Thursday, January 31, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 9

Today was a pretty long day. I went to bed pretty late last night (~2:30 am), and my internal alarm went off about 3 minutes before my Tungsten T|X alarm (B'DEEEE) went off @ around 7:30 am. I laid in bed for a while debating on whether or not I should try to get another 30 minutes of sleep, but eventually opted against it and got up.

I was pretty much ready to leave the flat around 8:15, but I had already agreed to meet Semyon at the Gorodok @ 9:30 am. I decided to catch up on my blog role a bit while I let the clock tick away. Semyon and I eventually met at the Gorodok and had some good conversation, then decided to walk to the office. He was a bit reluctant to walk with me, but eventually agreed to join me. We actually power walked there because he was a bit late for his daily sprint meeting (btw: it is not my fault he was late). :)

By the time I got to work, my left foot was in some pretty nasty pain between my big toe and the one next to it. I'm not sure if I pulled something during my power-walk with Semyon, or if I screwed it up on Saturday when I was skiing with Konstantin and Alex. I remember that this area was in some pain as I was making my way up some of the hills with my ski's on... Basically, I was hyper extending my feet around the ski's so I could put my ski shoes on the snow and not slide backwards. It was causing pain in my big toe's because my toes were locked into place and my foot was twisting around the foot plate (not recommended). After about 1 hour of this hyper-extended noob move, they started to shriek in pain here and there. I had forgotten about that whole situation until I got to the office and sat down. I very well could have (yet another) stress fracture, for that is what it kinda feels like. This sucks! My feet have been getting on my nerves lately; either I'm being to hard on them, or if they are just being sissies. :) I've been very good about not running for the last 3+ weeks due to the other minor stress fracture in my right foot. It's been killing me not to run, but I keep reminding myself that if it will pay off come "race season". I'd better cool it and let them heal now during my "down time". However, after todays' walk, I'm getting a little frustrated and I'm about to just gonna say screw it and get back into my weekly mileage.

So anyway, I decided to work in the conference room today and not with my team upstairs. The entire team that I work with are all on the 5th floor, but the heating system is pretty intense up there and it stays pretty warm. That along with my sub zero wardrobe makes me pretty hot for the most part. Today I kicked it down stairs with Scott and stayed fairly comfortable for the most part. Tomorrow I may dress down a bit so that I can go back upstairs and zone out. There are some distractions of the conference room (especially with that Wii staring at me all day). Plus, I really do enjoy being in the same room with my team... I can almost feel the synergy up there. :)

I didn't do anything cool today or go anywhere exotic for lunch. I didn't even do any Wii-ing. I just sat at the conference table and worked until 5ish. Around that time I packed up and headed out the door for my long trek back home. I wanted to get home in time to see Lizzie and Jazzy before Lizzie went to school, then I wanted to do a couple of laps around the "Scientist Loop" with my reflective clothing and head lamp (yes I brought it) before it got too late. Well, about 50 meters from the office, I took a NASTY fall on the ice. I had my hands in my pocket, so I wasn't able to catch myself on the way down... It happened so fast... but essentially my feet slid out from under me and I fell knee first with all of my weight on my left knee bone. OUCH!!! I knew it was a nasty one as soon as I landed on it. I hunkered over for a few seconds trying to just let the pain come full force and get it over with. Then I got up and began my walk home. Clearly I'm a noob with all this ice... Note to self: take hands out of pockets when walking on ice. I'm sure I could have offset some of the impact had my hands been out of my pockets.

When I got back to the flat it was about that time for the girls to be ringing so I got setup and they called me almost as soon as I got my pc linked up. Of course, Jazzy woke up about 2 minutes into the call. It's funny, because Jazzy gets up with Lizzie every morning to eat breakfast and then goes back to bed with Jennifer. Nobody wakes her up, she just wakes up. As much as I'd like to think she does it for moral support, I honestly think she just doesn't want to miss anything. :) Regardless, it's nice to talk with them both on Skype while they eat their breakfast and yawn and stretch.

After the Skype meeting, my feet and my knee were both begging me not to run, so I obliged. Instead I did some dishes and picked up around the flat a bit. I am sooooo bacheloring it over here! I have dirty clothes laying in like 4 piles. I have clean clothes folded and laying in a 5th pile. My bed isn't made. My fridge consists of thawed out butter, 2 huge jugs of water, and 2 bottles of beer. My table has a tray of wafers and a basket of mandarin oranges. Best of all... my toilet seat is permanently UP! I actually had to force myself to do that, because I'm so trained to just put it down. This is really the only time I could even try to enjoy such a luxury, so I de-trained myself for these few weeks. :)

Once the flat was put back together, I sat down on the couch and caught up on a few things for work before calling it a night. It is now... 11pm and I'm ready for bed. Depending on how my lower body feels tomorrow morning, I may force myself out of the flat and put in some miles. I'm really itching to get out and run... yes even in Siberia. :)

Siberian Hot Water
Today's fast fact is about the hot water situation in my flat. When I got here, I noticed that there was a large tank above my shower and I had no idea what it was for. I assumed it was reservoir for water to fill up and then I had to pull a lever or something to let water trickle onto me. I'd never seen this before and failed to ask Oleg or Scott what it was for. Honestly I still don't know what it's for, but I've come to accept it's place in the bathroom. :) I'm sure somebody will tell me tomorrow once this post makes it into everybody's feed readers... If so, I'll update the Comments section. :)

HOWEVER (all of that is beside the point), when I took my first show, I quickly found out that they do not screw around over here with their hot water. There is cold water or there is scorching hot water. If you need warm water, you basically just tap the faucet 1 mm at a time until you get a (fairly hot) warm water mixture. There is only about 1 cm of play between "melt your skin" hot and "that's kinda cold" cold. I really notice it when I have to wash my hands or brush my teeth (I brush my teeth with hot water... that's "Ohio" hot water, not "Novosibirsk" hot water). :)

Speaking of brushing my teeth, the faucet in the bathroom is a bit... different. For example, when I brush my teeth I'm constantly turning it on and on and on. Basically, I turn on the water and it releases clear magma into the sink, and then it slowly comes to a stop. I then turn it some more and more clear magma comes out... then it subsides again. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with my mystery tank above the shower or not, but I'm learning to accept it as well. I just keep turning it on, then when I'm done melting my teeth, I crank the spicket all the way back to the "off" position.

Just to give you an idea of how hot this water really is (or maybe a glimpse into how lazy I really am) I'm basically just using one glass out of the cupboard. When I need to clean it from any germs or anything, I just put it in the kitchen sink and turn on the hot water. Surely, no germ can withstand that temperature. However, I almost need an oven mit to retrieve my cup from the sink, because it feels like a hot coal that right out of a wood burning stove. I'm totally serious too. :)

Tune in tomorrow, for I'm really gonna try and push that "Q" and "U" wedding idea at the office. :) Just kidding. But I do plan to finally get in another run and maybe go shopping for some souvenirs at the Trade Center. I just didn't feel like it tonight... and I'm aloud to say that... At least for a few more days anyway. :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 8

The word of the day is Городок (aka: Gorodok). It's been my favorite hang out so far here in Novosibisk. Semyon and I ate there last night, we met there again this morning and I just got back from there 20 minutes ago.

I woke rather early this morning and got a few things done around the flat before heading out the door. I got to the Городок at 9:20 and decided to go in and order my coffee while I wait for Semyon. About 10 minutes later, I recieved a call from some groggy Russian dude (aka: Semyon (pictured on the left)) and he said he was running a bit late. I said "no problem doood", and I went ahead and placed our orders. Of course, I ordered my usual omelet and went ahead and ordered him his usual breakfast too (fried eggs). This way, by the time he got here, his food would be ready to eat and his coffee would be waiting on him. It worked out quite nicely actually. He showed up, we ate, then we began our trek to the office.

Before leaving the flat, I made sure I had everything for the day, including my camera. I wanted to take some pictures on our walk so that I could upload them to my picasa web when I got back home. However, I failed to check my battery and as it turned out, I would be lugging around a bulky dead camera all day today. I think when I uploaded my video for yesterdays' post, I never turned off my camera, so it just sat out all night until the battery drained out of it. Live and learn.

