a month
  38. Eat turkey on Thanksgiving
  39. Create my own website
  40. Buy a used car
  41. Listen to 10 albums by artists I've not listened to before
  42. Spend a week in a jungle
  43. Visit 3-5 Central and/or South American countries
  44. Read a novel in Russian
  45. Host weekly dinners for 3 months
  46. Learn how to make Pho
  47. Have a Guinness in Ireland
  48. Read 10 literary classics
  49. Write a detailed zombie apocalypse plan
  50. Leave an inspirational note inside a book for someone to find
  51. Catch a fish that weighs at least 60 pounds
  52. Put away $25 for every goal completed
  53. Give $25 to charity for every goal left undone
  54. Go wine tasting
  55. Buy a nice pair of boots
  56. Convince my dad to travel outside the US
  57. Visit at least 2 new Russian cities
  58. Eat fresh fish on the beach in the Dominican Republic
  59. Write a poem every day for a month
  60. Run a half marathon
  61. Spontaneously buy an airplane ticket to somewhere I've never been
  62. Attend an opera
  63. Have a rootbeer float
  64. Make a pizza from scratch
  65. Go to the top of the Space Needle
  66. Learn to change the oil in a car
  67. Get a massage
  68. Go to an IKEA
  69. Write a book about my travel/living abroad experiences
  70. Watch & understand a film in Spanish
  71. Help someone I know achieve a goal
  72. Make a list of 101 things that make me happy
  73. Write 5 letters to 5 people who changed my life
  74. At least once applaud when my plane lands
  75. Learn a programming language (either HTML or Apple Script)
  76. See a Caribbean sunrise
  77. See a Cirque du Soleil show
  78. Buy a really nice bed/mattress
  79. Spend an entire day saying yes to everything (within reason)
  80. Buy a pair of bowling shoes for casual wear
  81. Sign up to be an organ donor
  82. Read The Qur'an
  83. Build a sandcastle
  84. Play a game of Monopoly from beginning to end
  85. Dress up for Halloween
  86. Send in a photograph to a contest
  87. Attend a fancy dress party
  88. Draw something in wet cement
  89. Keep my room tidy for a month
  90. Host a holiday dinner
  91. Take 2 months of classical guitar lessons
  92. Send out 25-35 postcards from Russia
  93. Read the Bible cover to cover
  94. Make a return trip to Southeast Asia
  95. Buy a bottle of wine that costs more than $50
  96. Buy a bottle of wine that costs less than $5
  97. Pay off my credit cards
  98. Write, but not illustrate, a children's book
  99. Watch the sunset on the Oregon coast
  100. Write a letter to myself to open in 10 years
  101. Go a week without logging onto Facebook
So Dear Readers, keep checking back for updates and I hope to maybe check out YOUR lists someday soon!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Russian Hospitality

Many Americans, whether they've been to Russia or not, tend to believe that the Russian people are cold; that they're mean, but this couldn't be farther from the truth.  I'm not saying there aren't any mean, cold people in this country, there's plenty of them.  Got into virtually any 'produkti' and you're bound to find at least one disgruntled person.  But let's be honest, it's not really that different than in America if you go to, say, a ZipTrip and find some guy in his mid-forties, who's extremely bitter about life and is a generally unpleasant person to have to deal with. Maybe that's because he works at a ZipTrip, maybe not. All I'm saying is there are mean, standoffish people in both countries, but to judge and assume all Russians are this way is very offensive, but also makes you look like an ignorant moron.

Russian people are some of the most hospitable people I've ever met. In fact, sometimes their hospitality can even be a bit unnerving for Americans, such as the babushkas with their "куши, куши, куши" when you're beyond full for those of you who've been here and know what I mean, but it's never a bad thing (okay things can occasionally get a little out of hand, especially when alcohol is involved, but again, that happens everywhere).  It can be a little difficult to get used to though.

For example: Tonight I was invited out by a bunch of students to go to dinner and go bowling (I won both games thank you very much with incredibly pathetic scores) and I was not allowed, despite my insistence, to pay for a single thing.  This is something I've encountered quite a bit here in Russia and it's always something I struggle with, but never in a bad way.  I'm sure you can all agree that dealing with someone too nice is much better than someone mean, but I feel guilty when I'm not allowed to pay.

Anyways Dear Readers, I just wanted to write and say that the Russian people are pretty amazing and I had some nice sushi and pizza tonight along some bowling. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Russian Dorm Bathrooms...and a poll.

Alright, so living in a Russian dorm is not idea. Not in my dorm anyways. I live on the 5th floor with about 25-35 Chinese students. We have one kitchen with 5 burners (out of 16) that really work, one shower and 4 toilets.  The shower key is on the 1st floor and at least 30% of time no one knows where the key is.  I am, however, used to all of this and it all seems quite normal anymore.  And even the bulk of this post I've become accustomed to, though I wish I hadn't.

If you know me at all, you know I'm a pretty big fan of awesome toilets, especially when they're immaculately clean.  Well the toilets here are not spectacular nor are they ever even remotely clean.  Out of the two on my side of the dorm, one doesn't flush, neither has a place to put toilet paper and none of the bathroom doors on my floor lock. This means when you hear someone coming your way, your hand shoots out to grab and keep that door shut like Mr. Miagi snatching that fly because knocking in the dorms never happens.

But like I said, I've gotten quite used to it and where it once bothered me, it no longer does.  I am, however, constantly amazed by how often the other guys in the dorm seem incapable of actually USING the toilet instead of the seat, floor and walls surrounding it.  Now again, this no longer bothers me, I'm used to it, but it never ceases to amaze.

It seems that something is preventing them from using the toilet properly and I don't know what it could be. This conundrum has bothered me for sometime and kept me up late into the night or more than one occasion.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Story About a Gnome and Broken Dreams....Part 1

*Note: this blog post has absolutely nothing, whatsoever to do with Russia. I am simply bored off my ass at the moment and need to do so something other than chill on Facebook and playing solitaire, so here goes. Despite the initial direction, this is NOT a love story.*

Not so long ago, in a little village in a country you'd all know, but for the sake of your sanity shall remain undisclosed, lived a gnome named Quincy.  Quincy was like any other gnome, tending to his garden, riding around on his squirrel James and doing little home repairs around his hollowed out tree stump of a home.  He lived an ordinary life (by gnome standards) and as far as he knew nothing would ever change, but he was okay with that. He liked his life alright and him and James got along just fine.  So when one day, Quincy met his first human, he was quite in shock.

It was brisk autumn morning, the wind whipping at Quincy's beard as he rode atop James. The color of sunset all around in the changing leaves and marshmallow clouds passing over head.  Quincy was out for a morning ride, enjoying James' company (as we all know gnomes can speak to animals) when he saw her.  She was strolling about the woods.  No, perhaps not strolling, rather gracefully prancing along the trail.

Quincy had heard the legends and myths concerning human existence, but he had never, for one second, believed them to be true.  He was absolutely shocked to this...this...this creature and in HIS wood no less. While he had never believed in humans, he had always held a slightly odd fascination (for gnomes anyway) with the possibility of their existence and as such he had done a fair amount of reading about humans.

"From my research, I'd wager she's about 30 I'd say" Quincy said to James.  James, having heard a great deal about the possibility of humans from Quincy agreed.  Quincy, who was around 30 himself (Gnomes don't celebrate birthdays and their idea of years are slightly different) found his first human ever to be quite beautiful.  In fact, he was awestruck by her beauty and decided to approach her.

Laura had woken up that morning feel really good about life, the first time since she'd broken up with her boyfriend James.   "I feel so great this morning! It looks nice out, so I think I'll take some time for me and go find that new trail I heard about!"

So she got up, had her breakfast, got dressed and hopped in her car and made her way to this new trailhead she'd heard about.  A friend of hers had told her when he and some friends had come up and dropped some acid. He said they'd seen some really crazy stuff.  Laura had no intention of dropping anything, except for her disillusionment with men at the moment. She wanted to enjoy nature, to see the leaves changing color and maybe see a deer or two, but mainly she wanted to forget about life for a little while.

