Thursday, 27 November 2008

Virtual moving

So after one day on blogger the ability to make comments has vanished and I'm fed up. All future posts will be over at

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Out in the open

So, apparently my blog is now out in the open (спасибо mama) so I suppose I'd better write something on it that I'm not just emailing to friends and relations.
At the moment I'm busy working on getting my visa extended for when I come back in January. Seems to be a relatively straightforward process in that the school is doing everything for me and are getting me a multientry visa instead of the single entry one I've been on this time which is nice (not that I have any money to leave the country). All I've needed to do is go get another HIV test (Russian immigration authorities seem convinced that all foreigners are disease ridden and responsible for Russia's massive AIDS problem rather than looking closer to home for the source of the problem) and some more passport photos.

Getting the blood test proved only mildly traumatic in the end. Various people gave me the names of a Russian clinic, an American clinic and a European clinic to go to, and not being massively overwhelmed with Russian medical hygiene I was going to opt for the European clinic. Thomas the australian persuaded me out of this though and said that he'd been to the Russian clinic a week before and it had been fine... So off we went to this clinic, which was on the 3rd floor up one of the more disgusting stairwells I've seen since I've been here, with a tin can full of cigarette butts outside the door of the clinic. On getting inside though it was fine and I was forced to don another pair of plastic booties of the variety I last wore in the erotic museum in St Petersburg which prompted a small giggle.

Then came the challenge of explaining that I needed a blood test for HIV with a certificate with a stamp on it for the visa application in Russian to the receptionist. This took a while and a little help from a random guy in the waiting room who spoke a bit of german (have I mentioned how I'm constantly plagued by not being able to speak a word of german when required, but as soon as I need the russian word for something the german one is always to hand?).

Having concentrated on procuring what I needed, I hadn't really had a chance to get nervous about the impending needle in my arm part, but started to now, especially having heard stories from other friends about Russian clinics boiling old needles rather than using a new one every time. Thankfully this wasn't the case here, although I was pretty taken aback to walk into the nurse's room and find two other people in there lying on beds hooked up to drips while I sat there and had my blood removed.

All in all, it wasn't too bad, and at 450 rubles was a bargain as well. I'm sure, had I gone to one of the international clinics, it would've been at least 5 times that, for the privilege of having someone speak in english. Making baby steps towards living like a Russian rather than an expat. Stay tuned for phase 2: renting an apartment.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

presenting russian manbags and other happenings

right. ok, so, many moons have passed since the last update.

the most exciting news is that the snow has started! yay! cue much excitement from everyone (also cue me dashing around a very confusing and unnecessarily large shopping mall trying to find boots which i had been putting off doing for forever) it keeps on melting and turning to slush though, which is getting a bit irritating. yesterday was an unbelievably warm 10 degrees (considering the day before itd been around -3..) rather weirdly it seems to get warmer overnight since it snows during the afternoon and then proceeds to melt overnight, leaving you with freezing slush to tramp through in the morning... hopefully itll sort itself out properly soon though.

anyway. moving on from weather updates, stuff has continued more or less as normal, class was really fun for the last few weeks, we had an (astonishingly) cool swiss banker guy in our class who was a lot of fun and also a czech girl who was so nice i could forgive her for the fact that her russian was amazing on account of the fact that she basically only needed to speak czech and only change her accent..

have signed up for another 3 months of language classes now, and received in return a terrifyingly large invoice, but im currently looking for my own apartment to try and reduce that.. despite moscow having the highest real estate prices in the world, and even higher for foreigners, seems like rent prices have fallen 20% over the last few months due to the economy going tits up, despite which the language school has decided to raise their accommodation prices after january so im conviced i can do better by myself..nastia has once again most kindly offered to help, which is a total godsend since ive been listening to other expats telling me about how they found their apartments which included horror stories of the real estate agents wanting 1 months rent in commission (and at $4k a month thats no small change), people letting apartments that weren't legally theirs to let, selling apartments without any warning and kicking you out..etc etc..

