Saturday, February 26, 2011

In Their Own Words

I have a confession to make - I've become one of the very teachers I used to seethe over back in university and high school. "When are we going to get our tests/essays back?" I'd wonder. "I want to know my mark! What else could they possibly be doing with their time? It's not like they have anything better to do than mark my paper!" Yep, I was that obnoxious.

My, how the tables have turned...

Now I know better. Sure, the first few tests I got to mark back in October and November held a bit of an allure for me. I took pleasure in using a green pen (apparently a red pen is too psychologically negative or something) and making tidy little checks and crosses and writing appropriately encouraging remarks like, "Awesome!" "Super!" "Impressive!"

But now it's February, the excitement of being a "real, live" teacher has worn off a bit, and the stack of tests I need to mark are taunting me.

I've made a bit of progress in the grammar section (snore! so boring), but its really the writing part of the tests that are the most entertaining and my favourite to mark. For my class of teenagers, the instruction was to write an email to their foreign friend describing their favourite place in Russia (the majority of them wrote about Moscow/Mytishi, which is interesting to read about how they view their - and my adopted - city). I also realized that "John" must be the standard go-to English name, because almost ALL of their letters were addressed to this ubiquitous John fellow. Whoever he is, he has a lot of Russian friends!

I know that I go on a fair bit in this blog about how much I love Russia (while at the same time bemoaning certain horrible things like the cruel, cruel weather) so I thought that today, I'd let my students do the talking.

Here are some excerpts from their tests, in all their original glory. Take a peek and get a feel for what Russian teenagers love about their country:

Katya -

Hi Helen!
I've just got your letter cause I had some problems with my Internet. Thank you for discribing your favourite place in your country. By the way, you want to know about my favourite place, yeah? You know, its quite difficult to take just one place and maybe it sounds strange cause I told you about my travelling to many many other countries, but in Russia I've never been more far than Moscow Region.

So I'll tell you about Red Square. Yep, maybe it'll sound boring for you, cause everyone knows about it, and its usually the first assosiation with Russia (with vodka, balalyka and dancing bears!) but its beautiful, really.

I go there quite often (and just over there is a place called "Ohotny Riad", there're many cool shops, expensive but cool - o yeah, I love shopping! So...Red Square. You can't even imagine how its beautiful, especially when you see it in different seasons and than compare it's views. There're always many people. maybe its not really good but they're just all over the world, and you just feel this atmosphere, hear different languages. Oh, I can't discribe it, its something that you just must see. But of course Red Square is just a drop in the rain, because you know, that our country is THIS big (no, of course bigger than this letters!)

P.S. Have you alredy seen my last post on twitter? Dude, if you don't you must see it!!!


Hi John!
Hope you're well! Now I want to tell you about our wonderful place! I very like this and come here every weekend with my friends or sometimes with my boyfriend. It is amazing park in Mytishy. Here I've got butterflies in my stomach (Ed. note: "butterflies in my stomach" is one of the idioms we learned in the unit - she's incorporating new phrases into her work...awww!) because I have many memories from this place.

At summer here you can feel yourself how in farytail, because many trees, birds and waterfall enjoyed your imagination. It is so beautiful! It's wonderful place for first date with you girlfriend! It's so romantic. Of course with your friends you can have a funny day. If it will very hot you can run in waterfall. At night it light bright colours!

At winter it's looks not worse! I don't like winter (Ed. note: that makes two of us), but here I like it, because it's so great!

Sophia -

Hi Sally,

Oh my dear, sorry for not writting so long. I have so problems with my school. What's up? You've asked me about my favourite place, and I can tell you about it. Of course, about my ages, I can't name some country or foreign city because of seeing not to much of them. This wonderfull place make my dreaming and remembering past happens. This's such a perfect park, where not to much people, so I always meet there with my friends, not for party, but for speaking or having picnik. There's a lot of trees and grass. I like it very much.

So I hope I've discribed you this park, wanna walk with you there and your cakes (it's so tasty!!!)

Oh no, I should go for an English lessons, and what's so horrible is the test on it! (Ed. note: at least she didn't mention the English teacher!)

Polina -

Dear John,

In this letter I'd like to tell you about some special place in Russia, that means a lot to me. I think you've guessed that its the place where I was born.

Of course, there are some other towns in Russia that are very beautiful and famous for the history or monuments, but in my opinion, Mytishchi is the best place in the world. I really advise you to visit our little town. You might find a lot of interesting activities here. In winter you can go skiing, skating or playing some winter games as hockey. It's also very funny to play snowballs! You can't imagine how marvelous russian forests in winter! (Ed. note: Definitely agree. Russians forests in the winter are BEAUTIFUL.)

If you come to Mytishchi in summer you also won't be bored! Here are some lakes and rivers where you can swim in a hot summer day. And the nature in summer is also incredibly beautiful! And of course in any season you can visit our museums, theatres, art galleries. I really love this town! It's so calm...and people are very kind and friendly.

Yulia -

Hi Liza!
Ok, you gave interesting theme to think in your last email. Well, I don't know, I love all my country but I think the most important place for me is Moscow.

I'll tell you why. I love this city first of all because its place where I born and lived some years. It's also mean a lot to me cause I've a lot of good friends with whom I spend my childhood and nowadays. I like to walk with them. I think all my free time I give to my friends, cause we always hang on the phones or send emails to each other. I think I must say thank you to this pretty place cause I've only good memories about it. In my opinion Moscow is a great city and'll be great.

Margarita -

Dear John,
I am very glad to hear so interesting and good news from you! But now I want to tell you about my favourite and beloved place in Russia. It means a lot for me and I really like this so beautiful and nice place. I live in the capital of my great country Russia. And of course, I love Moscow. There are my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, my best childhood friends. This people are very important and they do a lot for me.

The area where I spent my childhood time isn't very beautiful, but it's only mine and only there I can feel calm and enjoy everything. Also I have got some places where I just like to spend my free time. They are Arbat (old street, where you can visit some museums, interesting shops and drink tea in one of the cafes), park Kolomensjoe (it is a big island of green grass, churches, trees in the Moscow, it's really amazing!) and the Red Square, where I just walk. That's all I think.

The second Margarita -

Hi John!
How are you in your new flat? I wanna know how you have celebrated that you bought a flat in the centre of London! I might study in Oxford (I think you're shocked) I just sent them my project about medcine for radiation poison and now they wanna to talk with me about this seriously. I know that London means a lot to you but I wanna tell you bout city that means lot to me. It's St. Petersburg.

Oh, I know that you will say, that it's cultural capital of Russia, and there are many museums, but I love this city for another things. I love walking wide straight prospekts (avenues) in the morning when there aren't many people. I love having lunches in the parks where I can sit on the green grass and looking at people. I love standing near the Neva (river), feeling cold breeze and watching at the sky, and this sky isn't dark. (Ed. note: Margarita is writing about the White Nights in St. Petersburg, a time in June and July when the sun doesn't set until around 3am for just a few's supposed to be an other-worldly experience - lots of celebrations and parties happening as well! - and I'm hoping to experience that for myself while I'm in Russia!)

Valeria - (a name I always want to pronounce like Malaria!)

Dear Kate,
You asked me to write about important place in my country that means a lot to me. I was thinking about it very long time and at last I understood that the most important place in my country is my town Mytishi. It's my native soil so I feel very pleasant and comfortable here. Besides, I was born here so there are no more places which I can know better than Mytishi.

I know every place in Mytishi: all roads, all school, all cafe. Mytishi is very small town, I know, but it's very dear and interesting city. There are a lot of museums, picture gallerys, monuments, chopping centre, etc, so it is not boring to live here. Oh, of course my best friends. All my lovely friends live in Mytishi and it is another reason why I can't live anywhere else.

Masha -

Hi Lana? How are you?

You asked me to tell you about my favourite place in my country. It is Kaliningrad. My sister, her husband, and her sons live there, and I have been there about ten times.

It was a German town, but after the Second World War Kaliningrad became a Russian town. There is the Baltish Sea near Kaliningrad, it is cold but I like to swim there. There are many beautiful places in Kaliningrad, for example, the Immanuil Kant Cathedral. There are many universities there, the most famous is Kant's Kaliningrad university. Immanuil Kant is a German scientist and he was born in Kunigsberg. Kaliningrad was named Kunigsberg when it was a German town. The most beautiful street is the Bogratinov Street; I would like to live there because it is a very beautiful town.

Dmitri - (the one boy in my class! He puts up with a lot!)

Hi John, how are you?

So now I have a time to answer on your question. Its hard to say what place in my country a lot, but I'll try to answer you on this question. I think the most meanful place for me in my country is Mytishi when I live and grow up. I think so because meanful place for person is that place where he had a memory of his friends, family, or somebody else. So Home means for me a lot, because I live wiht my parents, that mean for me a lot, they teach me how to become a good person in the future.

I like to walk about streets with my friends. I always have a good time with them, we do sport and have a lot of fun. So if you think that I'm not right, try to think about your best place and think why it's important for you. I'm sure that the reason will be people are really close to you. So you know now what place means for me a lot, and I wait for your answer what place means for you a lot.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The International Sign for "Help!"

A few summers ago, I did an immersion program in a tiny Quebec village, Trois-Pistoles. While I was there, I did a lot of biking up in the rolling hills of rural Quebec, which is an absolutely gorgeous part of Canada.

One day, I was biking by myself and passed a farmhouse while out on a gravel road. All of a sudden, three big pit bulls, barking and snarling, came bolting out of a barn and raced towards me with murder in their eyes. I guess the girl on the bicycle was seen as a clear threat to them or something.

With my imminent death approaching, I froze in terror. The only thing I could do was yell, "Au secours!"

The house with the evil dogs.

Luckily, the dogs stopped right at their property line (maybe there was one of those invisible fences installed?) All I knew was that I was lucky to escape with my life, and I promptly bolted. As I pedalled furiously back to my host mother's house , I realized with a rueful laugh that the whole raison d'etre of me doing this immersion program had been achieved - my first instinct in the face of death had been to yell for help in French! I was pretty proud of myself!

Flash forward to today. Instead of a bike ride, I'm out running. And instead of three lean, mean pit bulls, there's a mangy, starved-looking stray dog growling and yapping at my ankles. This time, however, I was too scared to formulate words (I think Russian for help is pronounced "pomaGEETye").


At a decibel level that was loud enough to attract the attention of everyone on the busy, bustling Lyotnaya Street in Mytishi.


(Not only does everyone already think I'm a freak for running - apparently the only suitable form of physical exercise for women here is light swimming/floating and walking around in stilettos - now I'm the freak runner who SCREAMS. Great.)

Anyways, some woman shot me a baleful glance and muttered something to the dog that caused it to trot off, looking as harmless as the Easter Bunny and making me look like a hysterical dog-hater. To be clear, I don't hate dogs. I just don' them.

At least I figured out today that knowing the Russian word for "help" isn't necessary. When you really need help (or when you're just convinced a stray dog is going to take a bite out of your calf)...

Screaming works.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Defenders of the Fatherland Day

Today is Defenders of the Fatherland Day (День защитника Отечества - dyen' zasheetnika otaychestva), a public holiday here in Russia that marks the date in 1918 during the Russian Civil War when the first mass draft into the Red Army took place. It used to be called Red Army Day, and was celebrated in honour of anybody serving in the Army, but nowadays it is more colloquially known as Men's Day (День Мужчин - dyen' moozhchin) and is the male equivalent of the March 8th holiday that is coming up - International Women's Day. I guess the guys deserve their own day too...

Anyways, Valentine's Day isn't a very big deal here - more attention is paid to February 23rd and March 8th. I looooove Valentine's Day, whether I'm single or in a relationship, but even I have to admit that it was nice to get a break this year from the hit-you-over-the-head-with-it over-commercialization of V-Day. There were no cards, no candy hearts, no sappy Cupids, no garish pink-and-red decorations in the shops...when I mentioned Valentine's Day to my classes, the general reaction seemed to be that it was a Western holiday and that it should stay in the West.

