Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Future

Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand-
                                                                               - and melting like a snowflake.

                                                                                                                                                 Marie Beyon Ray

When I titled this blog "8 Months in Ukraine" the idea of eight months seemed like a very long time. Now it's already month six, soon to be seven, and I feel like these months have just been a warm up, like I'm just beginning to open my eyes underwater and make out the shapes that surround me.

Крепкий орешек

Admit it, I bet you've wondered about this too. How ever did they translate the movie title Die Hard into Russian? Hmmm.... it'd be too silly to just translate it literally, I guess. Oh, I've got it! How about Hard Nut? Yeah, that's it!

No, I am not joking. Die Hard = Hard Nut. Die Hard 2 = Hard Nut 2. And so on. You can imagine how much this little detail amused me and I've been quizzing D about it for ages. He revealed that it's a compliment to call someone a крепкий орешек; it indicates a strength of character similar to "He's a tough nut to crack." Don't take my word for it though- check out Potap and Nastiya's video КРЕПКИЕ ОРЕШКИ (Hard Nuts)
Awkward lyrics translation by me, forgive any errors!

Him: Movie, popcorn, I've sitting with Nastiya
Her: What movie is this? Some kind of horror film?
Him: No, this is a blockbuster, it's got all kinds of things. The Hard Nut- that's Jack, he's unstoppable.
Her: Who's that bald guy? I would fall in love with him.
Him: Dream on, that's Bruce Willis. He's the main character and he won't put up with any teasing. According to the movie, he's got the hardest nuts.

Chorus: I don't know what to do with this disaster. I was conquered by a bald-headed nut. Oh, what a handsome nose and tough glance. My man, my hero, my hard nut.

And then the song goes on with Potap recounting the entire Die Hard series for Nastiya.

Bonus info: Btw, Nastiya is a very common nickname, it's short for Anastasiya.

More bonus info: Potap and Nastiya are very popular in Ukraine and Russia. You can find tons of their music videos on YouTube. Here's a link to an interesting write-up of another song on another blog.

And one more: Want to see more of Bruce Willis in Ukraine? Go here!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Beer at Шато

Well, it's лютий (February- the cruel frosty month) for another 10 days so to keep thoughts off the weather, here's a new edition of Out and About in Kharkov.
If you're an expat living in Kharkov or a fun-loving Ukrainian then you've probably been here several times.

If you like beer then you've probably consumed several of these.
Behold, the (partially-emptied) BEER GIRAFFE! There is a hollow core filled with ice to keep the beer chilled.
Step right up and serve yourself!
Yes, that's right, 3 liters of beer for about twelve bucks. 
They even sell "alcohol breath-control mints" for afterwards
 Aside from the beer giraffe, Шато has a couple other things going for it too. The decor is pretty cool (see below) and since they do brewing on site, you can easily snap a picture in front of the big brewery tanks. They're practically in the middle of the restaurant. And if you're a sports fan, Шато is filled with big flat-screened TVs that usually show soccer/football matches.
Must-have lighting for any beer fan. I'm talking to you, dear Dad!
If you're like me and don't care for beer, don't worry; the menu alone is still worth a visit. It's not the most fantastic food ever but it's well-prepared and there's a wide variety of items. The menu is cutely organized by countries: there's the Ukrainian kitchen (salo, pickles, herring, salads), the German kitchen (various sausages), the Mexican kitchen (amigo salad, chimichanga), and the Italian kitchen (carpaccio, tiramisu). It reminds me of #29 on You Know You've Been in Ukraine Too Long When.... you go into an Italian restaurant and expect to be able to order Japanese food. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Food, food, food

Two things you can't live without!
Cost-of-living update:
  • Poppyseed bread above = $0.50
  • Locally-produced sausage above = $2.50
  • Small box of cereal (only sugary versions available) = about $3/box
  • Kilo of potatoes = $0.60
  • Bottle of beer = $1.00
  • Bottle of Soviet Champagne = $3.75
  • McDonald's Value Meal = $7.00

Happy Valentine's Day!

You couldn't walk more than 5 feet this week without bumping into a heart or teddy bear! Some people celebrate it, some people disdain it, but on the whole St Valentine's Day is definitely a visible holiday in Ukraine. I worked it into the classroom activities this week as a warm-up. These are the Valentines I created for my students.
Yes, with that old children's rhyme : ) Then the students came up with their own poem based on that pattern. The funniest student creation?-  
Roses are red, coal is black, Arnold was here, he said "I'll be back." 

