Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seasons Greetings

Oh, yes. Merry Christmas. Sorry for the delay; the Russians don't celebrate Christmas until January, so it didn't really occur to me at the time that it was Christmas.

Happy New Year, as well -- that is the same over here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Freezer Surprise

The mysterious objects in my freezer (as mentioned in Freezer-Peek-a-Boo, please forgive my tardiness regarding this follow-up-post) turned out to be:

a) an ice pack. While not especially exciting, it may come in useful in future.

b) a bag of frozen vegetables. At the time, I was notably more excited about this than I was about the ice pack. As I viewed it, eating vegetable was going to make a welcome change from not eating vegetables.

Ominously, the instructions written on the back of the bag were written in Russian, which meant that I was forced to make an educated guess as to how to prepare them. I had one clue, though. From an expanse of Cyrillic appeared the vaguely recognisable phrase "1.5 l". Thus, I brought about a litre and a half of water to the boil, allowing for a margin of error which reflected my uncertainty, and threw in the vegetables.

So good, thus far.

After a few minutes, the water in the pot began to turn a brackish black-brown colour. In addition, as the cooking progressed, I was forced to reassess what most of the constituent vegetables were; some things seemed to change identity (for instance, what I thought were mushrooms were in fact slices of potatoes), other ingrdients lost their identity (there was no obvious tomato in the finished product), and some things remained completely unidentifiable throughout the entire cooking process (beans?).

Not really sure as to how long to cook the vegetables for was beginning to seem a peripheral issue. Having boiled them for an arbitrary period of time, I drained the muddy water from the pot, and looked inside with no small measure of concern. I encountered a mess of what I had been lead to believe were vegetables -- intermingled, stuck together, and giving off the kind of odour that some organisms have evolved in the interests of dissuading predators.

I should have stopped at this point. I should have stopped before this point, perhaps, but curiosity is a harsh mistress.

Without really even being aware of interacting with a fork, I was soon chewing a mouthful of unidentified vegetables. I was really only chewing as a matter of posterity, however, as the food dissolved almost entirely upon contact with saliva. Interestingly, it didn't taste especially bad. The fact is, I couldn't suggest an appropriate adjective for it at all; it simply didn't taste of anything. It wasn't even bland, it was simply -- devoid of stimuli. I decided to take a follow-up sample, in the interests of rigour; and took another bite. Sample was found to be consistent with previous data.

I stared into to pot for a little while longer, indecisive. The onset of a slight, bitter, aftertaste tipped the balance of decision in favour of disposal of the foodstuff.

It just seemed so wasteful.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How to Acquire Food Vocabulary

As I mentioned in How to Buy an Alarm Clock in Moscow, there is fascinating array of glass-walled kiosks beneath the streets of Moscow, many of which sell food. I find it strange, though, that they all sell the same food: microwaved pastries, for between 20 and 40 rubles each, which is about 1 or 2 New Zealand Dollars. The pastries aren't especially satisfying, and I think that I become ill from one just after I arrived; but they have one overwhelming redemptive quality. They are remarkably useful for learning food vocabulary.

Essentially, to learn a new word, I walk up to the kiosk, order something I can't identify, and, while trying to remember the name of what I bought, mull over what the principle ingredient might be.

So far I have learned the Russian words for: apple, probably lemon, some sort of berry, non-specific meat and what may have been cheese.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How to Communicate in Russian

I had a conversation with a woman on the street a few weeks ago. Things are starting to cool down here, and the temperature on this particular day was about 5 degrees. Given that the thermostats in the Metro, as well as in every building in the city, are all always set to Sixth Layer; and given that time I spend outside is usually less than ten minutes at a time, I still don't bother with taking a jacket with me unless it is especially cold.

As I was walking to the Metro, a woman commented to me that I was only wearing one layer, and that surely I must be cold (this comment took some time to convey, since I more-or-less couldn't understand her). I smiled knowingly, and said in Russian:

"Well, you know, I'm from New Zealand, and we New Zealand men are notably hardy. Why, we don't suffer from the cold, we revel it; as we feel it to be a conformation of our masculine imperative."

Or, at least, that's what I intended to say. Unfortunately, given my lack of all but the most rudimentary local vocabulary, and my overwhelming lack of knowledge of the grammar of Russian, most of what I intended to say simply didn't emerge from my lips. In fact, the only thing that did come out of my mouth was the distressingly non-sequitur statement: "New Zealand!"

