russia: day 6

so far, even though i’d managed to sleep at night, i don’t really get quality sleep, and i pretty much always feel like i’m somewhat tired. not that i’m falling asleep during the day or can’t keep my eyes open or anything, just out of sorts. maybe that’s jet lag. i don’t know. anyway, i got up and went and ate my breakfast. while i was eating breakfast, the russian girl roommate came in and we talked for awhile. her name is julia, she’s from south russia, and is going to some college here, i think in economics or something. her english is fair, but like with my landlady, there are a lot of words she doesn’t know. unfortunately there are even more russian words that i don’t know, so a fair bit of the conversation has to be in english.
i took the metro (subway) over to the island the school is on, then walked from the station to the school. as usual, at the entrance i had to explain to the person there that i was there for class, then go through the turnstile. while i was waiting near the room, i decided to have another drink from the coffee vending machine. i’m not sure exactly what i ordered this time, as there were some words i didn’t understand on the choice – but it was coffee-related. some people started showing up and standing around. the way these lessons work, anyone can come any week and start – it’s not a fixed semester or five-week course or anything. of course, usually you get registered and take your test on monday, then start classes on tuesday. because i’d arrived late monday, i had to take my test tuesday and thus couldn’t start my classes until wednesday. so these people appeared to already know each other. the teacher arrived and decided the class room was too small for the number of people, so then we went on a rabbit hunt to find a new room. eventually we found one, she went and left a note on the old room, and we started.
it turned out there was one other student was also starting the same day as me instead of the day before – his name was shant. in all, there were 7 students in the class: me; a girl named heidi from england (manchester); a guy named mike from new jersey; a guy named shant from turkey (istanbul); a guy named vincenzio (maybe?) who is originally from italy but now lives in ireland (dublin); a guy from japan (tokyo) named shinsaku (sp?); and a guy from china (beijing) named shao wei (maybe?). (i don’t really know how to write some of the names. sorry. hearing names foreign to me said with russian accents means i have almost no idea what they should be. i thought heidi’s name was katie for a couple of days.) the other students had books they’d bought, so the teacher – whose name is olga – went and got some for me and shant (the other student who started a day late) to borrow until we bought our own. during our first break, i went and bought a set of books for myself.
during this first class, olga mentioned something about class with dennis. (olga teaches tuesday and wednesday, dennis on thursday and friday.) she said something about not having class on friday, so there would be his class today after this class. during the class, mike (from new jersey) – who was sitting in the row in front of me – turned around and asked where i was from, and i said Texas. he then turned to heidi, who was sitting next to him, and said “see? i was right.”
as for the classes, as far as the grammar stuff it’s really stuff i’ve already covered, but so much of what i’ve already learned isn’t really solid in my head, i think it’s good to be going over it a lot more. in addition, they use a fair number of words that i’ve not used much or at all, so it’s good to learn these new words and try to get other ones i should know more stuck in my head. olga is a fairly straight forward teacher, while dennis is more casual and likes to have conversations, tell anecdotes, and try to get people to converse in russian instead of just answer questions in the book. neither of them speak english excellently, but they both speak it well enough to communicate ideas and most of the time understand the questions we are asking in english. because we are from so many different places, the default language in the class is english if we don’t know in russian. everyone speaks english fairly well to fluently.
after dennis’s class, i asked him if this was to replace the coming friday class or the past one. he said it was because they didn’t have class the past friday, so this was sort of like a free extra one for me. i figured i didn’t get to go to tuesday’s class, so it made up for that.
once class was done, i was kind of hoping that people went somewhere and did stuff: walk around; go eat; go have coffee or beer or whatever and talk; etc. but it seemed that everyone was sort of bailing off in their own directions. mike (from new jersey) said he needed to go to a prodykti store, so i asked him if he minded if i tagged along just to let me see what it was like. he said that was fine. he’d been taking the trolleybuses, so going with him also gave me a chance to see how the trolleybuses worked. i’d read some stuff that made them sound sort of intimidating. that they could be packed, people could be pushy, the people taking money could be mean about exact change, etc. i also didn’t know who you paid, where you paid, how you paid, etc. it was during a busy time of day, so traffic was backed up and lots of people were riding the buses, so we missed one or two buses. the next one we kind of forced our way onto (it’s not as bad as it sounds, but it was pretty full and i was right by the door closing and opening). i had exactly 21 rubles, because mike had told me that was how much it costs. a little after the bus started moving, a lady with a handheld scanner came around and was taking money and/or scanning cards if people had them. i gave her the 21 rubles and she gave me a ticket. that wasn’t too bad. we took the bus across the island, and it was pretty packed the whole time. at one point an old women got on carrying a chair. talk about taking up space. we got off near where he’s staying, and he had a map his host family had drawn to show where a larger prodykti store was (maybe even a super market).
