Saturday, October 29, 2011

Transformers 3 quote

Best line ever about the Russian language:
"It's the Cyrillic alphabet! It's like all the buttons you never push on a calculator!"

A funny thing I noticed about cell phones here- In English, with a 26 letter alphabet, each key on a cell phone has 3 letters of the alphabet (ABC, DEF, GHI, etc). Since Russian has about 33 letters, 4 letters are forced to fit on each key (АБВГ, ДЕЖЗ, ИЙКЛ, and so on). Check it out:
 Russian is awesome, don't you agree?

Friday, October 28, 2011

End of the semester!

Yeah! The semester is almost over!!! Just 3 more classes on Sunday, and I'm free for a week! I mentally already checked out last week, so this week was loooong as my physical body still had to show up and teach classes...... my mind kept thinking "What in the world am I doing here?"

An Illegal Love Affair- the technical details

Dear Ukraine,

Please, please, please, I really wanna stay! Don't make me leave you! I even got an 8-month job here so as to not just be a bum, so that you would think I had some redeeming qualities. My school emailed me today, confirming that all of us need new visas to stay here. I would gladly pay the massive $400 (school-recommended religious visa) - $800 (actual work visa) required to live here legally but sometimes I suspect that fate has different plans in store.

I arrived on Aug 30th with a $140 multi-entry business visa. Twelve days later you declared that you were consolidating all visas into 3 types: transit, short-term, and long-term. For the next month, no one really knew what was going on. Now all the details are out and they make my head spin.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

El burro sabe más que tu


The good:

Exhibit A: gigantic chocolate dog, gift from a student
Exhibit B: panda balloon animal, a gift from D

The not-so-good.

Exhibit C: It just snapped off in the middle of class while I was in mid-sentence. Like a true professional, I just nudged the heel aside and continued talking. By the way, if you don't understand why my shoes look like they belong to the wicked witch of the west, you don't understand anything about Ukrainian style.
Exhibit D
D has told me many times that life will keep presenting the same lessons to you until you learn from them. "Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it" and all that. One thing I've been trying to work on is being less prepared. Over the last couple of years I've tended to over-prepare, probably to make up for all the years I just showed up for things without a clue :p Anyways, I knew what I was getting myself into when I chose this school and just like D said, these opportunities keep coming along...and I'm choosing to view them as personal development.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Police

Forgot to mention-

We walked back to our part of town from the restaurant, since it was after midnight and the metro was closed. While the four of us were walking along the main highway, a cop car pulled over and 2 cops jumped out. One went to question another man who was walking near us. The other came over to us. I immediately thought "uh-oh!" I'm not quite as superstitious about cops as some of my colleagues, who live in terror of the police, but there is that persistent rumor that all foreigners are supposed to carry their passport with them at all times, and really, who does that? Anyways, the cop was a young guy. He gruffly asked in rapid succession "Are you locals? Are you carrying any guns? What do you have in your pockets?" The other three replied "Yes, No, Nothing" and I kind of mumbled and hovered in the background. Only D got a half-hearted search. Then the cop turned away, jumped back into the car, and the car sped off down the highway.


Back to Club Mafia this it had been an entire month since we'd celebrated anything. Timur and his wife joined us to toast to her upcoming business trip (komanderovka in Russian; isn't that the coolest-sounding word ever?) and the completion of D's first week here in Kharkov. Our previous evening at this restaurant was on a Friday and the place was deserted apart from us and the mafia tables. This time it was a Sunday evening, and business was booming. According to Timur, this is why Monday is such a difficult workday for everyone :P

We spent a long evening together...partially because we wanted to and partially because of the service. Either food would arrive just as a bottle of vodka was finished, hence forcing the order of a new bottle, or the food would end while vodka was left, making us start the process over again. I swear they do it on purpose.

Like earlier posts stated, sausage is mega-popular here. There are constant lines underground in the metro to buy locally-produced sausage. People brave the weather and make late night trips to the sausage kiosk down the street for a snack. As a tribute to this devotion, one of our orders included an artfully-sliced tray of different kinds of sausage, among which I discovered the Meat Gum. The Meat Gum is a delicious variety of sausage. You can recognize the Meat Gum by its bright red coloring and large amounts of white embedded fat blobs. In fat, there are so many pieces of fat in this meat, that you can chew on a slice of it for about 15 minutes, just like a regular piece of gum. Except regular gum isn't meat-flavored, haha. I freakin' love this sausage.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oct 21st

This week was a hell of a week. And I don't mean that in a good way.
But, moving on.....

