Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gorky Park

Two great discoveries were made today: Gorky Park and Stockmann's.  Gorky Park is an enormous park in the center of Moscow, just off the Moscow River.  As this has been an unseasonably warm and sunny autumn, we left the apartment in the afternoon in search of some outdoor entertainment.  A mob of Russians forced us through the tunnels of the underground and out of the station right next to a gaping hole dug by a bulldozer only moments before.  We unsuccessfully turned in circles looking for any sign of a park.  We used one of the 2,312 billboards for Lipton Tea endorsed by Pierce Brosnan as a guide.  The billboard led us smack into a sign for Gorky Park and an arrow.  We headed down the sidewalk and crossed an enormous bridge over the Moscow River.  We watched a few strange photo shoots take place then hurried on.

We took the first entrance to the park, a huge wrought-iron gate propped open for pedestrians to step through.  At first, the park didn't seem like much, but we soon realized we had entered the farthest entrance.  We walked down some shaded lanes edged with beautiful trees and flowerbeds.  Finally, we came to a large walkway with even more elaborate flowers.  This walkway led into the main portion of the park, which contained more activity than I ever expected. 

There were several small buildings, structures, and statues throughout the park and benches practically every 20 steps.  People were milling around every which way, and occasionally someone would zip by on roller blades, a bike, or a skateboard.  The paths wound through the park, providing easy shortcuts and plenty of areas to sit and relax.  Among the paths were large open greenspaces, concrete patios with wooden shacks set up for vendors, and numerous outdoor restaurants and cafes.  Each curve opened to an entirely new sight.  At one turn a new bride was escorted by her groom while the wedding party trailed behind sipping flutes of champagne.  The open green spaces held oversized bean bags for young couples to lounge on.  One patio held nearly 50 ping pong tables open to the public.  Girls challenged their dates, children wailed on their parents, and one pair of Asians had a crowd watching their every hit.  Next to one of the larger cafes was a line-up of sand volleyball courts.  We sat for a few minutes and discussed whether or not we could take on any of the teams.

We spent the afternoon strolling through the park and people watching.  I'm sorry to confess that my camera died about twenty minutes into our visit, so unfortunately my pictures are limited.  However, we will certainly be visiting Gorky Park again, and next time I'll be sure to charge my camera!

As for the second discovery, thanks to a little Google searching this morning, I found a blog belonging to a fellow expat living in Moscow.  Her blog focuses on eating and cooking in Moscow (my two favorite things), and one particular post I found most helpful - a list of reviews of grocery stores around Moscow.  One of the grocery stores she rated the highest happens to be right down the street.  Upon returning to our neighborhood of Voikovskaya, we headed for the grand Metropolis shopping mall.  We followed the signs for Stockmann's but only saw what appeared to be a department store.  We moseyed in anyhow.  Near the back of the store was a secondary entrance to a small specialty foods store!!

We walked into a little piece of heaven.  Up to this point, we've been going to the local mini-marts around the corner from our apartment buliding.  These stores are about the size of a gas station, with a very limited selection of everything.  They have sufficed for now, but meals consisting of little more prep work than heating up frozen veggies leave plenty to be desired.  Needless to say, I've been getting a little antsy.  With eyes wide, I began scouring the shelves of Stockmann's.  A small but brightly colored produce section.  Baskets and baskets of freshly baked breads.  An entire line of coolers with all sorts of fresh cheeses, from feta to gouda.  A deli full of ready-made salads and meats.  A collection of ingredients for baked goods.  An aisle each for my favorite international cuisines: Indian, Mexican, and Italian.  Thank goodness we only brought a small stash of rubles.

After making circles around the store, checking every nook and cranny (and Kyle nudging me it was time to go), we began gathering materials for veggie fajitas.  A few days ago, I found a large-scale grocery store in the same mall.  It has more or less the same products as the mini-marts closer but with more selection.  This store also has a large section for home goods.  Between that discovery and Stockmann's, I'm nearly chomping at the bit to start cooking and baking my favorite fall foods.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Our Move to Moscow

The decision to leave South Korea was not an easy one.


I formed some new friendships, fell in love with more than 20 little Korean kids, and grew up quite a bit.  I have no regrets, however, and realize more than ever it was the right decision.

So now I find myself at the closing of my second full week in Moscow.  Time has flown.  It seems like years ago I was packing my life into two suitcases and boarding a plane for some foreign land yet again. 

