Archive for the ‘Student Life’ Category

I’m sorry for being away. But here’s something exciting to make up for it!..

Listen and watch “Beryozovye sny” (“Dreams of Birches”) and another choral piece performed by my choir at the 2010 Student Spring Festival today.

Can you find me below!? Answer posted at the end, along with a video of the first one, and the sound file of the second one.

Basically, I’ve been really busy. Six hours of choir practice a week, ten hours (more…)


I agree, and pledge to act as follows: The Deputy is at the service of the people!

Today from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Irkutskians (Irkutskites? The Irkutskese? …”Irkutyanye” in Russian…) are taking to the polls to vote for their mayor. Unfortunately for believers (such as myself) in a free, democratic process, the fact that Moscow administration chose (and probably funded) Sergei Serebryannikov to the top of the contender list, pairing him in countless ads next to the incumbent Irkutsk Oblast’ governor, there’s little surprise expected for the results.

Again — the city duma elections last fall were equally unexciting, too.

POLITICS BACK AT MIDD. A flashback to the good ol’ high school days of running for student council, and with hopes of this one being more fair than the elections I’ve seen in Russia, I’ve got a campaign of my own underway — Casey Mahoney for “Sputnik” President! (Sputnik is Middlebury’s formerly-named Russian and Eastern European Society.)

My campaign points will be emailed to group members within the next day or two, at which point I’ll post them as an addition to this post. Let me know what you think. Tell your friends!  If you’ve come to my blog to learn more about me as a candidate, (more…)

1st semester: were told our grammar was "dirty." 2nd semester, were offered the "Clean Grammar" text.

In grammar class, we are learning about how using passive voice and impersonal expressions is a good thing. In the Russian language, you are supposed to put the blame on an invisible, mystical (neuter gendered) something. The Star Wars “Force,” if you will. (And no, it’s not God, for God is male in the Russian language).

For example: don’t say, “I’m cold,” but rather, “[Mystical neuter something] is cold to me.” Likewise, not “I didn’t finish my homework,” but “[Mystical neuter something] didn’t let it get done for me to finish the homework.”

(Get more facts–there’s no pun in that–about Russian grammar from a colleague in Yaroslavl on her blog. Otherwise, my life story (of sorts) is continued below.)

This was supposed to be the week that we got settled in to our firmed-up schedules and caught up on work. (But this assumption was wrong. More proof that when you “A S S (of) U (&) M E” in Russia, you just get it handed back to you.) (more…)

Call me crazy, but I like it: this week every day, I’ve come home tired, slightly stressed by the evening’s to-do list, sometimes sore, and sometimes cold. But unfailingly ecstatic about it. Woohoo!

I even got to reorganize my desk, which means moving the once hugely useless and in-the-way computer monitor to a closet, adding its speakers to my laptop, and using the keyboard tray as a dictionary holder. Hoorah!

The semester’s finally taken off to the start I’d wanted it to. My classes are lined up with about 99% confidence they won’t change, I’ve got a nice selection of extracurricular gigs with a few more options promised to be on their way, my classmates are awesome (the Americans and the Russians), and (shh, don’t tell the feds) I might have found a way to bring in some moolah. Here’s the schedule. (more…)

I’ll blame my lack of posting on a few things. First, wrapping up finals season always comes with alternating bouts of productivity and extreme laziness, meaning that when I was working, I was burning the midnight oil, and when I wasn’t working, I really wasn’t. Second, Ryan got into Irkutsk two weeks ago, so between showing him Russia, making sure he knew where to go around the city and how to get there, and trying to keep him entertained, that’s occupied me, too. Finally, it’s Christmastime, which I’ve been preparing for with great anticipation (!). Check my next post for that.

But, having Ryan here to show around the streets of Irkutsk (he’s been clinging to my Irkutsk-Detroit analogy as an explanation for many of his discoveries) has been fun to one, see what I’ve learned since I got here almost four months ago equally bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and two, to revisit and expand my knowledge about a few aspects of the life and culture I’ve been living.

