When is summer?

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Some of the teachers from my school enjoying a day on the beach during the end of school party.
Some of the teachers from my school enjoying a day on the beach during the end of school party.
This is near the park where we had our school party. It's a summer resort area and people have their summer cottages here.
This is near the park where we had our school party. It’s a summer resort area and people have their summer cottages here.

6/18/16

Last week I posted that I was feeling lonely, but this weekend was an improvement. I spent the afternoon with the teachers from my Russian school and they did their best to make me feel very welcome. It was an end of school season party (though it isn’t the end for me, of course.) I have eaten enough in six hours for an entire weekend and drank enough for a month. I hadn’t wanted to come initially, but I did have a much better time than I’d thought I would. Of course I always feel like an outsider at a party like this. I AM an outsider. It’s not their fault. Most of the conversation was in Russian and I didn’t understand it. But the food was good, there was music, the location lovely and we had a rare dry day to enjoy it. All the photos in this post are from that party.

This is where the party was held. It was a cool, cloudy day, but at least it was dry.
This is where the party was held. It was a cool, cloudy day, but at least it was dry.

Nakhodka June 2016 0076/26/2016

It’s been a tough week. We went directly from the first three week session of classes into the next, with no break. I didn’t really know what the classes would be until a couple days before, so all I’ve done is lesson planning since then. I’m very unhappy with the second schedule. It is not the schedule we had agreed to before I came and has doubled my lesson planning workload. The two summer sessions were supposed to be almost identical—daytime classes with entirely new students. This would allow me to re-use the lesson plans that I made for the first session, with the exception of an adult class. The first change is that my classes are now alternating days and nights. One of the appeals of coming to Nakhodka was a consistent, daytime schedule, so I’m quite disappointed at the change. Also, these are not all new students. There are enough continuing students that I have to make entirely new lesson plans for every class. To top it off, I have a conversation class of teachers. In my experience, teachers are a very tough crowd and this one includes my boss. I get a very high level of observation in classes already. Don’t get me wrong. The school has a right to observe my teaching, but the level just got uncomfortable.

If I’d known that this would be the schedule, I simply wouldn’t have come.

Don’t get me wrong, I am capable of doing the work. No individual change is that onerous, but the combination is. It’s a lot more work than I’d agreed to. I’d hoped to have more free time in the second half of the schedule to study Spanish and prepare to go to Mexico, but I won’t. The money isn’t very good. I’d agreed to it because it was an easy schedule. In fact, most of what I make will be spent getting to Mexico and getting set up there, so this wasn’t a financially profitable summer. Most of what I’m feeling is simple disappointment. I trusted that I wouldn’t be taken advantage of here. I was careful to include the schedule in the contract and thought that would mean that I could be sure of what I was getting into. I was wrong.

If I didn’t have trust issues before, I have them now. This is my third (paid) school and so far it’s been the best. At least the housing is fair and the pay actually appears. But do all schools change the schedule after you arrive? Mostly, I’m disappointed in humans. I really like teaching but I’m not liking the schools.

I wanted to travel the world and learn how people are, right? Sometimes the lessons aren’t any fun.

The sea is very close by, but it's still too cold to swim.
The sea is very close by, but it’s still too cold to swim.
Did I mention food? There was lots of really good good.
Did I mention food? There was lots of really good good.
Such as bad photo, but they are really beautiful women. The rumors I heard in Turkey are true: Russian women are attractive.
Such as bad photo, but they are really beautiful women. The rumors I heard in Turkey are true: Russian women are attractive.

The weather here is very cool and cloudy. It’s been below 70F almost every day. I’m told August is warm, but so far it seems like early spring here, not summer. It rained 6 days this week. It’s “April showers” in June and they will continue through July. Today is cloudy but looks like it might be dry for a change. While I like the cool temperatures, the lack of sun is getting depressing. It seems to affect everyone’s mood. People are generally very serious, even grim, with few smiles. They have some nice beaches here, but it’s still too cold to swim. Remind me never to move to Seattle. I simply need more light that this.

I find my students very nice. Many gave me gifts at the end of class. Others have come to the school just to talk to me or met me on the street. Outside of the school it’s almost impossible to meet anyone. No one speaks English and the Cyrillic alphabet is beyond my comprehension, so far. I can’t read signs or menus. In other countries, I could fairly quickly learn the basics, but it’s just not happening here. That adds to the feeling of isolation. I’ve decided to cut my losses and focus what little free time I have on learning a bit more Spanish.

Of course, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to see Russia, but this simply isn’t an area I’d want to live in. It’s too difficult and I don’t fit in here. (And if one more little old lady runs me off the sidewalk, I may cry like a child.) Of course, I can’t say that I have experienced all of Russia. It’s a big place and I’ve only seen a small part. Since there was no break between the two summer sessions, I now have more time before I start my new job in Mexico. I’ll get to spend a few days in Moscow. It’s a 9 hour flight to Moscow  (after 3+ hour drive to the Vladivostok airport) and there’s a 7 hour time difference, so I’ll have jet lag to deal with! (By contrast, there’s only a one hour difference between Moscow and Madrid.) I wish I could also see St. Petersburg, but there just isn’t time.

