Archive for December, 2011

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Posted: December 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

I arrived home yesterday after many hours of traveling. I don’t really want to try to figure out how long it took. On the way to the train station was absolutely amazing. I got to ride in an UAZ jeep based on the 469 model. I was one of the most fun things that I have done in Russia. Sadly, it has only made me more interested in buying one, and the ride only made me realize how much the car will not conform to safety or emissions standards in the USA. The driver was surprised that I wanted to ride in the jeep. I grabbed shotgun and was mildly surprised to find out that there were no seat belts, despite the truck being from 1993. The build quality was less than spectacular, and the ride quality was almost non-existent. We were bouncing around like crazy on the paved roads, which makes me speculate about how uncomfortable and uncontrollable the truck is off road. Katya, who road with me to see me off, had told me that we were going to freeze the whole way to the station, but she was wrong. True to a Russian car, the one thing that worked very well was the heater.

Pure happiness. Best to the train station ride ever.

The train ride was fine, but long. 15 hours is a bit too much for me to spend in a confined space. My compartment mate was a woman of about 45. She was going to Moscow to meet her daughter, who studies in London. At one point her en route entertainment was to choose a new ring tone for her phone by listening to all of the tones out loud. .

I arrived in Moscow at 5.20AM and walked into the Metro just as it was opening. After waiting in the mass (there are never orderly lines in Russia) I got my metro ticket and rode on the first train of the morning a few stops down. From there, I entered another train station and bought a ticket for Aeroexpress, which is a train that runs directly to the airport. I proceeded to sleep through the majority of that journey, which was nice.

After arriving at the airport, I wandered around trying to find my check in place. The signs at the airport are not very helpful. I then realized that it would be two hours before I could check in, despite the fact that a sign said that check in starts 6 hours before scheduled departure and Delta told me to be there more than 3 hours in advance.

While making my way through security, I had a pleasant surprise. I ran into another Fulbright ETA headed back to JFK. She ended up being 10 rows behind me on the plane. We found a TGI Friday’s in the airport and binged on “American” food that we had missed. There’s nothing like highly overpriced quesadillas to make me happy.

This was my first flight on an American airline in over ten years. I will not make the same mistake again, except on my return flight. I sat through roughly 10 hours of hell. The person two rows behind me had a dog with them, which kept barking the whole way. There were also screaming children and a child who kept hitting the seat behind me. Apparently, if you fall asleep, you also don’t get a meal. All that matters is that I arrived at home.

Within 2.5 hours of arriving at JFK, I was in my kitchen fulfilling a dream that I have had for a while – eating a glorious cheese pizza from Tom E Toes.

Dear mother, manners do not exist when I have been without proper pizza for 3+ months.

Oh, and I miss Russia already. There is no snow here. Or fun Soviet designed jeeps.

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Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have the time of your life for a year in Ulyanovsk, Russia. The dangers you may encounter are:

-Improperly installed windows, which may result in frozen juice or sour cream if the products are left in front of the window on extremely cold days
-Neighbors obsessed with house and trance music
-Waking up to find that you have no hot water for no apparent reason
-Waking up to find that you have no water at all for no apparent reason
-Being woken up by scary repair men and the smell of burning metal
-Riding on marshrutki and being accosted by drunk people

However, the positive results of the mission far outweigh the dangers, such as:

-Finding and befriending some of the coolest people in the world
-Getting to see two of your favorite bands extremely up-close in concert
-Avoiding the real world for another year whilst going on non-stop adventures

So yeah, I’m going home for Christmas and New Year’s, but I’ll return to Ulyanovsk just in time for Orthodox Christmas (yay, I get two Christmases). My last week, for now, in Ulyanovsk has been awesome. I got to hang out with George, Julia, and Irene a lot. At one point some drunk Russians came up to us. One of them asked if he could take a photo with me. I agreed. He asked me about American in Russian and then he started to speak to me in German.

A friendly drunk.

I gave up waiting for the marshrutka the other night, so I got a taxi back to the dorm. This was exciting as it was my first ride in a Lada Zhiguli, which was the Soviet modification of the Fiat-124. Despite the fact that the original Fiat-124 is about fifty years old, the Zhiguli wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. I would totally drive one for fun.