Russian America. Our Buryatia trip hadn’t completely run down Midd’s budget for excursions for our Irkutsk group, so Elizabeth organized a van tour around Irkutsk two weeks ago after our classes. The theme of the tour was “Russian America and Irkutsk;” to give the appropriate history lesson (parts of which are from our Baikal studies learnings, parts from the tour). . . .


Finals, papers, exit testing. . . it follows us student folk anywhere and everywhere.

I had this unfortunate revelation at the beginning of the week as I drew up a calendar for myself with the rest of the semester planned out in black and white (with some red exclamation points). Mild depression sets in.

This week, I’m tackling issues of development in hydropower-rich areas and the related political, economic, and environmental pros and cons. Namely, on Friday I am (supposedly) participating in the “Economic conference” of the MezhFak, giving a 10 minute presentation based on my microecon paper on the Irkutsk provice electro-energy market. But I might back out, if I can think of a good excuse. Then next Tuesday, I am presenting and handing in my Baikal studies paper, which is tentatively going to compare the Angara and Colorado River cascades. Fun, but work.

Starting next weekend, I’ll gather my last energies of what have been about 6 months of non-stop language learning to prepare for Middlebury semester exit-testing on Friday the 18th: grammar/syntax, listening, speaking, reading, writing. Boom.

But that’s not it. Then it’s on to studying for finals in my actual classes (grammar, speech, Baikal studies), writing final essays (literature), and making last good impressions on profs (econ) to get that lucky number 5 (the Russian “A”).

But amidst the stress, I’ve found that it seems to magically disappear if I simply procrastinate, so I’ve made sure to get my daily dose this week:


Coming back to Irkutsk after the week in Mongolia was an amazing relief. I knew where to go, which bus to take, how to look on the street, how to ask for things in complete sentences. All of which had not been a part of our vacation.

Although we’d had a rather high-activity week off, the mental rest from Russian with speaking English, and the opportunity to simply “soak it in” still made the trip worthwhile as a vacation.

But I missed Russia: free use of the imperative, the not needing to appear especially happy on the street, the thrill of marshrutka rides in Irkutsk traffic. Apparently, the first 7 weeks had begun to rub off. Gogol is attributed the line, “What kind of Russian doesn’t like fast rides?”

Mid-terms return. If the return to the country was smooth and reassuring, then the return to studying was a bit more of a shock. The 7:30 a.m. alarm first thing on last Tuesday morning was pretty harsh.

Our teachers didn’t help. We had two 80-minute essay tests in Speech/Writing Practice and in Literature last week, and then leading up to and during the weekend I had my 12-page Economics paper on the electro-energy market of Irkutsk Oblast’ (province).

Regardless of the general unpleasantness of the jerk back into school life, it reassured me that I had at least reached a level of adjustment, where school was just school, though my complex about the academic rigor and social feel of the university being on the same level as high school hadn’t gone away, if not gotten worse.

Free-time. As noted on my greeting card post, we had Wednesday off to observe the day of agreement, which a Vova and I celebrated the eve-of at his house.

Last Friday, on the day of the revolution, Romany and I watched “My Fair Lady” with Nelli and Ira at Romany’s home-stay while we munched on American-style oatmeal cookies, which turned out fairly good as they were out of Russian ingredients.

Afterwards, I went over to Vova’s to hang out. We tried going to a club, but the guards apparently thought we were lying about our ages, and before we could get documents out, they, well, we’ll say “forcefully” let Vova that they wanted us to go. The police came, statements were written, etc., and now he’s got to go to court to prove he didn’t start it. I stayed out of it all, but I feel bad that he has to deal with all of the bureaucracy of it now, not to mention a few bruises.

Luckily, his mom’s come to Irkutsk from their hometown Ust’-Ilimsk to help with that stuff, so I’ve been back over a few times and been lovingly overfed.

