How I’m Wasting My Time

2010 November 9
by Ryan
Getting up to Date
I’ve now been in Moscow for a full three months (4 and half for Ryan), and I think people have been wondering what I’ve been doing with “all my spare time,” since I definitely haven’t been writing blogs. I’ve been wondering that too.  I’m still in the list making mood, as it seems to work well when covering a long spans of time and multiple topics rather than a narrative account.
 I’ve been working.  And commuting.  
I’m still going strong as the official assistant to the band director at the international school.  Yes, my job is technically part time, but it feels much more than that both in hours and in physical/mental exertion.  Many weeks I’m working as many as four days a week (all day), and on Thursday mornings I am taking a Russian class which starts at 7:15am.  This means I have to catch the 7:00 am shuttle, which means I have to leave the apt. at 6:15 am (the metro is still packed even at this hour).  In order to leave the house appearing conscious and somewhat presentable, I have to get up at 5:15 am ish.  I get home between 5 and 6 pm.  I don’t love Thursdays.  
My job is pretty good—I work with fantastic people (mostly), and I’m learning to be even more useful with all the band classes, but I am shocked at how busy (and later how completely worn out) I am.  I often go around testing kids and scoring them on various little pieces they play while the band director works with various sections. I have learned about concert pitches and how to know if a kid needs a different reed on a woodwind, how to put together a clarinet, how to adjust a flat or sharp flute, and the importance of tonguing.   I teach music theory. I make out worksheets. I grade papers and enter them into the online system. I have a lunch duty once a week (yes, really).  I field a gazillion questions from kids and parents (some of which I can answer, but most of which I have to refer them to the ever busier director). I work with the 8 beginning 6th grade drummer boys who are, currently, the bane of my existence.  I help kids find “lost” instruments about 5 times a day.  I’ve even started doing a bit of “conducting” with the beginning 6th graders so the director can have more time with individuals. I check up on beginners in other classes who are at different levels. I make seating charts. I am trying to learn names of all 300 plus students, about 40% of whom are Korean (the school is 8% Korean, but not the band). I love, love my Korean students…and they all have lovely names…I feel incredibly guilty that I cannot keep half of them straight.  I have a Sungin, Sung-Yu, Yu-Sung, Yoona, YooSung, Byeungson, Hyunson ,Hyunsoo, Jung, Jiwon, JaeYoung, DaeYoon, DaeYoung, 3  TaeHoon’s (one of whom goes by Tony), Joohna –who goes by “Joann” so then I have to remember both— plus about 70 more…at least). I also have about 4 Russian girls named Elisaveta, two of whom go by “Liza” (prounounced “Leeza”) and the other go by “Liza” (pronounced like “Eliza” –as in Doolittle).  One class has 2 Alina’s and one Polina.  We have several Vladimir’s—some go by “Vlad” and some go by “Vovo.”  Stansislav goes by Stas.  Mateusz goes by Mateo in one class, but the other Mateusz is just plain Mateusz. Michael=Misha, but not always. Etc.    I set up the room like 5 times a day. I help lazy percussionists count measures in the back so they don’t miss their cue. I take attendance. I help set up technology stuff (like a YouTube clip or an mp3) for various classes.  I yell at kids for messing with the timpani. I make a million copies of band music (especially when kids lose it).  I help plan lessons that will keep a 38 minute class of 38 6th or  7th graders engaged and moving forward with 8 different instruments And this is just the beginning. I have to remind myself that I work on the band director’s very busy days (my “off days” are her chill days at school with more planning and far fewer kids).  I have subbed for her on two of her easier days so she could attend meetings, and once I substituted for a 2nd grade teaching assistant (also an incredible amount of energy required.)  I am so, so exhausted after a day of band assisting that I usually feel like I desperately need that day or two off during the week.  It’s sad, but true.  I don’t take any work home, but the work takes much out of me, even more than teaching high school English. Rumor has it that there will be high school English positions available for next school year, and I’m sure after band assisting I will be grateful to return to my familiar vocation, even with the added time and paper load (and I will also welcome getting paid something closer to what my work is worth!).  
