Sunday, February 23, 2014


"Поздравляю!" my landlord said to me, shaking my hand.

For a moment I was confused as to why he had congratulated me, but then he said "Канада," and I got the message. It was about today's hockey game. Russians are good sports, after all. I congratulated him on his country's performance and we continued on to other matters. But the moment of triumph stayed, for both of us.

And indeed, today's game was one of triumph. It wasn't as dramatic as the semi-finals, or the Vancouver finals, or this year's women's match, but dammit, we did crush Sweden something fierce. I don't know how anyone could advocate for any nation but Canada as the world hockey champions. I really don't. The hockey victories were another feather in our cap, and we didn't do too badly in the overall standings, coming in third (and beating America - which was nice to see, as we all know that Canadians survive off American tears). We are a nation of winter, very much like Russia in fact, so it was no surprise that we performed near the top.

These games were set up from the beginning to be a disaster. Issues with infrastructure, dodgy political developments, and domestic threats seemed to ensure an adequate scenario at best. Somehow, it all came together, and they pulled it off. I'm happy that the games went off with only minor hitches. Though I'm still glad we won hockey. My students would never have let me live that down.

What surprised me most about the Games was how much it made me long for home. There were plenty of Canadians to be seen, of course - a girl from my hometown even won a silver - and when I caught glimpses of them on TV, I found myself almost hungry for the sight. All through tonight's closing ceremonies, I kept my eyes out for my flag and for my countrymen. Furthermore, just seeing another Winter Olympics take place reminded me of Vancouver 2010 and our own triumph there. I miss my homeland so very much.

So we've gotten safely through the Olympics, and spring is very much on the way. I'm really beginning to feel the itch to leave. The people here have been nothing but welcoming, and my job is interesting to say the least. But as the months wear on, I'm glad that it's coming to an end. I will come home again - though sometimes it seems I have to remind myself every hour. No matter. The time will pass, as time does.

Another note - in 2010, I was living in Canada, and our hockey teams brought home both gold medals. In 2014, while I was living in Russia, the same thing happened. I guess I'm going to have to clear this up now. I am not moving to South Korea in 2018. While I am clearly some sort of mystical good luck charm, our ladies and gentlemen of the ice are just going to have to win that one on their own!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


The Winter Olympics - the only ones that matter, as any Canadian would tell you - are back, and for the second consecutive time, I'm in the country hosting 'em. Here is my not-so-informed commentary on Russia's greatest Games.

It's started off with a fair number of complaints, but I have to admit that I have little sympathy for the journalists posting about their #SochiProblems. That's what Russia's like most of the time, for its people and foreigners. Suck it up, stop being entitled and stick to bottled water like the rest of us. And as for the ring thing - well, Vancouver screwed up its torches. At least Sochi hasn't let Nickelback perform.

The curious thing about the Games is that very few Russians I speak to seem interested. Maybe they'll watch it if it happens to be on TV, but there's no cutesy comparison of the medal standings or exhaustive recap of the day's events. At least not in my circles. Sure, there are many problems associated with these games, but I don't think that is the issue. If anything, I'd attribute it to the general sense of apathy that seems to surround most current events. At the same time, swirly red-and-white jackets and leopard caps are appearing all over the streets of Moscow.

Many of the students are eager to talk about it, however, and I've tried to insert some Olympic festivities into my classes. All team games are now divided up as countries (so a class "Jeopardy" session might be Team USA vs Team Japan - I've banned Russia, since the students end up arguing over it). In addition, I put up the medal standings at the start of every class, though this has gotten embarrassing since Canada is ranked much higher than Russia. If we win at hockey I'll have to go into hiding. And yes - every single one of my classes has brought up Medvedev falling asleep.

Even though these games started out in uncertainty and controversy - and are far from losing either - so far, they have proven to be quite the interesting experience.Let us hope that the games continue safely and fairly - and that in the end, this does nothing but good. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

В горкого

Okay, so we all know Russian winter can be a total pain in the ass, agreed? Agreed. Lately, things have been pretty lousy, weather-wise. -20 is considered normal, and that snow isn't budging. It's been tights under pants and two layers of gloves. However, you kind of get used to it, and when it warmed up a bit (all the way to -12), my friends and I decided to pointedly ignore the Super Bowl - not that we could watch it anyway - and take a little trip to Gorky Park.

In the warmer months, Gorky is a nice little green space, home to outdoor concerts, placid ponds and little cafes. Last time I was there, in October, it was crisp and beautiful and one of the coffee kiosks had delicious Berliners. It's pleasant, and popular with many Muscovites and tourists.

The fun doesn't really get started until winter.

You see, they turn the park into a skating rink. And I don't just mean they plop a few square metres of ice down and call it a day. They turn the whole park into a skating rink. Walking paths become icy journeys of magic. Little spots placed carefully among them house little coffee kiosks and restaurants, along with several skate rental stations. Some of the fare offered includes hearty stews and pies, along with the usual assortment of drinks (alcoholic and not - try getting away with that, Canada). I settled for hot chocolate around a fire pit. Oh, yeah, they have fire pits, lodged on these oases right in the middle of the track, just so you can warm up and watch the skaters go by.

It's entirely skate-in-skate-out, once you've gotten in. Every surface that is not ice is covered with that weird skate-friendly turf, so you can hobble up to the kiosks without ruining the skates. Music is blaring, colorful lights have been strung up in the trees, and everyone's having fun. Maybe the only problem is that the ice is much rougher than most rinks back in North America. I've been skating since I was a little kid, and though I'm not particularly skilled, I can at least stay up and move at a decent speed. The ice was bumpy and I wound up with tired ankles and a sore butt. I found myself screaming "Zamboni!" a lot. The Russian skaters zipped by, laughing at all us noobs. Still, it's a minor issue, and the sparkling ice is way too beautiful to miss.

Weirdly enough, the rink is sponsored by Nivea, which has advertising all over the place, including a damn inflatable igloo set up off one of the paths. You can't say Russians do things halfway. They have huge displays, hand warming booths, and vending machines loaded with Nivea products. Run out of lip balm on a windy day? No problem - Nivea's got you covered. This kind of targeted placement would make Don Draper cry.

Many people who TEFL head to warmer places, such as South America and Southeast Asia, but that was never a big deal for me. Quite apart from my cultural fondness for Russia, it's a joy to see the seasons turn. Coming from Canada, the world's other winter wonderland, it can be quite a comfort. As tough as a long winter can be - I can't imagine living anywhere without one.