This evening, I went to see the new Mission Impossible film with a couple of the girls from the university. Part of the joy of this film was that it was set in Russia and had the typical Hollywood Russian bad guys, which was good for a few laughs. A few minutes into the movie there was a scene with a prison break. One girl leaned over and said, “Susan, don’t believe this. It is not this easy to break out of Russian prison. We don’t have computer technology that you can hack into, it’s all done by hand.” My response, “Wait, why are you warning me about attempting to break out of Russian prison?”

Today I got to do one of the coolest things ever, and I get to cross something off of my list of Russia related goals. I went to the UAZ factory. A history professor from the university, who comes to my casual English club, arranged the trip. I thought we were going to the factory museum, which we did get to see, but we also got to walk along the main assembly conveyor. Sadly, photos were not allowed inside the factory, but it was absolutely awesome. The only other car factory I’ve been to was the Mercedes passenger car factory in Sindelfingen, outside of Stuttgart, in 1998. Now I’m into cars and could actually appreciate what was going on. The UAZ conveyor is the shortest assembly line in all of Europe. It has at least three different vertical levels of assembly, and everything comes together on the main floor. The factory is fairly low tech. All of the parts are put on by hand. Also interestingly absent from the factory was health and safety standards. None of the workers had helmets, safety glasses, or earplugs. Generally, I don’t really enjoy those sorts of restrictions, but the lack of earplugs was interesting as the noise was understandably extremely loud.

In all, it takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to assemble a UAZ vehicle. After the cars are assembled, on one of the two lines, they roll off inside the same factory building to a series of rolling roads for testing of various components such as the brakes. These rolling roads can’t even come close in comparison to the test tracks that Mercedes has (nothing like the Wall of Death), but it’s nice to know that they have attempts at quality control.

After viewing the factory floor, we went off to a museum, which was a giant hall filled with about 20 UAZ vehicles. Two of them were really ZIS (Factory in the name of Stalin)/GAZ (Gorky Auto Factory) trucks, which were actually Ford trucks that the Soviets bought the rights and technology to produce. During the Second World War, the ZIS production was moved from Moscow to Ulyanovsk, and that’s how UAZ came to exist. I got to sit in the ZIS 5 again. I told the guy who ran the exhibit that I wanted it and asked how much it would cost. Sadly, he was unwilling to negotiate a price.

Sitting in a ZIS-5 from WWII, no big deal.

The hall mostly contained experimental and prototype vehicles. One of the coolest of these was an amphibious truck.

More cars should come with propellers and warnings about flooding the engine.

Another cool vehicle was the prototype for the UAZ 452, the Буханка (loaf of bread). The engine compartment was specially designed so that the passenger could repair the engine while the vehicle was in motion.

Probably very loud, but I bet it would keep your coffee warm.

I’ve seriously been thinking of purchasing an old 469 and trying to import it to the US. It would be the best souvenir ever. It seems like this will not happen, though. I’m sure that the 469 will not comply with the US safety standards. Upon brining it to the country I would probably have to change the bumpers and all of the glass. Furthermore, I highly doubt that the car would pass the EPA standards. Once again the EPA makes my love of automobiles difficult. Ghostbusters was correct to portray the EPA as the bad guys in the first film. I’m still angry about their laws on the control of the refrigerant R-12, which is the type that the air-conditioner in my car uses. I refuse to renovate my system for R-132. R-132 is not as efficient as R-12 and requires twice the volume to achieve the same cooling capacity. As the EPA banned production of R-12 in 1995, the price of it now fluctuates daily.

Dear EPA, these cars are awesome. Please let me import one to America.

