Friday, August 3, 2012


Much is said about money, and most of it is about how it's the root of all evil, or how it doesn't make the world go 'round, or how you can't buy the most valuable things in life.  All of that might be true, but by god, I love having it and I wish I had more.

After a month of being so flat broke I could literally not do one single thing outside of my house that wasn't free or buying groceries, I got paid today.  My asceticism, I assured myself, was character-building.  I'd probably end up feeling more satisfied than if I had been going out to eat and buying stuff I don't need, like how you feel better after you decide to read a book even though you really wanted to put on the TV and watch 20 shows about people doing their jobs in Alaska and then fall asleep to an infomercial for Bowflex.

After I got that cash I went directly to the mall and bought some sunglasses.  I watched my old ones fall eight stories to the ground last month after I leaned over my new balcony to see what was down there.  Answer:  a million tiny pieces of my favorite sunglasses.  Then I picked up some headphones, since the shitty ones I've been using finally broke.  After that I stopped over and bought myself a shaurma, which I'm eating right now and it's awesome, it tastes like 110 rubles of mystery meat, and it goes great with the first beer I've had in a month.

I'm so much happier than I have been all month, I'm ashamed of myself.  Nothing could ruin my day today, not even that decomposing cat with its intestines hanging out that I pranced by while I was rocking out to my music all the way home in my sweet new sunglasses.

Kaitlin serves millionaire realness
I know in my brainheart that money isn't important but oh my shit, I love it.  I want to throw 5000 ruble bills up in the air and run through them.  I want to make a dress out of them and run through a field of daisies, but no, not daisies-- money.  A field of money, and as I'm running I'm just snatching it up, yanking it off of the stems and shoving it greedily into my pockets.

Money might not be the most important thing in life, I get it.  Family and friends are.  I want both.  I want to buy them all cars and houses and holidays.  I want to go out to eat all the time with everyone I like, and we'll just stay there for four hours, ordering dessert and a third bottle of wine, because we're too busy laughing at our awesome care-free jokes and making rad toasts to each other's happiness, because why not?  We are on vacation at my winter home in Tahiti, after all. 

I'm glad I haven't been rich all my life, that I wasn't born in a mansion and spoiled miserably all my life with sexy new cars and designer clothes.  Last year I worked myself silly with two jobs, sometimes 60 hours a week, some of that work including physical and emotional stress, to save up to come here to Moscow.  It's important to learn the value of a dollar.  Okay so I know it now, I get it.  I'm ready for my fortune.

Maybe I need to watch It's a Wonderful Life again.  I think I'm losing touch with some basic principles I once held dear.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ukraine, children, and moving

Unfortunately, my blogivation (that's blog motivation, duh) took a critical hit in early May when I realized I had lost my camera/reason for going outside.  Luckily I'll have a shiny new one in tow in about a week, but for now I'll do my best to recreate the past few months without the benefit of those precious visual aids, my photographs.  In lieu of these, I will substitute modified images ripped off of Google searches or my own MS Paint-ings.

Since my last post, I traveled to Ukraine for vacation, moved from the suburb Mytishi* to the heart of Moscow, and spent two strange weeks in a small industrial town called Obninsk** distracting 8-year-old campers from having fun for 40 minutes at a time by making them learn English.

*The spellchecker doesn't recognize "Mytishi," and offers "fetishism" as a replacement.
**The spellchecker suggests that instead of "Obninsk," I might try "onionskin."


Ukraine was a beautiful country, and it was on this spring holiday that I discovered that I hate riding platzkart in overnight trains, especially at a border crossing.  We arrived in Kiev at 6:00 on a warm, sunny morning after a good, solid 20 minutes of sleep, with 6 more hours to kill before hostel check-in.  Overall I give Ukraine full marks for niceness, and a 10%-20% edge over Russia in the category of dude-hotness.  Surprisingly, many more people in Kiev speak English than in Moscow, including the employees at the McDonalds, and the adjacent fast-food restaurant, McFoxy, the story behind which I still do not know.

