Friday, August 30, 2013

Красное Плошадь

No wi-fi and no Skype make me a dull blogger.

I’ve completed training and met my fellow teachers. The Good: they all seem very nice. The Bad: they are very honest. Apparently we will pretty much live at the school this year. Oh well. Last night we went bowling, which was a lot of fun, and some teachers from another school joined us. One was a girl from Ottawa (whom I had met in training), so we got to discuss all the things we missed. Like poutine. No, not Vladimir Poutine, as he is known in French (yeah, still can’t get over that), but the greasy fries-and-gravy treat straight from Quebec. We also practiced our French, which interested several of the other teachers who want to learn it. Actually, there are a lot of Canadians hanging around Moscow these days. I definitely saw a few NHL jerseys in Red Square today – even a Leafs fan, God bless him – and the Canadian teachers vastly outnumber the other incoming “native” teachers, of which there are few in the first place. Yes, we even outnumber the Americans, don’t ask me how that happened. I just hope we don’t beat Team Russia in Sochi, if we do I’ll have to go into hiding for a couple of weeks.

I do enjoy that we have so many Russian teachers at the school, however, because it would be boring to fall into the expat rut. What on earth would be the point of coming to Russia if I never interacted with actual Russians?

Also, I still keep getting lost. All the time. I wandered into the wrong building today, Irony of Fate style. It’s not my fault they all look the same. If I wind up meeting a cute guitar-playing Russian man in the process, well then so be it.


So today I decided to get out of the house and head to Red Square. Well, okay, I was originally supposed to meet up with other people and go to Red Square, but our wires got crossed and we never found each other. So I hung out there myself and had fun anyway. And boy, can you tell that this is a tourist attraction. When you get off the Metro, you are thrust into a side street filled with pricy, pricy shops and restaurants. (If you stand in the right spot, you might even pick up some wi fi, hem hem.) A quick walk through ГУМ department store (built in 1893, when Alexander III was tsar) gives the image of a country on the up-and-up, with Louis Vuitton, Brooks Brothers and Burberry displayed in a way that would make Don Draper faint with envy (not to mention a very historic toilet). But lo and behold – there is Red Square just metres away!

You have to go through security to get through, but it’s pretty perfunctory. The guy barely glanced at my bag, and suddenly I was at Resurrection Gate. There were tourists from all over, but mostly from Europe and Asia – especially China, which I think is a pretty clear glimpse into how the world is going. There was some kind of children’s festival on, with musicians and clowns all over the place. I could see the Kremlin and St. Basil’s, and the long long line to see Lenin. For a few minutes I hung around watching some sort of military event in front of the Kremlin (and smiling at the sight of all the security guards taking breaks at MacDonald’s). Eventually I decided to get in line for the Lenin mausoleum, standing behind a group of young Swedes. I tried to understand what they were saying, based purely on what I’ve gleaned from film subtitles, and managed to figure some of it out. Something about Lenin. The line was long, but when they let people in, twenty to thirty people are allowed at once, so it’s surprisingly efficient.

Admission to the mausoleum is free, but you must check all bags and cameras, which is about 50R depending on what you’re checking. There’s a little kiosk alongside the Central Museum. Go through a quick security gate and you’re good to go. Once you get in, you walk alongside the Kremlin past the burial grounds for many Soviet leaders, including the general secretaries, including Stalin. For historical buffs, you can also take a look at Brezhnev, Sverdlov, John Reed, Andropov and Zhdanov. But look fast, the line moves quickly. You turn a corner, descend some steps, and there he is, on a red velvet lining with a scary resemblance to Snow White. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Lenin or think that the USSR was the way to go – but this was an extraordinary experience. The man is incredibly well-preserved. One gets the impression that he could sit up at any moment and ask what the heck is going on. Like him or not, you will be swept up by the history before you. Everyone walking into the room immediately fell silent, no matter what their nationality, gazing at this man who had such a profound effect on modern history. I’m glad they don’t allow cameras or charge admission. This is an incredibly solemn spot, and to keep the “touristy” stuff to a minimum is exactly the way to go. In some manner, it still feels like a funeral procession. One can imagine this man, like in all the images we’ve seen of him, speaking from a platform with his fist in the air, leading his people down a radically different path. It is not hard to see the charismatic leader, even if he has been lying there nearly ninety years. As kitschy as going to see an embalmed man might sound, it really is more than it seems.

