Thursday, September 16, 2010

New blog.

Read it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

No hot water? No problem!

(sorry...more old posts to come at some point; I just got internet at home)

Showering in cold water, one of the many skills I acquired in Russia, was one I did not expect to put to use so soon. But, thanks to some cruel twist of fate, I came back from a run on a rather cold night ( tells me it feels like 45ºF — too cold for shorts) only to discover that our hot water isn't working. I'm still unclear as to whether this is a result of the workmen installing solar panels on our roof, running the laundry on "warm", or just God punishing any case, I am now hypothermic.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reverse culture shock: Myth or reality?


My trip back to America was as follows:
Depart St. Petersburg at 6:10 am. Arrive Frankfurt 7:35 am (or something like that).
Depart Frankfurt 10:30 am. Arrive JFK 12:50 pm.
Depart JFK 2:30 pm. Arrive Boston/Logan 4:30 pm.
Take Dartmouth Coach home.

I was miserable on the St. Petersburg to Frankfurt flight. Americans were all around me, more than I had seen at one time in months. I clung to the Russians, desperate for any bits of conversation I might overhear. In Frankfurt, I almost tried to get on a flight to Moscow but eventually lay down and watched Heroes, season 2. In Russian. Once I got to JFK, I was so overwhelmed by everything being in English that I had to sit in a corner and listen to Tchaikovsky so as to relax. I kept snapping my head to look at someone speaking English; it occurred to me that everyone was speaking English, but I was so accustomed to an English-speaker being an anomaly that I couldn't help it.

Since that miserable 24 hour commute (during which I slept a total of 2 hours out of 48), I have managed to readjust back to life in America, but some things still surprise me.

For example, my best friend and I went to the Farmer's Market, held on the Dartmouth Green, last Wednesday. I couldn't get over the absence of drunk people, the abundance of organic food, and that we were able to take our shoes off and sit on the grass without receiving any looks of dismay.

Yesterday, while walking home, I encountered construction on my street blocking my path. A friendly policeman said he would stop traffic for me so that I wouldn't have to (gasp!) cross the street and walk on the sidewalk. I responded, "that's ok, I live right up there," to which he nodded and resumed work (which, in this case, was watching the construction workers with a look of barely disguised glee). Such an ordinary exchange was, for me, extraordinary. To those who haven't spent considerable time abroad, it is difficult to explain just how easy things are in America. I can guess what would happen in Russia: there would be no cop supervising the construction workers and I would be almost run over by a car. Or someone would yell at me ("Devushka! DEVUSHKA! DEVUSHKA!!!") In any case, the mere simplicity of this exchange was astounding.

H-Town Lovin'

In my haste to get back to Cornell, I worked things out that I would only have two weeks in Hanover. These past two weeks have flown by, probably because I have done absolutely nothing of note except go to the DMV, and yesterday I found myself pondering the existence of this fascinating small town.

I've spent a good part of the past few years abhorring Hanover, mainly for its superficial beauty. But yesterday, several things happened that made me begin to appreciate my hometown.

1) I was standing in line at the post office and heard the following:
Appalachian Trail hiker #1: "This town is so weird. Everyone here is so attractive. How is this even possible?"
Appalachian Trail hiker #2: "You haven't showered in 4 months. They look attractive because they're clean."

Actually, the latter comment is not exactly true. The residents of Hanover have two very distinct looks: preppy and sporty casual. Preppy means J.Crew, Polo, or Vineyard Vines. Very conservative and neat. Sporty casual consists of running shorts, a tshirt, and flip flops (backpack optional; nalgene not). A ponytail (often with stretchy headband) is required for girls, meaning that this is the look of choice for anyone who has failed to shower recently. Sporty casual is one of my favorite looks, particularly during the summer, when I shower on average once every three days.

However, AT Hiker #1 was right on. Everyone in Hanover is attractive. By some miracle of genetics and success (and one that is almost as puzzling as that in Russia which makes all women 10's and all men 1's), only beautiful people are allowed to live in Hanover. This may be so as not to detract from the town's picturesque architecture and decor.**

2) I went running with my mom and dogs and ended up at a stream. On our way down to the stream, a car pulled up, the window rolled down, and a woman asked, "Do you know where _______ lives?" Yes, actually, I did. To the extent that I gave creepily detailed directions ("you know the hill after the Ray School? OK, well, it's at the top of that hill, probably right at the peak..."). I think this is what they mean by "small town."

3) I got to play in the stream with my dogs.

So after these events, I was a little chagrined at leaving this all behind. If only I knew then what I know now....

