Posts Tagged ‘трудность’

"Art belongs to the people," says Lenin. On the UU Opera House

Russians have a word (“trevoga”) for the spiritual qualms that you experience before traveling until you’re safely seated on your train/plane seat. I call it stress. Whatever it is, I feel it.

The day of our departure, I went straight from classes to my internship, and then straight to choir rehearsal, leaving early around 8 p.m. to inhale my dinner, grab my things (packed the day before), and run to meet Ryan at the station to catch our 9:40 overnight train to Ulan-Ude. The guidebook says it’s nickname is “UU,” but I’ve never heard that in real life. (Prophesy from the future: more “the guidebook was wrong” moments to come).

Regardless, we got in at 6 a.m. and bought the last of our train tickets (the ticket lady in Irkutsk had advised us to hold off on getting a few of them, since better seats opened up in the end).

MISTAKE ONE: Not booking the hotel. (more…)


Day 5-6 (Wed.-Thurs., Oct. 28-29): Wandering and wondering

Last place. On our horse-ride from ger one to two, my horse turned out to be the stubborn one. I’m blaming it on the fact that the father (who was leading Romany’s horse next to his the whole way) and son both had leather whips and the Mongolian accent of how to say giddy-up (“Chshuuu”), whereas I had a rope and no practice time and no Mongolian accent. So anyways, I straggled in a minute after the rest of the company arrived at ger two, we tied the horses, and went inside to begin the process again.

Unfamiliar faces and familiar places. The ger was occupied by a really old grandma with a spine that ended up being higher than her head and a large protruding lower tooth, her son (the father) and his wife, their two daughters (about 3 and 16), their younger son (14), their older son (maybe a few years older than Romany and I) and his wife, and two guests. Plus us four, just arrived. Could have filmed the Mongolian version of the sitcom “Full Ger” on location.

After a quick, second round of get-to-know-you across languages with milk-tea and cookies, and just as we were starting to realize how much our bodies were enjoying the relaxation of being off the horses, we were summoned outside again. When Romany and I shot each other horrified glances when we realized we were getting back on the horses, they laughed. We did too, but really behind gritted teeth.


If the physical difficulty of being bounced along like a rag doll on a wooden saddle wasn’t enough, then going back exactly where we came from definitely did the trick of wearing us out. But, as this was our holiday, we made the most of it, and got to see the land we had just crossed in a few different lights.

The path we had made from ger one to two consisted of us crossing to the other side of a long, narrow strip of sand dunes and continuing north along the eastern side of them to Swan Lake, surrounded by horses and then turning westward and crossing the length of a long and wide valley, with high and rocky mountains on the northern side, in which ger two was nestled at the valley’s eastern end, and with gradually rising hills and mountains to the south, to which we’d travel to ger three the next day.

Tracing our horseshoe-steps, father and son number one herded a herd of horses from the field adjoining ger two, while father two led Romany and I across some hills as a shortcut back to Swan Lake. Father and son one left the horses they’d just herded at the lake, we said our farewells, and then they rode off home. Father number two gathered another group of 25-30 horses, which we helped herd back in the direction of his ger (number two, that is, on the far eastern side of the valley).

About a third of the way there, though, he dropped us off at the gers of one of his other sons, where Romany and I had tea, talked (the wife knew some English and spent most of her time in Ulaan Baatar working), and bought two handmade, silk bags for about four dollars each. We would have got some more, but we hadn’t brought enough money with us.


Final tour. The father returned, and the horses were gone, meaning we assumed he brought them back to his field himself, since he could do it easier without having to worry about his two tourist-guests. When we stepped back outside, the sun had seemingly fallen considerably lower in the sky, and the late afternoon light played beautifully on the mountains and dunes. Unfortunately, my battery on the one camera I had with me was running low.

Instead of going in the homeward direction, we went back to Swan Lake, where the father enthusiastically took our pictures with the dunes and the setting sun in the background.


We finally began our journey back home, with only the moon in the still-light sky.

But, though we were full-on galloping, the half-darkness made it seem the ground went by slower beneath the horses’ hooves, since night was quickly falling. Nevertheless, we stopped at the monument to the wise Mongolian Queen Manduhai atop a hill/mountain, as promised.

The last hour of our total 6 hours of horseback riding on our first full day in the wilderness (wolves are not uncommon) was by far the hardest. Not only did every bone and muscle of my body already hurt from the first five hours, from fingers and toes to tailbone and back, but we were galloping for the whole last hour, and since Romany’s horse was still being led side-by-side, and I was on my own, that meant that I was stuck doing all the whipping, coaxing, and, obviously, riding myself. Which made it all the more authentic, I suppose. But I hurt.

