Sunday, September 29, 2013

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Fall Edition

A collection of recent snapshots : )

Chestnuts + puddles
D's leftover childhood pastime
Some sunsets offer beautiful vistas
Others bring rain clouds
And speaking of rain... nowadays everyone carries a зонтик (umbrella) with them just in case.
I found this cardboard box lying on the ground one afternoon. It reads "Oil and its byproducts".
The Ferris wheel in Gorky Park
And of course, a view from the top of the Ferris wheel! The window decal says Thank you for cleanliness and order and I've got to say, those cars are always incredibly clean. No graffiti, no garbage, no rust!
Rode the cable cars with a new English teacher from Maine. She successfully passed the "drink a beer by the time you reach the other side" challenge.
Mushroom season has opened!

Which fall picture is your favorite? Mine is the oil box- it was such a random surprise!

Friday, September 27, 2013

The domovenok

I bet you didn't know this, but there are actually 4 of us living together here in this apartment in Ukraine.

And Domovenok.

Yes, a real domovenok (Russian: Домовёнок), a mischievous little house elf that gets up to some trouble every now and then.* I always knew he existed because sometimes I'd walk through the kitchen and think: whoa, there's seriously no way that 2 people could create that many dirty dishes!! But dirty dishes aside, he's usually a pretty decent sort, kind of like a guardian spirit, a keeper of home and hearth.

There are things, though, that can set him off: a lack of respect, a lack of snacks, or a disregard for traditions.

The first time he showed his displeasure was via a torrent of scalding water that geysered across the kitchen on a cold November night. Then, the following spring, he tried to incite a war between us and our downstairs neighbor. He followed us to the next apartment where, bearing an understandable grudge against the miserly landlady, he single-handedly took out the entire building's heating for 3 winter months.

I didn't know that a domovenok likes to travel in boots or I might have checked my winter shoes more carefully before moving to our new apartment. He must have stowed away in a boot for the trip across town, but he didn't wait long before hopping back out and getting upset about something. This was his first "housewarming" effort:
Remember a (brief) mention that the new apartment came with a new flat screen TV? Well, we thought that it would be awesome to connect the laptop and the TV to be able to watch things on the bigger screen. The result of this was not so much a convenient viewing experience as an unexpectedly powerful explosion that instantaneously destroyed both laptop and TV.

Then things were quiet. Who knows, maybe domovenok took a late summer vacation. But now he's back and he's making up for lost time. Thursday morning 3 things were accidentally dropped on the floor: a glass storage jar (which shattered into jagged edges and fine glass dust), a bag of yogurt, and some jam. At 1 AM that night, as we prepared for bed, the neighbors came knocking angrily. And now we've got a kitchen that looks like this:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2 years and counting

Well, that lingering cold has finally packed its bags and left. It's such a relief just to feel like a human being again. There's been so much going on lately that it's almost impossible to find time for sitting on the sidelines. Every day it's early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.... maybe minus the early to bed part. In fact, another Ukrainiversary (yes, that's Ukraine + anniversary) has slipped by unnoticed. So Ukraine, here's to you! It's good that we're not sick of each other yet : )

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weekends of walking

Gorky Park in mid-October of last year
In about 30 minutes we're headed out to door to a) meet up with a newly-arrived teacher and b) take in the beauty of Gorky Park in early autumn. I hope we'll get to ride the cable cars across the park to Sarzhine Ravine. It's always a beautiful ride: spring, summer, or fall.
Sarzhine Ravine, last October
Recently D and I spent an afternoon walking through several of the city's other parks. We'd just seen the new Riddick movie and decided to take a (very) roundabout way home.
Fall's paintbrush has made its first stroke?
Everything 32 Dental Clinic. 32 reasons to smile. Fillings from 80 uah ($10)
built in August 1964
you may recognize this picture from Facebook : )
Somewhere along the way we stopped to gather chestnuts, D's fall tradition. Кит (the cat) also loves chestnuts; he'll chase them around for hours until they've all disappeared under the fridge, under the couch, or under the bed. Last year it took us months to track down all his каштан (chestnut) hiding places!