Aaaand as I was blogging this I put on a Simpsons episode which partially takes place in Red Square and involves Lenin rising from his tomb, totally by coincidence. Hmmm...

Once I left the tomb, I really didn’t feel like sightseeing anymore, so I left Red Square and headed home. There’s time to spread this stuff out – take it slow – see Moscow over the coming year, with maybe a mad dash to St. Petersburg or two. Next, I think there will be a couple of literary locations on my agenda. Maybe after I get paid, a day trip to Yasnaya Polyana is in order? Sure, you can go on about Pushkin all you like, but Tolstoy is tops in my book.

Maybe next time I write, there will be wi fi in the apartment. However, since it’s my first week of teaching on Monday, it might be a good idea not to have the distraction for now. My school has been extraordinarily nice and accommodating, and I think I’ll get along well with my colleagues. Bit by bit, I’m beginning to understand the system. I’m going to keep this blog light on the school updates, for the sake of their privacy, but I’ll let you know in general terms how it goes. Until then, I’ll just try to sit back and enjoy being here. In fact, my boss advised me to do just that, and I think she knows better than anyone. До свиданя!

PS: In one of the biggest cities on earth, why is it practically impossible to buy postcards?

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Well, I’m still wi-fi less. Managed to get a bit of time in the mall today, which saved me some sanity. Things are coming along nicely and I even managed to figure out my financial situation! Sort of.
More random notes:
  • ·         The smoking. Dear God, the smoking. I can’t enter a restaurant without keeling over. I am definitely not in Can-sas anymore.  
  • ·         Despite College Roommate’s dire warnings about how YOU’RE ALL GONNA DIE in Russia (immigrants to Canada from Russia always seem to think that way), the worst thing that has happened so far is that Moscow Roommate lost his phone. And let’s face it, that happens to every phone-owner at least once. 

  • ·         I am perfecting my scowl so as not to look like a stupid foreigner. (Just kidding. I always look like a stupid foreigner.)
  • ·         My workplace is located in a mall. Right over a cinema/bowling alley. This is AWESOME.
  • ·         I haven’t seen much of Moscow yet – just a couple of neighborhoods and some of the Metro, nothing too famous – but I like what I see so far. My policy is to first get familiar with my own surroundings and situation, then expand into the rest of Moscow, St Petersburg, more of Europe, etc, etc. 

  • ·         Now that I know that Russia’s amazing fashionsense is a lie, I wish I’d brought more casual clothing. A t-shirt could have easily gone under that one jacket I brought and it would have been very nice to lounge around in. Ah well, after I get paid, I guess.
  • ·         I get lost. All the time.
  • ·         My boss is very kind and helpful – and looks exactly like my cousin to the point where I think my cousin is living a double life and her husband, kids, life in New Zealand, etc are all just a cover. Clever, cousin, clever. 

  • ·         It took me three days to get an email to my parents. In that time, I’m pretty sure they held my funeral and gave my room to the dog.
  • ·         One of my fellow teachers was on my flight! We had a long bonding session over that one crying two-year-old who would not shut up.
  • ·         My landlord continues to be hilarious. He’s redoing the kitchen at the moment and when I came in, he assured me that if the power accidentally went out, it probably wasn’t him (it’s funnier in Russian). 

  • ·         For some reason, the Sochi Olympics seem to be advertised entirely in Latin characters. I guess Russian pride is one thing, but business always wins out, eh?
  • ·         Interestingly, my network of schools seems to have more incoming Canadian teachers than Americans. However, all the others are from Ontario, which automatically makes me way cool, since Ontarians tend to think the West is still like the frontier days. I’ve told the moose-hits-the-car story, the bear-in-the-backyard story, and the dog-sniffed-the-live-rattlesnake story, and they are in awe. As they should be.
  • ·         I am so glad that I know the horrid college Russian that I do have. It’s gotten me pretty far. I’m now comfortable enough to shop on my own. This is progress, when two days ago I could hardly talk to Russians at all.
  • ·         Zombie-like state seems to have eased, but insomnia hasn’t. Will work on this over the coming week. Dumb jet lag.
  • ·         I’m still scared to death of teaching.