As a human, she had obviously heard of gnomes, even believing in them once as a young girl.  But as for as expecting to see one that day, she certainly did not.  When she turned and saw Quincy (though she didn't know his name yet) riding on the squirrel, she froze. She just stared and let out a little, slightly audible "Uhh" before slowly starting to back away. If she was amazed at the sight of a gnome, she was even more so when it spoke to her.

"Hi there!" were the words that first came out of Quincy's mouth and they seemed to have shocked him as much as her. He hadn't planned on saying anything, but his curiosity seemed to get the better of him.  He noticed that she was a bit wary of him as he was of her, but his speaking seemed to put her over the edge and she fainted.

She wasn't out long, a minute or so, and when she came to, Quincy was standing beside her on a fallen tree.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. My name is Quincy" he said.

"W-w-what are you?" Laura was able to stammer out, after realizing that her reason for now beign on the ground was that she had most likely fainted.

"I'm a gnome and I live around here.  This is my squirrel James. He says hi too! I can talk to animals. All gnomes can talk to animals!"

"Oh, I wasn't aware gnomes could talk to animals.  To be honest, I was pretty sure that gnomes didn't exist, yet here you stand."

"Really?" Quincy said. "I didn't think humans were real! Can you believe that? And yet here you YOU stand! Er, well sit. Sorry again."

"It's okay, you just caught me by...surprise.  Erm, well I think I should get going. I'm late for....something. Bye."  Laura stood up and started to walk away, but with his intense fascination of people, Quincy couldn't let her go that easily.

"Wait! Can I come with you?" he yelled after her, hopping on James and heading full-speed towards her feet.

"Um, are you going to, like, try and kill me and eat me or something?" Laura asked, looking quincy up and down as best one can look an extremely short creature like a gnome up and down.

"Haha no! I'm just overly curious about humans and, well, I'd like to learn more!"

"Well, okay, I guess, just don't try and eat me or anything. I'll stomp on you if you do."

"Deal!" Quincy agreed and together they head off back to Laura's car.

All the way home, Laura couldn't help but sneak peeks at Quincy. They had talked for a while about gnome life (what Quincy likes to call "gnome-al life" ka-ching!) and human life and having decided he wasn't dangerous, Laura couldn't stop herself from sneaking glances at him. She was fascinated with him. She also found him, much to her own personal chagrin, slightly cute.  Like a young Jon Voigt with a beard.

They finally reached her place and as soon as she opened the door to her apartment, Quincy shot in atop of James.

"Sorry Laura, he doesn't have any manners" Quincy said as he looked around her apartment.  They had discussed food on the way in and were both surprised to learn that they ate pretty similar foods, with the exception of Quincy being a vegetarian (he loved animals too much) and she decided to make some stir-fried veggies for Quincy to try.

"Make yourself comfortable" Laura told Quincy.  "Is there anything I can get you?" she asked him.

"Just some water is fine thanks" Quincy said. "Despite the rumors about gnomes, we like to get to know someone before we set in with the beer and seeing as how it's the first time I've ever met a human, maybe I shouldn't drink. So water'll do just fine."

"Sure thing" Laura said, but Quincy didn't hear. He was currently examining the television set that was on. He couldn't fathom how pictures and noise were coming from this thing.

"What is this?" Quincy asked, unable to take his eyes off of it.

"Oh that's a TV. We watch fake and real programs on it and can learn what is happening in the rest of the world" Laura told him.

"Wooooowwww" purred Quincy, touching the screen and receiving a slight static shock.

He finally managed to pull his eyes away from the television screen for a second and promptly asked Laura where the bathroom was.

"Down the hall and to the right" she told him and off he went.  Lucky for him the door was open too because there was no way he was going to be able to do it himself, thanks to his short stature, but when he entered the bathroom however, he realized that his worries weren't over.

"Holy mushrooms..." he murmured staring up at the largest toilet he had ever seen. "How am I going to get up there?" Quincy thought, looking for the best way to climb up to the sink.

You should know that, despite their size, gnomes are quite the apt little climbers. It's a rare known fact that they have, something akin to spiders, little stickers on their hands and feet that allow them to climb trees to rummage for various things.

