Saturday, March 28, 2009

Little Women

Well, we've been here for a couple of years now, and last week we finally got our first visitors! B's sisters Andrea and Kellie flew in for a visit, and they've been with us for the past week. Since we have so many pictures from their time here (including a fun tourist-type trek downtown), I thought I'd make this a photo-blog and not talk so much.

Here the sisters head towards Marx' statue near the Bolshoi Theater, no doubt discussing his economic theories. Well, actually, they were probably just talking about how cold it was, but anyway ...

If you look closely, you can read the inscription "Proletarians of every country - unite!" which didn't quite go down as he had planned.


The public bathrooms in Moscow are all pay-per-use, as Andrea and Kellie found out.

Near the entrance to Red Square, where all the touristy-type kiosks are, are a few opportunistic folks looking to profit on their resemblance to famous Russians of history. The ladies took their picture with the rather odd pairing of Nicholas II and Lenin. The price went up after the picture was taken, much to our surprise. (I know - who would have thought that these guys would turn out to be untrustworthy managers of finance!?)

Then, we entered Red Square and tried to get into Lenin's mausoleum to look at the real guy (well, his waxy corpse, anyway). No dice - it's closed until April, perhaps for a fresh coat of paraffin.


Of course, no trip to Red Square would be complete without a picture in front of St. Basil's. Here B does the honors.

Despite the cold, we walked on a little further and got a picture of the ladies overlooking the river, with Christ the Savior Cathedral in the background (just above Kellie's head) and the Kremlin wall on the right.

Of course, we've also been at home a lot during their stay. They brought lots of goodies from the US for the boys (thanks to the Dials and others who gave the girls stuff to bring for us), so here's a shot of Steven enjoying a gifted lollipop while wearing his new cowboy hat.

As I finished this up, the girls just got back from their latest outing to the souvenir market, so more pictures to come from that next time we post. Also, we can't complete the blog without welcoming our new coworker Elisabeth! She just flew in today, and will be living here in Moscow for the next year or two learning Russian, just as we did. If you'd like to check out her blog (and add her to your "thought-list"), the link to her blog is here.

While I'm linking blogs, you may as well check out B's twin sister's blog here; she's visiting us on her way to Australia to do some training for overseas work herself.

And that's about it. Thanks again for checking in, and for thinking of us. See you again next week!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back from T-land!

We're back! And if my visitor-counter thingy is anything to go by, not posting anything for two weeks is killing the traffic to this site. Also, our comments have gone way down, so we obviously are doing something wrong. And, while some of you might argue that leaving the same content up on the blog for weeks on end is doing something wrong, I would counter that, ... um, ... well, ... OK, you're right, that's probably what the problem is.

But, as a reward for sticking around, I give you the trip to T-land, complete with pictures and video:

Most of our time was spent preparing documents for our residency application, but since I didn't take any pictures in their office and you don't want to hear about the frustrations with translation and spelling and notaries, I'll just skip all that stuff and stick to the fun.

We probably already whined enough about the length of the trip out there, but it was long. 3 days in a train coupe with two little boys - well, let's just say it's a good thing Mommy was there with some books and other distractions or it could really have gone downhill.

Then, when we had finally gone as far as the railroad could take us, we packed up the family into one of these:

for the 5-hour drive into T-land. Fortunately, the drive was broken up by a stop at the shashlik stand halfway there, where we enjoyed a nice skewer of shashlik and plov.

The scenery on the drive was breathtaking. Mountains, forests, snow - my absolute favorites, all in one place. Reminded me a bit of Colorado back in the US.

Once we got there and got settled in, we needed to explore the town a bit. One of our first days there we headed out to take in some of the Shagaa (T-land's New Year) celebrations. Our first discovery: it's cold in Siberia in mid-February. Who knew?

-38 was as cold as it got. Apparently, it regularly gets below -40, but not while we were there, thank goodness. Here's a shot of the square in front of the national theater, complete with prayer wheel and mountains in the background.

The prayer wheel is an interesting thing, and one that we'll obviously need to get some more cultural data on, but it seems to be something that Buddhists will spin in order to send prayers upward and thus improve their standing in the spiritual realms somehow. I think I mentioned it in the blog we posted there, but here's the missing picture.

I liked this sign at the market downtown: "Specialized Market: Things." I guess I just like the creativity of the signmaker, who, when asked to put up a sign designating the specialty of the market, went with "stuff" as his answer.

I have lots of pictures of just regular street scenes that we shot, but I really like this one of the little girl bundled up. She's even wearing gloves, something that somewhat counter-logically is actually rare there.

Anyway, we also managed to get in for a performance of the Shagaa dances and cultural presentation at the national theater. We were the only white faces in a full house, so apparently this is just a T thing and not a Russian one. Here a shaman performs a dance.

One of the things we needed to do while out in T-land (besides handing in our documents for residency) was to meet with our teammates and make some team decisions. Here, we're hard at work making decisions. I believe that I decided to go with the grape juice, while David finally decided to eat the last chocolate cookie. You know, important team decisions.