We had a great walk to work this morning and we talked about a lot of stuff. I explained to him that when I speak to him, I actually slow down my words and articulate the pronunciation so that I don't have to repeat myself and overwhelm him with my shortened speed talk. He indicated that he would rather I speak normally to him (as if I were talking to Scott or something) and that he would still be able to understand me. This is fine with me of course, so I switched back to "Americanized" talking and sure enough, he did a pretty good job. I might try ta screw ithim tomorra tho, an see just how good e really is. ;)

When I got to work, I was able to break out my cool "old man" slippers and war them around the office. The last couple of days, I've been wearing only my new Russian shoes to the office, but they make my feet pretty uncomfortable because they are so warm. Yesterday I actually took them off and was able to turn a few heads in just my socks. In the states, I do this a lot too; and of course in the summer time, it's bare feet most days. I've actually interviewed people in bare feet a few times and I think this usually leaves a lasting impression on how chill our company really is (as if the pool table and basketball hoop didn't say enough). Nevertheless, my slippers were a very good addition to my backpack this morning, as I stayed comfortable and my socks stayed white today.

For lunch, I played a couple of games of Wii Boxing. I found that Wii Boxing is the best game of Wii Sports so far. Granted I still haven't done Golf, Bowling, or... (I think there is one other), but the boxing is very cool. I found myself talking smack to the projector a few times as I threw punches and dodged left and right. This Wii is a great console, especially for a computer company, to have in the break room. I found that after about 3 games (3 rounds each), I was actually moving around quite a bit throwing hooks, jabs, upper cuts, and swaying side to side. As of today, I think boxing is my favorite Wii sport; the others are fun, but this one gets my vote. Plus it's boxing, and... well... 1 word: Rocky. Just ask my Jennifer about my Rocky "fan-hood". :)

After work, I decided to walk back home. It's a 2.5 mile trek and I had a nice brisk walk in the cold. My mustache freezes about 2 minutes after getting outside, and the longer I'm outside, the more ice builds up on it. When I got home from work, my entire upper lip was a big blob of ice. I'll have to take a picture sometime before I come in the flat to show you how silly I look. At first I felt weird walking around the city with a icestache, but realized that most everybody with mustache in Novosibirsk probably has the same problem. It's pretty weird feeling, and it actually thaws out pretty quickly once I get inside.

As soon as I walked in the door, I noticed that it was 6:30pm, which meant it was 7:30am in Newark. This is about the time that Lizzie and Jazzy are eating breakfast. I told Jennifer that I probably wouldn't chat with her today because I was going to do something with Scott and Oksana this evening. However, as I turned out, I was home during our "normal" chat time, so I decided to log in to Skype and see if they were online. At first they weren't, but then after catching up on a few blogs in my blog reader, I got the call and there they were. :) We only talked for about 5 minutes or so, but it was great. I guess Ohio weather got nutty last night (high winds, freezing temperatures, etc...) and people were loosing power and all that good stuff.

After the Skype call, I thought it would be a good idea to start filling out some of my post cards before Scott and Oksana called. I got these post cards at the trade center the other day and I was rather surprised to see that all of them are actually post cards of summer time. I would think that in a place where snow is abundant 75% of the year, you would expect to see (at least 1) post card with snow, but this is not the case. Regardless, they are beautiful post cards. I've heard from numerous people that it is beautiful here when the snow goes away, and I totally believe it! The satellite images in Google Maps and Google Earth, show that the trees consume approximately 90% of the overall terrain and I can only imagine what it looks like from the ground. Plus I bet it is very refreshing to breath in such clean air. Perhaps one day I'll be able to come back during their 3 months of summer. Until then I just have to take peoples word for it and see pictures... and post cards.

Scott called after I got about 2 post cards done and asked if I wanted to eat at the Городок... hell yeah! I love this place! Guess what I ordered? Go ahead... If you said Caesar Salad, then you are right! Oksana ordered me a very popular hot wine drink, but I didn't find it to be as refreshing as it looked. I drank about half of it and thanked her for the suggestion, but I wasn't able to finish it and enjoyed some green tea instead. We had a very good time and I really enjoyed their company. I think it is safe to say that they too are a very "cute couple". I think that they, along with Konstantin and Iris, and Jennifer and I all need to get together and just sit around and be "cute" somewhere. I'm noticing that I'm using this word a lot and I don't think that it's socially acceptable for a guy (like myself) to be using it so much... The next time I decide to say [said word], I'll say "tough" instead. That sounds more... yeah, tough. :)

When we finished dinner, I walked back home and here I am getting ready to do a bit of pc work before going to bed. I have to meet Semyon at... you guessed it, the Городок in about 10 hours. Before I leave Novosibirsk, they are going to know me as the Регулярные Иностранец (look it up).

Russian Lingo
For todays' lesson, let's break down some of the words that you've seen on my posts.

1.) The first word will be (of course): Городок
  • The first letter is Г which is actually equivalent to our "G".
  • The second, fourth, and sixth letters are all "o"'s and they sound just like Englishki "o"'s.
  • The third letter is "р" which is equivalent to our "R".
  • The fifth letter is "д" which is equivalent to our "D".
  • Lastly, the seventh letter is "к" which is the same: "K".
So there you have it: Gorodok

2.) The second word is: Новосибирск
  • The first letter is "Н" which is the same as our "N"
  • The second and fourth letters are more "o"'s (which we discussed above).
  • The third letter is "в" which is equivalent to our "V"
  • The fifth letter is "с" which is the same as our "S"
  • The sixth and eighth letters are "и", which are similar to our "e" or "i" (in this case "i").
  • The seventh letter is "б" which looks (a bit) and sounds just like our "B"
  • The rest of the letters you've seen already. :) "р" = "R" / "с" = "S" / "к" = "K"
And there you have it: Novosibirsk

3.) Lastly: Лукас
  • The first letter is "Л", which is the same our our "L"
  • The second letter is "у", which makes a "oo" sound (like 'noodle').
  • The third letter is "к" which (still) sounds like our "K"
  • The fourth letter is "а", which sounds just like our "A"
  • And the fifth letter is "с" which (still) sounds like our "S"
Viola: Lucas

Ok, now for a pop quiz:

What does this say?
  • Гуд Водка Глас
See??? Before you started reading this post, you would have never known how to pronounce that!

Tune in tomorrow, for I'm going to try to take a run sometime and maybe do some solo-shopping at the trade center. I may touch a bit on the "hot water" situation over here. Ouch!...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 7

Yes, today was yet another great day in Novosibirsk. I woke up at 7:30am, only minutes before my Tungsten T|X alarm clock went off (ie. BEDEEEEE!... BEDEEEEE!... BEDEEEEE!...). I was able to post yesterday's blog entry and get a few things done around the flat. I realized that the clothes I threw in my washing machine last night were still sitting in soapy water. This washing machine is driving me crazy! I've asked everybody I know how to work this thing and nobody knows how to work it. I've put it on every setting possible and have given it more than it's fair share of my patience, but it continues to do whatever it wants. Perhaps I'll figure it out after a few more loads, but for now it's winning.

As promised, I made a video of the "door situation" over here. On Day 1, I explained exactly what I go through each time I leave and reenter my flat. Now you can see first hand what I have to go through to ensure my absolute safety from all of the wild animals here in the Siberian forest. I must warn you that (1) it was 8am in the morning and I now realize that I was doing quite a bit of mumbling and (2) the lighting is pretty bad, but crank up your brightness and you should be able to get the idea...
  • Observer Note: If you live in Novosibirsk, then this video will be boring and you could probably live a happy life never watching it, for you too probably have the same lock-down security system and there is nothing to see here. :) For all other readers, sit back and enjoy:
video

So anyway, Oleg picked me up around 10:15 and we headed out to exchange some US dollars for Russian rubles. It was pretty weird to be a part of this process actually. We basically drove up to this guy on the street, rolled down the window, negotiated (in Russian) for a few seconds, then this guy literally unzips his jacket and pulls out this large wod of rubles and counts out the appropriate amount. The "transaction" is made, we all nod, and then we drive away... I felt so dirty and wrong after it all went down, but apparently it's not a big deal. I guess it's just normal. I accepted it and went on with my day. In hind sight, it was pretty convenient not having to go to a bank, get out of the car, deal with a teller, etc... I guess you can think of this guy much like a "drive up" teller... only without the bank... or a head set... or [everything else you would typically associate with a typical "drive up" teller]. Scott had a pretty good name for this guy, but it's not family friendly, so let's move on... :)

Oleg then treated me to breakfast at the cafe at the Trade Center and I had the usual "omelet & coffee" breakfast. The omelets are sooo good here in Novosibirsk; I could eat these every morning and never get tired of them. Honestly, they're that good. Ok, one cool thing that I learned this morning was that cigarettes over here are INSANELY cheap! Honestly, if you are a smoker, you need to get a passport, sell all your things and move over here. A pack of cigarettes cost about 60¢ each! A carton of cigarettes cost about $6!! I was blown away by this! I told Oleg that in some places in the states, a pack of cigarettes cost more than $6. It took me a while to comprehend this. I don't know how the cigarette companies make any money with such a price tag. If they are making money with this price then all American smokers are getting totally ripped off. It's amazing that smokers in America are paying such high prices for cigarettes (averaging ~$4.50 per pack) knowing how cheap they are over here. Anyway, that was the cool fact of the morning.

