Friday, November 14, 2008

Novosibirsk November 14

Novosibirsk November 14, 2008

It was too good to be true. I allowed myself to become fat, dumb and happy. I deluded myself into thinking that things wouldn’t change. I was settling into a comfortable routine. Until the internet went out. Right in the middle of watching the NBC Nightly News from last night (today). At first I thought it was a server problem. Hey, “no worries”, it’ll get fixed. As time passed, and my repeated clicking of the access icon resulted in the same message, I began to worry that maybe I had run out of my allotted purchase of MB’s. There would be no way to fix it without walking through this snowstorm to the University and putting more money into the account (Well, it’s a snowstorm to me. I recorded it for possible future placement on the blog, assuming I ever get back online. For those who choose to live in climes similar to here, this is just a minor snow shower). I finally placed a call to Ian, Mr. Fixit. He said that it was probably just a server failure; it happens often on Fridays; they are connected to the Academy. Great. So, my choices were to go to the tea place and get wi-fi, or just stay here and work. Considering the time here vs. the time back home, I opted for the latter, because any emails won’t be coming in until this evening, which would be morning back home. Thankfully, I was able to speak to Leslie via Skype before she went to bed and the internet cut off. Also, I was able to email the course materials to students who weren’t able to get copies yesterday.

This got me thinking about being tethered. We (I admit to being among them) have our computers, our laptops, our Blackberrys, our iPhones, our PDA’s, everything we need to keep in touch. Some of us are constantly remotely checking our emails, for fear that something important happened and we couldn’t dare miss it. How long have we had the ability to do this? Maybe 10% of my lifetime? The more the technology allows us to get info faster (iPhone 3G), the more we need it. Or feel we need it.

Now, here I am in Siberia, and while there is nominally instantaneous connectibility (as unreliable as it may be), as I sit and watch the snow falling outside my window, muting all sound, there is a sense that the world really does go on. Do I need the ability to receive spam email every five minutes? What about the news? Do I need to know now how the US government has changed course regarding the bailout (at least I think that is what is happening; I haven’t had internet for 2 hours)? Is it important for me to know that Jen is letting Angelina have it?

Yes. I am a junkie in that sense. I hear people say “Unplug, unwind, relax.” Easy to say when you’re half an hour from your house. Harder to say when you’re two days travel time and eleven time zones away from home. Here, we who do these teaching assignments crave contact with home. We may enjoy the beauty of our surroundings, as I do here. We may find fascinating the cultural differences we observe as we go into stores, or restaurants (what was I supposed to do with the glass of water the waitress brought me last night with my hot chocolate? The hot chocolate wasn’t drinkable; it needed to be spooned. Was I supposed to mix them together? I’ll keep you in suspense). But there is always that need to be close to those we love, even if it just means an email, or a Skype call. It is a comfort we can’t do without.

Thank God we just got a new washing machine in the flat. I was wondering what I was going to do with my dirty clothes. I remember in Lithuania how the ladies who took care of the building washed my clothes, leaving a handwritten bill on top of the neatly tied pile of underwear. And in Ukraine, after being assured by the lady at the counter in the dry cleaner that they could do my shirts, only to bring them back the next day to find a different woman say they don’t do that, how I did what the students do: washed them in the tub. There is no tub here.

Anyway, the snow is falling harder, I am waiting for Benedict to call and see if he and Ben want to go “downtown” today, and I just clicked the internet connect button for the 85th time today. The PowerPoint for Tuesday is done, there is a second load of wash going (the machine spins one way for 30 seconds, pauses for a couple of seconds, and then reverses itself), and I have several things I can do here. None of which involve connectivity.


Rob said...

Good insights. Thank you. I live, for now, in the city of Novosibirsk. I don't get down to Akadem very often. Sometimes, I forget it is even there.

I'm enjoying your posts very much. For those of us who have lived here a long time we move on to other issues in some ways but we also revisit on a daily basis many of the insights you have brought up in your posts. Very, very interesting. Thanks again!


Scott Richardson said...

I'm enjoying doing it. Thank you for your comments.