Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Peace In Not Understanding... Russian... Yet

When I was 16, I boarded a plane and ended up in a place called Switzerland. To my delight, I heard German [almost] all the time. I would sit for hours in school and hear German. My host family members would speak German.

And this all started happening before I spoke German.

Likewise, when I was 18 I boarded a plane and went back to Switzerland where I was surrounded by French (although there was a lot more English mixed in).

Now, four years later I'm 22 and surrounded by Russian.

Last night I went to a "concert gala," a show where I heard bounties of Russian on end for around three hours (mixed in with a few flicks which didn't always have words or had subtitles). In the stores I hear Russian. Amidst crews of folks, I hear Russian.

And it's ok.

I've been so grateful to all of the English-speakers for talking to me in English and explaining things, but I don't think they realize that I'm actually comfortable with not understanding. I'm totally okay if they speak to each other and I can't understand all the time.


Because I know the less English I hear and the more Russian my ear is around, the sooner I'll learn Russian. I know that the sooner I learn Russian, the sooner I can talk to almost anyone I meet in Russia. I know, at some point, I'll have to just hear Russia and fine with it being now.

English is a hard language to have as a first language if you want to learn another language because it seems that almost everyone speaks, "a little bit of English" (as they'll all tell you). Because of this, in foreign countries, a lot of folks want to either practice their English with you or they want to help you out. I don't mind bits of English here and there, and I enjoy having social company I can understand (so I'm not ungrateful) but, in this way, I won't learn Russian.

I need to reach a certain level of fluency, though, for people to feel like they can speak to me in Russian. Does this mean I should go to a language school? Maybe just head to Siberia to a small village where no one speaks English?

On the train, no one spoke English and it worked out fine. I learned a lot. I think I need more situations like tha to be able to gain mah Russian skillllllz.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Kite Flying at the Kremlin

This morning, Nikita and I walked to the Kremlin and flew the happy shark kite around.
Very happy shark.

How To Speak With Mägi and Help Her Learn Your Language

I need to translate this into Russian.

1. I want to learn your language. I am ok with not always understanding everything. Unless it's really important for my safety that I understand, go ahead and just say it in Russian.

2. If you can gesture to it or point to it instead of saying the English word, please do that while saying the word in your language. Give me a chance to repeat after you. The less English I hear, the better. In the right context, chances are I can guess the English word and don't need to have it clarified.

3. It's likely I won't be able to say a word right after hearing it just once - it's hard to hear the distinction between oh and ah, sometimes. When you repeat it, feel free to say it suuupppper slow. Extra slow. Crazy slow so I can catch the vowels.

4.  Simple sentences work best. If you know I've learned a word or two and can find a way to use them in the conversation, that's great!

5. Feel free to point out things all the time and tell me the name in Russian. The more times I hear the word, the better. But I'll never learn the word unless I hear it. Over time, my brain will make the connection.

6. Just to warn you, as I learn to make sentences, I will frequently play with my words just to practice different forms of the sentence. It might not always make sense. "I am a centipede."

7. I love being corrected. Sometimes, though, I might not be at the grammar level to understand. My first goal is to just be able to communicate the idea - perfect grammar comes later.

8. I know it may be easier for you to speak English with me, but this is the only way I'll ever learn to communicate in Russian which is important for me to do. If you want to work on your English for your sake, feel free to let me know and we can set aside time where we just speak English. Going back and forth between the two languages in daily conversation is harder for me as I try to transition into thinking in Russian.

8. Know that I'm really grateful! Thank you for taking the time to help me learn your language. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

This Old House & Vologda Milk

Olga, Nikita, and Vova took me out to this rad museum/exhibition of old Russian homes from different areas.

I think the highlight, for a lot of us, though, was the playground toys. They were awesome!

I also enjoyed, though, visiting the houses. The people back then were shorter.

The houses themselves were pretty amazing.

At one museum, they let me try some of the Vologda butter. Vologda is known for their dairy products. I thought, at first, that it would just be like all other butters -- but they were right! It really taste different, sort of like caramel.

Later, Olga took me to the store where I got kefir and this other delicious something (later it was identified as being sort of a sweetened-block-of-cottage-cheese). Once again, I wasn't expecting a huge difference in taste, but they were wonderful, rich, and sweet. Guess it's in the grass? And, the cost for the cheese and the kefir? Around the same as $1.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Maybe Vologda

I got a job offer in Vologda.
It comes with housing.

Dude. I could have a Soviet apartment and a magic-cooker.
It's sounding very appealing right now.

Vologda is a happy place.
It would start in 3 months.

I just need to decide.

Day 9 Srapbook: Toilet Paper, Gardens, and Mud

If left to my own devices, I will wander on until I find these roads.

The roads with the dogs that pretend not to notice you exist and where the houses are crumbling in in a majestic display of time. I'm grateful I wore my hiking boots here. They might get me some peculiar looks, but my ankles are happy and in tact and I can tromp right through dem mud puddles.

