Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tea with a Texan and the approach of fall

Despite the threat of rain, I set out this morning on a trek across town for the promise of real chai. See, the Russian word чай (chai) means tea but it's always just regular tea, not what we often think of a chai (spice) tea. Starr, however, had been to India recently and scored some real chai.... and then made the mistake of telling me about it :p Living in Ukraine there are only a couple American staples that I miss and chai tea is one of them.  The others- root beer, peanut butter, cheddar cheese- I can live without as long as I don't start eating them. One spoonful of peanut butter and I'd start having crazy cravings, so it's better to just abstain and Ukrainianize my diet. Borsch, anyone? But chai? That's irreplaceable.

It was a long walk to Starr's place. I went through downtown and through Freedom Square, where there was some kind of subdued demonstration going on with almost as many policeman as protesters. I passed the wedding palace and all the attendant dress shops with gowns modeled more after wedding cakes than actual fashion. Google maps (or my hand-sketched drawing) led me a bit astray at the end, but I got to see this awesome kvas advertisement while wandering the neighborhood.

Starr's apartment was like the featured article from a design magazine. It broke most of the typical Kharkov apartment commandments: it was in a new building, the building had more than 7 stories, it had a DISHWASHER (which I barely even recognized after all this time!), the elevators had a real digital display in the lobby, instead of a domofon there was a video screen, a stove you didn't have to light by hand, actual smoke detectors in the building.... need I go on? On top of that the place had a minimalist design that focused attention on the giant picture windows overlooking a nearby park. Even the refrigerator was subtly designed to look like a cabinet and had a freezer compartment on the bottom (oooooh!). No wonder one of the Metallist players lives in the same building! If Bruce Wayne had a penthouse it would probably look like this. And should I even mention the mini sauna in the bathroom??

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Independence!- for Kharkov, Ukraine, and Belgium

Kharkov's mirror stream fountain. Opera House in the background.
Vacation time has rolled around again. And more than that- it's three days until my one-year-in-Ukraine anniversary! Now that's a weird feeling. One year ago I showed up here with no idea what the future would hold, with no idea whether I'd still be here after my 8 month teaching contract or how D would re-adapt to living in his former homeland. Now twelve months have sped by and all those issues seem so long ago, replaced (of course) by new issues like cat ownership, expired visa, etc, etc. But issues will always be there no matter where one lives or what one does. I still maintain that this has been an amazing experience and led to some deep and hopefully lifelong friendships.
The whole family- to vacation!
Vacation! Doesn't that word just sound glorious? ... Well, that's not what I'm taking. Instead, I'm taking a staycation. Three leisurely weeks to catch up on the little things and enjoy summer's final days of triumph and light. The leaves are starting to curl up into crumbly little orange husks and while people say it's because they've gotten burned from the heat, I smell fall in the air, especially at night. In the mornings I like to get outside and accompany D as he walks to work, then meander back on my own. The days are beautiful. If the kitten gets too crazy I take him outside; I read a book in the sunshine while he expends his energy by cowering next to me on the bench :p If I'm inside I'm usually working on a project or organizing some long-neglected matter. I've began studying Russian a lot too. And thus the day passes. Sometimes clouds gather in the afternoon and by nightfall a storm will have broken. We eat dinner on the balcony, watching the lightning, or just open the windows and stick our hands out to catch the raindrops.

Let me rewind to a couple of past events. First, Happy Independence Day to Ukraine! What happened here in Kharkov on that day? Well... not much. In fact the streets downtown looked like this by 11 PM:

Monday, August 20, 2012

На кухне... on the cheap?

We're trying to live on a budget these days. Not that we weren't on one before, but now we're taking it more seriously. We came to Ukraine with over $40,000 in student loans (ah, college) and it's tricky to pay that off while earning a local salary. Luckily D just landed a job so that will give us a little more breathing room once his paychecks kick in. In the meantime, I've been exploring the world of recipes to add some excitement to the kitchen and make restaurants a less-tempting idea. I'm trying to cook cheaply, grocery shopping once a week and using mainly local, inexpensive ingredients.

Like potatoes. Potatoes are definitely cheap. How cheap? This cheap:
12 potatoes. 2 uah... about 23 American cents.

(Mainly) Potato recipes: 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Part 11

"A citizen of the USSR has the right to vacation": print from a postcard I picked up recently.
It's already the middle of summer and everyone in Kharkov is sporting at least one of these two things: an insane tan and/or summer shoes. The tanning thing started off a little slowly but now practically each and every person has vacationed in Crimea and has turned an appropriate shade of "I spent 23.5 hours a day baking in the sun." Maybe it's just because last summer I was (like many a summer before) in Alaska that this shocks me so much. I even saw a tiny tanned baby earlier in the season! D and I have not been to Crimea and have failed to achieve maximum tanning potential. Translation: we're white. Last month we were berated for this by a talkative old man on the metro: "Why are you both so freakishly pale? You need to go to Bulgaria! Now! Go!"

And about the open-toed shoes... on the metro I noticed that many middle-aged / older women have deformed toes. Is this from all the years of wearing sexy high heels?
Hello, detour! Tis also the season for pipe repairs.
One of the best things about summer? Watermelon mania!!! 16 cents a pound!

Ukraine grows a lot of watermelons and now they're flooding the streets. These guys let me take a picture as they were unloading by hand- guess how much?!- 35 tons of watermelon!! We calculated that out to be about 4,000 melons.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kharkov Tour II

Have you all been eagerly waiting for the rest of the tour, dear readers??? Here it is! Following up with Kharkov Tour I, in June we met again with the guys (Jack and Yaroslav) to continue our rambles around the town. This time we were a group of 5, joined by the lovely Sonya, who is both Jack's girlfriend and another former student of mine. Apparently they'd noticed each other during class when Jack had to lift up Sonya and her chair during a grammar exercise.... who says class has to be boring? :p

We started on Chernyshevskogo street, not far from the Architektora Beketova metro stop and near Pizza Felice. It's possible to glimpse this tall and non-Orthodox-looking church (see left) as you walk down Chernyshevskogo.