Still, galloping across a valley with silhouetted mountains against the black-blue sky with the moon standing out against it, in Mongolia of all places, is categorically a great experience, and as much of a toll it took on my body, being alone out in the open, slightly behind the father and Romany up ahead, is probably as “alone,” population density wise, as I’ll ever be, which was a totally unique feeling.

Staying for a night, off in the morn’. In near darkness, we crawled back into the ger and plopped down on our little wooden stools. Somehow, we managed after another delicious meal of noodle-and-meat soup to keep up social interaction with the family and especially the kids, with whom we played the traditional ankle bone game (if rolled like a die, an ankle bone can land on one of four of its sides, which each represent a different animal–sheep, goat, camel, horse–and accordingly different moves across a board, also constructed of the ankle bones, for instance, in the shape of a horse race trail), thumb wrestled, and watched Mongolian TV. Our energy level was probably related to the two huge bowls of the best tasting (again, homemade) yogurt I’ve ever had, which we each had.

Soon, we piled our stuff in the family’s car and drove up the side of the mountain to the family’s second ger, where despite my physical exhaustion, I was never able to get much more than an hour of uninterrupted sleep. Part of the problem was the fact that adjusting positions on the bed out of discomfort was made much more difficult by my out-of-commission abs and legs.

Regardless, we got up to a bright, sunny morning considerably warmer than 24 hours earlier. The younger son had driven up the hill to get our bags, since we were taking the horses back down, much to our dismay. Since my butt bones hadn’t developed calluses yet, it was a rather unpleasant wake-up call, but the warm breakfast and yogurt from the mom somewhat made up for it back in the ger.


The family, seeing us in our obvious soreness, hobbling around and bent over ourselves almost as much as the grandma, bless their hearts (in all seriousness), offered us a ride in the car since they were bringing the kids to school. Romany and I looked at each other and agreed in a second.

Thirty minutes later, we pulled into the, well, “front yard” of the final ger of our adventure, still sore, but much less so, had we declined the carpool and gone with the horses.


Day 4 (Tues., Oct. 27): But. . . there was no lady with a cap. . .

I consider myself someone who’s ok just “going with it,” “easygoing” as it were.

But, when in a country, of which you don’t speak the language, when you find yourself half-stranded at a bus stop in a town of population of 100 (?), and the person described to you as “lady wearing a cap” with a name of a long stream of unfamiliar phonemes isn’t there, things change.

To rewind seven hours or so: Romany and I got up at 6, had breakfast, double checked that we had everything, checked out of the hostel, and walked out the door at 7:00 a.m. to our taxi waiting for us while crossing our fingers we’d be back safe and sound four days later. Our hostel hosts at the Golden Gobi (the best in UB–no joke) let the taxi driver know where we were headed, and sent us off.

A quick note on the Ger-to-Ger program, to clarify: we’re basically on our own until we get to the first family, who takes care of us, takes us to the second, who likewise gets us to the third. Tourists on their programs are supposed to meet the Ger-to-Ger rep (lady in the cap) at the on-location bus station who helps arrange a jeep to the first ger from the bus station, a jeep back to the bus station at the end of the tour, and who gets money from tourists to buy their bus tickets back to Ulaan Baatar. So step one: get to the bus to the village.

We had a map of how to get to the bus stop, albeit made out of poorly-constructed boxes and lines in Microsoft Word, meaning not terribly useful. However, good enough, so that when our taxi driver was getting ready to turn off the main road, I had enough of an intuition to make some general I-don’t-know-Mongolian-but-I-need-to-say-something noises (more of these to come) in the back seat, and withdraw our guidebook with a picture/name of the bus station (“Dragon bus station”) included.

“Ohh,” murmured the taxi driver, maneuvering the car into the other lane. We got there a few minutes later, about 50 minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave.

The bus station was a wide, dirt parking lot in front of a brick building with the label “Auto-Station” illuminated in red lights. It was still dark, but getting lighter. There were small stands of for-the-road goods and snacks. Families of urban-dressed folk were saying their happy goodbyes to those traditionally dressed, getting on the buses, and vise-versa. As with my general Mongolian/non-Russian Asian experience in general, the goodbyes involved more smiles than their Russian counterparts.

