Happy 2013, dear readers! New Year’s Number One is officially in the books (still to come: Chinese New Year and Buryat New Year). 2012 was a big year for me—I beasted IS, I graduated from college and into the real world, and braved a DC Summer and a Siberian winter. It’s been a magical year from start to finish, and I have so much to be proud of and so much to be thankful for!
One of the best things about living in Foreign Land is that even the most ordinary and mundane things become a magical adventure, so your whole life is full of excitement. Something as ordinary as shooting the breeze with the mailman who delivers stamp-less partially addressed letters at 9PM and doesn’t know where to deliver the letters—or waiting for the plumber when it’s raining in your bathroom– or buying a ticket (with two stamps!) to Mongolia from a kindly salesman who, instead of yelling at you for not paying with exact change, takes you on a journey to find someone with change and makes sure you have his number in case you run into any difficulties—has the potential to become a highlight for your blog.
Of course, there is plenty of real excitement and adventure here too—especially this time of year. New Year is Russia’s favorite holiday. Take all the secular fun of Christmas and all the fun of New Year and all the crazy of Russia, and mix it all into one day, and that’s Russian New Year—that’s Новый год.
Friday night was the Academy’s New Year’s Party. You may think it strange to have a New Year’s party three days early—but it’s just like an office Christmas party the week before Christmas in America—except bigger, fancier, merrier, seven hours long, more meat, and a lot more alcohol. I had been warned at least twice “not to let anything surprise me if people are really happy and having a good time,” so I didn’t let anything surprise me (well, almost…)—but it was certainly an interesting evening!
First, I need to make you jealous of the food. It was a veritable feast. It was a prime example of the origins of the Siberian “If I were a vegetarian, I would die” mentality that has managed to infiltrate even my grammar lessons. For appetizers, there were two kinds of cold smoked fish, chicken legs, stuffed chicken pieces, salo (extra-salty pork fat), sheep meat (a Buryat national dish. I was instructed to tear it apart and eat it with my hands, so I did), salad with fish in it, and meat broth (traditional Buryat soup that you just drink up out of your bowl). And bread. Dinner was salmon and rice (with one tiny piece of broccoli). And, a couple hours later, they brought out pork and boiled potatoes. FEAST!!!
And then, of course, there was the alcohol. There’s no way of telling how much you drink at these events because, as I had already learned at Baikal, the man at your table is constantly re-filling everyone’s glasses—even if you’ve only taken a couple sips. And even the slowest and most cautious drinkers inevitably fall victim to the multitude of toasts and the старая русская tradition of downing vodka “за одну” to a chorus of “молодец” from your Russian counterparts—and to the very feat of drinking for seven hours straight.
As the night went on, everyone became drunker and drunker and merrier and merrier, and it was a really great time. There were performances and competitions and Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. There was much reuniting (and toasting…) with my old pals from Baikal. And a very inebriated babushka from the next table over pulled me from my chair with tremendous force, dragged me and my colleagues onto the dance floor, and started moving our arms for us—so there was a great deal of dancing as well. Even if you don’t want to dance or feel awkward dancing with a crowd of older people, you just have to go with it and have a good time. Even if you still don’t know quite how to respond to the use of “I love America!” as some sort of pickup line. Even if a random guy grabs you around your middle from behind and says “conga line.” Even if you don’t understand the Russian word for conga line (hint: it’s not “konga liniia”) and are a little slow on the uptake, you just have to go with it and remember that THIS IS RUSSIA and have an awesome time.
My actual New Year’s Eve, while not as wild and rowdy as you might expect, was perfect for me. After a flurry of last-minute scrambling to make plans (honestly, who would have thought it’d be so difficult to find something to do on New Year’s in Russia?), I was informed on the afternoon of the 31st that I would be hosting a small get-together at my place for a few friends and friends of friends. So I whipped up a big batch of mac and cheese (with sausage, because one does not simply serve meatless meals in Siberia) and readied myself to ring in the New Year. It ended up being just three of us, eating and talking and listening to music. At midnight, instead of watching the Ball drop on Time Square, we watched Putin’s address to the nation, and instead of Auld Lang Syne, there was the Russian national anthem. Then we sat back and watched the fireworks from my window. And that was our New Year. We stayed up and talked (and ate…) late into the night, and around 4AM, another friend showed up to liven up the party. So all in all, it was a calm night, it was a long night, and it was a nice night. There is a Russian superstition that the way you meet the New Year will be the way you spend the whole year. And if I can spend 2013 happy and in good company like I was last night, then I’m sure it will be a wonderful year.
And tomorrow I depart for the world’s coldest capital city and the land of Genghis Khan. I leave you with those adventures to look forward to. Until next time, my dears!
Шэнэ Жэлээр! (That’s Buryat for “Happy New Year!”)