attempts at being more cultured have largely been unsuccessful though we did make it to gorky's house museum last week.. it was pretty cool, very art nouveau although on getting inside we realised none of us knew anything about gorky or what he'd written apart from the little blurb in the guide book so we concentrated instead on laughing at the massive felt slippers we were given to wear over our shoes which made walking basically impossible and we resorted to skidding across the parquet flooring and taking sneaky pictures of the bits where photography was verboten instead and then hiding from the grumpy babushkas who were on the look out for such childish behaviour....

impact of the economic crisis has started to manifest itself in food prices as well.. restaurants seem to be the same, possibly because they dont want to reprint their menus, but ive noticed a pretty hefty price increase in the supermarket so ive started having to buy chicken still on the bone and disecting it myself and other such hardships. luckily alcohol is still as cheap as ever so have been having some fun nights out...

Ive also been attempting to watch russian tv lately... made an amusing discovery that at 10pm a message flashes up on the screen of the main channels saying 'are your children at home?' presumably as a sort of benign curfew attempt by the government but pretty bizarre all the same.

ive also realised that while i have commented on russian womens fashion sense, i have neglected to draw to your attention to russian male fashion and i feel the time has now come to introduce you to the russian concept of the manbag:
for many weeks when i was first here, i thought that russian men were simply very chivalrous and carried their girlfriends handbags for them. as the weeks went on though, i started to notice that men were carrying these bags regardless of whether there was a woman with them or not, and that in restaurants they dipped into them for their wallets and mobiles, forcing me to come to the realisation that they were in fact the mans own bag.

Requirements for a russian manbag are as follows:
1. the manbag should ideally be large, with a designer label on it (fake if necessary)
2. small bags are acceptable only if they are of the ladies evening clutch bag variety
3. diamonte, flower designs, shades of pink, and other embellishments are all entirely acceptable and even desireable
4. while across the shoulder varieties are acceptable, the usual choice is worn on one shoulder, in the crook of the elbow, or carried in the hand when the strap design is too small to allow for the arm to pass through it
5. although colour and designer labels are, as previously mentioned preferred, colour coordination with the rest of the mans clothing is not, thus allowing the bag to stand out even more in its incongruity. most common will be a particularly girly looking pink shoulder bag, with a gold chain shoulder strap, coupled with a leather studded biker jacket and army boots or alternatively, full business suit
6. under no circumstances are any of the manbags described above viewed as remotely gay, and if one were to suggest as such to the wearer, this would probably provoke a fight

if the opportunity presents itself, i shall produce photographic evidence.

in the meantime, i attach for your enjoyment, putin & medvyedev kitch:

Thursday, 6 November 2008

the saga continues

So, on to the continued adventures of me and various other characters...

Pulled my first all nighter in Moscow a couple of weekends ago.. having arranged to meet up to go to a bar with some australians, the brazillian, a slovakian girl and another swiss guy, verena got hopelessly lost on the metro and gave up and went home (one of the less attractive features of the metro is that the same station can have a different name depending on what line youre on, even though technically youre in the same place, its considered a different station, this isnt even a rule thats universally applied, some stations have the same name on both lines... also unhelpful is that there are a number of completely different stations with the same name from various metro line expansions and station closures and reopenings. naturally noone has seen fit to remove the duplicates) but i stayed and ended up at a random bar, but on the way back to the metro though, already running quite late for the last train, thomas, one of the ozzies started talking to a random drunk russian who spoke german, which meant we missed the rather than pay an extortionate amount for a taxi back, me and the two ozzie guys decided to go back to the bar and ended up drinking and playing 20 questions until 6am when i sheepishly stumbled home on the first metro to the amusement of my host mother...

then on saturday went to this amazingly cool museum (photos on facebook) in the former apartment of Mayakovsky, a soviet writer/propagandist/poet... i was kinda expecting it to be the usual possessions in glass cases with russian signs that i couldnt read, but it turned out to be this amazing construction of steel and glass and random furniture with his possessions and writings sort of crammed into the gaps with random sculptures and stuff all at crazy angles...its located just off the square where the former KGB offices are, where people were tortured in the basements etc (now the FSB HQ) and immediately opposite the offices is russias biggest toy shop (without a hint of irony)

in other exciting news, a starbucks has opened just round the corner from school so the americans are all happy... its only marginally more extortionate than in england, which makes it a bargain by moscow coffee standards so have been spending a fair bit of time getting my caffeine fix there..

