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March 2008

it's the little differences

when i walk around the city, there are obvious differences between here and back home.  some of those are the language you hear spoken, the signs you expect to understand, and the local culture.  one example of the latter, is tv.  there are shows i've come to expect in every country that you can't escape from.  such as "insert country" idol, big brother, and mtv.  there's even the same gameshows everywhere i go. unfortunate, since that's one of the things i don't miss about living in the u.s.  but fortunately there's also different shows to choose from.  some are strange like the one that shows car accidents after the fact and interviews the drivers. some are surreal like the russian version of "married with children"  (even down to the same scripts used 20 years ago)  i usually only watch russian tv when i workout or to see if i can practice my russian.  but lately, i've been watching just to see what's on.

last weekend i tried shopping around town but ended up finding nothing but clothing stores.  i was told that russians have a higher regard for dressing well.  i can speak for a few, when they say they feel under dressed when they run to the local grocery.  i guess the abundance of clothing stores support that fact.  anyway i hope to shop around some more weekend to see what else i can find.  the only thing that i really wish i'd shipped was a nice set of dumbbells.  so far i've found a couple places that sell sporting equipment but what they have the most of are...clothes.  a friend told me that weights are not something people want to buy here.  if they want to workout they go to the gym.  i think this is one of the many differences between vlad and moscow.  talking to my counterparts in moscow, they tell stories of it being more of a metropolitan city compared to the far east.  which suits me fine since i came here to see vladivostok which is a bit off the beaten path. finally, i don't know if it's true or not but i've heard locals say, russians speak faster here than in western russia.  now that i can believe.


"i've never had a work day similar to jason bourne running through the u.s. embassy in munich, but i've had my moments.."  d.sweet

the longer you live somewhere, the more you forget you're overseas.  don't misunderstand, i still call the u.s. my home, but my current residence is my home away from home.  even during work, job routines become more comfortable and familiar.  what suddenly jar me back to reality is when i can't fix a problem the same day it appears.  it will stay with me all night to make sure i wake up in a foul mood.  yesterday, i had one of those problems crop up, but 24 hours later i was able to resolve it.  that's when i'm reminded of where i'm at and what the limits of my resources really are.  but the reward is knowing you were able to handle it without admitting defeat.

the snow started falling here early monday morning, by 9am it had covered the ground in a thick blanket.  by mid day the sun starts to break through and you can hear the constant drizzle of water coming from the roof tops.  by 5pm, the snow and rain appear again as if hiding out until the sun turns away. i can see now how quickly the weather changes here in march.

thank god it's пятница

i'm looking forward to my first free weekend in a while.  i plan to use it wisely by shopping, sight seeing and doing some photography.  since i arrived last october, my shopping has consisted of buying groceries and occasionally on-line purchases.  guilt has over taken me a bit, since i promised friends a few local items from the far east.  And there's my dad, who would like a hat for his collection.  i've found a few department stores that i've been meaning to explore.  unfortunately, they'll also be a bit of sticker shock associated with it, especially when it comes to electronics.  even though i've gone out with friends to see the city, i've never had a chance, since my first week, to really walk around and not be on a time schedule. so hopefully you'll be seeing more of vladivostok through my eyes as i get more photos loaded.

unfortunately, with free time also comes mandatory time.  i still need to do my taxes for the year even though i'm working and leaving abroad.

i bought an electronic dictionary / phrasebook recently.  i still enjoy using my paperbacks that i acquired prior to coming here.  but there's something to be said for a dictionary that comes with a back-light, like when you're trying to find a word at night in a dark club or restaurant.

some friends have also loaned me a few russian movies and cds that i haven't had time to play. i'm not sure if i'll like any of the russian bands since i've heard a few already.  some of the russians i've talked to, give me a cringe when i mention the groups i've heard.  there are a few bands that come up frequently that seem to have a big following in vlad.  most of them seem to be from the classic rock era like; nazareth, queen, ac/dc, scorpians, etc.  it's quite the change from what's on my ipod at the moment.

sugar buzz and state of the republic address

reese's peanut butter cups in homemade vanilla ice cream, accompanied by walnut chocolate brownies. sweet...

saturday night, i joined russian friends for some skating at a new rink.  the rink itself appears to still be a well kept secret, since only about 20 people were skating at one time.  but i think that will change as word of mouth gets around.  i hadn't been on ice skates since i was just a little guy.  but i figured previous in-line skating experience would pay off.  we had a great time and i even got some tips on how to skate backwards.  it will take a few more sessions before i get it down smoothly, but i had a great time and only wiped out once.  we headed to the republic cafe to get in a late dinner and some coffee.  side note: cabbage is starting to grow on me.  guess i should be thankful since it seems to be the common side dish everywhere i go.

it'll be 5 months already for me in vladivostok.  i feel like i've got a good start on all my goals that i've made since arriving.  my language classes are coming along, i'm making time to go out and socialize with new russian friends and work wise; i'm getting all the experience i wanted with our IT systems and the responsibility associated with it. my cooking has even improved as i've found time on the weekends to experiment with new foods.  i haven't tried to make any homemade russian dishes yet but i think it's cuz i've been eating local cuisine when i go out with friends. my only regrets are; not having much time to read, not taking the cruiser out trail exploring (mainly due to the weather), and a couple other hobbies i figured would keep me from being bored during the winter.

working in the foreign service you hear stories of people that find out the country they moved to turns out to be different than what they expected.  i've meet a few of these types.  they're usually the same people that decide the host country should afford them more comforts of home than they had in the u.s.  they're the only ones that complain to americans and russians about why something is better in the u.s compared to "insert country name here".  they do so without considering why the host country is different in the first place.  good or bad, most countries have certain cultural and socal differences that can conflict with our own way of thinking.  i've tried to refrain from judging and instead try to understand what dictates the need for a country to do so.  it could be based on economic need, polution concerns (or the lack there of), the high rate of criminal activities, a corrupt government, or a compilation of other issues.  So i usually look at my watch at this point and walk away for my american co-worker.  you can't change people's minds that don't want to change and life's too short for me to want to try.  i've already decided the group of americans i with now are a great crew and are here to work and experience the russian far east.  any naysayers are usually rebuffed with the silent question, "so why are you here?"

me? i'm doing well.  thanks for asking.  i'm here for a couple years and, knock on wood, i think it's a pretty good start to living in a new country. 

jeff healey

jeff healey passed away eariler this month from cancer at age 41. he was a mesmerizing musician that i first listened to back in 1990.  i still have some of his earliest blues work on cassette, which always gets play time when i stumble upon it in my collection.  he had a love of classic american jazz also that he explored with albums he released under the name "jeff healey's jazz wizards".  his new blues album is due to come out in april.  i never met him but from what i hear, the guy was a great human being.  another loss that was way before it's time.