Unpacking/Organizing/Party Catering
About a month ago, our HHE (household effects, or about 5,000 lbs worth of our earthly possessions) arrived.  State employees (i.e. Ryan) are allowed to take the day off as the movers deliver all your boxes, so when I got home that evening from work, he had already made a notable dent in the arduous process of unpacking. I had two more days off later that week, so I spent just about every waking second of it unpacking and organizing. (By the way, I was extremely impressed with the packing job.  Everything was well labeled, logically organized, and well packaged.  Nothing broke, and there are only one or two minor things that seem to be missing—it’s likely they got stuck in storage anyway.)  We devoted that entire weekend to finishing up the job (more or less), and I’m proud to say that within less than a week (just as Ryan was taking off to Yekaterinburg for several days), we had made this place look and feel like a real home. Recently we had a little happy hour/apt.warming party for the other embassy folks in our building, and last week we finally had some other neighbor friends over for a  real dinner (i.e.—something fancier than Papa John’s divided between 2 plastic plates and portions of the cardboard pizza box). We still haven’t hung up pictures (the embassy requires that we schedule with them to have our pictures hung – apparently the damage inflicted to walls by do-it-yourself-ers has been enough over the years that the embassy prefers to have their staff hang them. We just haven’t scheduled it yet), but I must say—it looks awfully nice here.  We requested and received another wardrobe for coats and a sleeper sofa for the “man room”—now it can officially double as our guest room.  We haven’t tested the bed yet, but we welcome any visitors to come and give it a review.  If you don’t like it, you can always find a Moscow hotel for $800 a night.   Or, there’s also the air mattress option.
So I joined a choir….because it seemed like a good idea at the time
I somewhat hesitantly joined the Moscow International Choir. It sounds so fancy, doesn’t it?  There were no auditions (though, I’d like to think that I could have jumped that hurdle), and it was advertised as sort of a diverse group of English speaking expats as well as some Russians.  The blurb also said that the working languages of the choir were English and Russian (and they listed English first.) I figured this would provide a productive, meaningful context in which to learn some Russian, but I was assured that I’d be able to follow along.  The conductor, Sergei, is a graduate of the super prestigious Moscow Conservatory, and I’ve always loved singing in choirs—especially quasi professional ones which I haven’t been involved with since college.  One of my biggest regrets of my undergrad years (and there are many) was that I did NOT even audition for the Furman Singers…I know it would have been a major time commitment, but looking back, some of my best memories and best friends were from that music building, even after I dropped the music major. And I love choral music—I love singing in good choirs. I thought it would be super fun and rewarding. So…I thought…here’s my chance while I have all this “spare time.”  
The choir meets every Tuesday night from 7-9:30pm.  It’s a long rehearsal.  There are also practices on Saturday from 11am-2:30pm (even longer—I assume there’s a lunch break though?) but since they are not very strict about attendance, I absolutely refuse to go to the Sat. rehearsal. Saturdays are my time with my cute husband to do other things, like explore the rest of Moscow.  Or take a nap.  Anyway….the rehearsals meet at the Anglican church we’ve been attending (another perk—it meets at one of 3 locations in Moscow I can find without fail), though there’s no direct affiliation with the church. Even though the church is in the center of the city’s historical district (a beautiful location very near the Kremlin) and it is very close to us as the crow flies, it is not very close to any one metro stop, so the commute is s a 45 minute hike for me (about 30 of those minutes are walking to the metro or in the underground connecting passages or on the streets of Moscow at PEAK rush hour. And Rush hour in Moscow makes DC seem quite efficient and civilized).  Once I get to rehearsal, you’d think the confusion would be over, but it’s not.  This choir is a low budget operation, and it seems to be comprised of primarily Russians, most of whom do not speak any English.  Therefore, Sergei’s directions are about 70% Russian, 20% Italian (i.e. musical terms—at least I understand “dulce” and “soprani”) and about 10% broken English.  