nothing makes sense ever

Okay, so I haven’t posted in like three months. My profuse apologies. Forgive me while I vomit up a short list of my activities over the past several weeks, a.k.a. things I would advise you do while in Russia:

1) Make new friends on the street. Hang out with them for 14 hours at a time with no specified goals or plans. Be open to climbing through bogs, getting two-inch gel manicures, and watching badly dubbed American horror films at midnight at the theater.

2) Find and become a regular at a Turkish cafe called “Meat House,” but only if the M on the sign was clearly stolen from the McDonalds down the road during construction. The main goal: find wifi. If you find a Meat House in another country or without the McD’s signature symbol, enter at your own risk if you’re not into the whole gay club scene thing.

3) Start learning another foreign language on the side so that you don’t go completely insane.

4) Get into dance-offs with random strangers who sass you at the club. Because if you win. Well. There is no greater victory, my friend.

5) Find translating/editing work. Just don’t expect punctuality from your coworkers. Even if they expect punctuality from you. I still can’t figure out whether or not time is actually important in this culture. It seems like all the important things are left until the last minute, and really insignificant things are suddenly NECESSARY RIGHT NOW OR WITHIN FIVE MINUTES. With all due respect, Russia. Maybe some day all this will suddenly become crystal clear.

6) Do buy the entire No Doubt/Gwen Stefani discography for three dollah at the store. Don’t be too disappointed when it says that ‘The Sweet Escape’ is included and it isn’t. You can’t have everything in life, especially not in a country where all CDs are pirated, so get over it.

7) DON’T be afraid to say no to your Aunt when she keeps giving you food. Because no matter how many times you say no, she’ll give it to you anyway and expect you to finish it. And you will not be able to breathe afterward. Take an inhaler with you or something. I don’t know how to get avoid this one.

8) DON’T put bananas and triugolniki in the fridge together. Because banana-flavored pirozhki are like the most awkward taste I’ve ever experienced. It basically would have been better not to eat at all.

   +     =

Everything is much better now that the RHCP are on my iPod and now that I’m not as sick, but I also don’t have any food in my house except paté and chicken bullion and half of a pomegranate. 30rock isn’t quite as funny in Russian, but it works. I am переживаюing. I’ll post something more legitimate and more feeling later.

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Slacking, my new favorite hobby

I could be doing my lecture reading now, but I’m not. Usually I’d feel like I was committing a cardinal sin, but somehow Russia has a way of not caring about deadlines and rules and lets you slip past them too.

In fact, I’ve had a lot of psychological shifts occur in my mind almost completely unnoticed. After my shut-in, Mighty-Boosh-marathon weekend my psycho-emotional state has been pretty positive and pretty stable. But that doesn’t mean my mentality towards.. well, everything hasn’t already changed.

     

I’ve stopped caring about timing or deadlines. I mean, to an extent. Even three weeks in I was still breaking out in hives every time I was late to class, as Americans are programmed to think that punctuality is the definition of respect and, perhaps even more importantly, good business. But today I woke up to my alarm at 6 (I was somehow totally aware of my phone telling me it was «время просыпаться» but totally incapable of imagining that it had any practical bearing on my morning; I can’t even say I woke up thinking it was Sunday. I just have no idea what happened), shut it back off, and woke up after my first class was halfway through. Whoops.

I mean, yes, I wish I had been in class to review the grammar, but I also was just like “whatever” and made it in time for the second lesson. My host mom’s mother was supposed to come last night to insulate the windows for the winter. No show. But like I said, you stop caring anymore. Punctuality and timing are just not really that important. Even though on principle I of course agree that valuing time makes society more efficient, it’s funny how easily one can slide right in and change your values based on environment.

Similarly (and perhaps more disturbingly, depending on your perspective), gender. Gender Norms. I was at first really aware of the gender identities here. Like, painfully aware. As in the fact that women are “supposed to be” really effeminate and men are supposed to be somewhere along a scale of gentleman—macho—muzhik (although let’s try to stay away from that last one, please). For the first three weeks I was still in my normal, apparently very American mindset of “I’m a woman, and therefore I can do whatever I want and wear whatever I want and speak however I want and put together this shelving unit myself and carry all these heavy boxes unaided and be president of a massive company and it’s casual.” It was a bit uncomfortable seeing and hearing about young people going on dates and behaving along cultural norms that just seem so.. dated (no puns intended, I apologize). The whole flowers thing, the men always paying.. and not just that. Just the way the relationship dynamics tend to work. Reading Russian womens’ magazines and watching the tv—you begin to see very quickly that women are definitely seen as more attractive when they’re damsels in distress and cook really well, and that men should be protectors and decision-makers.
Of course these are generalizations, but I feel like I’m allowed to make them to convey the overwhelming cultural gap between here and home.

Regardless, this was all a bit uncomfortable at first. I’ve been raised in a household in which you’re treated like a person, not like a girl or a boy—and while no, I’m not gender-confused or anything, I definitely feel super out of place in situations where I’m supposed to play the “traditional female.” I like to cook, but not because I’m intentionally trying to play into some romanticized role of the happy housewife. Like, that’s cool if that’s what you want, but it just isn’t me.

So it came as a rather large shock when I was perusing some WDay.ru article the other day and started thinking according to Russian gender paradigms. “Yes, it would be rather nice if he had held the door open for me,” or, “Aw, that’s so sweet that he’s giving her flowers” (for some context, I am usually really freaked out by signs of affection like this because they seem totally contrived and cheesy), or, worst of all, “It might be kind of nice to have a relationship where I feel protected all the time.”

“It might be kind of nice to have a relationship where I feel protected all the time.”

“It might be kind of nice to have a relationship where I feel protected all the time.”

EXCUSE ME?? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE NORMAL ME? WHAT DEVIL HAS SUCKED OUT YOUR NORMAL LIVING CRITERIA AND REPLACED THEM WITH SOMETHING THAT IS OTHERWISE UTTERLY REPULSIVE TO YOU?

I’m not really worried that this is an actual shift in mentality, but it was just super jarring and bizarre to have these thoughts actually cross my mind. Especially when I’d actually made a special note of the difference a couple weeks beforehand. So, feminist friends, worry not. It’s really whatever, I just wanted to talk about it. No Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears for me. At least, not at home. Everything will go back to normal once I’m back home.

I mean, almost everything. A wise friend told me that her semester in Spain taught her first and foremost to relax. Accurate. I feel like I have taken the highest concentration of chill pill ever. Like, without it actually being considered an opiate. I’ll probably talk more about this later, but right now I do kind of have a lot of reading to do, so I’ll post more later. Sorry I haven’t actually told any narratives about adventures yet, I’m getting there :/

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Historically accurate Tatar village, complete with 80s Diskoteka!!

REJOICE. Today I have pictures. They’re not good, but they are pictures.

Today after class I was a super-shameless-touristka and went to Tugan Avylym, a model Tatar village located in a quiet part of the city center. I even had legitimate reasons—one of our homework assignments this week is to compare and contrast two items of the same sort. I heard about the “Tatar village” and knew instantaneously I should compare it to Colonial Williamsburg. It would have been hard not to think of Williamsburg when you live in a town where it’s normal to see fully-grown adults in 18th-century garb ride mopeds and tipsily stumble around the karaoke bar on ‘80s night. Besides, I’m a big fan of “living museums”—we got to see an old Russian village in Novgorod last year—so I had to check it out. (Also family, I am still lamenting the fact that we didn’t go to see the Ainu village in Yokohama. And I’m mostly over Arietty. Mostly.)

    

It was around 3pm when I got there and kind of cool outside, so at first there really wasn’t anyone around. It was totally free to enter the complex and they didn’t even charge for taking pictures (lots of Russian museums make you pay an extra fee). Even the guard was pleasant. This is such a weird city.

 

It’s not really set up to be historically accurate—although who’s to say what “accurate” really means? I mean, I’ve never been in an ancient Tatar village, so who knows. But I think I’m allowed to make some assumptions—like the fact that an ancient Tatar village wouldn’t have a pool hall and bowling alley, and the paths wouldn’t be made of beautifully laid stone. (And believe me, there were no dirt roads here; this has got to be the cleanest place I’ve ever seen in this country.) And I mean, Colonial Williamsburg isn’t accurate; the paint on the fences is always fresh, there aren’t pigs milling about in the streets, and it’s far more likely that you’ll smell potpourri from the soap shop than anything you actually would have smelt in 1750. (This is a pleasant upgrade, but it doesn’t prevent me from sometimes wishing they had an “EXPERIENCE THE REAL CW WEEKEND.”) But Tugan Avylym is definitely commercial rather than historical. The buildings were all immaculately decorated, there were flowers everywhere, the lanterns were all shiny and polished. It kind of felt like being in a life-size version of the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World. But in Russia.

   

(no, the fact that I have no pics of the buildings in their entirety is NOT meant to be artistic. my iPod camera is just really ghetto)

There were a couple boys playing on this bridge in the middle of the complex. They looked like they probably should have been in school, but no matter. I was mostly laughing the whole time at the fact that Tugan Avylym even has its own Crim Dell. [For those of you that don’t know, the Crim Dell is the beautiful (and really scummy, flesh-eating-bacteria-filled) lake in the middle of my campus. There’s a beautiful red bridge that has its own superstitions and everything.]

