Thursday, 27 October 2011

Москва (Moskva)

First of all: Apologies for whatever the hell I am actually writing, I don't check it. My new medication is making me a little...woozy. I am incapable of condensing anything also, excuse the length. My brain extends its sincere thanks to you for your understanding.

Whilst I can't be certain that my Russian is improving, my procrastination skills are surely of Masters level at least by now. The year abroad project is on my mind. 6000 words on Soviet cartoons seems kind of slightly impossible and scary at the moment, so I have been keeping busy doing anything to avoid it. Ill most of the week, I managed to legitimately sleep away most of the worry, but yesterday I needed to get a little more creative. So, I bought a Toy Story 3 drawing pad. And some felt tips. This is to accompany my Winnie the Pooh jigsaw puzzle and Sims 3. I actually bought the puzzle quite a while ago, but I forgot that being colour blind hinders me somewhat and it's proving a little difficult to get all the pieces with straight edges grouped...

 We also visited a church, mainly to get in from the cold, but it was pretty all the same. Lots of gold sparkly things. And a coffin. With somebody in it. Having seen the gold casket shaped thing with the lid open from the other side of the room, I probably should have known better than to go and look, but there you go. Was in such a rush to back off that I didn't even glance at the sign next to it to decipher who this poor person was. Unpleasant. Thankfully, you can swear without people understanding, so I wasn't kicked out for insulting the Russian Orthodoxy people. I'd made the effort to bundle my hair into my hat, even it made me resemble an egg, so I would have been a bit put out if I had been thrown out for being a bit taken aback by the corpse just chilling in the corner.

Looks more like a casket now...
The Assumption Cathedral (New)
Originally built in the 17th century, destroyed
by the Soviets in the 1930s (what noobs). Apparently
12 metres higher than the previous building.

Yaroslavl has felt much smaller since we got back from Moscow. Admittedly, the place is fairly gargantuan, everywhere feels massive regardless of where you are there, so it is a poor comparison, but the weekend of everything being so Western spoiled us.
This weekend was rather impromptu, due to a sudden doctor's appointment being needed at an American hospital there (thanks very much drug addicts of Russia for landing my medication on the illegal list) and the train I needed to get being the next day. Deciding to make an outing of it, Hannah joined me and Firdaus walked us to the bus stop to get to the station the next morning. Just after making a comment over me being the reason Hannah wasn't taking part in the competition (again), the bus came. Fortunate timing.

Boarded the train and found ourselves sitting in the same section as a lovely gentleman still in his pyjamas from the overnight journey, eating a hunk of tuna directly from the tin. With his hands.  Thank god it wasn't as hot as the train last year in Petersburg, would have been disgusting. He turned out to be quite nice, in fairness, and gave us both the bottom benches for the entire journey, while taking the upper for himself.

4 and a half hours of listening to small children singing the Krokodil Gena song 'Goloboy Vagon' later (not grating on the ears at all, in fact that one tone deaf boy's yelling really added to the pure torture cultural experience),  we found our way to the metro. This is massive (I think most things in Moscow are) and took some navigation thanks to the many perekhodi (like station interchanges you walk) but the stations are ornate, so the trip wasn't too bad. Needed a sleep but after a couple of hours in the hostel I dragged myself out with Hannah to meet up with our friend from uni who is currently in Moscow, who said she'd show us the big touristy spots in central Moscow.

Bolshoi Theatre. Before we realised what it was.
 We managed to accidentally find the Bolshoi Theatre on our quest to get to the right metro. Standing by a very big white building, I commented on the ticket office for the theatre. Then wondered aloud where the theatre could possibly be. Had Hannah take a picture of me outside the pretty white building. Saw the metro stop was 'Teatralnaya'. Realised I am quite blonde. Sad times.
Down the train wagon

We saw Stalin and Lenin and wandering around in the metro...

 Turns out that our friend doesn't know Moscow too well. But it was ok, detours only served as opportunities for weird Russians to ask for photos with her. Am quite sure that, in the eyes of Russians, all black people have just been washed up on their shores in their hollowed out canoes, ready to perform native tribal dances and be amazed at the advanced and great nation that is Russia. Drunks holding philosophical Dostoyevsky centred conversations with statues of clowns (I wish I'd taken a photo), electricity outside and even their own special form of democracy...ish-elections and all.
What happens when it rains?

