Sunday, June 30, 2013

Not an Exceptionally Exciting Month...

Kristen says...

Well, June went by fairly quickly, especially considering it was not a very exciting or busy month.

 We did have one day off of work in June, the 12th, which is Russia Day here. Chris and I took advantage of the nice weather to walk around downtown and see the sights:

 This beach area is, believe it or not, the beach area we could see from the hotel we stayed at when we first arrived in Vladivostok! You can see our hotel (the Arbat) in this picture:
This fountain was, of course, not turned on when we first arrived!
 Because it was a holiday, the city had some celebrations going, including this stage which we've seen a couple times now.

 When we first arrived there were some local children dancing, and when I took this picture, someone was singing a very catchy song about Vladivostok. (Actually there are quite a few songs about Vladivostok, which is kind of fun, although it made for a longer than necessary YouTube search to find the right one to link to today!)

Another apparent Vladivostok holiday favorite? The big blue Vladivostok sign! :)

 We walked along the boardwalk until it came to an end and found this building, particularly pertinent now that the Sochi Olympics are just months away:
I particularly liked the billboard made for local scholar-athletes Ivan Shtyl (the blue words are congratulating him on his bronze medal at the Olympic games)
 and "world champion swimmer" Vitali Obotin, who also happens to be hard of hearing.
So that was a fun day.

Since then we have basically been busy working the time away.

Chris also went to Manila last week for some training, which hopefully he will blog about... :)

While he was gone I spent my time hanging with Pip, enjoying the flowers (the peonies have popped!)...

 and enjoying watching the way all the potholes in our driveway were fixed:

Oh yes, and I was asked to make this video by friends at the Consulate... so glad I'm finally getting to put my journalism training to work! :)

Hopefully July will be slightly more exciting!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It was one of those days you would never have in your home country...

Kristen says...

 Today was a weird and wonderful day. It was one of those days that makes you happy and uncomfortable all at the same time. And yes, it was one of those days you could only have in a foreign country.

 Normally I would be working my usual 4-hour schedule on a Tuesday, but this week I had to adjust my hours and take an extra day off...I say extra because tomorrow is also a day off, thanks to "Russia Day," also sometimes called Russia's Independence Day (although, as my Russian friends point out, as Russia has never been taken over by another country, so it would never need to gain its independence...).

 I took advantage of not having to work by sleeping in (something I love love love to do) and then kind of bummed around the apartment (washing dishes, tidying up, walking the dog, etc.) The weather today, in my opinion, is absolutely beautiful (75 and sunny), so being outside was something fun.

 While Pip and I were walking around the building I noticed something that made me so happy, I almost cried:
I love peonies!
 When I was a little girl we had peony and poppy bushes near our house, and I loved to watch the ants crawl on them and couldn't wait for them to open. When Chris and I got married (7 years ago this month!) our friends and family showered us with peony petals that my mom and I went all over town to gather and then my sister and mom spent the night before the wedding plucking from their stalks...
So finding peonies in Russia really made my day!

 There are many other flowers around where we live, some I recognize and some I don't. Since I had the day off today, I took some time to go around and smell them (and take pictures of them, too!)

Even dandelions are a welcome sight after all the snow of winter! :)
 After visiting the flowers, I decided to head downtown and visit a couple bookstores I have been eying for the last few months. We live probably 2-3 miles away from downtown, not an unreasonable walk, but farther than I wanted to I took the bus.

 I have actually been taking the bus regularly to work, something that speeds up my morning commute but does nothing for my fitness, so it was no trouble to get on the bus and get downtown. I have to say that I purposefully avoided riding public buses in Des Moines and London, and clearly couldn't ride the unsafe buses in Teguc, but here the buses are pretty handy.

 There are two bookstores in downtown Vladivostok, and both are pretty good if you want books for the local Russian schools, Russian classics, or children's books...but pretty low on books translated from English, and only one of the two carries books with English-language text...and when I asked for that section, I found that in the whole two-floor bookstore, only one half of one shelf had books in English...still, better than nothing.