It was also a remarkable holiday in that for the first time in over 5 years, D hasn't been able to wake up at 6 AM, drive to the grocery store and fist fight with other desperate men for the last box of chocolates and sparkle-y greeting card. D, I've asked, why don't you just buy your gifts before the actual Valentine's Day? Because, he says, it just wouldn't be the same. This is my tradition. But since Ukraine isn't full of people who want to be selling flowers and balloons at 6 AM, I think he had to prepare in advance this year.
Gigantic Valentine from D. Pictured next to a regular-sized Valentine for scale.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A winter trip to the zoo in which this narrator almost gets eaten

As you may recall, I LOVE the zoo. Even when I'm not actually visiting it, I'm thinking about visiting it. Any remotely sunny morning brings the following conversation:

me: Hey D, you know what it's a good day for?
D: uhhh....lemme guess. The zoo.
me: Wow, how did you know I was thinking that?!

Our last visit there was conducted practically in the dark (November or so, the sun setting very early) but now that we've gained some extra daylight I thought it would be a good day to make our first official visit of 2012.

Did I notice that it was -15 C (5 F) before we left? Uh, no. You think I'd be used to this kind of weather after all those years in Alaska but man, I was never walking around in a zoo at 5 F in Alaska! It was freakin' cold out there! (In Alaska I was usually watching Netflix under a blanket. For about 8 straight years. That's how I survived to tell the tale. And in Siberia, well, we were usually no further than two steps away from a shot of vodka. For warming purposes, of course.)

There were even more cats than usual roaming around the zoo grounds. In fact, the first one darted out the main gate as we approached the ticket window, leaped up in front of our faces, landed on the counter, and quickly squeezed itself through the little window to get inside. It was so perfectly choreographed that the lady selling tickets burst into laughter. And it was perhaps an ominous sign of an encounter with another cat, later....

By the way, I've been trying to get a picture of this sign for a while. Apologies for the angle but nowadays I'm always fearful of a ferocious scolding when I try to take a picture of anything.
Free admission the first Wednesday of every month: World War II veterans, Chernobyl survivors, large families, orphans, and invalids. There is an actual word for survivors of Chernobyl: чернобыльцы.
Yeah, the zoo! The zoo! I can't believe I convinced these guys to go with me :p
We headed for the Primate House right away since it always closes the earliest. Unfortunately the interior has been in a state of ремонт (remodel) for months now and the chimpanzee is still tucked away out of sight. They did have a new crocodile exhibit though, and the monkeys were as cheerful as always. The zookeeper was selling little figurines of entwined hippos from a card table and I got D to buy me one for Valentine's Day because seriously, if you truly love the zoo then what's more romantic than two hippos? Nothing, that's what! :p

After that we got followed to the Elephant House by a cat that was eager to slip in the door behind us (after following us all the way from the Primate House). The elephants were not very exciting today but I did see another foreigner; he was wheeling a cleaning cart around and said Извините - Excuse me- with an accent, so that was kind of exciting.

It was even colder by the time we came out so we looked at the llamas (or alpaca?) for a minute and then went into the surprisingly clean and fresh-aired Hippopotamus House. They must have just cleaned it because it was amazingly non-hippo scented!
Usually there's a small crowd inside the building, staring at the hippos' backs, but this time were were alone since apparently all the other hippo fans are afraid of freezing to death at the zoo.

After that there were no indoor spaces to turn to for warmth.
We saw the owls, hawks, and eagles while we still had feeling in our hands. D got into a hooting contest with an owl and then a screeching contest with a hawk. My goal today was to pick up one new word in Russian from this trip (must set my goals low) and here's where I got it, from the bird signs. Did you know that put on the endangered species list translates as put in the red book?

Then we went to the large predators where I had a BLOODY HEART ATTACK from this evil, evil lioness. Tigers? Check, sitting in cages in the back. Jaguar? Check, pacing in the back. Hyenas? Inside. Lion? Oh, where's the lion? *Lean over to look at the bottom of the habitat* LIONESS SPRINGS UP AT MY FACE Holy freakin' cow and sweet baby Jesus!!!! Is my face still there?!!! There was a fence enclosing the lion area but this lion was like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. Remember that scene where they're testing the fence? Waiting because they know eventually they'll get out and eat people? Oh, and they're completely evil? Yeah, it was like that. The lioness would pace, stop, cock her head and stare right at me, carefully back up, and then leap up against the rock wall. With determination. How can I tell you in so much detail? Because yes, I stayed there (briefly), paralyzed like prey, waiting for my heart to start beating again. Also, I couldn't really believe it. Us humans are weak, true, but when's the last time something looked at you like a piece of fruit they were determined to bat off the tree? I'm talking about direct. eye. contact. Hello, nightmares.

(Later I discovered I had taken a picture of her in September 2011. Yes, with that same look in her eyes.)