Red cheese? None of us had seen it before, so this was a novelty that someone picked up. Maybe it's dyed with beet juice? It tasted like mild cheese.
Red cheese? None of us had seen it before, so this was a novelty that someone picked up. Maybe it’s dyed with beet juice? It tasted like mild cheese.
Sergey was the barbecue chef. I particularly enjoyed the marinated pork. Yum!
Sergey was the barbecue chef. I particularly enjoyed the marinated pork. Yum!

Nakhodka June 2016 002

Here are a few things from this week.

In my teacher’s conversation class, one of the teachers brought up that Russians have been banned from participating in the Olympics due to doping. I don’t know much about sports, but tried to keep the conversation going by asking questions. I got the distinct impression that she felt I might be personally responsible for this, or at least that it was the USA’s fault. No one disagreed with her. The older someone is, the less likely they are to look favorably on Americans.

I try to teach idioms in my classes, since I don’t think you can really understand a culture without them. I found that our expression “black sheep” has a similar expression in Russian. It translates as “white crow.” Also, we might wish someone good luck by saying, “break a leg.” In Russian, they say “neither fur nor feathers.”  Here are more Russian proverbs and idioms.

The population of Russia has fallen and the government wants that to change. Certainly there’s a lower birthrate. There’s also been some migration out of the country. The government wants to encourage women to have more children. There are payouts for a second or third child. It’s not a lot of money, but it is something. For a third child, you will also get land. Unfortunately, the land may be very far away from your current home and you only have five years to build a house on it. Also, you can’t sell the property. Nothing additional for a fourth child. It’s not much of an incentive program, but it is quite different from China.

Seafood is popular here, but only fish and occasionally scallops. You don’t see lobster, octopus or crab, except the “fake crab” which you see a lot. A surprising amount of the fish is salted and dried. I’m told it’s eaten in bars–like we might consume salty peanuts.

I’m run off the sidewalk by little old ladies almost daily. They won’t share the street and make you walk in the grass. It wouldn’t be so bad, but they sneer at you when they do it. Yesterday in the grocery, people kept pushing in front of me in line at the meat counter. I finally just walked away. At the checkout, an older woman holding a single loaf of bread motioned that she wanted to go in front of me. Since I had a basket of groceries, I let her in. Then she proceeded to unload her purse! She had almost as many items as I did. When she’d put her groceries on the belt she turned with a triumphant smile as though she’d gotten away with murder.

Did I mention I don’t fit in here?

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Problem children, nightmares & musical water glasses

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Feeling lucky to be in Russia. The weather is quite cool. It's barely broken 70F and we've had a lot of light rain and cloud cover. Personally, I'm enjoying the cool temperatures.
Feeling lucky to be in Russia. The weather is quite cool. It’s barely broken 70F and we’ve had a lot of light rain and cloud cover. Personally, I’m enjoying the cool temperatures.

6/6/2016

Last week’s classes went well. My two days at summer English camp were spectacular. Being a teacher is such an amazing job. But only when it’s working. Today, things were not working. I had three classes and all could have gone better. Much better

It started with Beginners. The vocabulary review went very well. I let them throw sticky balls at the vocabulary words from last week. I ended with a game I call Hot/Cold where we use English words like “you’re red hot” or “you’re ice cold” to say how close someone is to a piece of candy we’ve hidden. Of course, everyone likes the game because they get candy, but I’m not sure they really understood the objective. In the middle was a grammar lesson on “be” verbs= I am, he is, we are…..  Then I was to move on to contractions (short form) such as I’m, She’s, They’re……. I’d seen their previous books and they should have known this, so I thought I was doing a review. But they didn’t know it. Half the class acted as if they had never seen this before. And somehow I couldn’t quite move the slow ones forward. It was painful and it took me too long to understand the problem.  I really failed. Fortunately, I have a translator for this class or it would have been a disaster. She made some excellent suggestions for me to use in the next class and we will try this topic again. The “be” verb isn’t common in other languages, but it’s critical in English. I hope to do better.

Next I had an Elementary class, which was OK, except for two girls who wanted to talk to each other (in Russian). Every time I called on them, all they would say is, “I want to to sleep” or “This is boring.” Good English, but not helpful.

Who wants apples? Nastya gives me chocolate! What a good student!
Who wants apples? Nastya gives me chocolate! What a good student!
A local product: Chocolate with sea salt and seaweed. Both were very good. I couldn't taste the seaweed, but there was a delightful crisp sound when you bit into the bar.
A local product: Chocolate with sea salt and seaweed. Both were very good. I couldn’t taste the seaweed, but there was a delightful crisp sound when you bit into the bar.
From last weekend: Yulia, Katherine and her two daughters Nastya and the youngest girl, whose name I have forgotten.
From last weekend: Yulia, Katherine and her two daughters Nastya and the youngest girl, whose name I have forgotten.

