Amo la neve

It’s snowwwwwwwwwwwwing!!!  Yay!!!

It’s fairly hard to miss that I love the snow, and I love it even more in the city.  Particularly in a city as beautiful as St Petersburg.  I was walking back to the hostel earlier through a couple of inches of snow, and despite the fact that it was only around half midnight there was nobody around.  It was like walking through a snow-globe – a snowy city, completely untouched by any other person, both surreal and wonderful.

Almost every day, I hate this country.  Not even in a love-hate way.  Yesterday, I left uni early so that I could be at work early and get organised for the week ahead.  I got to the metro station though, and my transit card didn’t work (and I had no idea what the message said).  So, I waited in the epic queue for the cashier.  I figured I must have run out of credit or something on my card, so when I got to the front, I gave the lady my metro card, my student card and some cash, and asked for a monthly ticket.  I really didn’t expect her to start yelling at me, ending with her telling me the Russian equivalent of ‘go to hell’.  She then pushed my items back through the slot in the teller window, ejecting me from the line through a combination of sheer rudeness and some kind of psychokinetic willpower.  Of course, then I had no swipe card and no tokens for the metro, so had to line up again in order to buy tokens.  Goodbye, twenty minutes of my day.  I was utterly furious – it’s the complete lack of service and total rudeness with which everybody treats everybody else that really gets to me.  I was fuming on the metro to work, determined that I must leave this wretched place – but then I taught two of my teenage classes (long my favourite age group to teach) and felt much better.  And that’s how it goes: my life here is rage building to a peak, cured only by uni or teaching at the school which I like.

I’m still at the hostel, though Michael and I may be signing a lease tomorrow, fingers crossed.  If not, the hostel’s booked out tomorrow so I’ll have to find somewhere for the night… hopefully it works out.

I’m hoping to write an entry about ‘gay milk‘ in the next couple of days.  In the interim, I’ve put some more photos below.  Also, in the vein of my last entry, immigration and social exclusion, here’s an article written by my friend Dom Prukinski which is absolutely fantastically well written – enjoy 🙂

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My hostel St Petersburg: Apple


It has been absolutely crazy, in every possible respect.  Firstly, there’s the nature of Russia itself; secondly, there’s the not-having-anywhere-to-live; and thirdly, it’s the work.

Walking around the place, it’s impossible to not notice that you’re in Russia.  Every few steps down the street you’ll encounter yet another person who is self-conscious in their non-fuck-giving, and is going about whatever destructive or obnoxious habit they prefer.  You’ll come across a guy welding metal on the street with no safety mask, walk past a guy having a morning en-route-to-work beer, then see a lady intent upon watching her dog eat grass from beside the rusted fence.  On the escalators in the metro, you’ll see guys sitting down for the trip; or on the metro itself, one day there’ll be a blind and arm-less beggar woman, another a man with a piano accordion, another two guys with bongo drums, or another one guy with a bongo drum and one with an electric guitar.  Outside the place you’re staying, at night time you’ll see a woman being attacked by men who apparently know her, as she’s screaming “I didn’t know, I didn’t know” in Russian (nobody got hurt).  The flat in which you’re staying is part of a Soviet block, exactly like every other – to the point where I’ve stood outside the wrong door twice.

People on the streets here approach me as do people on the streets of any city in any country.  They’ll ask directions, or ask me if I’m cold – or yell at me for being cold (seriously, this happens every day), or feel free to comment on my appearance (today a lady said ‘well done’ for being so ‘beautiful and fresh’).

I’ve mentioned before how mindbogglingly different gender relations are here.  A couple of nights ago I was in the teachers’ room at one of my schools and said to two of my friends (24 and 25, respectively) that ‘weren’t they a bit old to be unmarried?’.  One of them, it turned out, had gotten married at 21 and divorced at 24, but it was okay because she now has a long-term boyfriend and ‘will probably have a new husband soon’.  This chic is awesome, uses the word ‘bro’ and fist-bumps me.  Which is highly unusual in every respect for a Russian woman.  So I asked her how come she got married and why everybody here gets married so early and so many times, and she postulated that it’s for some kind of stability in the maelstrom that is life in Russia.  I don’t think that can be the only reason though – all of my Russian teachers have asked why I don’t want to get married, and one went so far as to say that life isn’t interesting alone.  I said, ‘maybe not for you, but yes for me’.  (It sounds better in Russian, I promise).

Speaking of Russian and language and related things such as literature, after seven months I finally finished reading War and Peace today.  Whoohoo!