Instead of those adorable, ornery Asian faces, each day I teach a variety of Russian business people.  They all speak at at least an intermediate level of English.  My role is more of a tutor than a teacher; I help improve their pronunciation, tweak their grammar, and introduce new business-related vocabulary.  Each class I give is held at my students' places of work.  I travel around the city meeting them during their lunch break and before or after their working hours.  It ends up being a lot of time on the subway and walking, but I feel like I'm adapting quickly. I must admit I was a little intimidated at first.  To worsen that feeling, I started teaching my second day in Moscow with directions to a business that were blurry at best.  The kind man that he is, Kyle walked with me to the location which we found with little trouble.  He left me at the steps.  I walked in to an immediate security guard on my right.

"Hello, I'm here from inlingua. I'm here to give English lessons."

A blind stare in return.

"Uhm.... I'm here to teach English?"

He stands up and walks me 10 steps and around a large pillar to another desk.  Another security guard stands up.

I try again, "Hello, I'm here with inlingua to teach English."

They have a brief back-and-forth. Finally, one man says, "Eh... company? What company?" I answer his question, apparently correctly because he then scans us both through the locked door and into another bearing the company's logo.  I'm directed to another desk, this time a receptionist.  I tell her my story yet again.  She looks confused, so I drop my student's name.  Her look of confusion disappears, and she leads me into a conference room where I begin setting up.

A few minutes tick by, then finally a man enters the room.  A large, middle-aged man with those characterstically beady Russian eyes and a freshly shaved head.  He greets me with a goofy smile, and we introduce ourselves. We talk a bit more so I can gauge his level then continue with the lesson.  All goes well, and I leave the class confidently.

A few similar instances happened with my next first classes, where I can't figure out how to get into a building or past security, but all in all the first week was a success. I have a range of different students all studying for different reasons.  One woman simply wants to perfect her English, as she is already at a rather advanced level.  Another is a rich housewife whose husband travels internationally for business each month.  She has fallen into the role of his personal interpreter and needs improving.  Most of the others use English occasionally in their work, but mostly want to take advantage of the service offered by their respective companies to further their English. 

As I said, I expected my new students to be intimidating.  All but one are at least a decade older than me, with at least as much experience in the workforce.  Some even hold rather prestigious positions.  I was worried they'd be disappointed with such a young American coming in to help them learn.  It's been quite the opposite, though.  Even my most advanced student is just happy to have a native speaker to interact with for a few hours each week.  I've found it very humorous that most of my students, though older and wiser, regress back to the student role very quickly.  They want very much to impress me and do their best in class.  One student flat out says, "You're my teacher. I will do whatever you say."

I've grown to like our new apartment quite a bit.  It's in a very old building, whose elevator I'm never confident won't drop me straight to the basement, but the apartment itself is comfortable with a lot of character.  There are two bedrooms, a full bathroom, a full kitchen, and in case we didn't feel pleased enough with our move, an old piano! And I thought the smile only crossed Kyle's face as a result of bookstores and good cigars.

We didn't have internet for the first week, so for our first weekend out, we decided to just wing it.  We took the subway towards the center of the city, then set out exploring.  Not that I've seen very many, but I've never seen a more stunning city center.  The buildings were ancient and ominous, yet completely pristine.  I've been impressed by the great artwork around the city.  There are countless parks and courtyards with beautifully carved statues everywhere.  We walked around gawking for a while, then read a streetsign directing us to Red Square.  We walked into a huge mob of people with dozens of vendors manning their carts.  We could see the pillars of St. Basil's Cathedral in the distance among many other churches.  There was some sort of security system similar to those arranged for entering athletic facilities set up outside a large gate.  We saw another sign for Red Square pointing straight past security.  We dumped out our belongings and passed through.  There were even more people crammed into the square.  Some enormous outdoor arena was set up smack in the middle.  We could barely see over the crowd, except for the tips of some costumed men galloping by on horseback.  We later learned this festival was honoring Moscow's birthday.  Most of the main sites were blocked off, but we were able to circle St. Basil's and catch a glimpse of Lenin's tomb.  As I said before, it was completely breathtaking.  The wall surrounding the Kremlin stood towering to the left.  Even the building under construction was draped with decorative canvases to soften its appearance.  It felt like a movie set.  I regret to tell you that I only snapped a few photos.  Russia is a bit more aggressive and intense than Korea, so I'm not to keen on sticking out as a tourist just yet.