Finally, D and Mikhail noticed their friend who was about to be eaten (aka, me) and got us safely away from there. They showed me the calm flamingos and a huge black mellow raven that could hoarsely cough out "давай! давай!" Isn't that the coolest thing ever? A big black raven that can say "Come on!" in Russian! You know you want one....

Our last shivering stop was to see the bears. My brain was so cold that I forgot they'd be hibernating. The polar bear was out, though. For someone who loves the zoo I sure don't like a lot of the animals. I've hated bears ever since I arrived in Alaska, especially polar bears. The most annoying commercial is that CocaCola commercial showing friendly, soda-drinking polar bears because in real life, that white bear would rather stalk you in the snow for 19 hours and then eat you. So I try not to get too close to the polar bear but at least he's always out in the open (unlike a certain LIONESS, ahem). As a matter of fact, the polar bear is always pacing the exact same route, over and over and over again. And he was really skinny- his rib cage was visible. He was probably about as cold as we were! He looked like a polar bear on a serious diet. Maybe he's unhappy because there's nowhere to swim; I've never seen a polar bear habitat without water before.

So there you have it. I still love the zoo but I'm going to wait before going back, basically until a) the weather is tolerable and b) I don't see the lioness every single time that I close my eyes.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Winter lingers = time to hibernate

Maybe it's the cold weather, but I've been a bit sluggish recently. I feel like an animal in winter; I need to huddle in my den until temperatures rise back to decency and spring's green shoots start poking through the gloomy February landscape....yeah, whenever that will happen!

Despite this reluctance to socialize or venture out, we did join some students at a local tango-themed tavern, Улица-Танго. Everyone had a good time, mixing English and Russian and downing four bottles of champagne (after all, it was a birthday celebration!), smoking copious cigarettes (*cough, cough*) and finally getting kicked out at closing time.

Today D and I took two new teachers to the Central Market. They decided not to do any shopping, which left them lots of time for standing around and talking loudly together in English. One fruit vendor told us "come back! but don't bring the fascists"....? hmm? Did I lose something in translation? Was he mad that they didn't buy anything? The last time we were at this market (just the two of us) we were part of the crowd around a sausage stand and a passing coffee vendor jokingly yelled out "You guys are buying so many sausages you're putting the Germans to shame!" Apparently Central Market has some kind of WWII vibe. Anyways, on a totally random note, while we were passing the meat market D asked if we knew why rabbit carcasses are sold with unskinned feet. "For luck?" one of my colleagues guessed. "No", replied D. "So that you know you're buying a rabbit and not a cat." I try to not make much eye contact with any of the meat stalls, but today I noticed that they carve meat not on a countertop but on wooden tree stumps that have been painted red. Cool.
Outdoor fruit & veggie section at Central Market, late October. Most of the local vendors sell their stuff here while the sellers of the more exotic stuff tend to set up shop in another (indoor) part of the market.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Мужчина на кухне 2

D has been at it again! Who knew it would take merely a trip to his homeland to bring out such culinary prowess?

The Cremation of Sam McGee

It's cold here! Not quite as cold as this tale, but still cold enough!
(Try reading the poem out loud to get the full effect)

The Cremation of Sam McGee (by Robert Service)

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

100 griven later....

Why yes, yes I did. Green tea w/ jasmine, strawberry (herbal), lemon (herbal), pomegranate (herbal), raspberry (black), strawberry dessert (black), black currant (black). Ukraine is great.

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Part 7

  • TV ad #1: A woman lovingly and elaborately prepares a beautiful green salad. She slices tomatoes and bell peppers to accentuate the crisp lettuce. She arranges everything with care in a large glass bowl. But wait! What's this?.... There's still something missing. The salad's not ready yet. And it looks suspiciously healthy and salad-y. Hmmmmm.....how about a tasty topping of mayonnaise from a bag? Yum. Now that's more like it.
  • TV ad #2. Scared me to death: Person boils water on the stove, makes a cup of tea. "GAS! GAS!" warns the tv screen. Person turns on the light in another room, boom! Kitchen explodes. Holy cow, this freaked me out, just like it did when I first heard the apocryphal stories. But this time it was an actual government service warning on tv! (and check this out)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Visa Update. See: Ukraine, entry to.

In case there's anyone out there looking for: the latest news, a sense of security, 100% confirmed facts, reliable answers, guarantees.....

....they don't exist. It seems like laws are always in flux in Ukraine, and open to interpretation. One official might think one thing is A, another might think the same thing is Z. A rule might be passed one month and then reversed two months later. In theory it seems like Ukraine is trying to move forward and make improvements with these laws but in practice many laws and ideas seem arbitrarily enforced. Just part of the magic of Ukraine, I guess!

These are the scattered bits and pieces I've personally gathered over the past two months.