Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween...(insert scary laugh here)

Well, yesterday was a very busy day around the AH: it was time for the annual AH Halloween party. We've been preparing, but we still had lots to do. After the last midterm takers were gone Friday night, we stayed for several more hours to move tables, put up decorations, pick out music, and all the rest. We also set up our graveeyard in the front yar, featuring prominent members Pushkin, Rasputin, Ivan the Terrible, and Vlad Draculea.

Then, on Saturday we had two parties. The first, at 2:00, was for what we (sometimes not so) affectionately call "the hooligans." This one went pretty well. We had a haunted hause in a couple of the classrooms, games such as limbo and bobbing for apples, and dancing.We also had a Halloween costume contest for this group, which was won by this kid is in level 6, but appears to be about ten years old (despite the AH rule that all students must be 13). He didn't have a costume when he showed up, dressed this way. A little black make-upto the forehead and, vois la, Garry Potter. (There is no "H" sound in Russian, so he's definitely "Garry.")

After this party was over, it gave us a little time to clean up, grab some lunch, and steel ourselves for round two, which consisted of the college age and adult students. Things went pretty well at this party, it was much more lively and also more people. There were groups of girls running around taking pictures of anything and anyone in sight, as if we were at Disney World. Some of my older AI students showed up:

There was much dancing, playing games, taking pictures, and all the rest.

We took pictures with lots of people. That's Nicole in the center with Zhenya, our new teacher's assistant on the right, and our friend Kostya in Ghost Busters get-up between them.

We also had a team pupmpkin carving contest, which turned out to be very hard for the impromptu committee of six teachers to judge.All-in-all, it was a great success, but we were exhausted by the time we finished up the party and cleaned up.

Here's a fun picture that Amanda took. Eric is looking rather smug in his Pushkin get-up, but little does he know that I am lurking. I was supposed to be a Navy SEAL, but most of the Russians thought I was a terrorist.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Putin's Russia

Yesterday we got a little piece of some interesting Russian politics. Putin appeared on TV for about three hours yesterday during the day to answer questions posed by everyday people through telephone, email, and from various remote camera locations outside of Moscow. This is apparently the fifth time he has done this. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall and know just how spontaneous the questions are. Most of the questions focused on domestic issues like the economy, social benefits, ethnic tensions, and immigration. One of the most interesting questions was about what he will do after the May 2008 election, which he is barred from running in by the Constitution that Yeltsin instituted in 1993. It will be interesting to see, but my money is on him becoming chairman of GazProm, the state oil and gas company. It has huge economic powers and wide influnce throughout the country. Plus, there is no doubt he will retain political influence over whoever his hand-picked successor will be.

NYT on Putin

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Halos and Midterms

Well, the middle of Midterm week is here. We are all glad that the oral exams are over with now, and I don't have to hear any more AI students say, "Yesterday, I walked with my friends." Plus, we don't need lesson plans for Thursday and Friday. This is great, because lesson plans take up a fair portion of out working time.

The other upcoming event that is worth looking forward to is Halloween. As you can see, we are preparing by wearing various things to class to get our students interested in coming to the party on Saturday. I did my part by showing up in my own true guise, an angel! Pretty cheesy, huh? Thought so...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

When ESL Goes Horribly Wrong...

...this is what happens. Nicole stumbled upon a blog, through the wonders of Google, that is, in a word, disturbing. It's kind of hard to figure out the details, but it appears to be by a Brit who taught English in several places, without the temprament it takes to teach English. While we here at the American Home do not endorse his teaching methods, the writing is pretty good. Maybe the jokes are funnier for us, but I still think they are worth a read...

Your Daughter is Very Beautiful...

If you like these three, you can scroll down a little ways and there are several more under the heading "Teaching English."

A Little Sunday Morning News....