Apart from my general state of anxiety, however, things seem to be going well. I get a little nostalgic sometimes and may have cried on the Metro once – or twice (shut up), but I’m adapting to my new life.  Old Simpsons episodes are a great way to keep some kind of touchstone. Now, to get the wi-fi connected. Ohhhh, boy...

Monday, August 26, 2013


I’m exhausted, somewhat grouchy and feeling a little edgy about this whole Russia thing. My school held bowling night tonight, but my roommate and I both agreed to stay home. I have a SIM card, but am still waiting on Wi-fi. A few random observations –
  • ·         The Metro is not nearly as unmanageable as I thought it would be. Even in rush hour.
  • ·         Roommate is very nice. American, older, much more experienced at this thing than I am. He’s kind enough to show me around and quite friendly.

  • ·         Considering all the horror stories I’ve heard about flats, I’ve come to realize that I really lucked out on my place. Good neighbourhood, near metro and work. My landlord is also very funny, personable and considerate, helping us through the rental agreement even though we speak horrible Russian and he speaks hardly anything else. He left us a whole bunch of Ikea catalogues, which is most appreciated.
  • ·         Of my group of teachers, I have come the furthest distance, so it makes sense that I’m the most jet-lagged. Unfortunately, this has led to serious jet-lag brain. I’m pretty sure my colleagues and boss think I’m an idiot. Oh, when I get my brain back I have a long way to climb up.
  • ·         Doing any kind of business, from buying photographs to signing a contract, seems to take forever. I literally spent eight hours in the office just signing things and waiting to sign more things. 

  • ·         Those who tell you that Russian women dress up and you’d better be prepared? NOPE. To be honest, I think that’s a wealth thing – the people I saw in businesses and on the street were practically indistinguishable from my college campus.
  • ·         The part about taking your life into your hands when you cross the street. Also a lie. It’s like any other big city. Yawn.

Teaching starts this week, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. The expectations are huge, and I’m new to this. We’ll see, I guess...

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I figured I was ready. Packing was finished, lists were checked off. The morning I left was leisurely, at least until we figured out that Transaero wouldn’t let me check in online and I had to check in, over Skype, with an agent in Russia (who fortunately was very helpful). I swear, this move has been governed by Murphy’s law from the beginning. There I was, nibbling on toast and attempting to make my problem known in my rather iffy Russian while she did the same with her somewhat  better English. Eventually, we had it sorted out. I took the dog for one last walk – and cried into her fur, while she just stared at me because she wanted to chase a squirrel or something – finished a novel I couldn’t take with me, and went to the mall to pick up a little book on British Columbia to show people. Even though it was raining, I stood in my backyard for a few minutes and breathed in some Canadian air. 

We went for a last lunch at White Spot, where lo and behold, one of my good friends from high school was our server! We had meant to get together but hadn’t quite managed it, so it was a good reunion. My boss and students showed up at the airport with handmade cards and a little gift, which was very sweet. I said goodbye to my parents, got my stuff together, and was off, impressing all the airport staff on the way with my tales of Moscow. I played my Russian songs on loop for the entire first flight, wearing out my ancient iPod in forty-five minutes flat. Progress!

Once in Vancouver, my sister liberated me from the airport, and we went to dinner along with my three nieces.  It was a great chance to say goodbye, but I only had five hours between flights. Soon enough, I was back at the airport going through security for the first of two red-eyes. (Seriously, who gave me permission to do that? Whoever you are, you’re a blockhead.) Now, I’ve flown from British Columbia to Toronto about a billion times, so that trip is excruciatingly boring by now and I was happy to get a couple of hours’ sleep, though I had gotten nostalgic and cried into my eye mask so this was probably not a great idea. I was out from the Rockies to Sault St. Marie, following a blood-red sunrise all along Ontario and landing in Toronto at 6 AM. I should point out that this is earlier than I get up even when I have a real job, as I am the type to roll out of bed five minutes before I have to leave and pray that the bus is a tiny bit late. Not to mention it was three in the morning in B.C. Let’s say I was a tiny bit frazzled.