Last night was better than the previous Friday night. Much better. A group of us from the university, that is, four Germans (Maria, Ude, Hannah, Katerina), three Russians (Nelli, Ira, Olga), an Austrian (Severin), an American (Dan, who is teaching English at the university on a Fullbright Grant), and myself, met at “Golden Island” Chinese restaurant, which was celebrating it’s third birthday.

I’ve never been to a restaurant birthday. But, I think it’s safe to say that nothing like this would ever happen in America. At least not in the way it did. Here’s how to have a Russian-style Chinese-restaurant birthday party:

First, get a pretty girl and clad her in a tall stiff white wig and gold cellophane-type paper, and tell her to stand in the middle of a donut-table, the paper flowing over the table as a table cloth, where you put the cheap wine you’re including in the $5 cover that you’re charging for the evening. Then tell her to wait a few hours, just standing there and looking pretty/creepy while people pick glasses of wine off her golden paper dress.

Next, order a DJ and ask him to play like every popular Russian song ever written regarding birthdays.

Then dress up a few of your managers in angel-with-wings and devil-with-horns dresses and have them emcee everything, dropping lines like “‘Golden Island’ represents a center point of dining in Irkutsk,” and “Three full years of exquisite food, good company, a great place to work.” Tell them that they can come out to intro music, even if it does sound like newscast intro music.

Order entertainment. This should include something for everyone. Meaning dancers/striptease girls for the men, which will walk out in hoods carrying candles to go along with the angel/devil theme that really relates to nothing nor includes the golden girl-table. Meaning a shirtless guy who blows fire to music and does a few flips around his fire torches on the ground. Meaning a trio of Russian breakdancers for the young crowd. Don’t forget the hip-hop music like “Golden Island” did, or it will be kind of awkward.

Think up a few games to play. Like two-guys-hide-fake-money-on-their-bodies-and-women-search-for-it, or the timeless eat-a-banana-and-chug-a-waterbottle-while-wearing-boxing-gloves. Or just have two guys eat hot dog sausages really fast.

Include the foreigners in the games–the Americans especially, even if one of them (Dan) will have a hard time understanding without a translator (Nelli). I was jostled into getting up to the stage area for the banana-waterbottle-boxing-gloves game. Another Russian guy about my age was my opponent. We were initially handed boxing gloves and told “You two are going to fight.” Oh ****. And then they explained the rest of the game. Which I won. (!) My prize was a little rubber lizard.

So that was the “program” of the birthday, which we enjoyed with our Chinese and Russian food (I stuck to the Russian pel’meni, remembering my run-in with the Chinese communist plot in Ulan-Ude) and drinks.

We didn’t head out ’til around 2 a.m., having arrived at 7 p.m. (time flies. . . ). Nelli, Olga, Severin, and I wanted to go to a club, so after an unsuccessful try at “Cherdak,” we ended up in the center at “Broadway,” which was a newer club and quite nice. Their prices were good too. Cool lights, leopard print chairs.

Around 5 we decided to transfer to a pizza cafe to grab a quick (cheaper) snack and wait for transportation. That seemed to be the early-weekend-morning gathering place of merry twenty-somethings, so the company was appreciated. After a bit of a snafu with transportation home, I walked in at 7 and crashed until the early afternoon.

Keeping busy. I’ve continued helping out at the Waldorf School in a 7th grade English class and have recommitted myself to trying to be a bit more involved with the ecological group, GBT, but after my going to the meeting last Thursday, the city duma decided to ban meetings in society because of the H1N1’s growth in Irkutsk.

So those plans a bit foiled, I’ve also reopened the search for a theatre/singing/piano related channel of involvement, since I’ve got the time and have started to really miss doing those things.

The host mom is supposed to return from the sister in Voronezh tomorrow or the next day, so that’s good, as well.

Overall, the rhythm of life is just as varied or static as it would be at home at this point, a good feeling two months and a half in.

There’s not really a midterm season here. Or, there is, simply by the fact that it’s “midway through the term,” but that’s about its only defining characteristic. But for the sake of preserving traditions from the homeland, here’s my exam schedule and otherwise busy schedule. . . .

Exam schedule (“exam” in the singular). I had my first test that counts for a grade of my Russian life on Wednesday. It was in Microeconomics, that is, the class from which I was absent for 5 weeks. But since I met with the professor for about an hour on Monday (which she’s offered, and I’ve accepted, to make it a weekly thing), I felt caught up. Part of that was the fact I read about 60 pages of the econ textbook for about 4 hours one night, and then then did everything in the little course workbook/pamphlet that I had missed.

So in preparation for our 5-question, short answer vocabulary test (i.e. “midterm” “exam”), I just went back and re-read all the definitions a few times. Basically, turned out to be the easiest midterm of my college career. And the only reason I give said accomplishment any credit is the fact it is one of 3 factors of our grades, which are even more subjective than college grades anyways (a test, a paper, and participation/showing up). And the fact that I did it all in Russian. Yay me, right. . . ?

Taking the test with Russians was also an experience. First off, when I walked into the class, everyone was frantically tossing notebooks and asking each other definitions (including “What does ‘economic efficiency’ mean?” which I assumed was one of those terms, where even if you didn’t know it was the “relationship of input to output,” you could theoretically write anything dealing with either “economy” or “efficiency” and basically get it right. . . I guess they’re only freshman, right?).

Second, the Russian ideal of the “collective” doesn’t stop when tests begin–the constant murmur/talking went right on through the test, even right on through when the teacher was reading the next question. I could mayyybe understand how this might be acceptable in the culture, etc., but I was thrown off by the fact that there were two separate lists of questions that the teacher read, one for each form of the test. Hm.

Afterwards, I was talking to one of the friends I’ve made in that class, Vova, and asked him how it was. He laughed and said, “Not that great,” but shrugged it off: apparently, you can also ask to re-take tests, no questions asked, well. . . bad choice of expressions.

Otherwise busy schedule. So on top of a freak phenomenon of us actually having slightly more homework this week, I also had my two English lessons to help out at on Tuesday and Thursday in the center, as well as had a date or two to keep, which included one on Wednesday to the theatre, since I and Romany each had 2 tickets to the theatre from our grammar prof.

The performance was great, as my companion Nelli (a Petersburger who frequents the theatre there and who also acts) and I agreed. The show was “Starshii syn,” (The Older Son) at the Irkutsk Dramaturgical Academy Theatre, directed by an ex-student of our professor’s, who had especially given her 6 tickets (Patrick and his date didn’t show) to share the Irkutsk theatre scene with her Americans. It was staged in the small side theatre of the main theatre downtown, which I loved, seeing as it reminded me of all the intimate Hepburn-Zoo-like theatre spaces on campus back at Middlebury.

The set was very cool: it perfectly recreated a courtyard outside of a Soviet period apartment building built over a train station, broken concrete, puddles, sandbox, bench, under-used trash can and all. At first I was under the impression it was a sort of modernistic, deconstructionist set/production, eerily predicting a strange urban future of the world, but then I realized it was more or less just Soviet.

The plot involved two students, Vladimir and Vasilli, who missed a late-night train home in the early fall, got cold, and decided to crash in an apartment occupied by a 17-year old kid waiting for his father to come home. Vladimir decides to make up the fact that he’s also the son of the kid’s father, and the plot unfolds with the new “son” and his friend having to keep to their lie, falling in love with the father, and then with the already-engaged “sister” and the neighbor, whom the younger “brother” is also trying to date. Oh, and the father has bad nerves and breaks down right before he learns the truth, and his two real children are about to leave him at home alone with their marriage and studies. When he does learn the truth, he closes his eyes to the deceit and takes Vladimir as his son.

Even though the too-happy (Soviet) ending disagreed with my taste for the potential tragedy of the situation, I appreciated the depiction of the father’s love for “his children,” as was displayed in a tender scene when he interrupted his daughter’s fiance’s toast to his health, and instead made a toast to “his children,” which included everyone on stage, and in a sense, it felt like the audience too, for no other reason but the fact that he loved them and wished them the best.

