Archive for January, 2012

I just got back from an unexpected trip to the city of Kazan for one of the best experiences of my life, again. My existence in Ulyanovsk consists of random events, which lead to once in a lifetime adventures. This time around, I got to see the European Taekwondo qualification matches for the upcoming London Olympics.

My trainer had sent me a message on the Russian version of facebook to invite me. A few days went by and I didn’t get a response from her. I responded again with my phone number. I guess the largest problem is that we didn’t have each other’s numbers and I don’t know anyone who has her number. I even ventured to where we train the day before they were set to leave, but there was no one at the studio at the usual time. Slightly sad, I went to bed feeling that it just wasn’t meant to happen. This feeling only got worse when I woke up in the morning at 8.15 to see a text message from my coach that said they were leaving from the main gym at 8.00AM. I sent a reply wishing them fun and she called me back. Everyone else had left, but she was going later in her car. Thus, I got to go to Kazan and see the most awesome Taekwondo events.

Representatives from half of the countries competing.

After a little more than three hours, we made it to the gym just in time for the opening ceremonies. There were a bunch of speeches by various members of the World Taekwondo Federation as well as local leaders of Kazan and Tatarstan. There were some performances by local singers, traditional Tatar folk groups, and dance groups. The best part of the opening ceremony was a demonstration by the Korean Tigers, the official South Korean national demonstration team. I’ve watched a lot of their videos on the internet and am a huge fan. Unfortunately, my view of the demonstration was a little obstructed, but it was awesome nonetheless.

So many boards were broken. And candles. And metal. It was awesome.

At this tournament, the winners of the bronze, silver, and gold medals received places in the upcoming Olympics. After the opening ceremony, the medal fights for a few weight divisions of men and women took place. In a few of this fights, Russia was going for medals and places in the Olympics, and so the crowd was going wild. One fight that was especially interesting was the women’s bronze – Russia versus Ukraine fighting for the spot in the Olympics. It was a very intense and close fight. Ultimately, to the joy of the crowd, the Russian fighter won.

I spent the time at the tournament with all of the kids from my Taekwondo club here in Russia. It was nice to actually get to know the people I have seen at practice. While at Taekwondo, we don’t have any time to talk, so it was nice to make some new friends. After the first day’s events were over, we headed off to grab some food (at a McDonald’s much to my dismay) and then to our accommodations. We spent the night at a really awesome cabin that’s meant for hosting parties. It had a number of bedrooms (sadly, not enough), a pool table, a nice entertainment system, a pool, and a banya.

All of the classiest establishments are decorated with a stuffed bird going after a stuffed squirrel.

The second day of the tournament was awesome. I got to see a few fights of the men’s heavy weight, which is usually the most interesting and intense fighting. One of the best fights was Pascal ThiGentil of France versus a man from Turkey. Pascal fought his way back from the Turkish fighter’s four point lead to tie it up at a video-review 6-6. Unfortunately, he lost in the sudden death overtime match.

In addition to watching the fighting on the second day, I made new international friends and acted as a translator. In the stands, there was a coach from Greece sitting next to us. He didn’t speak Russian, but he spoke English. Thus, the kids in my group made me act as a translator for them. They asked him a whole series of questions about his life in Greece and his Taekwondo training. It turns out that one of the girls had already met the man, Andreas, at a tournament in Turkey. She had befriended one of his students.

It was nice that I had befriended Andreas because he introduced me to one of his acquaintances from Greece, the two-time Olympic heavyweight silver medalist Alexandros Nikolaidis. I had been scanning the stands for people wearing Greek apparel hoping that he might be at the tournament. Unfortunately for Alexandros, he is well known in the Taekwondo community for his upsetting loss at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He lost the heavyweight fight in a brutal knockout to South Korea’s Moon Dae-Sung. This knockout is all over youtube in the “best TKD knockout” videos.

At one point, I was talking to Andreas and saw Alexandros at the bottom of the stands. I asked Andreas if it was Alexandros and he replied that it was. I asked if I could get a photo with Alexandros and Andreas took me to meet him. Alexandros was really nice and spoke excellent English. He seemed to be happy that he has an American fan, in Russia of all places.

With Alexandros Nikolaidis!