Just google image search "Kiev" and assume I saw all that stuff
I don't know Ukrainian, but from what I gather there are a lot more differences between Ukrainian and Russian than I first thought.  I saw many very basic words which are different, from breakfast to potato to the months of the year, which seem to be named after features like flowers and grass.  I do adore listening to Ukrainians speak in Russian.  Whenever I tell this to my Muscovite students, I get the sense that they are holding their tongues and humoring me, and they have a rather urban vs. redneck view of Ukrainians, but I think they have a great oomph to their speech, and I love the way "g" sounds soft, like "h."  Ty hovorish' po-russkiy?

Most of the time in Kiev was spent at restaurants, and I'm not sad about it.  I ate horse for the first time.  An appetizer on the menu was translated into the mouthwatering appellation "Meat Sticks of Horse," but unfortunately the promised sticks were jerked and salted until they resembled a product of seafood and leather, so I still don't know what our equine friends taste like.

After Kiev, I headed once again on an overnight platzkart ticket to Donetsk, where I stayed with my friend Chris.  Donetsk is in the eastern part of the country, where people speak Russian instead of Ukrainian, and many people prefer to self-identify as Russian.  Donetsk is big but it's more of an industrial city than a cultural capital.  Still, the park and the river were lovely and there was a respectable number of biergartens and smiling people.  Chris showed me around and we went with his friends to a club called Litsa, or "Faces," where the evening ended in a bit of a fiasco involving a dispute between some aggressive bouncers and, unfortunately, my friends' faces, or as they say in Russian, litsa.

Many thanks to Chris for risking life and limb to show me a good time in Donetsk.

Camp Dubravushka

Abouth a month after my vacation it was time to say goodbye to my school in Mytishi and hello to two weeks living in my nightmare, surrounded by children at a summer camp a few hours by car outside of Moscow in a town called Obninsk.

The camp is called Dubravushka, and for just 30,000 rubles (around $1,000), parents can get rid of their kids for two wonderful weeks by sending them off to this peaceful hamlet settled around a nuclear power plant, where poor harried native English speakers like myself as well as some unexpectedly chipper Russian camp counselors will occupy their time with lessons in English and computer skills, as well as organized games and activities.

Okay, okay, there were maybe one or two children there who were totally adorable, but that didn't make it worth the two weeks I spent living in a patient room in the medical building, avoiding the camp's English program directors, lest they ask me to do extra things.  The theme of the session was "Sea Adventures," and I spent most of the time talking about sea creatures and sailors.  And don't ask me about the time I had to dress up like a pirate and sing a song called "Captain Bold" on the stage with some other pirates.  That's between me and the other captives English teachers.

Here's a tip if you ever have to keep some children quiet for 45 minutes:  Mr. Bean.  They go NUTS for that shit.  So I guess we have something in common after all.

Goodbye, Mytishi

I've moved now from Mytishi to the central school, and I'm living in the center of Moscow, near Kitai-Gorod, which means Chinatown, though there's nothing Chinese about it.  Mytishi is fine and all, but you can't beat the big city.  I wish I had a picture of the view from my balcony, because it's so amazing it just shouldn't be allowed, but I'll post one next time.  I'm not too sad about leaving Mytishi, which is not to say there weren't good things about it.  For example, I liked that it was cheaper.  Plus, I had a solid crew for my first three months, all of whom I liked.
Elliott and his #1 track suit, Ilya (#1 dancer), and Sarah (baker and #1 roommate)
I do have actual pictures of them, but whatever.

Unfortunately, moving into this amazing flat wiped me out so hard financially that I haven't been able to do any of the cool stuff I can now actually see from my window.  Next month will be easier.  For July, I've been living an ascetic life.  An ascetic life with like, the internet and my kindle and my ipod.  I guess it's just a regular life, but without any snacks.

In about a week I'll be heading to Ireland, where I'll meet up with my mom and my sister and get a dose of the West.  There's pretty much nothing I love more than a vacation.  We'll be starting in Dublin, then driving around to other cities.  We'll be staying on a peninsula called Dingle for two nights, which I cannot get over, but there will be plenty of time for dick jokes after the trip.