Quincy was lucky because the cabinet holding up the sink was made of wood, even though it was like no tree he'd ever climbed, his little stickers worked all the same and soon he found himself standing on the counter, looking out over the toilet.

When he was done, Quincy looked around a bit and found something truly piqued his interest. It was a small baggie that had what looked like sugar in it and it's well-known that gnomes are crazy over sugar!

"Well, I know I shouldn't, but I'm pretty tiny and if I take just a little, she'll never know" he thought to himself, already beginning to open the bag.

He quickly scooped up a handful and poured it down his throat.

"Wowwee! This is way better than sugar! I've never had anything so delicious!" Little did poor Quincy know that this wasn't sugar, but another prized white substance because while Laura didn't go out into the woods to get high, it didn't mean she didn't partake in a very addictive substance...

This where the story takes a turn for the worse and both Quincy's and Laura's lives are about to go down a terrible rabbit hole full of painful realizations and bad choices.  How will this story end? Well, you're going to have to wait and see what happens in the second installment of Crack Gnome-caine

My Russian Language Skills (or lack thereof)

So I've been in Russia almost 6 months now and my ability to speak Russian has soared compared to when I first arrive in September.  I can carry, kind of, conversations in Russian and I can, kind of, understand when people talk to me.

But there's still a larger-than-I'd-like-percentage of time spent being completely misunderstood and/or not understanding what is going on at all. And since I'm probably (read: definitely) not putting in an enough effort towards my language, I've found coping mechanisms to deal with these awkward situations and I here present different situations and how to get through them, enjoy.

Problem: You want to say something in Russian, but don't really have the words to pull it off.

  • Solution: Mumble like a motherf***** and try to get some semblance of the sounds you want. Chances are that the Russian person will either understand you (how? I don't know) or think said something else and respond to that. Either way you're off the hook.

Problem: You know what you want say and say it, but it isn't understood because apparently your mouth is full of some form excrement. What do you do?

  • Solution: I refer you to the previous problem, mumble like a motherf***** rather than trying to say it correctly.  Usually by trying to say it correctly, you seemingly end up saying it incorrectly, but by slurring your words together like you knocked back a bottle of vodka and are in the middle of eating a banana, somehow it sounds better and the message gets through.

Problem: Someone is speaking to you with such a words per minute rate, you'd swear they were in Bone Thugs N Harmony and you catch zero of what they said to you.
     Solution: This is a complex problem and has multiple answers. Let's begin.
  • Solution 1: If the person is nice and you don't think they'd mind, just stare at them like they're an alien and cock your head to the side like a dog. In my experience, this usually conveys complete stupidity on your part and will, if they're nice, elicit a smile, maybe a joke at your expense and either slower, less complex Russian or English, both of which seem to work.
  • Solution 2: If the person is mean, just not nod your head and say yes or no. This will get you somewhere, but depending on your answer, may not get you where you want to be. Attempt at your own risk.
    • *Note: you can attempt solution1 here, but remember this person is mean and this could very well result in your getting yelled at, scolded and not getting what you want.*
  • Solution 3: If it sounds like it's a question that they're asking you, again just go with a yes or no. You again attempt this at your own risk because you may get your self into a whole lot of something you don't wanna be in or you may not. If you're at a store, you might not get what you were hoping for. Again, I leave it to your discretion.  
  • Solution 4: If what the person says isn't a question and you know this, but still have no f***ing clue what the hell they're talking about, then I like to do one of two things:
    • Drop a "yeah?" to sort of reaffirm whatever they're saying. Russians are good at talking and these reaffirmations seem to satisfy them as a response and they'll usually keep on going, none the wiser you're as clueless as a baboon in the Pacific. But you're safe...for the time being.
    • Or you can give a nice long 'ooohhhh' which again reaffirms whatever it is they're saying, but completely masks your ineptitude.  This answer, however, in my experience is more likely to lead to them asking you a follow-up question, so be careful.
Problem: Someone comes up to you and is obviously going to either a) rob you; b) check your documents or c) ask you to do something you most certainly don't want to do (like clean the kitchen) and you want to avoid these at all costs.
  • -In case a) if you can run, perhaps giving a swift kick to the nuts first because the people walking around you are not likely to give a shit whether you're getting robbed or not.
  • -In case b) Say you don't speak Russian, hand the nice officer your passport and whatever else he may want and hope he doesn't ask you to give him money.  In this case it's also better to be super white, that seems to help.
  • -In case c) This often happens to me in my dorm. Someone, whom I've never seen nor met,          comes knocking on my door wanting something.  I like to go the opossum route in this case and lie on my, turn any music off, hope to God that my door is locked and sit patient until they go away thus avoiding having to clean the kitchen at 11:30 at night.
Problem: You're speaking to a room of people and are required to speak Russian, but you don't have the actual skills to do it in Russian.  Here is where being a ninja comes in handy and here's what you do.

