Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A great weekend.

Enough about the snow and cold. That should be understood by now.

I have mentioned before that I haven't really been experiencing the dreaded "Stage Two Culture Shock", that things have been pretty stable and steady and normal... the only problem was that some days, especially weekends, end up being kind of lonely. It turns out that sometimes there is just a... cycle of cancellations... mozhno skazat'. Someone get's sick, and everyone else's schedule is thrown in a loop. I kept hearing the words "ne poluchitsa" (it's not going to work out) and day after day I was preparing for lessons/meetings/get-togethers and finding myself only turning around and going home. Alone.
Well, people were right, and that... "cycle" seems to have passed, and things have started to pick up again.

I also had felt that I was kind of stuck in a rut... not that anything was wrong or that I was unhappy, necessarily... but I had fallen into a sort of comfort zone, in a negative way. I got stuck in a repetitive routine and every day had been pretty much predictable and unfulfilling. Get up, go running, do my workout, take a shower, do yoga, get ready, eat, go teach a class or prepare for some class and go teach it, come home, maybe stop at the store, think up another lesson plan, eat dinner, waste time on the internet, go to bed. Repeat. I do walk a lot, but I never seem to leave this same 3-kilometer radius (the Center Region and Sovietsky Region of the city).
This isn't Adventurous Helen. This is Boring Helen. It had gotten to the point were any variation of this was some kind of big and scary deal... like needing to go to a store located out of the center. Or calling the Kyrgyz Consulate in Ekaterinburg to ask about the visa pickup times (which I still haven't done yet).
This worries me. How is this winter break going to be the Epic Adventure of a Lifetime if I'm stuck in a rut like this?

I think this weekend things have turned around a bit. A colleague named Larisa invited me over for dinner (Fish, salads, and vodka!) with her family and something felt internally...uplifted. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe because I was actually out somewhere on a Saturday night after midnight, which hadn't happened yet this month. Maybe because her daughter and I plan to go to a club this next weekend. Maybe because we all sang songs together in Russian and English and other languages. Or because we spoke only in Russian and I felt like I was fluent again (my fluency/proficiency in Russian tends to rise and fall periodically). Or because we talked about more deep, pressing, sensitive topics and found ourselves in agreement from the bottom of our hearts. Or maybe it was the vodka. Who knows.... but something feels like it has turned around.
The next day, a student Anilya came over to record acapella songs in Russian and Bashkir. Finally, some work done on my other project! I'm also working on some music to perform, with Volodya at the dinner on Thursday and sometime in December... we'll be singing Katyusha as a duet.
My neighbors so far have never complained...

Today I received news that my visa is extended and all documents are in order, and tomorrow I will go to the train station and take care of the first leg of the Epic Adventure of a Lifetime... a train ticket from here to Krasnodar, leaving December 24th.
(Yay for all of Christmas Day being spent on a Russian train! Santa can find me somewhere near Volgograd or a Astrakhan or something...)

Also tomorrow... a lecture I need to give in front of students I have never seen. At least it's in English, I may have had to give it in Russian, although we found a person to translate so things can go faster and easier.
Next week, no excuses... KYRGYZ VISA TIME.

Progress is being made.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On winter, cold, and snow.

Today was rather mild. It was about -5C, or 23F.
The same cannot be said about last weekend, when the temperature dipped to -16... or very close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Did I mention it is only November... and therefore not even actually winter?

The first snow fell on October 18th and has stuck around ever since. The entire city is covered in at least three inches of snow and it is not going anywhere until April.
This doesn't bother me, though. This is what I expected. It's RUSSIA. Russia has a COLD CLIMATE. Sometimes Russians will try to tell you that it's all a stereotype, that Russia is not actually all about snow and cold and fur hats... but in reality, 9 months of the year, it IS.
Even Sochi, the vacation place, the "warm" climate there is about the same as New York. In the winter, it snows there too. The south of Russia is no Florida... it's not tropical... and when you consider the high altitude there... forget it.

My dear home, Chelyabinsk, is exactly your typical cold Russian city. In January, it can get as cold as -35, and has gotten as cold as -40 (the convergence temperature, it doesn't matter whether it is F or C).

Now we have the debate of whether or not I am in Siberia. Technically, I am, since in the broad definition, Siberia is the land to the east of the Urals. If you ask most people, however, I am most certainly NOT in Siberia, I am in the "South Ural" region.. Siberia would begin in Tyumen or something.

This reminds me of another geographic oddity... Russian relation to mountain ranges. I guess that, Russia being an enormous country, everything is all relative... so, even though it takes a three hour drive to see any mountains, Chelyabinsk is "на Урале" (literally, "on the Ural"). I remember that Maykop (Adygeya) is considered на Кавказе, even though you can't really see any mountains from the city, but I figured this meant that it was undoubtedly Caucasian with respect to culture....but really, to call Chelyabinsk a city in the Urals would be like saying my house was in the Berkshires (again, a three hour drive away). Even so, everything, from  хлеб (bread) to banks to snowboards to shopping malls/you name it.. is "Ural'sky". Nobody calls this place "Siberia."
A friend the other day said that technically, the border of the Siberian Plane is actually located in Chelyabinsk Oblast, about an hour East of the city.

Siberia or not... it doesn't matter. This place is COLD. And it's only getting colder.

Along with the cold weather comes some perplexing cultural differences... and привычки (habits).
So. Last weekend it was -13.
Me: It's time to wear the dublenka (Fur coat. sometimes I call it a shuba, although its not actually a shuba... a shuba has fur on the outside, a dublenka has fur on the inside and the hood)
Russians: It's only November, it's too early to wear a dublenka.

Yesterday. It was only -3.
Me: I still wear the dublenka, but over only a short sleeved dress and without a scarf or mittens. I'm fine.
Russians: Aren't you freezing? You have no scarf!

Yes, outside it's cold, but inside it's still room temperature, or even warmer.
Me: I'll take off my warmer layers. If it's warm inside, I can wear short sleeves like normal.
Russians: Aren't you freezing? It's so cold outside!
Me: But I'm inside!
Russians: And why do you walk all the way home in the cold? Why don't you take the bus? You are going to get sick!
Me: Cold weather doesn't make you sick, being around sick people makes you sick!

Let's not even go there with the babushkas that see me in my running clothes. My running clothes, these days, consist of:
Spandex pants
A short sleeve shirt or sports top
A long sleeve Under-Armor running shirt
A shapka-ushanka (looks goofy, but something has to prevent frostbite on my ears)
A sweatshirt, which I remove when I get to the track.

But no scarf or gloves and especially no fur coats are necessary when running.... but I'm not even going to try to explain to the babushki how when you run, the temperature feels ten to twenty degrees warmer.

It's never a good idea to argue with a babushka... but we'll keep score this way. (The score being the argument over whether or not exposure to cold weather is the actual cause of getting sick) People are getting sick left and right. Everyone I know who works or goes to the university has been sick at least once.... but not me (knock on wood). Not even a cold. My guess is because I live alone (and not in a dormitory), I don't spend all day in the university around sick people, and I walk usually instead of ride buses or marshrutkas crowded with germs. I maintain a healthy lifestyle... and it has nothing to do with whether or not I wore a scarf today.

Don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that being around people is gross, or that people or gross, or that I don't feel bad when someone is sick. I just think that it has much less to do with the number of layers you pile on both outdoors and indoors than people want to think.