Since D arrived last Saturday (just as my work week was about to begin), today was the first full day we've been able to spend together. This morning we battled the crowds at the massive Барабашова market. Check this place out on Google maps. Yeah, gigantic. We went with a long shopping list of desperately needed items and $300, and emerged with...... 2 jackets, an egg slicer, a set of 3 pots, and a kitchen strainer. $200 went to D's jacket. What can I say? It's a man's dress jacket: long, black, business/military style, and he looks hot. Seeing him in such a jacket has been my dream for many years- every time I opened up a fall J Crew catalog- so I practically forced him to buy it. Anyways, this market is crazy intimidating. It can simply swallow you up. It's filled with people from not only all over Ukraine, but from all over the world as well. Meaning, finally a place where people speak Russian with a worse accent than I do :p I think we'll go back to the market again sometime, but more to browse than to try to shop off a list.

The market closes early- by 3 PM- so we headed home, dropped off our purchases, had lunch, and headed back out- to the zoo! As previously stated, I love the zoo!

And this video is was taken later in the evening...I can't figure out how to make it post in the proper place, so this will have to do. This fountain is across the street from the opera house and is a popular spot for (daytime) wedding photos.

You guessed it- Lenin. This statue is in the middle of Freedom Square, the 6th largest such square in Ukraine. Since my private helicopter is still in the shop for repairs, check the view out here. A wonderful place, just be careful of the cars whizzing through it at high-speeds. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Part 4

I noticed Viagra for sale in the drugstore.... it looks like you can just pick some up on your way home?

Babies have been in full-out snow suits for the last week, even though there's no snow on the ground. Parents strap them in baby strollers, all bundled up...some babies look really uncomfortable but hey, at least they're warm!

We upgraded 10 mb/second internet access at home...for less than $10 a month. That doesn't mean we can access the internet fully at home yet (in Ukraine, it's two steps forward, one step back) but when we finally get access life will be pretty sweet.

It was late on a cold October evening. A hunched-over grandmother hesitated at the top of the stairs leading to the metro. The stairs were steep, she was old, and her grocery bags were heavy. She called out to the thuggish looking 22-year-old loitering on the stairs: "Eh, young man, carry these bags for me." And can you believe, without a blink- this guy who looked like the textbook definition of a hoodlum, immediately and uncomplainingly came to her assistance. The culture here is different in that way; men are usually completely chivalrous, opening doors, letting women get on the metro first. I'm getting spoiled.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More cool products...

It's snowing in Kharkov this morning!!!!!! Coincidentally, I also saw it's snowing in Fairbanks....which kind of gave me an unpleasant sensation of not having escaped Alaskan-style winter at all. The statistics say that Kharkov has more pleasant winters than Alaska....unless I brought the bad weather with me!

Anyways, in honor of the snow, here are more unusual items that caught my eye recently:
Nut-flavored yogurt. Not bad!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Learn geography the pop culture way...

List of English words of Russian origin

From Wikipedia:

Mammoth (Russian ма́монт mamont [ˈmamənt], from Yakut mamont, probably mama, "earth", perhaps from the notion that the animal burrowed in the ground) Any various large, hairy, extinct elephants of the genus Mammuthus, especially the Wooly Mammoth. 2. (adjective) Something of great size.

What?! So mammoth is originally from the Yakut people? No freakin' way! We could have at least toasted to this in Yakutsk, but no one there mentioned it....

Oct 14th

The wind was cold and violent yesterday, and the trees were shaken so badly that they've lost most of their leaves. The landscape is starting to look a little bare and dull. Will Kharkov still be beautiful in the winter?

I've been reading the blog of a woman who lived in Kharkov in 2007 and her friends from Kiev mention how Soviet Kharkov's appearance is. Is that true? I guess I hadn't noticed, because so far this city has been everything I hoped for: parks, cafés, lots of monuments, museums, street markets, and more parks. And a zoo! Maybe I've been around so much Soviet architecture in other places that it's hard to notice now. I don't care if most people think Soviet-style buildings are ugly; I love them. Even хрущёвки- they make me think of community. *picture of хрущёвка coming soon* And one thing about Soviet city planners- they've got us Americans beat on parks! The parks here are awesome!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What do you call someone who speaks only one language?

Holy smokes, over 1,000 views on my little blog! Unbelievable.... thank you, my dear readers! : )

Just got home from a long night of classes. This afternoon I had my first energy drink (Red Bull) in Ukraine, because I had a feeling I'd need one to get through the day. It costs $2, just about the same as in the US. One of my students, a doctor in training from Jordan, fussed over my health when he saw me drinking it.

After class I stopped at the шаурма stand to wolf down a шаурма to go.

What is a шаурма, you may ask? Well.....I'm not really sure either. Some kind of roasted meat on pole, put in a tortilla with lots of other stuff. I remember enjoying some very tasty шаурма in Crimea in 2007. The Kharkov version seems to be not quite as tasty, but it will do.

