Not in Kansas anymore

True to form, after packing at the very last minute on every possible occasion, I again tried to fit WAY too much into my last day and nearly missed the plane.  After nearly missing a train (there were massive amounts of gymnastics involved – it was all very impressive until they left the doors open for longer anyway and others simply strolled in).  However, I successfully managed to go for my traditional pre-leaving-the-country beach visit and thanks to Crystal’s badass driving got to the airport on time.  Whereupon, naturally, I had to repack everything again after throwing some excess baggage out.  Good one Laura.

I got on the plane and was rather surprised to wind up in Bangkok.  That’s not even on the WAY to St Petersburg (and definitely not if you’re flying via Dubai).  I genuinely had no idea that I had a stopover there.  Needless to say, I frolicked through the airport.  And got lost.  And then there was airport running (you’d think I’d get better at this given all my practice).

Anyway, 34 hours after reaching Sydney airport, I was in St Petersburg.  Result!  I am now exceedingly tired.

I definitely had at least a minute of “fuck, what have I DONE?!?!” as we were flying into St P international and I could see all of the old communist blocks around the place – so I’m not totally impervious!

I haven’t had much time to form impressions so far as it’s been rather hectic and I’ve got induction training tomorrow so am going to try and get some sleep shortly (blame the exhaustion for the state of this sentence).  BUT so far I’ve seen a lot of really pretty shoes, some stunning people (and the same number of super-creepy people), had a huge mess of a conversation in Russian with a random, and encountered a disproportionate number of children with mullets.

I am very, very in Russia right now.

“Yes, I mean, da”.

(Along with the Russian for “I don’t speak” and “I don’t understand”, the most common phrase I’ve used the last 48 hours.  And incidentally, the ‘not speaking’ part is out of sheer laziness, because Russians keep asking me directions and it’s shorter than ‘nfi’ )

Well, after a more-than-minor meltdown yesterday toward the end of my “induction” (it definitely can’t be written without quotation marks), resolved partly through massive facebook pep-talks and partly because the more-than-moderately-inappropriate “Chasey Lane” by the Bloodhound Gang came on in a pub I was in (and I was hilariously the only one in the room who understood what the lyrics meant), I’ve had a rather ridiculously effective 24 hours.

This afternoon I found an apartment – the centre of St Petersburg, right near direct metro lines to both of the schools I’m working at, at the moment entirely to myself, fully furnished, and all for about $100 a week.  Outrageous.  Not bad for 48 hours in the country.

I also had training at the second of the two schools at which I’m working.  The staff (and especially my boss, who was good enough to give me an old phone as mine inexplicably doesn’t work in Russia – btw my new number is my old number (starting with 61) + 18 416 246 522) all seem very friendly.  More interestingly, while in the teacher’s room I saw a book about love sayings in English.  I picked it up and flicked to a random page and saw it was all in Renglish – evidently the author had thought they were a lot better at English than they actually were, and didn’t get a native speaker to check anything.  I particularly enjoyed misquotes and the ‘amasing’ spelling.  I flicked to another page and it was the start of a chapter on dating.  It read something like “Dating is very important and what a lot of people enjoy most in their life.  But sometimes dates end badly when one person sexually assaults the other.”  WTF.  Hilarious!

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

On the topic of Renglish, after finishing work at school #1 I caught the metro to school #2 (which has lost 7 employees in the last month btw) as I was teaching for a couple of hours today.  It was a group of mid-teenagers, with a couple of particularly outspoken students.  One of them, wanting to go to the bathroom, interrupted me to ask “Laura, please, can I come out”?!  Haha.  All I could think about was the Princess Bride and “I do not think that means what you think it means”.  I almost managed not to actually laugh at him, and when he came back we went through better ways of saying what he meant.

I feel like lots has happened but I’m ridiculously tired and am moving house tomorrow, so will keep it brief – I’ve been existing so far pretty much on sushi (who would have thought?  Sushi is HUGE in St P) and overpriced coffee; killed a mosquito approximately 3 seconds ago (get the important facts here people); and seen some pretty awesome things on the street.  The two things that come to mind are one guy doing CRAZY impossible tricks with a football and his face, and a guy outside Burger King trying to hussle people in by shuffling at them.  It was pretty ace.

The other thing that has stood out is how much Russian people love it when you speak Russian to them.  A happy dance would not be out of the question!  Haha and if Russians looked like they do in the movies, that’d be quite the sight to see.

The sky is freaking beautiful here – no photos yet as I’ve been somewhat preoccupied.  I think my first will have to be of the outside of the place I’m living in – the block looks like it should house a meth lab and multiple murders.  Fantastic.

Нет problem.

Well, it’s been another insane few days.  I went on a brief walking tour on Friday in my as-yet comatose state.  The highlight was definitely when the tour guide told me about this mountain 700km north of here, where due to some crazy geological circumstances resulting from an earthquake 12,000 years ago, you can apparently hear the earth’s plates moving.  Apparently one of her friends also saw a yeti’s footprint.  Clearly this place is going on the list haha!

St Petersburg is great, speaking Russian is awesome, and I’m enrolling at the uni next week to study the language 🙂

I went out briefly on both Friday and Saturday nights.  Saturday was the birthday of a girl at one of my workplaces, and it was so much fun.  It was a little strange in some ways – I felt like I was out with a group of models, people here are just stunning – but a good time.  Except everyone is overly nice!!  Apparently in Russia, on your birthday, you shout everyone else their food/drink, so this girl I’d just met insisted on paying for everything – it felt very weird!  And then her boyfriend insisted on driving me home despite the fact I live 100 metres from a metro station.  They just wouldn’t take no for an answer!!  Haha I was told that “this is Russian hospitality, get used to it!”.