  • Solution: Show lots of pictures, ask for questions and if all else fails, throw a smoke screen up and slip out of wherever you are and go quietly into that dark night......

So, Dear Readers, if you find yourself in Russia (or if you're already here) and you just don't know what to do and you want to break down and cry because people seem mean and yell and you don't understand what they're saying and vice versa, just follow this simple guidelines and you'll be fitting in in no time! Good speaking!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Evacuation Procedure...Do what now!?

This little post is about what I (and the others on my floor) are supposed to do in case of an evacuation.

Now I live on the 5th floor on my building, the top floor that's reserved for foreign students.  Now the 5th floor isn't that high as far as buildings go, but you're not gonna see my ass jumping out anytime soon in case of an emergency.  So that being said, what am I supposed to do?

Well I don't need to figure that out. The lovely people who run my dorm have solved that problem.  No, there's no evacuation plans post anywhere and of course no such thing as an exit sign, but there is a door....

Yes a door.  It's on my end of the dorm right next to where the sinks are for brushing your teeth, washing your face, etc.  

A-ha! I now know where to go in case of an emergency! My life has been saved!! 

But wait a minute...let's examine this door a bit closer shall we?

Alright, for those of you who don't speak Russian, let me tell you what this says: "Evacuation Exit 5  Keys with the janitor (women who run the dorm".  

Yes, like every other single door in Russia (except for bathroom doors, WTF?) this one is locked.  You should also know that the women with the keys are located on the first floor.  But I now have an evacuation plan!!
  1. Scream like a little girl and run to this door.
  2. Realize the door is locked and I can't get out, scream louder, start to cry and wet pants.
  3. Man up, run downstairs and get the key.
  4. Head back upstairs two at a time (c'mon now it's a better workout) and get to the door.
  5. Unlock the door.
  6. Open the door to realize the exit doesn't really go anywhere.
  7. Repeat (w/variation) step 2.
So, Dear Readers, if you come to visit me in my room and there's emergency you better have that tuck and roll technique down because 5 stories up is quite a ways...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Long time, no write. And a robbery.

Here's a nice little post about being back in Elista!

I have been here 2 weeks now (just over) since going on vacation and it has been incredibly..........the same as it was before.  It's colder now, but not too bad.  It was -13 celsius here today. The coldest it's been yet here in Elista, but nothing compared to the -20 celsius it was in St. Petersburg and certainly nothing compared to the 'well digger's ass' temperatures you poor souls are experiencing in Siberia.  Mr. T certainly pities you in that regard.  But while it's not that cold here, it's windy. Really, really windy. On my window I have a whole roll of Russian packing tape type stuff and half a role of duct tape and EVEN THE DUCT TAPE ISN'T WORKING!! There is some sort of devilry at work here that cannot be explained. My windows shut and taped still let in a draft and are constantly on the verge of exploding open as if a demon is about to burst into my room and force feed me sour cream in my sleep.