 After asking for the section, I thought I couldn't very well leave without picking something up (although to be honest, most of the available books were classics I can get for free on my Kindle or books I really had no interest in). Luckily they had one copy of an Agatha Christie book--in my oodles of free time I've watched all the1980s BBC Miss Marple movies and most of the 2000s remakes on Netflix, so I'm kind of "into" Christie at the moment--so, I bought it.
Isn't that the most hideous book cover you've ever seen!? If it hadn't been a Christie book, I would never have bought it. Yes, I judge books by their covers... :)
 Upon closer inspection this is a really cool copy of the book, though:
The box at the top says (roughly translated) "Кead in the Original"
Within each chapter there are endnotes, which lead you to the commentary at the back: commentary that translates words and phrases that might be hard to understand for a non-native English reader. Sweet.
  After the triumph at the bookstore I was feeling pretty good about things (all my questions were asked and answered in Russian) so I decided to push my luck and try to find the Russian post office. Last week I bought some postcards and I wanted to get them mailed. I could have mailed them using US stamps from the consulate, but I thought that the people who were receiving them might like Russian stamps, so I went back to the place I bought the cards from to ask where to mail them from...

 Which turned out to be right next to the bookstore. Le sigh. At least I got my exercise!

 After visiting the bookstore and mailing the cards I decided it was time to head home. We were going out to dinner and I wanted to let Pip have some out of his kennel time before we left him again.

 If you remember, a few months ago I mentioned the Methodist Church located not far from our apartment. The bus stop closest to our house is not far from the church, and as I was getting out I noticed that the door to the church was open...a few years ago the Methodist Church as a whole had an ad campaign Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors. so since this door was open...I decided to go in.

This is where the wonderfully weird part starts.

 Inside I found rows of chairs, an alter, even information (in Russian) about the history of the Methodist Church...and four women taking part in a Bible study.

 Of course, the were startled to be interrupted, but they were very welcoming once I told them that I was a Methodist and had just wanted to check out the church. They were so welcoming that they invited me to join them.

 I guess they were pretty much done with the Bible study part (or decided to be done when it was clear that my Russian was not up to Biblical discussion) because they all started closing their books and putting them away.

 The leader of the group, the youngest of the four, explained to me that after their study they danced and then had tea. She asked me if I liked to dance, and I, not understanding, said I didn't (which is true), that I liked to read and things...but she invited me to dance anyway, and so I did...which was totally hysterical, because we were doing the Russian-style dancing where you shuffle in circles and raise your arms and...ok I can't describe it, but it was pretty funny/fun.

 We only danced one song, which I'm not sure was because I was there so everyone felt awkward, or because everybody just wanted tea, but either way, after that one song we sat down and had tea with Russian bread, a carrot-butter-garlic salad, and chocolate. Mmmm.

 And after that I went home, to write this blog and think about the weird day. And while yes, any of the above could have happened in the States, remember that while I am telling you about it in English, 96.8% of the day happened in Russian...probably incoherent Russian at times, but Russian.



Friday, June 7, 2013

A Visit to the (Russian) Dentist

Kristen says...

Well, it had to happen eventually.

 Once one decides to live outside one's home country, one must come to the conclusion that one is ok with seeking medical and dental assistance from someone other than the person one has visited for years and is comfortable with...

Meaning if you have an achy tooth, suck it up and go to the Russian dentist.

 My tooth has actually been bothering me since before we left the States, but it wasn't bad and I just didn't have the chance to do anything about it before we left. It was mostly just twinges here and there; when I'd breathe in cold air, when I'd drink a warm beverage, when I ate something sugary...

 Anyway, last week I was not feeling well (headache, sore throat, cough, snot everywhere, fever and of course, sinus pressure). When I don't feel good I usually do 3 things: cry, call my mom and drink Sprite.

 Sadly, mom's on vacation (and I really don't have a phone to call the US yet--the new iPhone is on its way), so I was left to cry and drink Sprite.

Actually, in the States it would be Diet Sprite--I haven't had full-sugar pop for years.