Defenders of the Fatherland Day, however, seems to be an entirely different matter. In the shops, I saw several cards (most of them rather cheeky, featuring buxom cartoon women thanking soldiers for their sacrifices) and small gift bags featuring aftershave, cologne, and other "manly" necessities. And the entire country got the day off work!!

That was awesome - I've been feeling somewhat overwhelmed lately with all my classes, and I was just given a new class that starts next Tuesday night. So the chance to sleep in and spend the rest of the day with friends was very, very welcome!

I went bowling (uhhh, you don't need to know my score...I'm too modest to brag here anyways!) and then to a photo exhibit with Tatiana, Vlada, and Tatiana's new flatmate, Kolya, called "The Best of Russia:2010." It featured "the best" (I'm not sure how they were picked, but they all truly were incredible!) photographs of Russia throughout the year. The categories were Nature, Daily Life, People, Architecture, and Style. Unfortunately my camera's battery died about halfway through so I don't have that many pictures from the event. The photographs were all eye-catching and provocative in different ways - some were funny, some were full of pathos and tragedy, others were majestic and awe-inspiring.

Polar bears at the Moscow zoo cooling off
during Summer 2010's record heat wave

Vlada, Tanya, and I next to a cute photograph
- the elderly woman
in the background is covering her husband's eyes!

During the summer's heatwave/smog attack, in
Moscow with the Kremlin in the background

Crazy people getting ready for a "healthy" plunge
into freezing water!

As adorable as I thought this photo was, there's
still no way I'd be that cool about sharing my oatmeal with
a mouse!

Loved this photo outside the Kremlin walls

Best friends :) now these women look like nice babushki!

"That's how you're going to pose?"
"I can't do the 'one-arm-in-the-air' pose, my mum
said I pose like that in every picture of me!"
Hence...awkward pic of me not knowing what to do
with my arms.

To the men in my life, Happy Men's Day and thank you for being such terrific guys!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

(Frost) Bite Me

I'm not in, shall we say, the best of moods right now.

It probably has something to do (yes, even in my weakened state right now I am capable of sarcasm) with the fact that I just spent over an hour in -30 degree temperatures waiting for a bus that never came.

Stupidly, I had decided to drink a big mug of tea right before braving the cold, so I spent those lovely 70-odd minutes outside desperately trying not to pee. Which meant that I couldn't do my usual aquafit-gleaned moves to keep warm (when it comes to public humiliation or not turning into an icicle, I choose humiliation...hands down!) because if I had so much as attempted a jumping jack or hamstring curl, get the idea! So I stood there and slowly became part of the general, snow-encased landscape.

Why, out of all the countries in the world, did I choose RUSSIA to fall in love with??? Why couldn't I have become obsessed with, say, Jamaica? I think maybe Russia and I were better off in a long-distance relationship, when I could love her from afar (ie, somewhere warmer). Now, being so up close and personal with her, I'm having second thoughts about our compatibility.

Thank goodness its February. The end has to be near...right? Right?

Until then, I'm living in my housecoat and drinking hot, hot tea - but only small cups (shot glasses? We've got enough of those here). I've learned my lesson!

Attempting to warm up!

Monday, February 14, 2011


Happy 24th anniversary, Mum and Dad!! I love you so much!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

When Naomi met Volodya

This annoys me soooooo much...

First of all, I don't really have much respect for Naomi Campbell. All I know about her is that she's a supermodel from the 90s, she's like the emaciated version of Russell Crowe (but don't let that fool you, she can be just as vicious with a telephone!), she was involved in a blood diamonds scandal, and she's dating the Russian oligarch Vladislav Doronin, who according to Colleen and Stuart's friend Nina (she lives in the same building where Doronin has a penthouse suite), is a complete wuss who got freaked out by Nina's mum when he was forced to share an elevator with her and no security.

So when I saw that Naomi had interviewed Putin for GQ magazine, I had to roll my eyes. What could a vacuous model who's had numerous encounters with the law have to say to the prime minister of Russia? Well, not much apparently.