Okay, off to the park!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Ugh, 3 weeks of being sick!

September's first Tuesday brought a charming visit to a public hospital on the outskirts of town. I briefly met a handsome surgeon with opened-necked scrubs, a hairy chest, and some major bling (Mr. T-worthy gold chain) and then got sent to an x-ray clinic in Холодна Гора where I did pretty well at pretending to be Ukrainian until the x-ray tech asked me what hospital I'd been at. Um, number 13? Number 17? Number 1?  (For a more detailed "I really shouldn't find this funny" hospital story, click over to Mark's blog.)

During classes on the following Tuesday, a violent cold made its appearance. Since it was only the second week of the new schedule, I medicated, tried not to breathe on students, and pushed on.

This weekend D came down with the cold, and then this Tuesday night- surprise, surprise- I went to bed fearing that I'd wake up as a brain-eating zombie. Seriously, what is going on?!

So I've been at home today, as has D. The cat seems slightly perturbed that all his daytime beauty naps have been interrupted but other than that, it's been a decent chance to program (D) and shamble about in a bathrobe and look over my growing notebook collection (yours truly).

Stationery has always been my thing. In university I would buy armfuls of Japanese and Chinese letter sets to read all the funny mistranslations. This obsession followed us to Ukraine where in 2007, we picked up this children's schoolbook at a Simferopol market.
What do you think? Is it just a simple question or is there a second meaning? :p

Monday, September 16, 2013

A summer's worth of street art!

Long ago, during one of this year's rare car rides, we spied a fantastically-embellished wall running down Akademika Pavlova street. It covers about 1.5 kilometers, all the way from the Akademika Pavlova metro stop to the Studentcheska metro stop.

Several months later, a certain intrepid companion and I set off to explore.

There were lots of strangely cool things.

And some cool strange things.

And some rather creepy images.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Where to eat in Kharkov

It seems like a lot of local restaurants very quietly closed up shop this year. We'd show up at a place hungry only to find empty windows and locked doors. It bummed me out for a while, and then I decided to treat the situation as a call to action instead. Here's what we've discovered-

Churrasco Bar

First up, a restaurant that opened on July 26th and has already attracted a lot of attention-
Churrasco Bar, ул. Петровского 30/32 (next to Paris restaurant)
This place is not for the faint of heart. The chalkboard sign above proclaims "There's a lot of meat here, get yourself in here!!!" and that's exactly what they'll serve you: a heart-attack-inducing quantity of meat.

We showed up last weekend at 1:30 PM to an empty restaurant full of "reserved table" placards. Turns out that the grill doesn't fire up until 3 PM so we got to have a nice long chat with the waitress as she tried to convince us to stay and snack on salads until the food was ready. It was a little too long for us to wait, but we did get a great explanation of how the system works: pay a flat sum (starting at about 130 uah) and then there's no limit to how much meat you can grab from the constantly-circulating waiters. If you're into the exotic, the selection of cuts even includes things like organs and bulls balls.

Although I can't find the exact business hours anywhere, the waitress said the grill stays open until about 1 AM daily and she strongly recommended making a reservation (067 579 76 00) if you want to come in the evenings/on the weekend. According to their vk page, you can grab a reasonably priced business lunch (40 uah) during the week. I'll write more about this place once we actually have a meal here, but it was unusual enough to merit mentioning beforehand.

1000-year-later update: we did make it to Churrasco eventually. Here are a few grainy photos from that meal (I think the staff kept things so dark in order to hide the fact that there was actually very little food served, haha.)

Probably good stuff... if you can actually get a waiter to bring you some!

Anyways, we left Churrasco and headed next door to Paris... but they also didn't open until 3 PM as well so we simply turned around and walked back down Pushkinska St. to one of my favorite restaurants...