We did manage to get out and try the local cuisine as well. Actually, it had been a while since we'd eaten in a restaurant (Moscow is prohibitively expensive in this regard), so we did quite a bit of this. I found this lower-end place and got quite a few stares, as, once again, I was the only white face there. The lady at the checkout didn't understand my Russian, either (she only spoke T), but eventually I managed to get a bowl of soup, a roll, and a piece of meat for about $1.50.

Our coworkers introduced us to this place: the T-land Krispy Kreme. And, can I just say, delicious. Who knew that putting sweetened condensed milk on doughnuts would be so good? Actually, thinking about it, who wouldn't know that would be good?

We had some time to relax between stressfully filling out paperwork and waiting for the office to open again so we could resubmit said paperwork and have it denied for a misspelling again. Here we're playing cards, again under the auspices of "team bonding" time and calling it work.

One of our coworkers bought a Nintendo Wii, so we also managed to spend some time getting fit indoors, which is nice when it's so cold out. B took the boxing game, well, let's just say seriously.

video

Finally, all of our paperwork was accepted (thanks for thinking of us!) and now we just have to wait for the application to be processed. Hopefully, if all goes well, we'll be able to move out there in the summer.

Once everything was done, it was time to get back in the car and head home. We went past this hill, which I remarked looked like a stegosaurus' back. The driver then informed me that it's known as "Dragon Hill" by the locals.

Actually, our trip out got a bit interesting. We opted to fly, as it was about the same price as the long train ride, but the night before our flights left, they closed the main road to the town where the airport is. Our taxi driver told us of an alternative, but it takes 11 hours to drive that way. Fortunately, at the last moment, we got a call saying the original road might be opened.

We decided to chance it, it seemingly being far from a sure thing that the long road would even get us to the airport in time. We eventually maneuvered to this tunnel, which was apparently the main obstacle, since funds don't permit sealing it off completely, and in its current state it's vulnerable to snow buildup.

We had quite a slog through some of the worst bits, much to the enjoyment of our boys, who managed to get hungry, dizzy, and bored all at the same time.

video

Anyway, since you're watching videos and seeing pictures, you know we have decent internet again, meaning we made it to Moscow, so it's obvious we did make it to the airport. And quite the airport it was. This is the main terminal area, around 3 in the afternoon: a full house. I found it a bit odd that in the middle of the day, there would be a total of 3 other people in the entire airport, counting staff.

Anyway, I think that's it. Again, thanks for thinking of us during our time out there. I have so much more I want to say about how excited we are to be this close to our final destination, but I'll save that for an email maybe. Thanks and see you again next week.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Home!

[Note: I've tried 4 times now to upload the pictures I reference below, with no success. Since I don't want to rewrite this whole thing just because the pictures don't work, you'll have to imagine that you're seeing them. Sorry!]

I know I've made previous comments about how we don't have an earthly home, but I suppose that T-land is about as close as we'll come for the foreseeable future. I don't think I've lived anywhere in the past 15 years or so for more than a few years, so it's kind of strange to finally be someplace where we might stay for a while (even if we're leaving in a week or two, we'll be back, so I consider it home now)!


And we're loving it! I won't make this a long post, since it takes forever to do anything with dialup internet, but I did want to at least reward those of you who check this regularly with a few pictures and words about our time. I'll post a bunch more when we get back to Moscow (still no idea on when that might be; we head in this Tuesday to turn in our paperwork for our residency), but for now this will have to make do. We'll skip the journey in for now (short version: it was long!) and do that later.

One of the things we've been enjoying most on our trip so far has been the time with our teammates. Hopefully you've clicked on the links to their blogs by now (Family Footprints and Privyet to the right in case you haven't) and are already thinking of them as well as us regularly. Here we're playing cards with them after a gathering on Sunday to enjoy a good discussion and study.

OK, so here you'll have to pretend there's a picture of us, looking dashing and stunningly attractive, playing cards with our friends.

Last week was Shagaa, or the Buddhistic New Year's celebration, here in T-land. All the businesses were closed and we went down to the town center (side note: it's so great to be able to walk downtown instead of having to catch the metro and a bus for an hour!) to see the festivities. The people of T-land generally believe in a mixture of Buddhism and shamanism, which were represented well in the celebrations. Here's a giant prayer wheel that people would walk up to and spin to earn favor and send prayers for the New Year.

Someone else's picture of a similar prayer wheel linked here.

In the afternoon, there was a concert of cultural T stuff in the main theater. We weren't sure what to expect, but went along with our coworkers to see what was going on. It turned out to be mostly singing, with some chanting/religious performance things. Interestingly, despite the republic being about 30% Russian, we were the only white people there out of 300 or so. Very few outsiders speak the T language, something we hope to be able to do in a few years. Anyway, here a traditional Shaman came on to dance and beat his drum, presumably to ask for a good New Year (? - probably need to ask our language helpers someday about that).

Someone else's picture of a T shaman linked here.

As I said, a short post, but we did want to give you at least something. In short, we've really loved it here - time with friends, actually eating in a restaurant (something that's far too expensive for us in Moscow), taking taxis everywhere for $1.50, etc. The extreme cold has been not so fun (-38 is the lowest it's gotten so far), but if you bundle up quite well it's tolerable.

Thanks for thinking of us, and please continue to do so as we submit our documents this week!