Now, instead of using my ten-hour layover to sleep like a normal human, I chose to visit a bunch of college friends. This took some preparation. First, I went into the bathroom (lugging my enormous suitcase – more about that later) and managed to actually get dressed and freshened up and even put makeup on. My mother would be so proud. I then proceeded to wander around for about an hour looking for Baggage Storage, or as I dubbed it, Suitcase Jail. My sense of direction is roughly equivalent to that of an amoeba. Once it was finally stored away, I hopped into town and headed to Bloor West Village, where my friends were supposed to meet me for brunch, but arrived over an hour late because they still live on college time. For shame. We still had a good time at the weird vegan cafe. My friend Gemma even came with me to the airport, where she helped her poor stupid friend find the gate and re-pack before the big goodbye.

Now as for packing, I wanted to bring as little as possible overseas. This required the help of my giant Samsonite suitcase (I bought it after Mad Men’s Season 4 aired – who says that advertising doesn’t work?), which I creatively call Samson and my sister calls The Big Bastard. I also brought a computer bag, a purse, and a winter coat on my arm. All three bags were absolutely jammed. This was fine right up until I got to Transaero. You see, while both Canadian airlines permitted one checked baggage and two carry-on, this one allowed two checked baggage and one carry-one. Seems simple, right? No. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let my precious computer travel in checked, but I needed things in my purse, so I crammed a tiny duffel bag in my suitcase, took it out in Toronto, and stuffed in all the non-essential computer crap along with my rolled-up purse. My essential purse items went into the computer bag. It worked, I showed my passport every three seconds, and suddenly I was waiting to board the plane to Russia.

For those of you travelling to Russia, here’s the thing about Transaero - it’s very much a Russian airline. All instructions and signs are in Russian. The flight attendants will be annoyed if you don’t speak Russian. At least from Toronto, most of the passengers are either from Russia or have Russian family and are “going home”. You had better have, at minimum, some stock Russian phrases at hand. Also, the staff can be pretty surly. I viewed it as an advance preview of Russia proper. The different attitude kind of put me off, and I was wondering how an over-apologetic Canadian could ever communicate with them when a friendly woman asked me to watch her stuff while she went to the duty-free. When she came back, she brought me a cookie. It was a small thing to do, but that little act of kindness made me feel a whole lot better. Finally, we were off.

At the beginning I naively hoped to get a bit of sleep, and even dropped off for a bit after dinner, but the truth is – I was way too excited to sleep. (That, and some beastly children nearby had started a card game presumably titled Let’s Scream Really Loudly Every Time We Draw a Card.) I had a hard time catching all the Russian because it was spoken so quickly, but all airplane announcements are pretty much the same, so I glanced at the safety card and went back to my book. My seatmate was very friendly. She was an engineer living in Moscow whose husband was studying in Toronto. Talk about long distance! When we ordered food and I couldn’t quite understand what the flight attendant was saying, I simply repeated whatever she said. Better to look like a copycat than accidentally refuse food or something. And boy, does Transaero feed you. It’s been about twelve hours since I last ate and I’m still not hungry, though you could blame screwed-up biorhythms on that one, too.

The plane showed Russian movies, and I tried to watch one. It involved a group of Soviet academics who were arguing over, I don’t know, budget cuts or something and wound up being taken hostage by a group of workers about to get fired. Andrey Miyagkov was in it and he ate a lot of paper. Anyone remember the title? However, I got bored pretty fast – and here’s the thing. Almost no one watched any of the movies, because we were all glued to the map screen. Even the people like my seatmate, who had flown this route before. It’s just so fascinating. We flew over Quebec and Labrador, then Greenland and Iceland and just above the Shetland Islands (though it was dark so you couldn’t see much). We crossed Scandinavia. The sun came up over Norway and Sweden, which were practically cloudless and beautifully visible. I could hardly believe I was looking at countries I had read about my whole life. Not only that, but it amazed me that while crossing Canada takes a whole day, crossing Norway is about fifteen minutes, at least at the skinny part where we flew. Now, I have a slight – obsession – with Sweden, due to all the usual reasons North Americans like it, such as ABBA, Ingmar Bergman films, Let the Right One In, Pippi Longstocking, and the Stieg Larsson novels. It was pretty exciting to see it for real, though from 40,000 feet up it is pretty much indistinguishable from Manitoba. I looked for girls with dragon tattoos, but they were probably hiding. We crossed over the southern tip of Finland, then flew over St. Petersburg south to Moscow. Between staring at the map and staring at lumps of dirt and trees thousands of feet below, I read most of the new J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith/whatever she calls herself these days novel, which was all right.

