27 August 2011

Gender, Moscow, Coffee, Language

Exciting things happen when Ethan wanders about Moscow!

Friday night, after teaching, several of us hung around the kiosk outside Language Link's building, drinking beers and deciding what to do. Brandon was really excited about this hookah bar he'd been to when he studied in Moscow, and wanted to go again. Belly dancers come out and perform every half hour, and the hookah is good (and well priced, and it lasts). We had meant to visit this place a couple of weekends ago, but didn't reach the metro in time. We decided to give it another go.

Turns out they have gender-neutral restrooms there. The waitstaff directed me to the туалет, where I only found one door. On the other side, there were two sinks, and two more floor-to-doorframe doors, which were individual stalls. The second time I used it (we stayed there for a while), I walked in and got behind another guy in line. When two women came in, he let them go in front of him in line. (He did not extend this offer to me.)

It was odd, and interesting and fun. There have been few moments in this country where I've interacted with people in a way that can give me a bearing on how they interpret my gender. So when the moments come, they're still fascinating.

It's actually not the first time I've seen gender-neutral restrooms. Last weekend, several of us went to a bar/club called Augie (I think?), where the dance floor occasionally turned into a mosh pit. Their restroom was basically the same construction, with the sinks along a small corridor.

Today brought even more fun!

I had met up with some other interns for dinner (we found a sixties-themed American-style restaurant, which surprisingly had normal-tasting ketchup). We were walking toward the metro when Ilya decided to give in to the temptations of Starbucks (which is hella expensive here), so our group went inside. I was feeling dehydrated, and settled on buying a tiny bottle of apple juice, so I waited behind Ilya in line.

When we got to the front of the queue, Ilya ordered his drink, and they wanted to write his name on the cup, so they asked what his name was. His name is Russian, but he's used to people in the US and other places not recognizing the name, so he often uses one of his middle names instead. He then remembered that it's Russia and they get 'Ilya' as a name, and had a short conversation with the woman at the till about where he was from and what he's doing in Russia.

So then, when I got to the till, she asked me about myself, too. The first question, of course, was 'What is your name?'

'Bethany,' I answered, not really thinking much.

'Patrick?' she asked, which is apparently what she heard over the din of the shop.

'Yes,' I said.

Since this was all happening in Russian, I then proceeded to switch all of the past tense verbs I used to masculine endings. It was not as hard as I'd expected. It was quite easy, in fact.

Russian is a much more gendered language than English. In the past tense, you conjugate verbs as either masculine, neuter, feminine, or plural, and many words that describe a person's position (student, teacher, waiter, etc.) are also gendered. I'd given thought to trying to practice using masculine endings, but was worried that it would lead to awkward situations. There's a bunch of things that I know how to say well enough that I can say them without thinking too much, which I say to give myself time to think about how to phrase more challenging things. I was worried that if I started using masculine pronouns and endings sometimes, that I'd start inadvertently saying them when I was with someone who perceives me as female.

Apparently, I'm much more conscious about using gendered language (even in Russian) than I thought.

Anyway, those have been some of the happiest moments of my weekend thus far.

I might find another yarn store tomorrow, which is a whole different sort of happiness.

14 August 2011

Week One

Week one of the four-week training is complete, and I kind of feel like I'm in college again. I hope that feeling goes away soon. I liked college, but it's hard to feel like I'm at my job when I'm in classes (as a student) all day. Real teaching (teaching actual live students!) starts up this week, which I imagine will significantly change the tone of the program.

These weekends in Moscow, it's becoming clear, will be mash-ups of sleeping, gallivanting about with new friends, and staying home and surfing the internet like the hardcore introvert the I am.

First, a few introductory photos of the room in Svetlana's apartment in which I am staying, and the view from outside the window.

Also, the inside of Новослободская (Novoslobodskaya), the metro station by the Language Link Central School. If you stand around this station for more than about five minutes, you'll see a tour group pass through.