. . . Generally, I’m not sure how I feel about the fact I haven’t been held accountable (i.e. testing/grading-wise) for any of the material out of my other classes, i.e. the ones that I’m paying for to actually help get rid of grammar and syntax errors every other word or three. Nonetheless, even if the midterms at the IGU Mezhfak aren’t as formidable a stress-fest as Middlebury’s, I had a busy enough week to feel like a 10-day adventure to Mongolia and back is deserved enough.

Check back here on Mon., Nov. 2 when I’ll return from abroad-abroad. ‘Til then, I’ll be on a train or camel or in a yurt, journal and camera in hand.

Speaking English in Russia is weird. I don’t do it often, namely, talking on the phone or Skype with people back home, and writing emails/blog updates. But being in the whole “immersion” experience for so long, when asked/required to switch to English, you’re really pushed off balance. A few places to watch out for. . .

In the taxi. For one, the accent of Russians speaking English sounds just as Russian as Russian itself, since the r’s are still rolled, the th’s are zz’ed, half the consonants are still not aspirated (to make an un-aspirated “k” sound, for instance, say “ka” with your hand in front of your mouth without feeling air come out until the a sounds, while still distinguishing it from “ga”), and any instance of the often nasal American ah (eh?) is replaced with the general ahhh. So the transition from one language to the next is underhanded, even.

This happened in the taxi on the way to the club last week, when the taxi driver randomly busted out the translation of “the highest story of a building” (attic. . . didn’t figure it out til I had my dictionary back at home) in the middle of the conversation of the people I was with. As a result, the different variations on approval/praise in English and in Russian got all mixed up–“molodets”/”good boy” only works in one language, and the general “alright!” also doesn’t translate completely exactly–, and I half regurgitated up a bluhrb of rtbrefaapeiuv.

So now there’s one more taxi driver in Irkutsk who not only thinks I don’t speak Russian, but any language at all. And of course, it’s the taxi driver with an all-for-naught degree in linguistics. Taksist-lingvist (tak-SEEST-leenk-VEEST), as it were.

On the phone. My Russian friend Nelli has also taken to randomly switching to English on the phone sometimes. Sometimes in mid-sentence. She speaks well, don’t get me wrong. Although when it comes to say goodbye, which is often expressed with “davai,” also the word used to express “let’s [go],” “get going,” etc., I ended up mixing that with the general word for goodbye, poka (pahKAH), into an ever-so-eloquent “let’s poka,” which sounded like an invitation to commence Hungarian step-dance. . . or something. . . .

On tours. At mealtimes. On my trip to observe the student presentations at the IGU Lycee (the high school attached to my university), my hostess/English teacher insisted only on English, which was fine, v printsipe (another Russian expression, “in principle” that sounds too bookish in English, but is sometimes as common as the English “well. . .” or “like”). However, as she was telling me about the school, their classes, and so on, I felt linguistically naked (there’s an expression for ya. . .) without the Russian “ponyatno” and “yasno” (lit. “understood,” “clear”), and “okay” seemed too indifferent, and my slurred “arright” too not-understood, and pronouncing “all righT” in a near British accent was too awkward. So, again I went with a lot of mixed-up half expressions in each language. When she got me tea and cookies, again, the vocabulary used while accepting food in Russia doesn’t translate that nicely to English.

In Great Britamerussia. Today, I made my third trip to the Waldorf School of Irkutsk, where I observed a 40-minute English class with a young teacher who also happens to be the chairperson of the Great Baikal Trail organization, one of the meetings of which I went to a month or so ago. Their first activity was reciting the tongue-twister, immediately giving away the fact that British English was the language of instruction, “Make my milk merrily more mild.” Except I’m not coming up with a red-underline (that means spelling mistake, Grandma) when I type “milder.” But since the point of the tongue-twister was to squeeze in as many M’s as possible, and not learning superlatives, I let it slide. The rest of the class was interesting and error free–impressive, as the teacher hadn’t ever been to a English-speaking country.