My other moment of translation happened in the line for food. There was a man trying to speak English with the people who worked there, but they didn’t speak English at all. Thus, I had to translate the Serbian or Slovenian man’s food wishes for the Russian woman. In the end, both parties were very happy that I happened to be there at that point in time. I was also weird and kept creeping on the people from Germany, Austria, and France and trying to listen to what they were saying.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and we had to return to Ulyanovsk. I’m just extremely grateful that I got the opportunity to see this competition and make new friends both from Ulyanovsk and from around the world. I can’t wait to get my teaching schedule so I can figure out my Taekwondo training schedule. I just hope that the girls remain nice and don’t kill me when we fight.

I have returned happily from Moscow. This past week, we had another gathering of all of the Fulbrighters. The trip started off very well. This time around, Fulbright was able to order the train tickets for me. Surprisingly, they booked me a higher version of second class than I buy for myself. This one included dinner, breakfast, and as much tea as I could drink. While the food was nothing to write home about, I did have a nice compartment mate. It was an older woman of about 55 or 60. At one point, when I was munching on some knock-off Indonesian Pringles, she yelled at me and told me what I was eating was garbage (yummy, cheese flavored garbage). She then proceeded to make me eat some sliced sausages and bread that she had brought with her. In the morning, she gave me the majority of her breakfast because she was diabetic and apparently couldn’t eat much of what they gave us on the train. As we talked, I found out that her brother is a teacher of higher mathematics at my university. She then asked me when I was returning to Ulyanovsk and was very sad when she found out that she was leaving a day before me and that we couldn’t ride together again.

From the train station, I took the metro to our hotel, which was in the very far north of Moscow. In October, we were housed in a 4 star hotel in the center of the city. This time, our hotel was a lovely Soviet institution. The hotel was made up of various buildings. I figured that check-in would be in the first building. After wandering around most of the complex to find the entrance of said building, I was surprised when I found nothing that looked like a check-in. I asked the security guard where I had to go and he told me to walk through a mini-mart and back outside into the second building. This was fun as the door of the mini-mart was somewhat closed off with plastic tape to guard persons from walking in areas that are in a danger of falling ice and snow. As I have written this and you are reading this, I’m sure you already know that I did not die. Upon entering the second building, I asked the security guard for the check-in. He told me to enter the fourth door on the right side of the hallway, which was unmarked. Through this door, I found a counter selling airline and train tickets. I noticed another door and went in to finally find the check-in.

Finding the check-in was only the start of the adventure of checking in. I spoke with the woman behind the desk, who did not really understand that I was with Fulbright. I had arrived too early, so I spent an hour wandering around outside. When I returned, I found a few more Fulbrighters at the check-in. The woman behind the desk kept telling us that we had to pay for our rooms in cash. After a quick call to the Fulbright office and the wonderful Oksana, everything was taken care of. We were handed slips of paper and told to go back into the first building to get our keys from the kassa, or register.

We were slightly surprised when we got to our rooms. Each door on the hallway was for two rooms, one single and one double, which shared a bathroom. I got to room with Grace and we were lucky that our suitemate was Rikki. Some of the Fulbrighters had random Russians staying in the extra room. This was also slightly annoying in that many of us had made requests for roommates, which the hotel had ignored. So much for living with Kari. I guess I have to go to Yakutsk to experience that.

As for the Fulbright related activities, we had two days of presentations from ETAs, students, professors, and US Embassy Officials. The presentations were interesting and some of the ETA related ones gave me some great ideas for class. On the third day, the ETAs had special ESL training. The activities were mostly fun and I picked up wonderful activities to do with my students.

Kari and I are clearly good at teamwork.

On the first day in Moscow, I got to accomplish one of my longtime goals in Russia – I got to meet with my grandmother’s cousin, Tatiana Selvinskaya. I called her and she invited me to her studio. I took a long ride on the metro to the last stop of one of the lines. From there, I hopped on a mashrutka and noticed two very interesting things – the drivers were actually Russian and they were nice when I asked them to let me know when we were at the correct stop. The meeting was perfect. We had tea and talked for two hours. Tatiana asked me about my family and told me about hers. We were also joined by her best friend and student, Luda. Tatiana was very generous and gave me five books. One was a book of her father’s poetry, which was a new edition that had not been censored. She also gave me a book of her poetry, one about the Selvinsky museum, and two books of her art work.

Just hanging out with my grandmother's cousin, no big deal.

She enjoyed our time together and invited me to her upcoming art exhibition at the Bakhrushkin State Theatre Museum in April. I’m supposed to call her again in the future to find out about the details when they are more set in stone. I then spent the next two nights reconnecting with the people I had met at the children’s camp, Anas and Paola. They are both students at RUDN (Российский университет дружбы народов, РУДН, The Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia). Anas is from Jordan and Paola is from Ecuador. Kari joined me and we went at ate wonderful Peruvian food at a café right next to Paola’s dormitory. We then went to another café near where Anas lives, which serves Arabian food.

