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!