When is summer?

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?

Problem children, nightmares & musical water glasses

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 for this opportunity to see 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

And a signed copy of the program, too!
And a signed copy of the program, too!

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.

Fun Facts about Russia

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

 

Dolphins!

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.

Random Thoughts about Russia

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