Needless to say, stepping out of the cab, Romany and I stood out with our tall, bright red and yellow backpacking packs and with our wide, half-eager, half-scared eyes, looking for the bus labeled Ovörkhangai-Arvaikheer. Irrelevant, but perhaps fun, fact: if we didn’t know Cyrillic, we might have thought we were looking for a bus that sounded like “Obepxahta-backwards-N-Apba-backwards-N-x33p.” We found the bus, handed over our tickets, and took our seats. Part one, done. Whew. Now for the watching for our stop. . . .

Now the lady at the travel agency told us that we should get off the bus at the first stop, at Sansar, which would be five hours after we left. So we stopped for gas, but that obviously wasn’t our stop.

Then we stopped so people could get off the bus and pee on the side of the road (80% of the bus participated), but that definitely wasn’t it.

After that, we stopped on the side of the road again, but it was only so that one guy with some lumber could get off, but since we figured it wasn’t a “‘stop’ stop,” and since even if it was, it looked far too uninhabited (i.e. the side of a country highway in Mongolia–mountains and wild animals the only objects in sight) for our taste, we didn’t want to get off anyways.

Finally we pulled into what looked like a little strip of 10 cafés and grocery shops in a “town.” Only problem: it had only been 4 hours. Since everyone else got off to use the real bathroom (meaning side of the road for men #1, or the outhouse a stone’s throw away for woman and other business), and since the bus driver said enthusiastic- and positive-sounding Mongolian things when we said “Sansar?” and pointed downwards, we figured, why not? Part two, bus ride, done. We think. Whew? Now to find the lady in the cap. . . .

As I’ve already ruined the surprise of that one, yes, no lady in the cap. Romany and I look at each other. Then turn our heads the other way. Assess surroundings. Small town. Then we look behind us. Road, two houses, Mongolian wilderness. Repeat the looking from side to side. Then we kind of take two and a half steps one direction, look the other way, make a quarter of a step to go that way, then kind of turn around to make sure the other one is still there. In the general sense, you can call this “not knowing what to do.”

I had to use the facilities, so I found a nice patch of side-of-the-road. Meanwhile, traditionally-dressed nomad approaches Romany back near the bus doing the “not knowing what to do” dance, albeit a slightly less concerned version of it than mine, and says to her “girtugir.” She figures it out: “Ger to Ger.” I return from the restroom. She updates me on the developments. Cool. But where’s the lady with the cap who we’re supposed to pay for our jeep and tickets back?

No big deal, we say to each other, not really believing it. The guy is showing us to his jeep, knew our agency’s name, but otherwise, really, has no other credentials. Speaking of the agency, my feelings about “Ger to Ger” at this point: LIARS!

So we’re driving down Mongolian highway x, the town gone by as quickly as it came up, thumbing through our 11 pages of Mongolian-English phrases (which, we would soon note, didn’t include rudimentary feelings of desperation like “Why?” “Who?” and “I don’t know”). Doing the “not knowing what to do” drill, sitting in our seats, Romany and I agree that I shall have the wherewithal to initiate communicative exchanges number one through three.

1. “You?” Point to the fuzzy picture. “Ee-cheen-hohr-lu?” (that was the name of cap lady). Friendly nomad replies with a mighty vicious shake of the head, as if “Oh no, no, definitely not.” Right. Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who relates in an affirmably negative way to Ms. Ichinhorloo, Absent Cap Lady, with whom our rendez-vous was planned. Hm. (Incidentally, gestures may have international cognates, but I beg to differ with whomever it was, who said that they mean or connote the same things across languages.)

2. Point to Romany and myself. “Ger?” Point to fuzzy picture of host father number one. “B-yam-bah-tog-oh?” (host father number one’s name). Friendly nomad replies with another shake of the head, but added in the hand motion of “cut it out,” as if “Nahh, not goin’ there.” Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who is in fact, not taking us to our first home stay. Panic level somehow still not activated.

2b. Friendly nomad points to picture of host father number two, Mr. Otgonbayar, and waves down the road. Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who is taking us to our second home stay. Slight relief. However the question arises: does he know that’s wrong/does that matter? Answer still unknown.

3. Look up word for “tickets.” Russian/French cognate, thank God. Look up word for “bus.” Again, score. “Bileti? Avtobus?” Point backwards. “Ulaan Baatar?” Friendly nomad replies with nod of the head, as if,”Oh yeah I gotcha,” then points to himself, and then does the “later, later,” wave of the hand. Conclusion: We’re in the car with man who will take our money later and who knows that we want to buy tickets to Ulaan Baatar, although unfortunately with whom, due to the Great Wall of Language Barrier, it will be impossible to arrange a rendez-vous in order to get these tickets.

