Monday, February 4, 2013

If you want to find the Colonel...

I’m a very bad blogger…I know I promised an update about Stalinism…but I’ve been really lazy lately.  I can kind of blame it on my new schedule—I’m teaching classes every night (except Sundays) from about 6:30 to 8:00, or 7:00 to 8:30…so when I get home all I want to do is make dinner and relax.  Victor lets me come in a little bit later—maybe 10 or 11 instead of 9…so I should really be getting up earlier in the day and accomplishing more, but honestly, I really dislike getting up in the morning…so I don’t.  This means, besides hanging out at work (and hopefully making lesson plans or preparing for class…you know, something constructive) and cooking meals, I’m not doing too much. 
The reason I’m having to teach evening classes is because some of my students in my old 4:00-5:30 slot can’t make it anymore because of scheduling conflict…and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7:00-8:30 in the evening is the only time that all of us can make it.  This is especially irritating since, I’m kind of behind in the intermediate class—I should be in chapter 5, according to Victor, but instead I’m just in the middle of chapter 2…so I had better cram it on through, but still make sure they understand the material—and of course, as it is becoming more complex, it is getting a little bit more difficult to explain the reasoning behind English and grammatical rules…this is what I get for majoring in History…ask me about the causes of the French Revolution or the dynastic claims of the Stuarts to the throne of the United Kingdom…just don’t ask me why we use present perfect continuous or say “he said that” not “he talk that” or “She said me”; it just sounds wrong!  So as you can guess, I do spend a bit of my working day relearning basic tenets of the English language.  Stupid languages.  Also, I should be studying Russian, but I’ve been a bit lazy with that-however, I’ve come to an agreement with the cafeteria ladies (to whom, I am now “Iskander” and I get free tea and sometimes even a bit of candy when I come by!) that I will teach them a sentence in English and they’ll teach me something in Kazakh (or Russian).  Baby steps, man, baby steps.
I finally got to visit the Pushkin Library where there is an American Corner. Zarina from our office now works there, so she’s the one who helped me find my way there. The American Corner is some sort of program through the State Department where they give a library a bunch of English language books (and I mean books in English as well as books on English—They’ve got Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders—but not Hunt for Red October for some reason…), some American DVDs (good ones like the Indiana Jones trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Patton, and Casablanca; as well as bad ones like Dances with Wolves, Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, and Gone with the Wind), and even some board games (but no Risk or Zombies!!!, oh well, I’ve got time to rectify the situation I guess).  I’ve had a chance to meet James, the American who is running the program here.  He’s a Fulbright Scholar and he’s been here since August I think.  He also teaches at School #16 (Kazakhstani School systems are really original with their names), the lad keeps busy.  However, he hangs out mainly with the Russians here, so he’s never tried Kumys.  The lucky boy.
He’s got quite a group of friends now—the Pushkin Library gets lots of people involved in their English program—they have boardgame clubs, film clubs, discussion clubs, a Model UN club, and soon they’ll have a history club (very likely anyway).   When I first went to the Pushkin Library two weeks ago, they invited me to dinner and I got a chance to meet a couple of them and exchange phone numbers.   Last Friday I received a text messages from one of them, asking me if I was interested in coming out to a club with them on Saturday.  With nothing but a class that evening planned, I agreed; only hoping that whatever cover charge their club asked for wasn’t too dear—I don’t really have experience with club type places, but I understand it is a common practice.
When Saturday night rolled around, I was actually in a bit of luck—we went with a group of people, including one young German, who happened to be underage, so we got turned away from the perspective clubs (Kazakhstan has recently bumped up the drinking age to 21).  Instead, we decided to go to a restaurant called “Registan,” which is an Eastern style restaurant—meaning they serve Central Asian cuisine as well as food from the Muslim minorities in the nearby Chinese regions.  The food was good—I had some Lagman and a samsa; and best of all, the food was comparatively cheap—I had a good size plate of lagman, a samsa, and some tea for about 700 Tenge; all of good quality.  I’ve found lagman tends to be a fairly cheap meal choice and I enjoy it, so I recommend it to anyone a little bit apprehensive about what to try at Kazakh restaurants.  In general, if you are a tourist here, prices will actually be fairly cheap to you, but I’m living on local wages (or will be if my bank account ever gets completely set up!) and so that’s fairly pricy I guess.  To be honest, I have no idea, since I haven’t been paid by the University yet; all I know is I’m hemorrhaging money and all I’m spending it on are food, warm clothes, a heater, pots and pans…and I might be exaggerating, but I have had to spend over a hundred dollars on local documentation required by the bureaucrats…
                Argh, enough ranting, time to get to the point of tonight’s update—while we were hanging out at Registan, there was a group of military guys at a table in the room adjacent to us.  We weren’t really paying any attention to them, those I guess they noticed us, because as they got up to leave, one of them—a large man with a large face and a very cool hat—the kind you see Wrengal wearing in the winter photos from the Civil War…(I think it may be known as the Astrakhan hat, Kubanka, or Papakhi—according to Wiki, the Papakhi was reserved for Colonel and above so that might fit, as he claimed the hat was for Colonels only).  He introduced himself as a Colonel (what a surprise with the last note I gave you…) and spoke a little bit of English.  His presence seemed to make James uncomfortable, but the other students with us seemed to find it more amusing than threatening.  However, it was quite obvious that he was already fairly drunk and he wasn’t leaving.
                I told him that my dad had also been in the army and he seemed to like that and he kept talking—switching between broken English and Russian so that I couldn’t keep up with the conversation at all.  Eventually they translated for my benefit that since we were guests in Kazakhstan, he wanted to buy us something and we should just let him so he would leave.  I didn’t really know what was acceptable to ask for, so I just said that if he wanted, I’d be willing to share a drink with him—thinking that we’d have our shot and he’d leave.  James agreed and we waited for the waitress to bring us back our shots.  Instead, a bottle came to the table and when the waitress actually brought the shot glasses, he sent them back for regular glasses.
                Turns out, Americans have a bad reputation here for being unable to drink at all…so it was up to us to prove him wrong.  He filled our glass cubs about half full, gave us a toast, and waited for us to drink.  Realizing that it was up to James and I to defend out national honor, I exhaled and drank down the vodka as quickly as possible, so I didn’t have to taste it.  The exhale worked and with a quick chaser or bread dipped in lagman sauce, I was good to go.  James gave a little sputter, but downed it manfully and we were golden.  The colonel laughed and finally departed, leaving the bottle behind.  He had said that the vodka was a good quality brand, so we were slightly apprehensive when the bill came that he had forgotten to cover it and left us with the check for a drink we wouldn’t have had otherwise.  Luckily he didn’t and we were lucky enough to meet a bonafide colonel who treated us to a bottle of vodka.