Of course as soon as I walked in the door at the office I was greeted with "Good morning, Sissy!" I LOVE IT! It really woke me up, and it was a great way to start the morning! :) Work was done and conversations were had, then lunch came and I found myself eating Japanese food with chopsticks. It's rather funny that I travel half way around the world to eat Japanese food. Especially considering the fact that I've only had Japanese food about 3 times in my entire life (4 times after today). The rest of the day was rather uneventful outside of work-related items.

After work, Oleg gave me a ride home and I was able to talk with Lizzie and Jazzy before Lizzie headed off to school. She was getting her hair put up in piggy tails and telling me about what she's learning at school this week. This week they are learning the letter "Q" and on Friday, "Q" and "U" are actually getting married. The entire kindergarten class gets to have a fun day in honor of the big wedding. :) I thought this was a pretty cool little concept to teach kindergarten kids that these letters are typically found together in words. It's also a great excuse to slack on a Friday. I might run this by the guys at work and see if we could celebrate this event too... Wha'do ya think??..

Jennifer told me that the weather in Newark is pretty crazy right now. Yesterday when I Skyped home it was 8 degrees Fahrenheit, and it eventually got up to 51 degrees Fahrenheit... that's a 43 degree difference in less than 24 hours. Today she said it was supposed to get up to the mid 50's. When I was talking with them yesterday there was snow all over the ground in teh background. However, when I called today it was all sunshiney and green; Jennifer said everything had turned to mud and some nasty thunderstorms storms were expected for later... Yep, that sounds about right.

After talking with the fam, I got a call from Semyon and he was able to get a SIM card for me so that I can make phone calls finally. See, the phone I have in the flat can only call other land lines. Julius CaesarI can't call a cell phone from this phone for some reason. Therefore, I've only been able to call peoples home phones from my phone. I can accept calls from cell phones, but I can't place calls to cell phones. Anyway, Semyon was able to help me out and I'm now caught back up with the 21st century. I bundled up and headed for the Gorodok to have some dinner with him and get my phone... finally! Tonight I ordered a caesar salad and more coffee. This caesar salad was (hands down) the best caesar salad I have ever had.. in my life. I told Semyon that he was very lucky to live so close to this salad. To all Novosibirskians (?), you too are fortunate to have such gourmet-ness at your fingertips. Scott told me it was good, but wow! My ushanka goes off to the caesar salad chef behind the caesar salad counter for this 120 ruble caesar salad masterpiece. Semyon also explained to me in many words tonight that I'm addicted to coffee. Duh. :)

After dinner, I walked back to the flat (~5 minute walk), did a few chores, and caught up on some overdue emails. Jennifer eventually pinged me on Skype again and said that Daizi wanted to see me now that she was awake and feeling better. Wow, she was feeling much better after going to the doctor, for she was pretty happy to see me this time. If you recall, she wanted nothing to do with me yesterday and I knew that wasn't true because she is a true-blue "daddy's girl". It was good to see her back to her normal self again. :) I got my "Girl Fix" for the day and I'm ready for bed. Before getting off the webcam, I made Jennifer give Jazzy a big hug from me. She squeezed her, while I made the "grunt" sounds over Skype. :) I think it worked well for a good bye "daddy hug".

Russian Words of the Day
закрыт = Closed (pronounced zah-krit)
открыт = Open (pronounced ah-krit)
педаль = Pedal (pronounced ped-ahl)

Yummy Russian Foods
борщ = Borsch
блины = Blintz
Гриль Сыр = Very Tasty!

Day 7 - Closing Statements
Lastly, I want to thank you all for the mass amounts of feedback I'm getting. I love all of the feedback from everybody; both in the states and here in Novosibirsk. Honestly, I can't believe all the emails flooding my inbox these last couple of days! I didn't know that so many people were interested in this silly little "journal" that I was going to do, but the response has been awesome! I'll keep doing it, so please keep sending feedback. :) These posts do take a bit of time to whip up (especially with pics and videos), but it's proving to be worth it. Also, adding your comments to the posts will allow your thoughts to stay alive as long as the posts themselves. Otherwise, your comments get buried in my email never to be shared or found again. Blog comments are much more preferred. :) Either way, thanks again!!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 6

Today was a very good day! I woke up at 7am and got ready to meet Semyon at the Gorodok for breakfast before going to work. We had a hard time ordering what we wanted; apparently they don't have many options at 9:30am. I got eggs, tomatoes, beans, and ham... very tasty! We talked about farm living in America and some of the differences between Russian city-living vs. American city-living. All in all, we had a very enjoyable breakfast and talked about lots of stuff.

We got to work at 10:30 and we all had our scrum meetings. Every other Monday is very busy at both Data Dynamics and DataWorks. Our teams are setup into 2 week sprints and it allows us to get together and discuss the progress of last sprint and plan what will be accomplished next sprint. It is a very nice way of getting things accomplished in a reasonable amount of time; everybody seems to like it.

Around 2pm, the team (Maxim, Konstantin, Oleg, Ivan, Julia, and myself) went to "East and West" restaurant in the Trade Center for lunch. There are two "East and West" restaurants; one on the top floor of the Trade Center and one on the bottom floor. The one on the bottom floor is the "Cafe" portion of it and it is where Scott and I "shot the shit" and where I was unable to eat the breakfast that Konstantin bought me before our skiing trip. Today we ate at the one upstairs (the restaurant portion), and I ordered spaghetti (pronounced the same in Russian), chicken soup (no where near the same pronunciation), and a Coke (of course this sounds the same everywhere). The spaghetti actually had noodles, shreds of cheese and ketchup of all things in the middle of the noodles... no marinara sauce.(?) It was actually quite good. We had a good time at the restaurant and I taught them all what "sissy" meant; they claimed that they will say "good morning sissy's" from now on when they arrive at work. I'm anxious to try this tomorrow morning. :)

After lunch, we went back to the office and worked some more. Did I mention already that it is so great to be in the same room with these guys. We all collaborated on various things and was able to use the white board to explain things clearly. It allows me to ask questions, because many times I'm not exactly sure how things work until I see them in boxes and lines organized on a drawing surface. Even if you ask my coworkers in the states, this is how I see things in my head, so it's much easier (maybe "quicker") for me to see them this way physically in the first place. Anyway, we decided to make a needed change on the project we are working on and it was nice for me to see it in all it's glory in dry-erase marker before any code was written.

After work, Konstantin gave me a ride home and I was able to meet up with my girls on Skype. Jennifer was taking Daizi to the doctor today because she has a very high fever and she hasn't been able to break it for the last couple of days. I was able to see that she didn't feel so good. She used to get so excited to see me on the webcam, but tonight she didn't want to have anything to do with me and she looked very pale. It was nice to see Lizzie and Jazzy though. I talked to them while they ate their breakfast and told them about some of the cool things I saw today. Toward the end of the conversation, Jennifer's mom came over and I was able to talk to her on Skype for a bit. She is very non-techie, so Jen thought she might like to see me on the computer just to blow her mind. I think it worked. :)

After meeting with my family, I got some chores done around the flat and made myself a sandwich... boy was this adventurous. I had a lot of food sitting around that I needed to get rid of. I had a full loaf of bread that was starting to grow green fuzzies and a block of cheese that was getting old and forming various hard spots from exposure to the air. I had to something with them before pitching them, so I decided to try and make a grilled cheese sandwich. It was not like making a grilled cheese sandwich in America. I had to cut the bread into slices with a steak knife (avoiding patches of fuzz), then I had to cut slivers of frozen butter using the same steak knife and strategically place it on the bread and dice it up into tiny blocks before trying to smash it into the bread. I'm not sure why the butter is frozen...(?) It's just how you buy it over here I guess. Once I got the butter blotched onto these two pieces of fuzzy bread, I used the same knife and cut of little slivers of cheese and placed them aside so that I could put them on the bread once in the pan.