 Here, there is no Diet Sprite (I am lucky to get Diet Pepsi!), so it's full-sugar Sprite or bust...unfortunately all the full-sugar Sprite I've been drinking over the past week wreaked havoc on my aching tooth, enough that I mentioned to my boss that my tooth was hurting.

 Lucky for me, she had a dental appointment for herself all set up for Wednesday of this week, and she invited me to come with her and see the clinic and get a checkup.

So, I went.

And I was pleasantly surprised.

 That is not a diss on Russia in general or Vladivostok in particular, but before we came here we were warned that health care here is considered far sub-standard to what is available in the US--I believe the actual quote was that "for anything more than a bad cold" we would need to fly out of the country for medical care.

So with that ringing in my ears, I was not expecting much from the Russian dentist.

 In actuality, the clinic was very clean and modern. We actually had to but blue booties over our shoes when we went in the clinic to keep the floors clean. I was honestly expecting the clinic to look like the dental clinic of the medical brigade I went on in Honduras:
but in actuality it looked like every dentist's office I've ever visited in the States. Very reassuring.

 Of course, nobody spoke English, but I am coming to expect that here. Many, many more people spoke English in Honduras than do here.

 I was very promptly shown in to a very nice lady dentist (with a male hygienist, by the way, the first time that has ever happened for me. Girl power!). I said hello, and then let her know that 'I understand and speak very little Russian.' Luckily she was patient and kind and open to pantomime. :)

 I told her I had pain in either one or two of my back teeth and pointed to them, and then used a pen to point to the place I had pain on the paper chart on her desk (between the back two molars, on a tooth that had already been filled a few years ago...eek). She asked 'if it hurt with cold or hot', and I said 'it hurt when I' and then made a swift breathing in sound, because I didn't know how to say exactly what I wanted to say in Russian. She got it. Crude, but effective.

 So, we went to the chair and she started poking around. And, as I suspected, there was a cavity. She asked if I wanted to take care of it then and there, and since I was already in the chair, I said why not. She asked if I wanted anesthetic. I said I did (of course! I've had cavities drilled and filled without it before...ouch!) So they got out the big needle and numbed the area...let the drooling begin. After a wait of 5 minutes or so, the "operation" began.

This was when it got a little wierd.

 Before, when I've had cavities filled, they simply numbed the area, waited a bit, and then set to work with the drill.

 Here, they numbed the area, waited a bit, and then pulled out a 4x4 square of latex with a tooth-sized metal ring (kind of like the metal spacer they used when I had braces) punched through the center. The latex was laid over my mouth and floss was used to push the ring down over my tooth, I assume to segregate it from the rest of the teeth...

At this point I'm thinking, 'crap, are they just going to pull the tooth?!' and then, 'crap, how do I say, "Don't pull my tooth!" in Russian?!'

 I believe the direct translation of what I actually said was, "I am going to have that tooth?" Luckily she understood the meaning behind the question and assured me that yes, the tooth would remain.

 So, she drilled, and drilled, and drilled. I think she actually took out the old filling and then put in a totally new one. It seemed to take a really, really long time, and actually was quite painful in certain places, but eventually she started the filling process.

 Again, I got a little nervous. It is not uncommon to see little old Russian ladies with more than one shiny gold tooth walking around the streets of Vladivostok. I remembered that I'd forgotten to tell her I wanted a white filling, not metallic.

 Luckily, I didn't even need to ask, I could see the white putty. I was doubly-reassured when her hygienist pulled out the yellow glasses and blue light filling zapper (I'm sure there is a technical term for that) to harden the filling.

 Finally, the filling was set and the grinding-to-fit began...unfortunately I was so overly numbed that I didn't realize the filling was way too high...I couldn't even chew when I got home, it was so uneven.

 So I got to take a second trip to the dentist on Thursday to have it ground down even more. It's still not perfect, but at least I can eat! The tooth is also still a little sensitive, which is slightly worrying since I had it filled 3 days ago...if it's still hurting next week I'll probably go back again, but I'm hoping it will be all better after the weekend.

 Still, for now I'm going to call my first out-of-the-USA dental experience a success. At any rate, it was an experience. :)