Oops, no, that's not шаурма
This is шаурма!
There has been a pretty dire food and time shortage in my kitchen as of late, and almost all meals have consisted of me eating some form of boiled dumplings in garlic sauce or pasta with sausage.


Seen on the back of a woman's t-shirt (accompanied, if I remember correctly, by a cartoon penguin):

Pen's favorite scary movie is "Orca, Orca!" He loves to play with the freezer door.

If I ever saw that t-shirt in a shop, I'd buy it in a minute! That's classic! :p

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Birthdays and Toasts!

At my school, birthdays are to be celebrated by all available staff. I'm not a huge fan of work socialization in general; I understand it's important and advances not only your cause in the game of office politics but also the effectiveness of the entire staff, but....c''s work. I mean, most of the time you're paying me to be here, and now you want me to spend my limited free time with you...for free? Hahaha. Nice try.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn is in the air

Kharkov is exceptionally beautiful and exciting in the fall. Yellow leaves litter the sidewalks like shining pieces of gold. The air has a frosty little nip in it to remind you of what's coming. Sometimes the sky is heavy, dull, and gray, sometimes it's bright and blue and takes you back to the bygone days of summer. The sun occasionally breaks through the clouds in a glare so fierce I have to lower the blinds in my kitchen. The street vendors seem to be closing earlier and/or moving their wares inside. People walk a little faster and their children are already bundled up in winter hats and coats. The forests are filled with picnicking families, bonfires, and young couples. I feel so lucky to experience this season here!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lesson learned

So, if your skirt say "do not iron"....seriously, don't try to iron it.

Especially if it turns out it's mostly nylon.

Why do I never figure these things out until it's too late? It's like the time I forgot the fork in the microwave....

Friday, October 7, 2011

Joining the 21st century....

Holy cow, Timur hooked me up with high-speed internet. I feel like I just moved to another country! This is incredible!! I can actually access webpages at home now!!!

Thank you, Timur!


I have an address!

And your mail won't get delivered here, don't worry:

Mailboxes in my building
Email me for more info! : )
Letters would be lovely!!

Oct. 6th

A long day but a good day! Taught corporate classes in the AM....made it on the first train I saw despite a massive mob trying to get through the token turnstiles, even found a seat briefly instead of having to stand and get tossed around, and- as this was my third trip on this metro route- zoned out during the ride and while transferring lines but still got there successfully! The classes themselves are really fun. The students are all very interesting people. I'm always impressed by them. The fact that it's morning and not 6 PM or {gasp} 8 PM probably also helps the appeal of these classes. My 8 - 10 PM students hate that time slot, as do I! Anyways, one of the students...who I think also helped organize the classes....said some really kind words after class. : )

After that, another pricey but comfy afternoon at the coffee shop. They know me so well there!! Then evening classes.... my first class was dragging their feet the whole time. I pulled out all the stops but they were asked them what the deal was, they blamed the weather. They're a funny class....I really enjoy all of them but I can never remember them before or after class- it's like a blank in my mind. Then my last class- they're great! Their personalities are super-distinct and they're a lot of fun to be with. We had a smaller class tonight- only 5 students- which worked out in our favor. During the last 45 minutes, one of my students said "Pretty please, teacher, can we review the passive voice?" Not only was I able to comply with the activity I'd already prepared, but I was also able to come up with a passive/active voice activity on the fly, imagine that! This was because I'd tried to do such a thing during training and failed miserably, but that laid the groundwork for a successful spur-of-the-moment activity this time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Terrible October Evenings Full of Lameness!, aka Not Why I Came to Ukraine

Very up and down these last couple of days. One day I'm crying at the injustices thrust upon me by the school, the next day I'm thrilled because a cute guy in the coffee shop is speaking to me. There's just something so hot about a handsome man that speaks Russian and some English! :p Anyways..... 
I've been getting caught up on all the school gossip these last couple of days, which is always a little refreshing. Reminds you that others have difficulties too, at least. I got really upset about this cursed TOEFL course (yes, again) when I finally realized the material I'm teaching is for an older version of the test. The trainer called me from Kiev and reassured me that everything's okay, they don't actually need a TOEFL trainer, just a native speaker, blahblahblah (that said, she's really good at her job. I like her) and I don't need to be able to explain mistakes, just say "Hey, that's not right. Because I said so." Then I felt all reassured....except...have you ever actually said that to a Russian or Ukrainian? I didn't think so. They thrive on explanations and logic. Sometimes I think they're grammatically related to Spock and come from the planet Vulcan. So, after a couple of good classes, we had a pretty terrible class tonight. And when the class is terrible, I get mad at the school for making me take this course with no preparation or warning. It's a lot cheaper emotionally than getting mad at myself (and for what?!) and it saves the students from my wrath....although some of of them deserve it. I see them getting frustrated with me sometimes and it makes me feel awful. But what can I do? I can't just break out and tell the truth; that would be so unprofessional to pass the buck. So I feel like instead I take the blame and it irks me because I'm a good teacher. This is exactly why I don't want to be a teacher forever; since you're the one out there on the stage, you're always blamed for a poorly-written script.