Now that I was prepped, I got the burners hot and threw my bread (butter side down) on the skillet and it let out an evil hiss that probably woke the neighbors. The skillet immediately filled up with liquid... apparently I used waaaaay too much frozen butter. No problem, I'll just sop my bread around and let it soak in. I threw the slivers of cheese onto the bread and decided it might be cool to have some ham in there too, so I got some ham and threw on top of the cheese, then topped it off with the other piece of "butter logged bread". I waited for about a minute and flipped it. Another roaring hiss shrieked throughout the forest of Novosibirsk while all the townspeople knew that the crazy American was concocting something delicious. A few more flips and turns and I was done. I looked at my masterpiece and was pretty excited to try it out. It looked pretty good!

I took a bite and my eyes almost popped out of my head... Damn, that's a lot of butter! I force-fed my self 2 or three more bites and threw it in the trash. At this point, I was done being adventurous, so I grabbed a banana, some wafers, and a glass of orange juice and considered myself fed. The flat was still in a haze of smoke from the burning butter residue all over the skillet. My eyes were stinging for almost an hour afterwards and my nose was constantly reminded of my grilled cheese disaster.

Before going to bed, I was able to get a few things done on the computer and went to bed rather early; around 10pm.

Russian Facts
  • There are many Institutes around here, but they are not part of a "school" per se. They are ran by the local government and professors are paid by the government (if I remember correctly).
  • Gorodok is actually short for Academia Gorodok. People use Gorodok as the shortened name. I compared this to how we say OSU Buckeyes and Buckeyes. Maybe that's totally not the same though... I don't know? O! H! _? _?
  • Not many planes fly over head here. Scott pointed out a plane in the sky the other day and stated that it's not very often that you see this since Novosibirsk is so remote. In America, you can look up and see up to n planes in the sky at any time of the day.
  • You buy frozen butter and must go to school to figure out how to use it apparently. Just kidding, I'm currently thawing it out in the refrigerator and I'll try to use it again before giving up so easily.
  • Some people claim that Russia is not a safe place. However, I see so many children (ages 5 - 10 even) at the Trade Center running around with no parents. The people around here look after these kids, and take care of them. You wouldn't see this in America; parents don't let their children run around anywhere by themselves at this age for fear that someone would hurt them. Which country is really safer? Think about it...
That's all I have for today, tune in tomorrow and see what I get myself into... I'm going to figure out their whole trash system (mine is piling up quickly), and I need to exchange some American money for Russian money. This may prove to be adventurous, we'll see. I'll also try to make a movie of this whole old school / high-tech locking system at my flat. I'm finding it more and more frustrating as I enter and leave the flat. 'Til then, pah-kah!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 5

Well, another great day! As you may have already read, I crashed last night around 5pm and slept through the night for the most part. I woke up here and there, only to roll over on one side and go back to sleep. My stomach was still acting up a bit, but nothing like it was yesterday morning. After talking with some people about my problems, they all feel that it's probably from the change in food & drinks that I've been consuming. I agree, for that is really what it feels like (unwelcome foods).

Anyway, I woke up at 7am and worked on the laptop for a bit, checking off some emails and posting yesterdays' events. Around 8am, I found my girls online and we chatted for a while. Daizi was sleeping, because I guess Jennifer took them all out shopping at the mall and she was pretty sick (high fever, etc..). I enjoyed seeing my other 3 girls though. :) They all got really cool hats at the mall and they modeled them for me. Jennifer actually bought her own ushanka so that we can match when I get home. :) Very cute!

I kicked it around the flat for a while until Scott showed up and then he and I took a 3.5 mile run to the Botanical Gardens which was a bit past the Scientist Area. It was a beautiful area, but of course it was completely covered in snow, so i couldn't really see it in all it's glory. From what everybody tells me though, it's very beautiful in the summer months. I can only take their word for it right now, but believe that this whole place probably looks completely beautiful in the summer months. I am honestly located in the middle of a huge forest. See for yourself:


View Larger Map

It is very pretty in the winter time, so I can only imagine how pretty it is in the summer time. Anyway, we had a great run. Click on my running links to see the actual route that we took. We went through the forest on these very narrow and packed down snow paths, ran down a big hill and up a big hill before reaching the Botanical Gardens, only to turn around and run back. We were both spent by the time we got back to my flat. It was a great run!

When we got back I was able to see a little bit of Ace Ventura Pet Detective, in Russian. :) It was hilarious, even without the words. :) Once we were able to get our bearings back and warmed up a bit, we headed to the Trade Center (close to the ice slides, and the Jelly Belly restaurant). I was able to buy some groceries and then we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the same restaurant that Konstantin took me to yesterday (which I didn't eat). Scott and I "shot the shit" for a while then proceeded to go grocery shopping for some items I've been needing. I have totally been living like a bachelor the last four days. I've had nothing in my refrigerator but some foreign beer and some cheese. Today I got hooked up with all kinds of goodies (snacks, bananas, oranges, mass amounts of bottled water, hand soap, juices, etc...). I'm good to go now!

After Scott left, I blogged for a while and forced myself not to go back to sleep. I was able to get my washing machine working, I did my dishes, watered the plants, organized the flat and so on. This bachelor crap is for the birds. :) Jennifer, I appreciate you! :) Believe it or not, I'm still a bit thrown off on this whole time change. I thought I'd be adjusted by now, but for some reason I just can't shake these "seepies" (kid talk for tired). My stomach has been acting up a bit today still, so that may have something to do with it. Honestly, I have never been one to require much sleep; I hardly ever take naps during the day unless I pull an "all nighter" the night before; I can go for days upon days with only 4 hours of sleep each night with no problem... Yes, I know Mom... it's not good for me, but it's true. :) However, over here, I can't seem to get enough sleep. (?)

So around 6:45, Konstantin and Irrene picked me up and we headed to a very nice Mexican restaurant not so far from here to meet up with Scott and Oksana for dinner. When I got in the car, Konstantin and Irrene said that they read my blog and mentioned that they saw where I stated they were a "cute couple". Needless to say, that in and of itself was cute. :) It's like a recursive method that just never ends here... :) I noticed also that they were playing some O' Sweet Static on their CD player.

We arrived at the Mexican restaurant a little after 7. I think the name of this place was "Amigo". It was very tasty! I had sizzling chicken fajitas and a dark lager (makes you wonder about my stomach, huh?). It was great to just hang out and talk with everybody. We talked about everything. The whole time I was wondering if it was odd for Oksana, Konstantin, and Irrene to be speaking in English? Regardless, I appreciated it, for I didn't feel like I was staring off into space while they talked. :)

After we ate and enjoyed some tea and desert, we got up to play some billiards... It was pretty interesting at first to see the differences in pool over here. We had to schedule a time to play pool because apparently it is in high demand over here to play "American Pool". There is a very similar game called "Billiards" that is played on a table twice the size, where the balls are all white and much bigger, while the pockets are actually much smaller. It looked pretty difficult, so I was happy that Scott and Oksana reserved our "American Pool" table. The guy that was in charge of the pool room actually racked the balls for us on our first game, and then we were off and playing pool for the remainder of the night. I was able to sit and learn some Russian words while the others played pool, and I must say that I'm getting better at understanding the characters. I'm kind of forcing myself to learn this so that I can speak the written words.

When I got home last night, I was able to see my girls again. :) It is true, I can't get enough of them! This time it was a very quick Skype call, we just caught up for a bit since it was fairly uneventful on both sides since our last talk. Jennifer was getting ready to get all of the kids dressed to go outside and play, I was getting ready to catch up on some computer work before tomorrow's (rather big) day. We had some good laughs, while Daizi tried to speak a bit of baby-English, to Jennifer. She would look Jennifer in the face and (very seriously and softly) say "boo ja b'day soo sha dee" or something to that effect, and then point like she knew what she was trying to say. :) It was way to cute! We wrapped up the call, then went about our days. I stayed up 'til about 2:30am preparing some stuff for tomorrow, then went to sleep. My stomach is still in a bit of a conundrum, but I'm hoping tomorrow will be better.

Here is some Russian that I learned yesterday and today:
  • ah-low = Hello
  • skol-ka = How much?
  • dah-vadj = Go ahead!
  • kah-zli-kah = Goat (this is actually an insult... don't use it)
  • svo-kar = Father in law
  • svi-krof = Mother in law
  • oosy = Mustache
  • mno-gah = A lot
  • pir-chah-tach-na-ye at-di-lye-ni-ye = Glove compartment (they don't have these in all cars)... Probably because it is so hard to say. :)
  • prik-rah-ti = Knock it off!
  • Mah-kah-roe-nee = Macaroni :)
  • pach-ti = Almost
Many of these words I simply looked up in my Russian dictionary while the others played pool; hence the randomness of the words. It was a great way to pass the time and learn something while waiting my turn. :)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 4

Today was a great day!! I woke up at 8am and was able to find my girls on Skype, so I talked with them for a while. They all had things to show me and I loved it! Lizzie and Jazzy showed me some pictures that they colored and Daizi showed me some piece of paper that she found with in reaching distance for no good reason. :) It was rather funny!