She looked at me with furrowed eyebrows, and walked away.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Teach on Camp

Last week was spent, not in Moscow, as all of my other weeks have been since I arrived in Russia, but in the countryside (I say last week, when in fact, by the time of posting, it has been about a month since I got back). I was on camp, or, more accurately, I was teaching on a BKC English Camp. Essentially, I signed up to teach three different classes throughout the day: a group of 9 and 10 year-olds, an group of 10 and 11 year-olds, and a group of 13 and 14 year-olds. What was I thinking? At best, I hold children in disdain. Let's not get drawn into "at worst".

Some students were more memorable than others. Regrettably, the most memorable students were typically the ones who were the least well behaved. For instance, I had one 9-year-old who had two volume setting: yelling and maximum. In addition, he said (yelled) only two sentences in English over the course of the entire week:

"She needs to pee-pee!" Honestly. This is the first thing that he said to me in English. And by this point it was Wednesday. His follow-up utterance was:

"Serge is a super super super super super super super [breath] super super super super super FAT PIG![maniacal laugh]" To his credit, his delivery was so impressive that even Serge laughed. Plus, we had been studying animals in class, so at least he was using target language.

Another student of mine evidently had difficulty discerning the difference between his chair and everywhere else. Any activities that we did outside the classroom typically involved him running laps of the hallway like a cricket player, and most in-class activities amounted to him playing Fort under his desk. In addition, he smelled distressingly of rotten play-dough.

If I were to offer some advice to the camp time-tabler, it would be this: review the following excerpt from the daily timetable:

4.15: snack (invariably super super super sweet cookies)

4.30: English lesson. (Note: my youngest class).

I feel confident in attributing some of my classroom management problems to this.

By Thursday I had devised a solution. I would hold the lesson in the eighth floor lounge. Having a dozen hyper-active 10-year-olds run up seven flights of stairs does help to re-calibrate their energy levels, although only slightly, as it turns out. It was rather like trying to empty a bucket with an eye-dropper. As an extension to the solution, I didn't tell the students that they would need to bring all of their books and pens upstairs with them; ergo, most of the students would then have to run back down seven flights of stairs, and up again. And, finally, for the most hyper-active, off task students, a special mission: "Oh no! I've left [arbitrary object of trivial importance] downstairs in the classroom! Can you quickly run down and get it for me?" Even this wasn't always sufficient.

Intermittently, the class behaved well, and for minutes at a time, was genuinely fun to teach. I especially enjoyed the Design Your Own Superhero Lesson, in which the students designed their own superhero (I also love titular instructions). As we were brainstorming various superhero names, all of the students but one ran out of ideas after Spiderman. One kid took it upon himself to single-handedly filled the rest of my board with progressively obscure super-heroes, some of which I had previously only heard of in passing. Then, when it came time to design super heroes, he created IronHulk: The Incredible Hulk, but in a IronMan's suit of armour. Is that not simplistically brilliant? IronHulk could practically take on Superman. If I had to pick odds, I would say that this student will loose his virginity during his first week of university.

My teenage class was somewhat different. In fact, I had very few issues with them, by and large. The same can be said for positive experiences too. Essentially, in typical teen style, they didn't do much of anything. There were, of course, notable exceptions.

On day one, I gave the class a "Getting to you know you" speaking task, and left them to speak in pairs. Walking past one student who was speaking in Russian, I cleared my throat assertively. He gave me a bewildered look, then said:

"Oh, do you want me to speak in English?"

Did I need to specify that? You are on English camp! And right now, you are sitting in your daily English lesson! I gave you instructions in English, and a handout written in English! Forgive me for assuming that, as I gave my instructions, it would be an insult to your intelligence to specify the language that you should employ! . . . "Um, yes, please."

Additionally, I had two students who kept arguing with each other. One of them even started crying once.

Hey, I've got a solution for you: one which doesn't require my intervention every ten minutes! Don't sit next to each other! This isn't an airplane, and there isn't assigned seating! This should not be a lesson in basic initiative!

Additionally, they told me that I look like Pushkin. I take as a welcome change from being told that I look like Art Garfunkle.