Being silly like it's our job.

On our trek back to the metro, we met two friends of Anas and Paola on the RUDN campus. Both of them didn’t recognize me at first, but then they did the “riding in an UAZ” pose and asked if it was me. You see, whilst at the camp, I entertained the children by imitating what it’s like to ride in a UAZ (lots of bouncing). Some photos and video were taken and that’s how random people in Moscow know who I am.

Driving UAZiki on the metro.

On the second night, Kari and I ventured back out to meet Anas. Unfortunately, Paola couldn’t join us. We went back to the café near where Anas lives and enjoyed hummus, falafel, and shawarma. On the third night, Kari and I met with my friend Heather, but before we met Heather we took the obligatory trip to Red Square. Being smart (read: super stupid) I decided that it would be a good idea to get a photo of my Ulyanovsk State Technical University hoodie with Lenin (well, his mausoleum).

I brought a bit of Lenin's hometown back to his final resting place.

After putting my coat back on and trying to get the feeling back in my fingers, we headed off to meet Heather.  Heather and I lived in the same apartment building in St. Petersburg. This year, she is teaching English in Moscow. We got dinner at a Georgian restaurant and then went back to her apartment, which is right on Pushkin Square in the center of Moscow (coincidentally about 3 blocks away from the Fulbright Office). Heather and her Jersey Shore-esque roommates live in a gargantuan apartment that must have belong to Soviet officials back in the day. They had four spacious rooms, a large kitchen, a sizeable hallways.

Heather got the better host family and apartment in St. Petersburg. It's not fair that she gets the awesome apartment in Moscow.

The last day, we were free. The only thing on my schedule was to catch the train at 7PM. Kari and I headed off to the Cosmonaut Museum, which was awesome. I was creepy and listened to a German family talking in the museum. I made up for my creeping by asking them if they wanted a photo taken of all of them in German and they were happy. Creeping can lead to good deeds.

To space!

After the Cosmonaut Museum, Kari and I capped off our tour of gluttony at the American dinner. Nachos, cheeseburgers, and milkshakes have never tasted so good (nor have they been so expensive). Fighting off the post binge sleepiness, I went back to the hotel and picked up my stuff. Anas was very nice and said goodbye to me at the train station. Then, when I arrived in Ulyanovsk, George was nice enough to meet me at the train station and carry my book filled bag for me.

On the downside of things, I have become slightly sick. I have lost my voice and cough occasionally. This has resulted in me getting advice for how to cure my illness from various people at the university. Here is what has been suggested:

-drink warm beer (I can think of nothing worse to do to beer)

-drink warm milk mixed with carbonated water

-drink warm milk with honey and butter

-drink warm milk with onions (I think I would puke if I attempted to drink that)

-drink herbal tea

-make fruit juice from frozen cranberries

I have settled on trying some of the herbal tea, regular tea with lemon, and lots of orange juice. Time will only tell if I get better ignoring their advice or if I succumb to my illnesses in the harshness of the Russian winter.

Once again while in Ulyanovsk I get to have the pleasure of realizing some long term goals. This time, I’m getting to meet my Russian relatives. My grandmother, my father’s mother, was Russian (well, somewhat. It’s very complicated to explain). My grandmother’s uncle (her mother’s brother) was the Soviet poet Ilya Selvinsky. He’s barely known in America, and only certain people recognize him by name in Russia. When I was in St. Petersburg, no one I was with knew who he was. While here in Ulyanovsk, I mentioned who he was to my Russian teacher and she knew. We had a unit in class where we read about him and a few of his poems. It turns out that he is somewhat forgotten, but people know songs and cartoons that were made from his poems and plays. For example, there is the popular folk song “Черноглазая Kазачка” (Chernoglazaya Kazachka, or the Dark-eyed Cossack Woman). Enjoy the awesome Soviet army choir rendition.

Ilya Selvinsky

One thing that my brother has wanted for a while is some of the writings of Selvinsky. I was able to find a complete, six-volume set of his works on the Russian equivalent of amazon.com. Amazingly, the books came to my house in America in less than two weeks (I had expected about two months). I reason why I ordered this specific collection is that the sixth volume is Selvinsky’s autobiographical novel. I suppose I have to translate it for my family when I get back home.

I guess I have my summer reading.

