Eggs – Soft, Letters – hand and soft, Memory challenges – hard

(Tuesday 28th September 2011, written same day)
Phew, that was a tough day. A good day, but a tough day. My head aches. It isn’t over yet. Now that I’ve finished supper, I’m going to write up these notes as some light relief before settling down to learn some verbs (imperfective and perfective pairs).
The day started out well with a really nice breakfast. I don’t know what this dish is called, but I liked it. I may try to produce something similar at home some time. Here is my attempt at describing it:
  • Take some rounds of french bread,
  • Remove some of the middle to leave a hole (but leave some of the bread as well),
  • Fry the bread.
  • When you’re frying the second side, crack open small eggs (I think these were quails eggs) and drop one into each hole.
  • When the the egg is just set, serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese on the top.
After breakfast, it was time for school. I thought I had the “wrong” teacher yesterday. It turns out the one I should have had, had a cold, like me. Only I think hers must have been worse than what I had. We continued where the previous teacher left off yesterday. The school manage hand-overs very well. Before the lesson proper, we had more of the conversation “what did you do at the weekend/yesterday evening?” I’m getting better. After that, we moved on to more of the “imperfective”, “perfective” stuff. It interacts with past, present and future as well. You can’t have “perfective” in the present, but surpringly, you can in the future. That means that it is easy to say:
  • “I _finished_ reading ‘War and Peace’ yesterday.”, or
  • “I _will have finished_ reading ‘War and Peace’ tomorrow.”, but saying:
  • “I _have finished_ reading ‘War and Peace’ now.” takes more words.
My homework challenge is to start learning loads of “imperfective-perfective” verb-pairs. That’s what I’m starting shortly.
One bit of additional work I tried to give myself is a problem with pronounciation. There are two letter in the Russian alphabet (called respectively the “hard sign” and the “soft sign”) which have no sound of their own, but with modify the sound of the letters around them. This is something I’m struggling to get right. It is hard for a non-native speaker to do, and hard for a native speaker to explain. The problem isn’t really language, more “voice coaching”. We’ll see.
After lunch I did some homework exercises, and a little of the “learning”. I also bought some souvenirs. Small icons. I think they’re beautiful. I hope the intended recipients agree.
Then at 17:30 we had a presentation on the “Russian Character”. Nothing really deep, but how not to offend people, or how not to be offended. All useful and interesting.
Then home. Supper was cooked by my Landlady’s 17 year old son. It was good “Pelmeni”, round ravioli stuffed with meat. Last night I had “Vereniki”, pasty-shaped ravioli stuffed with potato and mushroom. Both are very good if you get the opportunity.
And so to verbs!

“Mamma’s takin’ us to the zoo tomorrow…” (today actually)

(Tuesday 27th September 2011, written same day)
Today’s lesson was more of the “Imperfective”, “Perfective” stuff. It’s strange but I like it. My teacher told me that it is a feature peculiar to Slavic languages. She mentioned: Russian, Ukranian and Polish.
One of the exercises was reading a passage about a man who has a very boring routine and who watches James Bond films in the evening. I think my Russian is still halting and clumsy, but the teacher and I actually had a conversation about the films. There is something pleasantly strange about having a conversation with a Russian about James Bond movies! She says they are popular in Russia as well. She knows about Sean Connery and Roger Moore (and my mind went blank about the others).
I guess the fantasy of the films is one that lots of us enjoy. I managed to make her laugh twice. The first time by saying that “The girls want to meet Bond, and the boys want to be Bond” (which I happen to think is pretty true). The second time I made her laugh was by telling her that, in the books, James Bond isn’t English! It’s true. He has a Scottish father and a Swiss mother!
After lunch, we went on a trip to the zoo. My teacher came along with us. The journey there was by trolley-bus. Novosibirsk has a metro, trams, trolley-buses and various kinds of buses. The trolley-bus is a quick and effective way of getting around. The zoo itself was good. I’m not a great fan of zoos, but the animals in this one seemed to have sufficient space. Some of the cages were interesting geometric shapes.
One of the stranger things we saw was a stag who still had “velvet” on his antlers. There were rags of flesh and a little bit of blood. I’d never actually seen that before. My teacher was a little bit perturbed, but I was able to reassure her (in English) that this happened every year, and what was going on.
We also saw a red squirrel. I’m not sure if this is the same species we have in Britain. This one was a native to Siberia.
He was such an acrobat, and so quick that there was no possibility of me taking his picture.
  • Fountain at the entrance.
  • Dinosaurs
  • Eagle
  • Aviary
  • Liger explanation (in Russian!), Liger, more Liger
  • Spotty Cat
  • Polar Bear
  • Dear Deer
  • Black Wolf
(Blog Post updated to include pictures directly, rather than as links. 17th November 2015)