I must note that when I woke up, I had HORRIBLE stomach cramps. I'm not sure if it was from something that I ate last night at the Jelly Belly (it's the name the Russian Restaurant we ate at last night) or if I am just coming down with a stomach bug. Either way, I was miserable from about 8am - 10am. Konstantin came and met me and I told him that I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to follow through with our plans today because about every 5-10 minutes my stomach would knot up and it was some major pain. I'd never had this type of thing happen before. It was pretty weird...

Anyway, Konstantin took me to the local Trade Center so we could get some breakfast and buy me some shoes. :) I was able to get a nice pair of Russian shoes that are made for the weather over here. They sure beat the hell out of my New Balance running shoes. After shopping for shoes, we went to a very nice restaurant and got some omelets, but I wasn't able to take a single bite. :( I should have just not ordered anything because Konstantin paid and I just let it sit in front of me. I told him that the next time we eat out, I will pay and he can not eat... He agreed. :) It was about this time that we decided medicine was the best thing for my stomach issue, so we went to the local pharmacy and got some powder for my stomach. I think it helped honestly, because my pains were fewer and farther between. Most people that know me, know that I'm not one to take medicine unless I realllllly need it; well today I realllllly needed it.

Something that I noticed that was different with the stores around here is that they have lockers that people put their stuff in when they come inside the store. I was amazed by this! Basically when you walk into a store, you take all of your items and put them in these lockers and then take the key with you while you shop at the store. When you are done shopping you take your things out of the locker and leave. I asked Konstantin if it cost anything for this and he said "No. Why should it cost anything?". Good question! But it would in America. Like, if WalMart had lockers like this, I imagine that they would probably cost $1 or something. Anyway, this was something different that stuck out for me today.

After our shopping extravaganza, we headed to the local ski resort to do some cross country skiing. I had wanted to do 15 km's today, but due to my stomach pains, I informed Konstantin that we'll start off with 5 km instead. :) Good thing!! I found out today that I'm not a very good cross country skier. :)

We met up with Alex and headed out to the ski path. Amazingly enough, if you don't need to rent ski's, you can come and ski on this path anytime you want... for no charge! This is so odd to me. I was trying to explain that in America, you have to pay to get through the front door of any ski resort. After about the first 100 yards I realized there was NO WAY I was going to be able to do 15 km today. I would be lucky to do 1 km at this rate. I felt like an unbalanced unicyclist, only I had 2 ski's and 2 poles. Konstantin and Alex made it look so easy, but I kept falling for the silliest things. For example at one point, I was trying to do the "run & ski" motion, but my left ski got tangled up with my right ski and I did an instant face plant. The best ones were when my ski's got criss-crossed and I fell gracefully, but looked like a turtle on his back trying to get up. I had to un-click my ski's many times to stand up because there was no way I could have gotten them untangled otherwise. Here is a quick video of a single downhill with a double fall:



The course was setup to where there were turn around points all along the way. So, for example, at the 2.5 km marker, you could turn left and take the return path back to the ski house. They had these setup at various points, but we turned around at this first one for my sake (thanks guys). :) By the 2.5 km mark my arms were very sore. I found that I had been skiing with my arms the whole time and not so much with my feet. It seemed that any time I tried to pick up my feet or move them I would either loose my balance or just fall. At one point, I broke one of the rental poles while I was trying to stand up. Alex was very quick to give me his poles and he was able to show me that it is possible to ski without these things, for he did it the rest of way. Amazing! I want to also point out that there were about 2 or 3 hills that I was able to go down with no problems. Here is a video that proves this fact:

video

Anyway, I felt as though I was getting better and better at skiing as the day progressed. I have a whole new respect for cross country skiers; my shoulders were sore and tired, my legs were tired and my feet hurt from climbing the hills on these things. I'm sure that if I knew how to ski, I would not have been in so much pain, but I didn't and I am. When we were all done, I mentioned to the guys that I might like to try this again before I go back to America. They agreed that we could possibly do this next weekend or the following. I'll be sure to post my experience if we do. Until then, I'm going to let my body heal from all of the torture I had put it through. :)

After the skiing adventure, Alex went on his way and Konstantin came back to my flat for some pizza. He called his wife to join us and we had a great time. They are newly weds and Irrene (?) - pronounced Ee-rrr-ee-nah - brought their wedding pictures to show me. They are very happy together and make a very cute couple. I had to explain what "cute" meant, and that made them even "cuter". :) Jennifer and I have always been labeled the "cute couple", so it was nice to see another couple that is just as happy together as we are. If Konstantin comes to America, we all agreed that Irrene will have to come with him so that she can visit her friend in Illinois and go to a warm beach in Florida, for these were the two things that she wants to do most. :)

When they left around 5 o'clock (I think), I went strait to bed and slept all night... I think I'm still trying to adjust to this time change (if that makes sense). I don't know, I was just beat and needed some major sleep!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 3

Today was another good day. I woke up at 9:30am after a 14 hour nap and felt rather rejuvenated. I was able to get a bit of work done before Scott got here at 11, and then we headed to the Gorodok for breakfast. I had crepes with (raw) Salmon in them. They were surprisingly good... Considering the last time I had raw salmon, I almost "refunded" it. I also discovered that I like sugar in my coffee. :)

After breakfast, Scott and I walked to the office. It was about a 1.5 mile walk and I loved it. It was cold, but not so cold that I couldn't take a deep breath. As we walked, Scott gave me little bits of information about certain landmarks and I was amazed at their "sidewalks" over here. Many times I found myself walking on a "make shift" path through the woods. This is very normal for the locals to walk on these paths, but for it was very strange. I know that as the days go by, I will grow accustomed to it all, but for now it is still all very new to me. Of course, I took a few pictures as we walked and I will be sure sort through all of the good ones and put them in my online photo album when I return to the states.

We got to work around 1pm - 1:30pm and nobody seemed to have a problem with this. :) This is my kind of work environment. The fact that most of us work late at night is very acceptable and coming in "whenever" is not such a big deal. I really like this motto and actually live by this back in the states on the days that I do go in to the office. I'm not sure, but I don't think this is as "socially acceptable" as I some may claim... Even though people act as though they don't care, I still feel that certain "where you been?" vibe sometimes.

Of course, as soon as Scott and I got to work, I let Scott beat me in a game of Wii baseball (shhh). I got to create my own Wii Mii too and I made him look a lot like me; scruffy beard and all. :) After I let Scott win, I was able to get some work done in the "Apache room". It's great because the whole team that I work with is located in one room. Therefore whenever anybody has a question or thought, we just talk it out. It's really quite nice to be so close to each other, even when we don't talk... It's hard to explain, but very nice to know that when any of us have a question, we don't have to go through the whole process of:
  1. send an email from side a
  2. wait for time difference delay
  3. read email on side b
  4. send email from side b
  5. wait for time difference delay
  6. read email from side a
  7. rinse and repeat as needed
We just talk.

Today, Anna took me back out to get my Ushanka... Ok, have your laughs about how silly it looks on me!!! Are you done yet?... I'll wait... Seriously though, this thing was worth it's weight in rubles. I was surprised at the difference a "real" Russian Ushanka makes in this weather. I have been wearing my Carhartt toboggan for the last few days and I thought it was warm... well the "real deal" takes the cake. I put this thing on my head and went outside for a little while and actually felt the heat on top of my head. I think there is some kind of a magnetic heat suction utility built inside of these things. Honestly, my head was VERY warm; even without the ear flaps pulled down. :) Though, I must admit that there is a certain "cool" factor with the ear flaps down...