After lunch was the Intermediate class, my favorite. One girl is clearly ahead of the rest, most are solid students and there’s one or two a bit behind, but bright enough to get the material. My challenge is finding things difficult enough for my star student, but not completely go over the heads of the others. I did some English word jokes/riddles, Extreme Adjectives for vocabulary (they knew over  half of the words) and a current event—a story about the gorilla that was recently shot in the Cincinnati zoo after a child fell into his enclosure. Some of it worked; some of it didn’t.

So there were no big breakthroughs today. No magic. I must do better.  I just went for an hour long walk to shake off the day. Now making dinner. Tonight, I’ll go over my plans for tomorrow and see how I can make them better.

The view of Nakhodka bay from the hill the cathedral is on. This is a major shipping port, especially for coal and those cranes lift it from the land to the boats. Look at the clouds/fog in the distant mountains.
The view of Nakhodka bay from the hill the cathedral is on. This is a major shipping port, especially for coal and those cranes lift it from the land to the boats. Look at the clouds/fog in the distant mountains.

6/7/2016

As a child, I had terrible nightmares–monsters chasing me. I was terrified. After my sister died, they got worse–falling off cliffs, drowning, very violent images. There were nights I just didn’t sleep. But the things that scare us change as we get older. Last night, my nightmare was that I’d lost my passport, credit cards and cash. For a traveler, that’s SCARY.

Last weekend, I got to attend some of the school's graduates. In the middle is Olga, surrounded by her students. Most will go to college soon.
Last weekend, I got to attend the school’s graduation. In the middle is Olga, surrounded by her students. Most will go to college soon.
This is one of the reasons I am not losing any weight here. At the graduations were many tempting sweets, including this cake made with sweetened sour cream frosting.
This is one of the reasons I am not losing any weight here. Also at the graduation were many tempting sweets, including this cake made with sweetened sour cream frosting. Yum!

6/14/2016

My Pre-Intermediate class asked if they could skip an activity and ask questions about the USA. They are all teenagers. Here’s what they asked.

  • Why does everyone in America have a gun?
  • Is it true that most Americans don’t take off their shoes when they come into the house? (They were horrified that anyone would wear outdoor shoes inside a house. When I said that not everyone took off their shoes, they next asked, “so all the streets are very clean, then?”)
  • Are Americans like what we see on the movies?
  • Does everyone eat coffee and donuts for breakfast?
  • Is it true that there is no public transportation in America?
  • How many cars do most families have?
  • Is everyone rich?
  • Why do white people hate black people?
  • Is it true that if you do something wrong the police will shoot you?
  • Do American people like Russians?

Sunday is my day to do lesson plans for the week and also grocery shopping. While I was at the grocery store, a man called me by name. (OK, he actually called me “Bet” because Russian doesn’t have the “th” sound. Much like all Asian languages. My name is unpronounceable by half the world!) I was so surprised because I didn’t know the man. He held his hand above the floor (to show height) and said, “chilled” which I eventually understood to mean “child.” Then he put his hands first to his heart, then pointed at me. I really hope he was saying, “My child loves you.” He had a big smile on his face, so he was trying to communicate something positive. It made me very happy.

I saw my first statue of Lenin.
I saw my first statue of Lenin.

I find I’m really tired by the end of the week. Three 2-hour classes each day, five days a week, is a lot. It would be easier if they weren’t all different levels and all completely new classes and books for me.  If I didn’t already have several dialogues and activities prepared, this would be much worse. It’s  a lot of hours on my feet. I just can’t be one of those teachers who sits at a desk. I am lucky that I can walk to school in just a few minutes, so I don’t add a long commute time to the day. The other good news is that I’m teaching very formal little grammar. I focus on speaking and listening exercises–grammar in use–while adding any new vocabulary words that come up.

Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Don't you love those shinny onion domes?
Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. Don’t you love those shinny onion domes?
Small chapel beside the cathedral.
Small chapel beside the cathedral.

6/15/2016

Last night Olga, one of the teachers, took me to see the big cathedral, Church of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. It’s fairly new. Here, it’s just called “the church,” but we’d call it Eastern Orthodox. It’s not associated with Catholicism, but the religion is similar, having grown from the same roots. No one seems to understand the word “protestant” but I’ve seen at least one Islamic mosque. No Jewish temples. We could only go downstairs at the cathedral. Because there was a small service going on, I didn’t feel it was right to take photos inside. The incense and chanting priest gave it an otherworldly sense. The walls and ceiling were painted with saints and biblical scenes. Framed and gilded pictures of saints covered the walls. It was quite beautiful. We had to cover our heads when we entered, much like in a mosque or in the older Catholic Church.

Then Olga took me to an unusual musical performance at the International Marine Club. There was a man playing water glasses, accompanied by a classical guitar player. Fascinating.

The International Marine Club was the site of the special musical performance. Lovely facility, which is also rented out for weddings and special dinners.
The International Marine Club was the site of the special musical performance. Lovely facility, which is also rented out for weddings and special dinners.
A man playing the water glasses! What an unusual performance. The classical guitar player, who accompanied him, was very impressive as well.
A man playing the water glasses! What an unusual performance. The classical guitar player, who accompanied him, was very impressive as well.
A look at the water glasses. They are securely attached to a board and there are about 4 sizes.
A look at the water glasses. They are securely attached to a board and there are about 4 sizes.

