Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Readers Have Spoken

So the other day a disappointed Russian reader of mine expressed her disappointment that I had effectively thrown away my blog. It was all the guilt trip I needed. Here I am with a nice, full, hopefully entertaining blog post. It's time to finish this Fulbright year strong.

What started as an exciting adventure into the blue has turned into a completely life-path altering experience. But have I grown? I'm still undisciplined and impressionable. I am still indecisive and a little unconfident. I'm still not sure who or what to believe about anything. In fact, I may be less decisive, less confident, less disciplined, and more impressionable than before I left America. Is that possible?

However, I don't regret this whole experience for a minute. No, rather, I feel as though I am on the cusp of truly coming into my own. That's why I plan on coming back to Russia in the Fall.

So before I get too introspective (I'm still here for another 14 days anyway ;)) Let's get caught up with some of my more entertaining recent experiences. 

The Turks and I got up earrrrrrrly to get a good spot

And, well, it was an OK spot

All the kids worked their way to the front

Hello, My Dear General!

These guards were super bored

The Soviet hammer and sickle flew over the ballet theater for a day. It doesn't even look out of place...

That's our NSPU team in blue!

So Victory Day, May 9th, is one of Russia's biggest holidays. Some might say it is the biggest, some might say it is the second biggest (New Year's being the biggest). So some of my Turkish hallmates and I decided to get up at the crack of dawn and get down to Lenin Square to see the parade. The parade started at 10, but everyone I talked to said you have to get there early in order to get a good spot.

We got there at 8:00, and I just about immediately regretted getting there at 8:00. NO ONE was there yet. In fact, it was too early and they hadn't even opened up some of the places where spectators would be allowed to stand.

In any case, we found a decent spot by a dirty rail, and waited. As we waited, people started to gather and the sun started to shine. And right around 9:55, all the babushkas and their grand children started showing up.

Now, I'm usually a gentleman. I always stand on public transportation so the aforementioned demographic groups can sit on the crowded, nauseating marshrutka. But this was different. I had been waiting next to a soot covered rail for about two hours with my camera in hand, and there was no way that I was going to not have a good view of this parade. So I stood my ground. When the old auntie asked if her kid could come stand in front of me, I said "no."

And I immediately felt guilty and as if I were failing my social responsibilities... But not too guilty.

The parade went off without a hitch, and the coordinated marching and the "uraaaaaaaaaaaas!" of the soldiers were impressive, but it was pretty short and the ordinance they had put together for this adventure was not too awe-inspiring. I have a few photos and a whole bunch of video. Some day I'll put the video in an accessible place, but you know how lazy I am.

Later in the day, I watched the relays on Lenin Square. Novosibirsk really likes putting on road race events that include short distances and loop courses, often connected into a relay. I ran in a small one by the river station, but today they found some folks who were better at running 800 meters (I still haven't run sub 2:00. Will I ever? Yes, I will). So I got to watch and film. I also have a lot of footage from the races... that I DEFINITELY need to post somewhere someday... boy what has my life become.

At night, I went and watched the fireworks from a bridge overlooking the river, then went and got some sushi. It was a successful holiday.

More recently, there was a long weekend for "Russia Day." It used to be Independence Day, but I guess they decided it was a little silly to have a holiday celebrating their independence from themselves, so they changed it to just a reason to be super patriotic about Russia. And by super patriotic I mean have a day off from work and go camping.

I was invited by several of my students to hang out at a camp site with them. You're all going to hate me but I didn't take any pictures. I will do my best to describe.

Hanging out at a campsite in Russia involves basically a steady stream of eating and drinking. I hadn't seen so many bottles of vodka since the last active rest party I attended at William and Mary. But a nice piece of roasted meet mixed with some baked potatoes can make anything go down easily.

However, when I first arrived, I was greeted by the site of a bunch of guys in camouflage standing around a circle drawn in the ground throwing a knife. I don't remember what the game is called, but it involves drawing a circle in the ground with a knife, and then carving out a piece of territory for each participant, so it's equal.

Someone is randomly chosen to go first, and you have to throw the knife into the ground so the blade sticks in. Then you draw a line in the direction that the knife is pointing, all while standing on your territory. If you can connect this line with two other lines to make a boxed off area, you get to add that territory to your own, and throw again. If you stink at throwing a knife you flop it once at the ground and then watch some Russian guy mince your real estate.

So I didn't win. But I did learn how to throw a knife at a tree, so that was cool.

The evening involved killing mosquitoes, singing songs and playing guitar, and playing a game called "crocodile." No, not the drug. It's actually just charades.

It was also the typical kind of Russian event where a foreigner falls into a lot of predictable situations. Some Russian will always want to aggressively talk about politics. With skill it's pretty easy to deflect the jabs, but it's one of those things were the harder you resist, the worse everything ends. Debating a Russian about politics is like trying to escape from a Chinese finger trap with brute strength. I've found it's better to be a lover than a fighter.

Which brings us to the next Russian party individual, who reaches a point of intoxication where he wants to fight anyone or anything. Quite literally, "I just want to... kick some ass" was spoken on this occasion. If you're not careful, you might be the one chosen as the punching bag. But it's also pretty easy to avoid - do not respond to any challenge!

Finally this man might decide that it is time to have a heart to heart conversation about the soul. You can feel free to engage in this if you're up to it, but it's also not entirely necessary to get too philosophical at 1am in the middle of a drunken haze in the woods. 

Also, if you're not careful, you may not realize that you take a shot of alcohol every 10-15 minutes. As you converse and your attention is diverted, someone may slyly fill your cup with alcohol and remind you that it's time to drink. It's more or less impolite to refuse to drink, but your decision will be respected if you express that you respect them, even though you are refusing their hospitality. It's better to take the drink and just suppress the effects with as much food as possible.

So it was all pretty fun. But at the same time I felt a little distant from everyone. In Russia I have made many friends, but no close friends. One of the things I regret during this Fulbright year is never pursuing any deep relationships. Most of my interactions were and continue to be superficial. This was no different. I hope I haven't forgotten how to make close relationships. Is it just a cultural barrier thing?

To finish off the weekend, I watched Swan Lake at the Ballet theater with a fellow ETA from Vladivostok. The Ballet in Novosibirsk is actually pretty damn good, but I ain't no Ballet aficionado. Swan Lake was better than Jiselle. 

So that's it for now. The American drifter in Novosibirsk has to sleep sometime. Here's to a successful final 2 weeks before I head home!

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