Saturday, I met up with some friends at ВДНХ (Vdnkh, the metro station with no vowels), to visit the nearby park, Всеросийский Выставочный Центр (ВВЦ) (the All-Russian Exhibition Centre). It's full of buildings and statues, more than trees and such, but it's still an enjoyable park.

For a park that puts Soviet culture on display (and is guarded by a giant statue of Lenin), it's become quite accustomed to capitalism. There are kiosks selling kvas and beer and hot dogs, and tables full of souvenirs. You can tool around on a rented bike, or take small children to many attractions that remind me of the state fair.

They also have a ferris wheel!

Before leaving ВДНХ, we walked a bit to go see a large statue that wasn't inside the park. It's quite enormous, and quite well-known. Called 'Worker and Kolkhoz Woman', it was made for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, and later moved to Moscow.

I don't know one goes about moving a beast like this.

I tried to be cool and take a not-too-Myspacey photo of myself in front of it. I ended up with a great shot of Ilya as an omnipotent deity, too.

Then we met up with a few more friends to find a Georgian restaurant. I have no photographic evidence of the delicious khinkali that we ate (if you don't believe me, it's okay, I'm open to eating them again). But these photos are from the little park near the metro. The curly-haired man in the green cape with his hand in his vest is Pushkin.

07 August 2011

Moscow: Initial Exploration

Dorogie druzya!

I've settled in and quit my bitching. I like Moscow well enough, now. Oddly enough, it's easier to enjoy being in a place when you have money, a phone, groceries, and know how to get back to your apartment.

Yesterday included much merriment. I went shopping with Annie, the other intern living in this apartment, and we went to a mall near Kurskaya station. It was my first trip to Rive Gauche! A French name, but only six letters long when transliterated into Russian. As someone who has a hard time taking the pronunciation of French seriously, I think this is hilarious.

Рив Гош is a cosmetics chain that carries many European and American brands. I picked up a few things (shampoo, soap, etc.), rather than shiny makeup, but I still got the fabulous bag.

Young Russian women carry these bags around frequently, using them as tote bags long after bringing home their purchase. (Russian men also will carry them sometimes, as a mark of having a girlfriend.)

After hanging around the mall, I met up with most of the other interns in Вокзал (Vokzal, 'train station'), a cafeteria/bar not far from the Language Link's central school. I met many people that I'd seen poking around the Facebook group, had some quality beer, and decent food.

Today was even more exciting. A couple of friends were heading to Izmailovskii Rinok, this big outdoor market that we tried (and failed) to find on Friday. However, instead of heading straight to the market with them, I decided to make another stop along the way...

...at Московская Шерстопрядильная Фабрика. The Moscow Wool-Spinning Factory.

Russia is an interesting place to buy yarn, in my experience. Thankfully, this store has everything available to be browsed and held and squished. (I didn't think to watch if Russian women squish and fondle skeins the way the yarn lovers I know do. They probably don't.) Some stores I've been to have everything behind a counter. One positive benefit is that yarn seems to be a lot less expensive here. The Russian market hasn't been saturated with indie spinners and dyers, so I only found things made by large companies, but it's quite cheap. There's a lot of acrylic going on, which I'm sure helps keep costs down, but I was able to find things without acrylic for reasonable prices, too.

So, the phrase рукоделия, or handwork, is how most yarn stores seem to be described. This means that embroidery usually has a section, as well, which you can see along the back wall of this picture:

I didn't find any books or magazines I really liked. I'm still not sure about the fashion in Russian pattern magazines. Also, the verb for knitting (вязать/связать), which is related to the word 'to connect', refers to both knitting and crochet. The two crafts are specified either with the appended phrase 'на спизах' (on needles) or 'крючком' (with a hook). So many magazines and books contain patterns for both crafts, which makes them less tempting to purchase.

HOWEVER: I did see a woman with this in her cart, and talked to her about it.

I told her it was my favorite book, and didn't really understand much of her response, but we did have a moment where we bonded over how hard it is to pick out yarn when there are so many good choices.

I came away with 10 skeins.

First, a fine laceweight in teal and purple.

Next, Australian wool, possibly for another Daybreak shawl, in navy and olive.