It’s a good thing I’ve been studying Russian on my own whenever I get a chance, or I would be eternally lost, as opposed to just mostly lost. I understand approximately40- 50% of what’s going on at any given moment. I think most others have the same problem (though I think more because they’re not really music readers as they obviously understand Russian better than me.)  There’s a mean lady who’s the choir manager (I can’t decide if she’s British or Russian—she speaks great English with a British (and maybe slightly Russian?) accent, but her Russian is so good I’m not really sure….).  Occasionally when everyone seems completely bewildered and unable to find the bar number, she yells directions at us in very clear, very angry English and Russian. As far as her temperament, she sort of reminds me of Anne Shirley’s nemesis Katherine Brook in the Anne of Avonlea movie—- see attached photo—–(though, FYI, Miss Brook does not appear in any of the novels):
I get emails from this lady with copious amounts of scanned music attached.  We’re supposed to print it out ourselves, which doesn’t always work considering we’re talking about dozens and dozens of pages in total, I have limited amount of paper and ink at home, and neither Ryan nor I are supposed to print this stuff out at our respective places of employment. Our big piece is Rossini’s Missa Solemnis, and while I thought I could just purchase a real copy of the score, apparently there are not enough to spare…so I had to print off the whole thing (by the way: Missa=Mass=MASSIVE piece of music to print).  We’re also singing about a million Christmas carols and other such ditties….most of which are sounding in rough shape.  Our Christmas concert is in one month.  As the Russians say, “Oy…”
I thought I might make some friends in the choir, but considering the very real language barrier with many members, the lack of social time during rehearsal, and the fact that I hightail it out of there as soon as possible so I can get to bed…it hasn’t really happened.  In fact, it’s really beginning to wear on me, and I pretty much dread going every week.  I’d probably feel differently if I were single—if this were one of few “fun” social outlets I had during the week, but because I do have a really great husband and a cozy apartment and other ways I could spend my time…I think I’m going to tough it out ‘til the Christmas  concert and then call it quits.  Our concerts do supposedly raise money for charity (like the Salvation Army and such), which means that (non-Russian ex-pats…all 7 of us) members actually pay about $75 (2500 rubles) to join the choir to cover payment for the director and accompanist. (So, since I paid this, I’m pretty irked we have to print out all our own music).  Since most of the members are in fact Russian, I can’t imagine they collect much in the way of payment.  But, since I paid my dues, quite literally, I might as well participate a bit longer.  However, this is kind of reminding me of when my parents wouldn’t let me quit my character-building “privilege” of being the girl’s basketball team manager in 8th grade (when I just missed the cut).  
I’ve been cooking in my beautiful kitchen
Now reunited with my beloved cooking equipment, I’m enjoying cooking quite a bit.  Our commissary is impressively stocked for its small 711 size. I do buy the vast majority of our food at either Perekristok (a local chain that I find the most reasonably priced for a decent quality) or the local produce markets and stands.  Gathering food for the week has become much easier and even kind of fun now that I’ve learned ropes.  The more Russian I learn, the more good food I discover there (though it’s often packaged oddly and isn’t labeled in a manner that you’d expect.)  So, we’re definitely not starving.  And I can even find things like Spanish chorizo for a better deal than I ever saw in the states.  The produce at the local street markets is usually quite good and reasonably priced, and when they ring up the price, I understand the quickly mumbled number about 50% of the time (small victories, small victories!)  This is all very good considering how expensive restaurants are in Moscow.  Still, we do treat ourselves about once a week. Today we embodied the ultimate expat’s lack of creativity as we chowed down on some hamburgers at the Moscow Hard Rock Café…but the prices aren’t too bad there…and we’ve heard it’s about the best hamburger in town.  Besides McDonalds of course.  We do have a McDonalds in our neighborhood, and I think I’m proud to say we haven’t been there yet.  But I’m sure we will, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when that day comes.  