If two years of a Russian major and two months in Irkutsk weren’t enough of a practice in dealing with contradictions and irony, I suppose I’d been put in the right situation. Regardless, I’ll spare relating the ensuing stream of consciousness because I don’t remember (or frankly, want to remember) how I managed to convince myself that, well, probably, we’d be, to some degree, at some point in time, “okay.” We had paid a tour agency after all, right?

Insert cliffhanger here.


 I’d had two weeks of classes to figure out the work ethic, attention, layout of the building, teachers’ names and patronymics, and so on, here at the university; two weeks to make some friends; two weeks to start missing home and to get a steady Internet connection to stay on top of the news, social life, and goings on of home, Midd, and my friends now scattered around the world. Along with all of that comes a lot of work (and stress), so I was more than happy to hang around home for my three day weekend and catch up on sleep.

The variations among the “service” sector/bureaucracy of the place is shocking.

Example 1. BaikalWestCom is wonderful. Pristine, heated, spacious, and helpful—aspects of buildings and establishments which I appreciate more and more each day—I’ve had to go to their store in the city center twice now to figure out my Internet modem settings on my computer. But, regardless of the fact my modem isn’t perfect, or the fact it makes for about a 45-60 minute round-trip commute and 20-24 rubles to do so (i.e. about 3 quarters), I really don’t mind it. They even made an exception to their rules and violated the privacy (but not really—I’m just allowed to see my account balance online now) of David Parker, who graciously left behind his modem in dear Irkutsk for generations of starving travelers to come (also quoted as rating BWC employees “the most helpful service people in the city”). They’re helpful, there’s not a wait or paperwork, and it’s free tech support. Beautiful.

Example 2. On my recent trip to the post office, I needed to approach the counter to ask for postage for postcards to the U.S. Upon saying so (I think it was the “S.Sh.A,” meaning U.S.A. that set it off. . . the accent too, obviously), the woman behind the desk thought it would be necessary to speak about 50 decibels higher than normal. I mean, there wasn’t anyone else around really, so I didn’t mind, and it was better than the usual mumble behind the glass screen that stands between any inquirer and the Russian bureaucracy. And I got the things sent. So, normal’no (the always usable Russian equivalent of “all right,” “normal,” “fine”).

Example 3. To swim in pools in Russia, 95% of the time, you’ll need a doctor’s note saying you’re healthy enough to be in collective water. But “doctor’s note” is a bit of an understatement. First, Elizabeth and I had an unsuccessful try at the Central Diagnostic Center of Irkutsk early yesterday morning, where they charge double for foreigners—literally, it’s a multiplied by two charge, not because of any visible tacked on charges for analyzing foreign blood, just doubled. I don’t have the budget for that. So today, we tried at the less high-tech looking clinic across the street from the MezhFak. After we were spun around the office to four different desks with four different lines and four different women with typically stern faces, I ended up in the doctor’s office with the proper paper with the proper stamp saying I had paid my 200 rubles (not even $10). She asked to see my hands. Then told me to turn them over. She asked if they itched. I said no. She asked if I was healthy. I said yes. Then she handed me the final piece of paper needed, which we took to receive 3 more stamps, and I received my spravka (the doctor’s note), no needles, x-rays, or exorbitant medical costs. Three cheers for good ol’ bureaucratic dishonesty.

So Mom and Dad, you can take back the money you put in my account if you’d like. Or not. They say bribing happens here, too, sometimes. But for now, I’m putting on my happy face about Russian papers, stamps, and angry women behind the glass window.

In other news, the dollar is falling. C’mon US economy—do it for your kids abroad!

I think that I understand why Russian literature tends to be so lengthy: if I were to try to enumerate and explain everything that’s happened to me from moment one on the ground in Moscow to moment 3498523049857 sitting here in “my” room at “my” apartment here in Irkutsk typing a blog to post the next time I happen to be around an internet connection, I could probably fill two tomes the size of War and Peace. Though, my version would be a lot less of the “peace” side, and though I can’t describe it as “war,” it wouldn’t be too far from it.

In light of that fact, I present. . .