The Crim Dell Bridge

It’s rumored that walking across the Crim Dell Bridge by yourself will ensure that you’re alone for the rest of your life, and that walking across as a pair means you’ll be together forever. If you suddenly decide that you’d rather NOT spend eternity with said individual—no problem! Just walk back over the Crim Dell and push them over the railing.

Tugan Avylym Bridge

I wonder what happens when you cross this bridge??

I went into the Blinnaya, this small cottage that was very Williamsburg-esque as it had an old school oven and cooking instruments. There was a woman making oladi (which are these sort of fat baby pancakes, a little different from regular blinchiki) in a wood stove in a cast-iron pan with a handle that was probably five feet long. So yes, super Williamsburg-y. I got a plate full of oladi and tea and pestered the woman about the complex—when it was built, who built it, etc. It’s pretty new (built for the Kazan millenial festivities in 2005, I think), but she didn’t know who the owners or investors were—not the government, clearly. I’m intrigued by who exactly wanted/could afford to present a sparkly, Disney-style rendition of an ancient Tatar village. Or, more accurately, who wanted to make a pretty penny off of it. CW was founded in the early 1900s by the Rockefellers as an historical and philanthropic endeavor; Tugan Avylym, on the other hand, is totally a commercial enterprise. It seems like Kazan is filled with shiny little things like this, tucked into corners.

So there. Now I’ve done my homework assignment for next Thursday and have also subjected you all to it.

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Writing, or “Why I’m Not Outside On A Beautiful Бабье Лето Day”

I was trying to figure out why it was so difficult for me to post anything about my excursions or experiences of the past several weeks, besides just my lack of time and my utter exhaustion at the end of every day (resulting in a 9:45pm bedtime. I’m pretty sure that’s earlier than my 6yo sister’s). I feel that there’s a time for the words to come, but right now is not it. Right now I’m just trying to take care of myself and my psyche, and this weekend is dedicated to figuring out just how to do that. And I’ve discovered something that everyone, it seems, already knew—that writing is the most helpful way to keep yourself together.

[My first instinct is to apologize for the fact that this post is not strictly about travel, but I’m not going to do that. This is, no matter what it is labelled, a personal blog; it is meant not only to document my experiences, but to allow me an outlet for my thoughts while I’m away from home. If you think it’s a waste of time to continue down the page or that it’s overly sentimental, you can leave. Besides, this post does concern travel and that horrible mood-swing sine curve that accompanies it.]

I never really understood the purpose of keeping a journal. I’d tried it, of course: I would keep up with it for a couple of weeks, rip out the pages, spend more time doodling than writing words, re-read my old entries with disdain and self-loathing and criticize the 11yo-Sophie’s “tone” and “style,” and all the while more and more empty journals that I’d received as Christmas and birthday presents were piling up on my bookshelf, unused and unloved, in my room. Half the reason I preferred drawing to reading was because I was so afraid to be ashamed of what I’d written later on, whether they were preteen feelings that would soon seem juvenile or stories that would, in hindsight, sound unsophisticated and utterly devoid of meaning.

I’ve since realized (or, more accurately, been taught by others) that all of this self-criticism and holding oneself to impossible standards is extraordinarily unhealthy and only leads to failure and an inability to improve at all. But this realization still didn’t allow me to understand why people write their thoughts down on a daily basis. Even though I knew how to journal, I didn’t understand why I should. And “why” has always been an important question for me. If I can’t see the purpose, it’s hard to bring myself to care. (This explains all of my grades in Econ.)

And finally, this morning, I took out my most recent notebook purchase and spilled at least six pages’ worth of my consciousness onto its pink, flowery pages. I understand now—not just know intellectually—but understand why people write. A journal is a way to articulate your ideas, to converse with something that will listen when you have no one else, to write down your confessions, suspicions, and fears (and right now, of course, I have a lot of those) without threat of judgment, to organize the thoughts that are strewn messily about your brain, and to build an arsenal of verbal reinforcements to strengthen yourself and power through the day, or week, or even the next couple of hours. (Tori Amos also helps with this. And not thanks to Spotify, which won’t work since I’m not in the US anymore and which refuses to let me change my country profile.) When people say they “write because they have to,” it’s not because the god of written word is compelling them to drag their pen across the page. It’s because they would go insane if they didn’t transfer the words from brain to paper.

So now I understand why people write. And maybe, after writing this post, I will be able to gather the thoughts in my head and finish writing about something that’s probably more interesting to the rest of you. But this weekend I’ve had to slow life down to a crawl and spend it inside, drinking tons of caffeine and still sleeping all day, doing my homework, and watching Sherlock in Russian on Yandex (praise that glorious search engine, it has everything). Because, even though the weather is beautiful and golden and warm, I need some time indoors by myself to process everything that’s going on here and remember why I came. Because I’m starting to slip into a not-so-happy place because of the underlying stress of being here and the fact that I’m essentially all alone, and I need to take care of my mind and not just assume that it can keep running at a sprint just because I haven’t had a mental breakdown or anything dramaetic yet.