I had just started my drive to Ithaca and was on the highway in Vermont, when I felt a subtle change in the car. Nothing by any means drastic, and something that could have been due to a strong headwind. Except there wasn't a strong headwind, and my check oil light came on right as I felt that shift. I tried to accelerate, but there was no power behind the car; I could barely sustain 70 mph going up a small hill. I decided to call my stepdad.

As I was on the phone with him, I lost all power. Though I was steadily pushing down on the gas, the speed dropped from 70 to 60 to 50 to 40. I pulled over. Several hours later, my car was towed and is now patiently awaiting servicing. I have no idea what the problem is, except that I went through a ton of oil.

How far did I make it out of Hanover? 20 miles.

**Actually, nerdily enough, I do know of a plausible explanation for this phenomenon: attractive people tend to be more successful than unattractive ones, partially due to the fact that people respond better to attractive people.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Good news: still having adventures in America.

My best friend recently inherited a 1995 Chevy Caprice, whom we have christened "Frank." Frank is a classic, of a quality rarely seen these days, and is a firecracker under the pedal. Yesterday, we racked our brains for some way to improve Frank (assuming that was even possible), and came up with the perfect solution: car wash!

Two hours and several knuckles raw from hand washing Frank, he glows with a shine and is even better than new.


Monday, August 3, 2009


But fear not: I have a backlog of posts that I've written but not yet managed to post, so expect updates over the next couple of days. Once these posts run out, I may keep writing, depending on whether I can come up with anything interesting to say. We'll see.

After sleeping for 2-3 hours out of 45, I was finally able to collapse in a real bed last night. The journey home had been a series of ups and downs; the ups peaked when, driving home, I was so out of it I'm fairly certain my brother thought I was drunk, then immediately crashed and almost fell asleep while eating dinner.

My question is, at what point in sleep deprivation do you start hallucinating?

One thing I’ll miss: the metro

While I haven’t become attached to public transportation per se, there is a special place in my heart reserved for the metro. St. Petersburg metro stations aren’t quite as intricate and beautiful as those in Moscow, but every stop has a certain character to it, be it the hideous walls of Площадь Мушества or the red tiles of Маяковская. Moreover, the metro is the ideal locale for people watching. I've had some truly horrible experiences on the crowded avtobusi (the first time I rode it, when I watched a small boy have a seizure, comes to mind), but not so for the metro, which provides unlimited opportunities for amusement. There is, for instance, the game I play when the metro is not too crowded and a cute boy happens to be sitting in the same car. I try to stick with him as long as is convenient for me and imagine that he is doing the same. I sneak glances at his reflection in the window and notice when he looks back. In the end, it's a game with very little disappointment and short bursts of excitement ("he's going to Chernishevskaya too!"). In retrospect, this game sounds pretty creepy.

Cute boys aside, the metro never fails to disappoint. For instance, yesterday I witnessed a drunk guy playing the banjo as he rode the escalator down…while everyone around him, including those who were clearly not with him, sang along. On that same escalator ride was a couple fighting: he held her wrists while she tried to hit him and push him away so she could run down the steps. This evening, a woman hopped on our car at Академическая and serenaded us with opera all the way to Озерки. I don't normally give money to beggars — there are simply too many of htem, but I couldn't let this woman go without my 50 rubles.

I think the next step is to get some kind of entertainment on the Tcats.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No, seriously, it's not a problem

I recently sent out an email to several of my enginerd friends begging for help with a project I have at work. I got several hilarious responses; most notably, "I'm sure someone in computer science would jump at the opportunity to do some extra programming for fun (not sarcasm). " What was also funny about this email was that another sender apologized for the "delayed" response: he replied 3 days after my original email. I often go for 3 days without any internet access and in fact only really check my email regularly because I procrastinate at work. I'm starting to have a sneaking suspicion that there is some kind of hole in the time-space continuum between Russia and western Europe (just as invisible as but no less real than the Iron Curtain). More on this to come as I continue to gather evidence.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Macho, macho man...

aka Bryan "Bion" Billings....

A few weeks ago, my former program director, Bryan ran a marathon. He signed up the day before and was participant #281, which means there were about 278 more runners than I had expected, given that in all my time here I've only seen two people jogging distances greater than 100 m. Anyway, Bryan recruited several of us to help him out by providing Gatorade and juice at strategic points around the course, so I had the opportunity to take some pretty fantastic pictures.Getting excited for the big start!

Participants of all ages

And just in case runners were unable to discern for themselves what the long tables full of food were...

The best part was that we got weird looks for standing on the sidelines with bottles of Gatorade and juice, yet it was somehow normal for marathon runners to stop and eat black bread with salt. Wouldn't be my first choice for nourishment during a marathon, but what do I know.