I arrived at Domodedovo exhausted, having been awake for pretty much two nights straight (okay, it wasn’t two full nights, because of time zones and blah blah blah, but shut up). Stumbling through passport control was quite the challenge, along with trying to remember which black hard-shelled Samsonite suitcase was mine. Tip: Don’t put a Canadian flag on your luggage when the flight comes from Canada. My Director of Studies was there to meet me, all smiles and welcomes, with a company taxi to take me to my flat. I’m in a lovely little place in southern Moscow, around Sevastopolskaya, which is fifteen minutes’ walk from where I work and about half an hour by metro from the city centre. My room is small but comfortable, and I really need to go shopping. And figure out how this sofa bed works without breaking it.

Right now I have slept a little and am finishing this before life gets truly busy, even though I don’t have Internet or SIM card access yet. Which is bad because no one knows I got here alive, but I digress. I’m here, I’m okay, and I’m getting set up. It’s a little bit frightening to know how far I am from Canada and my family and friends, and how long it will be before I see them again, but I’m also excited for this new adventure. Hello, Russia – I hope that we will get along nicely.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Yes, I'm there, just waiting to board my direct to Moscow. Full recap - complete with cantankerous commentary! - to follow in a day or two. Let's just say Transaero has been really helpful, I've had good times with friends and family across Canada, and haven't completely given on humanity yet. I'm dead tired but doing well considering. Now, I have a Moscow to get to!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Щетка для болос

This, my friends, is a love letter. To an inanimate object, yes, but it is a love nonetheless. Let me tell you, right now - the number one accessory you need for a long-haul flight is a hairbrush. 

Now, you're going to think I'm crazy, but it's true. A hairbrush is a sacred and holy thing. I don't know if it's true for you, Dear Reader, but there is nothing that makes me feel gross faster than messy hair. Lack of shower? No. Dirty socks? No. If my hair is out of place, I cannot function. After two red-eyes in a row, I know I'm going to feel like three consecutive exam periods minus the mass energy drink consumption. And after (hopefully) a bit of plane sleep, my hair is going to be a massive disaster. However, the mere act of tidying my hair is about as effective as eight hours of sleep in a real bed, a shower, and enough coffee to wake even the deadest of zombies. If you look acceptable wandering through Schiphol airport at 6 AM (me, February 2011), you're way ahead of the game. Since my boss will be meeting me at the airport in Moscow, this is super important. Forget the extra underwear! Throw away your airport-kiosk deodorant! The hairbrush is what you need.

This has been a public service announcement from Rachael's Weird Blog, Inc. Just...don't ask. 


One day more... another day, another destiny...

Ahem. Sorry, I tend to quote that song the day before anything. Well, tomorrow I step on a plane which will take me first to Vancouver, then to Toronto, then to Domodedovo airport in Moscow. I leave my home country and my family for something totally new.

Things that scare me about this: 

  • I keep having nightmares that the airline won't honor my ticket. 
  • I am guaranteed to be the worst teacher ever. My imagination tells me so. 
  • Baggage restrictions.
  • It's not so much a fear of not being able to communicate, but that real Russians will laugh at me if I attempt to speak their language. 
  • I am more or less flat broke and will be living on whatever the Russian equivalent of Kraft Dinner is for the first month.
  • I will get lost every day. 
  • The cultural faux pas will be an hourly occurrence.
Things that make me super duper happy:
  • Um, hello? IT'S RUSSIA. My dream since, like, forever. That alone is going to help a whole bunch. 
  • The flat broke thing will last about a month. And then I can go wild. 
  • I love airports, airplanes, and international travel. To me, the exciting part is the destination, but the REALLY exciting part is getting there. Squee. 
  • I get to teach an age group I'm really comfortable with, and who appear to be comfortable with me for some unfathomable reason.
  • I will be in Europe in four days. 
  • My mom can't lecture me anymore about my unemployable major. 

