Rain, slugs and lots of gifts

Almost everyone lives in a flat and there are hundreds of these all over Nakhodka. Most need serious repair. I've not seen more than a handful of buildings with fresh paint. Yulia, the owner, told me that she didn't find a livable flat for me until two days before I arrived--most were in bad shape. She had wifi and cable installed for me. My flat is less than 2 blocks from the school. We water is shut off regularly, though usually there is a day's notice. It's been off 5 times in the two months I've been here. Twice it was off for more than 12 hours at a time.
Almost everyone lives in a flat, instead of a house, and there are hundreds of these long apartment complexes all over Nakhodka. Most are old and need serious repair. I’ve not seen more than a handful of buildings with fresh paint. Yulia, the owner, told me that she didn’t find a livable flat for me until two days before I arrived–most were in very bad shape. She had to have wifi and cable installed for me and there’s no sink in the bathroom. My flat is less than 2 blocks from the school. The water is shut off regularly, though usually there is a day’s notice. It’s been off 5 times in the two months I’ve been here. Twice it was off for more than 12 hours.

7/11/2016

I started my day by stopping at the small convenience store near the school before heading to my classroom. I’d had a really busy weekend and didn’t make it to the grocery store to buy candy.  I owed the boy’s team in Elementary some candy after their win Friday at a new game called “I Dare You.” Because there were few sweets to buy, I ended up getting each of them a small package of malted milk balls. They seemed happy!

It was about 8:45am when I entered the shop. The girl behind the counter knows me by now. She’s very accommodating and lets me go behind the counter, since she knows I know almost no Russian. You don’t pick things off the shelves in these convenience stores. Almost everything is behind the counter and the attendant gets them for you. What I hadn’t expected to find at this hour of the morning were two men, drinking beer and quite tipsy. Beer was only recently considered an alcoholic beverage in Russia. It’s illegal to have an open bottle or drink in public, but you see it often. It also seems to be OK to buy the beer in a shop and drink it right there—even though it’s not a restaurant and there are no tables. These men were reeking of alcohol, and wobbled if they didn’t use the wall for support, but at least were happy drunks. I looked over the candy selection (which was behind glass) and pointed at the individual packages of malted milk balls. Forgetting myself, I asked for 7 packages, in English. The shopkeeper held up two. “Nyet.” And I held up seven fingers. One of the drunks said in English, “Seevan. Underastan? Wan, too, tree, four, fiwe, seex, sewen,” as he counted on his fingers.  I was impressed! I complimented him on his English. “No, no. Leetle English. Russki?” “Neyt,” I said, and went through my half dozen Russian words, which made him laugh (yes, no, dog, hello, goodbye, vampire, juice). Possibly anything would have made him laugh then, though. He asked, “What name?” “Beth” is unpronounceable by more than half the world, so he struggled with the “th” sound. We finally agreed to “Bet.”

He wanted to talk more, but that was the extent of our shared language, I fear. Also, I had to teach class.

While the apartment complexes in my neighborhood are pretty austere, I'm thankful for the flowers that a few tenets grow.
While the apartment complexes in my neighborhood are pretty austere, I’m thankful for the flowers that a few tenets grow.

7/13/2016

I’ve survived my last day teaching In Russia! I’ve gotten approximately one million calories worth of candy, cookies and chocolate in the last two days, as well as other lovely trinkets. I’ve never gotten so many gifts for being a teacher! And I got even more hugs (calorie free!)

The gifts from just two of my classes.
The gifts from just two of my classes.
A few more gifts from my students. This doesn't count the chocolate and cookies I ate!
A few more gifts from my students. This doesn’t count the chocolate and cookies I ate!

Tonight the owner is taking me out to dinner to celebrate a successful summer program. She’s very pleased with my work and that makes me feel good. She said she thought I was the best possible teacher they could have found! Honestly I wasn’t sure how she felt. This isn’t an expressive culture. She’s never said anything bad about my work or suggested any changes, but I guess we are all a little insecure. Anyway, I’m feeling validated at the moment!

Unfortunately, I did the math on my stay here. I had free accommodations, but by the time I paid for food and transportation (Flight here from Madrid and another to my next location in Mexico), I didn’t make any money. The Ruble is weak and has fallen since we agreed to the contract. Still, it’s good experience, very interesting, and you can’t put a price on that!

Yulia ordered the small beers for us. Honestly, I can't imagine what a large beer would look like! Those are fried balls of cheese with honey to dip them in. In the glass are thin strips of rye bread, deep fried with garlic.
Yulia ordered the small beers for us. Honestly, I can’t imagine what a large beer would look like! Those are fried balls of cheese with honey to dip them in. In the glass in the center are thin strips of rye bread, deep fried with garlic. Tasty!

7/14/2016

The owner, Yulia, took me out last night to a very nice restaurant to celebrate a successful summer program. We ordered the locally brewed beer and the largest glasses imaginable came to the table. These were the small size. Her chicken with vegetables was beautiful. I had grilled pork with marinated onions. The pork was very tender. I had a couple large pieces, then started to take a first bite of the greens on the side of my plate. A garden slug slithered out of the parsley!  I’m a farm girl, so this probably didn’t bother me as much as most people. I thought it was kind of funny and started laughing. (after all, the French eat them) Obviously the salad greens were very fresh and hadn’t been cleaned quite thoroughly. Yulia was mortified. The waitress went pale and I thought she might faint. She took my plate back to the kitchen, holding it at arm’s length as though it were poison. The restaurant offered to fix me something else, but I decided I wasn’t hungry anymore. I felt sorry for the waitress who had to come over and apologize to me, in Russian along with the few English words she knew. We got my meal for free.

Bad photo, but the pork kebabs and marinated onions were good. Little did I know that slug would come crawling out of the parsley about two minutes after I took this photo.
Bad photo, but the pork kebabs and marinated onions were good. Little did I know that a slug would come crawling out of the parsley about two minutes after I took this photo.

Today I pack up everything and prepare to leave early tomorrow morning. It’s a 3+ hour drive to Vladivostok, then 9 hour flight to Moscow. I did laundry yesterday and it’s raining so my damp clothes are still strewn all over the apartment. Hope they dry so I can finish packing.

Tonight I’ll spend a last evening with Lubov. It’s raining, again, so we may go to a cafe.This is one of the apartment houses in my neighborhood. Most are concrete, but there's a block of wooden ones. None have any paint. It's hard to see, but there's a couple drain pipes from the second floor where "water" goes directly outside. No one uses a dryer, so there are always clothes hanging.

This is one of the apartment houses in my neighborhood. Most are concrete, but there’s a block of wooden ones. None have any paint. It’s hard to see, but there’s a couple drain pipes from the second floor where “water” goes directly outside. No one uses a dryer, so there are always clothes hanging.

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?