Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Students Have Much More Money Than I Do - Part 1

One of the activities in my lesson today called on the students to imagine what they would do if they could own their own hotel. Where would they build it? How big would it be? What would they charge per room? Blah, blah blah. Now, I only had one student in this class, because nobody else bothered to show up. Nobody else ever bothers to show up, it seems. I decided that we were going to do this activity anyway, just the two of us, because it was a good chance for the student to get some fluency practice, in addition to reviewing use of the second conditional. Also, this was what I had planned. While I'm usually pretty keen on going off track, I'm trying to nip that habit in the bud, at least until I get used to the new curriculum. Regardless, the activity didn't go exactly as planned.

Me: If you could build a hotel, where would you put it?

Student: Well actually, my father owns some hotels. I don't like to live there though, because that gets very boring, very quick. Other people, maybe they live in hotels, but not me. I get an apartment. + [two minute monologue about the state of hotels in Moscow vs the rest of Europe, and how his father's hotels factor into all of this]

I blinked a couple of times before remembering that I should ignore that I don't live on the same plane of existence as this guy and ask some follow up questions.

Nice chat.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I'm Trying to Learn Russian. It's Going Slowly.

Before leaving for Russia, I read that the signs in the subway stations are all in Russian. Knowing that I would be seeing a lot of those, I made a point of learning the alphabet using this site. That helped.

I also learned the numbers 1-10, which later turned to be of little to no help at all when dealing with cashiers, because most things cost more than 30 cents. I probably should have learned higher numbers to go with the money here. Somehow, I completely overlooked that I would be using money here. I had no idea what a kopek was and tried to pass one off as a ruble my first week. If you're not familiar with Russian money, look that one up and you'll understand how unimpressed the cashier was.

I'm trying to up my game. Quickly. Numbers, common phrases, basic small talk: I'm trying to cram all of these things in my head within about a week, and it's not going as smoothly as I would like. For one thing, my accent is so terrible that nobody seems to understand half of the things that fly out of my mouth. For another, the classes that I thought I would get with my employer sort of exist, but sort of don't. At the moment, at least, they're not really happening. So, I'm on my own.

In the next week or two, I'm going to try to set up a couple of language exchanges through some sites that I know about. If the language exchanges work out and I come back from them alive, I'll mention the websites by name. When you're living abroad, the Internet is your friend. Until it isn't.

A View From the 18th Floor

Stunning, isn't it?

Not only do I get to commute an hour and a half to work, but I get to wake up every morning to a view of the concrete jungle. Obviously I'm ecstatic.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Cell Phone Has a Vagina

My employer convinced me to purchase a phone after my first full day of work. After not having had regular cell service since I left Busan (my employer in Japan provided me with a cell phone, but I could only call certain coworkers on it, so it was essentially rubbish), it isn't likely that I would have gone to get one on my own. However, given that I live an hour and a half commute from where I work, it really is necessary. Yes, really. My employer really put me in a filth hole an hour and a half from where I'll be working. They care! Lots. I've been advised that retaining foreign teachers is one of their top priorities. I fail to see how that's ever been a problem. After all, they did take me to the cell phone store and everything. Very thoughtful, that.

The cellphone store looked more or less like cellphone stores everywhere else do, which is to say that my first question upon entering was "where are the cheap ones?" For future reference, this is my first question upon entering everything. After having this translated by my coworker and being directed to the cheap ones by the adorable Cell Phone Guy, I selected the cheapest phone in the store. This is exactly how I purchased my laptop, too.

I chose the brown version of the phone, because I like neutral colors. As he was getting the phone ready for purchase, Cell Phone Guy said a few things to my coworker. I asked her what was going on, because I hate when I'm not given the option to refuse to participate in a conversation, and she told me that he felt weird about selling me a brown phone. Cell Phone Guy apparently felt a bit sad at the idea that a lady would walk away with something so unpretty, and really wanted to sell me the pink one. Learning that Cell Phone Guy was saddened by my brown phone idea saddened me, so I agreed to purchase the pink one. I acted really excited about it, too. This wasn't ridiculous at all.