The whole interview is just as vapid and gag-inducing as I imagined. Regardless of how you feel about Putin, the fact remains that he is one of the world's most powerful men and there are surely more interesting and globally important issues to discuss with him than how he stays fit. (Answer: by swimming the butterfly. Naomi informs us that she was just in the Dead Sea in Jordan and "it was the first time I floated in my entire life." I feel so much smarter knowing that now.)

The worst part of the interview in my opinion was their discussion on the erotic calendar that the MGU female journalist students put out back in October in honour of Putin's birthday. I blogged about it previously here. Now my feelings have just been magnified by Putin's response to it:

"I like the girls a lot, they're beautiful. I like the calendar but it's not the most important thing. As for the other one, well, in almost any country, probably in Russia in particular, it's fashionable to criticise people in power. If you come out in support of someone like me, you're going to be accused of trying to ingratiate yourself. The girls in the erotic calendar were courageous and they were not scared. As student journalists, they couldn't fail to understand what might have been said to them after doing this. Nonetheless, they were not deterred and did the calendar anyway. So, frankly, that's what I liked the most."

There are so many things wrong with this! The girls were COURAGEOUS for posing in lingerie with inane speech bubbles over their heads saying things like, "You put the fires out but I'm still burning"?? In my opinion, that's not courageous or commendable, that's cheap and like, two GIANT steps back for women's equality. Plus, of course the women were not deterred from doing the calendar. A) They're going to get noticed, and B) It's not like people who AGREE with Putin are risking their lives or anything.

I'm just really disappointed and disgusted by this article. Not cool, GQ.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

My name is Katie and I have a problem.

I've never smoked, I don't do drugs, I don't drink to excess (especially in comparison to Russians...yes, it is a stereotype but aren't most stereotypes rooted in truth?) ... I never really thought of myself as a person with addictions. Unless its to peanut butter. But sadly, that has fallen by the wayside since moving here. Anyways...

Apparently I DO have a problem. According to a quiz I took with my student Oleysa today, I AM A HOARDER.

It shames me to admit this to everyone. "Hoarder" has a horrible connotation, dredging up visuals of dirty, crazy cat ladies or sad, pathetic old men who fill their houses with so much garbage that they have to dig a tunnel through it all to get to the little corner of space where they sleep. I swear, I'm not like that. I'm not that bad. *Note of desperation creeps into voice*

In all seriousness, though, Oleysa and I were reading an article today about various people and their hoarding habits. One man hoarded lizards (!) of all things, and then one day the police came into his house to discover the lizards feasting on the poor guy's corpse. As you can imagine, this article was incredibly disturbing.

At the end, there was this cheery little quiz - Are YOU a hoarder? It asked. Pfff, obviously not, I thought to myself smugly. But then we started filling out the quiz...

Do you keep:

- plastic bags? (Yes. But only because I re-use them at the grocery store, so that's ok, right? I'm environmentally conscious!)

- bags from fashionable shops? (Um. Yes. I am a tad pretentious, I suppose. But the bags are usually really cool and stylish, and you can use them again...)

Oleysa started giving me weird looks at this point...

- empty wine bottles? (Hah! No! I exclaimed exuberantly, relieved to find something I didn't hoard. But then...wait a second...I remembered the two cat-shaped bottles of wine I kept from a few years ago to use as a decoration in my bedroom...hoarding cat-shaped wine bottles? Does it get any more pathetic than that? I'm starting to look like a hoarding alcoholic cat lady now!)

- empty jam jars? (No. Seriously. I hate jam. Score one for me, by default)

- old clothes? (Sigh. Guilty. But I LOOOOVE clothes. And you never know when something's going to come back in style, right? "Even if it's twenty years later?" Oleysa asked me, raising her eyebrows. Hmm. Good point. But this will take some coming around to. Which means my piles of clothes I was forced to leave back in Canada are NOT fair game to sisters or mothers! :)

- old newspapers? (Again, yes. But...putting on a pompous, "all for posterity's sake" voice, I am really just selflessly helping out the future generation of historians here by holding onto newspapers from important dates in history. I kept the front page of the paper from September 11, 2001, for example. And my great-grandmother kept the front page from November, 1947 - Queen Elizabeth's wedding! I have it framed in my bedroom. So maybe I come by my hoarding tendencies legitimately?)