By far, though, my most memorable student also made me the most uncomfortable. She was ten years old, and had the most un-subtle crush on me I have ever encountered. I'm not especially quick on the uptake when it comes to this sort of things, but she made sure I didn't need to be to understand her intentions. It would have been adorable and endearing, were it not for the fact that, in the absence of the necessary English skills, she kept grabbing out at me whenever she wanted my attention. Given her four foot stature, I found myself having to always be ready to leap backwards at a moment's notice.

I'm weak on drawing long posts to a satisfactory conclusion.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Racist Joke

Jefferson Davis and Adolf Hitler walk into a bar. Davis turns to Hitler and says: "What? Is this it?"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Word Salad

Observe, if you will, a recent conversation between me and my flatmate -- a Spaniard with (almost) natively fluent English.

Me: "Did you buy a new frying pan today?"

Enrique: "No, not yet. I'll probably do it tomorrow."

Me: "Never mind, I'll just make do with the ones we have."

Enrique: [thinking for a moment] ". . . What's do? Is that some kind of New Zealand dish?"

Man, English is weird. But, living the Anglo-linguistic bubble of naïveté that is New Zealand for twenty-three years didn’t afford me the opportunity to realise it. Only now that I'm interacting with people whose native language is not English do I realise the true nature of the language. A bit of a surprise, really.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Snow Day

It snowed last night!

No doubt the novelty will wear off well before mid-April.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to say "my" in Russian

When I first started to learn Russian, I was intrigued by the fact that there is more that one form of the word "my". At the time, I like the idea of a possessive determiner overtly agreeing with its nominal complement with respect to all phi-features (number, gender and case) captured my interest. It's an interesting linguistic phenomenon.

My opinion changed slightly when I realised that I have to learn all the different forms of "my". If you multiply out all of the different combinations of phi-features, one has twenty-four forms.


Allow me to illustrate the source of my frustration:

мой моё моя мои
моего моё мою моих
моего моуго моей моих
моём моём моей моих
моему моему моей моим
моим моим моей моими

My more astute readers may notice that many of the above forms are identical. Granted. However, even when accounting for this fact, there are still thirteen distinct forms of the first person possessive determiner. Plus, I still have to be able to discern which forms are the same. Plus, there's some issue with animate accusative taking on the same form as the genitive case, whereas the inanimate accusative appears the same as the nominative. I believe. Honestly, I'm a bit hazy on the whole thing, and basically just say "мой" every time, regardless. After all, it really seems a drop in the bucket, since my Russian vocabulary is still limited to basic greetings, pointing and smiling, anyway.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Request

I'm a little curious as to just how widely read this blog is. Therefore, I ask those of you who read my sporadic updates to post a comment to this post. Essentially, my enthusiasm for posting positively correlates with how popular I believe my writing is, so the more people who comment, the more likely I am to keep updating.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bed Time

9pm: type gerund into Wikipedia.

3am: Firefox causes my computer to crash.

Wikipedia is the solution to its own problem.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


In the supermarket yesterday, I found myself with a rapid-onset desire for mayonnaise. I would have bought some too, had I know what the Russian word for mayonnaise was. So, instead of satisfying my craving, I went home to look up the word in my Russian-English dictionary, and eat some more baked beans. This process is a variation on what we in the language-education industry call "Task Based Learning".

Imagine my ambivalence when I learned what the translation is. One the one hand, it's one word fewer for me to learn. On the other hand, I counldn't help feeling that I might have guessed for myself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Freezer Peek-a-boo

Along with cleaning out my flat (see Autumn Cleaning) I also took to defrosting my freezer. This was motivated less by a slight encrazement as it was by the fact that I wanted to open my freezer. As far as inventions go, freezing was almost as important to the bachelour as canning was.

I left the fridge-freezer open and off for the better part of a day. I put pots and trays in the fridge to catch the dripping water, and ate all of my perishables. After a few hours of melting, the amount of ice in the fridge had reduced to the point where I could open the door a few centermetres, and peer inside.

Imagine my delight when I caught sight, burried under a full ten centremetres of ice, the edge of a white plastic container on the lefthand side of the freezer, and the corner of some sort of of bag, trapped under the ice on the right.