She takes it very well. I don't know anybody else who would turn the semi racist attention into a lucrative business opportunity. Although apparently she hasn't been asked for photos since Petrozavodsk, when I spent much time dragging her away from abusive drunks, in the short time we were there, twice people approached asking for photos. And twice, she attempted to charge for them. Made somewhat less successful due to actually asking 'skolko stoit?', which actually means 'how much does it cost?', but did lead to entertainingly confused Russians. The gap in the market is most definitely there. 70 roubles per photo seemed a potentially extremely profitable gap, from last year's experience.
It's ok so long as the interest is genuine. Russians are curious people, asking more questions than perhaps would be deemed polite at home, but there is, without a doubt, much genuinely racist feeling here too, from observing people's reactions. Dear Russia, there are other countries in the world that are not you, with people who are foreign. Sometimes these foreigners are even quite educated. Go learn. I don't get abuse for walking down the road. Only when I open my mouth at the supermarket...   (Massive generalisation. ish. Most young people are pretty open to us being long as you're skin tone matches theirs...)

Standard trip around GUM (Massive and very expensive shopping mall in Red Square), grumbling over the masses of scaffolding and barriers around the Kremlin and St Basils Cathedral which ruined photo opportunities. All this followe by a trip to Burger King. We're so cultured.
Slightly ironical that Lenin is lying by a rather extreme form of capitalism*, McDonalds, anyone? GUM had nothing in it during Soviet shortages. Doesn't have that issue now...

Just by the Kremlin


*He's still in his mausoleum...not like, just having a little lie down amongst the tourists on Red Square. Poor guy wanted to be buried next to his Mother. What a smack in the face.

It should maybe have seemed a little stranger that we were all meeting up in Russia after not seeing eachother for at least 6 weeks (and since the end of last term for me), but nope. Sat around discussing our respective hosts and their bizarre habits, felt grateful to Firdaus for not presenting me with a cheese sandwich and exactly 8 pieces of pelmeni every morning. It feels a bit like they're our pets our something.

We found ourselves wandering round looking for shampoo that night at about 11, and had to settle on an apteka (chemist) which, while open at night, required you to knock at the little hatch window and explain what you want. Pre-conversation briefing to figure out what to say naturally went to pot when the chemist asked something unexpected, but got the shampoo in the end. I have now conquered the scary windows. Success! And it meant I wasn't too manky for the hospital the next day. People who pay stupid money for an appointment do not have greasy hair.

Skimming over the apointment (which lasted over 2 hours, thanks very much extreme stress and initial blood pressure over 185/130-surely I should have been dead?), we went to Park Pobedy and found an awesome war museum which had free entry for students. Score. Totally recommend this place, the monument outside was huuuuuge, the park has to be beautiful in Summer (we were freezing so I'm not sure I appreciated it quite so much-first snow that day) and the museum is full of lovely old babs who actually want you to be there and don't bark at you when ask where the toilets are. (Don't use them though. I'm not entirely sure why they were asian style...).

Archway by park Pobedy
Museum of the Great Patriotic War
Hall of glory, with names of Russia's war heroes.

The usual eternally burning flame

We found an ad for an Indian restaurant in the Moscow Times. No metro stop info though, just a vague area and 'opposite the Belarussian embassy'. We wanted curry. Quite a lot. Therefore, we decided to just roll on up at Kitai-Gorod metro stop and wander around, in the dark, until we found it.
It took some time, but we got our curry.
Slightly bizarre being greeted in Russian and switching between English and Russian to order and speak to the waiters, but the food was amazing. Full of expats, very expensive, totally worth it.
I have considered that it might be a little wrong that an Indian restaurant can feel so much like England. But then I dismissed it, because I freaking LOVE curry.

There were a couple of blokes from Scotland behind us and
a table full of Americans and English to the right.
At least one token Russian family, too.

Oh, and they had real hot towels at the end. I needed a flannel. I normally 'borrow' a glass from restaurants. I borrowed the towel this time. Score.


Kleptomaniac tendencies satisfied and it being the last day, we went to a shopping mall called MEGA. The name might give it away-it was big. And Western! M&S, anybody? We spent all day there - I will never buy leggings from anywhere but Berska, now; new discovery - until it was time to get the train back (where we were total celebrities just for being English), arrived back at Yaroslavl Glavniy Station, waited for a bus that never came and got a taxi home by midnight.

I should explain that I am not yearning to go home, at all (but I wouldn't say no to a Sunday Roast). However, Russia is very....Russian. And sometimes, it's nice to take a break from it. Which takes us right back to the start of this iliad of an entry. Moscow is great for a break, but I'm not sure what the value of the constant Westernisation would be to me. Waitresses tend to practise their English on us here in Yaro, but otherwise, nobody speaks it. We are forced into the culture. Moscow just seems too vast for me, I wouldn't know where to start with it and it would be oh so very easy to opt out of Russian entirely. The year abroad tutor likes Moscow a lot, but I'm glad I didn't listen to her. Yaroslavl was definitely the right choice for me.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bin ballet, talent shows and depressed bears.

Ok, I feel I should write in more detail about what has happened this past month, however, I am ill, on some wonderfully exhausting new pills and I just can't be arsed. So.

The first thing people seem to ask when they talk to me, is not how I am, how I'm coping or how I've remained out of hospital for this long, but what the weather is like. Being English, I can accept this, but really people, a full 5 weeks with no hospital, some acknowledgement please!

The heating came on a few weeks ago, when we were still easily into double figures temperature wise. Russia is keen to show off it's heating capability, clearly, only we can't control the radiators, so we boiled for a while. Sleeping with one window open as a precaution to avoid death by roasting was not approved of by my host. Firdaus now attributes every little cough and sneeze to the fact that, in 17 degree heat, with radiators on of a higher temperature, I dared to let in a bit of a breeze.
Russia is a nation of hypochondriacs-there's a chemist on every corner to deal with all of their non existent ailments. For example, if one happens to sit on a concrete floor, you will become infertile. If, in 30degree heat, a drink stored in the fridge seems appealing, think again, because you'll promptly be struck down by pneumonia if you fall for that one. Of course, everything can be fixed with tea. So my host was not exactly pleased when I failed to give in to her constant pressure to drink tea and close the window. She even seemed to take pleasure in the fact that I was having nightly battles with mosquitoes that had got in. One night I swatted one, and MY blood exploded from the bloody thing. God I hate them so much. However, the insect guards have been removed from the windows now and replaced with very thick nets and curtains, so I guess they've all been killed off in the cold.


Anyway, it's cold enough for me to have the window closed at least 50% of the time now. It's generally around 4degrees during the day, which is fine so long as there's no wind, in which case I don't fare too well. The nerves in my face dislike cold wind. Must buy a balaclava. I rarely go anywhere without a massive scarf and hat anyway, just in case. The first snow fell on Saturday, although I missed it, being in Moscow freezing in Park Pobedi instead. Apparently the snow might not settle until mid December, if that. So there you have it people, Russia is not just one big blizzard all year round. Sorry.


The topic that crops up after the disappointment following the revelation that I'm not frolicking around in Christmas card scenes and making snow angels 24/7 (like I ever frolic anywhere), is class. I started out getting up at 7am, and we'd be out at 8.30. Nowadays, I tend to set the alarm for 7.30, skip breakfast and roll out of bed somewhere around the 7.50 mark. Still manage to get out for about 8.30...ish...only it does mean that mornings are turned into something of an obstacle course attempting to dodge Firdaus when she yells at me for not eating again. Then there is the daily bin run on the walk in. Russian flats don't seem to have bins. It's an issue when your room is full of pepsi cans, crisp packets and (in my case) several 5litre water bottles. So in the mornings we cross onto the long island which runs in the middle of the road-just has trees and benches, a couple of bins, and in a beautifully synchronised display, we each branch off to either side and place our bags into the bins. We do have to be a bit careful because, although we're doing nothing wrong, we are doing nothing wrong in front of a police station.
Howevs. One day last week, there was a woman with a face like a duck watching us. I was not in a good mood. So we did our olympic standard synchronised bin ballet and rejoined in the middle, and she decides it's her place to whinge at us. Waited until we were a little closer of course, so as not to strain her duck bill, and then launches into an aggressive rant about why we couldn't just have done that in our own houses and blah blah blah. I could have responded by telling her that we'd done nothing wrong. Bins are bins, we'd only put in small bags, even in Russian law she'd have a hard time finding something against us. But I didn't. I responded in English, and kept it very short and to the point. Shan't repeat, but I think she understood.

On to the walk in, we pass a jail, and that's the only road we don't dare to cross without the nice little green man telling us we can. Then eventually we reach uni. It's generally tropically heated, so it is necessary to strip your layers off as soon as you've tackled the masses of stairs, and then classes start at 9.10.  Or they would do if, tragically, the teachers gained a better sense of timekeeping. I'm not complaining. 4 lessons of 50 minutes, some double. Translation is dire, Russian Media (SMI) is just bleh, Analytical reading is ok, so is grammar and Speaking is awesome. The teacher is pretty much the definition of cool and I think I may have a girl crush on her, as do many people apparently. She looked a bit like Peter Pan the other day, and that's all I see now, but still. I like the blue in her fringe.
Translation teacher longs for a return to the Soviet Union and will go off on one for most of the lesson if you ask the right questions, hates supermarkets and loves fish. Did you know you can tell a good fish from the colouring under its....well....that bit under its, the chin bit?
No, neither did I. And you can only possibly know that if you lived in Soviet times because there was no other meat and ingredients were extremely limited (and obvs that's a great selling point)But I can't stand fish, so clearly I wouldn't have done well in the good old USSR.