A few years ago, when my brother discovered or learned that we were related to Ilya Selvinsky, we found out that he has a daughter named Tatiana Selvinskaya. Tatiana is both an artist and a poet. I found out after being in Moscow with the Lafayette interim trip in 2009/2010 that some of her paintings are in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. I also learned, upon returning from that trip, from my great uncle Leo (my grandmother’s brother and the only one of the four siblings to be born in America) that sometime int eh 1970s or 1980s Tatiana was in America and had found and met with my great-uncle and one or two of my great-aunts. For some reason, my grandmother was unable to go to this meeting. Since I found this out, I have been wondering how to try to find and contact Tatiana.

Tatiana Selvinskaya

Well, fate and Ulyanovsk seem to really like me. While vacationing back home, my Russian teacher was catching up with an old friend who works at a museum in Ulyanovsk and mentioned me and my Russian relations. It turns out that the very museum that this woman works for had recently had an exhibition with some paintings of Tatiana Selvinskaya. Because of this exhibition, the people at the museum in Ulyanovsk had the phone number of a gallery in Moscow, which had Tatiana’s home phone number.

My Russian teacher and I ventured to the museum one day instead of class. There, we were able to look through a special book about the works of Tatiana Selvinskaya, which was complied by her son. I need to find this book as it has a few photos of her family on the last couple of pages. In another fluke, the woman who works at the museum has a best friend who lives in Norwalk (aka the town next to mine in Connecticut). Oh, and my teacher and I and this other lady then went to another museum across the street. This one was about architecture in Ulyanovsk. Basically, when the city was Simbirsk it was beautiful. It had many churches in it, one that even looked similar to St. Isaac’s in St. Petersburg. Then, Lenin got popular and died and the city was renamed and transformed. The birthplace of the leader of the Communist Revolution could not be home to churches. The beautiful buildings were taken down and grey, concrete, Soviet crap was put in its place. At one point, the historical governor’s mansion was destroyed because Brezhnev came to the city and it blocked the view of the Lenin Memorial from his hotel window.

I got yelled at for smiling. The lady is my Russian teacher. I don't know why the boat was in the museum of architecture and it wasn't explained.

Back to the family stuff, though. I called the number of Tatiana Selvinskaya and she agreed to meet with me when I am in Moscow in the coming week. She gave me the address of her studio and gave me directions. I am really excited to meet her, and I hope we will have an interesting conversation about our families.

Oh, and the people from the university are absolutely amazing. They gave me toy UAZiks as a present for the New Year. And, one of my other friends and her boyfriend gave me another toy UAZ. The EPA may not let me take a real one to America, but at least I’ll have these models.

This toy belonged to Roma. One of the doors has fallen off. His response, "It's even more like the real one that way!"

They light up and make noises!

Children’s Camp

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

So, it turns out that sleeping for roughly 15 hours is a really bad idea. The night after arriving in Ulyanovsk I slept from roughly 11PM to 2:30PM. That night, I could not get to sleep at all. On the upside, it was the birthday of one of my neighbors and they ran to my room around a time that I would normally be sleeping and offered me cake.

Not sleeping was a problem because the next day I had to leave my room early, around 7:20AM, to be at the Resource Center by 8:00. I was invited to go to their winter English language camp, which was held in a Russian children’s camp about two hours outside of Ulyanovsk. The camp featured a number of teachers, all younger than me, from other countries such as Jordan, Ecuador, Palestine, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, China, and Indonesia. After getting organized, I was told to get onto one of the two busses with George. We arrived at the camp and had a brief bit of time to put our things in our rooms before being sent off to work. I basically spent two and a half days with a bunch of Russian children aged 7-16. I had my apprehensions before going, but I really did have a great time.

The theme of the camp was “Country Club,” meaning a camp focusing on other countries. As the theme was mildly travel related, the younger kids all had “passports” that they collected our signatures in. For the opening ceremony, the Russian counselors (Oksana, Dasha, and Yana) and George dressed up like a flight crew and the captain of a plane. Thus, for the rest of the time, George was known as Captain George. Being the annoying person I am, I asked the Russian girls for peanuts and drinks at random breaks when they were in costume. They seemed to enjoy my sarcastic comments.

Captain George

The country aspect meant that there were certain activities pertaining to other cultures. Various counselors made presentations about their countries. Groups of older students had a project to make travel advertisements for some of the countries. The youngest students did a quick play for Mulan. One activity was like a scavenger hunt of sorts. The students were given objects and they had to guess which country they came from. They then had to find the counselor from that country, return the item, and tell the counselor the capital of their country to get a reward. I had not been told to take anything especially American with me, but luckily I was wearing my Superman belt.