Water glass music video

6/17/16

Not sure why I am so tired. Tried to take a walk last night, as usual, after classes, but just didn’t have the energy. After about 15 minutes I gave up, walked back to my flat and lay down on the couch. It was perhaps 5:30p when I fell asleep and I didn’t wake up until 9pm. I got undressed and made my bed. In a half hour was sound asleep again until morning.

I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m not quite fitting in here. Nothing is wrong. The school teachers are nice and my flat has everything I need. Somehow I am not as comfortable, nor as successful as I’d hoped.  I work as hard as usual putting together lesson plans and activities, but the classes just don’t seem to click as well here. Maybe something is lost in the translation? Maybe I have simply not found the right way to express myself? Perhaps I just need more Russian language and culture to better explain things? I’m sure all of that would help. Of course, it’s possible this just isn’t a culture I “get.” I find that the Russians are very serious. There are few smiles, especially on the street. In fact, I was run off the sidewalk twice today by old ladies who wouldn’t make room for a second person to pass! It’s surprising how much that affects your day. And I don’t hear compliments from people, though I do hear criticism. If a student has an “ah ha” moment, I don’t think they show it outwardly. Maybe people are happier than they look, but from an outsiders point of view, they look ….resigned. Not the young children, but the adults. I hope I’m wrong.

Once again, my impressions probably say more about me than about Russia. Clearly, I’m pretty attached to approval and acceptance! Toto, we are not in Kansas. I’m glad for this experience, really, but I’m also a bit depressed at the moment. None of this would hit me so strongly if we had not just had a terrible shooting in Orlando (LGBT Club, 50 dead, 50 injured).  This shooting really struck me and I’m surprisingly moved by it. And don’t get me started on the divisiveness of the country over the current election. I’ve had to take a break from social media–especially FaceBook to get away from the hateful posts about guns, gays and and Trump. I’m feeling a bit isolated–which is a constant issue if you travel a lot, have no home, stable job and live in a country where you don’t speak the language. Nothing life threatening, but I need to keep an eye on myself.

OK, so I can't say I've not been appreciated here. This is a lovely book and magnet from one of the students from the English camp. The book has Russian stories, often folktales, in English (fortunately!) with really great drawings. I feel really lucky. At least two other students have spotted me when I've been out shopping and came to talk to me.
OK, so I can’t say I’ve not been appreciated here. This is a lovely book and magnet from one of the students from the English camp. The book has Russian stories, often folktales, in English (fortunately!) with really great drawings. I feel really lucky. At least two other students have spotted me when I’ve been out shopping and came to talk to me.
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Fun Facts about Russia

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The view from one of the many mountains surrounding the bay of Nakhodka.
The view from one of the many mountains surrounding the bay of Nakhodka.

Since I’m living here for the summer, I thought I’d compile a few facts about Russia that you might find interesting.

  • The (former) planet Pluto is smaller than Russia. It’s total area is 17,075,400 square kilometers and it covers more than a ninth of the Earth’s land area. The area of the land in Russia is 1.8 times larger than the total size of the United States.  Russia is located across 9 time zones, more than any other country.
  • Stray dogs in Moscow have learned to use the subway. I’m spending a few precious days in Moscow soon and I’ll check it out.
  • There’s a radioactive lake in Russia that can kill you in a matter of hours. Standing on the shore of Russia’s Lake Karachay would give you 600 roentgens of radiation per hour, enough to kill a human. The lake is located in one of Russia’s largest nuclear facilities, which was kept a secret until 1990. “The Techa river, which provided water to nearby villages, was so contaminated that up to 65 percent of locals fell ill with radiation sickness — which the doctors termed “special disease,” because as long as the facility was secret, they weren’t allowed to mention radiation in their diagnoses,” writes Jess Zimmerman at the Grist.
  • Each Russian consumes 18 liters (4.8 US gallons) of beer a year.  There are half a million alcohol related deaths a year here. And until 2013, beer wasn’t even considered an alcoholic beverage.    http://www.factslides.com/s-Russia
  • At one point, Russia and the US are only 4km apart. Maybe Sarah Palin can see Russia?
  • The word “vodka” comes from the Russian word for water, “voda.” 25% of all Russians die before the age of 55, compared to only 1% of US Americans. Vodka may be the reason.
  • Russians drink nearly twice as many shots of alcohol a week as Americans. On average, Russians drink 6.3 shots of liquor a week, compared with 3.3 in the U.S. But South Korea tops the list with 13.7 shots of liquor per week.
  • It’s a criminal offence to drive a dirty car. Really.
  • 20% of the world unfrozen, fresh water is in a single lake, located here in Russia: Lake Baikal. It reaches 1642 meters (5,387 feet) in depth.
  • Russia is a major producer of oil. Russia’s pipelines could loop around Earth more than six times.
  • Russia has 695 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU), the most of any country in the world, approximately half the word’s supply. The US has the world’s second-largest stockpile at 604 tons. This does not make me feel safer.
  • Russia’s population has fallen by 6.6 million since 1993. That’s the equivalent of Massachusetts. The population was 141.9 million in 2010 and is projected to fall 10.7% to 126.6 million by 2050.
  • Nine million commuters are said to ride the Moscow Metro every day. That’s more than London and New York combined.
  • Russia’s homicide rate is twice as bad as America’s. It has a homicide rate of 9.7 per 100,000, compared with 4.7 per 100,000 in the U.S. Russia’s total count of 13,826 is however lower than 14,612 in the U.S. This doesn’t make me feel safer, either.
  • Fifty-six journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, and 64% of those were murdered. Russia is the fifth-deadliest place to be a journalist.
  • Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million in 1867. The U.S. paid less than 2 cents an acre for almost 600,000 square miles.