• Miscellany: What I wish I had more time to do
I wish I had more time/opportunity to learn some freakin’ Russian.  I am so willing to put in the effort and time, if I just had more guidance and direction.  I’m appreciative of the morning class offered at school taught by Irina, a really wonderful, patient native speaker who also teaches ESOL to elementary students, but a 45 minute class once a week (at 7:15 am before a very packed and unrelated English speaking day ) just isn’t allowing me to make much progress.  I first attended the school’s “survival Russian” class on a Tuesday morning, and I found it was way too slow and easy for me. These folks were still working on the Cyrillic alphabet at tortoise-like speed, and I had pretty much grasped that before I arrived in Russia.  Amazingly, I found that the “intermediate” class at school was more my level….and this class is comprised of folks who have lived here for at least a year!  Still, we’re just practicing very basic phrases and simple vocabulary. I am learning useful things, but we’re not systematically moving through a text and I’m not getting what I really need/want—GRAMMAR.  I can learn vocabulary and such on my own, but what I really need is assistance on the quite complex Russian grammar and syntax.  If one can’t do that, one isn’t going to be able to get very far at all. Our teacher doesn’t want to “scare” anyone with grammar, but this English teacher wants her to bring it.   Sadly, even though I just work “part time” I cannot take any of the more rigorous embassy Russian classes as they meet on M/W/F during the work day (this would mean I could only attend 50% of the classes…maybe).  Ryan has just started back up with his Russian classes at the embassy, so I’m surrounded by his colleagues/our neighbors who are far more comfortable navigating the language than me, if not completely fluent.  I’m uber jealous, and not just because it’s cool and makes you seem smart because you know a hard language.  I’d just like to feel, you know, competent in my mundane tasks and clued in to world around me.  I think I might be able to take some intense immersion courses this summer (ones that set you up at some babushka’s dacha for a month and force you to learn Russian ….or sink..)…so, we’ll see.  In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away with my Rosetta Stone and Pimsler and little workbook…which aren’t getting me very far very fast.  Я понимаю Россию не очень хорошо.
I’d like to say that we’ve explored the city…but we haven’t done too much yet.  We’ve walked around a few parks with some impressive sculptures and statues, and we’ve been to exactly one museum.  Many aspects the city are truly beautiful and charming, and we promise we’ll post some pictures soon.  Actually, we decided that for our Christmas gift to ourselves (yes, we’re already one of those couples and we think it’s a great system) we’re going to invest in a fancy camera that might come closer to capturing the grandeur of the sites.  Suggestions?  Canon?  Nikon?  (Basically, any time I suggest we “need” something that is a piece of technology—a gadget, if you will—Ryan is right on board and agrees that we in fact do need it.  I’m currently trying to convince him that we don’t really need a Blu Ray player.
I’ve been figure skating exactly twice.  There’s a very nice indoor rink on the 8th floor of the EuroMall just 3 metro stops away that I still intend to get to more often. I need to polish my skills so I’m in better form for all the outdoor rinks that will start to manifest SOON SOON (I hope) all over the city.  
I did start Tolstoy’s great novel (so I’ve heard) War and Peace.  Like two months ago. I’m on page 100 or so, which means I have only read about 7%. Go me. (I’ve read other things too—mostly fluffy crap though, as my brain is still healing from a summer of Middle English with Geoffrey Chaucer).
Well, there you have it.  This is what Katie at least has been up. Ryan is working hard—much longer hours than he did in DC– so we we’re enjoying our time off more than ever.  He spends a good bit of time tinkering with the complexities of our internet network(s) and entertainment systems, and he remains a fantastic dishwasher and all around great guy.  We miss our friends and family lots—make a skype date and/or get your visas soon!  
 Picture Captions:
#1  Rainbow/View from our window looking Eastward–it was initially the most brillant rainbow I’ve ever seen…but when I grabbed the camera it had faded significantly.  Lots of “rain/sunshine” moments here lately.
#2 Katie at Ismailova–a big market where you can buy lots of Russian artisan crap
#3 On a run–Moscow has beautiful parks of woods–they’re very into their magical forests, of which I’m also a fan.
#4 Old Arbat.  Famous pedestrian touristy street where you can buy the same crap for more money.
#5 Katherine Brook.  See reference to Anne of Avonlea and mean choir lady.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Super Jesus permalink
    May 10, 2012

    This is a vurry nice set of pictures…
    But what is the significance of one of the Seven Sister’s buildings in the background?

  2. June 4, 2012

    Is it alright to insert a portion of this in my personal webpage if perhaps I post a reference point to this web page?

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