My Top Ten from Moscow
10. Waiting 2 hours in the passport control mob, the first of an almost infinite number of situations where there’s usually a line or some sense of order in the US.
9. Having my first convo with a real Russian with my taxi driver about the city and gas prices, among other topics.
8. Getting my first internet access to the Western hemisphere, and consequently to the loved ones back home.
7. Seeing familiar faces, that is, Sophie’s and Ashley’s, walk into the lobby of the hotel (in a huge tourist complex built for the 1980 Olympics, complete with a kremlin-looking gypsy market).
6. Placing my first orders for things like Rum-Servis, breakfast at a pastry stand, my metro ticket, and so on.
5. Putting on my non-smiling Russian face for the first time in the context of pushing my way through the Moscow metro.
4. Hiding my smiling American face for the first time when I more or less stumbled upon the Kremlin, Red Square, and St. Basil’s Cathedral for the first time and realized I was actually there.
3. Walking around Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park of Culture and Rest (yes, I’m doing literal translations for purposes of humor) and finding a “Vestern Park” complete with huge pictures of plains indians with tomahawks and a roller coaster.
2. Getting (not literally) b**** slapped with typical Russian ignorance of strangers for the first time (don’t worry, it’s not rude here, so I’m all good) by the lady changing my money at the hotel who was wearing an Arizona tourist shirt. Well IIIII thought it was cool. Guess not. . .
1. Having drinks and lively conversation with old friends, with soon-to-be American student friends, and with new, Russian, middle-aged friends at various bars and on-the-street locations around the hotel complex on what we promised would be our one and only stupid-American-tourist night.

So that was that. After orientation at the hotel and saying our goodbyes to our fellow MiddKids studying in Moscow and Yaroslavl, we hung around the hotel til 8, when we took a 2-hour ride to the Sheremetovo airport to catch our red-eye to Siberia. Hey. It beats 6 days on the train, right? (Stay tuned for the winter break travellog for that. . . .)

И вот такая была… то есть, первая неделя моего года, в котором я буду сообщаться большенство по–русски. После выходных экзаменов и новых знакомств, я был очень готов начать летнюю школу. Честно говоря, когда нам пришлось наконец “дать свое слово говорить только по–русски до конца программы,” мы испугались. После шести дней, речь не так же тяжело как занятии.

Первый день на шестом курсе, мы с одноклассниками сразу узнали, что кроме выгодного, лето будет трудное, будет длиннее, будет без отдыха, но также замечательное “фан” (да, мы учились снаружи занятий, что “фан,” “маффинс,” “римэйк” и несколько других слов теперь стали частем русского языка). На шестом курсе, 4 часа занятий на пятых частях: две у Евгения Станиславовича (лексика/синтакс и обсуждение о чтениях), две у Ларисы Ивановны (грамматика и “язык Средств Массовой Инфомации, СМИ”), и кинокурс (один фильм мы смотрим каждую неделю).

Много домашных заданий у нас, и нам еще трудно сказать, будет ли нам можно все делать плюс аспирантские лекции, искусства, клубы, и спорт. Впроче, верим, как на силлабусе написан Ларизой Ивановной, “Все будет хорошо” и тоже, “Без стресса, нет прогресса.”

Я уже смотрел четыре фильмы, все которых мне понравились.

  • Питер ФМ (2006) – Романтическая комедия посмотренная нами первую ночь о мужике, кто находит мобильнике популярной Ди–Джэй в Петербурге (девучкы) и её ищет про фильма. Новый и счастливый. Как сказала до фильма Татьяна Эдуардовна (один из преподавателей здесь из Мидлбери, которой у меня был), фильм показывает молодых людей в России, и тоже “настоящий” город Питер.
  • Небо, Самолет, Девучка (2003) – Римэйк фильма от русской пьесы о любовниках, кто работает вокруг аэропорта Москвы и встретится друг с другом. Сложный и с хорошими актерами. Я сам не смотрел до конца из–за того, как мне надо было к преподавателям на консултацию ходить, но очень хочу.
  • Родня (1981) – Советский фильм о семье мы смотрели на занятиах. Мария ездить к ее дочери, ссорится с ней о ее внучке, и все мирятся, конец. Хорошо сделланый, и грустный и счастливый, и хороший за обсуждение. Эта песня была в фильме несколько раз, поэтому, она стала одной из наших любимих (По Ларисе Ивановне, это был очень популярно в России, и еще также на концертах ретро):
  • Звезда (2002) – Фильм о “войне” (почти всегда значит по–русски вторая мировая война), в котором какая–то шпионская часть советской армии девяти воинов закончит свой долг, но все умерли наконец. Когда смотрели вчера вечером, казалось, что некого не было, кто не плакал или не хотел плакать в аудитории. Первый раз я увидел трудность этой войны с вида русского душа.

…Следуюший блог, я покажу фото моего дома, где живу почти в центре города, чуть–чуть далеко от кампуса, а также поговорю о клубах, спорте, и т.д.