Interra, “Cold” in Siberia and a little shopping

(Saturday 24th September 2011, written 25th September)
I woke up this morning, not with a hang-over, but knowing that I had a cold. I’ve suspected this for about a day, but it has caught up with me. I had planned to do a bit more exploring today, but I didn’t feel much like it. I took some asprin, had a bit of a lie in and then went out for lunch.
I had a look at some of the Interra displays. It looked interesting, but my heart wasn’t in it. I came home and went to bed. I dozed for most of the afternoon.
I woke up feeling much better and decided to go to a local supermarket and buy “the makings” of supper and breakfast. It all went to plan. I had one unsettling moment when I wondered if they had sold out of bread, but then I found what I was looking for. Supper was cream cheese (Tovarok), black bread and tinned spratts with black tea, followed by one bottle of beer. It may sound a bit strange, but it’s very similar to what I’ve been served for supper once while I’ve been here, and I’ve already been served spratts for breakfast. After all, sardines on toast used to be a popular “tea” dish.
I didn’t do any homework. My head isn’t in the right state for that. It feels kind of muzzy.
Off to bed early.

Half-way point. Testing times and a departure

(Friday 23rd September 2011 written Sunday 25th September)
The homework last night was in two parts. I struggled with it a bit. I’m still trying to understand the “cases” situation. I feel I’m making progress but there is so much to remember. So often the thing I want to remember seems to be “just out of touch”. It’s frustrating but I suppose the answer is to keep on trying. Things do stick, and then there is one less thing to struggle with, so I can give more attention to something else.
Then I had a test. It was a comprehension piece about a Russian celebrity. Naturally I hadn’t heard of her and the only bits which I remember now are that she is a singer and she has red hair. I don’t know how well I did yet. I found it a struggle, but I think it was intended to be a challenge.
There have been three students at the school: Charles, a French skiing instructor who lives in Switzerland, Jardina, a Spanish IT manager from Barcelona, and me. Today was Jardina’s last day. She leaves for Spain at 07:00 tomorrow and has an early taxi booked. The school gave use a small “tea” (buns and biscuits and tea). The school awarded Jardina with her certificate, giving the level she has achieved. Actually, they gave her two certificates, one in English and one in Russian. I’m pleased about that. I don’t expect to achieve the same level as Jardina (she has been doing this for years), but it would be good to have some semi-official recognition of accomplishment. I keep on thinking of the Scarecrow and his diploma from “The Wizard of Oz”.
After the tea, and sending a few eMails, Charles, Jardina and I went to the pub. The one we chose was “St Patrick’s Corner”. It’s an Irish pub. Novosibirsk has several. It’s quite a reasonable place (but it is not on a corner!). It’s strange how close you can feel to people after only two weeks. The three of us have really only shared lunches and trips, but we feel we have shared the experience of being here in Novosibirsk. I hope Jardina had a good trip home.
One very funny thing happened. For the past two weeks, naturally, one of the topics of conversation between the three of us had been “language”. The other two had asked me about the Irish Language. I had confessed to knowing very little and said that it was quite different to English and that they would probably find the spelling a challenge. I did say that one of the things I had been warned about was the labels on toilet doors: in Irish M (for “Mna” means Lady) and F (for “Fir” means Man). I didn’t think about it any more. During the evening, Charles went to the toilet and said with a laugh that he had remembered what I had said and gone through the right door! The toilets in “St Patrick’s Corner” are labeled in Irish! Russian toilets are usually labeled M for “Man” and a different cyrillic character for “Woman”. You can probably see where this is leading. We wondered how the Russians would cope with this. The answer is, it confused them. It would probably confuse most English speakers as well. During the evening, we (the three of us, two men and a woman) encountered a number of confused Russians: men exiting from the Ladies’, and a Woman coming into the Men’s. So, the international pictorial lavatory signs do serve a useful purpose.
When I got home, I met my landlady, who announced that she had to make an unexpected business trip to Tomsk, and that she was leaving NOW! That was alright. I know now that I coped!

Have you finished reading?

