Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chilling in Chelyabinsk.

I was almost going to title my blog this... but decided against it (Thank God.)

I must say, after the first push through the 72 hours without actually sleeping, I have probably had the smoothest transition out of the Fulbrighters here in Russia. My living situation is ideal: I get my own apartment, walking distance from the university, and it's a really nice place. Plus, for this first week, I am living with Natalia Kommissarova, a colleague of my host Svetlana. She speaks English (although we usually speak Russian) and has helped me settle in and has introduced me to people and places around the city.

I also get a whole week to adjust before I start any regular classes. I'm not exactly clear on what I am doing... but my main classes will be at the State Pedagogical University, in addition to assisting other classes at the Music School and the Institute of Culture... AND three times a week, assisting the governor with his English before his trip to Chicago this month...???? It seems like I will be pretty busy. I better continue all this week with my nine-hours-a-night sleeping pattern...

Every person I have met has been BEYOND hospitable. Natalia insists on making me dinner every night she is here, and other colleagues of Svetlana spent the last two days showing me around and putting up with my mundane concerns such as cell phones and sim cards and registration and documents... I only hope they realize how much I appreciate all this. Sometimes I am afraid I may seem unappreciative because of my overall fatigue. There are times when I have been unresponsive and energy-lacking,,,, but it's not because I am not enjoying myself and don't appreciate their help... it's because immense jetlag + not being able to speak my native language ALL DAY wears me out pretty quickly. I hope this will change soon.

Did I mention... my apartment has A WASHING MACHINE? Yayyy, no need to go to and pay for a laundromat!!! AND it's got a really snazzy shower with a million buttons and functions in it, including a radio. It took me a while to figure out how to set the right temperature.

Now. About the city.
Chelyabinsk is known as the "capital of the South Urals region". It wants to be known as "the Switzerland of the Urals." To be brutally honest, it's got a long way to go before that can be true.
The city was founded 275 years ago this week, named after the fortress Chelyaba. (Yes, I arrive just in time for the City Day celebration! More about that later) I am still not entirely sure why its coat of arms features a camel. During Soviet times, it was the main industrial center for metallurgy and T-34 tanks, and earned the name "Tankograd."
Before I arrived here, one of my concerns was the radioactivity in the region. About fifty years ago, Chelyabinsk Oblast (the region) was the site for a lot of top-secret nuclear research, one of which went terribly wrong. The areas around Lake Karachay and the Techa River were very contaminated and known to be dumping grounds for nuclear waste.... eeek...
....but they are located far, far, away from the city and any place I might go, and are completely filled in with cement.
One would hope.
Until 15 years ago, the Oblast was a closed-off region... NOT necessarily because of radioactivity, but because of the military production bases. There are still some cities that are closed off because they are mainly artillery production centers.

This all being said... most of what I have seen of Chelyabinsk Oblast is absolutely beautiful. The region has thousands of lakes, and a few hours drive takes you to the Ural Mountains (more about this later).

Anyways, the first night I arrived was the beginning of what appears to be a week long celebration of the City Day, or the city's anniversary celebration.

Here are a few pictures from the parade the next day:

                                            In historical costume

I tried to get a picture of this guy but kept missing. The creature-looking thing in the middle, in the blue with the gray hair, is a mascot of some metal company. These people are really proud of their metal companies. All  workers can march in this parade to represent their industries... you have to love this Soviet legacy.
                                    Cossack kids!!!!

And now more pictures from City Day:

                                         Please!! You have to take a picture with our visitor from America!!!
                                            With the handsome Bashkir
                                                         With my own Ural Cossack knight

Anyways. Aside from the holiday celebrations, let's keep it real. Chelyabinsk is... well.. not known to be the most beautiful city in the world. Many people used to Western European cities or Moscow and St. Petersburg would find this place very ugly. There are some parts of it that are indeed very ugly. The outskirts of the city are mainly factories, and not "green" factories in the slightest. Apartment buildings do look very Soviet.
Entering the city:

It really is the epitome of "it's what's on the inside that counts." The city looks dirty, but the people are wonderful and the center is just like any normal city. The buildings sometimes look depressed from the outside, but the insides are clean and colorful and nicer than any other apartment or dorm I've lived in. The "Soviet" look is something you just kind of get used to, and even has its charm in a weird way. Another thing worth mentioning is how all around the Oblast (and maybe in others?) there was this tendency to construct the  gas pipes ABOVE the ground... so you see them everywhere... and it looks kind of weird/ugly/interesting.

I'm still not done yet...

Yesterday, Natalia's neighbor, a tech person at the university named Olga (it's been less than a week and I already know three Olgas) (oh yeah, and how convenient is that, a computer/technology person nearby to help me set up my internet??) drove me and two friends of hers to Taganai National Park to climb Bely Klyuch (white spring), a mountain in the Urals... it is about 1000 meters... higher in elevation than most of the New Hampshire mountains I've seen but not exactly the Caucasus. The Urals are interesting not because of their height but because they divide Europe and Asia. It's fun not knowing exactly what continent you are on!
Olga is awesome. I can't believe how nice she was and generous with her time, she even offered me to drive me to Bashkortostan to celebrate my birthday weekend! I only felt awkward, because again, the language plus fatigue is just very taxing. She and her friends only spoke Russian, and along the way we picked up two other Russians, and there was just SO MUCH RUSSIAN. I understood everything, or maybe 90% of the words (the other Russians spoke pretty fast) but I sometimes just didn't have anything to add, or did not quite process everything fast enough to respond... so I was just pretty quiet for the most part, and I hope I didn't come off as unfriendly or unappreciative. Olga was very understanding though. But I just felt my brain exploading and my language getting progressively worse.

Last few pictures for the day:

                                            I'm so hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh I can see Bashkortostan!

                                                   Valentin and Marina, Russian friends

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