Anna and I did pretty good at communicating today. We had a few moments of miscommunication, but, all in all, I think we are getting better at talking with one another. :) She brought some English books with her today and I tried to use them in her car, but the Russian equivalent words were (of course) in Cyrillic text, and I'm still struggling to understand all of these symbols. I'm sure that by the end of next week I'll be better, but for now it's still 95% gibberish. I didn't want to frustrate her too much by pointing to words as she was driving, so I just shut the hell up and played "passenger" most of the time. :)

Let me add that I'm a bit amazed at the women over here! Most all of them wear very skinny high heel boots. To me, I would think that this would be very difficult for them to walk in, especially with all of the slippery / compact snow everywhere. However, I asked Julia about this and she explained to me that it is actually much more easier to walk in these high heel boots because the back heel acts as a "spike" that can be driven into the ice. Therefore, she has more traction than me in my "Americanski" shoes. It makes sense to me now, but before talking to her, I just thought that all of the women over here went to "Paula Abdul School" (ie. Paula Abdul is known for doing amazing things in high-heels... like flips, splits, jumps, etc... just YouTube it).

Around 6:30pm (Novosibirsk time), I was able to talk to Jennifer, Lizzie, and Jazzy over Skype from the office (Daizi was sleeping again). I got to point my web cam out the window and showed them how much snow is around me and the area where I worked. They all said "coooooool". :) As I was pointing the web cam out the window, there were some stray dogs walking around the streets and I explained to them that there are many stray dogs around here. The locals actually take very good care of them and they are all surprisingly very friendly dogs. I think it is great, for I am a dog person, and some of the stray dogs around Toboso are actually known for being mean... Especially when they get into packs. They have been known to kill livestock just to survive, and farmers are actually very intimidated by them when they are "in the area" (rightfully so).

We left work around 8:15 - 8:30 and then Scott and I met up with Oksana and her two friends (Tatianna & Gulia) at a restaurant. We had a blast! It was at the same Russian restaurant that Ivan, Maxim, & Semyon took me to yesterday. I ordered Jaquoi and 2 Piva's (beer). Luckily, Tatianna and Gulia both spoke very good English. Tatianna was actually an exchange student in Arkansas when she was in school, so her English was VERY good. She actually spoke faster English than I could comprehend. She helped me learn some of the russian words on the menu and we had a great time. It was cool to see Oksana and her friends talk "girl talk" while Scott and I just stared off into space until we heard English words. :)

After we ate, we went to this place where there were ice sculptures everywhere and many "man made" slides. Scott and I slid down the slides while Oksana and Tatianna just watched us like grown children. It was very cool to see such a place in the middle of the city. Apparently there is a bigger one in the center of the city and we will go there before I leave; rest assured, I will take pictures. :) Man, my girls would LOVE this place! Check it out:


When I got home Jennifer pinged me on Skype so that I could say good night to her, Jazzy, and Daizi (Lizzie was still at school). This Skype crap is AWESOME!! Especially for a husband/father who misses his family. I realized tonight that when they see me on Skype, they are actually more excited about seeing themselves than they are about seeing me. :) It doesn't bother me at all though, for I am more excited about seeing them, and that is what's important. :)

Ok, so the words of the day today are:
  • Pah-kah = Bye
  • Dah-svee-dawn-ya = Good-bye
  • Ah-din = One
  • D-vah = Two
  • Tree = Three
  • Chi-tree = Four
  • Pyaht = Five
Tomorrow is a big day actually, and I will wait until it is over to surprise all of my readers with the events that take place... yes, both of you must wait. :)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 2

Today was a great day. I stayed up all night and posted my first two blogs and did a few work things. Around 5am I got a call from Jennifer over Skype, so we all talked for about an hour or more and the girls had a blast being on a web cam. I was able to show them my flat and they were all very impressed.

I caught up on emails until Scott got here around 9:30 am and then he and I went for a 2 mile run around the "Scientist Area". Wow! What a beautiful run. It was FREEZING cold. Both Scott and I's face was covered in ice from the sweat. It felt pretty weird to have a frozen /white mustache. My snot froze as soon as it exited the nostrils. :) Yes... gross, but true. The place where we ran was beautiful. I'll have to take pictures next time!! We ran on about 1 foot of packed snow the entire duration. Honestly snow is everywhere here. Even when walking on the sidewalks, it is just packed snow. Therefore the snow really acts as the side walk. I found that in order to get where you are going, you just follow the carved snow. :)

(NOTE: click 'View this map in MapMyRun' to see the hi-def 'satellite' view)

When we got done running, we met up with Semyon at the local breakfast house (called the Gorodok), and I had some kind of a fufu-latte and an omelet. I am surprised at how well Semyon speaks English. He (of course) things his English is horrible, but Scott and I both assured him, he speaks very good English. We had a great time and it was cool talking with Semyon, because I've known him over email for over a year now and now I can put a face and a personality with his name. :) This is turning out to be a well needed trip to Novosibirsk. I've been asked numerous times why I haven't come sooner... My answer has been: "I just haven't."

From the Gorodok, we went to the office via a minivan that is tricked out with bus seats. This thing is called a "marshrutka", and it is very popular over here; more so than our taxi's and bus's in America. It's amazing how this minivan works. The people get on this minivan and, since the driver is so busy, they use a "trust system" to pay. The people hand their rubles to the person closest to the driver and this person manages the money and gives the correct amount of change back to the other people. It is a total "volunteer" job that is assumed by the person sitting closest to the driver. Needless-to-say, we sat in the back of the bus. :)

By the time we got to work it was almost 12pm. I wanted to get a lot of work done and did for the most part, but then Maxim, Ivan, and Semyon took me to eat a fancy Russian restaurant. I had some Russian soup (aka: soap :)) and a crepe-like burrito. This sucks, I forget the name of both of these items of food (note to self). We had a good time and I was able to give them a little bit of history about Data Dynamics and let them ask me questions. We laughed and it was great to get to know them.

Later in the day (at the office), one of my co-workers took me to get a Ushanka. Her name was Anna and she was hilarious!! We had a great time! We had a very bad communication problem because she spoke very little English, and I spoke zero Russian. We did a lot of talking with 1 word and lots of hand gestures. I did learn one word while we were on our little "adventure"; this word is "popo-gree-eh-shka" which means "hot ass". She had a heated seat and I made her laugh when I realized that my butt was getting hot. :) She is a very fun person and I look forward to going back into town with her again today. Unfortunately my Hardbarger head is too big, for they didn't make Ushanka's in my size. :) I told her that my family is known for having "big heads". :)

We got back to the office and I worked with my guys for a while and we did some "white boarding" for a while, then I came home around 7pm and CRASHED!!! (aka: fell asleep). It is for this reason, that the daily blog post was delayed a few hours; it is now Day 3 and I'm getting ready to start my day.

Before I go though, let me teach you a bit of Russian. I found that once you know how these characters sound, you can go VERY far. It's surprising to me now, how many of the Russian words are similar (or the same) as their English meaning. You would never know this to look at the word in writing though if you can't make out their sounds. Here are some of the letters and their pronunciation that I've learned in the last 2 - 3 days (again, these are the ones I know and there are many more):
  • Б = b (like "booger")
  • В = v (like "vase")
  • Г = g (like "gorodok")
  • Д = d (like "dog")
  • Ж = g (like "genre") / s (like "pleasure") / zh (like..."zhust kidding")
  • З = z (like "zoo")
  • Л = l (like "like")
  • Н = n (like "no")
  • П = p (like "pepsi")
  • Р = r (rolling r)
  • С = s (like "stop")
  • Ф = f (like "fox")
  • Х = ch (like "bach")
  • Ч = ch (like "chip")
  • Ц = ts (like "sits")
  • Ы = i (like "still")
  • Э = e (like "met")
  • Ю = u (like "use")
  • Я = ya (like "yard")
What I found surprising is that once you learn these letters, Russian isn't really that intimidating. I was watching the news yesterday morning (day 2) and heard them mention "Columbus Blue Jackets", I quickly looked up and... low and behold I saw "Columbus" spelled in Cyrillic characters (Колумбус) on TV. Suprisingly, many words sound the same! Another example is seen everyday here; all of the "Stop" signs actually say "Stop", in Cyrillic characters (стоп). Pretty cool huh?

Ok, tune in later tonight and I'll have another post! I'll try to remember all of the words that I forgot today and maybe find some new ones. :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Novosibirsk - Day 1

First Night
As you may have already read, I arrived frustrated, but all-in-all, unscathed. My first night in Novosibirsk was great! Oleg and Konstantin took me the long way to get to my flat (a "flat" is like an apartment, but better AFAIK). Before I got into the flat, the took me shopping at the local grocery store where I bought the necessities; you know: bread, ham, beer, cheese, water, pizza, and oatmeal. When I got in the flat, I was blown away at how bit it was. I have 3 TV's (living room, bedroom, and kitchen), but they only show Russian movies; I think they're broken?? My bedroom is almost the size of my garage at home. I have huge windows that look out to beautiful snow covered... everything. To top it all off, I'm on the first floor, so it's very easy to get in and out of my room. Plus, I can look out side and see the snow and don't have to worry about walking around and bugging those below me.

