Sunday, February 28, 2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
"Whereas Western Churches hold Easter sunrise services, in Russian Orthodox Church Easter services last all through Saturday night. The congregation gathers in the church or cathedral on Saturday evening and takes part in an Easter vigil commemorating the buried Christ. Orthodox churches in Russia have an inner sanctuary away from the reach of worshipers, and only to the access of the priest. On this day, the door is closed till midnight but at the stroke of midnight, the priest opens the door and comes out saying "Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Christ is risen!" and after hours of silent anticipation, the worshippers rely back “He is risen indeed!"
- Bring your own detergent. They only really sell powder here, by the way. None of this modern (and efficient, and economical, and so on) liquid-y junk.
- Stock up on 5 ruble coins, which are worth almost as little as kopecks, which are basically less valuable than a grain of salt. The machine mysteriously only takes 5 ruble coins.
- Remain in the laundry room for the entire length of the excursion. Washers and dryers sporadically turn themselves off, or worse--someone takes out your clothes and puts them wet on the dirty table.
- The dryer only goes for 32 minutes, but if you quickly insert another 30 rubles, then it can go for an hour. I do not know why it does not go for 64 minutes instead. Don't ask why, just accept -- the motto of living in Russia.
- Do not close the door to the washer before you have inserted your clothes. It locks and will not open for the next 40 minutes, even if there is nothing being washed in there other than the rusting metal inside. It basically just shakes and swirls around laughing at you for the entire wash period. I did this on my first try, and even tried so hard to pry open the door that soapy water spilled out. Whoops.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
It is not any colder than a normal winter in Chicago or elsewhere in the midwestern United States, but there is definitely an air of abnormality about the current temperatures, which range from low teens to mid-twenties (Fahrenheit). It seems that everyone else does not particularly mind the cold even if their faces constantly have a half-frown. I have gotten relatively good at trying to look like a Russian by mastering this demeanor. I would wear my ushanka ("hat") with the Soviet star on it around just as the militsiya ("police") and others wear, but the Americans already stand out like sore thumbs and I really do not want to draw any particular attention to myself as a token foreigner wearing a token Russian hat.
The sun only shines about seven hours per day despite the constant dusk that inhabits the city during the winter months (November to March/April). Every little second of sunshine that we see is a leap of joy, and I feel like I am almost transported to another country.
The snow is beautiful when glistening in the shadow of the city lights. Tonight we were walking back to the metro station on Nevsky Prospekt when we stopped like deer in headlights at a beautiful church, stuck between new high-rise expensive clothing stores and other souvenir stores. It had a few simple lights showing off its magnificent features, but it was enough to renew my thankfulness for the beauty that architects and officials devoted to building exquisite houses of God, as well as gratefulness that the Soviets did not use it for a potato silo as another magnificent church in the city was!
If you lit a lighter in the air, you may be able to set fire. A thick combination of cigarette smoke, diesel gas, transportation fumes, and factory smoke overwhelms me every time I walk outside, although I am unfortunately getting used to breathing in Gary-like air.
For the first day of razgavor ("conversation") class, we reviewed the vocabulary and phrases for describing our family, relationships, occupation, and so on. When we came to the differentiated verbs for "to get married" and "to be married" for men and women, our professor explained the difference, which I already understood and have thought a lot about:
If you are a man, then "to get married" literally means "to take a wife."
If you are a woman, then "to get married" literally means "to stand behind your husband."
Consequentially, she asked us what we thought about the two concepts. Unfortunately, I was the first person that she called on. I answered, in Russian, "In America, I do not like this concept." She then responded with a hint of irritability and superiority, "Well, in America, all women are such feminists." Continuing, she explained that it is supposed to mean that the man is a "steel wall, protecting his woman from harm and others. He is supposed to be strong, big, and manly. The woman should stand behind while he defends her."
She then promptly asked the other students (all four left) what they thought. The two other female students responded that they either "sort of" or "kind of" liked the concept, while the two male students were flustered in their responses. One said, "Well, I think the man should be responsible of course, but…well, I don't know." The other described how the woman can stand as well. Both ways, it seemed that she was reiterating the concept above: "In five or ten years you will understand such a thing." I did not mention that I would be getting married in a year.