Obviously the main recent adventure was the trip to St Petersburg.. the train was really nice, although me and verena were completely lacking in train ettiquette and knowledge so struggled to figure out how to climb up to our top bunks before the russian men were sharing a compartment with took pity on us and showed us the hidden ladders.. we also rather amusingly missed the window of opportunity to get changed while they went outside to wait, and coped with all this by giggling like teenagers the entire way through the ordeal..fortunately for me, sharing rooms in english boarding school equipped me with the knowledge of how to undress through arm holes without actually having to take anything off in front of anyone. Verena was entirely lacking in this knowledge though and managed to take her top off at the exact moment that the russian guys came back into the room, cue more hysterical giggles from us...didnt sleep very well though due to general noisyness of the train and the fact that the russian aversion to curtains meant that every time we went past a town all the lights shone into the carriage..

arrived without anything going wrong though, and got to the hostel which was incredibly nice including a flat screen in the dorm room as well as a private bathroom rather than comunal showers, entirely living up to its slogan of 'probably the best hostel at st petersburg'..after a nap and many cups of coffee we braved the freezing cold wind (cambridge has nothing on st petersburg and my god am i glad that i ignored everyone who told me i should study there instead of moscow) and went for a wander... the winter palace was a massive anticlimax being entirely covered in green netting as they repaint the front, so i guess ill have to go back in a couple years time to see what it actually looks like from the front..
after that we went to the anthropology and ethnography museum, me to see what this concept was like in russia and verena because the guidebook said that there was a room full of deformed foetuses and mutant babies in jars that some doctor had collected in the 19th century (despite being a vegetarian, she has a bizarre fascination with dead/stuffed/mutated humans and animals) which was fun... the museum was full of tragically ethnocentric (for all my fellow soc a adherents) explanations such as 'even before the europeans came they knew how to make fabric in africa' etc...

after that we braved the cold for another 10 minutes before having to stop for hot chocolate of the vilnius opera house variety where you need a spoon to eat it, and then ran next door to an 'egyptian' restaurant, where we had spinach blinis before heading over to the other side of town on the metro to the erotic museum to see what was supposedly the preserved penis of rasputin.. this museum prompted another round of teenage giggling due to its sheer bizarreness... rather than being an actual museum, it was more like a corridor of random chachkis ranging from phallic toothbrushes and clothes hangers, to a carved dildo made from the bone of a walrus penis. Rasputins purported member obviously took pride of place in the middle of all this... the weirdest part though, was that off this corridor were actual medical examination rooms because the 'museum' turned out to be housed in the prostate and venereal disease research centre, so despite being greeted by a receptionist in a dodgy pvc nurses uniform, she made us put on plastic booties over our shoes so we didnt pose a hygeine hazard and there were guys going in and out for appointments while we stood gawping and giggling in the corridor outside.. im not sure if this is supposed to be an attempt to destigmatise sexual health for russian men or if the guy who ran the place was just completely unhinged, either way it was quite an experience...

after that we headed back to the hostel for another power nap before going to see the raising of the bridges over the neva. this was pretty cool and seemed to be quite an event in st petersburg despite the fact that it happens every night... there were fireworks and a massive crowd of people on both sides of the river

next day we went to stockmans (of finnish sofa buying fame for those of you who've known me that long) for brunch and then headed to the hermitage where we got in free as students which was a nice surprise since id been expecting to pay through the nose for the biggest tourist attraction in russia. it was a pretty impressive museum, though way too big to fully appreciate, and my enjoyment was slightly spoiled by the fact that me and verena have massively different tastes in art and that she hated the ornateness of the palace itself..but oh well, i enjoyed it...
generally speaking though, i wasnt massively enamoured with st petersburg.. it was very pretty in an imperial viennese way, but it felt a bit lifeless compared with moscow, and seemed to exist only for the tourists..sort of how i felt about cambridge, add in the wind and it was difficult not to draw comparisons with the two....
Verena loved it though and is already talking about living there next time she comes back to study in russia so i guess its just a personal thing, overall i definitely made the right choice to be in moscow..