Unfortunately I didn't have a phone or internet connection by this point, therefore I wasn't able to contact Jennifer and the girls to let them know I had made it OK. Oddly, I knew that they knew. However, I'm sure after she reads my last post, she'll have her doubts the next time I travel abroad. :) Regardless... I watched some American movie in Russian, organized my clothes, thought about my traveling whoas, and fell asleep around 3am.

One thing that I did notice right away was their use of old-school and high-tech gadgets to get in and out of the flat. Honestly, I'm struggling to understand their locks around here. One part is a RFID system that gets you in and out, but along with that also goes a separate process using flat skeleton keys... really, the keys are long and flat like our old "skeleton key's" from back in the 50's in America. For instance, my flat is setup like a high security jail cell. To get in and out, it requires an RFID chip, 3 skeleton keys, a pass code, and a lot of time. Heaven forbid I'm in a hurry to get to the bathroom; I'd crap my pants before getting past the second door. Honestly, it was a bit intimidating when I first saw it. I thought "what kind of an area am I living in?"

Step 1 - Swipe a magnetic RFID "button" in front of a scanner
This "button" is pretty weird to describe. It looks like an over-sized watch battery. Basically it has some code programmed into it that must match the code behind the receiving end that triggers a signal to unlock the door. When this first door opens, I'm into a very small "closet" like area that has another door with a pad of many buttons on it.

Step 2 - Push an n digit number on the padlock
Think of this padlock like the old school dorm buttons. They stick out like little push pins and click into place when you push them in. If you get the combination right, the door magically opens. When it does, you are then into the main stairwell. My door is right in front of this door, up about 5 or 6 steps... needless-to-say, I hear everybody as they come and go. But, that goes without saying. :P

Step 3 - Use one of the skeleton keys to unlock the outside door of my flat.
I'll have to take a picture of this and post it in the future (note to self). There is no handle on the door. It really relies on physics to open. Once I align the key up exactly to slide all the way in, I have to give it a full turn and it magically nudges open. Once it does this I can open it all the way, which brings me to my 4th and final door. :)

Step 4 - Perform the same steps as outlined in Steps 3.
This door actually has a door handle on it, but it's not needed since it swings in. Honestly I don't understand it. I just wiggle my key into the keyhole, making sure to align it perfectly then turn it one full rotation while listening to all the metal latches go KLINK KLONK KLANK, then I push. Viola, I'm in.

Step 5 - Lock Door 3, then lock Door 4
These doors don't have the standard door latches like most Americans are used to. They really just have these locks. Therefore, when you are in your flat, you are "in your flat" and if you go anywhere you have to lock the door behind you one at a time. When somebody comes to visit, you have to unlock the door, then lock the door behind them as well. It's all very weird to me still. I'm sure I'll adapt over the next couple of days, until then... it's flagged as "weird".

First Full Day
I woke up around 11am and wanted to run so bad! My foot is feeling much better and I think I'm at a point to get back into my weekly mileage again. I wasn't sure if I was in a good area for that or not, so I decided to just kick it in the flat and get ready for my first day at the office. Oleg showed up around 1:30 and got my internet hooked up, then we took off for the office.

I was very surprised at how all the roads looked like back country roads. Apparently, all the roads look like that around here. Most of the cars are used cars from Japan, therefore the steering wheels are on the right side of the car, even though the drive on the right side of the road. :S Apparently this accounts for ~1/2 of all cars in Russia. Odd! Also, Oleg informed me that most people in Siberia have two sets of tires: 1 set of spiked tires for winter and 1 set of regular tires for summer months. This is very similar to my knobby mud tires on my pickup, but more "bad ass". :)

I don't want to give away too many cool facts just yet; after all this is my first "daily post". :) Let's just say that I got really good at Wii Tennis today at the office. :) Some work did get done and I was able to get setup on the network, so tomorrow is really the first "productive" day with the team. All in all, it was nice to meet everybody face to face today. I've talked to most of these people over Skype and have really only met a few of them when they came to our Columbus office. After yesterday's events, I really appreciate the fact that they are learning to speak English. Most of them speak very good English. They laugh when I tell them this and humbly say that they don't speak good English... I then re-assure them that they do! :)

After work, I was able to have a video conference with my girls. It was awesome!! Lizzie was getting ready for school and Jazzy was just up because...? Unfortunately Daizi, was still sleeping, so i didn't get to see here. Jennifer said that she told Lizzie and Jazzy I was going to be calling over Skype, they jumped right out of bed! :) I talked to them for about 30 minutes and caught up on all the last few days' events. I told them about my place, but didn't have my camera setup yet. I'm supposed to be calling them back at 6:30am (Novosibirsk time) / 7:30pm (Ohio time) so that I can show the girls each room of my flat. :) I'm pretty excited to see them again.

When I finished talking to my girls, Scott and Oksana took me out to eat at a very nice Siberian restaurant. I (of course) ordered Pizza and Guiness beer. :) We had a great time we talked about Russian words and Oksana taught me a lot about words and pronunciation of certain letters. It was all very mind boggling, but I enjoyed the confusion. I was able to use some "casual" Russian on our waitress. I kept saying "spah-see-bah" every chance I could, just cause I knew that she knew what it meant. Thee me? I'm thpeakin Wuh-shun! :)

Anyway, as these days progress, I plan to learn more and more Russian. This may make my trip back home a little easier. I want to be able to tackle Moscow head on when I return. :) Here are some of the words that I learned today (of course translated from Cyrillic characters):
  • Spah-see-bah = Thank you
  • Pah-zhah-loo-stah = You're welcome
  • Dah = Yes
  • Nyet = No
  • Tee-lee-fone-eh = Telephone
  • Moe-byle-fone = ...C'mon, seriously :P
  • Bah-gah-dj = Baggage or Luggage
  • Nyeh-ja-shtoe = Not at all (Oleg's favorite)
  • Pee-vah = Beer!
For a look at how weird the letters look and how hard it is for dumb-American's (like myself) to understand the pronunciation, check out this picture of a water bottle I bought last night (on the right)... It says "Clear Water"! Right??

Tune in tomorrow for more news from Siberia and more Russian words... in English notation. :) For an enticing peak into tomorrow's topic, Scott and I are going to take a run and I think I will break down some of the complex letters in the Russian alphabet (at least the ones I've learned so far).

Ok, I have to go to bed because I'm calling my girls in... oh crap 3 hours. Goodnight!

My Traveling Adventure to Novosibirsk, Russia - Day 0

Most might think that the title should say Day 1, and not Day 0. It actually took me two days to get here so (of course) I know that it should say Day -1. To me, my first full day IN Russia is Day 1... Maybe it's a geek thing, but whatever... it's my blog... get your own. :)

Travel Day (Columbus, Ohio)
Ok, so I started by staying up all night with my family and packing Sunday night. The day was completely crazy and I had other things to attend to before I could actually pack, therefore I almost pulled two consecutive "all nighters". I didn't sleep at all Saturday night, and I went to sleep at 11pm Sunday night, only to wake up 4 hours later (at 3:00 AM). My flight left at 7:15, but due to the fact that it was an international flight, and also the fact that I live so far from everything, we had to leave the house around 4:30AM - 5AM. I got to Columbus around 6AM and had plenty of time to wait for the plane to begin boarding around 6:45ish.

Chicago, Illinois
Ok, the coolest part of the whole trip went down in Chicago O'Hare airport. I got to meet Charlie Murphy! I was walking from one terminal to another and on my way there, I saw some mac'ed out dude wearing a fur coat, a pimped out golf hat and some big sunglasses. I thought he looked "famous", but wasn't sure. As I went to pass him, I glanced over to see if it was anybody I recognized and... sure enough... it was Charlie Murphy. I stopped and got his attention and, as I stuck out my hand to shake his hand, said "Excuse me, is your name Charlie Murphy?". He said, "Yeah, wassup; how you doin!?" and he held out a closed fist for me to hit the rock. :) As I went to hit his rock, I saw that he had a diamond ring on his finger that probably cost as much as my house! Needless-to-say, I was pretty excited the rest of the time in Chicago having met him in person. Ironically enough, Tyler and I were talking about his skit just the day before saying how it was one of the funniest skits ever on the Chapelle Show. The rest of my stay in Chicago was pretty uneventful, paid for internet and did a few things before boarding for Munich.