I can't imagine why people don't play Freezer Peek-a-boo more often. Perhaps it's because a single round takes upwards of three months to play.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to Prepare Food in Moscow

It came as a delightful surprise yesterday when I discovered that my local supermarket stocks baked beans. I say baked beans, when, in fact, the were fasol' belaya v tomatnom souse; although the were in cans with pictures of beans and tomatoes on them; so I crossed my fingers, and threw half a dozen into my shopping basket.

Back at home, eggs poaching, toast toasting, and a pot heating to precisely the right temperature for warming baked beans -- and I discover that my flat doesn't have a recognisable can opener. There is something in my kitchen drawer that I recognise as possibly being designed for opening cans, but it wasn't designed in such a was as I recognise it.

I examined the device for some time, held it against the can at various angles, like an excerpt from the Karma Sutra of food perpetration, but I couldn't access my baked beans. I knew that wishing for an instruction manual would be hopeless; if there had been one, it was lost by the time Stalin came to power.

Lunch proved to be lighter than expected. Additionally, I still don't know for sure that what I bought were actually baked beans.

It may or may not be worth noting that I used a certain amount of artistic license with my above description of toasting bread. I don't have a toaster, nor do I need one. I'm sure that the Russian version of Cludo replaces the candlestick with a small loaf or brown bread.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Introducing: Russian Word of the Update

I would like to introduce a new feature of my blog: Russian Word-of-the-Update. If my faith in my readers is warranted, I won't need to go into explanatory detail regarding the details of the feature.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How to Play Classroom Games

One of the highlights of teaching at BKC is the level of supplementary teacher training on offer. For instance: at the moment I am attending a series of workshops on teaching teenage students. Topics covered included: pacing, how to induce discipline, and, last week, classroom games. That workshop was little more than a bunch of grown-up teachers playing a range of children's games.
I questions the personal relevance of a "games" workshop; my teen class only every want to play Emo-Band Hangman anyway. However, most of the games that we played in the workshop were fairly fun, and I'll be trialling them all in class, with one exception.

The exceptional game is played thus: everyone writes down three nouns. Half of the the class lines up along one wall of the room, and the other half along the opposite wall. Each student then pairs up with the student standing directly opposite them, and must YELL descriptions of their words across the room, thereby eliciting the words from their partner.

My partner started.

"__EY GRO_ O_ TREE_!"


"_ES! AN AN_M__ _OU KEE_ A_ A PE_!"

"A dog!"


"A cat!"

"_ES! __E BUIL_D__ IN __E CEN_RE O_ MO__OW!"

"The Kremlin!"


My turn. I chose to start with the easiest word I had.

"You get one of these when a large star exhausts the last of its fuel and collapses under the force its own gravity!"

I'm told that this game is fantastic for shy students. I can personally advise that it is not appropriate for overly nerdy students.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


The man sitting next to me on the Metro this morning smelled distinctly of carrots. It wasn't really a problem; I quite like the smell of carrots, it reminds me of eating carrots. I do, however, have certain concerns regarding the man's health.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Anecdotal Tribute to Hemmingway


"What mean 'Damn'?"

". . . Whoops. . ."

See also: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html

I only needed five words.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Autumn Cleaning

I cleaned my flat on Sunday. I washed the dishes, including some dishes from the cupboard that had clearly gone unused for a while, wiped down the shelves and benches, and reorganised how I store both food and crockery. Now I'm left to wonder: "why?"

Cleaning, as an act committed by a randomly sampled person, is not especially surprising. However, the way I view cleaning is similar to the way I view exercising: if one chooses to do it, then one must do it regularly and consistently to enjoy the benefits; otherwise there isn't really much to be gained. I clean like George Lucas exercises. Case in point: a past landlord of mine once described my toilet as "a health hazard".

So what happened? What was going on inside my head that caused me to pick up a bottle of Mister Muscle (known as Mister Muskul in Russia) for, possibly, the first time in my life? And not only pick up, but use extensively.

The only explanation that I can come up with is that I exhibiting very idiosyncratic symptoms of culture shock.

I was told when I arrived in Russia that almost everyone suffers from culture shock, starting anytime from about two to eight weeks after arrival. Tick the box marked appropriate time frame. However, culture shock typically manifests itself as anger, resentment, and even hostility towards ones adopted culture. Nobody mentioned anything to me about short-term OCD.

If I was forced to guess, I could only postulate these two alternative explanations:

Either: I'm such a passive person that I inherently cannot become angry and resentful towards anything much at all, much less abstract concepts such as culture.