I was looking for sock yarn, but didn't find much. (Sadly, I realized that my favorite pair of socks is wearing through in the heel, and the yarn to beef them back up is in Minnesota. So I feel like I need to make some new socks.) I did find this, though heavily variegated, will probably work out fine.

I found many colors of a nice fingering weight made by Troitsk Yarn, a Russian brand that I'd bought some mohair from when I was in St. Petersburg. I immediately picked up some orange and teal the first time I saw it, and ended up coming back for a bright blue and light gray that will look lovely together.

Finally, while wandering near the back of the store where they have cones upon cones of lovely soft colors (they're wholesalers, too), I saw this little gem. Perhaps a little obnoxious, a little more glitzy than I usually pick up, but I think it will make a glamorous little shawl for the coming winter.

The laceweight, sock yarn, and sparkly yarn are all Семёновская Пряжа (Semyonovskaya Yarn), made by the factory connected to the shop.

All in all, the total came to less than $40, which seems at least half of what I'd expect to pay in the U.S. for similar products. So, I decided I had the extra five rubles (about 18 cents) to buy their fancy plastic bag, to carry everything home in.

05 August 2011

Честно, я не знаю...

The Russian bathroom attendant saw my confusion. Oh, if she only knew.

Choosing 'the right' single-gender restroom is hard for me. However, this time, I knew what bathroom I was looking for.

"Женский?!" she asks, slightly incredulously, convinced I should be looking instead for the мужский туалет.

"Да." I respond, still unsure of myself.

Truthfully, it could have been construed as an honest conversation about my gender. In a sense, I suppose it really was.

In another sense, I had forgotten that Russian bathrooms have attendants, and thus might have hours posted. Because sometimes they also cost money to use, and all of the hours that mark time are fairly close to reasonable туалет prices. I was actually looking for the women's room, it just took me a minute to interpret the sign. I thought they might be standing there to collect money. Turns out it was free.

04 August 2011

What day is it?

It's been a day and a half since I left Minnesota, but it just feels like a really long day.

Flight number one: MSP (MN) to JFK (NY): uneventful.

Flight number two: JFK to SVO (Moscow): eventful.
  • Taxied around for at least an hour before takeoff; I'm not sure why.
  • Consistent and mysterious stomach pain. I thought I was intensely hungry for a long time, but they eventually brought us food, and that didn't help. Tried several methods of distracting myself; none of them worked well.
  • Had hopes for a few hours of snoozes; nodded off for about 15 minutes.
I also realized on flight number two that Whitney Houston's Greatest Hits, which I bought whatever night that was before I left (which oddly seems like ages ago, but the departure from Minneapolis seems like a matter of mere hours) contains only a remix of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody". That sort of remix that is different enough that you have to have the original version, too. Needless to say, that's been remedied in the last few minutes.

It didn't hit me that I was really leaving Minnesota (and Amoeba and family and friends)(and Amoeba) until yesterday or today. I've still barely begun to process the fact that I'm actually in Moscow right now, and that the airport didn't just spill out into some part of Minneapolis that I'm unfamiliar with.

Basically, I need to figure out how to make myself a safe space to be who I am in this room that I'm living in (which is the living room of my хозайка's apartment). I'm not sure how I'm going to do that yet.

I think I'm going to start by dancing around to Whitney Houston, though.

02 August 2011

Compose. (28-7-2011)

Pat Kensington (my apparently evangelical co-worker) @ rosevilleschools dot edu

Your Gift.


You have injured me with your assumptions and angered me with the 'gift' that you handed me this afternoon.

You do not know me. You do not know that I grew up as a pastor's kid. That I believe in a God that is open and accepting, and am part of a church that thinks that you can believe something else entirely, and that's okay. You do not know how strongly I have considered attending seminary. You do not know how angered I am by a Christian church that contributes so blindly to so much injustice in this world, and seeks to change the behavior of the radical few that are trying to shake the faith up.

Instead of knowing me, you chose to make patronizing assumptions. When I first met you, you seemed to treat me with respect, but I now see that your demeanor toward me is a mockery of kindness. You do not see the good in me; you only see the parts of me you think are disgusting. The parts you think are wrong and morally corrupt. The parts that you, book in hand, can fix.