Anyways, so I got back 2 weeks ago and in the first 3 days I managed to get robbed for being an American (dear Fulbright people to whom one might report these things, yeah I didn't report it). The guy was drunk and angry and with a friend.  My friend Erdni and I were leaving a pizza place when this guy accosted us (this was in daylight 4:30 on the busiest street in the city, in front of a government building...go figure). He knew I wasn't Russian (and explicitly said so) and thus get angry seemed ready to fight when we didn't give up our pizzas.  He also wanted beer, but we didn't have.  My friend Erdni on the other hand, seemed determined to try and call his friends to get them down there in order fight. I on the other hand, having witnessed that shooting not so long ago, decided 'Ermm well it's pizza and not very good pizza at that. I don't feel like getting to a fight, much less getting shot or stabbed soooo here ya go" and quite willingly handed over my pizza.  Afterwards I decided I was going to go home.

Even though this guy just took pizza, I was pretty paranoid for the next couple of days as I went about my business in town. Every time someone looked at me I got nervous and walked a bit faster.  I stand out here like a sore thumb. First off, I'm white while I'd guess anywhere from 95-97% of the population here isn't and I have long blonde hair. So it's not hard to tell I'm 'not from 'round deese her parts' and I felt like a target for a couple of days.

Time passed, however, and I stopped worrying about it until....I saw the guy again. I saw the guy on Saturday as I walked to get some piroshki at my favorite place. He was waiting for the bus and just stared at me as I walked by. It was fairly nerve racking.  That's the other problem, this city is so small it's hard not to see the same people at least 2 or 3 times a week.

Aside from that though, things have been going well. Teaching has begun again and I'm much better at this whole planning thing and ALL of my students are showing up to class! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah They be comin' to class! Really though, it's quite the feat.  And while about 25-30 of them have extremely poor English, we've been having a good time so far!

So, Dear Readers, until next time!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Russia and Its Airports...A Tale of Epic Proportions

Alright so I apologize that I haven't written in close to 47 years. I'll make up for that this week, this is just the first one many (read: one or two more) to come this week.

This first post, while I won't go into detail about what I did over my break, will chronicle my amazing trip trying to leave Moscow. 

We last left off after I had spent Christmas Day on a bus/train with an alcoholic, lots of beer, vodka and dried fish and a train stuck for four hours, just 20 minutes away from the final destination and it would seem that Russia wasn't done with me, did not want me to leave....

We pick up as I begin getting ready to make my way to Domodedovo airport to catch my flights to Santo Domingo!

It was December 27 and I was sitting in my nice little hotel room, showered, shaved, packed and generally ready to make my way on a few longs flights to end up in a nice, warm, beautiful Santo Domingo!  

First you should know that my flight was supposed to leave on December 28 at 7:15 in the morning and if you've ever been to Russia, trying to get to the airport, with luggage, before the metro or aeroexpress (express trains from Moscow airports in the city) open, you know what a giant pain in the ass it is.  I figured my flight was going to be late or delayed some because it was winter and, well, c'mon it's Russia. Ain't nothing on time here.  So I wanted to get to the airport nice and early since it was an international flight and a bunch of flights had been canceled to the day before so I knew it would be packed.  To prepare for this early arrival, I figured I'd just stay up all night so I didn't miss my alarm to also start to adjust to the time difference between Russia and SD.  

To keep myself awake, I chose to read a book that had been given to me by some Scottish woman.  It was about spies and the KGB and Americans trying to get out of the Soviet Union alive.  Now if you know you're history, you know the KGB were good at making people disappear and readying a book of that nature the night before you're scheduled to leave country is NOT a good idea. Sure the USSR is gone and the KGB is now the FSB (more or less) and things are different, but it doesn't change the fact that you will freak out (alone) in your hotel room, waiting for some big guys with bad haircuts in black suits to burst into your room, make a joke at your expense (in Russian of course) and whip a black bag over your head and carry you away only to wake up in a windowless cell or worse, not wake up, but be found floating under the ice of the Moscow river.

Anyways, I went downstairs to the lobby at about 3:15. I had ordered a cab for 3:40 and waited diligently. But as I somewhat expected, there was never any cab, so the hotel people called once more, a nice 40 minute wait. Luckily though, a man whom I still maintain was drunk, had just brought a guy to the hotel and was willing to take me to the airport. So we threw my stuff in his car and speeded off.  