Munich, Germany
I should really give this section the title of Flight to Munich, Germany since I was only actually in Munich Germany for 1.5 hours. The flight itself however was ~8.5 hours. This much flying is not recommended for anybody looking to travel oversees. Of course I realize that it's inevitable with today's (lacking) technology, but it sucked! My legs kept cramping, I couldn't get comfortable and everybody was speaking... non-English. That didn't bother me, but what did bother me was when I was on the butt-end of a non-English joke...

Ok, long story short: I switched seats about 3 hours into the flight so that I could sprawl over a couple of seats. Well, about 7 hours into the flight I saw a "somewhat" empty overhead luggage area, so I decided to move my carry on from where it was to somewhere closer to where I was. This way when the plane was ready to unload, I didn't have to go dodging people to get to it. So anyway, when I went to put my luggage in the overhead by my seat, one of the "local foreigners" began yelling "NO NO NO NO NO" and I just stopped and looked at him like "WTF!?". He then began to speak Serbian as he stood up to "manage" the situation and everybody around him began laughing while he continued to mumble Serbian at me. I know my face turned 3 shades of red and I was totally confused as to why he was so persistent that I not put my luggage up there. Apparently, he was carrying a map and he didn't want me to crease. He was afraid that I was forcing my luggage up next to it (which I wasn't).

Of course, I made light of the situation and generated some laughs back at him with some silly jokes... but on the inside I was pissed about how he approached it. His demeanor was totally to ridicule me once he had everybody laughing. He kept looking at me and mumbling Serbian while I sat back in my seat. When it was all over I wanted to punch him and say "Speak English if you have something to say to me" which I know he knew because he had been speaking some here and there. Looking back on it, I think it was just my embarrassment catching up to me at that point... Anyway, we talked afterwards and he was cool with it. Even though he handled it all wrong, I was cool with him when I got off the plane. :)

When we landed, I decided to charge my laptop and got to make use of my power adapter kit with the German outlets (Thanks Sis!). Other than that, Munich was a short visit and uneventful.

Moscow, Russia
This is where the trip takes a turn for the worse. The flight from Munich to Moscow was very quick and not many people were on the flight. I was able to tuck myself in the back right corner of the plane and do a bit of reading in my Russian dictionary. I needed to figure out the sounds of all the Russian symbols, for I knew I was going to be seeing these letters everyday for a while. I figured it would probably be a good idea to try and learn how to say them. :P Anyway, the trip was uneventful. Then we landed...

I was instantly in "culture shock". There were Russian policemen every where just standing around watching everybody. Russian advertisements and Russian words everywhere. The book helped a bit, but I still cound't pronounce anything unless it included some of the letters I learned to that point (which was very few). For the most part, I just followed the heard and got my luggage so that I could recheck it onto the next flight... in another (disconnected) terminal. The flight that I was taking to Novosibirsk was ran by a totally separate transportation systems, therefore I had to take a shuttle over to that terminal and check everything into their security system and go through their customs. Unfortunately, the unfriendly lady that ran the shuttle system told me that the shuttle I needed to take didn't come again until my flight was just about to take off; which meant that I had to find an alternate means of getting to the next airport... T minus 1.5 hours.... And, go!

At the time, it didn't sound so scary, but once I got on the bus, I realized that I had no idea where I was going, I had no idea which exit to get off at, I had no idea if I was even on the right bus. So, here was with all of my luggage, trying to navigate through a foreign country using public transportation system, unable to read these foreign symbols, and it was clear that nobody wanted to talk to me. Perhaps it was my Boston Redsox shirt?? No, that couldn't be it... I mean, who doesn't like the Redsox? :)

The whole time I was on this bus, I just sat there looking as confident as I could just hoping that nobody tried to talk to me and "blow my cover". The few feeble attempts I made to communicate with the locals, it turned to a rude and short cold shoulder; therefore I knew to keep my mouth shut unless I was ready to speak Russian. The longer I sat on the bus with all of my luggage, the more worried I got. I didn't know if had passed my exit or not and the windows were totally covered in condensation, so I couldn't really see out the windows... oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there was snow everywhere and it was friggen cold. It didn't help that the bus driver spoke Russian at every exit and the words on the LED display were (of course) in Russian. Most people would have flipped out by this point, but I'm gonna do this!!

Finally, I met an angel and he helped me. He spoke very little English, but just enough to help me. I quietly said "Do you speak english?", to which he said "Little, what you need?" I used my hands and was able to communicate to him that I landed in "Terminal 1" and needed to get to "Terminal 2". He said "When I have, then you have." I said OK??? Then I just sat there for a couple more exits. Finally I got nervous and said "Here?" out of nowhere. Then he said again "No... When I have... then you have." I then realized that he said "When I [get off the bus], then [at the next stop], you [get off of the bus]." I said, "Oh OK!". My muscles began to relax, for I understood at that point that I was on the right bus, and I hadn't missed my stop. My flight was to leave in less than 1 hour at this point and I still had to call my friends in Novosibirsk once I got through Russian security. At least I was on the right track up to this point.

When I got to the next airport, I wasn't able to read anything, but knew that this had to be the place because there were pictures of airplanes and there was a line of people at the front door waiting to get through security. I made it through security OK but of course got taken aside so that they could find out why I "beeped" as I walked through the metal detector... damn iPod! :) I need stop and remind you that up to this point nobody spoke English, nor did anybody want to!.. Except for the angel I met on the bus.

Once I checked my luggage and made it upstairs to my gate, I still had to call my friends in Novosibirsk to let them know when I was going to be there. Uh oh, more attempts at Russian communication... this sucked! I had no phone, no phone card to use at the Russian phone booths, and $20 worth of rubles burning a whole in my pocket (which, by the way was about 466 rubles). I walked from person to person asking if I could use their phone to make a phone call with broken Russian words that I quickly learned in my handy dictionary. Even after I told them I would pay them, they still waved their hands and looked away. I found myself wandering around these people looking like a lost puppy trying to find somebody to help me. I wanted to scream, but I kept my cool for the most part... even though my plane was about to board in 5 minutes. I finally met a young girl who was selling cellular phones at a small booth. Today was her lucky day! I needed one and stat!. She sold me some minutes and let me call my friends while she filled out my paper work... I made the call and boarded the plane.

Moscow, check!


Novosibirsk, Russia
The plane ride was more Russian talk and more rudeness from those around me. One of the flight attendants actually gave me a smile, so that eased some of my frustration. When we landed, I (again) followed the heard like I did in Moscow... only this time I was misled to the wrong spot. Apparently this flight was connecting with another flight and I was (unknowingly) waiting on a flight that I didn't need to take. When I realized that the people around me weren't waiting on their luggage (?), I jumped up and quickly learned how to say "baggage". I went from person to person and tried to figure out where I needed to go. Again, most people spoke lightning-fast Russian and turned away from me as if I was bothering them. One guy actually pointed to a door at the end of the hallway as he spoke at me. To which I said "THANK YOU!" with a Russian attitude and walked down the hall.

I must admit that I wasn't very happy with my time here in Russia up to this point Moscow was the scariest experience in my life and so far I was looking to have a similar experience here in Novosibirsk. I finally scurried around and walked up to a Russian police officer saying "baggage" (pronounced "bah-gah-dj") with my hands waving all over the place as if I have a lot of luggage around me. :) Yes, picture a crazy man pulling very heavy, invisible luggage, and that's me talking to this policeman. :) I eventually showed him my flight ticket and he spoke into his walky talky; many words were exchanged, and another police officer came over and they spoke a while too. Finally he said "follow" and began walking. I didn't know if I was in trouble or if he was going to be taking me to the "baggage". :) On our way to where ever we were going, I heard "Lucas!"... it was my friends!! I shook the policeman's hand, picked up my luggage, and switched my focus to happy thoughts and smiles with my friends from Novosibirsk. SERENITY NOW!!

Conclusion!
I am very sorry for everybody reading this that lives in Russia. I do not want to give the impression that all Russians are rude. I love this country, especially after having been here for a full day now. Please understand that the people I ran into were very rude to me and it was the most frustrating experience I've been through in a long time. My experience definitely made me a stronger person! Of course, the few smiles and patient people I met helped, but overall I hated my time here until I met up with my friends. Looking back on it now, I can't believe I made it here in one piece with all of my (very expensive) luggage. I just want to warn anybody that plans to travel through Moscow, be warned!!

By the way, today was my first full day in Novosibirsk, and I had a great day. I plan to write a post each day I'm here so that everybody knows how awesome Russia really is. So, stay tuned for that story! :)