During the two days, George and I were sent off to work with different groups. On the first day, we held conversations about America, and on the second day we played Pictionary with the kids. At night, after dinner, we were made to go to the disco and dance. Thankfully, one of the few things I learned at Our Lady of Fatima Regional School was the Macarena. Also, I do not consider Kesha to be an accurate representation of American music. Furthermore, not all Americans brush their teeth with a bottle of Jack. However, if the dental community finds benefits in this practice, I might try it. Actually, a lot of the fun of the camp was just letting loose and making a fool of myself for the enjoyment of the kids. I don’t care that I can’t dance, and the kids didn’t either. They also appreciated my impression of riding in an UAZ and when we had a snowball fight. I think the kids really enjoyed me and the camp. At the end, they all wanted to take photos with myself and the other counselors and many of them have found me on the Russian equivalent of facebook.

Some new friends.

The teachers from the other countries were a blast to hang out with. It was nice to talk to foreigners from other nations about their experiences living and studying in Russia. We quickly became friends and there are plans to reconnect with the group that studies in Moscow a week from now when I have another orientation session for Fulbright.

Aside from the rewarding experience of having fun getting to know and teaching different age groups of Russian kids and teenagers, I got the full experience of a Russian camp. Five of us were in a room. It was myself and four of the other teachers/counselors. The food was not terrible, but it was strange at times. For example, except for two instances, we were never served tea. Instead it was mostly Russian juice called kompot and some sort of strange herbal alternative to coffee, which tasted absolutely awful. In the room, we had to be very quiet at night. Firstly, we didn’t want to wake the children. Secondly, the women in charge of the building were somewhat mean and we didn’t want to upset them by making the slightest noises. George was upset with his room assignment with students. On the second night, he gave up and joined our room. In the morning, when the floor manager went around to make sure that everyone was awake, she just laughed and asked where the sixth roommate came from.

Oksana and Dasha were not surprised to find George on the floor when they got back.

Back in Ulyanovsk

Posted: January 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

It is a new year and I have returned to Russia. The trip to Russia started well, but continued to go downhill. My brother was nice enough to buy me a pizza at 10AM (right when the place opens) to have my last pizza binge for 6 months. Then I had to set off for the dreaded airport. The ride to JFK was fun as always – there’s nothing like driving on the worst roads in America to prepare oneself for the crazy drivers in Russia. One extra fun part of the trip is that at one point, the highway going to JFK is under the landing path for LaGuardia airport, which is only moderately frightening.

Dear plane, please do not confuse the road with a runway.

My return flight was just another lesson in why no one should travel on an American carrier. Delta makes no sense at JFK. It has locations in three different terminals, and it’s somewhat confusing to figure out the correct one. Then there is a document check for flights to Russia, which was terrible. I handed the woman my multi-entry student visa and she looked baffled. Apparently, she’s never seen that type of visa before. The people at the gate were also confused by it, but they let me on the plane anyway.

Getting on the plane was another fun exercise in dealing with Russians. Russians hate to wait in orderly lines, instead they just crowd and mob. They also do not react well to instructions about which lines they should be in. Thanks to my caring mother and her frequent flier miles, I got an upgrade from regular economy to economy plus seating. This meant that I got a few inches extra of leg-room and the ability to board with business class passengers. While attempting to board, I had trouble getting through the masses of Russians who had formed a mob outside of the gate. Eventually, the people at the gate started to yell quite loudly and angrily that non-business/economy plus/disabled passengers had to wait for those groups of passengers to board first.

The flight only went more and more downhill. Apparently, I was doomed to fly like it was the year 1999 or earlier as there were no in-seat entertainment systems. I admit, I am spoiled and enjoy the ability to start and stop a selection of films and shows in my own screen in the seat-front. While it’s not as nice, I can live with the older form of this system (still used on the Newark-Heathrow route of British Airways) in which each seat has a screen, but there is only a choice of 10 or so films, which cannot be started or stopped at will. We were clearly on an old plane that was being phased out of service. The in-flight magazine listed all of the types of planes in use by Delta, but the plane I was on did not make that list. Thus, I had to watch the movie on a screen a few feet in front of me. Thankfully, I was seated at the window and the monitor for our row was working, which could not be said for the middle row.

The footprints all over the marking "No Step" summarizes my whole flight.