Tomorrow I begin a long and arduous journey (okay, not so much arduous, but you try two red-eye flights in a row). Everything's finished except for some last-minute packing, The Charging of the Electronics, and goodbyes to my parents and dog. Mostly the dog. Soon, I will be posting from my new home. Can you believe it? I sure can't.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


It's the final countdown.

No, not like that. But I've been packing and saying goodbye all week. I've played Suitcase Tetris with my clothes, figured out exactly what I need to leave behind. I've arranged lunch with a family friend, dinner with my aunt. My cousin and his wife are even coming down this weekend just to see me, which is an extra compliment because they have to drive like five hours and my cousin's wife is about 36 weeks pregnant. Every day slips away from me, one day closer to the biggest change of my life. Russia is perhaps the scariest and most exciting thing that has happened to me.

On my last day of university, my computer bag broke once and for all. It served me faithfully through all four years of study, and I wasn't annoyed - but I did need a new one, and was not exactly rolling in money. Luckily, I found a bag at the back of my closet, which was given out as a souvenir at a festival booth way back in high school. The trouble? It had a logo on it that will not fly in Russia. (For any guesses as to why, see recent news events.) I did not want to get in trouble, so it had to go.

Eventually, I found an old Canada Day bandanna in my room and got an idea. Cut up and fitted to the space provided, it made an excellent cover for my portion of the handbag. I was home alone for three weeks, and mostly - I sewed. Hand sewing, through thick fabric. It became downright therapeutic. I would get home from work, switch on House M.D., and sew and sew and sew for hours. My thumbs were bruised. The skin peeled off my fingertips. I didn't mind. It felt like I'd accomplished something. Then I got the idea to do a border, and that finished up the three weeks. It was very simple and probably looks terrible. But it worked. And I'm proud of it, nonetheless.

For one thing - it will be nice to have a bit of Canada with me wherever I go. Even if they'll probably mistake me for American anyway.

But mostly, it's something I did - and the idea of that really appeals to me.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Today I got my driver's license. Oh, I've kind of had it before - but British Columbia has the stupidest licensing program you've ever heard of. You have all these different levels and restrictions, and it's incredibly easy to mess up and have to start over. I am not a natural driver, and I have struggled with the tests. It seemed certain that I would fail today. But as of now I am fully licensed with no restrictions, and you can't stop me neener neener.

Not that I'm going to drive in Russia anyway - I hear it's something of a suicidal act - but it's nice to have. I'm getting an International Driving Permit as soon as my new license is ready, in a couple of years I can rent a car, and boo-yah, freedom.

Maybe it's because I grew up in a town which has more cars per capita than any other in Canada, or because I've seen American Graffiti one too many times, but today feels like the final break from my childhood. No more will I be treated like an imbecile on the road. No more will I have to watch my back because one little infraction will mean two more years of waiting. I'm a grown-up. I'm free.

And man, am I glad I got this done before leaving for Russia. It feels appropriate to leave Canada with no strings attached. I don't have to go back for a stupid road test - and will in fact never take a road test again. Freedom. It's intoxicating., not literally. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013


We're getting to the end. There are goodbyes to be said, arrangements to be made, last-minute appointments to be kept. I'm trying to prepare my summer students for my departure. And of course, there's packing. 

I'm taking one suitcase, for one year. This is not exactly a novel concept, but I've never done it before, and it's proving daunting. My new mantra has become "I can buy it in Russia." And yet, there are so many things I just don't want to leave. You're supposed to pack only what's essential - but what is essential? 'Cuz there's no way I can function in my new country without Harry Potter, guys. 

So without further ado, I present Rachael's Moving in the Modern Era, adapted for Russia-bound, business-casual audiences, and written in an easy-to-read list for your convenience. 

Advantage: You can now travel almost anywhere on earth in twenty-four hours or less.
Disadvantage: Weight restrictions are getting stupider and stupider. For luggage, I mean. 

Advantage: Music and books are now stored on one convenient lightweight device.
Disadvantage: You can no longer look around and judge your seatmates by what they're reading.

Advantage: You can read up on just how stylish they are in Moscow these days.
Disadvantage: The heaviest clothes possible are stylish in Moscow these days. 