Until next time,

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This isn't a still from Let the Right One In, it's where I live

Now that I've relocated from Prague to Moscow, my blog has been renamed from "Blague" to "Gulog," pun credit to my sister Katy.

I've been in Russia for a month and a half now, and spring is finally beginning to arrive, by which I mean most of the snow and ice has melted this week and it's in the 40s.  Over the last month while you folks in the US, according to my imagination, have been having barbecues and living in a Pacsun ad, I've been here:

 Here's you:

Here's me:                                                                               

Here's you:

Here's me:                                                                               

Here's you:

Here's me:                                                                               

But yesterday it was sunny and I went to a nearby shithole town called Korolev to see a play in English, The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter, not the least confusing drama ever written.  The play was put on at another Language Link school and featured a mostly Russian cast, which was an interesting and admirable undertaking.  I really enjoyed going; it can't be easy to act in a language that you're still learning, so I was impressed.  I haven't gone to see a play in a long time so it was really nice to have that experience again, and I'm sure that the purpose and meaning of its inscrutable plot and dialogue will eventually reveal themselves to me, if I think long and hard enough.

I have some holidays coming up and I've purchased a ticket to Kiev, one-way because I'm not sure what to do and if I should travel around the Ukraine a bit or just come back to Moscow and try to see the city a little more.  I haven't bothered to do much sight-seeing; it's been so oppressively Soviet outside and it's such an effort to get anywhere.  In Prague I could walk around for an hour and see a castle, a museum, a church and a synagogue and head home with a camera full of pictures and a feeling of accomplishment, but now it takes an hour and a half just to get into the center, and everything is so
 spread out once I get there I can really only be bothered to do one thing.

I'm really bad at making decisions, so if you have any advice for me about my holiday I'll probably just do it and thank you.

Mytishi, the town where I live and work, is a suburb of Moscow, a 30-minute bus or train ride from a metro station.  On the plus side, my digs are a lot nicer than they would be if I lived in the center, but on the downside, everything else.  There's not much to do at night here, and not a whole lot to see.  I walked through a park last weekend, and was surprised to find an open but almost deserted amusement park, with a ferris wheel, haunted house, the works.  There was one child having an absolute ball in the teacup ride by herself, but other than that, it was kind of creepy.

Being here for the election last month was strange; there were protests, but they fizzled out pretty quickly, and most of the students I talked to agreed that Putin is corrupt but were pretty fatalistic about their government and generally willing to accept that he was always going to win and it didn't really make a difference anyhow.

Speaking of political activism, if you live in NC, have you voted yet?  I found out from the US embassy website that in order to vote on an absentee ballot I would have had to submit paperwork about 90 days before the election, while I was still in Prague.  I was super disappointed to find that out.  So, don't be like me, and do your duty (LOL duty);  PLEASE go vote against Amendment One.  

One last thing:  Last month, I turned 26.  Did you know?
-George Harrison was only 26 when the Beatles BROKE UP
-Albert Einstein was 26 when he published his ground-breaking Annus Mirabilis papers.
-Charles Lindbergh was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor at the age of 26 for his successful nonstop flight from New York to Paris the previous year

No pressure or anything but I pretty much have about 11 months to achieve fame and fortune.

Here's a picture of what it Mytishi looks like from my kitchen window when the weather isn't a scene from Fargo:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Ossuary

Oops!  I've been in Prague for almost two months and I haven't updated this Blague since my first entry.  The course ended February 3rd.

The time leading up to my journey was terribly stressful, the four-week TEFL course was intense, and then I came to a full stop and I've been lounging with extreme prejudice for a couple weeks now while waiting for my Russian work visa.  I've been doing some serious nothing.  If lying around in bed was a sport, I'd be in the Olympics. I had big dreams of taking trains to nearby European cities or of hitting every single tourist spot in Prague with my free time, but ultimately I had neither the budget nor the organizational skills to plan these adventures.