So for now I will keep watching Гарри Поттер and Как я встретил вашу маму (thanks Prof. Lyles, this show is fabulous) and consuming lots of tea and prianiki (gingerbread).

(Sarah, you’d be so proud of my lifestyle choices. Haha.)

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Update

Additionally, the power just went out for no reason at all whatsoever. What was I saying about normal life in this country..?

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Полиция and the Vomiting Cat

As several of you have heard, on Friday my host mom left for Sochi until the New Year and left me with her cat, who will henceforth be called “Lucifer,” or possibly “Spoiled Brat” when I’m feeling kind.

Heretofore I thought Richard was funny and charismatic, but I suppose that’s generally the textbook first impression of an utter narcissist. Not only does Richard like to whine at 12:30am and 6:30am at my door, he also likes to claw my feet, spill the food I’m pouring in his dish, THROW UP THE FOOD I BOUGHT HIM ON THE KITCHEN FLOOR when he’s run out of his homemade chicken, and relieve himself literally three inches from his litterbox. Really, cat. Get it together.

I know this is typical cat behavior, and it probably sounds like I’m being far too harsh on him. But these are also reasons why I don’t have any pets in the States. Besides, my friend from Taiwan was saying that a cat’s sleeping position on your bed indicates how much respect he holds for you. If he stays at your feet, he views you as his superior, etc. etc. Considering Richard tried to sleep on my chest (enter stage right my Babushka’s fear of grandchild-being-asphyxiated-by-cat-phobia), I think we all get the idea of how spoiled rotten he is.

However, I can’t complain. Now I have a new housemate, who graduated from the Pedagogical Uni here last year and speaks English and Russian (she understands my position and therefore speaks slowly and clearly and is generally awesome).

I am still having difficulties with the bank, which is royally unpleasant. When neither the Russian bank nor the American bank knows the special (and absolutely necessary) code for an international wire transfer, what is one supposed to do? I’m twenty. I only speak enough Russian to just get through the рынок without dying of a panic-induced heart attack. And even in English I’m definitely not an accounting expert.

To top off the emotional-logistical roller coaster that is the second week in a foreign country, the security alarm in my apartment was going off when I returned 40 minutes ago (at around 3:45pm). I figured, “Ah, screw it. I can’t figure out how to turn it off, and it’s probably just telling me someone left a message at the door while I was gone. I’ll just wait for my roommate to come back and she’ll probably know what to do.” No sooner had I put on my PJs and gotten a piece of toast did I hear car doors outside. It’s probably a good thing I looked out the window, too, because the police had just shown up.

Knowing in my heart of hearts that it was definitely, definitely for my apartment, I hastily made myself more decent and waited for the inevitable ring of the doorbell. Everything was fine—they were pretty young and surprisingly nice, considering the reputation Russian police officers have; they didn’t try any funny business with my passport when I told them I was foreign (because I had to; how else am I supposed to explain the fact that I have a three-year-old’s vocabulary? And that’s being cruel to the three-year-old), and turned off the buzzer for me.

Definitely more pleasant than the buterbrod I had last Thursday, which had an entire pork tongue sitting on top of it. I’m not very picky when it comes to food, but at 6:45 in the morning, it was a bit much. But I refuse to be excessively stressed about any of these things (except possibly the bank. I shake my fist at you). I think this is just the way acclimatization goes. At least in Russia. I mean, with the tongues and police and all.

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Accounting accomplishments

Yesterday I had my most ambitious adventure so far. I went to the bank.

Paying tuition is a bit more complicated for students who have come to Kazan independently, rather than being here on a university exchange. Most everyone in my group simply payed tuition at their own institution and then bought plane tickets. My Taiwanese friends and I, on the other hand, have spent the past two and a half days trying to figure out how to pay. Things are a bit complicated.

And so today, in Russian, I learned all about wire transfers and charge limits and bank accounts and КППs and ИННs and БИКs and all of these horrible acronyms and the word талон, which is that little slip of paper that says “A032 to window 9” you get at the DMV. Considering the fact that I (regrettably and embarrassingly) didn’t really know what a wire transfer was yesterday morning, it is a miracle that I got through alive. Or at least without people yelling at me in a foreign language.

     

 

But worry not! It’s getting to the point where it’s pretty easy to communicate, so I didn’t have much trouble and the devushka who was helping me was really understanding. Even if it did take me about 17 minutes longer than it would for Russian to fill out the квитанция (kvitantsia, or invoice), it’s alright; I learned a lot.

 

Additionally, I think a car may have run into the side of the cafe I had dinner in, but I’m not sure.

I am not even exaggerating.

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