Monday, November 10, 2008

Novosibirsk November 9, 2008

Novosibirsk November 9, 2008

This will definitely be an adventure. Bear with me.

Postscript to previous post:
Imagine, if you will, sitting in the gate area of the airport in Moscow, Russia, taking in the surroundings. Would you ever expect to see the following: surfboards hanging from the bamboo roof of a bar?

Arrival in Novosibirsk was at 6:30 pm in pitch-black darkness. We could tell that it was cold outside by the ice on the airplane window. The flight from Moscow was fine. There is more leg- room in these airplanes than in planes in the States. At least that’s what I thought about the British Midland plane to Moscow, and the S7 (Siberian) Airlines plane to here. Much more room than the overnight flight to London.

I never talk to seatmates, preferring to read or doze. But the young man next to me spoke English, so we engaged in conversation for almost the whole flight. He works for Bank Gazprom as an auditor of sorts. He and a team work in Moscow and travel once a month to cities in Russia to check on branches there. He is here for a week. The conversation began on a political note. He asked me what I thought of our election results. I told him that I was pleased and that I hoped that America’s standing in the world would improve. I asked him what he thought. His sentiments were similar to those of my British friends. He thinks that Bush is an idiot and makes war to cover up for economic problems. We talked about how McCain and Obama reacted to the Russia-Georgia war. He said that the information we received was distorted, that the Georgians were the aggressors and their president was akin to a criminal. I mentioned that our media (New York Times) had printed recent articles submitting that Georgia indeed was the aggressor, and he knew what articles I was referring to. We in the US are so insulated and isolated. We know less about other countries than they do about us. It’s all part of the smugness and arrogance we project, and which is definitely felt by citizens of foreign countries. That is one of the benefits of this program, to be exposed to citizens of foreign countries, and to let them know that we are not George W. Bush.

The conversation was limited to his views on America (actually, the government). I knew better than to delve into my perception of my host country’s recent boldness and flexing.

The conversation turned to much more non-controversial topics: vacations, family, dogs. We ended up exchanging phone numbers and email addresses.

Upon disembarking from the plane, it was apparent that this was going to be so much different from my other trips. The airport actually looked similar to the old, old Palm Beach International terminal: small, spare. I was amazed at what I think is the security setup to get in: just one metal detector. Maybe that is for everyone who enters the airport, rather than passengers. We’ll see when I go back.

The baggage claim consists of two carousels, and one exit door. Baggage claim tickets are verified by one man at that door. I could see Ian, the International Affairs contact, with my name on a sign. He was extremely friendly. We drove about an hour to the campus, on icy streets. I actually nodded off once or twice. Having seen Akademgorodok on GoogleEarth, I recognized the entryway to campus, and the main administration building. Lots of people walking on the icy sidewalks, We turned left down Piragova Street and to the dorm where I will be living for the next two weeks.

I am a totally spoiled American. I can’t remember the last time I shared a bathroom with anyone other than my wife. This apartment reminds me exactly of where Adam lived in Moscow: old, smelly, bare, one room with the toilet (corroded yellow seat) about 2 feet wide, and another for the shower. At least it’s enclosed. My host informed me that someone will be sharing the apartment with me. He wasn’t there yet. Kitchen with all the amenities, including brand new stove and washing machine (not yet hooked up). Bedroom: two twin beds, a desk, an internet cable (to be registered tomorrow), closet, and two nightstands. About 10 x 20, with a balcony. I was told that the item on the other bed was a towel. Not correct. It is a bedspread. But that wasn’t noticed until after I got back from a trip to the main street. That will have to be taken care of tomorrow.

We walked to the main street, along the icy sidewalk, to get something to eat. We went into the Trade Center, which I’ve heard so much about, where there is a market on the first floor. “It’s just a department store.” Upstairs to the café, where I reminded Ian that I am a vegetarian (Ian: “I don’t think they serve pizza without meat on it.”) Pickings were slim: a salad with about three slices of cucumber, five slices of tomato; and spaghetti with ketchup and cheese.

During dinner, we talked about the educational/professional system in Russia. They have nothing like the legal education system in the US, where law grads take a bar exam, accountants take a CPA exam, etc. There’ll be more of my conversation with Ian.

We then downstairs to the market for a few provisions and then walked back to the dorm. As I was unpacking, I heard the buzzer ring. Not sure of it was outside our apartment, I opened the door and met Benedict, the student from Iceland. He has previously studied in Egypt. His forte is languages. He speaks three fluently and is studying Russian here. He said that the only way to really learn a language is to study it where it is spoken. I once again offered my opinion (as I have to so many others, an opinion that my father instilled in me) that it is embarrassing to travel the world and note that so many people speak English, whereas we don’t require our students to master a foreign language.

Benedict noticed the internet cable in my room and stated that he didn’t have one. He goes to an internet café 100 metres away.
All you need to do is buy a cup of tea and it’s a free wi-fi zone. I had to briefly turn on the iPhone to see if there were any messages I needed to see. Then I talked to Leslie for less than 5 minutes and began this.

The adventurer in me looks forward to this totally different experience. The 55year old pampered American is full of trepidation. I don’t know anyone else in West Palm who would do this.

It’s time to knock off. Meeting Ian at 9:30 and Almira at 11:30. No idea what to expect other than friendliness.


Adam said...

My apartment in Moscow was great!

Scott Richardson said...

Well, I'm 55 and you were 19.