in other news, individual classes are going well.. my teacher is really funny and is busy teaching me lots of russian idioms and finding amusing ways to explain russian grammer: eg, every russian verb has two forms, one perfect, for when youre interested in the result of an action, and one imperfect for when youre more concerned with the process... she explained this to me in the form that shopping as a process without a result is only possible for women, whereas men are only capable of speaking about shopping as leading to a quantifiable result...probably not that funny to read about after, but it was definitely the most amusing grammar lesson ive had here yet...she also told me a really nice story about why georgia is so beautiful: when god made the world he handed out different lands to all the different peoples of the world, but the man representing the georgians showed up late. god told him that he had run out of countries and had nothing left for the georgians. the georgian looked so downcast that god relented and told the georgian that he did have one country left, that he had made for himself, but that as he felt sorry for the georgians he would give them his own country, which is why georgia is supposed to be a paradise on earth :)

conversations with my host mother have continued to get more advanced as well, though when i say advanced i mean she witters on about something and i understand maybe one word in 5 and say a couple of sentences back and then she goes off again, but we've so far managed to have discussions about: muslim headscarf wearing, how all the independent republics want to be a part of russia again (i stayed mostly quiet during that one), Timashenka acting like a queen (with her hair as a crown), how crap the yeltsin era was, and also in a variety of conversations on how georgians are all illegal immigrants who dont work and are horribly corrupt, but also how she really loves georgians because theyre all artists and have good food and are a friendly loving people...but yeah, shes always got something to say and im doing pretty well at understanding it all so thats encouraging..

we apologise for the delay in the running of this service

OK so, 's been a while, but lots of stuff has been happening and I've been too busy doing it to stop and write about it.. also had lots of stuff going on in my head which has been taking up lots of time and energy as well.

So, at the beginning, when I started out on this Russian adventure, I was really happy to discover that I wasn't completely shit at languages after all and that I was actually doing pretty well in class. As time went on though, I got more and more frustrated by how slowly the group was moving, largely because we had these two Korean guys who didn't seem to get anything at all, and also because every 2 weeks new people would join and sometimes they would know the same stuff as us and sometimes not so we would constantly have to repeat stuff we already knew to get them up to speed. Last week I finally got fed up of this, because I knew I could be learning more and the thought of getting to the end of 3 months and barely having scratched the surface of Russian was really depressing me, so I've decided to take two weeks of one on one lessons (mucha gracias mama) and try and move into a higher level group after that so that I can move forward faster with the language. So far I've had two lessons with her and shes lovely and doesnt mind explaining things in english, and judging by what my friends in the group are doing im moving along much quicker so its all looking ok for joining the next group up. Having said that, the director of studies just spoke to me and asked me to sit a test tomorrow so she can judge if im good enough so im now freaking out about that a bit.. So that's the first bit of big news.

The second bit is related to this, but more vague and complicated. I had been planning to move to Edinburgh in January to actually do something towards getting a proper job etc instead of just swanning around the world in my usual fashion. The thought of moving back to Britain didn't particularly fill me with joy. The longer I stay here, the more I feel like the last thing I want to do right now is move back, not really because I hate Britain, because I don't, I just really prefer it here, against all expectations. One of the things ive really enjoyed about moscow is its tendency to surprise you... youre walking along a really ugly street and then suddenly down a side street will be a really beautiful church or a perfectly preserved/restored building, you spend days paying a fortune for things in cafes then suddenly you discover a really cheap amazing place to eat... you spend weeks missing a certain type of food and then it turns up in a random tiny supermarket that you only went in to get a bottle of water...
In short, I'm having an amazing time, not because I'm not working, I was never a massive fan of studying, but just because this place makes me feel comfortable but excited at the same time. I've made some great friends and most of them are going to be here for at least a year, either because theyre russian, or because theyve been studying at the school in order to move their work here so as a result i feel like it would be nice to stay longer both from a linguistic perspective and from a just generally being happy here pov, and that this wouldnt involve making a whole bunch of new friends again.