A quick life update: I’m still homeless so am moving back to a hostel on Sunday.  I’m actually looking forward to it, as I’ll be back in the centre of the city and will thereby regain a good hour or two of time every day that is currently lost in travel.  I haven’t had time to look for a flat – we ditched Lorenzo due to his sheer sketchiness and I’m unavailable 11am-11pm Monday-Saturday more or less, due partly to uni and mainly to work.  Sunday is hereby ‘sleepday’.  Basically though, I’m exhausted to the point of frustrated near-hysteria most of the time, I rarely have time to eat, I don’t sleep enough and there is no time for fun.  I realised tonight as I was standing outside one of my closed schools at around 10pm, eating my breakfast and watching the rain, that this is not tenable.  I’m going to speak to my cool boss on Monday, and after that I’m going to try and quit one of my jobs.  I have zero quality of life – it’s just not worth it for 8 hours of uni a week.  I’m going to try and stay, but the way I’m doing it at the moment is unsustainable.  If I wanted to work long hours for shit pay and have no fun, I hear Maccas is hiring.  In any country.  Ever.  Luckily for me, and distinctly unlike the hundreds of millions of people living in Russia, I have a choice.

I’ll leave you on a slightly more irreverent note – one of my students’ last name is Vagina, and I have another student with first name Semen.  Maturity = winning.

Все сумасшедшие (pt 2)

Sorry to leave you hanging the other day!  Ok, so after receiving a text from the landlady on Monday demanding that I move out by that evening, I made a few phone calls to hook up somewhere to stay that night and then went to uni.  My classmate Justin had said on my facebook not to come to class as the new grammar teacher was crazy (and his face virtually screaming ‘flee, flee!’ when I entered the classroom nearly made me back out), but I didn’t listen.  I turned up and it was not a good time (normally 4 hours of grammar on a Monday is a great time, for the record).  After about fifteen minutes she started asking me questions and I really had no idea what she wanted, so said as much.  She then started carrying on in fast-paced Russian about how Russian grammar is super-important and that one should really dedicate themselves to studying it – then asked me for an answer again, without giving any kind of example I could follow.  So I said I didn’t understand again.  And the process was repeated several times, until I finally got up and left.  She asked me as I was leaving whether I didn’t think it was important to study grammar – and I said ‘yes, but this is not the way to teach me’.  Oh snap.  Shortly afterward, the rest of the class left.  My dickhead tolerance had been entirely exhausted for the day!

After work that night I got back home to find Crazy there.  A Kiwi, Les, who had kindly offered to let me stay at his place while I looked for somewhere, met me outside and came up with me just in case she had mafia, or an axe or something.  I packed up all of my things, retrieved my deposit from Crazy, and jumped in a taxi to Les’ place.

The taxi driver (of course) didn’t speak English, but it was a half-hour drive more or less so we got to talking.  I was stoked, because AGAIN I was told that my accent was perfect (cute).  I can hear it when I accidentally Australianise a vowel, but try to avoid it.  Anyway, the driver asked if we could make a quick detour to visit his wife, or sister, or sister-in-law or SOMETHING at the hospital where she worked in order to give her a flower, and so we did.  It’s Russia, after all – these things have to be accepted – and also taxi fares are pre-set, so time wasn’t an issue in that respect.  We got to the hospital, waited a while for the boom gate to be opened, and went to meet the driver’s anonymous female associate.  Les and I were trying to figure out what was going on from in the car, as the driver decided in the end that it was his sister, but he took her a rose and was hanging out in a fairly intimate fashion smoking with her in front of the car.  Shrug!

We eventually got back to Les’ flat and I can’t wait to take photos.  He calls it his ‘Stalin flat’, and actually the flats are named Khrushchev-something, as after they were designed they were named in honour of Khrushchev.  It’s got to be the most Soviet flat I’ve ever seen – which I’m realising isn’t saying much, but the flat itself is just mind-blowing.  I’ll try to take photos this weekend.

Anyway a lot of other things have happened – it really has been just the most insane week – but I don’t really have internet at the moment so it’ll have to wait.  Until then!

Все сумасшедшие (pt 1)

Well.  This has been one of the craziest (emphasis on ‘crazy’) few days of my life!

As I think previously mentioned, ‘Crazy’, my landlady, got into town last week.  She seemed to have settled down a little on the crazy-o-metre and we had a civilised chat where all seemed well.  I was thinking of having a party Saturday night so asked if she would be around, as I was planning on having people over.  She said no, and that it was ‘normal’ to have people over.  Anyway, Saturday ticks around and instead of meeting me at 5pm to accept my and Michael’s rent, the landlady doesn’t show up.  So I give her a call and ask her what happened to our appointment, and she starts ranting (emphasis on ‘ranting’) on how we didn’t have an appointment – despite the fact that she’d said “ok, that’s an appointment, 5pm on Saturday, I’ve put it into my diary”.  She says that she’ll either come over late that night or early the next morning.  I recalled to her that I would be having people over that night and she went absolutely off the handle and told me that it’s NOT normal, and that she would definitely be coming over.  Then hung up.

By the time Crazy comes over at around 11pm, there are about fifteen of us – almost entirely teachers, about half Russians and half native speakers – in the kitchen chatting and drinking.  It was actually a really great night!!  About half of the people left at around midnight so that they wouldn’t get stranded when the bridges opened, and a few more went out at around 2am, but I was still up (and absolutely dead on my feet after a long week at work/uni!) at around 4.30am.  Nice.