(Thursday 22nd September 2011, written same day)
There are no pictures today, and I’m afraid the weather feels like it is changing.
To my surprise, I did pretty well with yesterday’s homework. I was all about the differences between “Seeing, Watching, Hearing and Listening”, with a bit of the present and the past thrown in. It’s reasonably reassuring. I’m making progress. I can ready stuff (from the text book) reasonably well now. I still feel awkward when speaking and naturally listening can be a bit of a challenge. If it’s a recording, often I can work things out after a couple of hearings, but of course the real world doesn’t work like that.
Today’s lessons were a review of what happens to a word when it is the “object” of the sentence. The rules are complicated: it all depends on whether it is singular or plural, masculine, feminine or neuter and whether it is animate or inanimate. Some really strange things happen, not the least of which is that a corpse is animate! How I hate grammar! Then I listened to a recording of some drippy teenage go on about her crush on a rock-star. At least, thank goodness, the rock-star and the band are fictitious. At least, I hope they are.
Then came something, which although awkward, does make a kind of sense. If said “I read ‘War and Peace’ last night”, could you be sure what I meant? If I said “I stopped reading ‘War and Peace’ last night”, would you know if I had finished the book? Russian has a simple way round this ambiguity. The language technicians call it “Perfective” and “Imperfective”. It’s a pain, but useful.
After lunch I did some of did some of my homework, and then it was off to “The museum of the USSR”. This was housed in what would have been a shared flat. It was very interesting and for me emphasised how things have changed. I bought my first souvenirs. Anybody want a fridge magnet of Lenin? I resisted the temptation to buy Stalin!
After that it was back to the school to watch a Soviet comedy titled “The diamond arm”. It was about diamond smugglers, and actually really funny. I can smell dinner cooking, then I have to finish my homework.
Since writing this, I’ve learned that at the time the film was produced (in Soviet times), it was actually legal for Russians to import diamonds and gold INTO Russia (though I doubt they would have had the money). This adds a further layer of irony to the film.

Have you finished reading?

(Thursday 22nd September 2011, written same day)
There are no pictures today, and I’m afraid the weather feels like it is changing.
For some reason, I found Monday depressing. Things have been improving since then. To my surprise, I did pretty well with yesterday’s homework. I was all about the differences between “Seeing, Watching, Hearing and Listening”, with a bit of the present and the past thrown in. It’s reasonably reassuring. I’m making progress.
I can read stuff (from the text book) reasonably well now. I still feel awkward when speaking and naturally listening can be a bit of a challenge. If it’s a recording, often I can work things out after a couple of hearings, but of course the real world doesn’t work like that.
Today’s lessons were a review of what happens to a word when it is the “object” of the sentence. The rules are complicated: it all depends on whether it is singular or plural, masculine, feminine or neuter and whether it is animate or inanimate. Some really strange things happen, not the least of which is that a corpse is animate! How I hate grammar! Then I listened to a recording of some drippy teenage go on about her crush on a rock-star. At least, thank goodness, the rock-star and the band are fictitious. At least, I hope they are.
Then came something, which although awkward, does make a kind of sense. If said “I read ‘War and Peace’ last night”, could you be sure what I meant? If I said “I stopped reading ‘War and Peace’ last night”, would you know if I had finished? Russian has a simple way round this ambiguity. The language technicians call it “Perfective” and “Imperfective”. It’s a pain, but useful.
After lunch I did some of did some of my homework, and then it was off to “The museum of the USSR”. This was housed in what would have been a shared flat. It was very interesting and for me emphasised how things have changed. I bought my first souvenirs. Anybody want a fridge magnet of Lenin? I resisted the temptation to buy Stalin!
After that it was back to the school to watch a Soviet comedy titled “The diamond arm”. It was about diamond smugglers, and actually really funny. My understanding was helped by it having English subtitles!
I can smell dinner cooking, then I have to finish my homework.

Museums and Pride

(Monday 19th September 2011, written same night)
Something I forgot. On the way to school today, I paused to read the sign a the entrance to a small museum. The was a mongolian looking man outside who invited me inside. I apologised and said that I was on my way to school and that I didn’t have time but that I would come back.
On the way home I saw him again. On the spur of the moment I greeted him and asked if the museum was still open. He said it was, I asked how much and he said it was free. I went inside and was glad that I did. It is a small place. Probably a municipal museum, or a citizens club with some funding. It covers the history of the “Central Rayon” (The “Central” Borough of Novosibirsk). There are only three exhibition rooms. There seem to be three staff; the gentleman, a lady and someone I didn’t really see in an office. The lady was very helpful. She gave me a tour and explained the exhibits. There were:
  • “Heroes of the Soviet Union” who came from the area
  • History during the Second World War (Great Patriotic War). Novosibirsk was not the front, but was used for treating casualties. Children from Leningrad were evacuated there.
  • Soldiers who had served in Afganistan (recent conflict)
  • A WW2 fighter pilot who had shot down 100+ planes
  • Artefacts from peoples homes
All sorts of stuff from before the Revolution, up to much more recent. It was all about people. The curators were obviously genuinely proud of it (and were entitled to be). The took the time to explain it to a foreigner. I did’t understand everthing, but I understood some. I signed the visitors book. I’m going to take my colleagues along (I did, today 21st Sept).
Almost next door, I popped into what I suppose could be described as an antique shop. Enormous range of prices. Interesting. I’m going back.