Our second professor in grammatika ("grammar") discussed many things, ending with a short question and answer session with her. I asked her a typical question, "Do you like St. Petersburg or Moscow better?" Many Russian are very fond of their home city and have strong views on the other city. Somewhat rivals, Moscow and St. Petersburg are two drastically different cities with different accents, cultures, mentalities, and so on. Nevertheless, she answered as the previous sentence described, but continued explaining that there are "many problems in St. Petersburg, such as the migrant workers who come with their different traditions, language, religion, and way of life." Quickly she became visibly uncomfortable talking about the issue, and shrugged a bit when she admitted, "Oh, I do not know. I do not know. I know that they are here to work, but I just…oh, I do not know. I do not feel so okay with it. I do not like it." She also explained how, of course, every country as expansive and diverse as Russia has similar programs with demographics and migration. "Like in the US, you have Mexicans. Or in Europe, there are Arabs." It was an extremely interesting topic of conversation for our first class!
Yes, vodka is cheaper than water here. Beer is also relatively cheap at about 30 roubles or $1 per can, which is usually half a liter. You cannot buy hard liquor between the hours of 11:00pm and 7:00am, probably for some very good reasons, but it is still not uncommon to see youngsters and middle-aged men alike drinking beers on the walk home from work.
The water here is a metallic, brownish-green, toxic mixture of chemicals, pollution, residue, and bacteria. It is totally undrinkable lest you want to be sitting on the toilet for days on end. In that case, no antibiotics will be able to cure you of temporary confinement, nor will the already shaky toilets respond kindly. They are quite finicky and choose when they want to flush completely.
The water can be drunk after it has been boiled for at lest five minutes consecutively, although it still contains a distinct taste of rust and mildew. I don't know how many years of our lives we are going to lose collectively from living in Russia for these few months, but we are thirsty and do not want to keep paying for bottled water. Living in Chicago, I love the taste of tap water, even if it possibly is as dirty and unhealthy as in Peter. It is even better when Mischa gets me one of the sippies with just a hint of Gatorade and some ice in it!
The directors scared us to death during our orientation about gypsies congregating outside metro stations and other known tourist-heavy areas in the city. We were told that some groups ambush foreigners and in a matter of seconds, take everything that you own. Although we did not discuss this until several days later, the other students and I (or comrades, I should say) independently pictured the cloud of smoke that develops when Tom and Jerry (cat and mouse) are fighting with each other for a few seconds until the cloud dissolves, and one or both of them are scratched and barren.
We asked the students who were here last semester if they had even come in contact with such "gypsies," most frequently the slang word used to collectively refer to Roma people. They reassured us that nothing even remotely resembled what our directors described, and that they had never seen or heard of anything like that happening in St. Petersburg.
Apparently, chivalry is not dead in Russia…in some cases. While on the metro this afternoon, a young man got up from his seat in order to let an older Russian woman sit down. However, there were two older Russian women that had just entered the train car, and they were being polite with one another of who should sit down in that seat. After hearing for a few seconds, I got up from my seat to stand with the my suitemates. It seemed like I had almost passed as a Russian!
A few stops later, I heard a babushka giving another young man a tongue lashing who was sitting down while an older, fur-clad woman was holding on to the steel railing. He promptly, but begrudgingly got up, and gave his seat to the other old woman. They did not say anything to each other, and everyone acted as if the episode had never occurred before. It was just as we had learned in Nachalo, our first Russian book at Georgetown!
Several people on the trip have commented on how we either see tall, slender, trendy women with long hair, tons of makeup, and carefully-chosen outfits…or short, stout, old fashioned women with short hair, wrinkles for makeup, and bundles of fur. There seem to be no women between the ages of thirty-five and sixty except one of our professors who is the only thin middle-aged (?) woman that we have seen thus far. For some reason, it seems that Russian women age all at once, and do not age well at all. While young, the women are smoking and drinking heavily, often showing off their super shiny black, high-heeled boots with similar black patent leather big handbags that they lounge on their forearms while strutting down the avenues.
Young and old women alike also possess the remarkable talent of not slipping in the snow. Ever. They must have snow picks on the bottom of their shoes or something like that since us Americans look like idiots flailing our arms while trying to keep up with the face-paced streets.