When I asked about gardening in Moscow, someone from Couchsurfing looked at me like I was crazy. Gardening? Moscow? According to him, the food would be toxic.

Welcome to Vologda.
Friday Market.
Plants for sale.

They kept the toilet paper on the outside of the stall and no seat on the toilet.

I walked over 10 miles on this day.

I attended an Animation Festival. Got interviewed. Rode in a taxi (the festival paid). Me rad folks. This all belongs in its own post...

Egor met me there (during an interview with a person who works with Sesame Street and Beavis and Butthead -- by the way, it's great when Russians say Beavis and Butthead in a Russian accent) and we went to this monastery a bit out of town. He offered me a job in Vologda - it comes with a flat.

When I got home, Nikita and Olga had over wonderful company. I enjoyed getting to know them.


I am in Вологда right now.
Day 8 in Russia.

It's around 300 miles from Moscow to Vologda (similar dinstance from Seattle to Spokane).
8 miles on the train.

Vologda has been such a beautiful breath of fresh air after Moscow – literally. The air here is pretty fresh and it's only a short walk to the river. Moscow, I loved you but, well, I'm just excited to be in Vologda. I'm excited to be in a city I feel like I can grasp.

Vologda is considered to be a “small town” with it's 300,000 person population.
That's not a small town.
I keep trying to tell them that. Not sure they believe me.
Haines – now that's a small town.
Vologda is a full on city – traffic jams and all.

They're known for their cheese, milk, and their wooden house-decor. How do I describe it? They have intricately carved old details on their houses. It's beautiful. They're old and hand carved... hand carved. Dude.

When I arrived at the Vologda train station, Nikita was there to pick me up. When my plans for Vologda didn't work out, Couchsurfing was there for me. I contacted a woman named Nina. She was busy, but she put me in contact with three of her friends who have since taken pretty good care of me.

Nikita and Olga are... I feel like any words I use won't really do them justice. Sweet? Delightful? Caring? Wonderful? I know I use wonderful but, really, they are! They've been married a little less than a year.

So, while Olga was at pilates, Nikita picked me up and we set off through the maze of Vologda. We weaved between soviet apartments and side streets. We crossed muddy patches on lengths of board and, before I knew it, we were entering into a flat. He made some tea and it wasn't long before Olga showed up. Both speak pretty good English. Fluent? Not quite. But excellent communicators. I've been impressed.

This is the part where I guess I would explain what we did together in the house. Music, jamming, delicious porridge (barley, I think?) with mushrooms and onions, conversation, and playing with Cat.

That night they blew up an air mattress to put on the living room floor, where they would sleep, and I slept on the couch. I think normally they fold out the couch for themselves to sleep on. So, not only were they sharing their couch wiith me, it was like they were sharing their bedroom with me. I was grateful that they were willing to give up some of their personal space so that I could have a place to sleep. Cat continued to play through much of the night.

Painting the Trees White and the Streets Grey and Everything Else Green

One of the smells that will forever remind me of Moscow is that of wet paint.

Something I noticed as I began to wander the streets was that the people were painting everything.

Every little fence (a lot of the grass is fenced off with calve-high fences).
Garbage can.
Green. Yellow. Black. White.

And this was, in general, my first impression of Moscow. In Moscow, they paint everything.

Later, I was told that this happens twice a year and I just so happened to arrive during the first sunny weekend of the year (just like what happened in New York and D.C....) so they were all busy prepping for spring.

This wasn't a here-and-there observation, they were painting everywhere. Oh - the distinctive smell of paint.

I then saw a lot of people cleaning up the woods and the streets. My host, Olga, even spent yesterday evening cleaning up with the people of her work. The whole community seems to come together to do this.

Outside of the school, I saw children picking up the trash that had accumulated in the snow.
I saw folks in the park.

One other thing that baffled me was the painting of the trees.

All around town, in Vologda, trees had been painted whited. In fact, I saw some ladies painting the trees white.

Vologda? Why you paint your trees?

Nikita later 'splained that it was against bugs. Egor concurred.
The Internet said it was to reflect light to keep trees from heating up too fast after a cold winter.
I liked thinking it was just for decoration.

"Like in Alice in Wonderland," Egor said.
We're painting the roses red...
We're painting the trees white...
Paint the grass orange?

Sliced Pears

Breakfast was delicious.

Banana + Carob + Walnuts + Dates blended and put on pears and also wrapped in rice paper.

How to Know Where I Am

The best way to know where I am is by visiting my Couchsurfing profile:

Look at my "Last Login" and it'll show you where I was.
Chances are, that's where I am at the moment.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Train from Moscow to Vologda

Things sometimes take a bit more effort to work out when you don't speak the Russian... or little effort at all as you're rendered useless by your incapacity to express yourself beyond "electronic billet."

