It’s getting harder and harder to come up with thoughtful and comprehensive themes for these blog posts of mine. I suppose that means I’ve settled into some kind of routine—or at least as close to routine as is possible in Russia. I get up in the morning; I go to Russian class (still waiting for Chinese to just come to me through osmosis); I teach; I come home, make dinner, and do lesson plans; I sleep. Teaching’s starting to go a lot better. There are still difficult moments (for instance, when substituting for a new class at the last minute), but mostly things are going pretty well. Their minds are mine to mold, and I’m starting to like having that kind of power. This week I had lessons about “sticking it to the man” (thank you, Jack Black and School of Rock), about fairy tales, the elections, and intercultural communication. On Friday, my students were actively engaged and conversing, and they were even laughing—which I mark down as a big win.
Thursday I held my second English Club meeting. Only five students came this time, but I think it was a success. I was afraid that I would be awkward and boring. But if I was, then my students are really good at acting like they are interested and want to be there. I did a little presentation on stereotypes and cliques in American youth culture (Russia, meet hipsters and nerds!), including some music associated with each stereotype. They asked about what kind of music I listen to, so I introduced them to Rise Against. Then they wanted to know about Detroit, so we talked about that for a while (it’s nice to come from a city that most people have heard of!). After that, my students wanted to watch a film, so we watched Yes Man (Jim Carrey is apparently pretty popular over here).
The weekend has been a huge workout—for both my body and my spirit. Friday after work, one of my co-workers took me to a Datsan. I almost had the opportunity to meet a Tibetan Lama and ask him about my future—but the Lama had left for the day. So my future remains a mystery. That evening, I went to salsa class again. No babying this week: it was straight into the dance circle with me. Between the Russian, the bad Spanish, and the language of dance, I think maybe I’m starting to get it. Plus, after an hour and a half of dancing, -10 degrees Celcius (that’s 14 degrees Fahrenheit) doesn’t seem so cold anymore.
Saturday began my new weekly sport regiment. Way back in the day, when I went to Lake Baikal, the Rector had promised to get me on the schedule at the Academy’s sport complex—one of the many perks of my status as an honored guest. So on Saturday morning, Darima, Slava, and I spent an hour playing tennis (right now I’m probably the worst tennis player there ever was, but in 8 months, I’m sure I’ll be a pro). Then we played around on the weightlifting equipment for a while. By this point, we were sufficiently warm, so we ran back home in our shorts and didn’t die of the cold.
In the afternoon, we went back to the sport complex to use the sauna. This was my very first Banya/Sauna experience, and it was perfect. After getting dressed, you pick out some tapochki (slippers made out of flip-flop material), a cushion/mat, and a cap. I came across a real gem in the cap collection: a woolen army-green cap with a Soviet red star on it. To my friends’ amusement, I instantly claimed this priceless gem as my sauna cap, my protector from thermal burns on my head. You then head into the sauna and sit on your mat and sweat under your cap and turn really red. It was over 100 degrees Celcius in the sauna, so the objective is to sit there and literally boil. Then, you come out of the sauna and jump in the pool for a swim. Wash, rinse, and repeat. After the cold water, the sauna doesn’t feel quite so hot—it feels wonderful, and you can feel the sauna-magic improving your health. And back in the pool, to the sauna… I left the sauna that afternoon feeling fresh and invigorated and warm.
That evening, it was time for another workout for my spirit. Pia had invited me to a mysterious “spiritual event” with some of the people I met last week and some new Russian friends. It started out as a Baha’i prayer ceremony, and then it transformed into a deep conversation, an exchange of opinions on the meaning of life and the nature of human beings. Perhaps it is the vicinity of Baikal’s powerful energy, or the location in the heart of Asia, or some effect of the harsh climate and beautiful nature of Siberia, or the unique multinational, multicultural quality of Buryatia—I’m not sure what, but something about life here in Russia, in Ulan-Ude, really lends itself to these philosophical and spiritual questions. Maaaybe, by the end of winter, when there’s nothing to do but sit around contemplating the meaning of life, I’ll have it all figured out.
On Sunday, I was sore all over and completely worn out. But one must not spend the whole day lounging under a blanket in her pajamas—one must persevere! I had made plans with a couple of my co-workers to go кататься на ролики. I was entirely sure, but I was under the impression that this meant we were going roller skating. We met up outside the Academy, hopped on a tram, and set off across the city (heated seats in trams? I’m sold!). It was a really fun time! I hadn’t been to a roller rink in eons—possibly not since the previous millennium. I definitely enjoyed the company, and I enjoyed racing around on Russian rollerblades. Afterwards (and after much deliberation and hunting), we stopped at a café for a snack—and planned for all our future ventures.
In conclusion, there isn’t a muscle in my body that isn’t sore and angry (fortunately, your spirit doesn’t get worn out from exercise!). But it was worth it. As kids these days are saying, you only live once.