Of course, half the battle of Ukraine is learning to get by Ukrainian-style. That means you do less and get less back in return. If I'm struggling, I think that means my expectations are still too high. Literally, if you're put in a situation with no training and no resources, how much is honestly expected of you? D, who grew up here, is always saying "Chill out, it's not a big deal. People here have been getting screwed for years, they're used to it." I see some teachers putting a lot of effort into their work, and others putting almost none, and the result appears to be the same. It's probably the same at any school all over the world.

Between a rock and a hard place....

Visa changes!!

From US State Dept website:

"As of September 10, 2011, all foreigners who plan to stay in Ukraine for more than 90 days are subject to new visa and residency permit rules.  All visas issued prior to September 10, 2011 are no longer valid for entry into Ukraine after September 10.  If you entered Ukraine on a visa issued prior to September 10th, you can stay in the country for as long as your registration remains valid (see below for more information on registering your visa) but you will not be able to extend your stay without leaving Ukraine and getting a new visa abroad.  If you have a pre-September 10 visa and leave Ukraine for any reason, you will have to get a new visa before you can return, even if your registration is still valid."

So, looks like the $140 we all shelled for a biz visa in August was money down the drain. And if we stay we get a fine, but if we leave we can't get back in without paying for a new visa. Yeah, sounds like fun!

Does anyone know of a good lawyer in Kharkov? I think I will try to register and stay...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ukrainian flavors: courageous and creative!

Potato chips are apparently the world's most adaptable food. Here are some new flavors I've discovered in the grocery store: red caviar, salami, mushroom, bacon, and curry chicken grill. Huh?

Here is the crown jewel of my discovery:
You may be wondering- why is there also a picture of french fries on the front of the package? Well, duh, the potato chips are shaped like french fries, of course! It's like a McDonald's meal in one product- the french fry shape and the hamburger taste. Remember Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the multi-course meal gum?
According to the illustrations on the back of the package, this fine product is meant to be savored: at a dance party, with beer, with shish-kebob, on a park bench, at the movie theater, or simply with friends.
PS: They taste terrible!...yet there is a hint of hamburgery-ness. Yes, of course I bought them. How could I pass up this opportunity?

PPS: To make up for products such as the ignoble hamburger chips, there is an impressive tea collection at the grocery impressive collection which has been slowly and steadily transferring itself to my cupboard. I know that technically one human being doesn't need more then ten boxes of tea, but..... (if you love me, gift me tea!) Tonight I scored a lime and caramel-flavored green tea. Intriguing, isn't it?

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Part 3

  • I can't figure out portion sizes here. I go into a restaurant and ask- "How big is this meal?" or "Is it enough food for two people?" The waiter or cashier looks at me like I'm crazy and then replies- "Look, it says here on the menu it's 200 grams." I'm like......uh, 200 grams? In the US the only thing we sell in grams is cocaine! I have no idea what 200 grams means. Is it enough to feed a football team or only one lonely little plate?...... Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure the restaurant staff think I'm mentally impaired. It's obvious like the foot-long hot dog is to users of the metric system.
  • Ordered a pricey drink called "Russian Flag". It turned out to be a single shot, served with a....straw? WTF? Mexico House restaurant, you shame Russia. Incidentally, Mexico would be very upset to discover you're serving potatoes in lieu of beans in your 'Mexican' dishes. I'm pretty sure they don't eat a lot of potatoes in Mexico....
  • Tonight I saw a priest at a cigarette and beer stand! But maybe he was just buying a soda.....

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy Teachers' Day!

It's apparently some kind of teacher holiday today. An invitation was passed my way to meet some other teachers at a restaurant tonight, but thank you very much TOEFL, even though I have a special break from my other lesson plans tomorrow (midterms), you are still keeping me on my toes (future unreal conditional what?). So instead of dinner, I just got back from a hot four hour date with my lesson planning book.

It is an actual holiday, though. I remember in Russia we attended a teachers' day party, and that was a REAL party. It started and ended with encounters with the police, someone got a black eye, and during dinner every single table had its own bottles of: champagne, wine, vodka, and cognac. There was even an MC there to keep the party going. Maybe it's a smaller holiday here in Ukraine. Or maybe the teachers are just better behaved :p