When Crazy arrived, she didn’t tell me (or text or call for that matter), but one of my colleagues said that a crazy-eyed old lady was wandering around the flat.  I went to find her and she said that we should talk tomorrow, she’d see me there at 2pm because she might have some other people who wanted to move in.  By this stage I was sick of having a completely bonkers landlady, so said i’d see her at 2pm.  Sigh.

So 2pm rolls by and – you guessed it – no sign of Crazy.  I ask where she is and she sends me the following text: “Laura, probably they will come later tonight or tomorrow after 3pm. For you one my familiar can suggest a room in neighbourhood or may be your friends help to move now. Mike said no problem for him. Let me know how you will plan to move? I am on this phone.”  So much for 30 days’ notice!!  I give her a call and she says that I have to move out by the following weekend at the latest.  I point out that in our contract she has to give me 30 days’ notice of moving out and she went absolutely nuts at me.  She then started calling and texting in such an abusive manner that I turned my phone off for the rest of the day!

A friend of a friend from the party, Lorenzo, was looking for a flat and so after this went down, asked his team of agents to find a three-bedroom flat which Mike and I could move into with him.  We went and saw the first one that afternoon.  I turn my phone on the next morning and am greeted with a text from Olga saying that if I don’t move out by that night (Monday night), her friends will move me out for me.  This country is f*ed.

To be continued…

Living the viva lada

My landlady’s in town at the moment, meaning that I come home even later than I normally would.  So, on Tuesday when the opportunity to go out after work came up, naturally I went!

It was a girl I didn’t know’s birthday, and I went with one of the other teachers to the 24-hour florist across the road (there are a very large number of 24hr florists) to help her pick out something.  When we arrived, I couldn’t resist making a purchase for the birthday girl myself:

Corny picture.

The possibilities are endless.  Popcorn?  Roast or grill it?  Turn it upside down and plant it?  Basically, I’m pretty sure it was the birthday present of the year.

The last metro back from that island leaves at around ten or a quarter past midnight, so as the witching hour strikes, my friend Naz walks me over to the metro.  To find the doors closed and barred for some completely arbitrary and nonsensical reason (shrug – it’s Russia).  We found a guy who works at the metro and he says he doesn’t know why the metro’s closed, it just is (and yes, he shrugs).  So we have to find me a bus (marshrutka, which aren’t public transport but privately owned kind-of taxi kind-of public transport buses) or a taxi before the bridges open for the night and I’m stranded.  None of the marshrutki are going the right way, a tram turns up (on the tram-line, which is closed at the moment) but is going somewhere random, and the three public night buses that are supposed to arrive do not.  It’s reaching the point where unless I taxi or lada it, I’m going to be stuck for the night.

‘What’s a lada?’ I hear you ask.  (Note that at this point I spent an unreasonable amount of time google imagesing ladas)

Well, as well as being the ubiquitous old-school Russian car, in this particular context I mean it’s a bunch of guys who drive said cars around at night time, working as illegal taxis.  At least, I think they’re illegal.  But really, it’s Russia.  Who knows, as long as you’re bribing the right person?

Anyway, so the ladas start lining up and we go from one to another, trying to find one who’ll take me home for a reasonable fare.  Eventually I find one to get in, with a guy who speaks approximately five words of English and who doesn’t know how to get to my house as he’s been driving for three days.  Needless to say, his lack of linguistic capability in no way stopped him from asking me out.  Oh Russia.

Speaking of bribes, it came up in class tonight (immediately before recycling and its lack of importance) and we had quite the enlightening chat.  Apparently, the standard time at which you pay bribes to policemen is if you’re busted speeding or running a red light.  Considering the motorbikes that scream down Nevsky at what must be well over 200kmh-1, I’d say this is a lucrative business!  My class and I were discussing smart cards and the possibility of going cashless in Russia, so I asked what they normally pay for with cash.  One of the items was bribes, and I said that maybe it would be better to keep it in cash so that it would be off the books.  My class then assured me however that the policemen’s bosses typically get kickbacks on a percentage of whatever bribes are taken, so taking credit cards for bribes would be no issue!

In other news, I’ve started uni (yayyy!).  It’s my third day tomorrow, and I’m going thrice a week.  I think it will be good.
My level of Russian is around high A2 or low B1.  In the Common European Framework for languages, the levels go A1 (beginner), A2, B1, B2, C1, C2 (fluent).  My students are slightly obsessed with getting me to speak some Russian to them, and when I sprung a writing test on some of my B1.1’s today and they said the topic was too hard, I said that I’d do the test at the same time as them but in Russian rather than English.  If they settled and did the writing task, then they could read what I wrote once they’d finished.  Motivation achieved!!!

Anyway, it’s naptime as I’ve another day of uni + work tomorrow, so I shall leave you with the following video.  I may or may not have spent a couple of hours watching videos like this on youtube the other day after someone sent me the link, and it is exactly what Russia’s like.  Enjoy!