- old magazines? (You never know when you might want to read some recycled fashion tips for a laugh. Or use in an art project. Or donate to a musuem in fifty years. Or...)

- pens? (Pfff. What kind of loser hoards pens?)

- ticket stubs, theatre programmes, etc? (But they're mementos! Important artifacts! Perfect to use if I ever get around to scrapbooking!)

Okay, so as you can see, out of the list of possible hoarding items, I hoard all but two. This is pathetic. Oleysa was laughing while we were going through the list, but it was definitely the laughing AT you kind of laugh.

I've gotten a lot better since coming to Russia, because I basically had to fit my life into two suitcases for a year. I assure you, I don't have to crawl through a tunnel of rubbish to make it to my bed. I'm totally fine with the limited amount of clothes I packed for here, and I have only held on to ONE vodka bottle and a few ticket stubs (but those are so easy to ferret away! They hardly take up any space! Hmm...justifying my behaviour again) Most importantly, however, there are absolutely NO cats or lizards here.

This is progress, people!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday's Winter Wonderland

(and the alliterative titles are back! :)

Today I had a serious case of the February blahs. I'm sick of winter!! However, I knew just the cure:

Watching Glee on my new computer (best line of the episode:
"Getting tackled hurts. And not in a Mellencamp way") and
enjoying some Nutella

Not a lot of news-worthy things have been going on so far this week, so I'll keep this low on words and just post some of the pictures I took while out and about today, enjoying all the snow we're currently getting dumped with/trying not to get soaked in wet slushy dirt by some jerk in a Lada (I saw this happen to a poor guy on the corner of the main street in Mytishi...consequently, I learned some new - very bad - Russian vocabulary today!)

The view from my balcony

Such a pretty colour! You can't see any icicles dangling from the roof because the workers had just finished knocking them all down. They do this every day, closing off section of the street to pedestrians. Falling icicles are a serious problem here; a few weeks ago, a 21 year old from St. Petersburg just woke up from a 9 month coma after being hit in the head by a falling icicle. His condition is still critical!!

The giant thermometer I walk past on the way to the bus station. It's hovering just around zero - nice!

The bustling nexus of Mytishi's transportation:
view from my bus window. The red building in the
background is Krasniy Kit - the Red Whale -
shopping mall.

Not the cleanest window + in motion = blurry, bad photo. But trust me, the forest was beautiful!

Gorgeous Orthodox church on the way to Belyaninovo, taken from the bus window again. You can't really tell, but the church is the loveliest shade of pale turquoise.

Home Sweet Highway: where I spend WAY too much of my time,
waiting for the bus to take me back to civilization on Monday
and Wednesday nights (this photo was taken prior to
frostbite settling in, when I could still make use of my fingers to operate
the point-and-shoot)

Sunday, February 6, 2011


You know how at the start of meetings, there will often be some "housekeeping" issues that are addressed first? These are things that aren't always related to the broader topic, but they need to be brought up and dealt with, so they're usually bundled together under the umbrella of housekeeping.

I like to have a general "theme" for my blog posts (nerdy, I know) and I certainly try to think of creative titles that somehow encapsulate what my topic is going to be. Usually I just stick to alliterations, a fallback I constantly used in my undergrad when it came to writing essays (Machiavellian Motherhood...Vignettes of Violence...Voltaire: Voice of the Revolution?, etc can perhaps see why my flair for the dramatic title prompted one professor to note that I was more suited to writing historical romance than objective, critical essays!)

Anyways, today's post does NOT have a creative/alliterative title. It is going to be more of a "housekeeping post." However, I've realized that the title is not just figurative, but literal too. I need to do some actual housekeeping today! But in the spirit of procrastination, I'm going to tackle blog housekeeping first. So here are some things I've been meaning to write about/have found interesting:

1) There's this type of hybrid sled/stroller that I see parents pushing around on the sidewalks here. It's low to the ground, like a sled, and the parents plop their bundled-up child on it. But instead of having to be dragged through the snow, thus REALLY hurting your back as you pull on the rope or whatever is usually attached to sleds, these ones are pushed from the back. Since its a sled, it has runners instead of wheels, so this makes navigating through the snow a lot easier AND saves the parents' backs! I hope my description is more clear than I think it is...because I think this is such a neat thing and I've never seen one in Canada before!

2) If you've been wondering whatever happened to Baba Yaga and her magic books next door, the books have mysteriously disappeared but her antipathy towards me has only increased. I run into her about three times a week, unfortunately (and trust me, I will go out of my way to avoid her on the stairwell whenever I can!) and now the violence and hatred has escalated to her shaking her cane in my face and snarling Russian at me. I still have no idea what she's saying, so I've taken to just smiling kindly at her and saying things like, "My, my, what a lovely morning!" or "I do love starting off my days with such a pleasant little chit-chat!" This only makes her angrier though, I think. If you don't hear from me for awhile, its probably because she's knocked me out with her cane and I've fallen down five flights of stairs.

3) This has nothing on drunk driving PSAs back home. Leave it to Russia.

4) When it comes to chicken, there's a common belief that the white meat (breasts) is better for you, more healthier, than the dark, gamier meat (legs, wings). This is okay on a small scale, because you can buy packaged chicken breasts at the grocery store, but when you multiply this by however many people in North America choose white meat over dark meat, a major problem arises: what happens to the dark meat that nobody wants?

Well, it turns out that for years it's been sent to Russia!! Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been importing dark meat from the States in exponential numbers. In 2009 alone, Russia paid $800 million USD for 1.6 billion pounds of U.S. leg quarters. Crazy!! However, in January 2010, Putin banned U.S. chicken from Russia, and although the ban was later lifted, this past November a new law was created banning frozen chicken from being used in processed products like nuggets or cutlets, thus effectively making it impossible to continue importing from the States. Although Putin said that the new law was created because of health concerns, its much more likely that he doesn't want Russia to be too reliant on foreign imports. If Putin gets his way (and who are we kidding, he totally will), the plan is for Russia to be entirely self-sufficient in chicken production by 2012.

I thought this was very interesting on a couple levels. For one thing, I've never really thought about what happens to the parts of the chicken that nobody wants. Who would have thought that it would be Russia importing so much dark meat? It's interesting on a cultural level that dark meat is preferred here, whereas in North America dark meat doesn't have such a sterling reputation as the white breasts. (Indeed, McDonalds recently got rid of the dark meat in their chicken McNuggets, and they reported a considerable increase in sales once customers realized the new nuggets were all white meat...or at least the 35% of the nugget that IS actual meat is white!)

This also caught my interest because now that Russia has cancelled the imports, a new problem arises. What will America do with all its extra dark meat? Why is perfectly good, healthy meat treated as a waste product? Will they find a new outlet for their excess meat, or will it just go to waste? If you're interested in reading more about this problem, check out this great article:

5) The days are getting longer! I'm writing this at 4:39pm and its still light out :) Dare I hope that the end is near, that Wiarton Willie was right when he predicted an early spring?

6) There was a bomb scare this morning and all the railways were shut down and trains were cancelled. Apparently it was just a hoax, but I'm glad to see that the authorities took it completely seriously.

Well, that's it for "housekeeping". Procrastination must come to an end now and real housekeeping begin!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

Even though its Saturday, Colleen, Stuart and I all worked today. We collectively gathered in our dim little kitchen after wrapping up our lessons at 6pm, in order to complain about and laugh at our students, the get the idea. Now it's Saturday evening and the true weekend is finally here - no more English lessons until 12:30pm Monday! Yay! My brain is about to explode. (On a side note, I wonder what I'm going to be like when I return to Canada in the summer. I've noticed that I speak slowly, grading my language, all the time now and that I do A LOT of "hand talking." You know - "Today I had a big breakfast," I'll say, enunciating each and every word while gesturing wildly with my hands to illustrate BIG, and then miming an egg-frying action. Friends and family whose first language is English, please be patient with me while I adapt to talking like a regular person once more!)

Anyways, I've been meaning to write a post about my birthday, which was last Saturday, and some of the things that I got up to over that weekend. On Friday, I took the afternoon off work and went into Moscow, where I met a film crew from the CBC. They were filming a documentary about winter, with their thesis being that Canadians have turned into wimps when it comes to the cold! (Canadians out there: do you agree??) They came to Moscow to showcase the mighty, stoic Russians who fearlessly face down the harsh Russian winter, and I got to be a part of it! The crew filmed me walking through one of the many outdoor markets in Moscow, talking to some locals and buying produce. Then one of the producers, Josh, asked me some questions about my experience with winter here so far. I shared my story about how one time I asked my Russian friends what they do when it gets REALLY cold, and how they just shrugged and laughed, "Drink more vodka!" Like, duh you silly Canadian!

It was a really fun experience and I loved getting to meet up with some fellow Canadians. Look for my big movie debut next December which is when they said the documentary will be coming out! :)

On Saturday, my actual birthday, I woke up feeling old and kinda blah. 23. When did that happen?! I went for a swim because I figured my joints are probably getting too old for a run and I should stick to some low-impact cardio from now on... ;) I also got some lovely emails from friends and family that truly made my day - thank you!

That night, we had a joint birthday party/Burns Night with a bunch of our friends coming from Moscow. Burns Night is a Scottish excuse for a party (like they need one! After all, what's the difference between a Scottish wedding and a Scottish funeral? There's one less drunk at the funeral) where they celebrate the life of their national poet, Robbie Burns. Stu and Colleen brought back some tinned haggis and whisky and we prepared a feast for everyone!

The haggis, stuffed inside a chicken, wrapped in bacon.
Colleen made about 8 chicken breasts, then cut them up
into smaller pieces for everyone (about 16 people)

Stuart and I with the tinned haggis!

It was a great night, full of friends and food (what more could you want?). Then on Sunday, I topped off what was an awesome weekend with another KHL game. And we won again! I'm beginning to think I'm good luck :) It was a super game - a little slow at first but it culminated in a shoot-out that was very exciting!

At the arena: the first word on the left is unity, I'm not
sure about the second but think it's something to do about fighting,
and the last is victory.

I'm not sure if this link will work for everyone, but here's a video of us at the game during the national anthem (and just to clarify, I don't normally talk during the anthem, but Colleen and I were trying to figure out a word in the anthem!)

My birthday continued on Monday when I walked into my class of upper-intermediate adults and saw that they had baked a cake for me! They had also all chipped in to buy me a mobile (I've been resisting buying one for months, but I have to admit I've missed having one...even just having one for an alarm in the mornings beats my crappy little clock I was using!) and one of my students had knitted me some tapachki, or slippers. It was so sweet and thoughtful! I was blown away by everyone's kindness and reminded, once again, of just how warm and welcoming everyone has been to me. I am so lucky!

Anyways, that was my birthday weekend in Russia - one that I'll always remember! Since then, I've been pretty busy with work, and haven't really done anything super interesting. On Wednesday, I went to the Wasteland as per my usual lesson with Lebron. My walk from the highway to his mansion is usually pretty deserted, but occasionally I will see signs of life besides the odd half-eaten carcass of an animal. Sometimes I'll even see other children -gasp! (I have to walk past his school) But on that particular day, there was no one...and I soon discovered the reason.

"I have no school right now," Lebron informed me as I stepped inside, shaking the snow off my earmuffs.

"Oh, do you have a holiday?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Nope, my school do you say? Under quarantine!" he said brightly.

"Uhhh..." I started to back away from him, visions of swine flu dancing in my head. "Why is it under quarantine? Are YOU ok??"

"Oh yes, yes!" He reassured me. "It's just the grippe (flu), a common winter illness." Whew. I approached him with less trepidation. But it turns out almost ALL the schools in the Moscow region have been closed and put under indefinite quarantine right now. They're even selling pocket masks in the shops again, a throwback to the days of the heatwave in August. It's an interesting solution to the health problem that plagues schools every winter, I think. Schools are a breeding ground for illnesses, so I guess it makes sense to close the schools, but I wonder how long this is going to last and the kids are going to be out of school.

And another thing I'm wondering...are they going to close MY school??? Cuz a holiday of undetermined length would be pretty awesome for me too, just sayin'.