SOURCES:

http://www.businessinsider.com/17-mind-blowing-facts-about-russia-2014-3

http://www.factslides.com/s-Russia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27wu2kfIzEI

 

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Dolphins!

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Russia, June, 2016, 031Today I had a truly unique experience. I got to see some dolphins up close and personal. These beluga whales are pure white and they seemed to like the attention of the small crowd who gathered to watch the 11am feeding. What surprised me most about these Arctic mammals was the sounds! I’ve never heard such noisy sea creatures in my life. Check out these two short videos:

These are the youngest, at about 3 years old.

Feeding time

The dolphins are kept in ocean pens not far from Nakhodka, where I am teaching this summer. They are acclimated here to living around humans and taught some basic tricks. They are then sold to perform in shows all over the world. While I have a hard time thinking about what life these intelligent creatures might have in the future, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see them.

Russia, June, 2016, 029 Russia, June, 2016, 023 Russia, June, 2016, 040

On the internet, I only found this and that article that mentioned Nakhodka as a place that had young beluga whales.

After, Yulia and Katrin took me out for fruit tea, coffee and pancakes.
After, Yulia and Katrin took me out for fruit tea, coffee and pancakes.
Nastya (Katrin's daughter) is also one of my students. We each had pancakes (more like French crepes, really) with one of Russia's most popular fillings for kids. I'm pretty sure it was sweetened condensed milk! Really good, too.
Nastya (Katrin’s daughter) is also one of my students. We each had pancakes (more like French crepes, really) with one of Russia’s most popular fillings for kids. I’m pretty sure it was sweetened condensed milk! Really good, too.
And we played around a bit after...
And we played around a bit after…
Not a great photo, but this is a church in Nakhodka that I hope to go to soon. It's fairly new, but has those amazing onion domes that we expect to see in Russian buildings.
Not a great photo, but this is a church in Nakhodka that I hope to go to soon. It’s fairly new, but has those amazing onion domes that we expect to see in Russian buildings.
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Random Thoughts about Russia

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Inside the mall near my home. This is taken from the second story. It's new, so many of the stores are empty still.
Inside the mall near my home. This is taken from the second story. It’s new, so many of the stores are empty still.

I moved to Nakhodka, Russia at the end of May to teach English during the summer. It’s a lovely place, so those of you who are still thinking “Cold War” can exhale now. The place and people are nice. The school is the best one I’ve been to yet and the teachers are top notch. But it’s a world away from the USA. Oh, and I saved the worst for last.

Smiles: The people are very serious here. No one smiles on the street. It’s not any worse than, say, New York City, but different from Spain where everyone smiles. Or Vietnam. But of course I’ve learned the hard way that smiles mean different things in different countries. In Vietnam, it seemed to mean that even though I didn’t know you, it was OK for you to touch me. I found this uncomfortable. In Istanbul, a wide smile meant I might be a foreign prostitute and was soliciting business. I really hated that! In Spain, it was just what people did. Here in Russia, the other teachers tell me that if I smile on the street, people may think I’m a bit off in the head. Who knew a smile could mean so many things?

Infrastructure: My brother confided that he still thought of Russia with an eye to the Cold War. I completely understand! I thought it might be gray and oppressive, too. While some of the buildings are austere and need maintenance, it’s not bad. But coming in the spring helps–fresh flowers, green grass and sunny skies make any country look better. I don’t have a handle on how Russians feel about their country and government. I’m waiting for a better opening for that conversation. So far, most have mentioned the roads, which do need attention. The road between Vladivostok and Nakhodka had a lot of potholes. It’s only about 100 miles (176k) between the two cities, but it took almost four hours.  And I only drink filtered water (I bought a filtering pitcher). Of course, the infrastructure in the USA needs some attention, too. I filtered my water in Atlanta, as well.

There is a fountain inside the mall near my house.
There is a fountain inside the mall near my house.

Do I look Russian? So far, in the places I’ve worked, when people saw me, they almost always knew I was an English speaker. Sometimes they thought I was Canadian or from the UK, but they knew I wasn’t from their country. Even in Spain, people immediately spoke English we me, even when I began conversations in Spanish. (Pretty sure that was a very bad accent, however.) Not so in Russia. Of course, there are very few English speakers here in Nakhodka, but even on the plane, the airline attendants initially spoke Russian to me. I flew Aeroflot, Russian Airlines, and the flight attendants spoke English, but they assumed I understood Russian. Maybe I look Russian?