I have a couple of quick stories from the NYT about Russia that bring up a couple of important points

Condi In Moscow

Condi is in Moscow this weekend on her way back from Asia and she is talking about the lack of independant media. I don't know if it hit the news in the States much, but Anna Politkovskaya, one of the biggest critics of the war in Chechnya, was murdered a couple of weeks ago in what was clearly a contract killing. She worked for one of the few independant newspapers left. In addition, a new law went into effect this wekk that forced foreign NGOs to register with the government. A pretty large number of them have been told to stop operations while their paperwork is processed. Only in Russia can organizations like Amnesty International be such a threat to the governemnt that they invent ways to shut them down.

The other thing is immigration, which is the beloved issue of extremists in both the US and Russia (and a good part of Europe too). The thing is that in Russia, there seems to be an accepted amount of racism and distrust for foreigners who appear to be from the Caucasus or Central Asia. The unspoken assumption is that they all are under the control of organized crime which supposedly controls the wholesale food and goods market and artificuillly raises the price of goods. While organized crime exists, its a stretch to say that every person who looks dark haired and dark complected (chorny, Russian for "black") is a criminal out to steal from Russian people. When we go to the market, we are constatly warned to watch out for the people who will supposedly rob us blind.

NYT Article About an Anti-Immigration Leader in Russia

Saturday, October 21, 2006


So, here it is...six o'clock on a Staurday night. Most of us are here, at the American Home, ostensibly working, but mostly just goofing off. It is sad though, we hang out at work on our "off day." Enough said....

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Midterms, Snow, et. al.

This week has been very busy so far and I just wanted to write a little bit about it. Last Saturday, Eric and I headed up to one of the local schools for basketball with some of the local kids. They are younger than us and, suffice it to say, in quite a bit better shape than we are. But, we had fun and showed them that the Americans can play a little too. We are hoping to take advantage of an opportunity or two and try to play about twice or three times a month.

On Tuesday night, we were in serious need of some entertainment, so we headed over to a place near Joanna's that has billiards. We had the entire place to ourselves and so we tried our hand at Russian billiards. If you want a little more info, check it out here. The thing is, Russian billiards is quite a bit different from pool. First, the table is a lot bigger, as are the balls. The regulation balls are either 68 or 71 mm, which are numbered and not colored. The pockets are about 2-4 mm. wider than the balls, so as you can imagine, there is not much room for error. The most common game is played with 16 balls just like regular pool, but once the pyramid is broken with a red cue ball, any ball can be used as a cue as long as you strike another ball with it. Joanna and Eric played as a team against Sara and I and, in the end, Sara and I triumphed! It is a pretty fun game and is a lot cheaper than bowling, which is seen as a novelty and can cost more than $20 an hour at night.

Other than that, we are busily writing mid-terms for our students, which have to be completed today so that the students can review for the exam next week. We are also busily trying to plan for our trip to Petersburg that is coming up in a little over two weeks. We are hoping to spend a couple of days in Petersburg on the cheap and then maybe take a train to Tallinn or Riga. We shall see how it works out, but I am excited to head back to Petersburg!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Три Дурака

I've spent the last several hours staring at the computer screen working on grad school applications, so I decided I needed a change of pace: naturally, I decided to blog.

I've been saving these pictures for a rainy day. In Cathedral Square along the main street, in front of the Usspensky Cathedral, stands a woderous Soviet-era monument to the history of the city of Vladimir. Affectionately known to the locals as Три Дурака (the Three Fools,) It is a three sided obelisk with a statue representing a key group from the city's past. The first two, a Medieval builder and soldier, make sense: they harken back to the city's glory days in the 13th century, when it was the political center of pre-Muscovite Rus.

The third is also important to the city's history, but nonetheless appears rather rediculous. During Soviet times, Vladimir was famous for its tractor factory, whichfell on hard times and closed during the lean years and privatizations of the early 90's: now, the building is occupied by a three storied mall. The statue is of a tractor factory worker holding a scaled down model of the factory's product. Which is tiny in his hands.

