Tuesday, May 5, 2009
We're back from our four-day visit to blossoming Novosibirsk, or Nikolaevsk as they once called it. This is my second trip to Novo, or N-sk, or Novosib, however you prefer to call it, but last time I only spent a day there on the way to Ekaterinburg (Yoburg, if you will). So this time I got to see a lot more, plus the weather was about 30-40 degrees C warmer, so we were a bit more mobile.
Let's see, we had a holiday (Day of Labor), plus I don't work on even Mondays (yes, there are even and odd (or uneven, as some say in English) weeks in Russia, so we got to have an extended and free stay chez Matt "returning ETA" Nelson at the Sea-Bags Fortress. It was free thanks to my supposed extended lecture series at the university (thanks to Matt and Julia for hooking up that tall tale (actually I did do one lesson on geography, but all of Matt's students had already seen it)). Anyway, Matt got us lined up with a free dorm room, complete with a tower, two sheets, a blanket, a wash cloth, a TV, a tea kettle, a lamp, a brush for your clothes, a brush for your shoes, and a number of other items necessary for life in Siberia (for the rest of the items, consult the checklist on the door).
So, we got into town and rushed to the grocery store for all the necessary fixins for burritos with guacamole, including some delicious swine (we ain't afraid of no swine flu... Russia's banned all entrance for Mexicans and takes the temperatures of all Americans crossing the border). We met up with some friends, including Katya the local and Nick the Manchester (who had his first burrito!). We got pretty sleepy, having caught the 8:30 bus in, and dozed off for a good 12 hours.
The next day we visited the most sacred spot in Novo, MEGA, home to the only Ikea in a few oblasts. I had never been, so it was pretty new and astonishing for me, but Matt had already decked out his room in Ikea gear and was less impressed. All the same, he was a good sport, and agreed to take us on the pilgrimage. We took the metro (oh yeah, there's a metro, now covered with stickers from the city's new literacy campaign, explaining rare and little known facts about Russian spelling, stress, and grammar) to the Marx Square stop, and after missing 2 buses, hopped on the free super shuttle, which takes visitors out of the city to shopping central. It was every bit as sweaty and miserable as Matt warned it would be.
Anyway, Ikea was pretty fun. We had an endless series of photoshoots in which we pretended like we lived in each of the little fake rooms, and then I bought some bowls, glasses, candles, and things, followed by some hot dogs and sodas (Swedish meatballs for the traitors who skipped out on my lecture to stay in MEGA, when Matt and I had to bolt back to the university).
Let's see, what else, I learned about to play some banjo, including the boom-ditty strumming rythm. We went to a great (and rare!) microbrewery, and happened to catch the US-Russia championship hockey match. Matt applauded loudly after America scored the first goal and almost got our teeth knocked in by our neighbors in the next booth. Luckily, Russia scored the next 5 goals and our neighbors cheered up, although Matt did lose 100 rubles in a bet. The beer was delicious, and we went home to go to sleep.
The next day, we woke up early to buy some lotion and Snickers bars, and the weather was amazing. 20 degrees C and windy as the Dickens. I was afraid this sheet metal on this walkway was going to fly up and decapitate us, but heads intact, we marched on to Pyatorochka for Snickers and Ice-Tea. While we were enjoying our snacks on these freaky benches made in the USSR for the giants of the Soviet future, the weather went haywire. Storm clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped. A freak wind and lightening storm stranded us in the entrance of a hospital (the door was marked as being for patients who had been bitten by ticks and hoping to get immunized). When the storm passed, we headed home, and after some of Matt's delicious coffee, we headed off for the train station (we were headed to Obskoe Lake and Akademgorodok). We missed the train and went for some sushi (there were some rolls covered in black caviar called "OBAMA"... hmmm). We tried to change our order to all-you-can eat, but we spoke to late, and had to settle for more reasonable portions. Then we ran back to the train station and missed the train again.
While we were waiting, we went to the stall of a vendor of childrens toys and bought a. a fake ID featuring Luntik the cartoon moon-animal, b. some bubbles, and c. one of those New Years noise-making blowy toys. We didn't see the connection at first, but we soon realized that we had the means for an amazing game: battle bubble. While one person blew bubbles, the other popped them as quickly as possible with his festive, extendible noise-maker. Some of the station employees were not amused, but the todlers liked to stand and watch. We eventually caught our elektrichka out and enjoyed the accordion stylings of a blind man while laughing at the pictures of ourselves playing bubble battle.
The lake was beautiful, but the weather was freezing (the temperature was dropping all day, my friends can assure you) and there were mountains of trash everywhere. We took some pictures, reenacted the final scene from "Les quatre-cent coups" a few times, thought about crashing a bonfire, but ultimately tracked off through the woods to find the mysterious institution of higher learning known as AKADEMGORODOK. I didn't think we'd make it, but we did. We had a rendezvous with Irochka, who refused to show us to the critically acclaimed Mexican place, but agreed to take us for "NEW YORK PIZZA", which it certainly was not. It was fun though, and we played some bubble battle and then turned down a tour of NGU. The place was really nice though. It was the closest thing to an American-style university I've seen in Russia: a cloistered, well-forested, quiet, comfortable community centered around the university. I was intrigued, but not intrigued enough to hang around in the cold in the middle of nowhere, and so we hopped on a "gazelle" bus and headed back to the city. On the bus, we entertained ourselves )and some alcoholics and old Russian ladies) with bubble battle until Irochka said "I am tired... of bubbles", and we cut it out. Then, let's see, we got some Ramen noodles and Zhigulyovskoe and called it an evening.
So, the next day was spend showing my passport and explaining my address to about a million people at the university who were on to the scheme (luckily Matt was smooth enough to get me off campus without my being detained). We went for a stroll, picked up some cough drops, thought about trying Yugoslavian food, and then headed off to buy our tickets home. While we were waiting for our bus, we decided to go get some Rostiks (which Russian for KFC), and Matt treated us all to cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, and cokes. What is more, the lady didn't even blink an eye when Matt dropped a 5,000 r note (this would be like going into McDonalds and paying with a $200 bill). She was totally down though, and we feasted. In the end, we stayed too long and ended up sprinting to the bus station. We really almost missed it. Matt waived us off, and I think I saw a tear in his eye.
It was a quiet ride home, and the bus driver drove smoothly and quickly. We made record time. We stopped in Bolotnoe (a city that is literally a building of pay toilets, a motel, a snack bar, and something called a nigh cafe... oh, and the city's name means swampy). When we got home we jocked our Ikea bags upstairs to show them off to Michael the roommate, who was not impressed and didn't think too highly of our shopping at Ikea. You can't please 'em all!
Today I am in bad shape. I am tired, my nose is running like a faucet, I have nothing to blow it into, and I have to lead a seminar on how to motivate students to learn a foreign language. I could use a seminar on how to motivate myself to lead seminars!
Posted by Jason at 3:53 AM