"But surely with no work to occupy your time and no money to do anything, you must have had plenty of spare time to update your blog," you might reasonably suggest, but you'd be forgetting that I had to play hours of Mahjong on my computer, read a 700-page biography of Joseph Stalin, and watch every episode of Downton Abbey... twice.  Oh, Matthew!

I did get to go out and see a few things.  A museum here, a cathedral there.  Since I have to be up in 6 hours to head to the airport, I'm picking one thing to tell you about here:  The Sedlec Ossuary at Kutna Hora.

Kutna Hora is a small town about an hour by train outside of Prague.  On Saturday, I accompanied fellow TEFLer Jamie and her visiting friend Jenny to this adorable but weirdly empty ghost town, and we set off on foot for the famous Sedlec Ossuary.

The Sedlec Ossuary is a Catholic chapel located in a graveyard and decorated almost exclusively with human bones.  There are femurs and fibulae arranged into symbols and letters adorning the wall, hanging garlands made of skulls,  four carefully arranged skull pyramids at which people throw coins trying to score an eye-socket, and most impressively, an ornate chandelier fashioned out of every kind of bone found in the human body.

The skeletons are primarily plague victims from the 14th or 15th century.  They were buried originally in graveyards, but were dug up and moved en masse into an ossuary in order to create more room.  In the 19th century, a man named Rint was given the task of adding a bit of aesthetic flair to the bone shed and this was what he did with the place.

Jamie, Jenny and I ended up walking around for five or six hours taking in all that little Kutna Hora had to offer.  The town was totally adorbs and there were plenty of shops and restaurants lining the cobblestones streets, but unfortunately they were closed and no one was around, and this on a Saturday afternoon.  We saw a few things (including a Philip Morris plant and museum, seriously), but since I like to end stories with a panorama, here's a view of the Kutna Hora from the St. Barbara cathedral. 

In the morning I'm off to Moscow.  My flat and job will be in the outskirts town of Mytishchi, about an hour's journey from the center.  A Wikipedia search of this idyllic Soviet hamlet reveals it to be home to, among nothing else, a monument commemorating Russia's first ever drain pipe.  You can't make this stuff up!  So goodbye, Prague.  Goodbye mild winter and friendly English-speaking folk, goodbye $1.50 pints of beer, goodbye Charles Bridge and Prague Castle.  It's time to leave this merry drunken city of architecture and puppets, and head to snowier and more dystopian climes:  Hello Moscow.

Which reminds me, I'll have to change the name of the Blague since I'm moving.  I'm open to suggestions.

One more cityscape for the road:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Welcome to my blague

My first week of Oxford TEFL is over and it's been a long one.  We started teaching on Wednesday, only the third day of the course, so they really throw you right in there.  Not as scary as I thought it would be.

Here are my flatmates, Ayu and Henry: 

(Henry's in Vienna for the weekend and I don't have a picture of him, but you get the idea.)

Our flat is nice; the rooms are spacious, it's right in the Old Town section of Prague, it's only about a 20 minute walk from the school, and the kitchen is big.  There's one hitch- there is no shower curtain, or shower curtain rod.  This means you have to take the shower nozzle and crouch down in the tub so you don't get water everywhere, trying hard not to look at yourself in the huge mirror right next to you.  It's not the most relaxing way to take a shower, but hey, we've got beds and heat and even wireless internet, so I'm not going to complain (until I take a shower later, and then before, during, and after each shower I take for the rest of the time I live here).

I finally got the chance today to walk around the city and see some of the famous sites.  First, I went to the Vodafone and got myself a cell phone and a prepaid sim card.  Check out this fine nugget of modern technology:

  It cost me the equivalent of about $23 and it is literally lighter than that spoon next to it in the picture.  I have a number of ringtones to choose from, from songs made up of abrasive beeping noises to other songs made up of abrasive beeping noises, and now that I've adjusted the settings so it doesn't make a loud BLOOP every time I press a key, I can't wait to play snake on it!  If you want to call me, my new number is :  +420608425874.  Can't wait to hear from you!  Really though, just kidding.  Don't call me, Americans.  I have no idea whether that would cost me money because I can't read the Czech instructions but it would definitely cost you.