Ideally, I'd like to come back here after Christmas and carry on studying Russian for another 3 months, because I think after 6 months of studying it I'd be reasonably competent (which I definitely won't be after only 3 months). Unfortunately that would cost in the region of £8k, and short of selling my liver (obviously the most valuable organ in russia), I don't see how I can get that kind of money together without coming back to Britain and temping again, interrupting the language learning process, which would be a pain to have to waste time repeating stuff I'd forgotten. So, plan B is to get a job here, either a proper one which will let me stay for a couple years, or a part time one which will provide enough cashish for me to keep studying for a bit while the proper job materialises. Either way, I am going to do my very best to avoid coming back to Britain next year.

Friday, 17 October 2008

The next installment

So, I've been here almost a month now, which in some ways feels like its gone incredibly quickly and in other ways has been endlessly slow (usually during class on fridays when my brain has completely turned to mush and I cant even remember how to conjugate a regular verb nevermind which ending to use for the plural prepositional case). I'm still having a good time though, the weather is pretty much like england in october, not very warm but not cold either, just rainy a lot of the time...

Languagewise everything is going ok, I'm starting to be able to have small conversations with people, even if it takes me ages to find the words and make a million mistakes. I've lost the fear of talking that I always had with german so I've found myself being the spokesperson in restaurants and at the train station. The pinnacle of my achievements was last week when I went to this outdoor statue museum type thing and managed to persuade the woman at the ticket booth not only that we deserved to pay the russian price rather than the foreigners price but also that we were students which meant that instead of paying 100rbls we only had to pay 10. Its one of my massive pet hates here that everyone is so obvious about the fact that theres one price for foreigners and a different one for russians, the one for foreigners usually being at least 5 times higher. While we were there, incidentally, we passed one of the most revolting buildings Ive seen since I got here, an enormous block of concrete which resembled a warehouse or a hypermarket more than anything else but turned out to be the gallery of russian modern art, irony of ironies.

Living in the host family has gotten infinitely more bearable now that the mother has come back from visiting her parents all last week. There was a highly traumatic porn incident the week before while she was away and I was seriously considering taking up Nastia's offer of staying at her place but it's all been much better with the mother around. She makes a massive effort to talk to me so I've been practicing speaking in the evenings for at least an hour every day which is completely knackering but really helpful. She also corrects all my mistakes so I'm not just wittering away nonsensically and I'm learning new words and phrases outside of class as well. Food has been surprisingly edible (though I'm still having to resist being force fed everything in the house) and I've had none of the issues other people have had with no fruit or vegetables and inedible meat covered in grease so all of that's going ok...

Last weekend was pretty fun. I went out for drinks with a really cool australian, an argumentative brazillian (somehow me managed to get into a discussion about richard dawkins of all things), verena the german girl from my class and a swiss guy who had just arrived. After spending hours wandering around trying to find a bar with a table free and rejecting an irish pub for being too full of boring british men, a restaraunt with a sauna in it, and an armenian bar where they walked off in the middle of taking our order and refusing to come back, we ended up in a bar underneath the ministry of foreign affairs where we managed to befriend a policeman who wanted to practice his english and he kicked some people off a table for us. Then the next evening Kathryn and Denis invited me out for drinks with some people they'd met in a bar the week before. We went to dinner in a restaurant round the corner from their apartment which had really good food but an absolutely hilarious menu. The english translations were so tragically bad that you couldnt even guess what the dishes were supposed to be, the highlight being in the fish section where there was one thing call 'assortment of exterminating gifts'. It wasnt even on the russian menu so we couldnt compare what it was supposed to be, so I'm still none the wiser. Gift means poison in german and swedish, but even then thats clearly not anything you want to see on a menu...After that we went to this really cool private bar underneath the museum of modern art (a different one that had actually gone through some kind of design process to build it) and drank muchos cocktails for free...the catch was that we had to mingle with a collection of very dull investment bankers who were all sitting around talking about work and discussing the financial crisis and how it was just like 1998 all over again, but we managed to mostly avoid them...