In your head. In class. So although the cultural significance of language creates a lot of the complications–minor ones, at most–that I’ve encountered with speaking English in Russian, the bigger problems tend to crop up in classes trying to express more complicated ideas through Russian grammar, and oftentimes half-Slavic, half-Latin based vocabulary. During my one-on-one lesson with my Econ prof on Monday, I was again reminded, for instance, that being asked to define or give formulas for “ekonomicheskaya effektivnost'” (economic efficacy, go figure) or other terms perhaps in Russian, but abbreviated with Latin letters from the English term, all isn’t as easy as it seems. Which, I suppose, all goes to show the importance of the whole immersion idea. So snaps for Middlebury. Go brand and market that stuff.

Of course, all of this including the exceptions of trying to help out students, friends, and taxi drivers learn your own language.

Later this week: a show at the Irkutsk Drama Academy Theatre and packing for 10 days in/in-transit-to Mongolia.

No pictures of Irkutsk yet. My apologies. I’m still placing myself in the I-don’t-look-Russian-enough-to-pose-as-a-student-at-The-Photography-of-Architecture-Institute-which-doesn’t-exist category in order to take pictures of ugly Soviet apartment buildings.

By the time I do categorize myself as such, I’ll probably have some weird new aesthetic for concrete, meaning I probably won’t apologize for sending lots of probably not-that-interesting pictures, so I’m doing it in advance.

That said, I am starting to take a mostly unconditional liking to the city life of Irkutsk.

I like leaving my window open for “fresh” (city) air at nighttime, which produces the effect of living four stories up from some back, relatively calm street of Manhattan, yet with cars rolling by with music blaring, people walking by shouting, car horns and alarms continually going off. . . in short, produces the effect of living four stories up from some back, relatively quiet street of Irkutsk.

After classes end, usually around 3 p.m., I take the slightly longer walk to the bigger bus stop where I can get a bus for 2 rubles cheaper (6 cents) because 1) I like maximizing my outside time, since I’m spending a lot more time indoors anymore, and 2) I feel good about saving the money. This will add up to about $10 by the end of the year, if I keep it up. This will translate into ice-cream money.

But taking midday busses (or trolley-buses – the one’s with the electric wires overhead, same price) might be my favorite thing to do in Irkutsk. In addition to it representing the end of the school day and a nap to come in the 30-minute future, the clientele of 80% elderly people quietly sit there, all looking out the window, the afternoon sun that usually comes out after the morning fog, and the general peace and quiet despite the fact that I’m still in the city, all usually end up being a consistently good 15 minutes of the day.

The nighttime busses are fun too. Everyone’s in black (which they are all day, too, it’s just more striking at night or something). There’s young people leaving from and getting to different bus stops to buy alcohol and drink with their friends behind the bus stops. And it’s generally darker on the streets than most of your city/suburb streets of the U.S., which contrasts with the fluorescent lights of the busses and of the alcohol-and-cigarette kiosks in a cool way. All meaning that nighttime is just as exciting and abuzz as daytime. The city thing. . . .

A few of my stops over the past week:

Sunday. Church (tserkov’). Found the Roman Catholic church in the city center online, which has a 10:00 mass. When I got there, mass was in the basement chapel, since the main church is mostly for like tourism. Polish priest, mostly Polish people there. Their accent (which is actually more understandable to me than the Russian one) is basically comprised of not mumbling and replacing the L sound with a W. But mostly everything about mass was the same. . . only it was in Russian. Plus they dip the host in the wine, like the Orthodox. And they do a rosary after Mass. Meaning I basically have the Hail Mary in Russian down.

Monday. Pool (bassein). After being turned away on my first attempt to swim at Sportzal Izumrud due to my not having a swimming cap, this time, I came ready. This included: the necessary doctors note indicating that my hands didn’t itch and that I at least thought I was healthy (see “Example 3” in my post about my trip to the clinic), the extra stamp on the doctors note indicating that the gym knew I had the doctors note, my new little paper ID card with my picture on it, the stamp on my new ID card indicating that I had shown my student ID to the woman at the desk indicating that I was a student in order to receive the student rate, the receipt that I had paid the 100 ruble student rate, and my coat-and-shoe check ticket. Surprisingly handing all these over in a nice and organized little stack, I got my temporary locker key and proceeded to the locker room.