(I should go ahead and point out that the country code for telephone numbers in the Czech Republic is +420.  LOLOL but seriously, folks, they just legalized weed here apparently.  You can buy it in some stores and I've walked past a few people smoking it in the street.  See you all soon!). 

After I bought my lighter-than-air cell phone, I tethered it to my wrist and set off for some famous sites in Prague.  First up, the Prague Astronomical Clock.

The oldest working astronomical clock in the world, it was installed in 1410, and since then crowds have gathered around its base by the hundreds every hour, on the hour, to be underwhelmed.  I took a video of the little show, but it was taking forever to upload so I just let it go.  If you're having trouble falling asleep tonight or anything just email me and I'll send you the video.

Every hour the clock chimes, two windows open up, and behind them some figures move past on a slow rotating platform.  Once that section of the show is over, the windows close and it's time for the clock-top trumpeter to trumpet a little tune for the crowd.  And that's it!  I could feel the collective disappointment as everyone chuckled awkwardly and slowly shuffled away, as if they thought they might miss some finale but weren't sure if they minded.

It's a pretty good-looking clock, to be fair, and anyway Prague just has so much in the way of beautiful sites to offer that a big hokey cuckoo clock, which would be quite an attraction if it were, say, just across the street from Neal's Deli in Carrboro, NC, just gets blanched out a little by comparison.

I made my way to the Charles Bridge, a pedestrian walkway over the Vltava River and a  famous tourist destination in Prague.  Here you can take a picture with someone dressed up in a silly medieval costume, buy some jewelry or photography from a stall, sit for a terrible portrait or even worse a caricature (ugh), watch an old man sing and play a nice accordion, watch a young unbathed man bang on some tribal drum and play the didgeridoo, or just try to tune out that incongruous tribal shit and stare out over the Vltava.  It's quite a view.

If you're like me, your favorite part of the Charles Bridge is the statues.  Prague is lousy with statues; you can't swing a tit without hitting an eagle, frozen in Bronze mid-swoop like Han Solo, and every building has an army of gargoyles clinging to its facade.  On the Charles Bridge, the statues are religious and most of them are really theatrical.   

Could you tell me how to get to the castle from here?

Once I crossed the Charles Bridge, it was time to head for the Prague Castle.  You must trudge up the side of a cobblestone Mount Everest in order to reach it, and once you think you have reached it you have actually only reached the long ramp that you must climb up to get to it.  But once you get there, this is your reward:

I was lucky because it was cloudy and wet almost all week, but today I caught the Prague panorama from the castle a little before sunset.


I tore myself from the viewing area and went in to explore the castle.  Outside of the castle there are guards that have to stand there without moving or reacting to anyone, like those English ones who wear marching band outfits.  I saw one man taking pictures of them like they were his buddies, just a few feet away, and while I'm sure they're used to that I just can't bring myself to do it.  Guarding the bridge along with the wooden soldiers were Aslan and a couple of bloodthirsty-type fellows.

 Inside, I visited the St. Vitus Cathedral.  It's tall and cathedral-y and the stained glass windows in there do not fuck around.  Just as I am getting worn out writing this longass blog post, I was starting to get tired and cranky, so I headed home.  Cobblestone streets are pretty but you are basically walking on lumpy rocks so it wears on you after a few hours if you aren't used to it.  Couple more pictures of Prague from the top of the hill, couple more pictures of the Vltava River from the bridge, and I'm almost home.  The walk back to my flat from the bridge is one long stream of pubs, restaurants, souvenir stands, and, inexplicably, an infinite number of marionette shops.  

I was planning to go out tonight with Ayu and meet up with various other TEFLers but I bailed.  The drinking destination started getting farther and farther away from my comfy, heated room.  I'm tired, I went out last night, and I just want to curl up in bed, take one of the Ativans I got for my flight, and watch old 30 Rock episodes on Netflix.  

 Ta-ta until next time.   I'll leave you with some pictures I took from the Charles Bridge on my way back home while the sun was setting, and one from the Astronomical Clock.  I can't say I've been to a better lookin' city.