Tomorrow, I will venture to the train station on my way home. The people at the university are absolutely awesome and I get to ride to the train station in an UAZ. The university owns a few UAZ vehicles and they arranged for me to be dropped off in one that is either a 469 or similar to a 469. The person who arranged it for me said that the people at the university motor pool were very confused. They told her that they have regular vehicles and were flabbergasted when Katya said that I really wanted to go in that specific model. In other super awesome news, I may be able to drive one of them around the campus when I return. At lunch today, I called shotgun when I found out that Katya was going to the train station with me. I then had to explain the concept of calling shotgun. She response was of indifference and then she told me that we will probably be very cold and uncomfortable. My reaction is to have a huge grin on my face and to bounce with glee. I will take so many photos on the ride to the station.

School and Skating

Posted: December 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

This past week, on Wednesday, I went with one of my students to the school where she teaches. She’s an English teacher in a regular grade school in the city. I went there, School 82, to speak with the students in English. They were all very excited to meet an American. I told a little bit about myself and showed them some photos about America, which Fulbright had given me at our orientation in July. I then asked them some questions before they were free to ask me any question they wanted. I got the usual questions about how Russians and Americans are different and what I like to do in my free time. The students were all shocked when I said that I do Tae Kwon Do. At the end, we took some photos. One girl even asked me for a hug. They want me to come back in the spring and am I more than willing to do so.

Today I went on an adventure with my friends from the university. We went ice skating. I have a bit of a history with skating because I almost broke my wrist in the 6th grade while skating. Thankfully it was just a really bad sprain, but I still had my wrist in a splint for a while and I got to spend quality hours in the Norwalk Hospital Emergency Room. That was the first of my many unpleasant visits to that particular hospital over the years. One of the finest times was when they lost my grandmother for a while. Whoops. When setting it up, I was given many opportunities to back out of skating. I was even asked if I am as afraid of skating as I am of dead bodies and mummies. I am not, and I have plenty of other things, of which I am more afraid (snakes, spiders, jury duty, etc.). We went to the one and only indoor rink in the city, which is located on the other side of the city. I didn’t fall once, which means that I also didn’t break anything. Although, I came close to falling quite a few times. I guess I’ve gotten used to slipping and regaining my balance walking around ice covered sidewalks in the city. Apparently I had a look of fear plastered on my face most of the time, but I guess that’s generally how I look when I’m skidding slightly out of control and attempting to not land on my face. It didn’t help that George spent a bit of time explaining all the different ways that I could break my wrist at dinner the night before. Despite my fears, I had a great time.

Also, I got another Lyapis Trubetksoy poster last night. I unsuccessfully tried to get two others today, but I did manage to get a Communist Party poster from the recent elections. I’m slightly sad, though, that there are not images of Lenin on the Communist Party posters in the city of his birth.

I swear I'm not a kleptomaniac.

Lyapis Trubetskoy Concert!!!!!!!

Posted: December 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

This week has been awesome. On Monday night I met up with George and Julia after classes and we headed to Manhattan, the former Subway. Basically, they couldn’t afford the franchise, so they quit being subway but kept selling the same sandwiches.

Being a gluttonous American, and loving it! Would you believe that was the tastiest sandwhich I ever ate? How about second tastiest? Points to you if you get source of the jokes.

Also, the restaurant is decorated with photos of Manhattan and maps of the NYC subway, which makes me happy. After dinner, we headed to the Irish pub again. According to the pub, the soundtrack to the film “Snatch” counts as Irish music. It was all fun and games until we left around 10:30PM. I had not expected to be out so late, so I did not warn the woman by the door. We ended up waiting in the snow for a marshrutka for about 45 minutes and I finally got to the dormitory around 11:30PM.

There's never a damn marshrutka when you need one, or rather, the correct marshrutka.

The front door was naturally locked and I was afraid of being yelled at. When I knocked on the door, the woman got up to let me in. She had an angry look on her face, but the crisis was avoided. The first thing I said to her was, “Please excuse me for being late, I know what I did was wrong.” She then proceeded to tell me that it was very bad to stay out late in the snow. No, it didn’t matter that it was late at night and it didn’t matter where I had been, the only problem was that I was out in the snow. Apparently she is confused that we are in Russia, where it seems to snow a lot and avoiding being in the snow is impossible from November through April in these parts. Upon telling her that I had to wait a long time for the marshrutka she had a smile on her face and told me that it’s a common occurrence here. Then an older man came in behind me and the door lady rambled to him about how nice Americans are because we apologize when we are late and thank people for letting us inside from the cold. Note to self: always be extra polite with the door ladies. I will be sure to bring them chocolate when I return from Christmas and New Year’s at home. My apartment may or may not be done in January, so in case it isn’t, I figure it’s good to bribe the ladies so that they will continue to let me in after curfew.