we walked in that direction, but weren’t sure which it was. i guess probably like new york or other older cities that are fairly compact and urban, there are tons of little shops all over the place on the first floors of buildings and in the basements (with stairs from the street going down into them). plus the addressing system seems a bit odd. you know the street and the building number in the address, but a lot of times that’s all you get. well, the building could be one or two full city blocks, with stores at the ground level, below ground level, and maybe even the second floor. in addition to that, most buildings have courtyards in the middle, and many times there are shops on the inside parts of the buildings too. so even if you know the address of the business, you may still have to walk all around to try and find it. so, we looked around. at one point we saw a prodykti sign and a listing of things – sausage, fruits, vegetables, etc. – in front of a door. we walked in and there was a little room about the size of a small walk-in closet, with some sodas, beer, and cigarettes, and not much else. but there were also stairs going up beside it. so mike started going up the stairs with me following, but at the top of the stairs it looked like a very small space selling women’s clothes or something. we turned around and went back outside. the next building was still being built though, so we headed back. up the stairs again, but this time mike went further and saw that the place upstairs was just a table or two set up in a hall/entrance area, and there was a door that opened into a store with groceries.
we walked in, and it appeared to be only partially leased out. that’s another thing about businesses here: it seems like there is rarely one building with one business. they split up space and sub-lease to different people. so when you go into a store – grocery store, whatever – you may end up paying different people for different things, because they’re actually different people’s businesses. such appeared to be the case here. one area had nothing but vegetables. one place had meat, fruit juices, pet food, condiments, cheeses, etc. another had baby and child stuff. and another had dried fruits and nuts. mike bought some sausage, and i bought a big box of apple juice. then we walked over to the fruit/nuts lady. neither of us were really sure what any of the signs said, or how we were supposed to do it, but we decided maybe we weren’t supposed to get them ourselves. while we were looking at stuff and thinking, one or two other people came up and got stuff. finally, mike got some cashews. then i said i wanted some cashews (although mine were some other kind…i think maybe the ones he got were plain, and the ones i got were roasted), some almonds (also roasted, i think), and…well, basically they appeared to be corn nuts. no one there had bread, so we walked back near mike’s apartment to a prodykti store he’d been in before and he bought some bread. i waited outside, because i didn’t want them to think i was stealing the apple juice or something. while waiting, i tried the corn nuts. they were. when mike came out i asked him if he wanted some corn nuts, and he said he’d never had any. he tried them and thought they were excellent. mike headed back to his apartment, and i went and – fear now gone – got on a trolleybus. i paid the lady the 21 rubles and road it all the way back to my side of town. this one was way less crowded…sparse, almost.
having had a successful outing, especially after having such a disastrous tuesday, when i got to my part of town i decided to go into a store and buy a bottle of water for home. i walked into a produkti store near me. inside it was a fairly small room, with some refrigerated glass displays for meat, fish, cheeses, milk, etc. but not much else. i looked arond for a bit, looking on the very few shelves on the walls behind one or two of the displays, but it looked like fruit juices and maybe jam/preserves or something. then i noticed a doorway in the back that appeared to go into another space. i walked back into there and it was a smaller room with fruits, drinks, and some other stuff. the water was on shelves behind a counter that a lady was standing at. i went up and asked for a bottle of water without gas (if you just buy bottled water here, you’ll get sparkling (carbonated) water unless you specify otherwise). i bought a 2 liter bottle of water, and paid her for it. i then walked back out through the other part of the shop with my water and out onto the street.
one note of interest: i have seen way fewer politsya/militsya here in st. petersburg than i saw in moscow. they seemed like they were all over the place there. while i was talking to someone about this, they said it was probably because they have been having protests in moscow over putin winning the election, so they were probably out and about in central areas trying to make sure nothing was getting out of hand or whatever. i guess that makes sense. i guess it’s also possible the government might consider the kremlin and similar spots in moscow to be more likely targets for any kinds of attacks and/or protests.

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