As we made our way to Domodedovo, I noticed that whole trees were bent nearly in half with the weight of ice, many hanging out onto the road and several had caused accidents already.  Miraculously we made it the airport without dying and I paid the man and left.  Now I should have taken the missing cab as the first bad omen, but I didn't.  I get inside to find that my flight, along with every other flight, had been canceled. So I made my way to the Lufthansa desk to see what could be done and here, dear Readers, is where the fun began.  

I got in line, with maybe 30 people in front of me.  This was at approximately 4:30 in the morning. By the time I reached the Lufthansa desk it was about 9:45. I had officially been up for 25 hours at that point.  Since there were no flights leaving that day, the lady managed to reroute me an Iberia flight through Madrid leaving at 7:15 the next morning.  So I had another 24 hours to kill with no hotel.  I decided to spend the evening in the airport.  

I rode the aeroexpress a twice as I found it a nice place to sleep: warm, comfy, and fairly quiet, though a bit expensive, but I didn't care since I hadn't slept in (at that time) about 27 hours.  I spent that day/night in a mixture of sleeping on the tile floors, reading and wandering about the airport drinking coffee and looking for outlets to plug my phone into.  It was pretty fun! (read with as much sarcasm as you can muster)  

At around 4:30 the next morning, I waited for my check-in to begin and begin it did!!  Again, if you've been to Russia, you know the Russian aversion to forming, and waiting, in a line.  This is normally not so bad at places like the airport but that morning was an exception.  I spent another 2 hours literally pushing my way to the front in order to check my bags and get my tickets. There was lots of screaming between people trying get in front of others, yelling between the guy at the desk, customers and other customers as to who deserved a ticket first or at all (my personal favorite was this idiot lady screaming about how it was her friend's birthday a few days ago so that entitled him to get tickets before the rest of us and then some Belorussian guy responding that she was, in fact, a bitch and he could give a shit about her friend's birthday).  There were a lot of douchey Russians without luggage coming and pushing their way to the front since they could without luggage. They would then proceed to whip out their passport, along with 5 of their friends and then their friends who actually HAD all the luggage would split the waiting crowd like Moses did the Red Sea, causing a tumult among the waiting patrons as our positions were continuously reshuffled.  My backpack kept smacking some short girl in the face and despite repeated requests to move it, I stayed my course, said nyet and sweated my ass off until I was finally able to get my bag checked and get my ticket.  

Security was a breeze which was great and once I got through I realized that Lufthansa had been quite kind and put me on first class...allllllllllll the way to Santo Domingo, including the 9 hour flight from Madrid to the DR, but I'll get to that in a second.  Anyways, our flight left two hours late (of course) and I thought for a time we wouldn't make it as the snow was coming in sideways and from 8 different directions.  Yet we made it and we were up and up and up.  

I slept from Moscow to Madrid and didn't take much advantage of the first class privileges, though being a short flight there weren't many.  My flight from Madrid was also delayed for an hour, but we made it and there was where first class really strutted its stuff.  Have y'all ever flown a trans-oceanic flight on first class? If you haven't then I pity you because it is ridiculous. We've all seen the seats as we make our back to the poor man's section as we look on with jealous and hatred and those dumb enough (and rich enough) to fork out the extra thousands of dollars to seat and live with like gods.  

Yes my seat made into a bed and it was glorious! Yes I was given all sorts of free alcohol and it was glorious!  Yes I had delicious Spanish and Italian meals on the flight and they. were. GLORIOUS! Marvel at me as you walk in my wake; in the path of a man who has sat in the heavens, dined with lords and drank the nectar of the gods! Yes! MARVEL FOR I HAVE ACHIEVED IMMORTALITY!!!

Okay not quite, but seriously, it was amazing and sitting economy will forever be even more depressing than it normally is, what with its crying babies, fat, smelly people, terrible food and overpriced alcohol and broken TV screens.  

So Dear Readers, I wish I was rich so I could once again fly with winged gods, but alas I shall forever be stuck among the peasantry of the skies, waiting hopelessly for my name to be called and immortality to be restored....