My host had graciously bought me a ticket online to Vologda – but she forgot to print it out. I had asked her to print it out but she's been impressively super crazy busy and forgot to print it out. She called them and they told her that I would be fine with just showing my passport.

While you can explain that when you speak Russian, I had no way of communicating that. I had really wanted to have a ticket because I knew something would probably go wrong if I didn't have it. And... well... my instincts were right. I definitely needed that ticket.

My train was set to leave at 10:05 AM. I arrived an hour early to catch my train. When you don't speak the language, you need to always set asside an extra hour of time to allow for miscommunication and complications due to the fact that I can't speak Russian (notice the problem is that I don't speak Russian, not that they speak English – they don't need to speak English and I understand that, which is why I am learning Russian).

I found the board that told us what track my train would be departing from and when “1” showed up, I headed over to the “1” train. They asked for my ticket – I just had a passport. Eventually a group gathered and talked about me in Russian. It went like most conversations where they asked if I understood and then talked about me. I understand bits – I just don't know how to talk back, yet.

Eventually, a nice young man (he looked around 25 years old) was the one who was “assigned” to take care of me. I followed him into the station (running at his side) where he tried to get me a ticket at the machine. He asked for my confirmation number and, luckily I had written it down. My host had said I didn't need it but I wanted it just in case.

I guess I hadn't written it down correctly, though, because no matter how many times we tried, it didn't work. We did every combination of numbers and passport numbers yet it didn't work. Time went on and we couldn't communicate at all. I tried to call my host but she was not reachable – she had the number and the email with my ticket. I didn't know anything.

Eventually I called another host I had had who was fluent in English and she talked to the man to ask if I couldn't just use my passport. He said I couldn't.

At 9:50 AM (remember, I'm leaving at 10:05 AM), I got a hold of the current host. She talked to the man but, by that time, I think he was already sorting things out at the ticket counter. I'm not sure how, but magically I got my ticket (she probably looked up my name).

He signaled for me to follow him, again, and we quickly skittered to the train. Coach 10. Seat 28.

As we approached my train, he said, “Rochka?” and signaled “to write.” I handed him a pen and he wrote his name and number on the back of my ticket. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with it. Am I supposed to call him later on? Are we supposed to hang out? I'm tempted to call him once I'm back in Moscow and see what happens – after I can speak a few words. I'm confused because I thought he was pretty pissed off at me. But, I guess we're supposed to keep.. in.. touch.

He talked to the train lady. The conversation went like this.

“La la la la la la.”
“She doesn't speak Russian.”
“Doesn't speak Russian?”
“Do you speak Russian?”
*I look kind of blank*
*I say that “I don't know” in Russian*
"No, I guess she doesn't speak Russian."
"No Russian?"

At that point, she became my friend and smiled at me and made sure I was taken care of. She made sure I put my passport in a safe place and showed me my seat. Each time she went by me, she gave me sweet smiles and made sure I was ok. Russia - you rock.

I was sat with two men, a father and a son, and women who I thought was the mother but she turned out to be just like me, traveling alone.

I sat in silence as they chatted about. I started to study my Russian but after around 10 minutes, got very sleepy because I had only slept for 4 hours the night before. I rested my head on my bag and then they gestured up. Above our heads were bunk beds. I climbed up onto my bunk and ended up conking out for a solid three hours. Three hours of sleeping bliss. Much better.

When I got up, we were all feeling more social and started to talk a bit. Well, attempt to talk. The woman offered me tea and a caramel, which I enjoyed. For the rest of the trip (4 hours) she provided me with tea. I got out my phrase book and started to work on phrases and she tried to figure out as much as she could about me through my broken Russian.

I really enjoyed connecting with her. Her name is Leuba. Another woman, Sventsa, boarded the train and all of us chatted together. Once again, chatting is my doing little words and them being super patient. By the end, though, I had learned quite a bit of Russian.

This is how I'll learn Russian – when other people stop speaking English with me. I don't think people realize that I don't mind not understanding. I don't mind if they speak only Russian.

A young man came over, age 25, and just sort of sat across. He said, “Hi,” which was the signal that he wanted to practice English with me. Or he wanted to help me. I don't know. I didn't know how to say that I would rather just keep speaking Russian. His English was decent, but, in this situation, I was happy with just Russian. I actually found it more tiring to try to decipher the English than try to figure out Russian.

My favourite part o fthis picture is either Leuba's low-cut shirt above us or how incredibly uncomfortable Ivan and I look.
The old ladies wanted us to sit next to each other.
And they wanted us to take a picture with each other.
And they wanted him to give me chocolate.
Oh you babushkas!
Stop it.

I went back to studying Russian but he kept asking me about things in English. Honestly, it started to become exhausting. I'm ok with speaking English a lot of times, but this was a situation in which I wasn't quite in the mood for it. I hopped back onto the bed, fell asleep, and, voila, we were in Vologda.

I'm going to miss my train-lady-friends and the man. They were all a continued example at how rad the Russians are.

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