Exchange rate: I’m not paid much, enough to cover room and board, at most jobs. What money I do get, is in the local currency. I’m more interested in what my money will buy here (which seems to be a fair amount in food, my only major expense), rather than what it’s worth in US terms. I often pay little attention to the exchange rate until I have to get cash from an ATM. Just for reference, the current exchange rate is 100 Russian Rubles = about $1.50 USA.

They were selling dogs and cats--made me want a pet. Pretty sure this baby would NOT want to travel with me, though.
They were selling dogs and cats at the mall Saturday. It made me want a pet. Pretty sure this baby would NOT want to travel with me, though.
Initially, I thought it was for stray dogs and cats, but these looked too much like pure breeds. Wonder what the prices are?
Initially, I thought it was an adoption for stray dogs and cats, but these looked too much like pure breeds, expensive pets. Wonder what the prices are?

Steering wheels: Here in Nakhodka, almost all of the cars have steering wheels on the right side of the car, though the traffic is on the right side of the road. Why? Most of these cars come from Japan, where they drive on the left. We are only about 850km from Japan. In contrast, I’m about 9,000km (a drive of 117 hours) away from Moscow. As one friend put it, “you’re so far east, you’re west!”

Cheap wine: I like a glass of wine in the evening. I’m not a connoisseur, but I thought the wine in Spain was really good, even the cheap wine. Heck, even the box wine! Cheap wine here in Russia? Just cheap. Maybe I should try the vodka?

Old Men: In short, I just need to stay away from them. I had seen this older man around the apartment block. He looked feeble and moved slowly. Yesterday, as I exited my apartment, I noticed him climbing the stairs. He apparently lives in a flat above me. He seemed to be having trouble so I pantomimed that I could help. He smiled. I smiled. I took his arm and tried to help him up the next step, but he motioned for me to stop. I thought he wanted to rest a bit longer. He smiled again. I smiled again. He kissed the air in my general direction. I wasn’t sure what to do. Then he grabbed my breast. Seriously! Based on his reaction time, I’d say he can move pretty quickly when he wants to. I said “NEYT” clearly while removing his hand. I wagged my finger in his general direction, turned around continued down the stairs, alone. He was still chuckling when I reached the ground floor, 4 flights below.

The mall
The mall
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My first classes in Russia

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Somewhere in the middle of this photo, in a sea of kids, I'm smiling. There were simply adorable but I don't envy the teachers who have them full time for 10 days and nights. I don't think I have that much energy.
Somewhere in the middle of this photo, in a sea of kids from English Summer Camp. They were simply adorable but I don’t envy the teachers who have them full time for 10 days and nights. I don’t think I have that much energy.

5/30/2018

On the 26th of May, I moved to Nakhodka, Russia where I’ll teach English for the summer.  I had my first day in the office today, just working on lesson plans and figuring out where things are, how to print…blah blah. They have a 10 day English camp starting today and I get to be there two days. It’s an overnight camp for 8-13year olds. They asked for some ideas from me so I showed them some games to play to reinforce many of the lessons. They were thrilled! Yea! And because I’d spent the weekend reviewing, I’d already planned what I will do for this week. So today, I printed off my lesson plans, extra dialogues, and activities, since I figured the owner would want to see what I’m doing. That went over well, too. So I got to be a big hit on my first day. I really enjoyed just talking with the teachers. Their English is excellent and they are so very nice. I may never get a chance to practice any Russian words–everyone wants to speak in English with me.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a group of adults out to tea for their final class–surprise extra conversation. It’s not in my contract, but I think it’s a good faith effort. Besides, the owner immediately reimbursed me for my flight and the cost of my visa–which they didn’t have to do until the end of the contract. They are playing fair, so I will be as kind as possible! (The tea was canceled. Boo)

Honestly, everything looks really good here at the school–this will be my best job yet. Suddenly sorry I’m only here for 2 months!

The kids get "camp dollars" for doing assignments and good behavior. They use them to buy things in the camp store. I got to be a shop assistance.
The kids get “camp dollars” for doing assignments and good behavior. They use them to buy things in the camp store. I got to be a shop assistance.
So, I totally played up the "exotic foreigner" thing. The kids were wonderful, but most of the time I could barely walk.
So, I totally played up the “exotic foreigner” thing. The kids were wonderful, but most of the time I could barely walk. It was a mob scene!

The weather is quite cool. It may not get above 80F the entire time I’m here. Today it is cloudy and breezy, maybe only 60F. I’m shocked at how far East I came. Jet lag is terrible this transition. It’s 8 hours difference from Madrid–but 7 of those hours are from Moscow to here! It’s a huge country.

Not talked politics with any one yet. I’m very interested to know what Russians think of their own government. Or if they feel comfortable commenting. I’ve only talked to one person about Donald Trump. They were visibly relieved when I said I thought he was a crazy lunatic. I don’t understand what America is thinking? Please, don’t let him become president!

I now have cable in the apartment and can get the BBC World news. I was so behind!

Marina took me out with her family. I'm posed with her son on top of a mountain overlooking Nakhodka.
Marina took me out with her family. I’m posed with her son on top of a mountain overlooking Nakhodka.
Marina and I, overlooking the bay of Nakhodka in the Sea of Japan.
Marina (a fellow teacher) and I, overlooking the bay of Nakhodka in the Sea of Japan.

June 2, 2016

I’ve officially been in Russia a week. I’m only now beginning to feel settled in. And I’ve still got some jet lag. Must be getting old? Honestly, all week I’ve felt beaten up. Like when you ride one of those new, super-roller coasters and get jarred around. Only I feel as if rode it a couple dozen times. All my joints ache. I’ve got intermittent diarrhea, mostly in the morning. I am still gagging in the morning like I did when I was hiking and I can’t eat anything when I first get up. I’ve not actually thrown up, but it’s been very close. I even have to drink my coffee pretty slowly. I’m trying to eat lightly, drink lots of filtered water, eat yogurt daily and get extra sleep. The bottom line is that travel is hard on a body. And I’ve been moving around a LOT.  I had a different bed each night for a month and a half while I was hiking and the next two weeks were not much better while staying in hostels. In fact, I moved rooms or hostels every 2-3 days. There is little privacy in them and sleep is tougher. That’s a lot of change in a couple months. And most of the last 3 weeks I’ve had a pretty serious cold. But now I’m in one place, recovering from my virus and sleeping better.

I am going to try to just learn one work of Russian a day, phonetically. I also want to learn the Cyrillic Alphabet. I know that’s very little, but it is something. My students will help me. So far I can say yes (da); no (neyt); goodbye (paka); thanks (spaceebo). I’m working on sister, brother, dog, hello, chicken, cheese. Frankly, I’m not doing very well, but at least I’m comic relief for my classes.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to work on Spanish on DuoLingo.com.  I’m really happy with the website’s learning tools and it’s free. It will give me a jump start on my Spanish studies once I get to Mexico. I’m committed to being functional in Spanish and my three months in Spain has shown me that it’s possible. No, I’ll probably never be able to discuss poetry in Spanish, but I should be able to book a hotel, order from a menu, ask directions and do simple banking.

A surprising amount of art around town.
A surprising amount of art around town.
Very bad photo of the mall near me--it's new so there are only stores on the ground and first floors.
Very bad photo of the mall near me–it’s new so there are only stores on the ground and first floors.

6/3/2016

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Summer English Camp. It took about an hour to drive there, but it’s in a beautiful park by the sea. There are about 25-30 children and I was very surprised at how good their English was. They had so many questions for me! I spent most of the first hour just answering questions. Also, they gave me candy, which was very special since it is contraband at the camp! Such adorable children—all the time they hugged me, held my hand and almost fought to sit next to me. I was wonderful. This must be what it feels like to be a rock star!

Today, I got to meet the rest of my classes. In every case, they are quite good and as long as I don’t speak too quickly, they seem to understand me. I have 6 groups—Beginners thru Intermediates and I see each group two or three times a week. Each class is about an hour and a half and I have 15 classes a week. It will keep me busy! This session is three weeks long. I’d been under the impression that I’d have all new students in the second3-week session, but looks like at least half the classes will be the same students, just extending their learning. I’ll also have a new group of adults and I’ve been asked to do some conversation classes with the teachers. While I think they are VERY good, they feel they need more conversation practice.

Summer camp kids.
Summer camp kids.
Summer camp kids.
Summer camp kids.

6/5/2016

Yesterday was the most fun ever! I helped out again at Summer English camp, located about an hour outside Nakhodka. There are almost 30 kids and the teachers have them non-stop, overnight for 10 days. Talk about BRAVE! Anyway, the kids are great and the English of 2/3rds of them is spectacular. My job was to play games with them for a couple hours. I had to spend some time thinking about what to do. I’ve never run a camp and I didn’t have children, so I’m grateful for Google Search! I did Simon Says, balloon pass races, taught them a couple songs, and we played a game called “chocolate” that was a huge hit. It works well with a large group—at least 10. You seat the kids in a circle and put an opened bar of chocolate in the center of the circle. You hand them a dice and tell them that when they roll a six they can have a piece of chocolate BUT first they have to put on a hat, vest, scarf, gloves (I wish I’d had mittens!). THEN they can only eat the chocolate with a fork and knife, one square at a time. No touching with their hands. All the time they are putting on the clothes, everyone else taking turns rolling the dice, trying to get a six. Most of the time they get almost dressed then have to undress to give the clothes to someone else. It’s all done at top speed, lots of yelling and screaming. Great fun!

I’ve had to buy a few things for the kitchen. When I’m on short assignments, I usually make it part of my contract to live in housing provided by the school. Since I don’t speak the language,  that keeps my frustration level down. This apartment is very nice, but I needed just a few items, since I like to cook. The big find was a filtering water pitcher. I couldn’t even find one in the last two countries! I’ll probably leave most of the kitchen items behind, but I plan to buy extra filters and keep the pitcher.

True Confessions: Watched my first episode of Outlander last night. It’s recently become available on Netflix. I’ll be power watching season 1! Now if I can just catch up on Game of Thrones, Downton Abby, Big Bang Theory, ….I’m so behind on television……June Nakhodka, Russia 010

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My first days in Russia

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Nakhodka
Nakhodka

This week I endured over 17 hours traveling from Madrid to Moscow (5 hours) to Vladivostok, Russia (+8 hours) to begin my summer job. The owners of the school, Yulia and Sergei, met me at the airport and drove me 3 more hours to Nakhodka where the school is. I didn’t sleep during the flight, so I was barely able to stay awake by the time they got me to my new apartment. I slept from about 6:30p to 8am.

The next day I saw the school and have copies of the teaching materials. I’ve been reviewing the materials and will have time to write lesson plans before classes start Wednesday, July 1.

So far, everything is just perfect! My compact apartment is fully furnished and Yulia and the teachers even stocked the kitchen with some basic items, then took me to the grocery store the next day. I am the first native speaker they have had at the school and they are really going out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable.

My apartment is compact. The sofa makes into a very comfortable bed.
My apartment is compact with good light. The sofa makes into a very comfortable bed.
The kitchen is small, but has everything I need, except I need to find a wine bottle opener so I can drink that local wine! I even have a washer and did some much needed laundry today.
The kitchen is small, but has everything I need, except a corkscrew so I can drink that local wine! I even have a washer and did some much needed laundry today.
The view outside my apartment window. I'm on the 4th floor, so that should keep me in shape. I can walk to the school and there are shops nearby.
The view outside my apartment window. I’m on the 4th floor and there is not elevator, so that should keep me in shape. I can walk to the school and there are shops nearby.

Last night, the teachers took me walking along the Pacific ocean.

Andrew, Yulia, Marina (Their mother, who runs the summer camp program), and owner Yulia. They took me to a new walkway between the ocean and a fresh water lake.
Andrew, Yulia, Marina (Their mother, who runs the summer camp program), and the language school owner Yulia. They took me to a new walkway and park between the ocean and a fresh water lake.
The new walkway has nice benches, good parking. A restaurant will open in a few days and a hotel is under construction.
The new walkway has nice benches, good parking and a beach. The water is too cold for swimming yet. A restaurant will open in a few days and a hotel is under construction.
The coastline is quite rugged.
The coastline is quite rugged and beautiful.

Nakhodka is a port city, built on a huge bay in the Sea of Japan. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the city:

Nakhodka (Russian: Находка; IPA: [nɐˈxotkə]) is a port city in Primorsky Krai, Russia, located on the Trudny Peninsula jutting into the Nakhodka Bay of the Sea of Japan, about 85 kilometers (53 mi) east of Vladivostok, the administrative center of the krai. Population: 159,719 (2010 Census).

The Nakhodka Bay, around which the city is organized, was found in 1859 by the Russian corvette Amerika, which sought shelter in the bay during a storm. In honor of this occasion, the ice-free and relatively calm bay was named Nakhodka, which in Russian means “discovery” or “lucky find”.

Nakhodka has one of the mildest climates in Primorsky Krai and in the whole of the Asian part of Russia thanks to its southerly location and oceanic influences from the Sea of Japan. Average temperature in January is −9.3 °C (15.3 °F); in August (the warmest month), it is +20.6 °C (69.1 °F).

Nakhodka is also an important transport junction where goods from Japan are transferred from ships onto the Russian railway system, including the Trans-Siberian Railway portion of the Eurasian Land Bridge.

My first borscht--beet soup with onions and pork. I loved it! It's served with sour cream.
My first borscht–beet soup with onions and pork. I loved it! It’s served with sour cream.
Today, Marinia and her husband Alex too me out for pizza with their children, Andrew and Yulia. It was really good pizza, too. Not like I had in Vietnam.
Today, Marinia and her husband Alex took me out for pizza with their children, Andrew and Yulia. It was really good pizza, too. Not like I had in Vietnam.
The pizza place is located in a 2 year old shopping area.
The pizza place is located in a new shopping area.
The shopping center has a walkway on the bay with lots of games, an area for skateboarding and a giant slide. You can rent boats on the water.
The shopping center has a walkway on the bay with lots of games, an area for skateboarding and a giant slide. You can rent boats to take out on the water.
This reminded me of the locks on the bridges in Paris. These locks, many heart shaped, are fastened by lover and the key is thrown into the water.
This reminded me of the locks on the bridges in Paris. These locks, many heart shaped, are fastened by lovers and the key is thrown into the water to represent their undying love.
The view from the mountain is lovely. In the distance are two special mountains--The Brother (which has had the top blasted off) and The Sister (a sharp, conical mountain).
The view from the mountain is lovely. In the distance are two special mountains–The Brother (left of center, which has had the top blasted off) and The Sister (just right of center, a sharp, conical mountain).
Below we can see Nakhodka.
Below we can see Nakhodka.
This is the industrial port of Nakhodka and you can see the train line, too.
This is the industrial port of Nakhodka and you can see the train line, too.
Nakhodka port
Nakhodka port
A new mosque
A new mosque
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