Advantage: There are more resources at your fingertips than ever before in human history. 
Disadvantage: Every choice offers another opportunity to make a mistake. 

Advantage: As a Canadian, you believe you are already prepared for Moscow winter.
Disadvantage: All your preparations still have to get to Moscow winter. 

Advantage: You are thrilled to go into a bank and casually order 5000 Russian rubles. 
Disadvantage: You know full well that it's about a hundred and fifty dollars. 

Advantage: You can keep yourself entirely up-to-date on the political situation in Russia. 
Disadvantage: Your friends constantly remind you of the political situation in Russia.

Advantage: You are intimately familiar with Russian pop culture. 
Disadvantage: You can't get the Cheburashka song out of your head.  

Seventeen days, folks. Are you ready?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


So, today I found out that our apartments are being arranged, that I'm teaching in the Sevastopolskaya area (provoking a momentary spot of confusion as I wondered why on earth they were sending me to Sevastopol), and that I have a roommate who seems fine so far. (I should probably add that in this arrangement, I'm likely to be the Sheldon.)

It's all coming together. I have a place to live, somewhere to work, an anchor in the enormous city. If Russia seemed unreal this time last week, it's sure sinking in now. I'm going to live on this street in this neighbourhood, and eat at this restaurant and buy groceries in this store. I will have to take this metro line to get to work. I'm starting to carve out a new home, even though I'm not there yet.

My company seems pretty friendly, and have been extremely helpful so far. I can't wait to work for them.

Best of all - I learned there's a theatre in Moscow that shows old Soviet movies pretty much non-stop.

I know where I'm spending my free time. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013


I've spent the evening listening to Judy Collins' cover of "Both Sides Now", originally written by Joni Mitchell. It's one of those songs that just kind of sticks. The thing is, I'm not sure I would have understood it five years ago. Or even two.

Oh, sure, I heard Joni Mitchell sing it when Emma Thompson was sad in Love Actually and thought it was achingly beautiful. And Collins' version was used on Mad Men last season and it fit the scene perfectly. But tonight I listened to the song for the first time. Paying attention to lyrics is not my strong suit, but when I get stuck on a song, I can't stop. So I listened.

Last year was full of upheaval. There were points when I was convinced I would drop out of university. There was friend drama, personal doubt, a terrible loneliness. I was anxious for the future. I didn't want to graduate. I withdrew, and almost lost my grip. It was awful at the time. Indescribably so. Now that I've moved on, though, and seen the other side, I feel more complete. The experience made me better at living.

Now, I'm moving across the world to take on a new job in a country I've never experienced. If I hadn't gone through the past year, I'm not sure I would have been able to do it. Now I know I can survive troubled times - and in fact need them, awful as they are. It takes both sides to be able to appreciate the good, right?

And though Mitchell's voice is beautiful and her songwriting skills are superb and I listen to her version when I'm gloomy - I think I like Collins' better. (Yes, I know, I'm a bad Canadian.) It's more upbeat in tempo without losing any of the meaning. In short, it leaves more room for hope. And we can't take a leap without some hope, no matter how much we pretend we've got things figured out.

It's life's illusions I recall... I really don't know life at all...

Saturday, August 3, 2013


I'm still getting used to this blogging thing. Whether it's configuring the ridiculous Facebook like box, making sure someone reads the silly thing,  or taming my taste for hopeless run-on sentences, it seems like there's a new challenge every day.

Currently I write one other blog (which I abandoned a few years back and recently rediscovered), and the remnants of others are scattered all over the Internet. I tend to fall prey to the "honeymoon phase" of blogging, then abandon it when something throws a wrench in the works - like exams or a good TV show. We all know the traveler or expat who writes faithfully for the first week, then realizes that their life is more or less the same and disappears into Internet oblivion. I don't want to be that writer. Ideally, I'll keep writing throughout my year in Russia, and continue through more travels. Because there will be more, that I know for sure. (Also, it would be nice if someone who's not a Facebook friend reads it!)