Or: I'm so flamboyantly post-modern that I cannot manifest culture shock as anger towards another culture, and this "Shock" must therefore surface as something that could not be interpreted as "culture-ism".

I therefore put the following question to you: what the hell is going on?

Friday, October 3, 2008

How to Finish a Post, a Full Month After Starting it.

Pacific Peso Adventure is finished. At last. If you read the final instalment, you may be able to guess why it took so long for me to write.

Do Enjoy.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

How to not Buy a Mobile Phone in Moscow

I can't buy a mobile phone in Moscow. This is not to say that I can't figure out where to go, or what brand of phone I want to buy, or how to enact a basic customer-retailer interaction. This is to say that I am not allowed to buy a mobile phone in Moscow. Such is the difference between the epistemic and the deontic use if the word can't. I'm not sure what the problem is, exactly, although I think it may have something to do with, either, my interim visa, or my non-Russian passport, but at any rate, I will not be eligible for cell-phone ownership for at least another week, and probably longer; and yet, nobody seems to be able to tell me precisely what it is that makes cellular technology comparable to a firearm.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to Buy an Alarm Clock in Moscow

I bought an alarm clock a little while ago. I was able to function through the first week or so of my time in Moscow without one, by virtue of the fact that my body clock was still under the impression that 5am is a perfectly reasonable hour to wake up. I didn't want to count on that lasting, which made an alarm clock somewhat more than necessary.

It was an odd shopping experience. Many of the malls and department stores in Moscow would be pretty familiar to any New Zealander; the goods are mostly western, the food courts are unappealing, and I'm surrounded by people whose opinion differs from mine with regards to how well they are dressed.

Less typical of New Zealand are the stores one encounters in between leaving the subway station and surfacing in the street above. After getting off the metro, there are bizarre networks of underground tunnels that one must navigate before accessing fresh air, and all along the sides of these tunnels are small retail stalls. These stalls are glass-walled, completely impenetrable to the public, and, between them, represent almost a full range of the merchandise one could buy in a mall. Unlike a mall, though, one does not actually enter the shop. Instead, the entire range of merchandise is displayed pressed up against the walls of the stalls, and one communicates with the stall owner by way of a hole in the glass wall. Quite frankly, the whole experience makes me feel a little bit like Clarice Starling.

I spent about half an hour strolling through the Okhotniu Ryad mall -- an oddly Japanese-feeling building -- without coming across a single electronics store. Although now I know exactly where to go the next time I want to buy clothes, as well as where not to go if I want to buy anything other that that.

Disappointed, my body clock slowly adapting, and still no alarm clock, I began to head back to the Metro station. On my way I came across a clock stall. That's right: a tiny retail store which sold nothing but time-keeping devices and paraphernalia. Seizing the opportunity, I wandered up to the window, and tried to buy an alarm clock.

I could have started the conversation with something like:
"Yizvinete. Mozhno, vi govoryetye po Angliskiu? Proshu proshenia, ya ne mogu govoret' po ruskiu." (Excuse me. Is it possible for you to speak English? Sorry, I can't speak Russian.)

However, I find that my message is made far more clearly if I just look confused, and, using a crap Russian accent, say:

"Nyet." Was the reply.

"Erm..." I thought. "Beep Beep Beep Beep!?"

I wonder if L. L. Zamenhof would have though of that. It's a fantastic alarm clock, by the way, and it only cost me 380 Rubles.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How to Teach Vocabulary to Russians

I taught a lesson yesterday on phobias, as well as the present perfect tense. I planned elaborately as how to best to teach the word "phobia", using pictures, miming, and even a short script.

It turns out that the Russian word for phobia is fobiya. However, Russian doesn't have a present perfect tense, so my planning was only 50% completely useless.

Other English words that need not be taught in Russia include:

Impotent (important, however, is an entirely different word)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bachelor Chow

A man cannot truly call himself a bachelor until he has cooked for two, just to save himself the trouble of having to cook tomorrow night.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lenin's Wishes

Before he died, Lenin asked:
to be burried next to his mother in St. Petersberg
that there be no statues of him
that Stalin should not be his successor

It appears to me that, for one of the most influential people of the 20th centuary, Lenin wasn't listened to all that much.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Ear-Bitingly Delicious

As it turns out, my flat has a stove-top coffee maker; and it has opened up a whole new world of coffee for me. Seriously. None of that watery, plunger stuff for me any more, and forget the harsh acrid instant brew -- stove-top coffee is the only way I'll be going from now on. It's short, black and packs a heavy punch.