Now that’s what I call secure!

(27th September 2011 – Not about any particular day)
The front door to our flat is impressive. Comparing notes (and keys) with the other students, the locks at least seem to be pretty typical. I don’t know if Russians are particularly security conscious, or if there is a real, or perceived problem with burglary, but it seems most Russian flats have good locks on the front door.
You need three keys to enter my flat. To get into the building where I live you use a “button” key, which you touch to a socket on the intercom. I don’t know how it works. I would be surprised it it was particularly secure, but it is only intended to protect the stairwell. This building front door looks like it was replaced fairly recently. There is an inner door which isn’t locked. Once upon a time, I don’t suppose the outer door was locked either.

The front door to my flat is pretty impressive. I think it would do justice to a small provincial bank! The door is made of steel and is fitted to a steel frame. I expect the frame is securely fastened to the building. The door opens outward and has hinge bolts. It is secured by a two stage lock. If you are “just popping out for a minute”, then there is a night small key. Even this has more positions than the equivalent English lock. If you are really going out, then you use the larger key which operates a number of bolts, integral to the door, on the lock side (I think I counted 5) and the top. You then lock the lock with the small key! Hmm. I think that is secure. I believe some flats have an inner door whose purpose is to keep any draughts out. The space between the two doors is used for shoes and coats.

While we’re in the hallway, the internet here has not been completely reliable. I’m not sure if this is the cause, but there is a junction box on the landing which has loads of wires hanging out of it. My untrained eye can identify; coaxial, “cat something-or-another twisted pair” and flat speaker cable, all associated with the same box. In this case I really do “know nothing”. I’m leaving well alone!

(Blog Post updated to include pictures directly, rather than as links. 17th November 2015)

Washing, Cleaning, Brushing, Peeling

(Monday 26th September 2011 written same day)
I don’t know when this is going to reach the blog. The internet at home isn’t working at present. I’ve tried restarting the router, and I don’t want to mess with anything more than that. The network diagnostics show that the router says it is connected to the internet, but every website I try to connect to times out. I will probably copy the text files of the blog entries onto a flashdrive and load them at the school. Pictures will have to wait.
Today started with mist. I wore an anorak for the walk to school. It was just a little chilly. I didn’t think to look at what any of the buildings said the temperature was. I still feel a little groggy with the cold. The leaves are falling from the trees and everywhere you can see people sweeping them up and stuffing them into sacks and other containers.
The work at school today started with conversation. A review of what I did at the weekend. Unfortunately, the “cold” meant that wasn’t as much as I had wanted, but there were still some things to talk about, like going to the shop and buying food. Apparently my choice of provisions counts as “healthy”. I think there was rather too much dairy, but I think that just shows differences in attitude in different countries. I definitely think the Russian diet contains less meat than I am used to, and that is probably a good thing.
After the conversation, we moved on to the homework. My insight with the “cases” was pretty much correct. I am beginning to understand how to use the crib-sheet I’ve been given to work out what ending to use when a noun should be in a particular case. I’m making lots of mistakes but I’ve moved beyond randomly changing the ending of the word and hoping it is appropriate.
The new work today is more about variations on a theme of cleaning. I suppose when teaching a language it is easiest to have themes for different sections, and there are probably deeper objectives to choosing particular words which are not obvious to me, but sometimes it seems like the text-book authors have an obsession with something, in this case – cleaning. Today I had verbs for “washing” (the laundry), “washing” (vegetables, or the car) and finally “cleaning” (with a brush). This last one includes the sense of cleaning your shoes (with a brush), cleaning your teeth (also with a brush) but also (to my mind strangely), peeling or removing the skin from fruit or vegetables. Seems odd, but there you go.
More homework to do, most of which I did in the afternoon.
I had thought about taking a weekend trip to Tomsk. I think I’ve abandoned that idea. I like the idea of Tomsk, but the trip involves 3+ hours on a bus each way, it requires a night in a hotel and it will take up the whole weekend. It also works out a little expensive. I think I would rather save the money and save the effort. On the plus side, the school have suggested a trip on the river on Saturday. That is a nice alternative. If the weather is reasonable (and the forecast says it should be), then that will be something to look forward to.
I’ve tried running some diagnostics on the internet connection. Just tried “ping”. As I thought, I’ve got a good connection to the router, but the router isn’t talking to the internet, even though it says that is is. It seems highly unlikely that all the sites I’ve tried are equally broken.
It’s 21:00 and my landlady has just arrived with the shopping. Goodness me she has a long day. And this is after the (looked like it was unplanned) trip to Tomsk which took up all of the weekend.
It’s after 23:00 and supper was excellent! Sasiski (Frankfurter sausages) with rice, and sour cream and tovorak and the inevetable black tea plus… I’ve just drunk something and I’m not at all sure what it was. My landlady said it will be good for my cough. It consisted of milk which had been boiled with nuts in it. The “nuts” are about the size and shape of maize kernels but dark red-brown. I looked at the pot were it was prepared, and there’s a cedar pine cone as well. The whole concoction tasted a little bitter. I’m feeling sleepy, but the internet’s back, so I’m going to do the posting and then go to sleep.

Feeling Better, Cold Nose – Warm heart

(Sunday 25th September 2011, written same day)
I woke up at about 07:30 feeling much better. Not perfect, but much better. Shortly afterwards, I found that Boosa (the dog) knows how to open the door to my room. Sniff, sniff. Face being licked by dog. “Good morning Boosa!” The dog then left and a little while later, my landlady’s son closed my door. I think the dog wanted to “be taken for a walk”. We all went back to bed. By the time I got up an hour and a bit later, the son had gone out.
I made myself breakfast from the remains of supper. Then I settled down to working through the homework. After I had completed most of it, I went out for a walk and had lunch. This time I tried a burger place called “Carl’s” I’m going to check whether it is Russian or from somewhere else. I messed up my order, and got an extra portion of fries. These are the things you have to expect.
On my return, I got on with the rest of the homework, a fairly large piece of translation. I managed ok, but it takes me ages as my vocabulary needs to be bigger.
Once I had finished with this I started looking at a “graded reader” I have borrowed from the school. Once again, it’s a pretty substantial translation job.
My landlady’s son came back and asked me if I wanted him to make supper. Naturally I said yes. It turned out to be very good: pelmyeni (sort-of ravioli stuffed with potato and mushroom). While he was preparing the meal I had a look at my notes. I think I may have developed a slightly clearer understanding of how to use one of the aids I’ve been given. I’m not going to bother with it now, but I’m going to look at something again tomorrow. If I’m right, one of the “rules” (to do with the “Accusative case”) may have become a bit clearer.
I would like to find a way of remembering stuff more easilly (“pomnooyou”), but until that happens there is no alternative to repetition, and making up little rhymes and strange associations. I’m trying all sorts of tricks, but still struggling with recall. It it was easy everyone would be doing it!
Time to settle down for the evening.