Aside from the American man next to me, the majority of the passengers were quite annoying and somewhat nasty people. For example, there was a coupled behind me. The man and his half- his- age wife were Russian. The wife kept putting her feet on my arm rest and poking me in the arm with her feet. She also kept kicking my seat throughout the flight. At one point, the man was in the aisle and manhandling my bag in the overhead bin. He got angry and told me that it was too large for the overhead bin and that next time it should be placed with the check luggage. This was strange as my backpack fits the carry-on size regulation. Furthermore, the man complaining had a carry-on bag larger than mine and about four duty-free bags. He also got upset when he found out that he could not drink his duty free purchases during the flight.

The flight was very strange in that the announcements were made poorly, or not at all, in English and the quality and audible announcements were made in Russian. One of the fun moments was when we touched down. Immediately, people tried to get up at get there things. The response was a continuous and angry yell from the flight attendants in Russian, and only Russian, for the people to stay seated.

Going through Sheremetyevo Airport was a fun adventure. Domodedovo is nice in the sense that the migration cards are filled out on a computer and printed out at the migration control. This service is not available at Sheremetyevo, so I had to fill out my migration card by hand on the plane. Let’s just hope that I did everything correctly. Upon walking into the migration control area, it’s a free for all. The lines are labeled “Russian Citizens Only” and “Former-Soviet Republic Citizens Only.” I pretended that I was a Russian citizen and went into the shortest one of those lines and got through without any issues.

Then I got to wait for my bag, for almost an hour. Upon getting my bag, I noticed immediately that it had been inspected by TSA. I was worried the whole way to my hotel, which was another adventure. The Moscow Metro isn’t very friendly for people with luggage. It’s all stairs. Then, I had to wait an hour to check-in at the hotel, again because of the line/mob issue. After finally stepping into my room, I opened my bag to make sure that everything was there. I was afraid that TSA might have confiscated my potato peeler as it is vaguely knife-like. I also feared that some of the chocolate that I brought as presents would have been nabbed. I was especially mad at first because I didn’t see my luggage lock, which was the clue that tipped me off to TSA. The reason why I was angry is that it is a TSA compliant lock, and not a very cheap one at that. It turns out that they had just tossed the lock into my bag, under all of my stuff, which they poorly replaced. My bag of York Peppermint Patties wound up squished. Thankfully, the boxes of Kraft Mac and Cheese remained intact. TSA was probably confused by the contents of my bag, which was books, literally 15 lbs of chocolate for gifts, vanilla extract, baking soda, and a small bag with a few pieces of clothing in it.

On the night of the 4thI met up with the Lafayette interim trip. It was nice to see a few of my friends. There were two Russian students, one of whom I had classes with last year, and a friend who I lived with for two years in Ramer. It was also nice to see my former professors again. I gave a short talk to the students on the trip. Unfortunately, it seemed they thought that I was little unhappy with Russia. I’m practically as happy as I can be here (so long as there’s water), but I guess it’s not best to talk to me after a flight from hell and three hours of sleep. Then, I had dinner with three students and my professors. After dinner, the professors retired and I caught up more with my friends.

Nic using his charm on the Russian ladies.

The next day, I made plans to meet up and wander around Moscow with another Fulbright ETA who was also passing through Moscow that day. She had to pick up tickets for her trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I am very jealous of her trip. It was nice to spend the day in the company of another ETA to discuss our teaching experiences and to just share jokes about being Americans in smaller Russian cities (well, I’m in the 20th largest city but Syktyvkar is much smaller).

I had a nice train ride back to my city. My compartment mate was a 25-ish year old guy who played with his iphone the entire ride. He only said two things to me, one being “hello” and the other was an offer to try his marshmallow/chocolate/patty/cake things at breakfast time. The nicest part of the train ride was getting off at the station and seeing two of my friends there to meet me and help me carry my bag. It was nice to get back into my dormitory and see all of my neighbors again. Currently, they are in good spirits because of the holidays, but they’ll be miserable soon once exams begin after the break.

After a nice 15 hour sleep (I don’t think I have ever slept that much except when I was sick), I finally coaxed myself out of my warm bed to venture to the center to meet George for food and caffeine. We then headed to Lenin Square to look at the New Year’s decorations. George insisted that I go down the sledding hill, but I refused to careen down a slope on sheet ice. I value my limbs a little too much.

I wonder if we have as many trees as we have monuments to Lenin.

Now I have to act like the government employee that I am and fill out reports on various aspects of my grant.