I ended up spending the night at Kathryn's because the metro closes at 1 and I've not quite plucked up the courage to attempt the moscow taxi system by myself yet. There are a few actual taxis here but theyre strictly only used by dumb foreigners and they cost an absolute fortune. The russian system is to stand by the side of the road with your arm out until a random car pulls over. You then explain to the driver where you want to go and argue about the price and then they take you there. The concept of getting into a random stranger's car late at night and then telling them exactly where I live just goes completely against everything I've ever been taught and its proving quite difficult to get over but I'm sure I'll manage it eventually...

Sunday I went round to Nastia's and she cooked me dinner and we had giggles and cake and stuff. Was really nice.. she lives like 15mins walk from my host family through a park so its a pretty walk (when its not raining). Also met one of her cousins who came over later in the evening which was nice. They babbled away in russian and I tried to understand...we got a bizarre system going where I would speak in english and the cousin would speak in russian and we would both more or less understand each other and Nastia translated the bits in between where we didnt get something.

This weeks challenge has been arranging the trip to st petersburg. I got as far as having booked a hostel and Nastia came with me and helped me buy my train ticket, but Verena managed to forget her passport (dont as me why you need your passport to buy a train ticket travelling entirely within russia, its just one of those 'its russia' things) so couldnt buy one for herself. The next day when we went back to get her one, all the tickets were gone so we've postponed til next weekend. This has involved 3 separate trips to the train station and many hours of standing in line. You get there and there's only 3 people in front of you in the line to buy tickets but everything takes forever in russia so it takes at least an hour for the queue to move forward (obviously through all this time youre being constantly vigilant against the people behind you edging their way forward and trying to cut in front of you). Once we got to the front I explained in as much russian as I could muster that we wanted another ticket next to mine, and the woman in the ticket office understood, but made no effort whatsover to dumb down either the speed or the language she was using to get me to understand. Eventually I worked out that we would have to take different trains to get there and back, at which point I gave up and rang Nastia to get her to help me change the tickets to next weekend since its clearly not fated to be this weekend. The tickets themselves are hilariously official, with holograms and stamps and printed on paper with designs all over it so you cant forge it. Its more elaborate even than the bank notes.

What else have I done? A couple days ago I finally made it to the patriarch's pond on a dog walk with Kathryn and this russian woman who she met (also dog walking). While we were there we bumped into two massively stereotypical expat housewives (one from america and the other from banbury so she waffled on to me about oxford for a while) walking their own dogs who immediately tried to recruit me into teaching at the american school and both me and Kathryn into joining the international (read bored housewives) groups here which we made noncommittal noises about and then decided later that we would go and check it out once and just make shit up about ourselves (having bonded with each other before about creating entirely new identities when being chatted up by irritating guys) and generally mock it later.

Last night we had another run in with tragic soviet service at a cuban restaurant where we ordered a bunch of tapas and the waitress proceeded to bring out a collection of dishes which were either completely different from what they were supposed to be or the wrong dish entirely. We had a bit of a fight with her about one of them, which we sent back and she took an hour to bring the right one out again, but by that point we'd moved on to laughing at a group of russian women who were dancing the two steps of salsa they'd learned in front of the live band, trying desperately to impress them in a space the size of a postcard, but there were good mojitoes so it was all amusing rather than irritating..