As the final exchange was going down, Cell Phone Guy and my coworker were leaving me out of the conversation again, and this time he kept looking back to me as he was saying whatever he was saying, so I politely interjected, yet again, that I wanted to know what was going on. My coworker looked amused and told me that he wanted to know where I was from, then wanted to know if I had any Canadian coins on me. Obviously I didn't, because why would I, but I promised I would come back in the next day and bring him some. Apparently he collects coins or some blah and didn't have any from Canada yet. Also, I was having a great hair day. That was totally the real reason. My coworker told him I'd be back in, and he said he was looking forward to seeing my luxurious hair in his shop again.

The next day I was not having such a great hair day, but I went in anyway. It's important to follow through on promises, especially ones that you make to 12 year olds. Or maybe 20 year olds. I just really want to stress that a lot of what I've been insinuating here is totally not okay. Regardless, I go in to the store when it's extremely busy, which was sort of assy. Cell Phone Guy is with some customers, but leaves them hanging to come over to the netbooks, which I'm busy pretending to play with. I pass him a few Canadian coins that I had dug up for him, throw around the two or three Russian words that I know, smile, then turn to leave.

Cell Phone Guy calls me back and walks me over to some display with cell phone charms and waves at them. I eventually deduce that he's telling me to pick one, though I'm not sure at this point if it's offering me one or trying to sell me something. There are about 15 people in the store who actually want to buy stuff, who he really should probably be helping, but we're in Moscow, so I guess that he probably won't get fired for this. I eventually chose a butterfly charm, largely because it was the only one that didn't have any hearts on it. Also, it reminds me a bit of a butterfly necklace that I borrowed from my mother long ago, never gave back, and eventually broke. Cell Phone Guy removed the charm from the rack, took off the tag, and handed it to me. I thanked him about 5 times, mostly because that was one of the only Russian words I knew that week, but also because I was very happy that I didn't have to pay for something I was only picking out just to be nice. Also, keeping things honest, I was a little bit moved by the gesture. People in Moscow can be nice, it's true.

I've since been trying to invent reasons to go back to the store, but have so far held off on being foolish. Except for backing into a display case on my way out of the store that day; that was a bit foolish.

Long story short, this is why I have the pinkest pink phone that has ever pinked, bejeweled with a butterfly. It's so girly that it ought to come with it's own vagina.

My Filthy Moscow Apartment

My apartment wasn't the infested-with-cockroach kind of dirty that I had seen in Korea, but a hasn't-been-cleaned-since-we-put-up-these-2009-calendars type of dirty that I hadn't even imagined before. It was a whole new kind of gross. The carpets hadn't been vacuumed, probably since sometime before I crunched my face. There was a dirty pot in the sink. There were dirty rags here and there. The toilet hadn't been cleaned. The floors were so filthy that a finger tip swiped over it would come up black. The pillow I was meant to use had been thrown in a corner long ago and had yellowed in to a barely usable mass of repulsion. The walls in each room are stained in various places, likely never having seen a rag since they were erected. All of the sinks were so covered in filth that it took some time scrubbing to prove they could still shine at all. It smelled like cat food that had been sitting out since the 1970's. I really could go on. And on. And on.

No, I wouldn't say that I'm thrilled with the accommodation provided by the school. This is probably the least thrilled I've ever been by any accommodation, anywhere, paid for or otherwise. Really, it was unfathomably bad.

It's gotten better over the past two weeks. That is to say, I have made an effort to improve things. On the bright side, there were lots of cleaning agents left behind with all of the other previous owner's garbage, so that was pretty exciting. After getting down on my hands and knees and scrubbing the kitchen floor twice, now my finger tip only turns grey when I swipe it across the tile. Also, there's a vacuum cleaner, which worked just swell after it exhausted some foul odors in response to being turned on for the first time in 20 years.

I'm not sure if it's because I had low expectations coming here, I've been teaching abroad for a while now and know the drill, or because I've decided that apathy is easier than anger, but I haven't once gotten upset about this whole thing. Maybe I just think it's hilarious that I invested all of my savings from Japan on this? It's probably that.