I spend quite a lot of my time in class doodling. The workbooks here are all checked rather than lined, and they're just screaming to be coloured in. But I get by. I'm certain I haven't made any progress at all, and my memory is akin to a sieve, which makes it difficult to retain any new vocab, but the class here is so much nicer than my class in Birmingham and the teaching is different, which does seem to sit well with me.
It is, of course, all in Russian, too. Depending on the day, lesson and my mood, this is both a good and bad thing. Overall, it's all good.

The talent show

You'd have thought, after Uglich, we'd learn. However when Firdaus burst in to tell Hannah that she had an invitation for her to take part in a 'festival' in which she'd dress up as a 'traditional english girl' (fake burberry and pregnancy stomach sprang to mind), Hannah did not say No. She said maybe, which, with a personality as strong as Firdaus', is a yes. It started off that she'd just stand there in a pretty dress which we'd find in the theatre. Then it progressed to cooking a dish from your country. Then there was talk of writing about your home. We had a little talk with Firdaus, who convinced Hannah that it was worth trying, and she'd be there the whole time.
So we went along to some offices where possibly the most beautiful women outside of the airbrushed magazine type we'd ever seen, were gathered to have their pictures taken, representing their individual countries. Naturally, Firdaus left us. She said she'd be with us. Such lies.

She isn't even from London...

So we take a look at the form that was shoved under our noses for Hannah to fill out. Education, achievements....talent....we looked at the top of the form, and there it was. The word 'Competition'. Not only that, the words 'Miss International Russia' were above the word 'competition'. Nice one Firdaus.
No choice but to go along with it, Hannah filled in the form as best she could, and we waited forever to have her pictures taken. Everyone else was seeeriously dressed up, and it didn't help that the Russians are the biggest posers ever-they seem to have an inherent ability for it. But finally we were called outside, and dragged around the estate we were on, Hannah made to pose ridiculously and throw leaves over herself because, apparently, that's what makes a good photo.
Chucking leaves at her face

When it was finished, we ran away and went to McDonalds. Lols.
A second little talk with Firdaus resulted in her lecturing us on 'the lessons of life' and how we musn't be scared to do these things. Plus, it was ok for Hannah to do it because last year's winner wasn't even pretty, she only won because she put lots of international flags in her cake!
Of course. She even asked if I wanted to do it. I indicated that I would rather not, thanks all the same...
So we agreed she would try and if she really didn't want to do it, that would be it, no questions asked
Firdaus is a MASSIVE liar.

We went to a rehearsal one night with all the other girls. Firdaus stayed this time. I sat there loling to myself whilst watching everyone being assigned positions and reading out their pieces (Hannah didn't have one-Firdaus hadn't told her this) and practising their walks and god knows what else. At the end of this, we were introduced to the man in charge of everything. Somewhat bizarrely, he said, 'Oh, you are english?! You speak english?! Let's undress!' and proceeded to pull at his collar as if he was going to strip.
Russians. Who knows.

That night, Hannah had resolutely decided there was no way she would be doing this competition. There are many reasons behind this, but fear was not really one. She simply didn't want to. So, with carefully rehearsed speech, she went to Firdaus. Who laughed. And said that she hadn't tried. Then blamed me for Hannah not wanting to, and asked what I'd said to her, and told me it was between Hannah and herself when I pointed out that actually, Hannah just didn't want to do it.
I may not have the best Russian, but it doesn't stop me getting massively pissed off at people and showing it. Hannah eventually left the room practically crying, while I stayed to deliver evil looks and tell Firdaus that she wasn't scared, and well done because she'd made her upset.
Hannah and I then ate cake. Quite a lot of cake.

It was unfortunate timing that Firdaus decided to offer something of an apology as I was sat with my roll cake, knife and fork in hand to cut a slice, looking like I was about to nom down the entire thing.
But she did say that if Hannah really didn't want to, she didn't have to (adding in some things about how disappointed her family would be blah blah) and that was that.
Except she does fully blame me, apparently.

Then Hannah and I went to Moscow for the weekend so I could see a horribly expensive private doctor. But it's too much effort to write about that right now. Maybe next time.

Must make my room resemble less of a tip now.

Here are some pictures from a depressing zoo I went to. Just to make up the picture count.

Depressed bear.

Don't do it.

So not a fan of zoos.