You think I need saving, and you told me so this afternoon when you handed me the Holman Christian Standard edition of the New Testament.

Your gesture is not only insulting; it violates the concept of appropriate workplace behavior.

In your endeavor to create a workplace that is more in line with your comfort zone and personal preferences, you create a workplace that has no space for me. I will not read your blue book. I will not change to fit your standards. I will not back down in the face of your bigotry.

You have injured me, and you have made me stronger.

Your behavior has been reported to my supervisor. Take your evangelism elsewhere.


Preparing for Takeoff.

So I'm moving to Russia tomorrow.

I'm working with a company that teaches English on a 10 month contract. I'll be in Volgograd (which used to be Stalingrad) most of the time. Also, Moscow, but mostly Volgograd. The Moscow part, which is a CELTA crash course, comes first. So tomorrow I'm being all transatlantic and flying to Moscow.

Theoretically, since this will be the longest time I've spent living outside of Minnesota without visiting, the packing process should be the most intense packing experience of my life so far. (They say packing for anything longer than two weeks is the same as packing for two weeks, but that's a complete lie.) It has been that intense, but oddly enough, it has also been one of the least stressful. So, in true fecknom fashion, I give you five things that didn't help the process, and five things that did.

  1. My penchant to take too many books. I bought a nook, which I love, thinking that this would help cut down on the number of printed wordy things that I'm taking. I think the percentage of my luggage that is books still hovers around 10%.
  2. My experience last Thursday. It should have been the beginning of the end of the packing, but I got far too distracted and lost about a day's worth of focus.
  3. Wanting to spend time with Amoeba. This is the first time I've had a partner to move away from, and I've been pretty conscious of how much time this process is taking, and that that's less time with her. Never did get to the Half-Price Books in Highland Park...
  4. My computer, which already had a faulty CD/DVD drive, surprised me when Firefox decided it was never going to open again.
  5. Gender norms in Russia. This has been occupying a large percentage of my thoughts for quite a while now. I'm not going to be surprised if I'm the only queer person at the intern training, and I know among Russians I'm going to have to be closeted. However, I'm facing ten months of living in a culture where gender norms are much, much more rigid. I was stressed about what clothes I could bring that I'd feel comfortable in that wouldn't alienate me from those around me. I'm worried about how the jewelry and shoes and purses and pretty accoutrements of femininity will feel on my body. I'm also worried that I'm going to pull back too far into the safe space I'm creating for myself (with all them books) and not fully enjoy the experience of living in Russia.

Now to the fun list. Things that have made this packing experience awesome. The last few weeks have been so much fun, I added five more things.
  1. I started packing and thinking about packing about six weeks ago. I wanted to be fully packed a month out. Which meant I was mostly packed three weeks out, and only have had to think about details for the last two weeks.
  2. There is an epic list involved in the process that was #1.
  3. I invested in a luggage scale, which has put my mind to rest about overweight baggage fees.
  4. Learning that there's a high likelihood that I'll be taking a train (with compartments!) from Moscow to Volgograd. Which means after I land in Moscow, my luggage can get heavier, as long as everything still fits.
  5. Purchasing the Batmac from Amoeba. (Backstory: she illustrated a children's book that she wrote, and decided it wasn't really feasible on a 13" screen and bought a desktop. Now she has an iPad, too, and doesn't need her laptop for portability reasons, either.) (Other backstory: there was an external hard drive named Robin, and a jump drive named the Batarang.) Computer problems: solved!
  6. Taking breaks by spending time with the fabulous people I met this year.
  7. Searching for children's books to bring. It's been a while since I've spent much time reading picture books to myself, and rediscovered many books I enjoyed as a small person.
  8. I read Dr. Seuss's 'Great Day for Up!' for the first time. It describes my life really well.
  9. Dancing around to songs from Glee!
  10. Zines. I bought many zines today, and plan to steep myself in queer stories while in the company of my happenstance airport associates.