The Mike Tyson of coffee. Unfortunately, I can't seem to make the boxing/coffee metaphor extend to lisping, washed-up, with a criminal record and an image problem.

Starbucks, perhaps?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pacific Peso Adventure

This is my first entry since arriving in Russia. It's not anything about traveling to Moscow, or really about Moscow at all, however, since I haven't worked out how to post photos yet. Instead, this is a post about how play money and New Zealand money are largely indistinguishable from one another when outside of New Zealand.

5/9. Day one.

I finished at work at about 4, with about 500 Rubles in my wallet, which works out at about NZ$25. So, with a fat wad of New Zealand and Australian bank notes in my bag, I headed off to the airport to exchange it for Rubles, and, by extension, food. It's perhaps a misnomer to call this "day one", since I had, by this stage, spent the last week learning that Moscow has many, many currency exchange bureaus, and that they only accept greenbacks, Euroes, and occasionally Pound sterling.

Thankfully, the Moscow Metro is incredibly user-friendly, as evidenced by the fact that even I -- with no Russian language ability and a talent for getting lost -- am not dead, or in St. Petersberg. It took me all of about half an hour to get from my home to Paveletskaya, and all of half an hour to find the train station to the airport, called Paveletski, which is directly across the road from Paveletskaya. From here, it was a 40 minute, 200 Ruble express train to the airport.

At this point, I have to comment on the space between the central city and the airport. Within the city itself, and reaching out to the outer suburbs, there is a very spider-web like subway system. I'm told that it transports 9 million passengers a day, which is more than the New York and London subway systems combined. However, it seems to me that, at the very periphery of this subway system, everything changes dramatically. Up until this point, it is all "Moscow", but of decreasing density as one moves away from the centre of the city, such that my home, on the second-to-last stop on the line, is in a high-rise apartment building surrounded by parks and large supermarkets. Suddenly, as soon as the Metro comes to an end, things becomes a bizarre mix of countryside, motorway, suburbia and industry. It's quite unlike anything I've ever seen.

After getting on the express train at Paveletski, with a few concerns regarding the fact that I couldn't be completely sure it would actually take me to the airport, I arrived 40 minutes later at a large open area with lots of airplanes and buildings.

To get into the airport from the train platform, I had to queue to get through the fourth and final ticket check, followed by a fairly industrial strength looking metal detector. Note, however, that Russians don't view the concept of queuing in the same way we do back in New Zealand. If I cannot think of any other reason for learning Russian, then I at least what to find out if Russian draws a linguistic distinction between "orderly queue" and "amorphous mass of people"; things seemed to be organised along the reasoning: There are four ticket gates at the other end of the platform. Every man for himself.

Alive, and slightly sweaty, I eventually found myself in the main terminal of the airport, looking for a currency exchange booth. I found three, scattered throughout the airport, and not one of them recognised either New Zealand or Australian bank notes. In this sense, I'm using recognise, not to mean "validate", as in "Great Britain doesn't 'recognise' the Euro"; I'm using the word to mean that the women in the exchange booths gave me looks that said "This isn't real money. You clearly drew these yourself with crayons and glitter-glue".

4 hours, and 400 Rubles later, I returned home. All over the world, people were spending their Friday evening partying, drinking with friends, and happily forking over their money to have a good time. For one day, I was my own counter cultural movement -- choosing to spend my Friday evening, and almost all of my remaining usable money, to sit on a train, wander around an airport and have a somewhat frustrating time.

But all was not lost. Moscow has another airport, and it had the potential --I hoped -- to exchange the colourful plastic money that was stuffed in my wallet into dull paper money with actual buying power.

6/9 Day two.

Saturday morning, and Lonely Planet: Moscow lists one more airport for me to try. The itinerary for the sojourn was: Riding a train across the entire width of Moscow. Getting onto bus number 851. Doing what everyone else does. Getting off the bus when the bus stops near planes and buildings.

The train trip went well. In this case, I take "well" to mean "without significant hindrance to my goal" rather than the more conventional sense of the word.