Like many people, my challenge is not the action, but the discipline involved. The number of half-finished books lying around my house is a testament to this. When I have more to do but show up at work and keep the dishes washed, I'm sure it will be even more difficult. But I promise I'll try. Not because I owe it to any readers - I'm not narcisstic enough to believe anyone is reading this rather unremarkable corner of the Internet - but because I owe it to myself to finally stick with something. 

В пути!

We are officially twenty days out from departure - which is exciting and scary all at once. A big transition is always a little daunting, no matter how prepared you are. I've found in the past that writing down the good and bad of a situation always helps, if only to organize the thoughts spinning in my head. Let's make a checklist.

Household skills: Excellent, considering what my tutoring job puts me through. I've only put liquid soap in the dishwasher once this week. Oh, and I broke my dad's truck. Technically not my fault.

Roommate-bothering level: High. Did I mention I sing opera, never shut up and stay awake at crazy hours? Have fun with that, roomie, whoever you are. Please don't try to get me deported.

Money: Weak. May have to break off pieces of my furniture and claim they belong to the True Cross. Ebay buyers just eat that up.

Packing: I threw some books in a suitcase. Does that count?

Russian language: Serviceable. I can get around, but still haven't quite reached the level where I can have Russian friends. I'd put myself at about the skill of a golden retriever.

People skills: Ha, you amuse me.

Teaching: This summer as a private tutor has been very enlightening. My grammar is perfectly adequate (I talk English goodly like), and I have no trouble communicating academic concepts. My patience has also expanded exponentially. I think right now the biggest hurdle is classroom management. If the kids act up, I may or may not shake keys in front of their faces to distract them. That works up to age 17, right?

Overall, I think that most of this is going to sort itself out once I get there, with a little brainpower and some lowered expectations. Russia's a dream, but I can't think of it that way. I'll still have to commute to work and take out the garbage and buy toothpaste. I'll like some of my coworkers, dislike others, and be okay with most of them. I'll have good and bad days in the classroom. It's one thing to rationalize this to yourself, but quite another to experience it. I'll take what comes and enjoy the good times - and do my best to ensure that there are as many as possible.

Ready or not, I'm taking off from Vancouver on August 23rd. It's hard to tell how an adventure will be before it begins - but I'm coming in looking for the best. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Самолеты, самолеты...

I figured that getting a visa was probably the worst part of the process. Once that little piece of paper is in your hands, you're golden. Just spend 10 minutes on the Internet booking a ticket and it's all done, right?


Within seconds, the perfect flight came up - Seattle to Houston, Houston to Moscow, extremely cheap - but the big problem was the layover. One hour and eight minutes is hardly enough to get off the plane, let alone run to a different terminal, go through security, etc, etc. Back to the drawing board. I searched and searched. I have to be in Russia August 25th. My visa will not stand for anything else. The problem is, most of the flights leaving on the 24th arrive on the 26th, and most of the flights leaving on the 23rd inexplicably arrive on the 24th. I wrestled with the Internet. Prices rose steadily, and I found myself choosing between 21 hours in Frankfurt, 21 hours in LaGuardia, or an insane dash from LaGuardia to JFK in the two hours allotted by whatever insane person is in charge of these things.

Finally, we decided to go back to Vancouver, which had previously proven too expensive. By sheer luck, we found a flight leaving from Vancouver at the perfect time, arriving in Moscow at the perfect time, with a 10-hour layover in Toronto (where all my friends live) - for almost as cheap a price as one could get! Sure, it was through one of those sketchy third-party sites (I won't name them in case they have lawyers), but who cared?

I should have. I should have cared.

Within minutes, we got a phone call. Problem with payment. Meanwhile, I had Googled said sketchy site and found that a lot of people were calling it a scam. Uh-oh. It looked like I was done for. Having sunk all my money into this ticket, I had no way of buying another. Russia seemed to fade away with the slurp sound of all my dreams going down the toilet.

Three hours on the phone later (to make a long story short), we found out that someone had spelled something wrong on the other end. Seriously, that's it. One letter wrong and I almost missed out on the trip. We clarified that, they sent confirmation, and I was booked. I hope. (As for the scam thing - that seems to be mostly pissed-off special snowflakes who can't read directions, and I did find many success stories. Not my problem.)

So, for now I'm going to Russia. But like I said about the visa - they really do make you earn it. Holy jeez.

Twenty-two days and counting.