Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writer's Block

Wooh, it's been a while since I've updated. Apparently people have still been reading my blog anyway, so that's nice, but I suppose you all deserve a new entry. It's been hard to write the last few weeks (hence the title) as I've been either, a) busy or, b) tired. I keep thinking "oh, I should write this in my blog," and then I get home at 11pm and remember I have to lesson plan for tomorrow's class and then the blog just doesn't happen. Speaking of 11pm, for the first time in my life I have a curfew. Technically, I need to be back in the dorm every night by 11pm or sleep somewhere else, which is slightly maddening. Luckily the sentries seem to like me, so I can get in a little later at times, but come on! 

So it's almost Noember, and time is flying by - I've been in Russia for over a month already! At this rate I'll be hanging out in New England next summer in no time at all. But of course, I have to survive the winter, and winter is coming. The weather here is already pretty much the same as winter in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I went to university. Almost everyone I've met has uttered some form of the verb замёрзать/замёрзнуть (zamyorzat'/zamyorznoot') which means "to freeze." Usually it's the informal "thou" form, as in ты замёрзнишь = "you will freeze." Everyone likes it when I tell them the average temperature in New Hampshire in the winter is probably 20-25 degrees or so (of course it gets colder sometimes). Then they get to tell me that Novosibirsk gets down to -50 and that I will freeze. We'll have to see if they're right.

So these last few weeks I have been teaching anywhere from 7-10 classes a week, even giving my first ever lecture in Russian to a small class of history students about America's educational system! Writing that sentence makes my Russian sound a lot better than it actually is, and I still have serious issues with communication at times. I can go on at length about some topics, and then on other topics I can't utter a coherent sentence. I should probably try to find some Russian lessons or start taking notes with my friends because trying to learn Russian simply by osmosis is not cutting it.

I've been trying to get involved with Russian culture when possible - and Russians love culture! I went to a showing of Lermontov's "Masquerade" in one of Novosibirsk's many theaters. For those of you who haven't read Lermontov's story, basically it's very, very, very.... very, sad. I could tell how sad it was despite having a seriously difficult time understanding the all-Russian dialogue, which I would piece together with friends during the intermissions.

The author of the originial story, Lermontov, was one of those incredibly dramatic, emotional, and ill-fated young Russian writers of the 19th century that obviously lived a tormented life and died young, like Pushkin. I say he obviously lived a tormented life because he couldn't have written a story like "Masquerade" without being depressed.

In general, I was impressed by how dramatic the play was. The music was impressive and dark, and the acting was very expressive and intense. There was hardly any color in the whole performance - everything was black and white or shades of gray, except for the ill-fated gorgeous lead actress who was allowed to wear a white dress with blue decorations. In sum, the story was extremely melodramatic, but beautiful. I couldn't help but think of the similarities of the story to "Crime and Punishment" by Dostoevsky (for the record, Lermentov wrote his story first). Apparently Lermentov established the genre of the "Russian psychological novel" (thank you wikipedia), so that would explain that.

Even more difficult than a Russian play based on a 19th century Russian story is a contemporary Russian comedy show. Called КВН ("KVN," an acronym for "Club of the Funny and Inventive") this show was the first round of a competition between comedy teams from various faculties of the university. It includes rehearsed performances of short situational skits, comedic musical performances, presentation of one-liners, and improvisational answers to questions posed by other teams. Basically, it was mostly rehearsed skits, and differed from popular American comedy. The live comedy I've seen in America is always either stand-up or improvisation. This was competitive-rehearsed-team comedy. A professor at the university helped translate some of the jokes, but Russian humor is hard to grasp even in an English translation.

In other news, I have managed to meet one other American here so far. And there seems to be an American professor living my dormitory somewhere, but I have yet to meet him. There's a German Consulate in town and I met one it's employees. But other than that, everyone else I've met is Russian or Central Asian, even at the "American Corner," which is a small room in a public library committed to American literature and culture. There is also a quite sizable Chinese student population and a few Mongolians. In general, there are an awful lot of Russians here from Kazakhstan, and occasionally one of them will stay in "my apartment" for a weekend conference at the University.

That probably requires some explaining. So before I wrote how I was presented with this large apartment and told that it was mine, only to find six Flemish students preparing lunch in "my kitchen." Well there are two extra rooms in my apartment as well, which are usually empty. So I've pretty much made the shower area my own since it's way more convenient than carrying my stuff back and forth through the maze of doors, especially since I forgot my toiletries case in Amsterdam (second world problems?). Well those two extra rooms get occupied by mysterious guests pretty regularly. Often the mysterious guests just duck in and out of their room and the only way I know they're there is I hear someone walking around in the morning or late at night. But sometimes I get to practice my Russian with a Russian girl from Kazakhstan, which is nice.

So I would upload some photos but my phone refuses to communicate with my computer through my $5-dollar-made-in-China camera cord, so it will just have to wait...

Basically, I've had a good first month in Novosibirsk, even though I don't run enough and my ears and throat ache slightly every day. It's been very hard to get into a physical groove, maybe because it's already cold, or my sleep schedule has been all over the place, or the food is different and mysterious, or I've been undisciplined in my routine (part of rebelling against everything I've been for the past 9 years, like running off to Siberia). But being slightly cold and achy all the time is an OK price to pay for a brand new clean slate of life to fill in with new people and experiences.

1 comment:

  1. This Lermontov sounds like something I've got to read during the Mongolian winter