The bus trip started with my regretting that I haven't learned the Russian for "short change".

Buses in Moscow are, honestly, a little frightening. They are really more like two buses, joined together by way of a rusty-sounding hinge, which seems to scream "I dare you to stand right here" at every corner. After about half an hour on the bus, I found myself standing next to an empty seat -- a precious moment on Moscovian public transport -- and sat down.

Russian beurocracy seems to have some weird, obsessive-compulsion with tickets. Without one, a heavy rotary gate at the entrance makes the bus physically inaccessible, and yet there was still a ticket collector who began pacing the vehicle about half way through the journey. Apparently my ticket was in order, although, like most things here, I had to assume.

I don't think that the same could be said for another guy on the bus.

The ticket collector stopped to talk to a tall, skinny guy dressed entirely in black. He looked about twenty, and didn't produce a ticket when he was asked to (asked is an assumption. I am learning Russian, but only very, very slowly). He said something in return. I couldn't decide if what he said was snarky, or just a product of Russian mannerisms, but it appeared to me as if the two of them were arguing. This went on for a while, and I still couldn't be convinced either way as to whether or not it was an argument, or simply Russian brusqueness, but I would say that he had lost his ticket, she was telling him to buy a new one, and he was refusing on the grounds that he had already paid for one. However, for all I could tell, they could just have easily been debating the relative merits of generative models of grammar as compared to functional grammar.

At this point, a passenger sitting behind me joined in on the discourse. I choose to believe that he said something more exciting that "stop being a douche and just buy another ticket"; perhaps "generative grammar is nothing more than an attempt to lift natural language out of the confines of the social and cultural context from which it is intrinsically bound, and, ultimately, inherently derived! Language cannot exist without context, and by extension, the analysis of language is meaningless without a simultaneous analysis of the purpose for which it is exists!"

The guy in black responded, -- I have decided -- by yelling "You fool! Generative grammar doesn't seek to view language as divorced from, and unrelated to, social context; it is merely an analytical approach that values the inherent complexity of natural language enough to grant in the focused attention that it demands in order to be fully appreciated and understood! Functional grammar is nothing but naivety towards this inherent complexity; and an approach that is barely capable of crediting morpho-syntax with being anything more a random and arbitrary string of isolated words, which are grammatical if and only if the intended meaning is roughly conveyed!"

"I struggle to comprehend how a theoretical model, developed by a man who believes that the main purpose of professional sport is to distract and suppress the intellect of the masses, could possible be taken seriously!"

At this, the skinny guy in black stood up and marched towards the other guy, possibly yelling "Chomsky's extreme socialist views are not, in any way, related to his linguistic theories, and you are completely out of line in attempting to draw down an argument against the latter derived from the former!" At this, the skinny guy threw his arm towards the other guy in some sort of compromise between a hook and a flail. The other guy responded in kind, and so it went on for a few blows. There was a body slam against the bus door at precisely the right point in the fight as to keep things interesting, and eventually two more guys stepped in and dragged the improvisational boxers apart. The guy in black had a line of blood down the length of his forearm, which seemed to have originated from the other guy's eyebrow. Nobody pressed him for a ticket after that.

At the risk of being a little anti-climactic, they did exchange my money in the airport. More accurately, they exchanged my Australian money, although I got the "Crayons and glitter-glue" look when I showed my New Zealand cash to the money-exchange teller.

Given that I now had notably more than 10 rubles, I decided to spend some money on checking my e-mail. I strode confidentially up to the information desk, and said "gde internet cafe? (Where is the internet cafe?)", to which the disappointingly English response came "upstairs, on the left."

I don't know all that much Russian yet, but it seems to me that the every single phrase I have learned thus far translates as "I'm a stupid foreigner".

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I can't help feeling that there is a certain onus on the opening post of a blog to be profound, or insightful or to at least set the scene for further entries. I also feel that I may have blown it a little on that score.

I can't seem to learn to pronounce the Russian word zdravstvui. That first 'a' is an oasis of sonority in a desert of consonants. Perhaps I wouldn't have a problem if zdravstvui meant something like 'oasis of sonority', or something else that I could avoid saying. Unfortunately zdravstvui means "hello", which I could only realistically avoid if I took to being a bit of a bastard.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dentist Visits

Does anyone else brush their teeth really thoroughly just before they visit the dentist?