I have a feeling that the humor of it all doesn't really come through in the pictures. They don't do justice to the incongruity of standing in the center of the square with a bustling modern street on one side and a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the other side: in the center, a man with a toy tractor.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Questions From My "Big" Sister

So my "big" sis stepped up with some questions to keep me busy, so I will try to answer them the best that I can.

1. Are you students interested in hearing about random things from the states?
Most of them are pretty interested in America in general. Of course, there are students of all different ages, abilities, and interests. Many of them are curious about traditions, holidays, culture, and many other things. In general, people here know a lot more about America than people in America know about Russia. That said, there are often big misconceptions about real life in America. I think this mostly comes from lack of information. During Soviet times the news about America was distorted and no one believed it. America was someplace mysterious. Now, people see American movies and TV all the time and I think some of them have a lot of misconceptions due to that. The most common misconception is that everyone in America is rich and they have a hard time believing that we don't have a lot of disposable income here.

2. Have any of them invited you to do anything outside of the school?
Yes, we have been to cafes and things like that with some students, althought not so much because we are still in the process of getting to know the students. We have gotten to know a few of Joanna's students that she knows from last year. If you look back to the post about our picnic, you will see Konstantine. He was one of Joanna's students from last year. He is still in one of the intermediate levels, but he is very fun to hang out with.

3. Are you meeting more Russian people outside of your students?
Not really, we spend practically all of our time here at the American home either teaching or preparing. I have briefly met a few other people, but not many. We have plenty of people to get to know here.

4. Is the heat on yet?
Yes, it came on last week for me. It is quite toasty at home, I sleep with my window cracked right now. Some of us aren't so lucky. Some don't have heat yet and Sara hasn't had water for two days. We are lucky: if our hot water fails at home, we can take hot showers here at the American Home.

5. Do your babushka's cats like you yet?
Actually they seem to have made peace with me. The female one isn't fixed and it freaks out meowing at everything every month, but the other one is calm and likes to sleep on top of my writing desk all day.

This week is going very quickly. We have all been pretty tired; struggling to recover from the trip to Yaroslavl'. If you want to read a little more about the trip, read Joanna's post about it.

Yesterday was Amanda's birthday, so I think tonight we will be celebrating a little. We are alooking forward to our five day break coming up at the beginning of November. I think that most or all of us will be going to St. Petersburg, which should be a fun time.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Adventures in Yaroslavl-land

Note: there are tons of pictures in this post, so I made them small. You can get a full sized image by clicking on it.

So we are back and everyone survived the trip to Yaroslavl. I think that "survived" is a good word for it. We had about a five hour bus ride to get from Vladimir to Yaroslavl (with what saeemed like a million stops in between.) We arrived an went to the center of the city and checked out the monastary/kremlin that is in one of the town's main squares. We even got to climb some ramparts!

The next event, as you can see, involved bumper cars at a little amusement park on an island in the Volga. I haven't driven bumper cars in years and I didn't stop laughing the whole time (except when I was getting whiplash.)

This is the Cathedral of Elija the Prophet, which has tons of frescoes on the inside and was really beautiful both day and night.

This is us about 6 am. We thought that McDonald's (yeah, I know) would be open at 6:00 am.: but, we were wrong. The DRIVETHROUGH was was open at 6:00 am. So, lacking a car...what do we do? That's right, we WALK thorugh. Other than a an "О Господи!" (Oh Lord!) from the cashier, we had no problem getting our food and then we headed for the train station to eat. That bright light is emanating from McDonald's drive-thru.

You can see the results of the trip to the train-station: sleep.

So with that trip to McDonald's, we wrapped up our stay in Yaroslavl, only to arrive at the bus station to discover that our nice clean, modern, well-heated bus has been replaced with a pinch-hitter: A GAZel. For those of you not familiar with this devilish Russian invention, consider yourselves lucky. It's basically a thirteen passanger van with a minimum of safety features, little in the way of suspension, and only one heater in the front. Where do you think the coldest and wettest passangers on the bus got tickets for? In the back. Oh well, we survived and arrived back in Vladimir after another bone rattling 5 hour ride over Russian roads intact but exhausted. I think I slept a grand total of twenty minutes...It will be easy to get to sleep tonight!