I ended up finishing work early on Saturday, so decided to brave ikea and move house.  Now, I’ve never actually been to an ikea before, and I may have underestimated slightly how epic it would be.  I was also on the clock, because one of my landlord’s friends was to pick me and all my things up from the hostel to help me move (my apartment is up 4 flights of stairs and I don’t eat that much spinach!!).  So I’m here in ikea, trying to figure out (a) where things are (b) which way to walk (I walked through the entire thing against the direction of the arrows – good one Laura), and (c) which product of each type to buy, given that the descriptions were all in Russian.  In the end I accosted a staff member and we managed to figure out most of it.  Until, that is, I tried to explain that I needed to find a bath towel.  I have no idea what the Russian for ‘towel’ is, and because I was trying hard to remember, had a total blank on anything related to a bathroom!!  So I’m standing in the middle of a busy ikea on the weekend, pretending to have a shower then turning the taps off and grabbing and drying myself with a towel, at a middle-aged Russian lady who was in absolute hysterics.  I’m pretty sure you haven’t lived until you’ve done that haha.

Yesterday’s mission was different again – I had the day off, so arranged to have coffee with another newbie EF teacher in St P.  It was quite funny actually, because she mentioned this place she’d heard was good, and I actually already knew where it was.  Howwww.  Anyway, afterward we went clothes shopping – it turns out that throwing out a lot of work clothes at the airport because your bags are overweight is not actually a good idea!  Who would have thought.

I’m all settled into my apartment now, and actually have some friends from Aus popping by from China shortly.  The apartment is pretty good – you can’t drink the tap water, like anywhere in St P; the water pressure is not so good because I’m a few floors up, and its temperature is ‘creative’; the front door is almost an intelligence test to get through (seriously – there’s a specific pattern you have to bump it with using your hip in order to get the key to turn to different degrees), but otherwise it’s great.  The location is insane and my room is awesome 🙂

I have another busy week coming up, but will try to take some photos at some point!  L.


My hostel St Petersburg: Apple

Shrug – it’s Russia.

  • Line up for 2 hours to have a document stamped, only to be told that you have to go to a different branch?  Shrug, it’s Russia.
  • Travel another two hours to get to the other branch, only to find a sign saying to go to the original branch?  Shrug, it’s Russia.
  • A man’s throwing what appears to be boulders off the sixth floor of a building?  Shrug, it’s Russia.
  • A horse gallops past your classroom window, followed by a crying baby?  Shrug, it’s Russia.

I think my quote of the day has to be “you have to lie to get a job in Russia.”  It’s just how things work here.  I was horrified to find out earlier today that, while I’m earning a pretty low salary by ANY kind of Western standard, Russian teachers of English make less than a third of that.  That’s only just more than I spend on rent each month.  I knew wages were low – in the metro (which is amazing, by the way – at least until about half midnight, when all of the bridges in the city open and stop traffic until morning) there are signs for McDonalds and Tepemok, a Russian food chain, with wages from starting 25,000 rubles a month.  That’s about AU$800, and apparently pretty reasonable.  To give you an idea of living costs, a room outside the city will cost around 10,000 a month, and you have to live on the outskirts until it drops to around 5,000.  If you shop at supermarkets in the city, the prices are ~90% of those in Australia.  Utilities cost around 2,000 a month.  A new (cheapish) dress costs around 2,000.  So things are very tight for anyone who’s not born into money.

Speaking of born into money, educational opportunities are also sparse.  It costs to go to university, and only those who are born into money or are outright geniuses are able to attend – there are a couple of free places for each course, but competition is insane.  Popular subjects include French and things relating to mining, particularly that of gas or oil.  Subjects such as physics are not popular.  Even if you do graduate, your chances of getting a job are not that great unless you’re well-placed with connections – most people work in trades and basic trading-related things (eg there are fruit and vegie stalls everywhere in suburbs away from the city).  Apparently jobs are more or less the same as they were in the early 90’s.

Russia is definitely not a developed country.  In saying that, living in the city here is better than living in, say, Sydney, simply for the conveniences.  The metro, as mentioned, is amazing, most things are open 24 hours, and if not, at least until ten at night; and everywhere has free wireless.  Unlike in places in Europe (or in international airports), where you have to hand an ID over or at least enter your email address before accessing wireless, you don’t have to identify yourself in any way.  That’s simply because there’s no identity protection.  The Russian government freely monitors and captures all transmitted information it wants to, and can listen in or record any phone calls you make without any reason.  So having free wireless everywhere and cheap internet works to that purpose.

On a completely different note, I’ve had friends from Aus visiting for the last few days, and that’s been really great.  Not least because I get home from work at around or just prior to 10pm, and they had a big and delicious meal waiting for me each time!  Also, when wandering around with them (and doing unusual things such as looking for electrical adapters, or trying to order a taxi) I had a lot of opportunity to use really peculiar Russian, so that was good fun.  Yesterday I submitted my application to the state uni here (I’ll probably have to fill in at least another 13 forms in triplicate – it’s Russia!), and so I should be starting my studies very soon – I’m looking forward to it!

Lastly, if you don’t get the featured image for today, then you clearly haven’t seen the film 2012: