Posts Tagged ‘igu’

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.

First sight of Siberia, a few minutes before landing in Irkutsk.

First sight of Siberia, a few minutes before landing in Irkutsk.

Moscow seems completely manageable compared to a week in Irkutsk. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great little spot on the map, which, needless to say, I never would have found or wanted to visit if it weren’t for this program. Not that there’s any American comparison, but still–think: a nice downtown with the character of a skyscraper-less Boston, add in some Easter pastel-colored paint and the advertising flare of Tokyo, the traffic of Manhattan (times five), and the outskirts of any typically creepy-after-dark of any urban area (thus the Detroit comparison), and you’ve got Irkutsk.

But all that was pretty darn well kept a secret until we (I speak of my two Middlebury comrades Romany and Patrick) got in over our heads here. We flew in last Saturday morning, met three smiling women at the gates that would be our host moms, better described by “khozyaika” (a landlady, house manager, etc. …who does amazing cooking and generally makes everything okay at the end of the day), and set off for what would be home for 10 months. I live on Kostycheva Street on the side of the river opposite the center, just a 10 minute ride from the International Department (the Mezhfak) of IGU.

After our on-site orientation at Elizabeth’s apartment just off the main pedestrian walkway, which they actually built to house the administrators of the KGB back in the day, we set off on a week of confused bus rides, awkward conversations asking directions, missed meetings, and a slew of other new “experiences,” I’ll say, too many to enumerate. Of course, mixed in there were also some making friends, learning new things, and, not to forget, realizing that summer was officially over 1) with two days of overcast weather and rain, and 2) with the start of the new school year.

Right now, we’re each taking the same 5 classes with each other, that is, it’s only us 3 Americans in the same 5 classes at the Mezhfak. We have “Practical” Grammar, Speaking and Writing Practice, Russian Literature, Post-Soviet History, and Baikal-o-studies (had to do the literal translation of the word on the last one; to clarify, that’s the study of Lake Baikal just upstream). All of the classes, as any, have their ups and downs, and after just a week, I’d say we’re all pretty comfortable with the lectures and homework. Discussion we’re working on, obviously.

When they say the city is a history museum, after only being here a week with limited time for random wandering about, they really have a point. The city stems off of the water of the Angara River with little wooden houses with the most beautiful woodwork and multi-colored paints that are scattered throughout the modernized areas. Then there is the actual downtown on the north/east bank, which also includes some pretty old buildings, a lot of which definitely cropped up in the decades surrounding the turn of the 19th century along with the Trans-Siberian Railroad’s opening. All of the high-rise apartment buildings that make up the western side of the Angara’s skyline are the still very alive and working remnants of Soviet-built concrete housing. There are cranes scattered everywhere, building new and modern apartment buildings, working on the bridges and dam, being used in the industrial work of the city, and so on.

Looking ahead… Tomorrow we leave for an overnight trip to Baikal, which includes a 20 km hike on day 2. Next week we’ll be starting to visit mainstream courses in different departments, since we’ll each be dropping one of the 5 classes to semi-participate in a real Russian university class for Midd credit. I’m still working on getting a wireless Internet connection at home. And lastly, I’ll eventually get the guts to take the huge clunkin’ camera out for a day to get some pics of the place—but don’t count on too many of those great National Geographic photos with an old person longingly looking into the camera. If I ever came by one, I’d be lucky to escape without being scolded, though maybe not very loudly, with all the Russian severity you could stand, if not without a broken camera, too.