Usually, in my blog, I’m able to come up with some overarching theme or topic, thereby imposing some kind of order and meaning on my life here. This week, try as I might, I can’t find a common motif to tie it all together. And I suppose that’s a little more true to fact—it’s not so much a mosaic as a random collection of unrelated images all forced together on one canvas we call life. So here’s a little bit of my life-collage for you.
Tis the Season… This is the time of year when normal people are stressed about finals or just overflowing with Christmas spirit. For the first time, I’ve got no final exams to worry about—my impending first student loan payment due tomorrow plays grim testament to that. Even most of my classes have come to an end, so lesson planning is at an all-time low. In a way, I’ve got all the time in the world to devote to some Christmas extravaganza. But, also for the first time, this is also a year without a real Christmas. Despite the fact that it’s been “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” since mid-October, I’m not exactly in the full spirit of Christmas. I can blast TSO and sing insults at Mr. Grinch and watch the Christmas classics all I want, but it’s hard to maintain the holiday spirit outside my home where everyone else is preparing for the end of the world and then, maybe, New Year. My remedy to the situation, of course, is to force my students to sing Christmas carols and eat Christmas cookies.
Tragedy… Perhaps one of the worst things to wake up to on your Saturday morning is a slew of grief and bad news. You’d think the 6,000 between me and my homeland would dampen the blow of a national tragedy, would distance me from the pain. But the events in Connecticut really affected me on an emotional level—even more than these sorts of things usually do. Maybe it’s because I’m so far away and isolated among people largely untouched by the tragedy—maybe it’s because it was children—or maybe it was just the straw that broke this camel’s back. Whatever the reason, I was very upset. How can such evil even exist??? But then, you just have to remember all the good in the world too, and you can hope that the good will overpower the bad: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/moments-that-restored-our-faith-in-humanity-this-y (this cheered me up quite a bit)
You can dress her up… After drowning my sorrows in sauna, I decided to drown them some more with some “retail therapy.” No, not really—but I did need to buy a dress to wear to the Academy’s New Year Party. I didn’t end up buying anything yet (for the record, when they tell you they’ll give you a 50% discount, that discounted price is already the one on the tag), but I would like to note that in Russia, the fitting rooms come equipped with a pair of shoes that you are required to wear when trying on dresses. Apparently, I am incapable of deciding that I like a dress unless I am also hobbling around on a random pair of ridiculously oversized heels like a clumsy bear. [this clumsy-bear effect is further enhanced when you find yourself half-naked out in the open in the middle of the store as the saleslady tries to free you from a zipper-less corset prison of a dress that she forced you to try on]
Celebrate good times… Some of my friends are leaving Ulan-Ude this week to go back home. So this weekend, we gathered to celebrate the good times we’ve had together and start saying our farewells. It was a gathering of many people that I’ve met over the course of the past couple months. It was a nice time, full of warmth and merriment and happy feelings. Once more, I got to experience the ever-enigmatic game of Krokodil. Everyone I know has different rules for how to play it, so the instructions must first always be argued and hashed out in a muddled compromise, resulting in a slightly different game every time. This version was particularly entertaining and fascinating to me because—contrary to American charades, where you act out people and things and movie titles and whatnot—we were miming really random strings of words—along the lines of “privatized pig” or “kangaroo eats a tomato” or “mother of a gopnik” or even “Easter bunny on coke.”
Siberia gets scary… People here love to ask me if it was scary to come live in Siberia. And they seem a little surprised to learn that I found it exciting rather than scary. And once you’re here, meeting all these wonderful people who take such good care of you, you wonder—what is there to be scared of? I’m not locked in some gulag being chased by hungry bears or anything. It isn’t any scarier or more dangerous here than any other city I’ve visited. But on Sunday morning, I was reminded that maybe there is something to fear after all.
It was 8AM, still dark and mega-cold, and I was outside my apartment building trying to go inside, when—to my horror—I found that my key-sensor thing wouldn’t work and the door wouldn’t open. It was too cold. The lock on our door doesn’t work from the outside when it is colder than -30 (which, apparently, it was). I was stranded on the street.
I waited for as long as I could stand for someone to leave the building—which, given the temperature in the -30’s and my lack of snow pants and my increasingly-disapproved-of-for-winter boots, wasn’t long. But it was 8AM on Sunday, and there was only one light on that I could see on this side of the building: no one was coming. Hating to be the obnoxious good-for-nothing that disturbs people from their slumber but with my very survival in mind, I called Darima to let me inside. Unfortunately, she wasn’t home. She called someone else for me to let me in, but this person didn’t answer the phone. Meanwhile, my legs were tingling, and my toes were beginning to ache from the cold. Darima told me to knock on the first floor window so the komandant would let me in.
This, of course, was easier said than done, as even the first floor windows were out of comfortable knocking-range, no matter what I climbed on. But thank goodness for alcoholism! There were plenty of empty bottles and cans scattered about in the snow for me to choose from to throw at the window with the light. After a few tosses, a man’s face appeared in the window. I yelled about my predicament and gestured at the door, hoping he’d understand and let me in. He opened the window to ask if I live on the third floor and if I speak English and then told me a number to dial on the keypad and disappeared. Dialing the number was useless, of course, because I obviously was on the street and not at home to answer my own doorbell (which, for the record, doesn’t work anyway). I started to panic hardcore. There was nowhere nearby that I could go take shelter. I couldn’t get inside. I was going to freeze to death on my own doorstep. Yeah, Siberia is scary. Luckily, a minute later, a woman—my savior—left the building and I made my break for warmth and safety.
Now, of course, I can laugh at the situation. But I have to admit: it’s going to be a loooong winter. It’s already averaging about -30 at night and in the mornings, and it’s only going to get colder—so how am I ever going to get into my building? Is every day going to be a battle against the elements? But I guess the real question is this: why on earth would they build a door in this frozen corner of Siberia that doesn’t open when it’s colder than -30 degrees???