Changed. Gave my key to the locker room attendant (another generally stern-looking woman). Took the mandatory 5-minute shower. Added the cap and goggles. Proceeded to the start line. When the previous 40-minute session was up and the buzzer sounded, the previous group got out of the pool, and I with the next got in. Exactly 40 minutes later, I got out. Subtracted cap and goggles. Took the next mandatory shower (no time suggestion). Got my key back from the locker room attendant. Changed. And left. Talk about structure. . . .

Tuesday. Mexican restaurant (meksikanskii restoran). Nana, the director of the Middlebury School in Russia, our program, was in town and took us out to dinner to chat, see how we were doing, etc.

Ha. Great. “Rio Grande” was the name of the joint. I had heard rumors of this place for two years at Midd from Irkutsk alumni. I’d have to rate it as living up to all the quirkiness promised. The decor, the outfits, the sign reading “Texas, 10 km. Mexico, 15 km,” the chips that were more like sopapillas with a ton of salt, the salsa that was more like tomato puree. It was a nice dinner, tasted good enough, reminded me enough of home to enjoy it, gave us things to laugh about and explain to Nana why they were, well, wrong, and it was free, to boot. Go Midd.

Wednesday. Cut class (progulivat’ uroki). Don’t worry, I went to my classes, just not the ones at the lycee: on Saturday, I had gone to the IGU Lycee, a high school connected with my university, to see their students’ “konferentsia” (conference), which consisted of a guest lecturer from IGU’s ChemFak (he rambled for 40 minutes about the history of natural science and how that meant it was important for them to go to college? Note, I’m not loosing the message in translation here) and 2+ hours of 8th graders’ PowerPoint presentations on random topics with varying degrees of coherence/incoherence, of peer approval/inattention, and of interest on the judges’ part, displayed by how many or how serious of questions they asked at the end.

This meant that the little boy who measured air pollution in different parts of his apartment for like a month or something did rather well. Alternately, this meant that the little girl, who tried applying the scientific method to (the history of?) punctuation and who ended up telling us at length about what each punctuation mark means, was eventually asked by the main judge, “Do you feel like you know more about punctuation marks now?” As an aside, she answered (lied?), “Punctuation marks have always been my favorite part of the beautiful Russian language, and I think I use them very well.”

Regardless, I told my host, Olga Nikolaevna, I’d come back the following Wednesday, but accidentally at a time I had class, so I didn’t go to high school. I’ll go back next week sometime.

Thursday. Club (klub). Pronounced “kloop.” The name of this club meant “attic,” which I think is just supposed to carry the meaning of a cool, hip, hidden place to hang out, not like anything seedy.

It was a kind of kitschy decor, but nice, they played good music, would have been better if there were more people. More young people, especially. To give you an idea of the general age group, I think there were five birthdays being celebrated that night, ages probably 25, 25, 30, 30, and 35+. Food and drinks were pretty expensive, and I’d rate the cover charge (200 rubles) as not entirely worth it. Especially because we got there 6 minutes late for the free entry, which ended at 10. And also because there are apparently better clubs in Irkutsk. Why we didn’t go to one of those, still not sure. Oh well.

So despite the so-so-ness of the club itself (as Cathy told me via Skype from South America, apparently the club capital continent of the world , “Well, you are in Siberia”), decided to make the most of it, so we toasted, danced, ate a bit, had good convo. “We” means Nelli and Ira, two of my Russian friends, plus 4 of the Germans, who insisted on paying for my Heinekens, since it was “their” beer. I bought a round of Millers as repayment (it was the only option from America). All in all, a fun night with good company, which ended around 4 a.m. when I got home and got my 5 hours of sleep before classes.

Friday (Pyatnitsa). A still too-early bus ride to school.