Friday, October 06, 2006

С праздником!

Russia has holidays for just about everything. Often I think they are silly, but yesterday I experienced the joy of being on the recieving end of one of these "random" holidays; день учителей (Teachers' Day). And what do we get on Teachers' Day: chocolate of course!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Weekend Plans

I just realized that before yesterday I had posted for like four days in a row, which is a pretty good stretch for me. There's not too much to update today; just some plans and a request.

Yesterday we went down to the bus station and bought tickets for a Saturday morning bus to Yaroslavl. Yaroslavl is another city, like Vlaidimir, which is on the Golden Ring. It dates to around the same period of pre-Muscovite Russia. It is bigger than Vladimir and during the 16th and 17th centuries was the nation's second city behind Moscow. It had many weathly merchants who richly endowed the city with numerous churches and cathedrals. We are looking forward to a little bit of tourism and a change of scenery. If your curiosity gets the better of you, you can check out Yaroslavl on Wikipedia. I'll try to get some pictures and stuff up next week.

The other thing is a request for questions and comments. Last time, when I was in St. Petersburg, I had Mom's 5th graders ask me questions all the time so I had some input on what people wanted to know. Since I don't have that luxury now, I'm hoping for some more questions and comments to guide me and make sure this is a little more than just my random thoughts.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Тетрадь - The Notebook

The notebook: not The Notebook. A Russian notebook is a work of art. They are all about the size of your typical exam bluebook in college, but with all sorts of decorations, cartoon characters, objects, or other random things. Some of them are rather in your face: I have one student with a notebook that has a picture of a cartoon rabbit and the phrase [in English] "Thank God I'm not ugly." That, however, is not my favorite notebook. The honor goes to this one, because "v" and "w" are pretty interchangable anyway, right? Who doesn't love flovers?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Today was gorgeous and I couldn't take sitting inside working all day, so I quit and went for a little walk and a trip to the supermarket. The weather got pretty cold last night, I'm pretty sure we broke the freezing point. It is clear and cool and very plesent, the big problem is that it is like a nice Novemeber day at home...on October 2nd. Winter is beginning to approach on the horizon.

So, my little walk lasted about 45 minutes and along the way I took a few pictures. This on is a picture of the main street in town. This is the reason why getting anywhere is a pain for a lot of Luckily for me I like in the other direction and lucky for everyone else they are supposed to be done in a month or two.This other picture is of a church, I have no clue what it is called because I didn't get that close to it, but this is a pretty nice picture and shows the blue sky and a few changing leaves.

Also, I took a picture of the concert hall that we went to last week and stuck it in that post, so have a look and marvel in all of its 60s style Soviet glory!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

"Real" Russian School

I thought after that last post was so heavy on text that I should put something up today that is a little easier on the eyes. This is the Russian school that is right around the corner from where I live. Six mornings a week, and often evenings too, I pass by to see the Russian school-kids busy playing on the playground. Most of the students are between 7-14 years old. I think that they have to choose a different school in a different building for the equivalent of high school.

My understanding of the Russian education system is a little shaky at times, but it seems that they really concentrate on what we would call technical or vocational training. Russian students don't go to a university and get a liberal arts degree and then go work as a business consultant or other unrelated field. Instead they get a degree in accounting and become an accountant or a degree in mangagement and become a manager. They are totally mystified when we, as Americans with a liberal arts education say, "I have a degree in English and I don't know what I want to be when I grow up." This concept is totally foreign to most Russians. The only possible exception is with language training. From talking with some students, it sems that if you can aquire good langauge skills, especially in German or English, you can get good jobs in Moscow with any degree. Appaerently only a tiny minority of Alexei's students at the Pedagogical [I can't say this word in in English, let alone in Russian, where it has an extra syllable and a -ski on the end] Institute actually become foreign langauge teachers, most of them take their langauge skills and market themselves in the business world.