As for an update concerning Russian, my Russian teacher keeps giving me chocolates and candies to try. She wants me to sample the various assortments so I know which ones to bring home to America. She also gave me a jar of hot sauce. Life gets better and better by the day here.

Thursday was exciting because upon entering the dormitory after work, one of the other door ladies made eye contact with me and proceeded to hand me an envelope. It was a belated birthday card from my best friend. Dearest Sherlock, once again, the card really made me happy and it’s nice to know that things from the homeland will make it to the Motherland if properly addressed in Russian. We will play so much Call of Duty when I get home, that is if my parents let me leave the house. I can do what I want to do in Russia and they don’t worry, but it might be too dangerous if I go to your house one day. We all know that the route to your house is practically through a war zone and that I am in imminent danger while sitting on a couch playing video games and entertaining your dog.

On Friday night I grabbed dinner with two of my students. We were having a nice time talking and relaxing in the restaurant and then all of a sudden two students from the aviation academy heard us speaking in English and asked to join us. At first, I thought that they were a father and son pair. It just turns out that Ivan looked like he was 40 when he’s really only 29. And Alyosha was 19 or 20 even though he looked like he was 15. Alyosha could speak English moderately well, but Ivan had difficulties. Let’s just say that I never want to fly in a plane piloted by Ivan.

Tonight was one of the most awesome nights yet. Julia and I went to a Ляпис Трубецкой (Lyapis Trubetskoy) concert. I have been looking forward to it since I stumbled upon a poster announcing it the previous weekend. The concert was in a strange club called the “Fifth Sun” that is randomly Aztec and Cupid themed. The lead singer of the band made fun of the decorations at one point. One of the teachers in my department keeps telling me to go clubbing and keeps suggesting this place. At least I can tell her that I’ve been there, but I know I will never return unless there is another good group playing.

The concert was purely amazing. The group played for 90 action packed minutes. They’re a ska/punk/rock group and except for maybe one or two songs, they played exclusively up-tempo and fast songs. The lead singer kept jumping around the stage like a madman and I don’t know how he didn’t collapse from sheer exhaustion. The band played pretty much each and every one of my favorite songs. The guitarist was a badass and kept smoking cigarettes throughout the set. This is my manifest, Lyapis Trubetskoy is number one, they’re the best (to paraphrase their lyrics).

Lyapis Trubetskoy

They started with a rock anthem called “Трубецкой” (Trubetskoy).


I know one of my subscribers is a huge fan of the Ramones. Therefore, I got a video of Trubetskoy’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Sadly, my flip video camera was playing games and refused to turn on. I guess that’s a lesson to why you shouldn’t leave the camera in your Tae Kwon Do bag. Anyway, I got a video with my regular camera, but the quality is quite bad. Still, you know who you are and I expect an email with a critique of the cover.

The band also played “Огоньки” (Ogonki, or lights), which is the song that introduced me to the band. I saw a post about their awesome music video for the song on the blog English Russia and fell in love with the song. From there, I proceeded to listen to their other music. One of my tutors in St. Petersburg gave me all of their albums. I got a video of the song “Капитал” (Capital), again with the worse camera. Forgive the spastic motions of the camera, but I was trying to film and have a good time at the same time.

After more than 80 minutes of non-stop playing, the band called it quits. Some people began to leave, but the crowd kept chanting “Trubetskoy” and they came back out for a two song encore. The first song of the encore was the song “Belarus Freedom.” Hannah, I promised and I delivered a video. Thankfully, my video camera responded by this point. Once again, I was busy jumping around at points and thus my hand was shaking like crazy at times.

Life in Ulyanovsk continues to exceed my expectations. I knew I would have a great year here, but everything keeps getting better and better. I’m going to be very sad when I return home in July.