More stuff what I have been doing

So, second (and most of the 3rd) week gone and I've moved house again (I know, I know, I really need to work on staying put somewhere longer than 5 seconds) its all gone by pretty fast, mostly filled with being tired after class/going to a café and drinking 15000 cappuccinos with either Kathryn or Verena from my class. Did manage to get out and go to the Kremlin – pretty impressive but horrendously expensive so we only went to see the various churches dotted around rather than go to the armoury or the diamond collection. The churches were pretty cool though (the architecture geek in me is having a field day here) but I noticed that inside the domes they always have a painting of christ looking down on you, and not with a particularly benevolent expression. It's quite unnerving as a grown up, and I bet if you get used to that as a kid going to church it puts the fear of god into you quite effectively.
Also went round to kathryn's house. She has one of those really irritating little yappy dogs but apart from that it was nice. She has a really lovely apartment with the biggest flat screen I've ever seen, so I think I'm gonna take some of my dvds round there to have a movie night sometime. We had ikea meatballs as a change from all the russian food and i met her fiancé and he seems pretty cool.
Next evening the 3 of us went to a movie, burn after reading. Pretty crap film, but it was good to get out of the flat in the evening and also find a cinema that doesn't dub movies into Russian which is a bit of a rarity

Went shopping to a mall with Verena to get a bag for her laptop. Was slightly staggered by the number of british shops (amongst others) including a boots which I've never ever seen before outside of Britain, got lots of odd looks taking photos of the logo. Further proof if I needed any that Moscow isn't the city I was warned about, with no shops and no home comforts.

Saturday night was fun, but a little sad. Went for drinks with the germans and introduced them all to the wonders of vodka and cranberry (although cranberry juice is really sweet here so I might have to find a new drink, shock horror) but they were mostly leaving on the Sunday so had to say goodbye before I'd really got to know any of them. Oh well, new people will come.

Sunday was spent freaking out about moving to living with a family. Having been told it was a father, mother and 30 year old daughter I was a bit shocked to arrive and find a father and 30 year old son instead. The apartment is in a pretty scummy area of town and is on the 17th floor which totally freaked me out to begin with, but I'm working on getting used to it. Spent most of Sunday hiding in my room feeling awkward and not knowing what to say. The father seems nice enough but the son is kinda weird and the only thing he seemed to have to say for himself was repeating 'chelsea, abramovitch' over and over when he found out I was from Britain before presenting me with a Chelsea baseball cap. Apart from that he doesn't really talk to me and just seems to watch tv all evening. They've got a really really cute Siamese kitten though so when I run out of things to say (very rapidly) I can just resort to petting the cat.

Also went to the pushkin art museum yesterday, in a vague attempt to do some more cultural stuff. lots of impressionist art, including some very famous stuff, but only a few by Chagall, so the hunt continues for more stuff by my favourite. there was a special exhibition on of an artist (forgotten his name) which seemed to consist of 3 rooms of exactly the same painting done in slightly different colours, it wasnt even an interesting painting to start with, almost totally blank canvases and then a sort of shrouded entrance way in one corner. seemed highly overrated but the russian woman we went with seemed to be impressed..

Classes are still going ok, although we've got the teacher who doesn't speak any english back for some of the lessons which is really dull, she doesnt make a lot of effort and we end up just monotonously going through the textbook. My english is suffering from talking to germans all day, not that im speaking in german, but ive noticed my sentence constructions getting weirder and weirder and my accent has completely reverted back to a random mush of british/american/speaking to foreigners. I also keep typing B when i mean V so i presume this means the russian is sinking in somewhere as well.
We got some new students on monday, 2 koreans, another german and a french guy... the koreans hardly speak any english and one of them is clearly way behind the rest of us in russian as well so im not sure why they didnt put him in the total beginners class. The german looks like hes about to have a heart attack at any minute, but seems ok, hes working on decommissioning nuclear submarines for the russian navy in murmansk so hes quite interesting to talk to... the french guy fulfills almost every single stereotype you can have about french people.. dismissive of everything russian (with the exception of his girlfriend, god knows how she puts up with it) and complains about the quality of the architecture, the theatre, the cinema, the food..etc etc... hes also got incredibly bad BO so me and kathryn have been making lots of hiding things from frenchmen under bars of soap jokes.. hes quite friendly to me though since he found out that i went to oxford and am therefore culturally acceptable...