First up, the Alexander Pushkin State Academic Russian Drama Theater, originally built in the 1930s and later reconstructed after a fire.

Next, Darwin Street. Come here for the unusual architecture!

Then we really began to wander. Here's what we saw:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Creamy Cucumber Dressing

Most Ukrainian retailers offer three kinds of salad dressing: balsamic vinaigrette, Italian, and Caesar/some variation of a creamy dressing. It's all hit or miss, as in the first two are always a hit and the last one is always a miss. This summer I've been dreaming of the salad dressings that my colleague Ninetta used to make back in Alaska and share with us at lunchtime..... so good! Unfortunately she never revealed any of her secrets, so I'm searching the internet on my own.

Here's my first attempt: Creamy Cucumber Dressing (recipe courtesy of Chef in Training via eighteen25)

Good for Ukraine- you only need a cucumber, lemon juice, sour cream, sugar, and salt.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ukraine Anti-Packing List: EFL Teacher Version

This post is written for English teachers headed to Ukraine. Why is it called an anti-packing list? See all that red? That's stuff that I hope to dissuade you from (or at least make you think twice about) bringing. Meanwhile, things in green are things that have been really useful to me during the past year. Everything on this list came from my packing list, from what I actually brought with me to Ukraine last year.

So grab some tea and read on. May this list help you with your packing decisions and help you plan for a successful stint as an English teacher!

As you read this, please keep in mind-
  • I work with adults, not children.
  • I live in a major Ukrainian city. It may be a lot more difficult to find some of these items in a smaller city (or village).
  • A native-speaker helps me shop. If you don't speak the language well or don't have access to a native-speaker, it may be easier to bring something from home instead of trying to track it down in Ukraine. 
disclaimer: this post contains Amazon affiliate links in case you find them useful!

Also see: The (regular) anti-packing list and shopping in Ukraine

What do the colors mean?

Red = Waste of Space
Yellow = Potentially Useful
Green = Get it!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guns, heat, and storms

A clear summer night sometime last week
Tonight we sat on the balcony and watched lightning strike the edges of the city. It seems like there are thunderstorms every couple of days and the period between them is filled with insufferable heat and waiting. At home it's not so bad; we've pretty much taken to living 24/7 in the room with the LIFESAVING DEVICE! I mean, air conditioner. At work though, it can be a bit stuffy. I teach in an old elementary school rented out for the evenings, so when I unlock the classroom on these 90+ degree days it feels like the inside of an oven. Opening the windows only lets in all the noise of the traffic- racing motorcycles, city transit. The students have been a bit cranky recently and I suspect it's because of this. The men sit there stoically, sweating. The women fan themselves dramatically. Now I know why the schools here are closed for the summer!

On a brighter note, yesterday I got to teach in a different classroom. It was quieter and slightly cooler and plastered in military propaganda. What's inside a bullet, how to throw a grenade, how to disassemble a machine gun. This is the гражданская оборона (civil defense) classroom. "Service in the armed forces of Ukraine- test yourself and become a real professional!" reads a big banner around the room. It wouldn't be quite so shocking if the students here weren't 8 years old. My students, the adults, told me that they'd received this kind of education too, except that females studied "softer" subjects like caring for the wounded. I talked about this with D at home and he told me the same story: in fact, he fired a Klashnikov 2 years before his first kiss... and he wasn't a late bloomer.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Walking the whale

Attempts are being made to teach Kит proper leash etiquette. Can you tell I've grown up with dogs? :P So far he's not a fan. He insists on being carried around like some pedigreed canine. At least he accepts the harness- in the beginning he would dramatically drag his legs behind him like a crippled cat so we never got very far. Now he's fine until the leash gets clipped on. Then he usually sits down and refuses to move unless there's some serious coaxing going on.

Still, he gets a little better every time we go out. We walked down to this riverside park yesterday, the farthest we've ever gone together. A man with a Stalin mustache was leaning over the river with a fishing pole. He abandoned the pole to come gruffly admire Кит. After the walk Кит got a bath, one of his truly least favorite activities despite his namesake. There's no peacefully wallowing around in the water for this guy! He has a bathtime toy- a plastic strawberry- but he far prefers to play with it when the the tub is dry. Aside from baths and walks, don't worry, he lives a relaxed life of cat snobbery.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Business Lunch

(To hear the audio files, click on the title to view the entire post)

Business is a word that has been successfully integrated into the Russian language.
business plans

Listen to these familiar words:
бизнес ланч
бизнес тренинг
бизнес митинг

When I first heard the term бизнес ланч back in 2006, I thought it was the funniest borrowed phrase ever. It doesn't refer to an actual business lunch, ie. discussing business over lunch. In fact, according to this Russian blogger such a meeting would not go over well in Russia! It simply means a pre-set lunch menu that's usually offered between noon and 3-5 PM.

Business lunches are cool: they're cheap, they're fast, and they flat-out just sound intriguing. This kind of meal is very popular in Ukraine. It's served as a three-course affair and is available almost everywhere.

Where to go in Kharkov for a business lunch?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

True Love 2

(For the original True Love, click here.)

We revisited the popular lovers' bridge this weekend. Lots of new locks, so apparently summer is a good time for love in Ukraine!
Together for the centuries