Grill House Bistro

Grill House Bistro opened earlier this year and, despite the name, is a freakishly awesome Mediterranean "fast food" restaurant.
вул. Пушкiнська, 58
They serve falafal, hummus, pita bread, and shawarma at great prices (20 - 40 uah) and invite you to a free mini-salad bar with each meal. They've even got hamburgers, french fries, and beer on the menu. Definitely, definitely go here if you're in the mood for a quick meal!

(PS: You can see more photos of the food and the interior on foursquare.)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Tractor Factory

Even though this is a city of 1.5 million people, it's never a big surprise to see a tractor chugging down the street in broad daylight.

They'd sputter past our window all the time when we lived at the end of a metro line. I've got a video of one red tractor slowly making its way down the street, followed by a honking wedding procession of luxury cars. Tractors even show up on Pushkin street downtown, a stone's throw away from upscale restaurants and windows displaying designer label clothes.
It turns out there's actually a tractor factory here- the Kharkov Tractor Plant, in operation for the past 83 years. It's called ХТЗ (pronounced hay ta zay) and the nearby metro stop is named Tractor Factory. When I first moved to Kharkov and started asking questions about the city, students always labelled ХТЗ as:

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A second spring

This week it feels like I'm the only person not wearing a jacket on the street.

The sky is always grey.

Old men and women are starting to sweep up dead leaves into tidy little piles.

Flowers are defiantly blooming a final, triumphant stand.

Yesterday we went down a lane that was colored in autumn. It turned out to be a false alarm, as the chestnut trees which lined that street had some kind of disease that turns them from vibrantly green to orange and crumbly (apparently it's too expensive to cure them).

But false alarm or not, fall is coming.

Goodbye to the flowerbeds of summer.

Goodbye to the watermelon stands whose vendors sleep next to the fruit at night.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to find work in Kharkov


Tomorrow's my first day of work and just like last year, I'm kinda nervous. And haha, just like last time it's rent collection day again, except this time our landlady is a fresh-faced twenty year old who's really sweet and undemanding. Score one point for the new apartment!

This fall I'll be working about the same amount as I did in the spring. My schedule currently has 13 class hours on it but undoubtedly something will be subtracted and other things will be added. The biggest change is the addition of a few IT companies, which means more daytime hours (vs. evenings).

When I first started in the EFL scene here in fall 2011, it was to work at one language school, roughly exchanging 30 hours a week for about a grand per month.

It wasn't until spring 2012 that my first private student appeared. (And then disappeared.)

That December I got my first independent position at an IT company, teaching 2 hours a week.

And then suddenly, this year, it was like a switch was flipped.

In February, D and I took on our first online proofreading tasks, which continue to show up periodically in my inbox to this day.

In March, I left the secure paycheck of the school, dropping down to just a couple hours a week there, and began with 2 private students.

By May, it was 5 private students, 1 private speaking club, the IT company, and one class at the school. Now it's 5 private students and 3 IT companies.

By the way, as far as teaching English goes, my current schedule is a light schedule. Most people work more than that. I've turned down and postponed lots of offers to keep time open for writing on this blog (am. the. slowest. writer. ever!) and designing awesome lessons.

Кит offers to help out with lesson planning!

Since it's fall and the English schools in Kharkov are frantically hiring, there have been a flurry of emails from all over the world asking about what it's like to teach/work here. Here's a couple of the most common questions. If you've got another question, just drop me a line in the comments below!

When is the best time to get a teaching job in Kharkov?

Plan to contact English schools in July and August as they start to plan their fall schedule. Most schools will just take you as you are, but some (American English Center and possibly International House) prefer training or offer it themselves so it's best to get in touch with them earlier to accommodate the training schedule.

metro ad for Green Forest,one of Kharkov's numerous English schools 

That said, the majority of schools are continually on the prowl for a teacher or two. Don't worry too much if you show up at another time of year.

Do I need training to teach English in Kharkov?